When Time Stands Still

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I had many readers for early manuscripts of CeeGee’s Gift, from elementary, middle grade and high school students to adults and older adults. After they finish the story we talk, and I like to ask them—What do you think is the time period of the book’s setting?

For the young readers, it is just an earlier time, but for most of the adult readers, it is when they were a child. They seem to see the time of their own youth through the lens of CeeGee’s eyes. I’ve had adult readers tell me the book is set in any decade from the 40’s to the 70’s. 

This is a bit of a trick question because I tried hard to leave the time up to the reader. Unlike most contemporary novels, where the time is constructed in detail, whether past, present or some dystopian future, CeeGee’s Gift is set in a timeless town where everything seems to stay the same as it has always been. In addition, I was careful not to add clues that might suggest a particular era. For example, while there are cars, no make or model is identified. While there are a few phone calls, the phone is by the bed or on the kitchen counter, there is no description of dialing, push buttons or wireless. There are schools and playing fields, but no description of the lessons, games or rules that might signal then, or now.

It was fun as an author to try to obscure time. I was always asking myself, do drugstores still have soda fountains? Do people still sit and chat on front porches? How long have kids been riding skim boards on the edge of the tide? Thank goodness libraries still have actual books.

What do you think is the time period of CeeGee’s Gift? And how do you characterize the time of your own youth? Were there timeless elements? A curious author would love to know.

Small Gifts Matter

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People who give the big gifts get their name on a building, or a wall, or at the top of the list in a program brochure. They get special seats, and special parking and all kinds of special perks. But would community needs be met without the multitude of small donors? And are these small givers appreciated for their loyalty and the needs they collectively meet?

On the flip side, as donors, do we take the time to give the small gift when the large one is not within our capacity, and do we know how much it means to offer this support? Do we bring along other small donors to the cause, knowing that a multitude of small gifts can become a very big one? Multiple gifts of under $100 often add up to critical operating support for many organizations.

In my novel CeeGee’s Giftthere are many examples of the power of small kindnesses. CeeGee’s mother helps her friend plan a funeral after her son’s accidental death. CeeGee’s father, and other men in the community, make a wheelchair ramp for a disabled teen. CeeGee helps out a family as the ailing mother approaches end of life. Every 4thof July the students of Southport collectively assemble and take down the favorite community float. And Mr. Tindale, with no children of his own, makes sure the graduates of Southport High School have a chance to go to college.

As an individual, look around you at the people, the organizations and the issues you care about. Look at the good work being done, and the problems being solved and please share your generosity at whatever level is comfortable for you. Let those spending every day in the trenches working on important issues know that you are paying attention and that you appreciate their efforts. Let’s all celebrate what it can mean to give your gifts. Tell me about yours.

The Snack Chat

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In my novel CeeGee’s Gift, 12-year-old Celia Gene Williamson makes the observation that every time there was something really hard to talk about, the adults in her life put food in front of her. And it sure made things easier. Bobbie, CeeGee’s mother, served up chips, salsa and Dr. Peppers with a fresh lime. Old Mr. Tindale always had sweet tea on hand and peeled an apple to share as they talked.

The ‘snack chat’ is different from the family dinner, things don’t get so personal with the whole family present. It’s that face to face, one on one conversation at the kitchen table, or on the porch, that allows important issues to be addressed. At one such meeting CeeGee’s mother tells her daughter of the death of a woman she has cared for and it is a tender telling. At another, Mr. Tindale explains to CeeGee what it means to have a gift.

I remember my mother having chats like these with friends of mine that came over after school or on weekends. I often wondered what they talked about, and why my friends were hanging out with my mom instead of me. Years later, when we were all adults and my mother had passed on, these childhood friends told me my mother was the one person they could talk to about the hard things that were going on in their own lives and families, and that she had honored their privacy for all these years.

Sitting at that kitchen table somehow opened a zone of trust that allowed these young girls to share their stories with a compassionate adult and ask for advice. It was my mother they were able to share their stories with, not me, a child their own age. It is a good reminder for kids and adults alike why we matter to each other, the need we fill and the importance of making the time to have that snack chat. Do you have a special memory of a snack chat?

