Reflections | Mary Lee Writes
In this week following my 79th birthday, I have been reflecting on many factors that affect my happiness and peace.

First on my list is my faith in God. I believe in an understanding and forgiving God, who is non-judgemental, showing an all-encompassing love for each creature. I imagine that when terrible things happen, God is shedding a tear along with his children. Most of all, I believe he is holding me in the palm of His hand and supporting me. Even when the unimaginable happens, it is made bearable for those who love and believe in God. Often when walking down a hospital hallway to a much-loved person’s room, I have the image that Jesus is holding my hand and giving me strength. With the presence of the Holy Spirit, I can forgive and move on, realizing that my role is not to judge, leaving that position to an all-knowing God.

I am grateful for the years shared with my husband, John. When I met him, I had graduated from junior college and was headed for a university degree. Six weeks after meeting him, we were engaged. We were married six months after we met. I was barely 20, and he was 26.  He fought the disease of alcoholism, and we divorced for one year after 17 years of marriage. The judge who granted the divorce told us that he did this with a heavy heart and said he would annul the divorce at any time. I didn’t know that was possible until it happened to us, and our wedding day of December 29, 1956, remained our special day. I matured emotionally in the year of being single and went to counseling, as I realized that it takes both to create the problems leading to a split.

The encouragement of our son and daughter is primary in my life. They seem to think their mom is capable of making decisions, and I feel so loved by both of them and also my son’s husband. They bring laughter to my home, and I like the warmth I feel when around them.

My Little Rock cousins are such fun to be with, and I enjoy the discussions with them about topics ranging from church, family, and politics. Because of my father’s jealousy of my uncle, we were seldom together. I longed for a relationship with them.

My extended family is an important component of my life. Through them, I have another daughter, another son, granddaughter, grandsons, great-granddaughter, so many life experiences that would have been denied me without their love. I cherish every phone call, text, and visit. And isn’t Facetime fun with a child.

Childhood sexual abuse affected my life. I was able to keep the hurtful memories at bay by burying them. I have had a few return, but just enough to let me see the night child versus the day child, so compartmentalized. I have few memories until I married. My son became so concerned about my need for affirmation that he encouraged me to see a counselor, but I ignored his suggestion.  A few years later, I was seeing an internist who recognized that I was way too tense, and he saw signs of an abusive history. He only told me he thought counseling would help with my blood pressure problem and gave me the name of a counselor in Memphis. I went to him for over two years. In that period, I convinced myself that I was fine, and the symptoms were unfounded. One afternoon near the end of my appointment, the counselor told me he didn’t need to see me again. I commented that I appreciated that, because I felt the visits were not necessary. He replied that he thought I should get on my knees each day and thank God that I didn’t remember what had happened to me. He said he had become convinced that I was the victim of ongoing sexual abuse. I now have enough memory to accept that it did occur, but I am content to leave it in God’s hands as somehow his love has strengthened me to cope. I get teary about the lost years and how much fun I missed out on by being so self-conscious, seeing myself as someone unworthy.

Since I have acknowledged the abuse to myself, I realize that I couldn’t and still can’t comprehend that someone who should have been protecting me could have mistreated a child. Now I understand my extreme fears, the panic attacks, the agoraphobic feelings and the night terrors. I have worked hard to put the resentment and anger aside. I have been able to let go and am happy and free for the first time in my life. I enjoy each minute, I am at peace, I rejoice in my family and loved ones. I am grateful for my husband who would get up with me at night to wait out the panic attacks. Neither of us knew then why I would awaken with such terror, but he was always there for me.

My biggest regret is that I could have been such a better mother and enjoyed just being the child inside of me. I would look at friends on the floor playing with their children, and I didn’t know how. Now I feel joy in the simplest activities, and laughter instead of tears is always near the surface. I am not bound by wondering what others think of me. As long as I am true to myself and my conscience, it doesn’t matter. It is between God and me.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to his purpose. –Romans 8:28 (King James version)

(image via Pinterest.)


Have a heart, Mr. Trump

Have a heart Mr. Trump | Mary Lee writes
I have tried to stay out of politics, because I am such a liberal among mostly conservative friends. However, I am appalled at the ramblings of Donald Trump about our Mexican friends and just can’t keep quiet. He has touched a nerve in me.

Saying that, put political views aside. I am aghast at the people who are applauding Donald Trump for his stance on immigration. To even think that someone should be deported who had no say in being brought to the United States as a child is outrageous. I’ll bet most of us know someone in this category and admire them for their perseverance in writing and speaking English and being a hard-working and contributing member of the community.

