16. Another Chapter from Mayola and Me ~ but not Chapter 2

2018.08.08  I’ve finished a draft of Chapter 1. And I know how the story ends.  But it’s going to take a loooooooong time to write the middle.  My rock star writing tutor, Susannah, says there are many ways to write a novel and one perfectly acceptable strategy is to jump around writing individual chapters as they occur without knowing exactly how they fit together, and connect the dots at the end.  This approach is ideal for an ADD poster child like me.  So here’s Chapter (approximately) 21.

Sunday Chicken Dinner

Mayola gently opened the kitchen door and was greeted by the mouth-watering aroma of browning salt pork. She bypassed the kitchen and tip-toed into the bedroom shared by her three nieces.  The older two were still asleep while the youngest, Sarah, her goddaughter, seemed to be lingering in what she liked to call “that place between sleep and awake.” “That be what Tinkerbell the fairy call it, Auntie” she had once explained to Mayola.

Mayola surveyed the room, bathed by sunlight spilling through the uncovered window. She had offered to make curtains, but Sarah had said the window was just fine the way it was. The light, now that it was September, had shifted slightly, softened slightly, and cast a muted glow across the room. Which was very crowded. Three single beds occupied nearly every inch of space and had been placed up on wooden blocks so that bins for clothing could be stored underneath. The mismatched linens were worn and the pillows long since flat, but the girls didn’t seem to mind. And they got along (mostly) very well.  Twelve-year-old Sarah idolized Addie Mae, who had just turned fourteen. Junie, who was sixteen, intimidated and occasionally teased her, but Sarah was deeply attached to her as well.

Mayola dearly loved all her nieces and nephews but had a special place in her heart for those three girls. She fussed at them, worried about them, occasionally spoiled them, and prayed for them every day. One of her great joys was spending time with them every Sunday. Which was the best day of the week for the Collins family.

All week long, and most Saturdays, Julius Collins washed dishes in a cafe and his wife, Alice, cleaned white folks’ houses. They worked hard and kept long hours. As did their seven children, who were expected to excel in school, participate in after-school and church activities, and do their share of chores around their tiny, but spotless, home. But Sundays were different; they belonged to the Lord. And the Bible was very clear about His expectations for His day. So the Collins family always worshipped together, rested, and sat down together for Sunday Chicken Dinner. And they always included Mayola.

The aroma from the kitchen had drifted into the bedroom and reminded Mayola that there was work to be done. Nobody loved Sunday Chicken Dinner more than Sarah and Mayola knew she would want to help with the preparations. So she patted Sarah’s head, which sported twelve tightly woven braids, each secured by a small white barrette. “C’mon, Tinkerbell,” she cooed. “Let’s us go help your mama.”

When they walked hand in hand into the kitchen, Alice greeted them with a look that said, “bout time y’all was here.” But her voice was warm. Alice was like that. “Mornin, y’all. There’s plenty to do. Mayola, you can start breadin’ the chicken. Put more pepper and salt in the flour this time. Sarah, you get to workin’ on the biscuits. Be sure that dough is all even, you hear?”

Sarah jumped onto a well-worn stool and washed her hands as she had been taught. She carefully rolled out the biscuit dough until it was nice and even and just as high as her thumb when it lay flat on the table. Mayola had taught her that trick.  Alice said Mayola was the second-best cook in the family.

Mayola, wearing a flowered apron she had found at the Goodwill Store, took a bowl of chicken pieces from the ice box. The chicken had been soaking all night in seasoned buttermilk and brine. She dipped the pieces, one by one, into the heavily peppered and salted flour, back into the marinade, then back into the flour, before spreading them out on a rack to rest. When they returned from church, she and Alice, each working over a cast iron skillet, would simmer the chicken pieces until tender and then flash-fry them in melted Crisco. The result was the crispy-on-the-outside-falling-off-the-bone-on-the-inside piece of Heaven that the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Ladies Auxiliary cookbook referred to simply as “Alice Collins’s Fried Chicken”.  It was legendary.

