Charley & the Bacon

There was that bright red cardinal again – like a streak of crimson blood against the snow. Becky supposed his mate was somewhere out there too, but it was the male that caught her eye as he landed in the small tree outside her window. The pop and sizzle from the top of the stove turned her attention back to this morning’s breakfast.

On Sundays, she treated herself. She had purchased some smoked slab bacon and slices of it were frying in her cast iron pan, slowly filling her kitchen with the sweet scent of memories. Bacon and eggs were an ordinary breakfast in a time gone by; that sizzle combined with the plop plop of the coffee percolating had worked like an alarm clock for her back then. Becky’s father loved bacon at breakfast, and had given anyone who would listen his earnest instructions for cooking it properly. That took a while. Becky smiled as she turned down the heat, remembering his words. She remembered, too, that his perfect bacon was a gift he gave.

When he decided to make a pet of Charley, bacon was the lure. Charley was a great blue heron, who used to visit her father in Florida. She guessed they had both been lonely and between women at the time. It seemed that Charley loved bacon about as much as Becky’s father did. Every winter when he went to Florida, her father would spend whole afternoons in the lazy heat by the lake, luring Charley with bacon. And every year, Charley came a little closer.

Finally, it happened. Charley was so in love with that bacon that he forgot himself and followed her father and his bacon scraps right into the trailer!

Becky carefully turned the bacon in the skillet and poured herself another cup of coffee. Had her father been that bored and lonely, or had he been that tickled by the heron? It seemed to her that maybe he had been so in tune with nature that he instinctively knew how to make the heron do his bidding.

Becky’s father was not a man who had much formal schooling and in some ways it showed. But in many other ways, he knew more than anyone else she had met. Besides his bacon and a penchant for his homemade dandelion wine, his greatest gift was to say that someone had common sense.

Becky set the plates in the oven to warm and started the eggs. There were very few people she could recall that her father had bestowed his common-sense award upon. Virtually raising himself, he snorted contempt for any person whose opinions he considered ill-thought-out. Passionately opinionated, no subject was too unimportant for full consideration and discussion. His knowledge was extensive for a man who left high school to help support a family.

Becky remained deep in thought while she drained the bacon on a paper towel and clicked the toaster down. Putting a lid on the pan of eggs while turning off the burner, she absently got the butter from the refrigerator and stood waiting for the toast to pop up. Tapping a butter knife on the edge of her plate, she supposed it was that way for a lot of people. She had an idea now of how complicated the world was, and how irrevocable a decision could be.

The toast popped up and Becky buttered it. Filling her warm plate with toast, eggs and of course perfectly done bacon, she sat down at the kitchen table just as a blue jay alit on the sumac tree outside the window. He seemed unafraid, and in no rush to be somewhere else as he eyed her curiously. Becky wondered if blue jays might like bacon, too.


Sandie Gilliland

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Now I’ve Lived It

The sun comes up in the morning and

The stars come out each night.

We hear the catbirds singing and

We watch the hummingbirds fight.


We talk about the orchard with

Its trees we climbed long ago;

The cows and sheep of our farmer life

And our grandpa whose name was Joe.


The tomatoes he grew, the cucumbers too,

And the bottle he hid in the shed;

The Thanksgiving dinners that grandma prepared

And the children’s books we all read.


Memories spill out like beans from a bag

Or wheat that you sift through your fingers;

Each of us lived it and has stories to tell

And remembering, we pause and we linger.


We each of us lived it, we laughed and we cried

And as we recall all those years

The good with the bad, the happy, the sad,

The times there were so many tears.


Now, looking back, we’re smiling a lot

It seems to us crystal clear

Sharing our lives in so many ways

In the end has brought us right here.


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Life of a Tomato

Lacy green fingers cover her in her youthfulness then


Reveal her as she grows and ripens;


Then blushing crimson to hear such praise

of her form and figure.

Sweet love apple

Will you be mine today?

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He Doesn’t Really Mean It

I grew up in a time when there was no such thing as “domestic violence.” It was a time when a farmer would be ostracized for leaving his cows unmilked or his hay in the field, but not for giving his wife a black eye. This poem is about breaking that cycle.




He doesn’t really mean it

He thinks you are okay;

He doesn’t really mean it

You just get in his way.


He doesn’t really mean it

When he yells and makes you cry;

He doesn’t really mean it

You just need to try.


He doesn’t really mean it

When he screams and acts so mad;

He doesn’t really mean it

It’s the only life you’ve had.


He doesn’t really mean it

And now you’re on your own;

Yelling at your children

In that same God-awful tone.


And you know that you don’t mean it

When they look at you so sad;

You just don’t know what else to do

It’s the same damn life you had.


Neither of you mean it

It’s like some evil train;

That picks you up and takes you to

That same bad place again.


Since you don’t really mean it

Please stop it, as of today;

To show those children that you love

There is a better way.