And what about the child of that person? Raised as a citizen and obedient to the laws of the United States. These children, Mr. Trump, are Americans. You talk about a peaceful outcome, just imagine for one moment the anger toward the government this stance would promote if you rescind their citizenship and force them to go to Mexico.

Consider the person in the country illegally since a child. I happen to know and love such a person. The grandmother stayed to run her restaurant in Mexico when the rest of the family settled in California. After having success in his work, the father moved the family to Jonesboro. After several years, the grandmother became ill, and her daughter went back to care for her. Later, the father joined his wife in Mexico as she couldn’t return to the country where she had lived for thirty or so years. She has not seen her daughters since leaving, and they communicate by Skype and FaceTime.

And you wish to send this family back? To a country the grown children don’t even know? They may be Mexican by birth, but their loyalty is to the United States of America.

Where is the heart in this? We, as voters, need to take a look at the devastating consequences. Yes, as Mr. Trump says, there are bad people. And that is true in any culture. However, that is not an excuse for penalizing good people. Don’t be deceived by rhetoric. The Webster definition of rhetoric? The art of influencing the thought and conduct of an audience.

“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.”

–Margaret Mead


My adopted grandchildren – thank you all!

My adopted grandchildren | Mary Lee writes
When I realized I would never be a grandmother, it was a time when many of my friends were welcoming grandchildren. I would leave a baby shower feeling so sad for my children and the knowledge that John and I would never embark on this adventure.

One Sunday when we missed church, we watched the First Baptist Church service on TV. Emil Williams was preaching, and one of his comments spoke to me, that if you don’t have grandchildren, adopt one! That comforted me, and I still remember its impact on my emotions.

A dear friend, Edward, whom we consider a family member, was out of town during the ice storm, and his son stayed several days with us as our electricity was on and his wasn’t. We shared with Ben and became close. He and his girlfriend Jessica began coming by on Sunday afternoons to visit John, and they will never know what joy they brought to our lives. The day he died, they were there to put my house in order and to help in many ways. They have now moved to another state, and we stay in touch with Facetime and texts.

Adopted grandchildren

Carmen’s long-distance greeting at Christmas 2012

John, our son, is godfather to a precious teen, Carmen, who lives in California. Long ago, I “adopted” her mother as a daughter. Words cannot express the joy Sonia and Carmen have brought to my life. I even get messages from Carmen’s school listing me as her grandmother. She has spent time with us in Jonesboro since before she could walk. We Facetime regularly and look forward to the next trip when we can get together.

And my Natalie! (Shown above, at her first birthday party in 2012.) She has loving grandparents. However, she calls me “GG” and her wonderful parents allow me to have a special part in her life. We had dinner last night, and this morning my heart is warmed by the memory of Natalie’s hugs. At John’s memorial service, her mother, Jeanne, gave the message. Heath and Natalie sat with our family, and when her mother began speaking Natalie slipped by us and stood in front of the pulpit. Jeanne picked her up and finished speaking with Natalie, at almost two years of age, in her arms. It was perfect, as John adored Natalie and was even able to hold her as an infant. There were many smiles among those who realized John would have loved this element of surprise.

Then there is Anastasia. The daughter of John’s cousin Harold, Lynn, adopted a little girl from Russia. We have had the privilege of being with Stasi since the first visit to Jonesboro, and this summer during Harold’s illness and death she and Lynn spent a month with me. Stasi and I have a special relationship, and I enjoyed having them with me. Stasi loves sunflower seeds and wants me to buy them in the shells – our only problem was to keep the dogs away from the shells! When I told them goodbye at the airport, Stasi ran back to me and hugged me once more, telling me that she wanted me to be her “fake” grandmother. I’ll take any title for those hugs!

I am feeling grateful this morning to these parents for sharing the precious love of their children with me. My heart is full of love and appreciation, for to see life through a child’s eyes is a beautiful sight.

My adopted grandchildren | Mary Lee Writes

Carmen at Christmas 2013


Bookstores on my mind

Bookstores on my mind | Mary Lee Writes
Bookstores have always been a place of awe for me. Perhaps it’s the representation of the thoughts and dreams of so many writers, the philosophical differences represented, or just the pure joy of perusing titles and deciding on my next choice. In the days before digital books, I seldom left without four or five selections.