The prep work was nearly done. While Mayola prepared the chicken for frying, Alice added vinegar, water, salt and a pinch of sugar to the salt pork drippings to make a rich broth. Then she added mounds of fresh collard greens which would simmer for the next four hours. A bowl of white rice, a plate of sliced onions and tomatoes, and a pitcher of sweet tea would complete the meal. Alice pointed to the make-shift table consisting of several planks resting on a pair of saw horses. “Sarah, you go on and set the table now.”

“Yes’m,” Sarah replied. She covered the table with a bright yellow vinyl cloth and set out ten plates once used in the “big house,” mismatched cutlery and paper napkins. And empty jars for the tea. She ran outside and picked a few dandelions from the yard, placed them in another empty jar and set them on the table. “Cuz today is special.”

Alice dismissed Sarah and Mayola with orders to rouse the rest of the family. Sarah ran to wake her sisters. “Addie May! Junie! Get up. Let’s us get dressed. ‘Member it be Youth Sunday and we s’posed to wear white.”

Despite sharing a single bathroom, everyone in the family managed to be washed, dressed and ready to pile into their ‘56 Pontiac Safari station wagon for the trip to Sixteenth Street. Sunday School started at 9:00 AM sharp. That day, September 15, 1963, the Collins family arrived a few minutes early.

The Sixteenth Street Church building resembles a fortress. Built of red brick in a Romanesque style, it features twin towers on either side of a façade graced by three bold arches. Visible above the arches, and framed by the towers, is the cupola that crowns the sanctuary. The main entrance is seventeen feet above street level and is accessed by an imposing stairway that stretches fifty feet across the front of the church.

Sarah held Mayola’s hand as they started up the steps. “I love to come here, Auntie.  It feel safe.” Neither of them had any way of knowing about the strange telephone calls that had come into the church office that morning.

They reached the main entrance. Mayola would enter the sanctuary where the four adult Sunday school classes met. One in each corner. Sarah turned toward the stairs to the basement, where classes were held for the children and teens.  At 10:00 AM the classes would be dismissed and the young people would reunite with their parents for the 10:30 worship service. Today the youth would undertake the tasks usually performed by the adults. To her delight, Sarah had been chosen to help take up the collection. She looked up at Mayola and tried to frown. “You got plenty of money for my basket, Auntie?” Mayola nodded, and on impulse bent down and kissed Sarah’s head. As Sarah moved toward the stairs, she turned, waved and called out, “I love you, Auntie.”

After Sunday School, before heading back upstairs, Addie Mae and three of her friends decided to stop in the basement restroom to primp before the big worship service. Sarah, feeling shy, stayed back against a wall and watched in admiration as the older girls peered into the mirror, smoothed their hair, adjusted their glasses, and twirled around in their pretty dresses. The last time Sarah saw Addie, she was reaching out to tie a sash for her friend, Denise.

Then came a blinding light and a deafening roar. Screams. Darkness. Silence. And pain.

The church building had been rocked by an explosion that was heard for miles.  Created by fifteen sticks of dynamite placed by members of the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion had blown a hole more than two yards wide in the rear wall of the church basement and left a three foot crater in the restroom where the girls had gathered.

Sarah struggled to breathe as acrid smoke and dust clogged her lungs. Mounds of debris pinned her against the bathroom wall. She was unable to open her eyes because they had been penetrated by forty-seven shards of glass. She moaned softly, calling for her sister.

Her moans brought frantic church members, including Mayola, running to the basement. They stumbled over boulders and felt their way through the smoky darkness to find Sarah barely alive.  The bodies of Addie Mae and her three friends had been blown apart by the explosion and lay a heap nearby.

As the ambulance pulled away from the church, Sarah, with Mayola by her side, had slipped back into that place, between sleep and awake, where she had rested so peacefully and happily just hours before.  As she drifted in and out of consciousness, she asked again about Addie. And when she would be able to see.  And she asked Mayola to save her a plate of Sunday Chicken Dinner.








15. Finally A Concert! Etc.

2018.08.07 So my intention, since the day I arrived in Oxford, has been to attend one of the many nightly musical events.  But my good intentions have been thwarted by rain, by fatigue, and most recently by the pressure of looming assignments. (It feels so strange to write that!)  But tonight there were no obstacles so I enjoyed Early Music by Candlelight in the chapel right here on my little campus.  Chapel? Take a look. If that’s a chapel, I’m Tinkerbell.

