winter solstice, the great conjunction and k.t. oslin


Last night Pretty came home from a trip to the upstate, sat in her favorite chair, started peeling shrimp from the low country for supper and mentioned we needed to be sure to go outside to view the Great Conjunction when she finished eating. Thank goodness the weather person on the 6 o’clock news had spent much of his time talking about the Great Conjunction; otherwise, I might have appeared ignorant to Pretty.

And, but, or, for, nor, so, yet – coordinating conjunctions – seven words that connect other words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. The Great Conjunction which occurred on December 21, 2020 didn’t refer to these little conjunction words sprinkled throughout my writing – oh, how I love a good conjunction. No, the Great Conjunction is the name of a planetary phenomenon that takes place every 20 years when Saturn and Jupiter pass each other at their nearest point which I won’t even begin to try to explain in planetary distances except to say they are way farther than it is from South Carolina to Texas. Think gazillions of miles.

When Pretty finished eating, our little band of two plus three dogs walked single file as she opened the door to the backyard. The first day of winter, the winter solstice, meant darkness came early and stayed late. Night snuffed day like smokers snuffed cigarettes. Pretty and I stood together in the dark while we stared at the enormous sky above us. The dogs trotted off to make rounds.

“Darlene told me it’s to the left of the moon,” Pretty said. “Or maybe she said the right of the moon.”

“Your sister’s best help was starting with the moon?” I asked.

“Yes. I think she figured that’s the only thing we could find.”

“Point taken,” I said. But harsh.

We stood searching the skies until I said, “I think I’ve found them.”

Pretty followed my finger pointing to the right of the moon and said, “That’s a satellite. I can see it’s moving. You can’t see Saturn or Jupiter moving at that speed.”

We gave up our search for the Great Conjunction after a few minutes, even though this was the closest the two planets had been since 1623. We were cold, the dogs had completed their rounds, ready for warmth and treats. The next Great Conjunction would be in 2040…something to look forward to.

The only good thing I can say about the winter solstice with its longest night of the year is it starts the countdown toward spring. For 2021, I am also counting down toward inaugural events including the inauguration itself signaling a change in the direction of leadership in America. I am counting down to successful vaccines that will make Covid 19 as far removed from the world as Saturn is from Jupiter. I am counting down to longer days and longer lives, too.

The year 2020 is the poster year for lives lost across planet earth due to a pandemic known as Covid. The world of country music hasn’t gone unscathed from that plague or other vicissitudes of life, as my daddy used to say. Kenny Rogers, Mac Davis, John Prine, Joe Diffie, Charley Pride, Charlie Daniels – to name a few. Little Richard, who I wouldn’t call a country singer exactly, but a singer who always entertained me when he performed and played his piano. Elvis’s grandson Benjamin who died at the age of 27 and is now buried next to him at Graceland. I didn’t know Elvis had a grandson.

But on the day of this winter solstice, two more women died from Covid. K. T. Oslin’s name was added to the 2020 country music losses. K. T. (born Kay Toinette Oslin on May 15, 1942 in Crossett, Arkansas ) was one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever. Her music spoke to me as it did to thousands of other women in the eighties decade of the twentieth century when I was much younger and much more energetic just like the other boomers. In the late 80s I saw her perform in a concert in Greenville, South Carolina. She was fabulous: sexy, gorgeous, singing only to me. “80s Ladies” was her biggest hit first released in 1987, but I’ll never forget this one. How about you? Do Ya?

youtube.com/watch?v=f5VGto1-N8U

On 12-21-20 the State newspaper reported 21 deaths; 2,121 new Covid cases in South Carolina. One of the 21 people lost in the state was Pretty’s aunt, the eldest of her mother’s eleven brothers and sisters. The purpose of Pretty’s trip to the upstate I mentioned earlier was to stand with her sister and many of their first cousins outside a nursing home to sing carols to her three aunts who lived there. All three aunts had Covid. Unfortunately, Thelma the eldest aunt died in the early morning hours before they arrived, her Aunt Cooter was being taken to her doctor who later in the day diagnosed her with pneumonia and the third aunt, Iris, had severe dementia. She wouldn’t remember them or their visit, but family had gathered to celebrate “the aunts” with familiar Christmas carols while I stayed home to try to stay safe which is my Christmas wish for all of our friends in cyberspace this holiday season.

I encourage each of you to stay safe, stay sensible, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

dear Santa, send boxing gloves


Before you ask yourself whether you’ve read this story before, I can say possibly – it’s a seasonal favorite of mine.

