Tender Graces

Tender Graces

Kathryn Magendie

$14.95 April 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9821756-2-0

A gentle yet unflinching look at how we find our way home. In the tradition of Rebecca Wells, Sue Monk Kidd, Olive Ann Burns, and Dorothy Allison.

Our PriceUS$14.95
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

The death of her troubled mother and memories of her abused grandmother lure a young woman back to the Appalachian hollow where she was born. Virginia Kate, the daughter of a beautiful mountain wild-child and a slick, Shakespeare-quoting salesman, relives her turbulent childhood and the pain of her mother's betrayals. Haunted by ghosts and buried family secrets, Virginia struggles to reconcile three generations of her family's lost innocence.


"Every once in a while, you come across a book whose language is so rich and vivid and whose characters are so deep and unforgettable that you simply cannot put it down. Tender Graces is that book." -- Jennifer Melville, Story Circle Book Reviews

"She shows you the mother/daughter relationship in all its ugly glory. Yet even in the moments of the deepest heartache, Magendie never lets you lose hope...A powerful writer and one to watch." -- Book Love blog

"...beautifully rendered...beautiful and poetic...a treat indeed." -- Book N Around Blog

"This is an intriguing family saga that grips the audience due to the changing voice of the narrator from a seemingly innocent naive little girl to an adult women trying to free herself when she frees her late mom. The cast is fully developed as the audience can subtly understand the maturing of the three children especially the daughter who tells the drama of a beautiful volatile mom seemingly larger than life and the more stable than the raging dad." -- Harriet Klausner, Midwest Book Review

"THIS MESSAGE IS FOR GUYS: It may have a soft, pink cover, but it ain't that kind of book. Kathryn Magendie's Virginia Kate has plenty of what my grandmother called "brass," treats us to earfuls of authentic dialogue, and gradually reveals a story not easily forgotten. We will soon read more, I hope, from Magendie's pen. She's real." -- Wayne Caldwell, author of Cataloochee and Requiem By Fire

"...remarkable talent...Tender Graces should be added to any 'must read list.'" -- Sand-N-Stone Blog

"..a fine job...a well-told story that would almost, but not quite, fit in the Young Adult category. It's a good book for older teens and adults." -- The Advocate

"Tender Graces is about memory...rich textures...subtle and intelligent...Magendie excels in creating intimacy...that permeates every line of the novel, something only masters such as Michael Ondaatje can accomplish." -- Bosnian-Swede, Univ of Stockham

"Tender Graces is a complex novel of powerful characters in exotic settings wrestling with life's relentless and all too puzzling demands. It is by turns horrifying and exhilarating, hilarious and all too real...It informs us about the human condition with, at times, breathtaking honesty and with a language that is startlingly poetic." -- An Explorer's View of Life

"...put together so well that you can picture each part of it in your head while the plot line comes together in a way that will leave you begging for more. It was masterful, it was extremely well written, and it is a beautiful story." -- Book Nook Club blog

"...put together so well that you can picture each part of it in your head while the plot line comes together in a way that will leave you begging for more. It was masterful, it was extremely well written, and it is a beautiful story." -- Book Nook Club blog

"Kathryn Magendie...shows why plot is just the wheels of a narrative vehicle. Without also voice, character, poetry, and detail, all you've got is a Go-Kart. In her debut novel, Tender Graces, Magendie turns the plot--a prodigal daughter story--into a sustained delight through an exuberance of mountain life." -- Rob Neufeld, book reviewer for Asheville's Citizen Times

"It's hard to imagine this is a debut novel. I had a very difficult time putting this book down. For anyone who appreciates contemporary fiction, southern literature or family relationship stories, this book is one to read. I think this would also be a perfect selection for book clubs as there are many issues that can be discussed. Highly recommended. 4.5 ****" -- Pudgy Penguins Perusals

"Magendie's writing is wonderful, and she seamlessly moves the narrative from the past to the present and back again. The characters are rich and unique." -- Diary Of An Eccentric Blog

"Kathryn weaves the threads of her story beautifully." -- Missy's Book Nook

"Kathryn Magencie's poetic voice will tug at your heart as she paints a realistic picture of a time gone by. Fans of Southern Literature will cherish Tender Graces." -- J. Kaye's Book Blog