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Lessons from Grandma

Last week I looked in the mirror as I was getting ready to start my day, and for just a moment, I saw my grandmother looking back at me! I blinked, and I was looking at myself. Whew. But when I got closer to that mirror and squinted, there she was again – that beautiful but slightly wrinkly woman who taught me so many things.
Grandma gave me many life lessons over the years, and most of the time I didn’t even realize it. Well, let us say she tried, but a few didn’t stick; they just weren’t in my nature!
Grandma and grandpa lived nearby so I was privileged to spend a lot of time with them. It was in these day-to-day visits that grandma found a way to impart some of her wisdom to her little granddaughter.
I learned it was important to be respectful to my family, my elders and my country. I learned to study hard in school so I could get into a good college. I learned to keep my mouth closed so I wouldn’t swallow a fly (and yes, I believed her!). I walked instead of running, didn’t air my dirty laundry in public and above all, I learned that if I couldn’t say something nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all.
I especially loved grandma’s sewing lessons. On rainy afternoons, grandma would get open up her Singer treadle machine. We would look through her basket and inevitably find a pair of grandpa’s bib coveralls that needed mending or an apron that needed a new pocket. Grandma would let me look through her sewing box for scraps of fabric and ribbon. If she didn’t want to save them for a quilt, she would help me figure out how to piece them together to fashion a new dress for my doll.
Sometimes I would just sit quietly by as grandma ran up a new skirt or darned some socks. And sometimes she would let me open the canning jar full of used buttons she kept for future use to look through them. I would spill them out through my fingers over the dining room table, careful not to let any drop on the floor. They always felt so smooth and cool to the touch, as I imagined a string of fine pearls or exotic beads would feel.
I think my favorite memories are of peach season. Peaches were grandpa’s favorite fruit. Every year, there was much discussion around the optimal peach-picking day. The date was set, the calendar marked, and bright and early on the appointed day we would motor off to the selected farm a few counties over to pick our bushels of peaches. Grandma would have packed a picnic lunch and we would stop in a shady spot along the way home to eat homemade potato salad, cold fried chicken and lemonade from a canning jar so cold it made my teeth ache.
When we got back to the house, grandpa would unload the bushels of peaches from the car while grandma and I spread newspapers out across a large part of that enormous kitchen floor. Grandpa and I would spread those peaches out gently, one by one and not touching so they wouldn’t bruise. Every day, the peaches still waiting to be preserved had to be turned so they would not bruise, and that was my job too.
Grandma would proceed to can or make jam of most of those peaches for the cold winter months ahead, but there was usually a peach pie or cobbler for dessert during “peach week.” To this day, when I smell the warm fragrance of a sweet ripe peach, I see that kitchen, grandma’s workroom, in my mind.
As I got older, the lessons grew more difficult and challenging. Grandma helped me learn that you can’t always get what you want, and that anything worth having is worth working for. I learned to act like a lady and not a tomboy, not to chew gum while I talked, and that cleanliness was next to Godliness. I learned to make a pretty good peach pie as well!
Time passes, at a pace we cannot control. Now I am my grandma’s age when she taught me so many lessons that have stood my in good stead all my life. I was so fortunate to have such a close and loving relationship with someone so wise and willing to share their wisdom and experience.
I grew up, went off to college, and eventually got married and had children of my own. By then, grandpa had passed away and grandma was living in a retirement home in the city. We would make the time to visit as often as possible. I enjoy grandma’s stories and insights even if I had heard them before, and it was a pleasure to watch my children pay close attention to her words as she spoke. We would all pile in the car, bringing along some small treat or treasure to share. And on our way to visit her, I found myself saying “now remember, boys, be respectful of great-grandma. And if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

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Moving On

I cannot stay.
I have to go
To meet some old friends now.

Some family, too,
I know they’ll help
Me figure out just how

To climb that hill
And spread my wings
And like the eagle soar

I look forward to
This special trip
To see just what’s in store!

I’ve got my passport
Packed my bags
Bought my ticket while online.

Packed what I think
I need to take
The weather’s looking fine.

I’ll save a seat
You know I will
And figure out the way

To take the wheel
Full steam ahead
To meet the bright new day.

Sandra Stoker Gilliland




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On Jim

My daddy spends most Friday nights
Playin cards and drinkin gin.
The words he says flow pretty free
When he starts in to talking on Jim.

Daddy’s quiet, just works real hard
Milkin cows and balin hay
But when the gin and cards come out
There’s not much he won’t say.

Momma sighs and leaves the room
She gets so disgusted with him!
And I could tell she got upset
When he talked on her brother, Jim.

They grew up right side by side
Did my daddy and his pal Jim
Out along the edges of town where
Food was scarce and crops were thin.

The land was full of rocks and stones
They picked all summer long
Daddy says it’s like they laid in wait
Til June, then up they sprung.

And so the three of them young kids
My daddy, momma and Jim
Helped pull a living from the land
So tired by night – worn thin.

I guess it’s the natural order of things
From time’s beginning til today
Kids that work so very hard
Will soon forget how to play.