*********************

“Dear Santa Claus, how are you? I am fine.

I have been pretty good this year. Please bring me a pair

of boxing gloves for Christmas.  I need them.

Your friend, Sheila Rae Morris”

“That’s a good letter,” my grandmother Dude said. She folded it and placed it neatly in the envelope. “I’ll take it to the post office tomorrow and give it to Miss Sally Hamilton to mail for you. Now, why do you need these boxing gloves?”

“Thank you so much, Dude. I hope he gets it in time. All the boys I play with have boxing gloves. They say I can’t box with them because I’m a girl and don’t have my own gloves. I have to get them from Santa Claus.”

“I see,” she said. “I can understand the problem. I’ll take care of your letter for you.”

Several days later it was Christmas Eve. That was the night we opened our gifts with both families. This year Dude, Mama, Daddy, Uncle Marion, Uncle Toby and I went to my other grandparents’  house down the hill from ours. With us, we took the See’s Candies from Dude’s sister Aunt Orrie who lived in California, plus all the gifts. I didn’t like to share the candy, but it wouldn’t be opened until we could offer everyone a piece. Luckily, most everyone else preferred Ma’s divinity or her date loaf.

The beverage for the party was a homemade green punch. My Uncle Marion had carried Ginger Ale and lime sherbet with him. He mixed that at Ma’s in her fine glass punch bowl with the 12 cups that matched. You knew it was a special night if Ma got out her punch bowl. The drink was frothy and delicious. The perfect liquid refreshment with the desserts. I was in heaven, and very grownup.

When it was time to open the gifts, we gathered in the living room around the Christmas tree, which was ablaze with multi-colored blinking bubble lights. Ma was in total control of the opening of the gifts and instructed me to bring her each gift one at a time so she could read the names and anything else written on the tag. She insisted that we keep a slow pace so that all would have time to enjoy their surprises.

Really, there were few of those. Each year the men got a tie or shirt or socks or some combination. So the big surprise would be the color for that year. The women got a scarf or blouse or new gloves for church. Pa would bring out the Evening in Paris perfume for Ma that he had raced over to Mr. McAfee’s Drug Store to buy just before he closed.

The real anticipation was always the wrapping and bows for the gifts. They saved the bows year after year and made a game of passing them back and forth to each other like old friends. There would be peals of laughter and delight as a bow that had been missing for two Christmases would make a mysterious re-appearance. Ma and Dude entertained themselves royally with the outside of the presents. The contents were practical and useful for the adults every year.

My gifts, on the other hand, were more fun. Toys and clothes combined the practical with the impractical. Ma would make me a dress to wear to school and buy me a doll of some kind. Daddy and Pa would give me six-shooters or a bow and arrows or cowboy boots and hats. Dude always gave me underwear.

This year Uncle Marion had brought me a jewelry box from Colorado. He had gone out there to work on a construction job and look for gold. I loved the jewelry box. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any jewelry.

“Well, somebody needs to go home and get to bed so that Santa Claus can come tonight,” Daddy said at last. “I wonder what that good little girl thinks she’s going to get.” He smiled.

“Boxing gloves,” I said immediately. “I wrote Santa a letter to bring me boxing gloves. Let’s go home right now so I can get to bed.”

Everybody got really quiet.

Daddy looked at Mama. Ma looked at Pa. Uncle Marion and Uncle Toby looked at the floor. Dude looked at me.

“Okay, then, sugar. Give Ma and Pa a kiss and a big hug for all your presents. Let’s go, everybody, and we’ll call it a night so we can see what Santa brings in the morning,” Daddy said.

*********************

“Is it time to get up yet?” I whispered to Dude. What was wrong with her? She was always the first one up every morning. Why would she choose Christmas Day to sleep late?

“I think it’s time,” she whispered back. “I believe I heard Saint Nick himself in the living room a little while ago. Go wake up your mama and daddy so they can turn on the Christmas tree lights for you to see what he left. Shhh. Don’t wake up your uncles.”

I climbed over her and slipped quietly past my sleeping Uncle Marion and crept through the dining room to Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. I was trying to not make any noise. I could hear my Uncle Toby snoring in the middle bedroom.