The Marsh Melody

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For Celia Gene Williamson, in my novel CeeGee’s Gift, the marsh is the place where she can just be. Here she can shake off the troubles and challenges of her young life like water off a dog’s back. The marsh brings her peace through the music it makes. From the squishing of the turtles in the mud along the shore, to the frogs croaking, from many varieties of birds chirping in the grasses, to the soft breeze stirring the cattails. Each of these are lines of a melody that blend together into a symphony of soothing, peaceful sounds.

I remember travelling to New Zealand and being told by our guides that the islands had once been lush with bird sound, but predatory animals had hidden on ships traveling from distant shores and they escaped into the wilds of New Zealand. The native birds, like the kiwis, nested on the ground and had no defense against the rats and possums that attacked them and ate their eggs. The native bird population dropped drastically.

In order to protect the birds, the people of New Zealand designated a small island, Tiritiri Matangi, as a sanctuary for them. They made a low fence around the shore, planted trees and created open space for ground nesting birds. Visitors stepped in a pan to sanitize their shoes before going onshore, to make sure nothing harmful to the island came with them. The New Zealanders also added rare species of birds in hopes of saving them as well. On this remote island, the birds were safe to nest and breed. And sing.

We had seen wonderful landscapes and wildlife on the islands, and we thought New Zealand represented the best of nature’s bounty—until we stepped on that tiny island and heard the joyous symphony of these rescued birds. It was an overwhelming blend of melodies and drove everything out of our minds except that bright music. Sometimes you do not know what you have lost until you bring it back. Do you, or did you once, have your own place of peace. Is there a place that taught you its magical melody?

Kids on Bikes

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I don’t see kids out riding their bikes in my neighborhood. Our home is surrounded by a lot of apartments, commercial buildings, traffic lights and lanes. I love where I live, but it’s not like where I grew up—a few blocks from the school, on a cul de sac, and with brothers who had paper routes. They delivered their papers on their bikes, or in a go cart they had designed to look like an old jalopy. On weekends, all three of us were gone all day to museums, or parks, or playing fields. We knew when to be home—before dinner, before dark, before mom rang that bell on the back porch letting us know we’d better get on home right now or we’d be in big trouble.  

When I drive by schools at the end of the day, even in residential neighborhoods, I see lines of mothers in SUV’s picking up their kids in front of the school. I imagine that most of them are being picked up and taken to theater or dance classes, or sports training, or tutoring sessions. There are no kids on bikes.

I heard a report on the radio the other day about child development. The researcher said that children learn best when they are experimenting and discovering. She said that childhood needs to include open space and time, so kids learn to figure things out on their own. This is how they become resilient. The less structure during play time, the better. The speaker lamented how little of that time children have in our society, and how seldom they are allowed to take the normal risks that help them learn and develop. They are scheduled, they are taught to follow directions—they are not out on bikes.

I understand why I don’t see kids on bikes in my neighborhood, but I hope they are still having the time my brothers and I had to learn and grow—all on our own. Do you have bikes in your neighborhood?

The Passings

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My father was an airplane pilot and when I was a little girl, I went on many flights with him. He flew a big DC3 and sometimes I was alone in the back of the plane, staring out the window at the puffy clouds below. I imagined little cherubs bouncing on those clouds, laughing as they tumbled from one to another. It seemed quite real to me.

I was an adult, living in another state, when my father died suddenly from a heart attack and my mother called to tell me the news. That night, while driving up the hill to my house, a shooting star flashed across the sky. I smiled as I thought, ‘There’s Dad, passing on through.’ A similar light streaks across the sky in my novel, CeeGee’s Gift, the day dear Mr. Tindale dies.

It was very different years later when my mother passed away after a long illness. For several months after her death I had a sense of her presence. It seemed like she wasn’t quite ready to go, like she was hovering nearby, especially when I sat alone on the porch in the twilight. In CeeGee’s Gift, Mr. Tindale has a similar experience after the death of his wife Maggie May. He tells CeeGee that for a while he could still feel her with him, right there by his side. They wandered around the house and yard together, sharing memories. In time Maggie May, like my mother, paled and moved on. 

We don’t know what happens when we die. We may have our beliefs, but none of us can know. But these experiences of death, and those I shared in my novel, give me comfort. I feel that the transition from life to whatever follows can be slow and peaceful, or a flash of joyous adventure. The sense I’ve had of this makes me feel connected to the beyond in some mysterious, and yet comforting, way. And, like when I was a child, it seems quite real to me. Tell me, what have been your experiences?

