March 24, 2011

Serving up a taste of Depression Cookies

Since we are in the querying agents stage of our journey, we wanted to share a sampling of our novel.

To all the wonderfully supportive readers of our book: please share this with friends and family.

Summer 2000


Sitting at the kitchen table, I watched my three daughters and was amazed at the ease with which they shared funny, anecdotal tidbits of their lives. Animated, they acted out various scenarios, ribbing one another in humorous play and laughing unabashedly. Resting my gaze on first one, and then another, I smiled, letting my mind wander back to pigtails, lace socks, mud pies, and hopscotch.

Pain seared through my right hip, snapping me back to the present. I gripped the table’s edge, struggling to hoist myself to a standing position. That’s when I spied its worn Formica edges. This had been the first piece of furniture Bob and I had bought. It had become the central coming-together place in our household for meals and to share, but it was more. Each of us had grown up around this piece of wood. Our hearts had been spilled over its solid surface; issues had been endorsed and tossed aside; lessons had been learned; friends and family had made restitutions and resolutions around its oval shape; and once, puppies had been delivered and cradled on its top.

What magical properties did it possess that drew the best and worst from us? I stretched my legs and eased myself back into the chair and glanced over at Janie, my six-month-old granddaughter. She was playing in her walker and completely oblivious to the cacophony of female voices.

“Mama, are you listening?” Krista asked, drawing me back into the conversation.

I shook my head, “No, I guess not. I was actually enjoying a moment of reflection.”

“We were talking about the past,” Katie said, bringing me up to speed. Then, added, “How did we ever do it?”

“We did what we had to,” I replied, hoping my terse tone would defuse further discussion on the topic. I wanted to stay in this melancholy moment, but the spell had already been broken.

I was surprised Katie would be the one to open the family’s Pandora’s box. She usually avoided personal involvement. Being the middle child, caught between a vocal older sister and a younger one with health issues, she had somehow managed to escape most family traumas, while creating plenty of pandemonium in her own life to send us all to the funny farm.

“No, we did what Dad wanted,” Krista hissed, pushing back in her chair, slinging her arm over its back, posturing for the next remark.

“Now, come on, guys, let’s don’t put all the blame on Dad,” Chelsea said, defensively, “What did we ever do to change things?”

Chelsea, the youngest, was the peacemaker. In every who-done-it situation, Chelsea backed the one on the wrong side of attention. Even now, at twenty, she was still refereeing.

I sat quiet, listening. Our lives had not been easy. There were times when each of us had wanted to run and hide. We had never met another family who had experienced twelve corporate moves in twenty years, yet we were still together. That was the victory. The relationship we forged from turmoil had made us a strong family, but the sting of those upheavals was carved into our physical and mental makeup.

Bob entered the kitchen and went straight for the cookie drawer. We stopped and watched him pull out a Hostess Twinkie, unwrap it, and devour it in two successive bites. He turned and faced us, cookie cream outlining the edges of his mouth, “Whew, my ears are burning! I certainly don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who’s the brunt of this conversation. Let me guess. Huh, it must be the psych-evaluation-on-moves conversation.” He cast a sarcastic, finger-pointing look and continued, “Get over it! Haven’t you heard that beating yourself to death is sadistic?”

We sat watching as he licked his lips, savoring the cream as much as our soured expressions. Before we could respond, he rushed out of the kitchen, hoping to escape our reactionary comments.

Bob loved having our daughters home, but hated the resurrection séances on his career, especially the part that centered on the many moves we made to help advance it. In his mind, every decision he made, every opportunity given to him was for the family and completely void of any personal agenda. He claimed the estrogen levels in our household drowned out any clear-thinking directives in the murky waters of too much discussion. His mantra, which Krista entitled the “Fulfillment Prophecy,” could not be disputed, “If I hadn’t worked all those hours and saluted every time the company said move, you girls would be up shit creek without a paddle and sinking, trying to pay off all those college loans. It’s a shame I have to pat myself on the back to get a little credit around here!”

