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Losing a Songwriter: Donnie Fritts

August 30, 2019


I’ve been thinking this week about the last conversation I had with Donnie Fritts, other than a quick hello backstage at the birthday concert thrown for him at the Shoals Theater in Florence for his 75thbirthday. We’d talked about his career before but this time we turned to his songwriting.

He’d started as a drummer, sitting in with bands like the Decoys in high school and beyond, when some of the people he worked with started having success writing songs-Arthur Alexander, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham.

“It was so exciting when things were getting started. We were still kids right here in Muscle Shoals trying to get going.  We were glad when anybody had a hit. Just excited when Arthur had his first hit. We were all a part of that–to hear it on the radio, to see it on TV. That more than anything proved to us we could actually do it too. I see this guy every day of my life and then I see him on American Bandstand.”

They convinced him he could write too. That’s when he took up the keyboard, since drums aren’t the ideal instrument for creating melodies to go with lyrics. He studied music theory, learned to play chords watching David Briggs and Spooner Oldham.

“I’d watch Spooner,” he said. “I loved the way he made chords. I really watched him. that helped me a lot.  Got my own style.  I’d just think, Wonder why he did that? What was that he just did?

“I’ve had people ask me the same thing over the years. B. B. Thornton called me up the other day and said he couldn’t figure out what the chord were on a song of mine. I told him, it’s just four chords. It’s just the way you make ‘em.”

Donnie said the first of his songs to be recorded by someone else was one he wrote with Dan Penn that ended up on the flip side of a million seller, one of Tommy Rowe’s big hits “Everybody.”

“But it was a horrible song,” he claimed. “’Sorry I’m Late’… just as bad as the title sounds.

He said the ones he liked best included a lot of love songs, “Breakfast in Bed,” and “We Had It All,” for example.

“I guess most writers write love songs, but then you kind of veer off and you write story songs–or just whatever can come to your mind—maybe to fit a melody you’ve got. For me anyway, I’ll bet 90% of my songs come from an idea—a title, I hear something somebody says or I sit around and somebody you get an idea and right then we start: How does this idea strike you? We’ve got this title for a song. How should it sound? We’d decide this has got to be a ballad or this has got to be an up-tempo song.”

He said some song ideas just don’t go anywhere. “I like co-writing much better than by myself–somebody like John Prine or Kris or Dan or Spooner. It’s still one of the greatest things in the world when you finish a good song.”

When I asked him if he could tell when a finished song was a good one, he said, “I think so. If it’s not that good, you might not even finish it or might not be that excited about it. But you know when they’re really good. It doesn’t happen that often. But it does happens, obviously.”

When I asked which of his songs was his favorite, I wasn’t surprised when he named, “’We Had It All’ just because I love Ray Charles so much. He’s been my inspiration over the years. There’s only one Ray Charles. And he cut one of my songs.”

That was the one of his songs he enjoyed singing the most too, his most recorded song—The Stones, Rita Coolidge, Willie and Waylon too.

He said he enjoyed writing funny songs too, like “Memphis Women and Fried Chicken” and “300 Pounds of Hungry.”

“I’ve written a lot of stuff with Tony Joe White that’s so much fun to do. There’s something funky about those—like “Short End of the Stick.”

While he was first writing, he was still playing drums in other bands.

“But of course, I went from there. I had a while when I was just a songwriter. I wrote for a lot of different companies. Then I got with Kris [Kristofferson], one of the best things that ever happened to me.  That was a great 22 years.”

Kristofferson first laid his nickname on him, “Funky Donnie Fritts,” when they were recording “The Pilgrim” for the on the Silver Tongued Devilalbum.

“He was just talking: ‘Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson. . .’ then he just came up with Funky Donnie Fritts—and it just stuck. Jerry Wexler gave me the name Alabama Leaning Man, said I was leaning all the time. He put that in an article he’d written about Swamp Music.”

Reminiscing about that time on the stage, he said, “I loved it.  It was really great touring with Kris. “We had a ball, like a family. We toured the world.  A little guy from  Alabama gets to go all over the world. Me and Billy Swan and Kris.” When we talked, he told me some of the guys had died.”

He talked about his acting debut:

“I got very lucky. We I had been in a couple of movies when Kris first started. Then Kris and I went to Mexico with Sam Peckinpah. He had already signed Kris to do Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. This was four months before he started shooting. He was auditioning actors in Mexico City, asked Kris to go with him. I was just there, sitting on a stool. Sam said, ‘I want you in this movie.’  Nobody loves movies more than me, but I’d never acted.

