Have a Marlis Day!

One room at the annual haunted house was a cooking class featuring Rachel Ray (Phyllis Sweeney) and Paula Deen (Me). Spectators crowded close as we loudly explained every move, chopping and dicing, preparing a delicious meal.  Our table was strewn with fruits, veggies, cooking utensils, and gadgets. (However, in the center of the table, we had discreetly covered a neatly-cut hole about five inches in diameter.) Suddenly, my meat cleaver appeared to come down on Phyllis’s wrist, severing it from her arm. She screamed and fell backwards while children and adults stood in horror. Phyllis’s sweater sleeve covered her stump and she pressed ketchup onto it as she writhed on the floor. With all eyes on Rachel Ray, and Paula screaming for help, our partner-in-crime (Nichole Like) who had been hiding under the table thrust her hand through the hole and waggled it violently back and forth. Of course, I saw it first and pointed to it with a shriek. Eyes left Rachel on the floor and focused on the flopping hand. Children screamed! Horrified parents covered their children’s eyes and headed for the doors. I know, I know. It was over the top, but it WAS Halloween!

Recently, I’ve noticed that our responses to each other have become shortened to a simple, “Oh, Boy!” I guess more than 54 years of marriage does that to a couple. Adjectives, adverbs, and other modifiers have simply become unnecessary. These days, a normal conversation between us goes something like this:

Good game last night?  “Oh, Boy!”

How’s your steak?  “Oh, Boy!”

What about those leaves?  “Oh, Boy!”

Looking forward to Florida?  “Oh, Boy!”

You get the point. We didn’t plan or predict it. No one warned us. It just happened. I wonder if reaching 60 years of bliss, our responses to each other will be reduced to simple nods and grunts. Sigh…. 

Just glad we’re still “havin’ and holdin’.”


This picture belongs in my book, THE SECRET OF BAILEY’S CHASE. In Chapter Nine, the ten-yr-old heroines, Sparky and Grey Bailey, visit the historic Grouseland on a field trip with their class. While touring the mansion (Home of William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory) the girls make contact with the spirit of a child, Calico.  She informs them that her daddy, a slave, was falsely accused of stealing a horse and hanged. She offered proof of his innocence and begged the girls to clear his name. The blonde Sparky and her dark-haired cousin and best friend, Grey, embark on a journey into the past to right this wrong. Children tell me this is their favorite part of the book. Thanks to Karen Burke-Bible for allowing me to borrow this picture of her daughter, Emmy and her friend, Tylee.

This picture always makes me think of Gypsy. For years, Gypsy had tried to catch a squirrel, but they were always too quick for her. UNTIL one day when a squirrel was off guard and she pounced on it with terrier fury. An instant snap to the neck and the poor squirrel was gone. Of course, there was no praise from us watching from the porch. Interestingly, she didn’t know what to do with it. She carried it all over the place: around the house, up and down the lane, even down to the banks of the pond. Clearly, she was distressed and regretted the whole incident. After hours of pacing about with the poor animal hanging from her jaws, she took it into the woods and laid it down in the leaves under a big tree. She came back to the porch and lay down, crossing her front legs and looking wistfully into the distance. I think she was just so ashamed of herself. Never again did she chase a squirrel.

Oh, the fun we had when our two little grandgirls came to play in the basement. We had a dolly daycare business with a kitchen for preparing delicious children’s meals.

Sometimes we played school, teaching reading and writing as well as art and music. 

And sometimes we created amazing things at our craft table, cutting and pasting and sprinkling glitter.

But today the basement playroom is lonely. No one tends to the dollies or cooks nutritious lunches. No one teaches lessons or colors pictures.

I miss those days with the giggles and dress-up shows. But time doesn’t stand still, even for doting grandmothers and precious little girls. Now I remember where those little girls went; they grew up and became teenagers. Mothers and grandmothers: Enjoy every fleeting moment with your little ones. Those years pass too quickly.