Exeter College Chapel at Night


Exeter College Live

So the program consisted of six selections, four of which were from Vivaldi.  He’s not Bach but he’ll do. Actually he is one of my favorite Renaissance composers. The four musicians were part of a local musical ensemble called “Charivari Agreable” which means “pleasant tumult.”  I was blown away by the venue, but the program itself was pleasant, as the name suggests, but a little lean. I like “meaty” music. But not to worry.  The next morning when I was walking to breakfast, I heard organ music. I LOVE organ music. So I blew off breakfast and sat in the “chapel” to listen.  Not sure who was playing but the music was a T-Bone steak. I know this is getting old, but somebody pinch me please!

So a few tidbits.

Hot Water

Today I asked the porter (building manager) how repairs on the boiler are coming along.  Hey said (direct quote) “Come to think of it, I have no idea.  But cold showers are good for you.”

If he says so . . . All things considered, no worries.

Murphy’s Law About Surface Pro Keyboard Covers

“If you have one, it will get crosswise with Windows 10 and fail just when you have your two final papers due.”

I love my little Microsoft Surface Pro. It has more power, speed and storage than any other computer I have used and it fits in my purse! And the detachable keyboard means I can also treat it like a (large) Kindle.

But about that detachable keyboard.  About 2 weeks before I left the US it started acting cranky.  I googled “My Surface Pro Keyboard Isn’t Working” and discovered that I am not alone. Some stupid issue with Windows 10. But my My rock star IT consultant (shout out to Dana!) walked me through multiple “fixes” and it seemed good to go. And it was. Until the day before all my papers were due.

What to do?  No Microsoft Store in Oxford.  But Google told me that a mere one hundred yards from my dorm is “Curry’s PC World and CarPhone Warehouse.” And sure enough they carry ONE model of a Logitech keyboard. For 80 pounds. $120. At Office Depot, it would have been $29.99. But I was desperate.  I’m typing on it now.

FUN FACT: Speaking of Carphone Warehouse, ten years ago a really unfortunate looking guy appeared as a contestant on Britain’s Got Talent.  A mobile phone salesman from Carphone Warehouse.  Watch what happens.  BTW I am sure I have watched this, no lie, at LEAST 100 times. Enjoy.






14. Mayola and Me – Chapter One

2018.08.05 My program at Oxford requires two major submissions, both of which were due today. One of the assignments was to write the beginning of a novel. As many of you know I have dreamed of a novel called Mayola and Me for many years.  It’s about Jessie Alexander, a middle-class mid- westerner who has married into a prominent and wealthy southern family, and her maid, Mayola.  Thanks to this assignment, I have finished Chapter One.

Disclaimers.  I have no idea if this “works” or not. We won’t get grades or feedback until Friday.  Also the account of Jessie’s catch was included in a previous post.

Finally, some of the characters are composites which include traits of people I have met, and Jessie and I have a few things in common. But none of the composite characters are intended to fully resemble anyone I know.

Mayola and Me

Chapter 1

I was born with a stainless-steel spoon in my mouth. In the 1950’s. In the great state of Oklahoma, at the geographic and socio-economic center of what Abraham Lincoln called the “Last Great Hope of the Earth.” Or so I was taught. My parents were hardworking, our home was modest, and our annual family vacation consisted of traveling cross country to Colorado in a pink Rambler station wagon full of cigarette smoke, graham cracker crumbs and hot, cranky passengers. We would spend two weeks there, five of us plus a dog, crammed into my Nana’s tiny apartment, before piling back into the hot smoky car for the two-day trip back to Oklahoma.

Thirty years later, Henry and I, and our two children, vacation in Beaver Creek where we ski, in the Blue Ridge Mountains where we hike portions of the Appalachian Trail, and on Dauphin Island where we bathe in the sun and read good books.  And I am the mistress of White Oak Hall, considered by many to be the loveliest home in Birmingham, Alabama.  And most Sundays, after church, we sit down to brunch at the Birmingham Country Club. Where white-coated waiters with black faces serve fine food on fine china, and fine wine in lead crystal glasses, to fashionably-clad members seated at places set with fine linen napkins and sterling silver spoons. And not just any sterling. Francis I.