By the time he was 14, Jim
Was working out – a hired hand;
He made more that way for the family
Than pickin rocks off of their land.

My daddy, though, he stayed back home
So did my momma too
And working the fields with them two now
Was ma’s kid sister, Sue.

Sue she was a pretty girl
She had a great big smile
She swore she’d leave the farm behind
If she had to walk every mile.

Jim and daddy they agreed
With everything she’d say.
And they had another reason, soon,
To help her on her way.

Jim’s daddy was a big ole man
Who took his whiskey neat.
They’d see him by mid-afternoon
Fallin off his front porch seat.

He seldom worked out in the fields
Too drunk to last the day.
And their mama she’d spend her days in town
Just to keep from out of his way.

Jim made enough to keep them all fed
And Momma did the housework too
But then come the summer everything changed,
All on account of Aunt Sue.

Sue wasn’t wise to the ways of the world
To hear my daddy tell.
But she thought she was until the day
Their world went all to hell.

Sue was just 14 that year;
Jim and daddy, 17.
Sue’s daddy had sobered himself up a bit
And decided he liked what he seen.

Sue walked past him on the porch that night
Like she done a hundred times.
This time her daddy he reached for her –
But Jim, ma and daddy were close behind.

Their daddy aimed, as you can see,
To have his way with Sue
But momma and Jim they took an oath
That’s something he’d never do.

Sue tugged she cried she was terrified
She pleaded with the man.
He said he couldn’t leave her be
But Jim told him “Oh yes you can.

Let go my sister now” Jim said,
“Then leave here, fast as you can.
I ain’t a little boy no more, and
I will fight you, man to man.”

Jim’s daddy shrugged and grinned at him
Stood up and commenced to sway.
Less sober than he thought he said
“Boy, come this-a-way.

I’ll teach you a lesson, kid,
Cause you are still my son.
What I say is what goes round here
And I don’t never run.”

Momma pulled Sue off to the side
To get them out of the way
My daddy, he stood right by Jim
To help make his daddy pay.

Right about here my daddy’d pause
And drink a shot of gin.
Light himself up a cigarette
And then he’d start back in.

Those boys they stood up to that man
And they punched him til he went down.
Before the moon come out that night,
He was on his way out of town.

Jim’s mama come home the following day
And asked Jim what happened to her man
Jim told her that he had just slunk away –
Took all the booze and ran.

She didn’t miss him much or long,
Moved in a new man next day.
Aunt Sue come to live with daddy’s folks
Til she growed up and could be on her way.

Jim lived home another year
Plowin, then plantin the crops
He worked too hard, like a man possessed;
Daddy feared poor Jim would drop.

Momma come by to visit Sue at night,
Spent time with daddy as well.
That year they felt had just flown by
And by winter, daddy said he could tell

That momma was the one for him
To live with all of his life.
So in December he proposed to her
And in March, he made her his wife.

Sue got married and she moved away
Helped her husband manage their farm
She always remembered how lucky she was
That Jim and my folks kept her from harm.

Jim married up with Lula Jean
And her daddy give ‘em some land.
Daddy says Jim was happy he stayed
But there’s just a few things he can’t stand.

He don’t like to look at his daddy’s old farm,
Couldn’t stand to hear the man’s name.
My momma don’t mind, daddy don’t too
But Sue, she feels just the same.

Jim died young, working the field.
His heart give out in the sun.
Lula saw him go down hangin clothes on the line
She screamed, then to him she run.

It wasn’t no use and Jim died that day
He never woke up where he lay.
Lula sent their boy Joe to fetch daddy to help
Bring Jim in on a wagon of hay.

And now sometimes on a Friday night
When my daddy’s missin Jim
While he is playin cards with folks
And they’re all drinkin gin

He starts to talk on early days
And momma shakes her head.
She knows exactly what’s comin next
And heads upstairs to bed.

But me I listen every time
To the story my daddy will tell.
After all, they named me after Sue
I want to know her well.

And now I too am 14 years old.
I’ve heard again what daddy said.
And momma comes down and says to me
“Sue, get yourself to bed.

This gin-soaked talk ain’t no good
You ain’t learnin nothing new.
By now, you know as much as me
About my sister, Sue.”

I give my ma a great big hug
She’s right of course, I know.
And momma she hugs me tight right back
She and daddy, they love me so!

Aunt Sue came to visit just the one time
To lay flowers on Jim’s new grave.
Everyone cried but no one was sure
Exactly how to behave.

Then Lula come over and took Sue’s hand
And introduced her to Jim’s son, Joe.
Sue looked at him real serious-like
And said “boy, I hope you know

Your daddy Jim and these folks here
They saved my life one day.
When you get older may you learn
The good man he was, I pray.”

With that remark Sue took one last look
At where her brother Jim was layin.
And as we looked on with her
We felt a gentle rain.

The clouds they opened and a beam of light
Made its bright way through
Almost it seemed Jim was reaching down
To say goodby to Sue.

Sandie Gilliland
October 14, 2012

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