“He said, ‘Just do what I tell you and you’ll be fine’. Great great great! He used me in three movies. He didn’t have to do that. This guy was tough to deal with.  Kris and I were shocked. Actors were just scared to audition for him. I didn’t have to go through with that. I was just there. He said, ‘You look like you’d be part of Billy the Kid’s gang if you were living back then.’

“I went on to act in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, some huge cult classics. I was in Convoywith him. From AlfredoI got to be good friends with Warren Oates, and he got me into another movie.”

Of all the movies, he said his favorite was still Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,since it was his first movie—“And I didn’t get killed right off the bat. I was in it all the way through from the beginning to the end. And all those great character actors, great Western actors in that film. Kris and I spent about four months with Bob Dylan in Mexico. I had no lines the way it was written, but Sam said, ‘You’re going to have to say something.’

“I told him, ‘There’s nothing for me to say.’ I was nervous as I could be. But Sam tole me, ‘Just repeat what people say.  I did that.

“I had a lot of dialogue in a low-budget Kris and I did: The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico, more of a country Spinal Tap.”

When we spoke, Donnie had just finished his penultimate CD Oh My Goodness, produced by John Paul White and Ben Tanner’s Single Lock Records. He said, “I’m happier now than I’ve ever been with my singing. I hated my singing. But if you don’t sing it, you can’t pitch it. People want to hear you do your songs. I’m in a good place now with this album. I feel real comfortable.”

I couldn’t help observing that whenever Donnie Fritts was around, everybody else felt real comfortable too. We’re sure going to miss him.











What’s Cookin’?

June 4, 2019

Here’s the second installment in the Cousin Memoirs, Sandy’s contribution:

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, girls took home economics every year until they entered high school in the tenth grade, when the subject became an elective.  We learned so much in that class – manners, proper dress, sewing, cooking. I don’t recall the lessons in manners and proper dress because my mother was the one who taught me those things; however, I do remember what I learned in the areas of sewing and cooking. My mother helped me somewhat with sewing, but most of what I used later, when I sewed for myself, Frank, and our children I, learned in school.

But cooking was a different matter. I learned some things in home ec, like how to read and follow recipes, how to measure dry and liquid ingredients, how to prepare difficult “dishes” like cinnamon toast and biscuits.  Not a very balanced diet, I’m afraid.

My real cooking instruction came to me from my mother . . . on the phone. When I was a senior in high school, dinner became my duty every other evening. My cousin JoAnn cooked on alternate evenings, but I don’t remember how she learned to cook. Mother told me what to prepare, and I did fine with things like making tea and boiling potatoes, but for most other dishes, I hadn’t a clue or at least not many clues. So I’d do what I thought I needed to and then call Mother at work in our store to get further instructions. She’d tell me to taste whatever I was questioning or to tell her what something looked like. Then she’d give me instructions, and usually everything turned out just fine. I don’t remember that I did any baking, though. Baking a cake or pie would be difficult to teach on the phone. Mother continued to do those honors, and she was so good at baking that I surely didn’t mind not doing sweets.

When Frank and I married, I knew how to cook, thanks to Mother; however, Frank, who had been a bachelor for several years and had cooked for himself for longer than I had been working in the kitchen, knew much more about cooking than I did. From him, I learned how to cook such dishes as Shepherd’s Pie, Liver and Onions (very cheap and just what we starving students needed), Clam Chowder, and Boston Baked Beans. (Sorry about all the capitals. I’ve made my own rules concerning capitalization since I’m not teaching!) He also taught me how to shop economically, something that my mother didn’t teach me. But that’s for another piece.

I think I’m a pretty good cook, but I’m a better baker. Cookies and cakes are my specialty, though pies are my favorite to eat. In our early married life, I baked only what Mother had – German’s Chocolate Cake and two pound cakes that were made from a mix with either lemon or orange juice added. I don’t recall ever having her Brown Sugar Pound Cake recipe, but she made that frequently. Recently I found a recipe online and will be making it this week, maybe tomorrow.

Nowadays, I bake cookies more than anything else. I even have an apron that Wendy gave me. It has “Cookie Maker” on the bib. Until two years ago, we had a huge Christmas Open House, and I’d bake about ten different kinds of cookies for it. 