But all was not well.

On this crisp October morning in 2001 I had gone to the Club to hit tennis balls. The satisfying THUNK of the ball colliding with the sweet spot on my racquet had become my therapy of choice as I struggled to cope with the relentless stream of crises upending my friends, my family, and my country. The Club’s never-tired ball-pitching machine can deliver up to eighty balls per minute and smashing them back at the machine was balm for my bruised heart and helped quiet the pandemonium in my head. And gave me time to think. And dramatically improved my tennis game.  I had become a competent, if not excellent, player, which was surprising because I had always been considered somewhat clumsy and had little interest in sports.

Eleven-year-old Jessie heard a sharp crack as the bat struck the ball.  She occupied her usual spot in right field, the position where most captains tend to place their weakest player. Nevertheless, she wiped the sweat from her forehead, shoved a stray lock of unruly hair behind her ear, adjusted her goggle-like glasses, and focused on the ball as it soared upward against an azure sky. The game was tied at 4 in the bottom of ninth. One out with a runner at first.

The high fly ball completed its arc and to Jessie’s surprise and acute dismay it appeared to be heading straight toward her perpetually outstretched glove. Fly balls weren’t supposed to come anywhere near her. But the ball continued its path, lazily it seemed, and Jessie’s heart raced as she realized she might actually have a chance to catch it. Which she did.

The ball fell squarely into her grasp and she clutched it tightly against her chest for safekeeping. And for savoring. She closed her eyes and indulged in a solitary celebration.  Giving herself a virtual hug, she envisioned fireworks exploding into cascades of festive red, white, and blue sparks. She heard the pop of a virtual cork. And felt the spray of chilled champagne.

Jessie was snatched from her victory party by the jumbled shouts of her teammates.  She struggled to make out their words.

“Jessie,” they seemed to be saying, “congrats on your first!”

Or was it, “You’ve broken the curse!”

Or maybe “Bet you’re so proud you could burst!”

They kept yelling, “Double-play at first!”


“JESSIE!  THROW THE BALL TO FIRST!”                                                                

            The first base runner, who had taken off toward second just as the ball was hit, had now sprinted back to safety. Jessie’s spirits sank to her knees as she realized it was too late to tag the runner or make a successful throw, but in a panic, she hurled the ball anyway.  Her throw was wide by two yards. By the time the ball was recovered, the runner had advanced safely to third base. 

The next batter hit a game-winning single.

Fueling my battle with the ball machine that morning was news that my best friend, Dianne, had suffered a recurrence of her cancer. It had metastasized and was attacking her liver and her bones. The prognosis was a certain and agonizing death. Upon overhearing me talk about it in the school drop off line that morning, Erica had asked whether Dianne had children. I told her no, and that Dianne was single. “Well,” Erica observed. “At least she didn’t leave behind a family.” I so wanted to slap her.

And like many Americans, I continued to be haunted by the horrific images, which still popped up daily in newscasts and hastily assembled documentaries, of planes exploding into fireballs as they crashed into buildings in lower Manhattan. Fireballs that turned my country upside down. And killed my cousin, Jenny, whose crime against Radical Islam was boarding a plane to Los Angeles that morning to donate a kidney to our aunt.  The attacks also sent the US economy into a freefall. The modest inheritance I had received from my father had shrunk by fifty percent since the attacks. Perhaps the same was true of Henry’s not-so-modest inheritance from his father?

Henry Prescott Alexander. The Fourth. My husband. Lover. Rock. Best friend. Or so I had believed for fifteen years.  But over the previous few months, he had been acting strangely. He was distant. Critical. I couldn’t seem to do anything right. Nor could our children. And very distracted. Was he really worried about money? Probably not. His family fortune was vast, diverse and well managed. Was it alcohol?  Doubtful. Henry had always shown moderation, even when I had not. Drugs? Not at all his style.  What about a preoccupation with someone else? Oh, dear God, please no!

It hadn’t always been this way.