I visited our son, John, several times when he lived overseas, and I would take along several books for the flight. I wanted to avoid the panic of finishing one and not having another to begin reading. Once, landing in Atlanta after a flight from Paris, I was approached by a man who asked if he could speak with me. He commented that he had observed me throughout the flight. He had been seated behind and to the left of me and said he had never seen such a voracious reader. I had never thought of myself in those terms and have not forgotten his words. The chilling part was that I had been totally oblivious to the fact that I was being watched. I thought if he had been that bored he should have taken a nap.

I was first introduced to the work of Ian McEwan by John in a bookstore in London. I never see his name or read one of his books that I don’t remember the pleasant day with our son. The book I purchased that day was one of his early ones, The Child in Time.

Being an only child raised in a household with four adults, reading was my salvation from loneliness. I don’t really understand how I acquired the habit, as I don’t recall my parents reading to me and certainly not my grandparents. I remember my mother having subscribed to the “Book-of-the-Month Club” and my father reading a lot of Saturday Evening Post magazines; however, I don’t think of either as serious readers.

When I first visited the Rizzoli Bookstore, then located on 57th Street in New York City, I felt a sense of reverence for the beautiful building and displays. I went upstairs to look at the CD’s and selected a recording by a favorite female opera star. It was nice to have the reminder of that lovely afternoon. Rizzoli has now relocated (to NoMad, as the neighborhood in the mid-20s around lower Broadway and Fifth Avenue is now known) and is open once more. They closed after their lease ran out and were told the landmark building would be demolished.

When I visited John in Menlo Park, Calif., he introduced me to Kepler’s Books, a comfortable place to visit and a friendly atmosphere. Chairs are always a welcome sight as an invitation to relax, and I went there often during my visit. They had a posting of staff’s favorites that never failed to entertain.

The Booksellers at Laurelwood, formerly Davis-Kidd and located in Memphis, is a favorite place for lunching alone and taking a break from the day’s events. One particular evening, our daughter, Mary Kathryn, was invited to a party during the holidays. It was the same evening John’s flight was due to arrive. There were a couple of hours between dropping her off and meeting John at the airport, so I spent my time at David-Kidd. It was a safe haven on a cold rainy night in December.

My friend from childhood, Mary Ann, was very ill, and I wished to visit her. I was in Los Angeles with a Charlott Jones travel group, and I decided to miss the trip to the wine country, rent a car, and drive to Newport Beach where she lived. Her husband, Sam, had given me the best time to arrive, and I was way too early. I remembered Fashion Island from a previous trip. I stopped there where I found a bookstore, lingering there until time to go to their home. It was a Barnes & Noble, long before we had one in Jonesboro.

Just this past April, three college friends and I were in Kansas City. We were in the Country Club Plaza area, and I tired of shopping. I spotted a Barnes & Noble across the street from our parking garage and told them to text me when they were ready to go to the car. I had a great cup of coffee and enjoyed my time – with a book for company.

I have joined the digital age as I read a lot and, when I downsized, John and his husband, Arif, took hundreds of books to the Library. I had already given away sacks upon sacks and moved some favorites. I tend to buy one that I want to keep and the rest I download. Mary Kathryn loves to read, though lately she doesn’t have much time, and we share the digital library.

This idea for a posting occurred to me on Friday as I was reading a hard copy of On the Road with the Archangel by Frederick Buechner. And that book prompted me to call Lalla Mellor, the widow of Ernest Mellor who introduced me to Buechner’s work. And it goes on – because of that phone call, I drove to Memphis on Saturday and met Lalla for lunch. We had such a great time reminiscing about our shared memories of our husbands and the great times the four of us had together. We laughed about the way we celebrated Ernest’s fortieth birthday by meeting at the Travel Air Motel in Marked Tree for “dinner,” and realizing we had been there four hours just enjoying talking with one another. Books can be uniting.

The new Rizzoli in New York.


What to do with three ripe bananas

Favorite banana bread recipe - Mary Lee writes
I just pitched three over-ripe bananas into the trash. The significance of this? My husband, John, loved my banana bread, and he would eat bananas until there were three left on the kitchen counter. I soon understood the signal, would let them ripen an extra day and make the banana bread. I experimented with cinnamon and other spices to make it more tasty, but he always said, “When you have something good, why change it?” I made the same recipe for over fifty years, always with pecans.

Junior League of Memphis cookbook | Mary Lee writesIt was with a pang that I put the bananas in the garbage. Life changes, and we move on. Memories can bring tears and then a smile of gratitude for the memory. Like my saying, “It’s just out of the oven, want a piece while it’s hot?” I remember that he always thanked me, as if I had done something really special for him.