"The story is beautifully written, haunting, profound, and develops the characters in a way that makes the reader feel personally connected." -- The Serenity Room Blog

"From the cool mountains of her "holler" in West Virginia to hot, steamy Louisiana, she takes us with her wherever she goes, with sensory details that bring the story to life without weighing it down, and the ending, while I won't give it away, is just what the story calls for." -- Cross Reference - A Book Review Blog

"North Carolina author Kathryn Magendie tells Virginia Kate's tale with passion, poetry, and an honesty that will feel brutal at times, but nowhere does she manipulate the reader with cheap literary tricks. She exhibits her greatest skill when she chronicles the children's gradual emotional growth and with Virginia Kate's subtly changing narrative. Poignant and funny, Tender Graces renders an accurate telling of being a child in an alcoholic home without being preachy or overwrought." -- BookLove Blog

"Tender Graces is a story about going home, finding love, sorrow, and grace. Let me tell you that I instantly fell in love with Virginia and her family...I can't believe this is Ms. Magendie's first book. I can't wait to see how Kathryn Magendie tops Tender Graces." -- Cheryl's Book Nook

"[Virginia Kate's] tale willleave you charmed, seduced, and fully satisfied bya cast of offbeat, lovable characters. Don't miss this one!” -- Barbara Quinn, Author, The Speed of Dark

"Kathryn Magendie . . . reminds me of a Barbara Kingsolver or Anne Tyler. . . . Her work made me laugh, cry, think, and marvel . . .” -- Susan Reinhardt, Author of Not Tonight Honey--Wait 'til I'm a size 6

"Every so often, if you're fortunate enough, you'll find a book that not only captures your attention and imagination, it captures your heart.” -- Deborah LeBlanc, Author, Water Witch

"Kathryn Magendie has a magical way with words. [Her] unique fresh voice and lyrical turns of phrase are gifts she gives to readers, and which last long after the last page is read. Powerful stuff for a debut novel.” -- Angie Ledbetter, Author, Seeds of Faith

"Readers will hear about the voice in this novel and rush out to buy and listen to that voice, familiar and yet with tonalities not yet heard, igniting delight never before quite felt.” -- David Madden, Author, Cassandra Singing

"Tender Graces is a novel that reads like a poem to childhood and growing up.” -- Ed Cullen, featured writer for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, frequent contributor to All Things Considered on National Public Radio, and author of Letter in a Woodpile

" . . . poignant, tangy, sweet, loving, wanting, needing and so satisfying!” -- Diane Buccheri, Publisher, OCEAN Magazine


Ay, to the proof; as mountains are for winds,
That shake not, though they blow perpetually.


Grandma Faith wavers in the mists, the wolf calls, the owl flies, the mountain is. Up up I go on Fionadala's back, her hooves thundering. I see my child's eyes only, through the closet keyhole, dark eyes are open, then closed. Thundering hooves, up the mountain we ride. At the ridge I stop, take Momma from my pack. And there, with mountain song rising, with fog wetting, with Fionadala nodding her head, with the fiddles of the old ghosts of old mountain men crying, with the voices of all I've lost and all I've gained, with the mountains cradling, with the West Virginia soil darkening my feet, with Momma's cry of "Do It!” I open her vessel, and as I twirl, turning turning turning, I let her out—she flies out with a sigh, with forty thousand sighs. As I come to rest, she settles upon me, settles upon the trees and mountain and rock, settles, then is finally stilled. The owl cries, the wolf calls, the mountain is, Grandma Faith nods. Momma is a part of it all now.

Chapter 1


All my tired flies out the window when I see Grandma Faith standing in the mountain mists that drift in and out of the trees. She's as she was before, like one lick of fire hasn't touched her, whole and alive and wanting as she beckons to me. Grandma whispers her wants as she's done all my life.

I put my hand out the car window as Momma used to do, and say "Wheeee …” then holler to the owl flying in the night, "I'm Virginia Kate, and I'm a crazy woman.” He keeps his wings spread to find his supper. I don't feel silly one bit.

Uncle Jonah had called and said, "Come home and fetch your momma.” I haven't called West Virginia home for longer than what's good, but I left before light without giving myself time to think too hard on it.