During my final semester at OU, I traveled to Birmingham to attend the debutante ball of Dianne’s younger sister. An social invitation service had matched me with the scion of a prominent Birmingham family, Henry Alexander. “Not Harry” he told me when we were introduced. “And certainly not Hank.”

I shook his outstretched hand. “Jessica. And you can call me Jessie. But never, ever Jess.”  

Henry had the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen. And a shock of delightfully unruly hair. He looked delicious in his white tie and tails. 

Mutual friends warned me to be on guard. “His family has more money than Solomon,” they said. “His house has a name. And his elementary school had a headmaster.” They claimed that Henry-not-Hank was the most eligible bachelor in Birmingham, or maybe in all of Alabama. He had been known to break hearts. And the juiciest tidbit of all,  that for this event he had been set up with a social nobody from Oklahoma to avoid the appearance of favor toward one of the local contenders.

I should have been intimidated but I wasn’t. Something about him set him apart from the other prep school boys I knew. He lacked their arrogance, their sense of entitlement, and their disregard for the feelings of lesser beings. Including unlikely sorority girls like me who had received bids because their chapter had been ordered to raise its cumulative grade point average.

Giant bowls of white roses graced every surface,nook and cranny in the Birmingham Country Club from the massive front foyer to the back terrace overlooking the golf course. The aroma was intoxicating. Tiny white lights twinkled from ceilings, stair railings, the balconies that overlooked the ballroom floor, and anywhere else the members of the Committee could find. Sensing that I was new to such high brow affairs, Henry kept up a steady stream of amusing anecdotes about the (not so) exalted company around us while offering subtle hints about etiquette and reassurance that I looked lovely. And while I was not a great dancer, he was, and with him leading me, I became Ginger Rogers to his Fred Astaire.

Put simply, I had a spectacular time at the party and this was not lost on him. “The cool thing to do at these parties, Jessie, is to act bored,” he observed. “You’re having way too much fun.” With uncharacteristic confidence, I shot back, “Guess I missed the memo.” 

One person in the household remained exempt from Henry’s increasingly hostility.   Mayola. She had been serving the Alexander family for forty years, as her mother did before her. Her indelible bond with Henry was formed in the terrible days after his mother’s mysterious disappearance and grew as Mayola gradually filled the void in left his heart.

Mayola was raised by a dirt-poor single mother whose husband had died heroically in World War II.  A member of the 320th Balloon Barrage Battalion, Private First Class Crawford Washington’s platoon had deployed scores of armed balloons to diffuse enemy fire during the Allied invasion of Normandy.  Their efforts helped ensure the invasion’s success and were believed to have saved thousands of lives.  Private Washington was killed, however, along with most of his comrades.  His widow, Ivy, received almost nothing from a so-called grateful nation.

Life got better for Ivy and Mayola several years after the war when an officer from Crawford’s battalion roomed with Henry Prescott Alexander. The Third. At Duke.  The officer had known that Crawford was from Birmingham, had been impressed with his hard work and courage, and knew he had left behind a wife and child. He suggested to Henry that his family look into Ivy’s whereabouts and circumstances.  A year later Ivy and Mayola were living in a small, but bright and comfortable cottage on the grounds of White Oak Hall.

Like her father, Mayola was smart, industrious, and as racial tensions in Birmingham and throughout the South intensified, she showed considerable courage.  There was also a dignity about her that emanated from somewhere deep inside.  Despite her humble circumstances, she spoke with assurance and carried herself like a princess.

Which, in fact she was.

The sound of distant drums struck uncharacteristic fear into the heart of Otumfuo Nana Kofi Karikari, King of the Ashanti tribal federation in what is now Ghana.  The tone and cadence of the drums suggested they belonged to the rival Fante people and that their warriors were preparing for battle. The Ashanti had long dominated the region because of their wealth, which was derived from their willingness help satisfy British traders’ insatiable appetite for black Africans. The Fante wanted their share of the lucrative enterprise and appeared to be ready to fight for it.

King Kofi ordered his warriors to prepare for a Fante attack.  As he surveyed his troops the king’s eye fell on Prince Osei.  He wore a red sash, signifying his royal status, across his muscular body.  His finely chiseled face was covered with ceremonial markings and framed by a headdress of orange and black feathers. He exuded strength and courage. The king uttered a silent prayer for Prince Osei. His beloved son.