“Daddy, Mama, wake up,” I said softly to the door of their room. “Did Santa Claus come yet?” Daddy opened the door, and he and Mama came out. They were smiling happily and took me to the living room where Mama turned on the tree lights. I was thrilled with the sight of the twinkling lights as they lit the dark room. Mama’s tree was so much bigger than Ma’s and was perfectly decorated with ornaments of every shape and size and color. The icicles shimmered in the glow of the lights. There were millions of them. Each one had been meticulously placed individually by Mama. Daddy and I had offered to help but had been rejected when we were seen throwing the icicles on the tree in clumps rather than draping them carefully on each branch.

I held my breath. I was afraid to look down. When I did, the first thing I saw was the Roy Rogers gun and holster set. Two six-shooters with gleaming barrels and ivory-colored handles. Twelve silver bullets on the belt.

“Wow,” I exclaimed as I took each gun out of the holster and examined them closely. “These look just like the ones Roy uses, don’t they, Daddy?”

“You bet,” he said. “I’m sure they’re the real thing. No bad guys will get past you when you have those on. Main Street will be safe again.” He and Mama laughed together at that thought.

The next thing my eyes rested on was the Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head game. I wasn’t sure what that was when I picked it up, but I could figure it out later. Some kind of game to play with when the cousins came later for Christmas lunch.

I moved around the tree and found another surprise. There was a tiny crib with three identical baby dolls in it. They were carefully wrapped in two pink blankets and one blue one. I stared at them.

“Triplets,” Mama said with excitement. “Imagine having not one, not two, but three baby dolls at once. Two girls and a boy. Isn’t that fun? Look, they have a bottle you can feed them with. See, their little mouths can open. You can practice feeding them. Aren’t they wonderful?”

I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. They’re great. I’ll play with them later this afternoon.” I looked around the floor and crawled to look behind the tree.

“Does Santa ever leave anything anywhere else but here?” I asked. Daddy and Mama looked at each other and then back at me.

“No, sweetheart,” Daddy said. “This is all he brought this year. Don’t you like all of your presents?”

“Oh, yes, I love them all,” I said with the air of a diplomat. “But, you know, I had asked him for boxing gloves. I was really counting on getting them. All the other boys have them, and I wanted them so bad.”

“Well,” Mama said. “Santa Claus had the good common sense not to bring a little girl boxing gloves. He knew that only little boys should be fighting each other with big old hard gloves. He also realized that lines have to be drawn somewhere. He would go along with toy guns, even though that was questionable. But he had to refuse to allow boxing gloves this Christmas or any Christmas.”

I looked at Daddy. My heart sank.

“Well, baby,” he said with a rueful look. “I’m afraid I heard him say those very words.”

*******************

(This is an excerpt from my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing  published in 2007 when I was 61 years old. The following Christmas one of my best friends Billy Frye gave me a pair of boxing gloves – better late than never, Santa.)

From our family to yours, wherever you are and whoever you call family, Pretty and I send our hope for some moments of joy during this remarkable 2020 “holiday” season tainted by the loss of loved ones, physical separation from friends and family, and an ongoing war with an unseen enemy that attacks us with seemingly random ruthlessness.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

cross over the bridge


In June, 2015 two separate events captured the attention of not only the United States but also countries on other continents. Yes, indeed. We were part of the good, the bad and the very ugly. I wrote this piece the day after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage was the law of the land,  the day of the funeral for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney who was one of the Emanuel Nine in Charleston, South Carolina.

*****************************

Traveling to East Tennessee last week, Pretty and I listened to a collection of Patti Page hits. One of the songs she sang in this album which was recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1997 was Cross Over the Bridge – a song I hadn’t heard since 1954 when Patti originally recorded it –  but one I remembered singing while my mother played the yellow piano keys of the ancient upright piano in our living room in the tiny town of Richards in rural Grimes County, Texas. My mom bought sheet music like some people bought cigarettes back then…she was addicted to it. One of her favorites was Cross Over the Bridge so naturally eight-year-old me learned the lyrics as my mother sang and played which meant I was able to sing along with Patti in the car while Pretty and I rode through the gorgeous vistas of the Upstate of South Carolina toward the incredible views of the mountains in East Tennessee. Mine eyes did see the glory.

Cross over the bridge, cross over the bridge…Change your reckless way of living, cross over the bridge…Leave your fickle past behind you, and true romance will find you, Brother, cross over the bridge.

Admittedly this is a love song in the tradition of the 1950s favorite sentiments, but as I was trying to digest and cope with the overwhelming seesaws of emotion I felt yesterday, crossing bridges came to mind.