The recipe is out of the Junior League of Memphis Cookbook, originally published in 1952. Mine is so worn that I have no cover or introductory pages. The banana bread is credited to a Mr. Walter L. Berry.



1/4 lb. butter
1 c sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c pecans, finely chopped
2 c flour
1 tsp. soda
3 very ripe bananas, crushed
Whip bananas until light. Cream butter and sugar and add eggs. Sift flour and soda. Add to butter and eggs. Combine this mixture with the finely chopped pecans, then add crushed bananas. Pour into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Yield: 1 loaf.


The banana bread is quite moist and not very sweet. Try it toasted with a little butter at breakfast, though John never wanted it any way but plain. I like to toast the pecans, and I don’t crush the bananas separately. I put them into the batter and let the mixer do my work.

My son, John, asked me when I started this blog what I planned to write about, and I told him I had no idea! And that’s the way it is developing – so bear with me, readers. I will keep you guessing, that I can guarantee.


Summer memories: Second term at camp cut short

Camp Waldemar, Hunt, Texas
To continue with my story of Camp Waldemar: It was decided that I would return for the second year. My next door neighbor and good friend, Jane, was accepted, and we were two excited thirteen year-olds to be going away together. My grandparents had both been ill, and there was no plan that the family would accompany me.

My father rode the train from Hoxie with us to Little Rock, where we joined the other campers for the ride to San Antonio. This time the bus ride, the lunch at the St. Anthony Hotel, and the tour were enjoyable. However, the highlight was being welcomed with hugs by friends who remembered me – and yes, there were the squeals of joy! The feelings of acceptance that I had felt impossible for me were happening.

We were assigned to the same cabin, and I was comfortable with the girls and introducing them to Jane. We also met a girl from Forrest City, who became a friend of many years and later was a bridesmaid at my wedding. There was a lot of whispering and giggling during siesta.

I was working on another level in riflery, learning to canoe on the beautiful river, and still riding those horses.

Early one morning reveille was sounded early, and amidst the grumbling girls I heard my name called to come to the office. When I trudged down the hill, heart pounding, there were Cousin Jesse and Mr. Ragsdale. I was told that my grandmother was very ill, and they were there to accompany me home. She had had a stroke. I asked if she had died, and I was told my mother would talk to me when I arrived home. In my heart, I knew that my beloved “Mom” was dead, though the Ragsdales denied it.

We arrived in Memphis the next day. My cousin, Tandy Morris, met us at the station, and I told him I needed the truth. He verified that my grandmother had died, although my mother did not want me to know until she could tell me. I was not told that any arrangements for a service had been made, though it was to be held that very afternoon.

Upon turning into the long driveway for our home, I saw many cars. I walked into the house where I was greeted with tears, and then stood in the entrance to the living room. This room was thirty feet by forty feet and sported a fourteen foot ceiling. It was almost like standing on a stage as you entered, as there were five or six steps down into the room.

I was so unprepared for the sight. Mom’s casket was in front of the fireplace, and there were lines and lines of chairs all set for the funeral. I was later told that it was easier for my grandfather to have the service at the house where we all lived, but what a shock for a thirteen year old. He was practically bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis, although he dressed and attended the service and the burial.

It became time for the Ragsdales to return to their home in Texas, and I assumed I would accompany them and finish my term at camp. However, one night my mother told me she would rather I stay at home with the family. Of course, I agreed. The toughest letter was the one to my friend Jane, who accused me of deserting her. I am not sure she ever understood and forgave me!

That is the summer that I realized at thirteen how dependent my mother was upon me. Even for table setting – she would call me in and ask if the table looked all right, wondering if the forks appeared in the correct order, the cloth properly ironed, and the crystal sparkling. She sat at one end of the table, in Mom’s chair, and there was a buzzer at her feet which she would hit to summon Spot. He doubled as cook and server most of the time.

In looking back, my mother and grandmother were such a team. They each had their own phone number although living in the same house, and they often talked on the telephone to each other. I suppose it’s like texting room to room! It is easy to see why she wanted me at home, as Mom’s death was very traumatic for her.

The events of that summer ended my experience as a camper. I cherish the time spent at Waldemar and will be forever grateful to Cousin Jesse for her good heart and loving embrace.