Two weeks later, Osei, badly wounded by a Fante spear, with an iron collar around his neck and manacles on his ankles and wrists, lay near death in the scorching, filthy hold of a rickety wooden ship making its way across the Atlantic Ocean. Forty percent of the captives aboard would die before reaching their destination. Osei did not. He vowed to live. And demanded that those around him do the same. He was taken off the ship in Mobile, Alabama and sold to the owner of a cotton plantation near Birmingham.

Prince Osei Kofi Karikari was Mayola Washington’s sixth great grandfather.

The persistent ring of my cell phone caught my attention.  It was probably Jack, wanting fast food for lunch instead of the nutritious meal served by the school. I hoped it was Dianne with her chemo schedule so I could deploy all the friends who wanted to help her through it.  More likely it was Henry.  What had I done now?

I packed up my racquet, fished my car keys out of my tennis bag, and thanked the attendant who came to put away the ball machine.  It was time to face the day.


12. Taking Care of Business

2018.07.31  First things first.  I need to give credit where credit is due. In my last post I made reference to a thought that I found compelling in a sermon, and attributed it to the pastor who was delivering the message. It actually comes from an author, lecturer and spiritual teacher named Marianne Williams.  The thought, as she wrote it, is as follows:

Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.

Well said, Marianne.  (Btw, she’s a Houston girl, Bellaire High School, 1971.)

Now on to domestic matters. Even though the work is piling up, I took some time out today for some room cleaning, laundry, and enhanced personal hygiene.

Room Cleaning. Our rooms are straightened, trash is removed, and towels are swapped out every day.  Bed linens are changed twice a week. Not bad. Trouble is, not much cleaning goes on.  Which means that (thinly) carpeted floors don’t get vacuumed. Which means the crumbs from the crusty bread that accompanies the soup that I take out from the snack bar most days for lunch fall on the floor. And remain there.  Which bothers me. So today I decided to run one of those lint removal rollers over the carpet. I used up almost the whole roll.  And got almost all the crumbs. And a whole lot more. Don’t ask. Ugh!

Laundry.  This was actually surprisingly easy.  Exeter College has a “laundrette” at the bottom of Stairwell Ten.  Stairwells, as I have reported before, are the defining directional tool in the college.  A load in one of the six washing machines costs 1 pound, 30 pence.  (A little less than $2.00) But drying and ironing are free!

Enhanced Personal Hygiene.  Disclosure: major digression ahead.

When I learned that the boiler serving my stairwell would be down indefinitely, I proudly reported on this blog that I gladly opted for cold showers in order to keep my 17th century room.  The high temperature that day was 88 degrees F under a bright sun. Two days later, the high was 62, under windy, rainy skies. So, although I did not regret my choice, the cold shower caused my personal hygienic practices to deteriorate. My daily “shower” consisted of wrapping a towel around myself for warmth and sticking my head under the shower head just long enough for the stone cold water to (sort of) wet my hair. I stepped out, lathered up, and stuck my head back in just long enough to (sort of) rinse out the shampoo. (Repeat cycle for conditioner and finish off with a spit bath for the body.)

Every day I walk past the office of the porter (aka building manager) on the way to class and give him a smile and an inquisitive look. Every day he smiles back and shakes his head.  No new boiler in sight. But today he beckoned me over to his desk.  He gave me a slip of paper that said Stairs  9,12,13,14. He said, “Those stairwells have community showers with hot water.  Just thought you might want to know.” And winked.

So I packed up my toiletries, towels, and a change of clothes and headed out to Stairwell 12. It’s in a perfectly ugly addition built in 1988 which is, thankfully, hidden behind the perfectly gorgeous chapel built in 1650.  I found the community shower on the third floor and for the next twenty minutes luxuriated in very hot water under very high pressure.  I was about to step out when (Thank you, Heaven!) I looked down and saw that, due to a slow drain, the water had crept up over the top of the shower basin and only the closed shower door was (mostly) keeping it inside the shower.