Yesterday morning I woke up in a new world…truly a new world for me and my family. The Supreme Court of the United States lifted my status as a citizen. I was no longer “lesser than.” I was a person who mattered. By recognizing the fundamental right to marry for all same-sex couples in every state in the nation, SCOTUS recognized me as a person who was entitled to my own pursuit of happiness with life and liberty guaranteed as a bonus.

Two years to the day after the favorable ruling in the Edie Windsor case that gave equal federal treatment to the same-sex marriages recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia at the time, the Supremes crossed a bridge to leave a fickle past of outright discrimination behind all of us and yes, to allow true romance for whoever we love. We crossed a bridge to walk a path toward full equality for the entire LGBTQ community because of the efforts of people who worked at coming out to their parents, friends, co-workers – everyone in their daily lives – to reveal their authentic selves.

It was a day of rejoicing for Pretty and me in our home; we were beside ourselves with an emotional high as the breaking news unfolded on the television before our eyes. To hear a Gay Men’s Chorus sing our national anthem outside the building in Washington, D.C. where history was being made brought chills and tears to our eyes. We savored the moment together.

But the celebration was cut short by the next four hours of the television coverage of the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the Emanuel Nine slain in his church in Charleston, South Carolina the week before when he was leading a Bible Study group at the church. The celebration of his life was a long one for a man who had lived the relatively short life of only forty-one years. But this man’s life had counted for more than his years.

He began preaching at the age of thirteen and was a pastor at eighteen years of age. The men and women who reflected on Reverend Pinckney’s life did so with exuberance and humor as they told their personal stories of interacting with him as friends, family and co-workers. The picture that emerged was that of a good man who loved his family, his church and his country with its flawed history of systemic racism. He was a man on a mission to make life better for those who felt they had no voice to speak about their basic needs of food and shelter, their educational opportunities, a flawed criminal justice system. He was a man who cared, he was passionate about making a difference.

He was murdered by another kind of man who had a reckless way of living and a disregard for the sanctity of human life. He was murdered by a white man who was taught to hate the color black as a skin color in a society too often divided by colors, creeds and labels. We need to change our reckless way of living as a people.

We need to open our eyes and our hearts to see glimpses of truth, as the old hymn admonishes. Open our eyes that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me. And may we not just see the truth, but may we speak and act as though the truth is important because it is. When our eyes are opened, for example, to the pain the Confederate Flag flying on the public state house grounds inflicts on a daily basis to many of our citizens, we must make every effort to take it down. We must speak up and act out. (the flag came down on July 10, 2015)

President Obama spoke in his eulogy about the grace that each of us has from God, but that none of us earned. Regardless of our concept of God, we know grace is unmerited favor. We live in a country of contrasts and  sometimes conflicts, but for those of us to whom grace has been given, we are compelled to share this bounty with everyone we encounter – whether they agree or disagree with us in our political ideals. This is harder to practice than preach. Reverend Clementa Pinckney both preached and practiced grace  in his life as he crossed another kind of bridge – a bridge we will all cross at some point.

The tragedy of his untimely crossing took Pretty and me on a roller coaster of emotions as we watched the funeral yesterday. From the euphoria of the Supreme Court ruling early in the morning to the depths of despair as we remembered the losses of the Emanuel Nine during the funeral of Reverend Pinckney to the stirring tribute filled with hope by President Barak Obama that raised our spirits once again to believe in the possibility of grace; we crossed over two bridges in one day that we will never forget. Patti Page had none of this in mind when she sang her love song in 1954, but I’d like to  think my mother would be happy to know her music inspired more than a little girl’s learning to carry a tune.

**********************

Five years later we continue to cross over the bridges of systemic racism that divide us in this country. The murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 ignited marchers in the streets around the world to cross bridges for civil rights with similar passions to those of  John Lewis and the others who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. I believe the Black Lives Matter movement along with the passing of civil rights icons Congressmen John Lewis and Elijah Cummings were the beginning of the end for a Trump presidency that failed spectacularly to successfully combat an enemy known as Covid 19 in 2020 – an administration committed more to the stock market than  the welfare of its citizens, a presidency that encouraged politics of divisiveness over unity, a political party with ongoing threats to democratic cornerstones. The loss of nearly 300,000 American lives was, and continues to be, a bridge too far of failed leadership that resulted in the contentious removal of a one-term impeached president  by 81 million plus voters in the November election; 74 million people voted to re-elect him. But that’s a topic for another day.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Random, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Holidays! Clearance!


my books

I have signed new copies available of several nonfiction titles of mine that will make great holiday gifts for yourself or someone you love:

Get ’em while they’re not hot for $5. each plus shipping cost of $3.99. You can send $ through paypal.me/SHEILARMORRIS

Pardon the interruption for this shameless self promotion. As my daddy used to say, whosoever tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooteth. That was my dad.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday, Finn!