Grandma Faith used to say, "Ghosts and spirits weave around the living in these mountains. They try to tell us things, warn us of what's ahead, or try to move us on towards something we need to do. But they want us to remember most of all.”

Momma never told stories much, since it hurt to do it. She said looking behind a person only makes them trip and fall. I understand why now in a way I didn't as a girl.

I touch the journal Momma sent two weeks ago. I should have gone to her right after I read her letter, but I was too ornery for my own good, always have been. I didn't want her to think she could crook her finger and have me scurry back to West Virginia after she gave me up as she did. I had set my teeth to her words and went on about my business.

Momma wrote, "I know you'd want to have this diary from your Grandma seeing how you are two peas in a pod. I made a few notes alongside hers. She didn't have everything written down, so I had to fix parts of it. Come soon. I got lots to talk about. Things I reckon will explain what the notes in the diary won't.”

I wrote back, "Dear Momma, I'm busy. You can mail my stuff to me (I'm enclosing a check that should be more than plenty for postage). You have your nerve writing me after all this time and expecting me to drop everything. That's all I have to say right now. Signed, Virginia Kate.”

I didn't open the diary until a week later. And only then because Grandma took up to poking at me until I had enough.

Now I'm full of regret. Momma didn't tell me she was so sick; how was I to know? And the diary notes would have changed things, changed the way I thought about my momma. I'm almost to the West Virginia state line, but I already know it's too late for Momma and me.

In Grandma Faith's journal is the story of how Momma and Daddy met. How I began. In the pages are tucked pictures—one of Grandma with me on her lap, another one of Momma when she was a young girl of seventeen, and one of my parents after they were married in 1954. The journal burns warm as I rub the tooled leather and pass the sign that welcomes me to the state of West Virginia. But I don't need the sign to tell me. The pull of my mountain calls me home. Oh, how I've missed these mountains, even when I didn't know I did. They'd been tucked away inside, hiding behind my heart, pulsing with my blood. Waiting for me.

Between Pocahontas and Summers County, where Momma was born, where Grandma Faith lived and then died on her own mountain, I look up and beyond at my heritage. All the mystery, all the secrets, all the loss and gain of our lives.

When Momma was a girl, she ran on the mountain wild and dirty until my daddy came to fetch her away. I can well imagine Momma the day she met Daddy, from Momma's scrawled notes off to the side of Grandma's slanted ones. I see my momma just as clear as if I were there myself. The old house perched on the mountain, and Daddy walking up to knock on their door.

I shake away the memories so I can concentrate on what's ahead. The address Uncle Jonah gave me is easy to find, right off the highway. I park, and go inside to fetch Momma. I walk with my head up and my feet clomping hard. There's no one else there waiting. I'm alone.

Grandma Faith says, "No, you are not alone. I'm here.”

When I see how it is with Momma, I'm relieved she made Uncle Jonah take care of things before I got here. But it makes her even more unreal as I put her in the car with me, and set my wheels turning towards the little white house where we all lived for a time, where Momma stayed behind alone when she let us go one by one. I take her around the curves, down the long weaving road, between mountain and memory, and then I'm there. The two hills stand guard over the holler, and my headlights glow before me as I pull into the dirt driveway.

Nothing has changed.

My sweet sister mountain waits, mysterious in the moonlight, rising up as it always did. I get out of the car and take deep breaths of clean summer air, listen to the night insects and frogs call to each other, and remember a lonely girl, who grew up to be a hopeful woman. Holding tight to Momma, I walk into the door of my childhood home and the ghosts of a thousand hurts, loves, wants, and lives rush against me. I hug on to her so I won't drop her, and say, "Momma, I'm home again.”

She doesn't say, "Stay awhile.”

"You can't send me away this time, Momma.” But I know she can. She sent me away twice before.

I hurry through the shadowed house, straight to my room. I'm stunned. It's still the same. I place Momma on my dresser, say, "There Momma. There.” I turn my back to her, and head out to my car again. Outside, the cool air clears my head. Once my bags are from car to room, I don't bother unpacking. Now that I'm here, I want to leave soon as I can.

I open the window and breathe in earth and childhood smells. A breeze lifts my hair and plays with the strands. The mountains are shadows in the distance and I shout, just to spite Momma, "Hello! Remember me? I'm home!”

