Meet Piper Danson from Ann Gabhart's An Appalachian Summer

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Certainly. It’s so nice of you to ask me in to talk about what I’ve been doing in 1933. My name is Piper Danson. I grew up in a nice home in Louisville, Kentucky, where one of my very favorite things to do was go horseback riding with my friend, Jamie. My father is an attorney and my grandfather founded a bank that managed to keep its doors open during the economic crisis after Black Tuesday destroyed so many banks and businesses. I’m happy we are beginning to see signs the country is coming out of the depression thanks to President Roosevelt’s programs to get people back to work. The soup lines in town were terrible to see and some of my dearest friends’ families lost everything in the market crash. That’s one reason I was not very excited about my debutante season and my debut ball in May. It simply seemed wrong to spend so much money on a party I really didn’t want when others were in need, but my mother insisted I had to be a debutante whether I wanted to be or not.

The Depression was a terrible time and we do want to know more about that and about your debutante year. But first, Piper is an unusual name? Is it a family name? 

No, I wasn’t named after anybody in my family. When I was younger, I did wish I might have been so I’d have an ordinary name like Sally or Elizabeth. But now, I like having a different sounding name. Especially after I discovered how I came about the name. I was born during a terrible snowstorm. At home, of course, as was the custom when I was born. My father happened to be away on business when I decided to make my appearance a few weeks early. His sister, my aunt Truda, had been standing in for him to make sure my mother had whatever she needed. There were servants to help, but a family member needs to be in attendance too, don’t you think? So, when I was born and turned out not to be the boy my parents had hoped for since they already had one daughter, my mother had no ideas for names. Father said she should have never asked Truda for suggestions. After all, Truda doesn’t exactly have a common name either. Truda claims she had no reason for suggesting Piper and that she was surprised when my mother agreed to the name. Perhaps Mother did think it was a family name. Truda says my mother letting her name me was one of her most precious gifts since Truda has no children of her own. 

When I went to the mountains to volunteer with the Frontier Nursing Service, the first thing they did was give me a nickname. I have to admit I was very glad they didn’t choose Pip.

That’s so interesting. It sounds as though you have a special relationship with your aunt Truda? Is that so?

Oh yes. Truda and I have always been close. Some say I’m so much like her that I could be her daughter. My mother is petite and delicate. Truda and I are tall and slender but no one would call us delicate. That’s fine with me. I like being strong enough to handle a horse while not looking like a shrinking violet. Of course, looks can be deceiving when it comes to my mother. While she has always seemed happy as a devoted wife and mother, I found out she was one of the suffragettes who wore white dresses and marched down Louisville’s streets demanding the vote for women. So perhaps I get my independent thinking from both my aunt Truda and my mother.

But you did say it was your mother who insisted you have a debut party, wasn’t it?

Yes. Mother does like to keep up appearances, and Father thought it was a way I could make a proper match. My father had the perfect man, according to him, picked out for me to marry. I thought he might have a stroke when I told him I wanted to do something different before I settled into married life.

I thought most young women loved being debutants. That’s something like being a princess for a season, isn’t it?

I suppose so, although I can’t really answer for other girls. Perhaps if I’d had my debut when I was younger, I would have been more excited about the process. Due to the economic downturn, we thought it best to delay my debutante season. So, I was already twenty when I had my debut, a bit older than most. You’re right about the princess feeling. Debutantes wear elaborate white gowns and are given many bouquets of flowers on their big night. Emily Post has whole sections in her etiquette book of how such parties are supposed to be done along with how a debutante should act and what she should or shouldn’t say. Each girl must have her own special event with all the other debutantes in attendance. A debutante season can be a round of one party or tea after another with all the new dress fittings in between. Some girls do love it all, but I found it tiresome. I’d much rather be riding my horse. Perhaps not everyone is cut out to be a princess. 

What can you tell us about the Depression?

I don’t know what exactly caused it. Truda said people were riding too high thinking the good times in the Twenties were going to last forever. Then Black Tuesday hit in 1929. People lost everything. Banks ran out of money. Factories closed. There weren’t any jobs. My best friend’s family lost everything. Their house. Their money. Everything. He even lost his father. A sudden heart attack partly attributed to the stress of the market crash. My family was able to continue with some semblance of the lifestyle we were used to, but many were not as fortunate. I think knowing how so many were suffering may have been the reason I couldn’t embrace the idea of my debutante season. I wanted to do something different. Something more than dancing away the nights while others no longer had any reason to dance. Something that mattered.

You keep mentioning doing something different. So, did you find something different to do rather than go to those debutante parties?