 Sunday November 29th. is the tenth birthday of our good friend Finn who visits us frequently in the summers because he loves chess games on the porch, Texas hold ’em high stakes games, trivia with Alexa, racing cars on my iPad while we watch tennis on TV, our barking dogs, me, his Auntie T (also known here as Pretty) and our swimming pool. Probably in reverse order.

 

 

chess requires deep concentration

Pretty and I have known Finn since the day he was born – his parents Dave and Saskia were close friends for several years before his birth. In Pretty’s previous life as a realtor she helped them find their home when they moved to Columbia to teach at the University of South Carolina. 

Continue reading

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

the essence of giving thanks


“The oak trees were alive with color in the midst of the evergreens. Bright red and yellow leaves catching the sunlight as Daddy and I walked through the brush on this Thanksgiving morning. The smell of the pines was fresh and all around us. We didn’t speak, but this was when I felt most connected to my father. Nature was a bond that united us, the gift that he gave me, and not just in those East Texas woods. He envisioned the whole earth as my territory and set me on a path to discovery. In 1956, this was remarkable for a girl’s father…

I loved our farm place that sat on the Grimes/Montgomery County line. It was 105 acres of rolling pasture and dense timber land three miles out from the small town where we lived. The land was at the edge of the Sam Houston National Forest which marked the beginning of the East Texas piney woods. We had a medium sized pond in those woods – we called it a tank – that was the main source of water for our few Hereford cattle we raised there…

To this day, Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday. It seems less commercial than the others and struggles to hold its own before the onslaught of merchandising that we call Christmas. The dinners in the fancy restaurants and hotels and cafeterias never measure up to the feasts my grandmothers served their families.

Perhaps, though, it is the love and closeness of those family ties that leave the sights and sounds that last a lifetime.”


This excerpt from the chapter Thanksgiving in the Piney Woods is from my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing. Those of you who follow me will recognize this as the traditional introduction to my annual holiday piece.

 Morris family on my grandparents’ front steps 

(I am seated on the bottom row in my flannel shirt and corduroy pants, unsmiling, at my mother’s request for some strange reason. My dad is the man with the suit and tie on the right. The date is circa 1956.)

One by one my family dwindled, as all families do, so that only four of the five children in this picture remain. I won’t see any of my first cousins during the holiday season on either side of my family this year nor will I see my sisters Leora, Carmen and Lorna –  they are all scattered around Texas while my home is with Pretty in South Carolina.

We will have a strange Thanksgiving due to the Covid pandemic that has returned to our nation with a second wave more vicious than the first devastating attack. More than 250,000 Americans have died in 2020 – unimaginable, and the numbers increase daily as empty chairs at the holiday dinner tables remind families of lives and love lost.

Americans face another insidious attack from a president who refuses to allow the peaceful transition of power following an election he lost by nearly six million votes. Stoking flames of division and mistrust, this would-be king and his subjects flail away at the basic fabric of our democracy while the coronavirus destroys our fellow citizens. Nero fiddles while Rome burns.

We are advised by our medical experts to avoid all travel, be wary of sharing the air with anyone other than immediate folks we live with, only very small gatherings. If we sacrifice now, we should be here for next year’s Thanksgiving, the medicine men tell us.  Wear masks, wash hands, keep safe distances, no hugging or other touching. Why is this difficult? Because those are not the norm for us.

This Thanksgiving is an unusual one for sure. but I still believe in the love and closeness of family ties no geographical nor physical distance can sever, family bonds that usher in the sights and sounds which last a lifetime. I am thankful for those memories of my Texas family but oh, how grateful I am for the family Pretty and I have shared for the past twenty years.

Pretty Too, Pretty Also and Baby Ella

Number One Son, Pretty and Baby Ella

Pretty and our granddaughter Ella James

(birthday number one for our girl)

Pretty and I wish all our friends in cyberspace that love and closeness on this special day for giving thanks – plus in this year we add our wishes for your  safety and sanity in these extraordinary times. We are thankful for you.

Stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

beware the ides of ancestry


His appearance wasn’t what attracted the seventeen-year old girl to the older itinerant preacher in his mid-twenties, but the powerful sermons he delivered in the Methodist church she attended in her home town of Greensboro, Georgia made him seem like one of the Old Testament prophets she had studied in Sunday School. Harriet Howard thought Jesse Boring was anything but what his last name suggested. Since her father had recently “gotten religion” the young man was a frequent guest in their home whenever he came to their church to deliver the gospel.

Harriet Eveline (or possibly Emmaline) Howard was born October 02, 1816 in Greensboro, Georgia, a small town incorporated in 1787 – a town located halfway between Atlanta 70 miles west and Augusta 70 miles east.

Harriet’s father Nicholas Howard spent most of his career as an unsuccessful businessman, local politician and, after a religious conversion in later life to the beliefs of the Methodist Episcopal Church, became the manager of the residence hall at the Collingsworth Institute for teenage boys in Columbus, Georgia before his death in 1849.

Harriet’s mother Judith Campbell was also from Georgia and married Nicholas in August of 1812. They had 11 children in 20 years – Harriet was the eldest of the six girls – Judith died near the end of the Civil War in 1865 at 72 years of age leaving Harriet as the only one of her children to survive her.

The Reverend Jesse wasn’t an unattractive man in Harriet’s eyes, but the stories he told of his travels of riding horseback throughout the Georgia Conference that spanned several hundred miles were spellbinding to the teenage girl who had never left Greene County. He began as a Circuit Rider on the Chattahoochee Circuit when he was 18 years old; his tales of riding through the mountains in uncharted territory made her feel he was the bravest, most exciting man she knew.

Romance caught fire between the two of them, and with the blessings of both families they were married in 1833 when she was 17 and he was 26. Whither thou goest, I will go, Harriet vowed to Jesse. It was a promise she kept for 47 years in their marriage that produced ten children.

In 1834 Jesse and Harriet lived in Augusta, Georgia;  from 1835 – 1837 in Columbus, Georgia where he preached revival meetings and was promoted to supervisor of the LaGrange Methodist Church conference. In 1841 Jesse was transferred to the Alabama conference where he served for six years in Mobile districts and on the Tuskegee Circuit. During the Alabama years four of the couple’s ten children were born in Mobile including a son named John Keener Boring who was born in 1843.

Jesse and Harriet returned to Columbus, Georgia in 1847 for two more years until Bishop Robert Paine chose Jesse to establish Southern Methodist churches in California. The family sailed March 1, 1850 from New Orleans to Panama, crossed 37 miles by land on mules through dense forests from Panama to the Pacific Ocean, caught another sailing ship to San Francisco – arriving in the summer of 1850. During the trip Harriet was pregnant with their fourth child, a son named Isaac who was born in San Francisco.

From 1850 – 1855 Reverend Jesse Boring established churches in San Jose, Stockton and San Francisco; organized the Pacific Conference, and edited the Methodist Church publication known as the Christian Observer. Harriet had another child in 1853 in San Francisco, a daughter named Jesse after her father.

In 1854 the  family left California to make the long arduous trip across land and sea again to return to the Georgia conference so that Jesse could pursue his new dream of studying medicine at the Atlanta Medical College where he later became the first president of the school.

In 1858, after finishing Medical College, Dr. Jesse Boring transferred his family to San Antonio, Texas where he presided at the first session of the Old Rio Grande Methodist Conference held in Goliad in November, 1859. He and Harriet packed all their furniture, clothing, household possessions and seven children to travel from Atlanta to Mobile where they boarded a sailing ship that carried them to  Galveston, Texas.

In the fall of 1858 the family reached Galveston, sailed by Buffalo Bayou to Houston where they disembarked and then moved westward in an old four horse stagecoach. Part of the time Jesse and his older children walked and carried a fence rail on their shoulders to pry the wagon wheels out of the mud. When they reached Eagle Lake near the Colorado River, the wagon couldn’t go any farther. They rode the horses from Eagle Lake to San Antonio.

Dr. Boring built a home for his family in San Antonio, but it was not paid for. He lost it during the Civil War in which he served the Confederate Army as a medical doctor and preacher from 1860 – 1864. Harriet and the children saw a sheriff auction the home and all of their furnishings. After the war, Jesse also bought a home for his family in Galveston where he preached and practiced medicine. However, it was lost in a defective title deed. Another home in Galveston was destroyed by a hurricane in 1866.