I hear an echoing, "Stay awhile, Virginia Kate.” Maybe it's only the rustle of leaves, the blowing of wind, but I smile to possibility. Pretending I'm brave, I open the journal to the page with my parents' picture, and read Grandma's slanting words, and Momma's scrawled additions, by moonlight.

Our mothers and their mothers and the mothers before them do the same things over and again, even if in differing ways. Not me. I close the journal. A blast of wind rushes in, pushes against me, and causes something from the nightstand to fall over. It's the Popsicle stick photo frame Micah made me. My hands grow warm and tingly. The photo inside is of Micah, Andy, and me, grinning without a bit of sense. The Easter picture. We're all dressed up—with bare dirty feet—and my bonnet is tilted on my head ready to fall off. We look so happy it makes my stomach clench.

Grandma urges, "Go to the attic, little mite. More waits.”

I put the frame back, and go out to the hall. The stairs make the same loud scrangy sound as I pull them down, and then rattle as I climb. Daddy's old flashlight still hangs on the nail at the entrance, and I use it to look around. There are Christmas ornament boxes, book boxes, unmarked boxes, and a box with Easter written in big black ink.

Inside Easter, folded in tissue paper, is Momma's green dress, her hatbox with the wide-brimmed hat, and her white gloves. I recall Momma sashaying down the church aisle while everyone stared at her, dim bulbs in the bright shine of her light. I press Momma's dress to my face and inhale deep. Shalimar. I still smell it. I put everything back before too many things are remembered too soon.

Shining the light in a corner, I find the dirty-finger-printed white box. My Special Things Box. I pick my way over to it, and cradling it in my arms like a baby, take it down with me. Up and down the rickety stairs I go with pictures and mementos, until I have the things I want scattered about my room. I know now I'll stay until I finish the remembering.

When I open my dresser drawer to put my things away, some of my child's clothes are still there. Underneath the white cotton panties there is more—letters, notes, and smoothed creek stones, tucked away as if I just put them there. Inside the cedar robe are two dresses I never wore unless Momma made me. I pick up the Mary Janes and see my sad in the shine.

The room is filled to overflowing with the past—like a broken family reunion. It's hard to suck in air; the bits of ghost-dust choke me. My eyes water, but I know it's not time to cry. Grandma Faith wants me to remember, not to cry. She knows about truth and the pain it can heap on you if you keep hiding from it. Momma knows now, too, I bet.

I say in my croaked voice, "Crying is for weaklings. Crying is for little girls in pigtails.” I know I speak strong to the spirits who are watching me. I want to show them what I'm made of. I do.

I empty my Special Things Box onto the quilt. Inside are items I thought important when I was innocent. Then I up-end paper sacks, a cigar box, envelopes, Easter. I'm a crazy searching woman as I go through years in a gulp. The wind blows in and scatters papers, and I hear laughter. Everything is willy-nilly as if there's no beginning and no end.

All around me are child's drawings, Daddy's old Instamatic camera, photographs, a silver-handled mirror and comb set without the brush, school notebooks, river and creek rocks, letters, diaries, a bit of Spanish moss, whispers, lies, truths, crushed maple leaves, regrets, red lipstick, losses, loves, a piece of coal—all emptied from dark places.

Everything will be emptied from dark places, even the urn of ashes full of Momma's spirit that can't be contained. Momma always said she never wanted anyone to see her look ugly, and Momma would think dead was ugliest of all. She made Uncle Jonah burn her down before anyone could say goodbye. That's what she wanted, that's how she is.

I stop my mad tossing aside, and pick up a photo of Grandma standing next to her vegetable garden. She's holding Momma when she was a baby. The same West Virginia breeze that rustles the secrets on my bed pushes Grandma's dress against her long legs. The sun behind her shows the outline of her body. I can sense the smiles that would be there if she had been given a chance to breathe. She reaches out to me. We are connected by our blood and love of words and truth. She's chosen me to be the storyteller. I can feel her. I can.

I will start with a beginning, before I slid down the moon and landed in my momma's arms, those same arms that let me go without telling me why, or at least a why I wanted to hear.

"The stories are made real by the telling,” Grandma whispers.

I smell apples and fresh baked bread. I inhale them in to my marrow.