I did. Something very different. My aunt Truda gave a tea for Mary Breckinridge who founded the Frontier Nursing Service in the Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. I was very impressed with her talk about the nurse midwives who rode up into those hills to help mothers give birth and to do their best to improve the families’ health. Then when she said young women like me often volunteered weeks or even months of their time to take care of the nurses’ horses, run errands or do whatever was needed to give the nurse midwives more time with their patients, I knew that was the something different I wanted to do. I have always loved horses and while I had never had to do much actual work, I was not afraid of getting my hands dirty if it was doing something worthwhile. So, I got on a train and went to Leslie County, Kentucky to volunteer as a courier with the Frontier Nursing Service. Believe me, I found my something different.

What did your parents think about that?

They weren’t happy. Especially my father who thought I was throwing away my chances for a good marriage. Mother, surprisingly enough, seemed to understand and although not happy about me casting aside my debutante season, was very supportive.

Tell us something about the Frontier Nursing Service. It sounds very interesting.

Actually, the Frontier Nursing Service is proof of what one determined woman can accomplish when she has a vision. Mary Breckinridge had that vision of helping mothers and children who lacked access to proper healthcare due to their isolation and poverty. She had seen how nurse midwives served people in France after the Great War in 1918. So she went to England to train as a midwife since there were no midwifery schools in America. Then she talked some of those English midwives into coming to Eastern Kentucky to start her nurse midwifery service in Leslie County, Kentucky. She recruited nurse midwives by promising them a horse, a dog and the opportunity to save children’s lives in a rugged but beautiful area of America. Dedicated women came to the mountains from across the sea to do just that. Mrs. Breckinridge managed to get a hospital built in Hyden, Kentucky. 

She was from a socially prominent family and she used those contacts to speak to groups of women who supported her work in the mountains through contributions of money and supplies. I met her at one of those teas. She never asked for money. She merely told about the amazing work of her nurse midwives and how the mountain mothers needed healthcare. The donations came in and young women like me volunteered to be the hands and feet of those nurses. The Frontier Nursing Service has a record of healthy births as good or even better than anywhere in the country. One woman. One vision. Hundreds of healthy babies and mothers.  

That is inspiring. I can see you were impressed by Mary Breckinridge and her nurse midwives. But what about you? What happened once you got to the mountains?

I couldn’t even begin to tell you all the things I experienced. Babies being born. Horses needing care. Seeing stars that seemed almost close enough to touch. Hearing whippoorwills and learning mountain trails. Crossing swinging bridges. Getting to know the nurse midwives. Doing things I could have never imagined doing before I volunteered as a courier and some I find hard to believe even now that I did manage to do. Then aunt Truda came to visit and both the man my father wanted me to marry and my old friend, Jamie, followed me to the mountains. Needless to say, things got really interesting then.

It sounds like you had a busy summer.

I had a wonderful summer. An unforgettable experience. If I ever have a daughter, I’m signing her up on the waiting list to be a Frontier Nursing Service courier as soon as she’s born. Working with the midwives in the mountains changed my life and it would surely change hers too. They have a saying at the Frontier Nursing Service that nobody comes there by accident. I think it was no accident that I heard Mrs. Breckinridge speak and then headed to the mountains. The Lord knew I needed this summer.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? What’s next for you?

I have no idea what’s next, but I am so ready for the adventure of life now that I’ve witnessed babies taking their first breaths, explored new places and dared new things. I want to rejoice in the gift of each day and keep looking for that something different to do.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!

Thank you for inviting me over. I’m always ready to talk about my Appalachian summer.

After the market crash of 1929 sent the country’s economy into a downward spiral that led to the Great Depression, the last thing Piper Danson wants is to flaunt her family’s fortune while so many suffer. Although she reluctantly agrees to a debut party at her parents’ insistence, she still craves a meaningful life over the emptiness of an advantageous marriage.

When an opportunity to volunteer with the Frontier Nursing Service arises, Piper jumps at the chance. But her spontaneous jaunt turns into something unexpected when she falls in love with more than just the breathtaking Appalachian Mountains. 

Romance and adventure are in the Kentucky mountain air as Gabhart weaves a story of a woman yearning for love but caught between two worlds—each promising something different. 

Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling and award-winning author of several Shaker novels—The OutsiderTheBelieverThe SeekerThe BlessedThe Gifted, and The Innocent—as well as historical novels—River to RedemptionThese Healing Hills, Angel SisterLove Comes Home,  and more. Writing as A. H. Gabhart, she is also the author of the popular Hidden Springs Mysteries series. She has been a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year and the Carol Awards, has won Selah Awards for River to Redemption andLove Comes Home, and won RWA’s Faith, Hope, and Love Award for These Healing Hills. Ann and her husband enjoy country life on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.