Get Your Affairs in Order

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The issue of impending death arises early in my new novel CeeGee’s Gift. When CeeGee has a Knowing, an event that reveals knowledge of the future, she blurts out to her new friend Mr. Tindale that the things he worries about don’t matter. When he challenges what she means by this, she replies, “What I mean is, if you have something you need to do, well, you’d best do it—and soon. Fact is, you don’t have much time, Mr. Tindale. So, you best get yourself ready. Your time is real short.”

At first, he is angry at her for invading his privacy and acting as if she knows so much, but then he realizes she has given him a great gift. He has a window to plan for an inevitable future. He decides he will do exactly as she advises, get his affairs in order. 

Mr. Tindale begins by ordering a custom-made oak coffin and adding the lining himself. Before he passes on a few months later he has settled his estate, and with these assets he is able to fund a remodel of the town library, provide books to stock the shelves, pay for CeeGee’s college tuition until graduation, and start a scholarship fund at the high school. Other citizens are inspired by his generosity and host a fundraiser to add to the fund, which is named after Mr. Tindale and his beloved wife, Maggie May.

Many of us resist this planning, we don’t want to think about death. But we also give up the opportunity to create our own legacy. It may not be financial gifts that we leave, but thoughtful letters to loved ones, or hosting a special event while the opportunity is still there. It may be offering forgiveness or simply saying, ‘I love you’. One does not have to be wealthy to leave a legacy, but one does have to be brave enough to face an inevitable fate—in advance. Are you?in

What Does it Mean to be Gifted?

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We take a lot of care in our education systems to recognize and nurture gifted children. They are often placed in special, smaller classes and encouraged to work at their own pace, moving ahead as quickly as they can. Some parents take their gifted children out of the education system and home school them, nurturing their gifts while encouraging them to thrive. They are presented to the world as outside the norm as they play the piano, explain their invention, excel in sports. Whether physical or intellectual, their gifts are held in high regard.

The discussion of what it means to be gifted in the novel, CeeGee’s Gift, has an entirely different take. CeeGee’s gift comes with the responsibility to be generous, to offer her gift with kindness and a desire to help others. That is the only reason she has it.

As I wrote the story, I began by thinking about who we would become if misfortune or illness robbed us of our gifts. And then I thought, ‘Well, if you can no longer give one gift, you must find another one to give.’ I came to believe that being gifted was not about being special and pampered, it was about a responsibility to find ways we can each do good in the world. 

I hope as children, parents and grandparents read this book, they share a discussion that is two-fold. First to the child, ‘Are you gifted? What are your gifts?’ Followed by the second, more important question, ‘Are you giving your gift generously? In what ways have you helped others by giving your gift?’ I hope readers will let me know if they have this conversation and what the outcome was. I would love for you to share with me, so I can share with others.

It's Never too Late to Create

In recent months several friends of mine have discovered they are creatives. These are women 50 and older who were a little dejected, a bit unfulfilled with the present, and each began a project. One involved scrapbooking with old bits of fabric that carried fond memories, the other worked on painting skills to illustrate a family story book. They were transformed by these experiences and began to approach work, life, time and space with new eyes. They had a new way of looking at the world. 

I was raised by a fearless creative. My mother would try any art form—oil painting, stitchery, collage, mixed media, anything—and I never recall her worrying or being fearful that she would not be good at it. She just thought creativity was fun. She was not brought up this way. As the dirt-poor daughter of a hell-fire-and-damnation Baptist minister, she was not taught to find joy in creativity. It was just in her. Or, like my other friends, she looked inside and found it.

My own creativity is less tactile than my mother’s or my friends. As a child I found creativity in singing, dancing and acting, then as I grew older, increasingly in writing. When I am writing there is no linear time, there are no boundaries. These are the most liberating moments of my day. And if I don’t write, like my friends, I feel a little dejected, a bit unfulfilled. I wrote CeeGee’s Giftover many years, but the final manuscript was written during a tense time in America, a time of hate and despair. While writing, I did not have to live in that time. I was with a magical young girl, and a dear old man, in a town where people were kind and time stood still. Perhaps this ability to enter other places and spaces is why we must create. What drives your creativity?

 

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