I’ve had some real flops in my cooking “career.” Carrot Cakes are notorious for falling in the middle when I remove them from the oven, but that’s okay. I just put more icing where the indention is. I’ve burned up batches of cookies and had to get rid of them before anyone sees them. Once a friend gave me a recipe, and I didn’t notice that she had listed salt twice in the ingredients, and I added both amounts.


Perhaps the biggest faux pas in my kitchen came on Christmas Day many years ago. When we lived in Pensacola,  I was one of the few mothers who worked away from home. The other ladies in the neighborhood knew that our children needed watching as all the kids played in the afternoon. They felt free to correct Wendy and Jay if they misbehaved and didn’t hesitate to call me to tell me of their disciplining. They did this out of the goodness of their hearts and knew that I’d have been happy to help them out in the same way.

Since they were so nice to me, I decided that Christmas, after we had opened our “giffs” (Jay’s word) and while I was cooking dinner, that I’d bake four Egg Custard Pies, giving one to Peggy Fitzgerald and one to Sue Glenn, the friends who did the most to help me with our children. I delivered one to each of them while the turkey was cooking.


After lunch that afternoon, I called Peggy to see if she and Mike would like to come over for pie and coffee. I had other kinds of pies, but I chose to serve pieces of the custard. Frank, Peggy, and Mike were talking away, solving the problems of the world, when I set the pie before each. I took a bite of mine before they started on theirs, and . . . BLEEEAAAHHH! I grabbed all four plates and ran to the kitchen before they could dig in. I quickly cut four pieces of the other Custard Pie and took them to the table. Consternation was written all over their faces. I sheepishly explained, “I forgot the sugar.” I’ve always wondered if I did the same thing with the pies that I delivered.


Sandy’s Fashion Statement

May 31, 2019

From a distance of seventy years or more, I don’t have very many specific memories of clothes and their importance to me. I certainly wasn’t what you’d call a “clothes horse,” but my mother always saw to it that I was dressed nicely and probably pretty much like the way other girls my age were dressed in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

Of course, I have no recollection of how I dressed when I was a toddler, but I do have one photo. Here I am in a very dark long dress, talking on the phone, or probably pretending to. I know that the photo was taken at my cousin JoAnn’s house on Boss Avenue in Shreveport because I remember that bull “statue” from later years.

My cousin Gail and I must have spent some Easters together because these photos have us too dressed up for an ordinary Sunday. That’s not to say that we didn’t get dressed up every Sunday. Everyone had Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes that were saved specifically for the Lord’s Day. Check out the socks worn even when we were dressed to the nines. Very much different from the way girls dress today. We were probably nine or ten years old in these photos. Girls of nine today are sometimes wearing heels!

During those years, girls always wore dressed or skirts and blouses to school. It gets really cold in the South during the winter, so we were allowed to wear long pants under our skirts until we got to school. Those pants had to come off immediately and be hung up in what we called the “cloak closet.” We could put them back on to play outside during recess and lunch and then again to walk home.

On Saturdays, we dressed in jeans (nothing like the designer jeans today) or shorts. Not too much different from 2019. I was probably about twelve in this photo. The long legs haven’t changed in all those years.

I know that when we moved to Pensacola in 1953 my interest in clothes was much more pronounced. My mother sewed many of my clothes when we lived in Mobile and New Orleans, but when my parents took our little family to Pensacola, she began working outside our home and didn’t have time to sew. My dad opened up an Auto-Lec Associate Store in our new city, and just down the street from the store was Uden’s Dress Shop. My mother and Mrs. Uden had their own private barter agreement. Mother kept track of what Mrs. Uden bought at our store (toys, bicycles, appliances, tires, etc.), and she kept track of what Mother and I bought at her store (all of our clothes!). Every few months, they’d tally up what each had bought and pay the difference if there was one. Very convenient for both families! I don’t remember getting anything from Uden’s except skirts, blouses, and dresses. Girls still couldn’t wear pants to school.

This is a little strange: I hear people talking about poodle skirts being popular in the ‘50s and almost indicating that every girl wore nothing but them. I’ll tell you something. I saw very few, and I never had one.