Gazing out the open window, I wish on falling stars of hope. Far off a flash of lightning breaks through the night—a coming storm? I want to remember my life as falls, springs, and summers. I don't like seeing things in the winter's dead and cold. I'm like Momma that way.

I situate myself cross-legged on the bed and the ghosts guide my hands where they need to go. I dig deep into the secrets. I will begin with Momma and Daddy the day they met. The beginning of them is the beginning of me. I hear a hum of voices, like dragonflies and cicadas buzzing.

I'll record our lives, my life, as Grandma Faith wants me to. I look out my childhood window at the moon and the stars, at my mountain, at the rest of my life stretched before me, and the one behind me. Spirits urge me; a clear path opens, up to the top.

My life begins again.

Chapter 2

Out, out, brief candle!


The air smelled clean and new and ripe. Ghosts of old mountain men looked after lost children, their lullaby whispers blowing through the trees that grew wild and deep into the mountainside. It was a day when nothing bad could ever happen. A day thick with good things to come. The day my parents, Frederick Hale Carey and Katie Ivene Holms, met and fell deep and hard into each other.

Momma looked as if she came from an ancient palace in Egypt instead of a slanted house deep on a mountain in West Virginia. She didn't belong, even with her thin cotton dresses and dirty bare feet. Everyone knew it. It was in the pictures buried in Grandma Faith's journals. It was in the men's faces whenever my momma sashayed by, leaving her trail of Shalimar and sex. It was in Daddy's face when he met her across Grandma Faith's kitchen table.

She was barely eighteen and he was well into twenty-two when they eloped on a stormy Saturday afternoon. Didn't matter to Grandpa, he was tired of chasing off boys who howled outside her window as if she was a dog in heat. One less hungry mouth. One less womb to worry about some boy filling while under his nickel, that's what Grandpa always harped on about. Grandma only wanted something good to happen for her daughter. Something good meant anything different. Momma was ready to leave. She was always itchy with a restless spirit.

Daddy had made his way up the old logging trail to sell his kitchen utensils. He cleared his throat and knocked on the beat up door. Old one-eared Bruiser sniffed his britches, let out a huff, and crawled under the house, his days of chasing away strangers long a memory. Daddy kept his back straight as he tipped his hat to the dark-eyed woman who answered the door. Her face was pretty once, but life had placed lines of worry and sadness over her pretty. She held one hand on her hip, and the other was on the door, ready to slam it against him. Her dark hair came loose from its bun, long thick strands whirling in the breeze.

Daddy flashed his good white teeth to her, said, "Ma'am, before you close the door, I want you to think about the last meal you cooked.”

"The last meal I cooked?”

"Yes Ma'am.” Daddy used his Gregory Peck voice. He's always said no woman could resist The Peck Voice. "I have kitchen conveniences, right here in my case. May I enter your lovely home?”

"Well, I reckon you better come on inside before you drop everything.” She stood back, smiled, said, "By the by, I'm Faith Holms.”

"Frederick Hale Carey at your service, Ma'am.” He followed Grandma to the kitchen, and flipped the case open onto the kitchen table.

Grandma ran an index finger over the wooden spoons, spatulas, hand mixers, and sharp shiny knives.

Momma came in from the woods and sat in the chair across from Daddy. She tucked one leg under her, and slowly swung the other back and forth, pretending to be bored.

"That's my daughter, Katie Ivene.” Grandma picked up a spatula and two wooden spoons and put them aside. "I'll take these, Frederick.” From the glass flour jar, she took a small linen bag that held the money she made selling salt rising bread and apple butter, counted out the right amount, and handed it to Daddy with flour-dusted fingers. She asked, "Why don't you come back for Sunday supper, at five.”

"I would be honored, Ma'am.” He tore his eyes off Momma while he closed the clasp and the sale. "Thank you, and I'll be seeing you on Sunday then.”

"And we'll be setting here waiting for you.” Momma swung that leg, a smirk pulling at her full lips. Her black hair spilled over her shoulders in a wild mess, her cheekbones rode high, her eyes dark as an undiscovered pyramid, and her skin under the mountain dirt was rich creamed coffee. There was an electric feel in that kitchen that day and Katie Ivene throbbed with it.