Meet Worie from Cindy Sproles's What Momma Left Behind

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Tell us something about where you live.

I live on what folks call Sourwood Mountain.  You can look right hard, but it’s best to know it’s deep in the Smoky Mountains. Somewhere betwixt Gatlinburg and Chattanooga. It’s a beautiful mountain. I can lay on the ridge, stretch my arms upward, and scratch the clouds.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name? Names mean ever thing in the mountains, be it a desire for a youngin or a hardship that followed the family. My Momma give me the name Worie. She was a worrier. I reckon she named me what she felt and the name carried a burden along with it, for I’ve done some worryin myself.

Do you have an occupation? What do you like or dislike about your work? 

Early on I just worked with Momma to keep the homestead up but I always wanted to be a teacher. Momma taught me readin and cypherin and I’m right good at it. As I become of age, I saw a need – a need to care for the children on the mountain who’s folks died off from “the fever.” Lord have mercy, they was a slew of them. They needed care to keep them from becomin like animals tryin to survive. That become my lot in life.

Who are the special people in your life? 

Eli and Bess, they was slaves that broke free and made their way into the mountains. And then there is Justice, my brother. And Pastor Jess. They was all like family to me, even when I didn’t want no family.

What is your heart’s deepest desire? 

Lordy, Lordy, that’s a mountain to climb. I don’t desire nothin for myself, just to see these youngins grow up and make good men and women. That would please me. . .it would please Momma too.

What are you most afraid of? 

I was and am most afraid of becoming what I take care of. Bein an orphan. Daddy died some years back and Momma passed  a few years later. I never wanted to be an orphan, but here I was. An orphan carin for  orphans. Funny how life takes a turn.

Do you have a cherished possession? 

Momma’s jar filled with notes. They was penned for me and Justice and Calvin. Calvin never got to read them and that broke my heart. But them notes held all the answers that I needed to know and they was precious notes.

What do you expect the future will hold for you?

More youngins to care for. I never married but I reckon them youngins I raised will bring me grandbabies. Not by kin blood, but by the blood of my brow because I took them all in and made them my children. They’re a blessin and a curse.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story? 

Well, I learned I was a bit more selfish than I thought. I tried to turn a deaf ear to the call I was hearin, but I reckon a body don’t argue with the Good Lord lest they plan on losin. I learned things wasn’t all about me and I could still have my dream to teach, just not in the way I figured. Lessons learned and lessons shared.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?

Well, I am what I am. Ain’t got no secrets. Calls things the way I see em. But I’m as faithful as the hound layin on the front   porch. If you need me, they ain’t no hesitating. I’ll be there.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!

The Appalachian Mountain community of Sourwood, Tennessee, has been ravaged by death and disease, leaving many orphans behind. When Worie Dressar’s mother dies suddenly, Worie is inundated with orphaned children who keep showing up at her door. With barely any resources of her own, Worie must figure out how and why her mother was able to care for these little ones. As Worie fights to save her home from a good-for-nothing brother, she will discover the beauty of unconditional love and the power of forgiveness as she cares for all of Momma’s children.

Cindy K. Sproles is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries. An author, storyteller, and popular speaker, Cindy teaches at writers conferences across the country and directs the Asheville Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina. Editor of ChristianDevotions.us and managing editor for Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, Cindy has a BA in business and journalism and lives in the mountains of East Tennessee with her family.

A Chat With Peyton Cabot from Valerie Fraser Luesse's The Key to Everything

Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today.

Thank y’all for having me. I ’preciate your time.

Tell us something about where you live.

I guess that oughta be an easy question to answer, but for me it’s kinda complicated. I grew up in Savannah, Georgia—that’s where my daddy’s whole family lives, and they pretty much decide what’s what—or at least they used to. But ever since I spent a summer with Mama’s Aunt Gert down in St. Augustine, that feels more like home to me than Savannah. I really loved it there. Aunt Gert has a little bungalow on the San Sebastian, and she taught me how to drive her boat, the Madame Queen. Her best friend, a fisherman named Finn, showed me how to handle myself out on the Atlantic. Flying’s my favorite thing, but a boat on open water comes mighty close to being in the sky.

Is there anything special about your name? Why do you think you were given that name?

Yes. And I hope you’ll forgive me—I don’t mean to be rude—but . . . well, I just can’t talk about that. I guess it’s a little too soon.

Who are the special people in your life?