What I do remember, though, is that all of us girls had crinolines. We wore them almost every day under our full skirts, and sometimes we even wore hoops under them. Yes, even to school. I remember a special program at my junior high school, when a girl was on stage, wearing a beautiful evening gown with a hoop under the skirt. I think it was a program in which one girl represented each month of the year. One girl sat down on a throne on the stage, plopped down on the edge of one of the hoops, and up went her skirt, showing all that she had underneath. How embarrassing!

I can remember washing and starching those crinolines every Saturday. Then I’d hang them on the clothes line in the backyard to dry. It took all day, but they were beautifully stiff when I took them down . . . all ready for Sunday.

By the way, on Sunday I wore a dress kept only for that day, a hat, and gloves. By the time that I was in ninth grade, I was wearing heels on Sunday. They weren’t four-inch heels, just two or three, I guess. The only time I ever wore really high heels was for high school graduation, and I prayed the whole time that I wouldn’t fall off as I was walking across the stage to get my diploma. The Lord heard my prayers, and I think I threw those shoes away. I know I never wore them again!

During my high school days, I did lots of sewing. Both gored skirts and gathered skirts were popular in the ‘50s, so that’s what I mostly made. My best friend, Sharon, and I went to town almost every Saturday, and one of the stores that we always visited was Gilberg’s, the fabric store. She sewed, too, so we load up with bright-colored fabric so that we could get to work on new outfits. I continued to sew even after Frank and I married and had children, but that’s another story.

College was no different from elementary, junior high, and high school as far as wearing skirts and dresses was concerned. The only time that we could wear pants or shorts was to go to gym, and then we had to wear a raincoat over them. The skirts that we wore fell about mid-calf. I must say that that was a comfortable, decent length. And then came Meredith Johnson, the Registrar’s niece. She was from Washington State and hit the campus with a bang. She wore mini skirts! They weren’t the mini skirts that we see today, ones that practically show panties. They were a few inches above the knee, though, and we were horrified. We were sure that she’d be kicked out of our very conservative Baptist college, but she wasn’t. I do think, though, that her uncle had a “come to Jesus” meeting with her because miraculously, her skirts became a bit longer. Today, on the campus of Mississippi College, you can see shorts and jeans and, yes, mini skirts. My how times have changed!

Just one more story about clothing. When I taught at Pascagoula High School right after Frank and I both finished college, the same rules were in force . . . dresses and skirts only. The same applied at Woodham High School, where I taught when We moved to Pensacola. I never qustioned the rules. Evidently some teachers had, though, because when I returned to school after three days of personal leave to accompany Frank to the Spring Sales Show for our store, as soon as I walked in to the school, there were my friends wearing pantsuits. Oh, my goodness, they were going to be fired . . . or so I thought. The truth was that while I was gone, the school board had approved women’s wearing pantsuits during the week and something more informal, like jeans, on Friday. I don’t remember that many of us immediately bought a new wardrobe of pantsuits, especially not on our teachers’ salaries. But gradually, we began to change, not every day, but occasionally.

As my mother-in-law used to say when she finished talking to us on the phone, “So there you have it. Good-bye.” And I’ll claim her finish as mine. So there you have it, my clothing history of sorts.







Learning to Cook

May 30, 2019

Learning to Cook

If I’m to be completely honest, I didn’t really learn to cook until I got married. Since Dick had been living on his own for a couple of years, he probably had more culinary skills than I did. For at least the first year of marriage, I spent a lot of my cooking time with my phone held between my shoulder and ear as I asked directions from Mama.  Even when I had recipes, I had to figure out how to make all the dishes come out ready to serve at the same time.

I’m sure Mama did her best to teach us how to cook. With five of us around though, I imagine sometimes it was easier to do it herself than to coordinate our efforts. I do remember, though, that I had her full support—and full access to the kitchen—when I decide to pursue the Girl Scout cooking badge.

Since our school didn’t have a troop for a while, my friends Elaine, Debbie, and Kathy joined the troop at Wilson High School in Zip City. I’m ashamed to admit that we sometimes had a little bit of a superiority complex. We’d sing “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” with the best of them, and we sang “Make New Friends, But Keep the Old” with sincerity, but we were motivated to go after the more complicated badges just to show off. Admittedly, these girls had more experience with survival skills—farming, canning, horsemanship—than we’d ever achieve. Wanting a full badge sash, though, I decided to try to complete the cooking badge, certain I’d have all the parts checked off in no time.