The next day, Grandma took more of her secret money to buy her daughter material for a dress. It was a long walk to town, and the townsfolk didn't much like her kind, but Grandma had a mission, a way out for her best daughter, and that was that.

She considered their life on the mountain and knew that crying wouldn't do a soul a bit of good. She sucked up the tears into her body and imagined her insides were drowning, while her outsides cracked open like a dry desert.

Momma chose red silky fabric, and draped it over her. Grandma watched her daughter twirl, looked at the price tag and her heart near fell to her toes. She squared back her shoulders. "Do you like that, Katie?”

"Oh, Mama, yes! I love red. Can I get some red lip paint, too?”

"I believe I have enough for that.”

"And red nail polish? I can do my nails and my toes.”

Grandma spilled the money from her pouch, touched the coins, felt how cold they were against her palm, how crisp and dry the dollar bills were as they scraped her skin.

"What about a scarf to match it up? And some high heeled shoes?”

"Wear the scarf you have. And make do with the shoes you're wearing.”

Momma pulled a face, but nodded.

The little bag of runaway money was almost emptied. Grandma worried about how long it would take to save that much again, but she sang mountain songs to my momma as they walked the long hard way back home, ignoring the stares from some who didn't like the mystery of their skin and deep eyes. They thought Grandpa Luke chose wrong, but it was Grandma Faith who chose wrong instead.

Before light on Sunday, Grandma wrung her best chicken's neck. She told it, "I'm sorry, chicken.” It was the way of her life she chose. She remembered suppers with her parents, how they bought their chickens already plucked from the butcher. She put the bird in boiling water to prepare for plucking. On the counter were fresh vegetables, and a loaf of bread baked in the oven. She hoped Grandpa Luke would eat and drink just enough to be too sleepy to put his hands on her again.

Grandpa Luke tried beating the babies from Grandma Faith at first. His fists made the first two children, a girl and a boy, come out strong jawed and ornery. He told her the third one was born dead, wrapped its twisted body in his oily flannel shirt, and buried it in the woods. But Grandma thought she heard a pitiful mewling as he left the room and that sound haunted her to her last thought. While Grandpa scraped the burial dirt from his fingernails, Grandma cried.

Grandma mourned until Grandpa Luke was sick of seeing her tears. After that, his fists let her be for a spell, and her next three children, two boys and a girl, came out pointy-chinned and pretty, but still ornery—and the girl babe was Katie Ivene.

While Grandma fixed that Sunday supper, Momma scrubbed away the layer of fine West Virginia soil, and then put on the new dress Grandma Faith made. It hugged her body, straining against her high breasts. She said, "Brush out my hair, Mama.”

"You smell like roses.” Grandma pulled the silver-handled brush through Momma's thick hair.

"He won't care what I smell like.” Momma grinned. Oh, she knew things.

"Men care. Least ways most do.”

"He'll be too busy noticing other things, I expect.” Momma knew her worth.

That afternoon, Daddy whistled up the path wearing a gray suit and hat, white shirt, dark tie, and shoes shined within an inch of their leather. He held roses in one hand, a box of fancy dark chocolates in the other, and a burning hunger deep in his belly. In his pocket was a small book of Shakespeare's plays. He shouted to Bruiser, "Let slip the dogs of war!” Bruiser licked himself and yawned.

During supper, Grandma watched Momma toss her hair, watched her chew with her mouth closed as she'd been taught. The only sound was the clinking of their forks and knives against the plate, and Grandpa's grunting as he chewed with his mouth gaping. The others watched Daddy with interested darkling eyes. Daddy barely touched his supper, his appetite for one thing only.

Grandma asked, "Frederick, tell me about Shakespeare.”

"You want to know, really?” Daddy thought mountain people didn't care about such things. But he was wrong. Mountain people cared deep to their bones, and they read books, and loved, and were strong, and they weren't stupid or backwards—the mountains were just like everywhere else in the world, with good and bad and in-between.

In between bites of crispy chicken, Daddy prattled away to Grandma about Shakespeare—it was as if they were all old friends, she and Daddy and William.

After the plates were cleaned, Momma said, "Frederick, take me for a walk.”

Grandma stilled Momma with a hand. "Katie, be mindful.”

"Don't get yourself all in a worry mood, Mama.” She led Daddy out the door.