Summer memories: Helicopters over Waldemar

Camp Waldemar | Mary Lee writes
When I was twelve, my grandfather’s cousin Jesse and her husband, who was always referred to as Mr. Ragsdale, made a wintertime visit to Jonesboro. They owned and operated a jewelry store in Smithville, Texas, and had become involved with Camp Waldemar in Hunt, Texas, by selling medals and mementos to the camp.

Camp Waldemar was founded in 1926 and is still in operation. Located in the Hill Country on the Guadalupe River, it is an amazing place. At the time I attended, it was owned and operated by a devoted woman named Doris Johnson, a legend in girls’ summer camps. The chefs were named U.S. and Lucille. They were an African-American couple, and so creative that their menu would be competitive with today’s most popular restaurants.

Cousin Jesse had visited often during my childhood and was the one person who seemed to keenly sense the loneliness and unhappiness that I felt. She dared to express her concern to my parents and suggested a summer term at Waldemar. At that time, the camp offered two six-week terms during the summer, and parents were only allowed one visit during the session – Field Day, which was scheduled half-way through the term.

I was “accepted” by a little nudging, as most of the girls from Arkansas were second-generation campers. Several of the parents knew each other socially and were from Little Rock.

The day before I was to leave for Texas, my parents drove to Little Rock where we spent the night. The next morning, we went to the train station where I boarded a train for the first time, beginning my Texas adventure. Talk about lonely – it felt as if everyone else had a best friend, with lots of hugging and squealing, and some tears from me.

We arrived in San Antonio the next morning, where we were met by a bus with other campers and driven on a tour around the city. Lunch was in a big dining room at the old St. Anthony Hotel. Then we boarded the bus once more to go to Hunt. The girls sang all the way, camp songs and other songs I’d never heard. Such excitement, and I just wished to be a little more part of it instead of an onlooker.

When we arrived at camp, we were assigned to our cabins, eight in each. The shower and toilets were located down the hill. Such lack of privacy for an only child who had never been away from home!

In about a week, I was making friends and adjusting to the schedules. I loved riflery and horseback riding. The counsellors were wonderful. I was finding a real talent for archery. Swimming in the river was new to me and challenging. I was beginning to feel free and happy with new experiences. Movie nights were great fun, and chapel by the river was inspirational. There were three tribes at camp to help the competitive spirit, and I was a Tejas. Once a week we climbed the hill to a campfire with only our “tribe,” singing our spirit songs and planning strategy. All good healthy fun.

And then, on a weekday afternoon, I was called to the office. When I arrived there from class (terrified, as you were only interrupted for an emergency) there stood my mother and father. I was dumbfounded. They had arrived there, disobeying the “no visitors” rule, and my mother told me that my father had come home from the Post Office with a letter from me and said he couldn’t stand it any longer, that they had to go to Texas.

To make it even more confusing, my grandparents, Mary Emma and Eugene Barton, had accompanied them. They had rooms about two miles from camp and told me they would be there until camp was over. That was another month.

They were the original helicopter parents and grandparents. They came uninvited to every happening at camp, they came to movie nights, they climbed Tejas hill, though Mother would get short of breath and have to sit on a stump part way up. In so many words, they took away my freedom and my independence. I do not know how they got by with this, and there is no telling what they told the director to be allowed to intrude in this way. I could not leave the boundaries of the camp, so I didn’t even see their lodging until camp was over.

I would be riding on a trail, loving the countryside from my horse, and one of the girls would ask the counselor, “Who is that man filming us?” It was creepy to them. When I think of horseback rides, I see a movie camera. I tried barrel racing – and there was the camera once more. Rifle range, there was the camera. I felt trapped in the middle of a wonderland.

We occasionally had barbecue served on long tables outside. My grandparents loved those meals, and there were hurt feelings if I indicated I would sit with my friends.

All of this attention and questions from the girls about my family made me feel different and that I could never be just one of the girls. I didn’t do my best at any of the sports I loved for fear of being criticized. My father always had a suggestion for improvement, and I longed to be applauded by him one time. I just existed as a camper.

The last day, we drove to the motel and then on to San Antonio for a few days. Neither of my grandparents were in good health, and I barely remember that part of the summer. My cocker spaniel, Rusty, was at home to greet me, and that was the happiest day for me. My father had left him running loose outside, and our cook, Spot, came each day for over a month to feed him. When I left for camp, there had been four adults promising to take care of him. Bless my Rusty’s heart, he was a survivor also.

Deep in the heart of Texas

Deep in the heart of Texas