We were living in the Pamplin Ave. church preacher’s home on Pearl St. at the time. The kitchen was so much smaller than the one I complain about now. I’m sure we were always underfoot as she tried to cook. I can remember how sticky the linoleum floor was after my thirteenth birthday party when we repurposed the fruited ice ring my grandmother had made for my cousin Christy’s wedding. Since our radio sat on the kitchen counter, I first heard “Ode to Billie Joe” in this room. (“Pass the biscuits, please.”)

After working through the preliminary steps for completion of my badge, I was at last ready to present my family with a full meal. If it had gone off without a hitch, I might remember everything on the menu. However, as I placed the salad—individually plated for each family member—I was horrified to see an inchworm measuring out the leaves of one plate.

Ironically, Mama made me toss the whole tossed salad and refused to sign off on the meal. I’d have to try to feed the family another day—with a little less living protein. She probably looked forward to one more meal when she wasn’t fully responsible for feeding all seven of us.

Fashion Statement

May 30, 2019

A work in progress based on my summer prompts list:

Fashion Statement

Of all the benefits of growing up in the sixties and seventies—music, for example, the successes of the space program, and neighbors who were their brothers’ keepers—fashion presented particular challenges. Coming of age during the time when bikinis, mini-skirts, and hot pants filled the stores and the pages of Seventeen magazine, girls like me faced a dilemma. We could please our parents and comply with the dress code or we could fit in.

Since my sisters and I attended a Christian school, one with a strict dress code, our options were limited. Girls were sometimes made to kneel to be sure our dress hems grazed the floor. More than one of the teachers carried a ruler for measuring dresses. For a while the teachers sat in lunch taking names of girls whose dress lengths didn’t meet the rigid standards. Some of the boys came up with a strategy. Girls would eat lunch and then wait to leave until the boys formed a line, creating a barrier in front of the list-making teachers so the high school girls could leave the cafeteria without judgment.

We weren’t even allowed to wear pants—certainly not jeans and not even pants suits.  I do remember a few exceptions. When we had snow, we could wear slacks—as long as we wore a dress over them. Somehow that fashion statement didn’t catch on. Even during my college years, girls couldn’t wear pants to class or even to the cafeteria except on Saturday. We could only wear shorts under a raincoat—while carrying a tennis racket (since tennis was, evidently, the only justification for wearing shorts).

In junior high, most of the girls my age wore clothes our mothers sewed. In fact, my friends and I spent more than one summer taking Singer sewing classes, making dresses of our own. Even the rich kids moms sewed. It’s probably worth noting that we didn’t even know which kids were rich and which were poor. Long after college I learned that a set of sisters were the children of a millionaire. We hadn’t a clue because they didn’t live or dress any different from us.

We spent hours poring over the Butterick, McCalls and Simplicity catalogs. Sometimes Mama bought fabric at the Sears and Roebuck downtown. Probably more frequently, we shopped at Mill Ends, a small fabric shop in North Florence run by J. T. and Sue Darby. I eventually learned to smock and to do French hand sewing there when my daughter was born. For years, though, we did our best to be rules compliant and somewhat fashionable.

At least at school our unfashionably long skirts were the norm. The bus stop was a different matter. When the city school buses passed us, doubtless transporting girls wearing mini-skirts, hot pants, even halter tops, there we stood feeling as anachronistic as the Amish. We might have though we were imagining the mockery if they hadn’t opened their windows and hollered at us.

It didn’t take us long to figure out that we could roll up the waistband of our skirts to expose a few inches above the knee and then roll them down as our bus came into sight. Since the bus drivers were usually teachers or parents, they would have been compelled to rat us out.

As the oldest child, I was a pleaser, a rule follower, and an occasional sneak. I maintained that tension without calling attention to myself at school. I was never called to the office or even to the teacher’s desk because of dress code violations. What a surprise, then, to return home from a beach vacation with my best friend’s family to find I had been sent a letter from the school board stating that I had been in violation of the dress code and would not be allowed to return to school for my sophomore year unless I wrote a letter of apology for my infractions. My parents had already read the letter and had enrolled me in the new city high school by the time I got home. The decision was made.