Grandma cried out to Momma, but quiet inside herself, "Wait! You're my little girl. Come back.” But she had to let them go. The mountain ghosts sighed with her.

While Momma walked with Daddy, Grandpa Luke snored under the hickory tree, and the other children ran wild, Grandma wrote, "I thought I would be a school teacher like my papa. I never thought I'd have to kill a chicken with my hands. Please let Frederick be a good man for my Katie.” She knew if Grandpa ever found her words, he'd fall into a bull-snorting-rage. He didn't like it that his wife was smart. He didn't like it when she read books and tried to teach her children better ways.

As she sat with pen in hand, before she could stop the shameful thoughts, Grandma Faith let herself imagine she was young again, pretended her life was just beginning with someone handsome and good. Her pen moved across the page with its guilty slanted lines of imagining, while Momma and Daddy slipped into the woods, out of Grandma's view, but not out of her inner-sight.

And there, under a buckeye tree, Momma kissed Daddy until their hearts beat fast and eager.

He said to her, "You're beautiful,” and she laughed. She knew she was.

And when they reached the secret clearing that never stayed a secret, Momma unbuttoned the dress and let it puddle to the ground. She wore nothing underneath but her want. She stood before Daddy with her shoulders thrown back, her body tall and proud, her painted toes without shoes. She reached up, untied the red scarf that almost matched the red dress and her hair fell heavy, swinging against the swell of her hips. Her tongue was coated with honey when she said, "Come here, Frederick.”

Then my momma showed him what she learned from the howling boys, from the last salesman to sneak by, from the woman in town, and from her Uncle Jeeter. Momma had learned so well, that after that Sunday, Daddy came back almost every day, his eyes shining with the grand fortune of it all. He brought chocolates, flowers, fancy writing paper and fancy pens for Momma's brothers and sister, and lots of pretty words—as if he owed offerings in return for Momma's gifts. Unknown to all but Momma, she had already received a secret gift inside her body.

Daddy gave Grandma a Shakespeare book, with a note inside, "'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.' Enjoy this book, Faith.” Grandma Faith loved the heaviness of the words, and after Grandpa went to bed, she read it by moonlight.

Another supper, Grandma stopped chopping onions for her special gravy, and said from prideful memory, "‘To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.'”

And Daddy finished, "'Out, out, brief candle!'”

While they laughed, Grandpa grunted and picked through a box of chocolates with his dirty fingers. He didn't care about words or beauty. Aunt Ruby stuffed her mouth full next, chocolate oozing from her teeth as she grinned. Uncle Hank hurried and grabbed a few for himself. Then, Uncle Jonah, Momma, and Little Uncle Ben had what was left. That's how things were according to who looked or who acted like which parent.

Momma thumbed through the book. "Who's this Shakesfool think he is anyway?”

Daddy thought she was so cute, that very night he proposed, right in front of the Holms' clan.

No more than a flea's breath later, down the mountain Momma followed him, carrying a busted up brown suitcase with two dresses—a blue one and the red one—three pair of cotton underwear, her stockings and high heeled shoes Daddy bought her, and a head full of big dreams.

In shades of dark and light caught by the camera, Momma and Daddy stood in front of the Statue of Liberty. Daddy's hand slung over Momma's shoulder, his fingers brushing her breast. His dark hair falling into his eyes as he looked into the lens. Momma stared off to the side. She couldn't wait to get back to the excitement of New York. Her hair was unbound and messy and it suited her best.

After the honeymoon, Momma and Daddy stayed in West Virginia, moving into a little white house in a holler not too far from Grandma Faith, but not too close. Seven months later, out slipped Micah Dean. Then afterwhile came me, Virginia Kate. Next, Andrew Charles. Daddy sent Grandma letters and photos. We all visited Grandma on Sundays, eating at the same scarred kitchen table where my parents met.

I loved the visiting—

—until Grandma died in a house fire. Some folks in town said she soaked the outside of the house in kerosene, lit the brush, then laid inside to wait, her heart heavy from losing her children, one by one, by trick or trade they left. Others whispered their own gossip about mean Grandpa Luke throwing a big ugly stomping fit.

Her last words in the diary read, "Luke found my run-away money. Things are bad. I'll send my secret words to Katie for her to keep.”

And many words were left in the dark. Until I set them free.

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