She accused me of being a fibber and threatened to call my mother. I didn’t lie then and I don’t lie today. If I say it, it’s true or I think it’s true. Sometimes writers are accused of embellishing facts to make the story more interesting. My novels are fiction but my blogs are true. This all happened because we had access to a cabin on the river where my dad did trot-line fishing. He and my uncles would harvest fish and the women would host a fish fry. It was fun going to the cabin by the river and romping on the sandbar with my brothers and cousins. One day our “town neighbors” were coming out for supper. The grown-ups were whispering about the catch that day. They had caught an eel and planned to fry it along with the fish. It was to be a surprise, no one saying a word, then watching their guests’ reactions when they tasted it. I’m sure it was my dad’s idea, he loved to play pranks on people. Not seeing the catch, I had no idea what they were talking about and since I didn’t eat fish, I ignored the whole business and went straight for the biscuits, fried potatoes, and pie. I remember the shock on the guests’ faces and the laughter around the table. but it didn’t affect me. I was probably off to catch tadpoles or something.

Until…the next week at school when our teacher taught us a new word:

SEAL S-e-a-l.  It lives in the water she told us. My little brain sparked and my hand flew up. Our conversation went something like this:

“I know about seals, I told her. My dad caught one!”

Shocked, she asked, “WHERE?

“In White River, ” I told her.

She replied, “Marlis, that’s impossible! You mustn’t tell fibs!

“But it’s true,” I protested.

“If that’s true, then where is it?” she asked wearily.

“We ate it!” I told her.

The children roared. My teacher was livid. “That’s a fib and you know it, Marlis Black. Do you want me to call your mother?

“Go ahead,” I insisted. “She’ll tell you.” I was hurt and couldn’t wait to get home to tell Mama.

Mama explained gently, “Oh, Marlis, it was an EEL not a SEAL.” The teacher had not called her.

I got over it, but I don’t think my teacher ever did. She glared at me occasionally like she expected my pants to burst into flames.

This was a long time ago, another spring just dawning. I think Grandma Bennett must have stitched up this little coat on her pedal Singer sewing machine for my birthday. I probably hated it, like all the wearable birthday gifts she made us. But I loved my brother’s hat with the wings on it.

I knew she wouldn’t live forever, but that fact made it no easier to say good-bye to my constant companion of fifteen years. Gypsy wandered into our lives as a pup and became a member of the family. My grandchildren don’t remember time without her at my side. It’s been a month now, and every day I look for her when I come home, when I settle into my chair for an evening of television, or when I take a walk. Life without her is going to take retraining my brain, no minor task at my age. I open my closet door and see one of her toys. I move a chair and find a treat she has hidden there. I imagine I hear her when the tiniest noise wakes me at night. I sent the trophies she won at the various dog shows to the grandchildren, to keep for her, to remember her always. She wrote letters to them regularly describing daily life here on the ranch. Her point of view came through me as naturally as my own voice. I hope the children will hold fond memories of this feisty Jack Russell terrier as she bragged about her interludes with snakes, raccoons, and other varmints on the farm. I piled her beds, feeding pads, leashes, and toys on top of her kennel in the garage. Someday I will give it away to a new dog owner, but not today. It takes all my energy to focus on the happy times we shared, the pet shows we won, and the children and senior citizens we entertained. This I strive for, instead of remembering the two-day sickness and the moonlit night when Joe and I buried her in the flower bed by the bird bath. Joe digging into the cold earth, with me sobbing at his side. Every day should get easier. Maybe I won’t cry tomorrow.