That first day at Bradshaw High School I sat in my homeroom staring at the chalkboard wondering if I had made a mistake. I did have friends there, since several members of my church youth group had always gone to public school. I also had the freedom to wear pants to class, avoiding the conflict between my still conservative parents and the fashions of the seventies. I was surprised to discover that even in public school, students didn’t live under an “anything goes” status. Hair lengths were regulated. Halter tops and obvious braless looks were against the rules. Wannabe hippie boys grew their hair long but tucked it up under short-haired wigs for classes. Finally, the city school board caved in and announced that the dress code was abolished. Boys flung their hairpieces into the air—or into the trash—and let their long locks loose. Surprisingly, when relieved of responsibilities of enforcing dress codes, teachers were free to teach. Extraneous conflicts went away.

My life eased a little but I still had a few challenges. First, I was a skinny girl, no where near one hundred pounds. Second, shopping options were limited in those days before the mall opened. Rogers Department store was the favorite shopping venue but in my size there were few choices, so we all faced the likelihood of showing up at school and running into several girls in the same ensemble. Sears and Roebuck downtown introduced the Lemon Frog Shoppe, clothes for girls our age. J. C. Penneys also had a few options too.

Late one summer, my parents decided to take us to Nashville on a back-to-school shopping trip. We stayed overnight in a hotel—quite a treat—and feasted on a sackful of Krystal burgers, still not available in Florence. We had lots of shopping choices—Harvey’s, with its trademark merry-go-round, Castner-Knott and Cain Sloan. We were thrilled to ride up and down the escalator. Finally, Mama and Daddy decided to divide and conquer. Mother took me shopping, while Daddy took Amy, my sister two years younger. At the end of the day, we met and went back to the hotel room to show off our purchases. Amy and I each pulled out our favorite new outfits. They were identical, and we were mortified. Mama and Daddy were not willing to let either of us return our purchase.

Eventually, skirt lengths dropped and my fashion sense became more practical. Through college, even with a strict dress code again, I managed to stay out of trouble. I still wore clothes my mother made for me—even to college formals. Nashville also offered more shopping options, though my dorm friends and I often preferred to dress out of one another’s closets, something my sister and I would not have considered.

Years after college, as a mother of three, I started teaching at the private school I had once been asked to leave. Curiosity prompted me to rifle through my student file where I found a copy of the infamous “farewell letter.” Maturity and perhaps even a little humility led me to avoid petty nitpicking over fashion, hair, and any of those superficialities when my high school students pushed the limits a little.


Summer Writing Prompts:

May 19, 2019

I hear people claim they are “given” a word of the year, a word or idea that keeps catching their attention until they decide it’s more than coincidence. In the last month, especially, I’ve had my attention turned to the importance of story, telling our own, listening to those of others. Since this is already a soapbox issue for me, I want to dig a little deeper.

I want to take the time to write down family stories I’ve heard, making sure they don’t disappear. Coming from a storytelling family, I have a treasure trove from which to draw. I also have been reminded that sometimes while we are digging back through our ancestral stories, we forget to record or share the stories we know best–our own.

In the telling, too, I want to look for meaning and significance, for common threads and recurring themes. For now, I am not so concerned with creating some seamless narrative of my life or anyone else’s. Instead, I’m making the narrative equivalent of quilt squares. Some will be responses to photographs and artifacts; others must rely on the telling.

Beginning Prompts:

What stories are associated with items of clothing?

What are your best and worst memories associated with food and meals, with cooking?

What are the faith and baptism stories, your and those of others?

What songs dredge up clear memories? Which are happy? Which make you sad or nostalgic?

How did you experience music in your childhood home? in your adult home?

What conveniences that we now take for granted were once novelties? For example, do you remember life without central air conditioning, color television?

What telephone memories do you have in the days before everyone had a mobile phone that went everywhere?

How did you learn to drive?

What stories of flat tires, speeding tickets, fender benders and parallel parking do you recall?

The Other New Year

August 14, 2018

I’ve neglected this site in recent months, spending timer on my book blog, Discriminating Reader, but a week from today a new semester begins. I’ll be teaching three sections of composition at Lipscomb University, my alma mater. Right now I’m in the throes of syllabus preparation, reinventing and tweaking.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve seen all those back-to-school pictures, the front porch shots with the new backpacks and school clothes. Now I’m seeing posts from friends whose children are heading off to college, many for the first time. I remember how bittersweet the experience was–and how happy my own children were to be off to college.