In 1868 Dr. Boring was very much a broken man in spirit and in health so he and Harriet returned home to Georgia where he served the Atlanta District of the Methodist Church for a number of years as their presiding elder. During his tenure Dr. Boring regained his fervor and was instrumental in founding a home for Confederate orphans. The Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, Georgia was the result of his persistence in securing funding for its opening in December of 1869.

(Their son, twenty-five-year-old John Keener Boring, remained in Texas to farm and raise his own family. John married Emma Fennell after the Civil War – their farm was 20 miles east of Luling near Nashes Creek. Emma came from a very wealthy family, but she married a very poor man who gave her seven children, bought the family a large farm and then subsequently lost it due to a problem with the deed. My grandfather, James Marion Boring, was one of their seven children.)

Two years ago through random hints on Ancestry I discovered my 2X great-grandmother, Harriet Eveline Howard Boring, was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia which was 71 miles west of our home in South Carolina. At the time of this remarkable discovery I was in the process of having two knees replaced. A trip to Georgia was impossible, but I saved the information for a later day.

Three weeks ago the later day arrived, and Pretty drove me to look for the resting place of my 2X great-grandmother. I was so excited! Pretty loves a cemetery adventure as much as I do, but she cautioned on the drive over there that if I said 2X great-grandmother one more time she couldn’t be responsible for her actions. I had gotten on her last nerve.

Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta, Georgia (since 1818)

Large number of lovely Greek markers

Pretty walks in plot owned by Dr. Jesse Boring

Ten headstones of women marked boundary

According to the cemetery records this large plot belonged to Dr. Jesse Boring, but the area has a name painted in black letters “Women’s Home” on the lower cement boundary which seems to make sense with only ten women’s headstones in a single line indicating the top boundary. Since Dr. Boring was involved in the Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur, it’s no stretch to think that he gave this plot to a Women’s Home in Augusta to honor the memory of his wife Harriet who died in their Augusta home on January 20, 1879.

Sadly for me, there is no mention of Harriet in the cemetery plot. Pretty tried to comfort me with her guesses of what happened to the headstone or other marker in the 141 years since my 2X great-grandmother’s death. My favorite idea of hers was that a tree fell on the marker, knocked it down and time gradually covered her resting place with the beautiful grass and autumn leaves that we did find. I liked it.

Jesse Boring, who married again following Harriet’s death, died in 1890 and is now buried on the grounds of the Methodist Children’s Home in Decatur. His epitaph reads in part “He who turns a child to God changes the course of history.”

I found these stories in a family history compiled by my mother’s first cousin Hugh Boring and his wife Esther in 1991. My mother had little interest in her family’s history so I’m sure she gave the book to me as soon as Hugh sent it to her. I resurrected it from my extensive collections of materials I’ve saved through the years in my genealogy research on both sides of my family. I embellished the stories for sure because I could. I felt compelled to share them here because I am a storyteller from Texas and these are my people.

Unfortunately, I found out slavery was intertwined in many of  our family’s lives and Dr. Jesse Boring was an ardent secessionist in the Civil War days. I did wonder about Harriet’s thoughts on the issue, although I assume she followed Jesse’s beliefs as surely as she followed him around the country.

I close with an actual obituary dated January 22, 1879 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Death of Mrs. Boring.

Yesterday’s Chronicle-Constitutionalist.

Mrs. Boring, wife of Rev. Jesse Boring, the pastor of St. John’s Methodist Episcopal church, died last evening at the parsonage, age sixty-three years. Forty-five years ago Mrs. Boring commenced her married life in this parsonage, and after nearly half a century of wandering with her husband in his ministry as an itinerant Methodist preacher, she came back, as the result showed, to die. Mrs. Boring was an estimable woman. Carrying out the words of Ruth—“Where thou goest, I shall go”— she was by her husband’s side wherever he was sent. She undertook with him the long and dangerous journey to California soon after the acquisition of that section by the United States when he went out and established the first Methodist church on the Pacific frontier, crossing the isthmus on mule back and undergoing cheerfully all the privations of the journey. Her life was an eventful and beautiful one, and her husband, children and friends remember her with reverence and enduring affection.

I think I would have liked my 2X great-grandmother Harriet whose full name was never identified in her obituary. I remember her today with reverence and enduring affection. Her story is a welcome diversion from the emotional toll of a raging pandemic and a raging political roller coaster.

Onward.