Suddenly I was transported back to one of the worst moments of my life – at the Kappa house at The University of Texas in, say, 1976. After waiting (for quite a while) for my turn to use the community shower, I was finished but the drain was slow and and the water had crept up over the top of the shower basin and only the closed shower door was keeping it at bay.  It was the night of a formal dance.  And my date was due to pick me up in half an hour. So I needed to get out of there. Quickly. So I waited. And the water was sooooooo sloooooooow. Finally it seemed to me that most of it had gone down the drain and if there was just a little bit left it was probably ok. So I decided to open the shower door and make my escape.  BAD idea.  There was enough water left in the basin to rush out, flood the bathroom and leak through the ceiling of the 85 year old house into the foyer below where the girls with more seniority were already gathered, ready to leave for the party. That group included someone who intimidated me.  I generally tried to steer clear of her. Well she was the one who bounded up the stairs, burst into the shower room, and as I cowered, dripping wet, behind an abbreviated bath towel , demanded, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?”  I cringe at the memory to this day.

So standing there in the shower in Stairway 12, I was ever so patient. And all was well.

Here is a map of Exeter College.  Unfortunately, the stairwell numbers don’t show up very well.  My stairwell 3 is in the lower right hand corner.  My building adjoins the Hall (aka Hogwarts, almost). My classes all face the Quadrangle as does the Chapel.  The laundry and community showers are in the newer buildings behind the Chapel on the left side of the map.  I still pinch myself regularly to be sure I am really here .




11. Turning Up the Heat

2018.07.29  Sunday.  Have I really been at Oxford for a week?  The time is flying by. Too fast. And we have just learned that the capstone paper for each of our two courses is due at the beginning of our last week here. That means a week from tomorrow. And in the meantime we have smaller assignments due every day.  So the heat is on!

Back to Hillsong.  First things first.  No question in my mind today about whether or not to go to church.  Once again, I knew I needed to be there, and as always, to my continuing amazement, the message was exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it.  And of course, the same was surely true for everyone else in the auditorium.  The topic was the challenge of letting go of anything that is holding you back from experiencing all the grace and blessings that God has for us. The biggie is anger and resentment – toward yourself or anyone else.  That one is hard – can anybody say Amen?  But, said Pastor Tony, holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and thinking it will make someone else sick.  Hmmmmm.

Tea in the Bar and Wine in the Coffee Lounge.  Since I had so much homework this weekend I wanted a really cool place to do it.  My room works pretty well, but it was time for  a change of scenery.  Directly across the street from Exeter College is the Turl Street Kitchen.  Simply lovely with large windows, comfortable spaces and a nice light menu..  An ideal place to spend the day working.  I started the day in the downstairs bar with a pot of Earl Grey and a sausage biscuit. And eventually wound up in the coffee lounge with  a cheese board and a glass of merlot.  In the interim, lots of reading and writing was done.

Turl Street Kitchen          Turl Street bar               Turl Street desk

Turl Street Kitchen            Downstairs Bar                       My Spot in the Coffee Lounge

Creative Writing Imperative:  Don’t Tell!  SHOW!  Here’s an example of one of the concepts we’ve been working on. Most beginning writers, myself included, are concerned primarily with coming up with a good story.  But we are being taught that the story line itself is actually secondary.  It’s how you tell it that counts.  And one way to tell it well is to replace straight narrative with a scene and/or dialogue. That allows the reader to “watch” the scene and come to his or her own conclusion, which is more interesting and fun.  So which of the following is more fun to read?

Author Tells:

Jessie wasn’t very athletic and as a result, she disliked team sports. When teams were chosen, she usually got picked last, and  was scared of having to make a play.  She caught  a softball in the outfield once, but was so excited she missed a chance at a double play and her team lost the game.

Author Shows:  

Jessie heard a sharp crack as the bat struck the ball.  She occupied her usual spot in right field, the position where most captains tend to place their weakest player.  Nevertheless, she shoved a stray lock of unruly hair away from her eyes and behind her ear, adjusted her hated goggle-like glasses and focused on the ball as it soared upward against the sky. The score was tied at 4 in the bottom of ninth. One out with a runner on first.