I’ve always said I wouldn’t go back to high school for any amount of money, but I’d go back to college any day.  As Jose Antonio Bowen reminds readers (teachers) in his book Teaching Naked, we are the ones who liked school so much we have stayed on. Oddly, it’s not the academic part of college that is most engrained in my memory. Sure, I remember that debits are on the window side. (Thanks, Doc Swang). But since I’m an accounting major who now teaches English, maybe back then I was just learning how to learn and how to be independent–how to “adult.”

I’m still having to learn.  For example, I have the hardest time just spacing once after a period when I type. I wasn’t around when that rule was changed. I’m also having to adapt all the time. I’m learning to pick my battles. I’m learning humility. No, my class may not be a priority for many of my students. It’s my job to make it as engaging as possible.

I always tell my students that for me, there are two times a year I make New Year’s Resolutions–January and August. As I hope my students are doing right now, I’m setting goals, promising to use my time well, to learn to balance my time and resources. I’m going through my six dozen teacher bags and sorting binder clips, paper clips, white board markers, and index cards. I’m looking at my past lesson plans and trying to evaluate their success.

I actual look forward to having a schedule again. I love my summers, but by this time of the year, I find myself floundering, fiddling around, practicing my best procrastination strategies. In seven days, though, I’ll meet three sections of college freshmen. I’ll make my best effort to learn their names quickly and to use their time well too. I’m also flipping through pictures of students from past semesters, offering up prayers for them too.


February 7, 2018

Today I drove my daughter to the doctor to confirm what she suspected already: she has the flu. We tell everybody we moved to Nashville to be closer to our grandchildren, which is true, but being close to our daughter and son-in-law means so much too. I’m sure she could have gotten another ride today–or could have driven herself, as miserable as she feels–but I’m glad to be here for days like this too.

In our conversation, we brought up what we’d both thought about already: Nineteen years ago, we got a call in our home in North Carolina from Vanderbilt Hospital. I’m always thankful for the thoughtful wording of the woman who called:  “Your daughter Laura wanted us to call and tell you she’s been in an automobile accident.” Those words, despite the bad news, reassured us that she was alive, awake, aware of who she was and who loved her.

Only later did we learn that she had been unconscious when the ambulance arrived and didn’t have any identification. Her billfold had fallen as she left her dorm, headed to a choral program. Laura was in her freshman year of college, just back from Atlanta with friends, and was on her way to sing.  The car in front of her jerked out of the way of an oncoming van in their lane, giving Laura no time to react. The driver, apparently driving under the influence, was coming down the wrong side of a straight stretch of road in daylight when he hit her.  Her car, a Volvo, was unrecognizable. Every side was hit.  But the car did just what it was supposed to do, what those cars are known for, and while she had a broken arm and broken bones in her feet, she was alive.

She was taken to the Vanderbilt Trauma Center, where she spent the night, before being released the next day. My mother got a ride there with my brother-in-law, since she was much closer than we were, but I learned later that she got one look at Laura, passed out, and was put in a room to be examined. (We already knew she has what’s sometimes called “white coat syndrome,” passing out at the sight of blood or injury.) My college roommate Susan and her husband had arrived first, after I called them to get some answers for us. They had trouble finding her. Since they didn’t know who she was at first, she was admitted under the alias El Paso El Paso.

Because the call had come so late at night and we hadn’t known for a while how serious the wreck had been, I waited until the first rays of dawn to head west on I-40. I made the six hour trip in five. When I got to the hospital, Laura looked pitiful. She was hurting all over. She had shards of glass in her hair–and even in her ears. Thanks to the air bag, she didn’t have a single cut on her face. When I got there, Laura also had a throng of her friends in the waiting area.

I was surprised when she was released that day. Her dad, unable to wait for word, had caught a plane to Nashville too. We took her to Susan and Steve’s house, bathed her, and set about to help her start healing. I expected to be needed there for awhile, but she wanted to be back in the dorm quickly. When we rode over to see how she could manage, her friends surrounded her and showed her how each one had skills to help her. They found clothes she could wear over her sling. One friends, a nursing student, promised to be sure she followed doctor’s orders. The girls even strategized how to wash Laura’s long curly hair for her. When I headed back to North Carolina, I knew she’d be in good hands.

Nineteen years have passed, and while she still has some problems with her knees and feet, she’s whole. Justice moved a little slower with the driver. It took two years (and a lawyer) to learn that the Blood Alcohol Test had been filed without anyone checking it. While we weren’t able to get all the information about him, apparently, this was not his first drunk driving accident. He was out on parole for manslaughter; we suspect it was vehicular manslaughter. Laura was the lucky one.