bigger camp pic

Another year! Sharing the best titles I read in 2018. Hope my reading friends will share their favorites too. I have chosen my favorites, with the absolute best one first. After that, it’s random, all good books. Number one is THE THIRTEENTH TALE by D. Setterfield. Amazing story -0nly for true book lovers. For my one classic, I chose A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, not sure how I had missed this one. Very interesting time and place. The next one is a reread: MAMA MAKES UP HER MIND by Bailey White, a hilarious memoirs of a Florida teacher living with her mother. This is the book I take when I read to the blind or disabled. A collection of heart-warming adventures. I gave a copy to my girlfriends to share for Christmas. Cheap, I know, but maybe it will give them the incentive to read and pass it along. Still my favorite author, John Grisham rarely lets me down. A DAY OF RECKONING kept me turning pages and guessing. A real twist at the end!! GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW gave me a taste of Russian aristocracy. Sounds dreadful: an exiled count forced to live in an opulent hotel. Again, a surprise ending that pleased. THE SHOEMAKER’S WIFE, a story of immigration, servitude, and love. STILLHOUSE LAKE, a thriller, by Rachel Caine,  also read the sequel. KILLMAN CREEK. Y IS FOR YESTERDAY, had to include Sue Grafton’s last novel. I met her in Louisville and was a huge fan. THE GOOD DAUGHTERS, by Joyce Maynard, a story of a two families and their daughters. Next, THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY, a huge, unattractive girl grows up and ends up being the winner. THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, a good mystery by A.J. Finn. A lonely woman has a phobia and can’t leave her fancy NYC apartment so she watches her neighbors. One day she witnesses a murder. Of course, the murderer gets after her and it’s hard to run away when you’re afraid to go outside. Since I’ve had a love affair with the ocean all my life, I can’t resist books set on the beach. Both THE BAREFOOT SUMMER by Carolyn Brown and SUMMER GIRLS by M.A. Munroe, satisfied my longing for the salty, sea breeze. Good family stories, love and adventure. Last, and most recent is WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, by Delia Owens, a story of a young girl abandoned by her drunk father and how she survives in the southern marshes. Happy Reading!!

Gypsy is fifteen today! I gave her a bath, trimmed her nails, and fixed her favorite lunch. The vet cautions this may be her last birthday, but since he started her on Lasix, she is getting around better and lost the persistent cough that’s been bugging her. The bout with Lyme’s Disease last year stole most of her hearing, but she still appears to enjoy life. Although she’s slowed down considerably and often stumbles on steps, she still enjoys a leisurely walk.  I remember all the pet shows she’s won for best tricks, all the children she’s entertained at schools, libraries, and scout camps. She loved visiting nursing homes and youth groups and never failed to win the hearts of everyone present. She’s been my constant companion for almost fifteen years, never straying far from me in case I’d need her to kill a snake or bark at an intruder. Gypsy keeps us on schedule, reminding us when it’s time to get up, go to bed, and have meals. It’s hard to explain how she’s enlarged our lives. She has a bed near my bed, by my recliner in the living room, and this one in the sun room. How quickly the years did pass, since she found us as a pup. I guess we’ve grown old together.

The geese are gathering. Maybe they sense snow is coming tomorrow and are making travel plans.  I walk around the cold lake and contemplate the bleak season upon us. I find myself making enough stew and soup for several days, visiting the library for armloads of books, digging out the warmest coats and mittens, and getting a flu shot. Going to the YMCA on Tuesday and Thursday mornings has enlarged our lives. New faces, new schedules, hearty lunches at favorite restaurants. Then there’s volunteering on Wednesday afternoons at the elementary school and church on Sunday,  but that still leaves a lot of week. And the bitter truth is: winter is coming with its cold, dark days, and I’m such a summer person. Friends migrate to Florida but we stay home with our little Jack Russell, Gypsy, who will soon be fifteen. Her steps are slower now and our walks shorter. I wonder if this will be her last winter. We both get stiff after watching too much TV in the evening and wobble a bit. My hubby and I have taken to the crossword puzzles in the daily papers, hoping to keep our minds active. We are frequent fans at the local basketball games, girls and boys, cheering on kids from our church and friends of our grandchildren. Our children and grands plan to be here for Thanksgiving dinner and I look forward to that day, when we’ll feast on a turkey dinner, then walk over to the barn and visit the llamas. Hopefully, I’ll get a picture. I’m ordering Christmas gifts online and look forward to selling books at the South Knox Christmas Craft show. Christmas will be delightful, hoping we can negotiate dates to celebrate with all the other family groups involved. After that, it’s longer and darker days. We will hunker in and make the best of it, but I won’t like it; I’m such a summer person.

Hi! I'm Marlis.

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