Sweeter Than Tea

Sweeter Than Tea
Willis Baker, Misty Barrere, Deedra C. Bass, Martina A. Boone, Kimberly D. Brock, Darcy Crowder, Kathleen Hodges, Tom Honea, Jane Forest, Valerie Anne Norris, Susan Sipal, Deborah Grace Staley, Clara Wimberly

June 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-135-7

When it comes to family, love, tradition and pride are a powerful brew...
Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

When it comes to family,

love, tradition and pride are a powerful brew...

The third of the Sweet Tea story collections (SWEET TEA & JESUS SHOES, MORE SWEET TEA) treats readers to a panorama of Southern life, both then and now. Family dramas, comic mishaps, sentimental remembrances and poignant choices illuminate these thirteen stories by new and established authors. There’s something for every reader: The gritty realism of a hunt for wild boars, the gentle grieving for a home now filled only with memories, the funny battle between a woman and her recipe for deviled eggs, and much more.

Come sit a spell on the front porch. Prop your feet up, sip a cold glass of sweet iced tea, and lose yourself in a way of life that’s as irresistible as pecan pie and as unforgettable as a chilled slice of watermelon on a hot summer day. Welcome to a place that exists between the pages of How It Was and How It Might Have Been—just a little bit south of the long path home.


Coming soon!



Made with Love

Deborah Grace Staley

The kitchen was the heart of Hannah Goode’s home. It was a big, loud, messy place filled with heavenly aromas and great conversation. Momma firmly believed idle hands were the devil’s workplace. If that was the case, the cure was to keep everyone busy cooking. Yep, the yard had more weeds than grass, and inside, dust could be found accumulating on furniture and in corners, but the kitchen was well stocked and well appointed.

In the kitchen, each family member had a job. Momma did entrees, Daddy desserts, Lara made side dishes, and Hannah was in charge of breads and sweet tea. Not that Helen Goode didn’t mix it up on occasion. Momma was known to change everyone’s jobs without notice, just so each person learned how to make everything. But Hannah loved the breads, and, of course, sweet tea was a southern staple.

It’s not so surprising that Hannah grew up wanting to be a baker. When the time came, she applied to the finest schools. She and her parents had spread the acceptance letters for culinary schools across the scarred kitchen table and talked about which she should choose. Momma had cried, and Daddy had looked proud. Hannah squeezed Momma’s hand and said, "It’s okay. I’ll be home on holidays, and it’s only a two-year program.”

Momma took Hannah’s hand in both hers while she and daddy shared a look.

"What is it?” Hannah asked, not sure she wanted the answer.

Daddy laid his big, warm hand on top of hers and Momma’s. "The doc says I need surgery, but I don’t want you to worry—”

"Surgery!” she said in unison with her sister.

"Now it’s nothing to worry about. I’ll just go in, have it done and be good as new before you know it. Now, which of these schools is good enough to deserve my little girl?” He’d wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "I’m so proud of you.”

She chose a school, and then Daddy had had surgery and begun chemotherapy. The prognosis was good. Hannah left for school that fall. When she’d come home for Thanksgiving, her daddy had been so weak, so feeble. She didn’t know which broke her heart, that or him asking for help with the pumpkin pies. He sat on a stool and supervised, but as always, Hannah cherished time in the kitchen with her family.

Christmas that year, the Goodes had baked more than ever before because everyone had wanted to spend every second together doing what they loved. There were decorated cutout cookies, cakes, pies and dessert bars. They’d covered everything that had gotten in their path with chocolate. They even made rum soaked fruitcake—Gran’s recipe.

It had been Daddy’s idea to ship most of it to the soldiers overseas and away from home at Christmas. The rum cake stayed. It had to come with the warning, "Do not operate heavy machinery after consuming.”

Hannah laughed, remembering. She could just imagine soldiers driving tanks around the Middle East tipsy on rum cake.

It was that Christmas Hannah had first gotten the idea to sell their baked goods. Momma and Daddy wouldn’t say, but with Daddy unable to work, things were tough financially. Christmas Day, she’d stayed up all night making cupcakes. The next week, she had taken them to every restaurant and corner store she’d come across. When she’d returned home, she had orders from three restaurants and two delis.

Hannah didn’t go back to school. Daddy hadn’t been happy about it, but she was determined to spend her days baking with him. Momma had helped with deliveries while Daddy had rested.