Those college friends have remained close. They get together for girl trips, but they also meet every year or so with their husbands and children. When they came to Nashville, we were happy to swap houses so they’d have room for them all here. They are my reminder of how important it is to have a circle of real friends, of how important it is to form that same kind of circle for my friends.

Paved with Good Intentions.

January 24, 2018

This spot has been a place for my varied interests beyond the reading I report at my Discriminating Reader site. I had to laugh when I realized I had posted last (year) about New Year’s Resolutions. And then I just stopped. I was reminded of a conversation about baby books over Christmas. My sister told us that in her brother-in-law’s baby book, the only thing AT ALL was these words: “Felt sharp pain.” He is the third child.

Sometimes this blog has been a place I’ve facilitated some online writing workshops with friends. This year I’m going to share my activities that extend beyond my reading–and that leaves plenty. Since my interests extend to writing, music, arts and crafts, I will show up regularly to share. I already have plenty of plans in the works–David Rawlings at the Ryman tomorrow, The Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase (in Lenoir, NC) in March, Merlefest in April, and Swannanoa Gathering Old Time Music and Dance Week in July. Meanwhile, I’m auditing a printmaking class at Lipscomb and have big plans–unfinished projects included.

I hope I’m not just speaking into a vacuum. I want to know what others are doing as well. This time I plan to post more than once a year!


Taking 2017 one month at a time

January 7, 2017


I’m one of those odd birds who like to make New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, since most of my life has been tied to the school calendar, I make them in January and again in August–two fresh starts. This year have decided to work on themes month by month, but since I only answer to myself, I give me plenty of wiggle room.

Right now I have calendars on the brain, probably because I spent about 6-8 hours in one spot last night into this morning working on the calendar I like to create for my mom every year.  She has a January birthday, so I have to hope she knows the important dates before then, since I do well to get the calendar started before the new year.

I like a real calendar. I may use the app on my phone sporadically, but I’ve kept a little paper purse calendar since at least 1974 (until they quit offering them, it was the Hallmark freebie available by the register). They provide a nice record of my life–the important little trivia that makes it up.

I also keep a wall calendar, usually in my laundry room near the kitchen. Not only do I record appointments and upcoming dates, but I keep a record of what has happened. Even more vital, this is where I record the books I read all year long. It’s a lovely kind of ritual for me to keep up with what I finish. At the end of the year, I record them all in a book I’ve had forever. Now I also post my list to my Discriminating Reader blog, ideally drawing some book lists from other avid readers in response. My annual calendars are also invaluable when I put together my scrapbook/photo album of each year. When did we do that? Oh, it’s on the calendar!

Knowing my fondness for calendars, my son John tries to pick out the most unusual calendar for me each year. He’s given me Nuns Having Fun, Suicidal Rabbits, and Horses Doing Yoga, for instance. This year, I think I one-upped him with the “suitable for framing” Political Mashup Calendar for 2017:  Lenin and McCartney, LBJ-Z, Yo-Yo Mao.

The challenge with the family calendar is getting a good representation of all the families. If I could just fill it with my immediate family (i.e., the grandkids), the task would be much simpler, but with five sisters and their extended families, I find it more fun and fair to try to represent all of them.

The calendar concept, sometimes even the title, is “This Time Last Year.” The January calendar (in theory) will have pictures from last January. Some months are easier. Two of my nieces married–in August and November–so photos abounded. We moved to Nashville in February, so I had a shot of the “sold sign” in the snow and the moving van.

The first order of business is to note all the family birthdays, anniversaries, and upcoming events. We have a high school graduation and a wedding in 2017. We have two new nephews-in-law to add to the birthday rotation, along with a bride-to-be who should be part of the family by the time her birthday rolls around. I include the ages (sometimes the years) for these dates, since it’s hard to keep up with everyone.

This year, my personal resolution is to have the rest of the family sharing photos month-by-month, so I can be creating 2018 as I go. I already see that snow pictures might be great for January. I can solicit shots for Easter, Halloween, first of school, all the usuals, and then we can fill in with the best all-round shots of the year.

Once I get this calendar issue under way, I can start typing up my syllabus for classes that start Monday–and that means another calendar!