The high fly ball completed its arc and to Jessie’s surprise and acute dismay, it appeared to be heading straight toward her perpetually outstretched glove. Fly balls weren’t supposed to come anywhere near her. But the ball continued its path, lazily it seemed, and Jessie’s heart raced as she realized she might actually have a chance to catch it.

And catch it she did! The ball fell squarely into her grasp and she clutched it tightly against her chest for safekeeping. And for savoring.  She closed her eyes and indulged in a solitary celebration.  Giving herself a virtual hug, she envisioned fireworks overhead exploding into cascades of festive red, white, and blue sparks. And heard a cork pop. And felt the spray of chilled champagne.

Jessie was snatched from her victory party by the jumbled shouts of her teammates.  She struggled to make out their words.

“Jessie,” they seemed to be saying, “congrats on your first!”

Or was it, “You’ve broken the curse!”

Or maybe, “Bet you’re so proud you could burst!”

Then to her horror she understood.



The first base runner, who had taken off toward second just as the ball was hit, was now sprinting back to safety. Jessie’s spirits sank to her knees as she realized it was too late to tag the runner or make the throw but in a panic, she hurled the ball anyway.  Her throw was wide by two yards. By the time the ball was recovered, the runner had pivoted and advanced safely to third base.   The next batter hit a game-winning single.

# # #

If you didn’t pick version #2, I had better pack up right now and come home.

And this is a true story, by the way.  Care to guess who Jessie is?

10. Bath

2018.07.28  Today we enjoyed our major excursion – to the ancient Roman Britain town of Aquae Sulis, now known as Bath.  The hot mineral springs there date back many thousands of years.  Legend holds that the British King Bladud discovered the springs in 836 B.C. and determined that they had curative qualities when his pigs wallowed in nearby mud and were cured of leprosy.  The Celts built a shrine there to honor their mother-goddess, Sulis.  When the Romans invaded Britain in the mid first century A.D. they built a temple and joining Minerva, their goddess of wisdom, to the Celtic deity, dedicated the temple to Sulis Minerva.  Over the next hundred years, the Romans added an elaborate bathing and spa complex.

Roman Baths

The baths themselves were fascinating, but no less so was the museum displaying artifacts illustrating all aspects of life in Roman Britain.  Like many other ancient cultures, theirs was surprisingly sophisticated —  from the engineering of the baths, to their tools, household goods,  art and clothing. Speaking of clothing, I was struck by how closely  of a pair of shoes in the exhibit resembled the pair on my feet that day:

Roman British Shoe circa 50 AD            Kathy's shoe circa 2018 AD

Roman Britain Shoe c. 50 AD                       Kathy’s Shoe c. 2018 AD

Besides the Roman baths, the major industry of Bath is Jane Austen.  She lived in the city for five years and as a result, there is a Jane Austen Center, a fashion museum, and signs on many of the buildings proclaiming that she had once lived there, or visited there, or at least walked by there.  Young women in period dress lead walking tours. They carry dual purpose parasols.  Held one way, the parasol shelters the guide from intermittent rain showers.  Held a different way, it can become a sign saying “Jane Austen Walking Tour.”  What the tour promoters won’t tell you, but one of our tutors did, is that Jane Austen actually hated Bath and could hardly wait to get away.

Jane Austen liked it or not, Bath is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in England.  The sight of the magnificent Abbey took my breath away, and as soon as we finished our tour of the baths, my walking group hurried back to tour the inside. But the doors were locked.  It was closed for a wedding.  Ironically, it also appeared to be closed to guests. As we watched, a family wearing formal dress approached the locked door about 30 minutes before the posted start time.  One of their party was carrying a gift bag that said “Happily Ever After.” He knocked on the door. No response. I hope they got in.


Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

Another stunning architectural feature is the Royal Crescent, thirty townhouses built in a semi-circle around a park. I’m guessing flats there don’t come cheap!

Royal Crescent

The Royal Crescent

The highlight of my day, though, was when I bumped into Her Majesty!  Several of us popped into a flea market for a coffee and to dig through some piles of used books.  I rounded a corner and there she was!  Not sure why she was in tiara and sash for a trip to the flea market, but was it most gracious of her to pose with me!  As I posted to Instagram: You can beam me up now, Scotty. My life is complete!

Liz and Me