Business was good. Great, in fact. The orders had soon outgrown their kitchen’s capabilities. They needed more ovens, commercial mixers and storage. Hannah found cheap equipment online from closing businesses and took out a one-year lease on a shop front with good foot traffic downtown. For the first month, Hannah had just filled commercial orders. Toward the end of the month, Daddy had felt so much better that he’d come in and helped them. Lara had done what she could after school, but none of them had wanted to take her away from sports or her schoolwork.

Things went so well that the family found themselves with spare time in the afternoons. That’s when they put some tables and a coffee bar in the front of the store. They began opening midday to sell cupcakes. By then, most of the baking was done, and Momma was making deliveries. The first week, they’d sold out by three. As word spread, they sold out sooner.

"Hannah, honey,” Daddy said, "I think you’re going to have to hire some help.”

"I don’t know, Daddy. I want to keep it a family business.”

"Then talk to your cousins. Your Aunt Christy said the girls have been looking for a job, but haven’t had any luck.”

"Can they bake?”

Daddy laughed. "We’ll do the baking. Let them take orders and wait on customers.”

She hired Ginger and Gracie, who, thankfully, started right away. Hannah was so busy she was dead on her aching feet most afternoons. The shipping company had just picked up treat boxes going to the soldiers overseas. Sending them had become something like a tithe for the Goode Family Bakery. God had blessed the business so much, they all wanted to do something to help others. Supporting the troops was another way to honor Daddy, who had spent the years before he married Momma in the Army serving in Desert Storm.

The years passed almost without Hannah noticing.

Daddy got a clean bill of health and had been in remission since. Thank God. Lara went off to college, and Hannah had bought a loft downtown to be close to the business. Hannah liked being able to walk everywhere she went. With Maryville, Tennessee being a small town, it was pretty quiet, so the routine was a bit monotonous. She’d like to say she was too busy to get lonely, but if she was being honest, sometimes she wondered what might have been if she’d stayed in cooking school. Would she have moved to a big city and become a chef? Would she have met someone? Had a family of her own by now?

Hannah shook her head. Thinking about what might have been served no good purpose. She had no regrets. She loved her work and spending time with her family. It was afternoons—the time when all the busyness of baking had passed and she had time to think—when her mind wandered. Or more to the point, her mind wandered when she should have been trying to make sense of the jumble of paperwork cluttering her desk and clogging her inbox.

Hannah grabbed a cup of coffee and a cupcake and sat at a corner table with her laptop and overflowing inbox. Instead of sorting through it all, she wound up doing some mindless Internet surfing. The bell on the front door signaled the arrival of a customer. She didn’t even look up, just tapped away on the mouse pad and sipped her coffee while deleting junk emails.

"Welcome to Goode’s,” Gracie said. "What can I get you?”

"A double-chocolate buttercream cupcake and a bottle of water, please.”

She looked up to check out the owner of the rumbling, deep voice and found a man wearing fatigues with an American flag and several bars on the sleeve that indicated his rank. The insignia indicated he was Air Force. He was average height, but nothing else about him was average. Like most soldiers, he was in great shape and powerfully built. Tanned, clean-shaven, close cut dark hair. She propped her chin on her hand and irrationally wondered what color his eyes were.

"For here or to go?” Gracie asked.

The man inhaled deeply. "The smell is so amazing, I think I’ll sit awhile and enjoy.”

Gracie smiled. "Have a seat, and I’ll bring it right out to you.”

"How much do I owe you?”

"It’s on the house. Memorial Day is this weekend, and cupcakes are free to members of the military.”

He nodded, twisting his cap in his hands. "Thank you.” He reached into his pocket and dropped a few bills in the tip jar, then sat at a table not far from Hannah. He caught her eye and smiled a greeting. Hannah smiled as well, then looked back at her computer screen, but soon, she was sneaking another peek at him. He had a compelling face that kept her looking past what should have been polite glances. There was something about his eyes, which were the color of rich, velvety chocolate. He couldn’t be much older than her, but his dark eyes held a sadness that said he’d seen more than a man so young should.

He looked up then, and their gazes locked.

Caught again. Hannah swallowed hard, but didn’t look away. Instead she smiled. Good thing she wasn’t standing, because his smile literally made her knees weak.

Gracie set his cupcake and the bottle of water in front of him. "Let me know if you need anything else.”

The man looked up at her. "Actually, I was wondering if the owner of the shop might be in.”

Gracie looked over her shoulder at Hannah, unsure if she wanted to speak with anyone since this was her first break of the day. Hannah stood and walked over to join her cousin. "I’m the owner,” she said, holding out her hand. "Hannah Goode.”