Krista, the oldest and often most critical, jumped up from the table, flinging her last thoughts over her shoulder, “You know, that’s easy for him to say. He didn’t have to attend three high schools and get slam-dunked by obstinate teens! But he’s right about one thing, this conversation is over!”

Stopping in midstride, she softened, “Mom, would you watch Janie? I’m going upstairs for a few minutes.” She cast a glance at her daughter, adding, “I realize I can’t change the past, but I hope I can change the future. I don’t want the same mayhem for Janie. I’d like to offer her a life where she feels safe and secure outside her home and develop a sense of community belonging. Maybe she’ll be able to brag about going from first grade through high school with her best friend. It may be impossible to achieve, but I’m going to try.” Krista turned, leaving without her usual huff.

Silence trapped us. No one moved until Chelsea sighed, flat-toned, “Mom, Krista’s bitter.”
(jumps to next voice for a better representation of two authors, two voices)


I knew it was childish to leave the kitchen so abruptly, but sometimes I couldn’t stand the way Mom, Katie, and Chelsea whitewashed everything. My muscles and demeanor softened as I entered Mom’s bedroom. I loved being back in the comforts of home, surrounded by love and common understanding. Still, these comforts made slipping into our old roles all too easy. I would become the “I’m woman, hear me roar” self that permeated my persona during the teenage years. Katie, who had proven her intelligence in college, fell into her flighty sister role. The familiarity of home, which to our family was wherever my parents lived and never a specific place, held a sense of security for me.

Seeing my daughter playing with Mom brought back beautiful memories, but also a gripping fear I’d never do the job as well as my predecessor. I hoped Janie could find a way to love me anyway. My childhood memories collided with the present as I heard Janie’s happy glee. I remembered feeling my life had been full of closed doors and missed opportunities—doors swung shut without even the slightest push. All I ever wanted was consistency outside my family bubble, to walk into the local diner and say, “Just give me the regular, Daisy.” Too often in life, there is a great divide between what you want and what life has planned.

Bursting with thoughts, I wandered out of Mom’s bedroom to find a computer and check e-mail, desperately looking for a note from my husband. No such luck. I paused at Mom’s wall of sayings. She loved to collect snippets of knowledge and inspiration. I read one she must have recently posted:

When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the
closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.

According to Mom’s handwriting, this quote was from Helen Keller. I leaned back to soak in the words—a rare reprieve from parenting. It didn’t take long before my mind began to wander . . .

* * *

My life sparked with parents living in a college dorm room for married students. There’s no doubt some education was going on there. In the midst of pure knowledge, the tiny glimmer in my father’s eye produced me, a seven-pound bundle. My mother was not only prepared to be a mom; it was her true destiny. The man she married had what she felt she lacked, all the attributes she wanted her children to have and emulate: intelligence; good looks; charisma; and, above all, self-esteem and confidence. She wanted to undo the terrible wrongs her parents and other authority figures had done to her while also protecting us from things she would never even tell us existed. Unfortunately, children tend to ignore all the pretty words and good intentions and merely emulate what they see.

Both my parents came from a small economically depressed town in North Carolina. My father, the only hope of escape for my mom, had the support of the town behind him. Sick of poverty, he was determined to go to college and make a better life for himself. He had the love of a great woman and the drive of a great man. That was all he needed.

Two months before my arrival, Dad graduated from college and moved to Illinois for a job. Mom, seven months pregnant and not knowing a soul, joined him. She also found herself in line every morning in front of the donut shop across the street. Between those donuts and me, she gained sixty pounds. The day I finally arrived, Mom’s immediate feelings were warm and loving while Dad’s focus was on time and money. Throughout my life, I’d hear Dad refer to himself as the pragmatist and call Mom a romantic. Sure enough, as my mother imagined my first words, my first steps, and the first time I’d tell her I loved her, my father was already lost in a career, chasing images of dollar signs.

My mother’s expectations wore me down early. She wanted the kind of love only a child could give her, a love she desperately wanted and never had. I was independent and quite the queen bee and bore this expectation as a burden. My mother’s mantra of don’t-touch-that-again translated in my mind to trying it just one more time. Mom swore I was only satisfied with a bright red badge of courage on my hand.

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