*************************

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

I’ll drink to them


Our granddaughter Ella James toasts 

President-Elect Joe Biden

and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris today

while Pretty scrolls Twitter for election updates

(and Alexa shuffles music by The Chicks)

*******************************

Stay safe, stay sane, and please stay tuned. Happiness is not only allowed but also encouraged.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Matt Chisling, A Gay Man for All Seasons


Matt Chisling

(January 02, 1929 – November 03, 2020)

Yesterday afternoon in the middle of election angst I received a call from our friend Garner who told me another friend of ours, Matt Chisling, had passed. Although the call was not unexpected, it was ironic Matt died on election day because at 91 years of age he never lost either his enthusiasm for democracy or his passion for the Democratic Party.

Pretty and I met Matt in the early 1990s at the beginning of his LGBTQ activist life following his retirement from a marketing career with Casual Corner that spanned decades. Matt was in his sixties at the time, but his energy and devotion to the queer community in South Carolina was an inspiration to all.

Matt was one of 21 individuals whose stories appeared in Southern Perspectives on the Queer Movement: Committed to Home published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2017. As a tribute to Matt’s service in our community, I am including blurbs from his piece in the book.

“I was brought up in Birmingham, Alabama, a city where yes, there was a gay bar; but in order to go down there, I would put on a raincoat and a big-brimmed hat and hide my eyes under the hat. You covered yourself up because you never knew who was watching – whether there was a plainclothesman in a car outside taking pictures or something. You didn’t know, but Ben and I used to go. There was good music and good drinks, and they were cheap in those days. Down the road a piece there was a city called Atlanta which developed far faster and much greater than Birmingham. Once that got developed, I could always go to Atlanta to a bar with Ben, especially if it was a bar that had a musical event or dancers, as we might say. We would go.”

Matt was a graduate of the University of Alabama with a degree in political science and journalism. After college he entered the US military where he served in the Korean War from 1951 – 1953 as part of the army that exchanged artillery fire on the 38th. Parallel. “I was not an enthusiast of military life,” he recalled.

Matt and Ben’s story was not unusual for gay men in the mid-twentieth century. They never lived together but continued their loving relationship from their late teens until Ben died from cancer when he was sixty-two years old, two years after Matt retired from Casual Corner.

“My activism in the gay community started after I retired because I had the time and was interested in the social aspect of the organizations at first. A lot of the organizing in South Carolina started with basically sociability…I don’t think the groups had some grand idea of developing a fighting army to take on the discrimination in the world. I think they got started as purely a social place to go and talk to people of your own thinking. At least, it was for me, and then I wanted more.”

Two grassroots organizations were happy to offer Matt “more” than he probably had in mind. He served on the board of directors for the AIDS Benefit Foundation for many years and successfully chaired their Annual Dining with Friends fundraiser during his board tenure. He also became active as the chair of the membership committee for the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Business Guild for more than 15 years.

“In those grassroots organizations, you have to find a niche where you can do some good. There were two things I was fairly decent at: one was raising memberships, the other was raising money. For nonprofit organizations like that, those are the two things they cherish.”

Memberships and money were certainly movers of the movement, but nonprofit organizations also cherished the volunteers who worked tirelessly to find the people and resources to keep them viable, vibrant. Matt Chisling was one such volunteer. Pretty and I both admired his dedication and long-term commitment to causes that changed the course of history for LGBTQ people in the state of South Carolina from the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s to marriage equality in 2014.

Matt loved his mother,  his partner Ben, his friends – both gay and straight – his community.  Pretty and I loved Matt. We will miss this Jewish man who had fun at Christmas bringing gifts he wrapped in gorgeous paper with lovely big bows. We will miss our talks with him on the latest movies and his opinions on well, just about everything.

“This business of growing old, sitting around your condominium, even thought it’s a nice place to sit around, gets…I can’t do that…I enjoy being with people. I have to have something that fills my day, that fills my time, and that fills my mind.”

We enjoyed being with you, too, Matt. Rest in peace.

**********************

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

This is the Time


“We have been too quiet for too long.

There comes a time when you have to say something.

You have to make a little noise.

You have to move your feet.”

——— Congressman John Lewis

Neither freezing temperatures nor sweltering heat, sleet, snow, rain, wind, long lines, men or women with guns pointed at us, a pandemic or any other hindrance should be able to prevent us from moving our feet to our precincts to VOTE on Tuesday, November 3rd.

**************************

Stay safe,  stay sane, stay cool – and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , | 7 Comments