The soldier stood and took her hand, smiling. "Lieutenant Sam Evans. It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am. If you don’t mind me saying, I wasn’t expecting someone so young and pretty.”

Add charmer to his growing list of attributes. Her hand in his tingled at the contact, and unsure of how to respond to his comment, she just smiled, then pulled her hand back to rub it against her jeans. "What can I do for you, Lieutenant?”

"Sam, please. I wanted to come by and personally thank you for what you do for the troops.”

"Oh.” Hannah frowned. "How did you know?”

"My company in Afghanistan received more than one shipment of your baked goods.”

"Really?” Her family had received a number of letters from soldiers since they’d started the shipments all those Christmases ago, but they’d never met any of the soldiers in person.

He swept a hand towards a chair at his table. "Would you care to join me? That is, if you’re not too busy. That looks like a lot of paperwork over there, and I don’t want to interrupt your work.”

"It’ll keep. I was just taking my afternoon break.” Still smiling, she pulled out the chair he’d indicated, but he moved around the table to hold it for her while she sat. Something in her midsection softened. She was a sucker for courteous men. His good looks and the uniform didn’t hurt, either.

"You were stationed in Afghanistan?”

"Yes, ma’am.”

"You’re starting to make me feel ancient. Please, call me Hannah.”

His smile drew her in. "Hannah.” The way he said her name in his deep, slow, southern drawl had her moving closer to the edge.

"My tour just ended, so I’m on leave before reporting back to base.”

Hannah frowned. There weren’t any Air Force bases near Maryville. Just the Air National Guard Base, but they didn’t have any troops presently deployed. Their baked goods were a local delivery. "Where are you stationed?”


"You have family here, then.”

"No, ma’am,” he said, but caught himself. "Sorry. Hannah.”

"What brings you to East Tennessee?”

"I came for you.” He flushed. "I mean, it’s like I said, I came to thank you in person.”

"That’s very nice of you, but surely you have family anxious to see you now that you’re home.”

He took a bite of his cupcake. "Mmm.” He licked icing and crumbs from his lips. "Delicious. I didn’t think it was possible that they could taste better.”

She was completely distracted by both his obvious enjoyment of the dessert and by his lips. They looked soft and moist from where he’d just licked the icing and crumbs away. Her wayward mind conjured an image of them looking just like that after a kiss.

"I made those fresh this morning,” she said. "Getting them halfway around the world takes a bit longer.”

"They tasted like heaven. The airtight packaging you used kept them pretty fresh. Having the icing in a separate packet was a great idea.” He spoke so softly that Hannah leaned in, not wanting to miss a word. His voice was low with the most beautiful, easy cadence. She could have listened to him talk all day.

"Don’t get me wrong, the mess hall made baked goods for us, but what they gave us was nothing like this.” He took another bite. "These,” he held up the cupcake, "were like a taste of home.” He set the cupcake down and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. "My mom made me cupcakes when I was growing up. They’re my favorite dessert.”

She crossed her arms on the table, smiling. "What flavor do you like best?” Hannah was thinking she would whip up a quick batch of a dozen or so that he could take with him, since he’d gone to the trouble of finding her shop and delivering his thanks in person.

"I’ve yet to find a flavor I don’t like.”

"You have to have a favorite,” she pressed.

His smile was wide and unrepentant. "The one I just ate is always my favorite.”

A baker could die happy cooking for this man. This thought, combined with the other strong feelings swirling through her, should have set off warning signals, but instead, everything about him intrigued her.

"You never answered my question—about your family? I hope you’re not delaying your homecoming on my account. It’s very nice that you came here to personally thank us for the baked goods, but you could have sent a card or letter. That’s what most of the soldiers do.”












All Foam, No Beer

Valerie Keiser Norris

When I was twelve and Daddy ran off with the preacher’s young wife, Mama never shed one tear. She gathered up the clothes he’d left behind and lugged them to the big oil barrel in back to burn with the trash.

"No way am I donating any of that mess to the church rummage sale,” she declared. "Already given those hypocrites more than I planned to.”

Mostly, she didn’t talk about him. She seemed more annoyed that he’d gone off without fixing the next-to-the-bottom basement step than that he’d left with another woman. Within a week she purged the house of everything of Daddy’s. She hauled his worn recliner to the dump, sold his guns, and got rid of every last one of his NASCAR hats and die-cast model cars, right up to the current 1964 versions. The unattached garage would have to be gutted to strip it of Daddy’s things, so Mama just ignored it, parking the car in the driveway like always. Photos and personal stuff she tossed into a carton labeled "Joyce and Angie’s father,” and gave it to my older sister and me. "Just keep it out of my sight,” she warned us.

I stored it beside the vacuum in the hall closet. Mama, tall and broad-shouldered, loved yard work, but wasn’t much for house cleaning.

One thing Mama didn’t get rid of was the beer-brewing equipment in the basement. "I’m the one who always ended up taking care of it, and I make pretty good beer. Which you won’t know until y’all are legal age.” She fixed Joyce and me with her steely-eyed glare.

"Yes, ma’am,” I said, but she didn’t need to worry on my account.

Joyce, two years older than me and worlds more sophisticated, had no such qualms. Barely fourteen, she and her friend lifted a half-dozen bottles from Mama’s stash and drank them in the garage. Since Mama had sworn not to go into the garage ever again, Joyce felt safe. I don’t know what she planned to do if Mama kept count of her beer—no one ever accused Joyce of being the brainy sister. After her little party, she stumbled into the living room, fell onto Mama’s lap, and gushed, "Mama, you’re so beautiful.”

Mama looked down at her and sighed. "Joyce Louise, could you be a little less like your father?”

They say girls act out when their fathers disappear from their lives, but even when Daddy lived with us, he was pretty much indifferent to us. Joyce had gone boy-crazy at twelve and drove Mama wild with her behavior. After Daddy left, though, Mama seemed to lose the energy to police Joyce. Whenever the school called about Joyce’s truancy or her failing grades, Mama got after her, but that was it.

I don’t think Daddy’s being there or not made much difference in me. I was the good kid, the one who came home after school, cleaned house, and made supper. When Mama got in from her job as a trucking company dispatcher, I was usually at the kitchen table, homework spread out, with supper simmering away on the stove. Joyce would slink in just before or even after Mama arrived. You couldn’t miss the swollen lips, the dark hickeys peeking out above turtlenecks, the dried grass clinging to Joyce’s sweaters, but Mama never said a word.

By the time Joyce turned sixteen and officially started dating the boys she’d been sneaking around with, Mama was finally herself again, less prone to hide in her room of an evening. She wasn’t keen on any of the specimens Joyce brought home. "Like brew gone bad,” Mama said. "All foam, no beer.”

When one stayed in his car at the end of the driveway, honking for Joyce to come out, Mama grabbed Joyce’s arm as she raced to the door. "Oh, no you don’t. Either he comes to the door to meet me, or you don’t go.”

"But Mama—”

"No, ma’am. If he can’t behave like a gentleman, y’all ain’t going out.”

We listened to the honking horn awhile, and finally a car door slammed. A few seconds later came a knock on the front door. Mama answered, me peeking from behind her. Many of the boys in Joyce’s class were wearing Beatles’ bangs, but this boy’s hair was oiled and formed into a front curl, and his socks were white. Greaser.

Mama glanced to her left, giving Joyce the look that could reduce me to a pile of mush. Out of sight of the boy, Joyce crossed her arms against her new orange A-line dress, her face set in the pout she’d mastered before I was born.

Mama turned back to the door. "Can I help you?”


"No, I’m Mrs. Peterson.”

He rolled his eyes. "She here?” he asked, scratching at his sparse goatee.

"Yes, she is.”

A silence. Mama looked prepared to stand there all day, one hand holding the door open, the other firmly pulling the screen door shut.

"Well, we have a date?” He widened his eyes, as if Mama was a mite slow.

Oh, you poor fool, I thought.

"Oh? And who might you be?” Mama asked.

"Just tell her it’s Turk.”

"Turk. Hmm. Why don’t I tell her it’s that little Fadden boy who used to pick his nose and eat it?” Mama said.

Three feet away, out of sight of the boy, Joyce’s whole body slumped. She cast an anguished look at Mama.

For a moment Mama and the boy stared at each other. "I’m Derek,” he finally said. "That was my brother.”

"Oh? I never heard there were two Fadden boys.” Mama opened the screen door enough to stick out a hand. "Nice to meet you, Derek Fadden. I’m Joyce’s mother.”

Warily, he held out a hand and let her shake it.

"Would you like to come in?” Mama didn’t let go.

"Uh, no, just send Joyce—”

Mama pushed the screen door completely open with her shoulder and pulled him forward. "Come in, come in. Have a seat. Let me get to know the young man my daughter thinks enough of to date.”

Joyce glanced my way, misery etched in the thick coat of base makeup covering any hint of a pimple. "I’ll never get another date in my entire life,” she muttered.




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