My parents, of course. Both of ’em are heroes of mine—for different reasons. Lisa. She’s everything. If we can get married one day—well—the rest would take care of itself, but nothing I ever do will matter much without her. Then there’s Aunt Gert and Finn. They made me feel welcome and taught me what I needed to know when I was in a real bad place. I never woulda made it to Key West and back without the two o’ them. Bonnie and Jasper showed me how much kids need to be put first and how awful it is for ’em when they’re not. Gina and Mama Eva at Cubano’s fish camp showed me what a real family looks like; Will became my friend on a Daytona race track and came through for me just like he promised; Aunt Jack got me well when I was hurting so bad I thought I’d die; Ginger, the best nurse in the U.S. Navy, helped me recover from something you woulda had to see to believe; Millie showed me what’s what on the islands and helped me find work—they’re all friends I made trying to get to Lisa—all the people who got me through.

What is your heart’s deepest desire?

To marry Lisa and fly airplanes—and be a good man like my dad—a good husband and a good father.

What are you most afraid of?

Anything that would take Lisa away from me.

Do you have a cherished possession?

I have two. One is the map my dad took with him when he rode his bicycle from Georgia to Key West—he was fifteen like me. I musta studied that map a million times before I finally figured out that I needed to find my own way. It’s hard to get where you wanna go if you’re following somebody else’s directions—you know what I mean? The other is a pair of aviator sunglasses that a pilot gave me. I can see everything a whole lot clearer through the aviators.

What do you expect the future will hold for you?

After everything I’ve been through, I don’t think it’s smart to expect anything. You can hope for it, and you can work for it, but you can’t really expect it. I hope to marry Lisa and have a family like Gina’s—honest and loving—not like Daddy’s clan. And I hope to become a good pilot.

What have you learned about yourself in the course of your story?

That we all have a “true us,” if that makes any sense. We have to find it and hold onto it if we ever wanna be happy. Nobody else—not even the people we love—can tell us who we are.

Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!

Thank y’all. It was real nice to meet you.

Peyton Cabot’s fifteenth year will be a painful and transformative one. His father, the reluctant head of a moneyed Savannah family, has come home from WWII a troubled vet, drowning his demons in bourbon and distancing himself from his son. When a tragic accident separates Peyton from his parents and the girl of his dreams seems out of reach, he struggles to cope with a young life upended. 

Pushed to his limit, Peyton makes a daring decision: he will retrace a slice of the journey his father took at fifteen by riding his bicycle all the way from St. Augustine to Key West, Florida. Part loving tribute, part search for self, Peyton’s journey will unlock more than he ever could have imagined, including the key to his distant father, a calling that will shape the rest of his life, and the realization that he’s willing to risk absolutely everything for the girl he loves. 

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac and Almost Home, as well as an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse received the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society for her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana. A graduate of Auburn University and Baylor University, she lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, Dave.

Book Review: Into the Free by Julie Cantrell

There has never been a better time to go back and read novels that were released a few years ago. I recently did this by listening to the audiobook from the library of Into the Free by Julie Cantrell.

I’ve never read a book by this author before. I’ve been missing out. These characters will stay with me for a long time. Millie is a young girl at the beginning of the story so in that sense it’s a coming of age novel, but it’s so much more.

Set during the Depression and the pre-WWII years in Mississippi, Millie grows up with a father who beats her mother. She wants to help her mother and even once tries to stand up to her father, but it’s obvious there is nothing she can do. There are secrets Millie’s mother kept that are slowly revealed. Details about farms, horses, and rodeos bring the story to life. I have to add that narrator of this audiobook did a fabulous job. I can still hear her voice in my head!

Life doesn’t get easier for Millie, not even later when after tragedy hits her family and she goes to live with another family that seems like an answer to prayer. I love plots that are not predictable and that do not suggest the existence of a trouble-free life. There is always hope and this novel delivers hope so skillfully. The struggle to believe in God, characters who are shown to be false believers, and the sense of being supernaturally cared for that Millie experiences in many different ways throughout the story give this novel great spiritual depth along with some great lessons. I can see this as a great book club novel, and what’s wrong with going back to something older?

I recommend this novel if you haven’t already read it. I gave it 5 stars!

Known for the inspirational Celtic theme employed in most of her books, Cindy Thomson is the author of six novels and four non-fiction books, including her newest, Finding Your Irish Roots. A genealogy enthusiast, she writes from her home in Ohio where she lives with her husband Tom near their three grown sons and their families. Visit her online at CindysWriting.com, on Facebook: Facebook.com/Cindyswriting, Twitter: @cindyswriting, Pinterest: @cindyswriting and Book Bub: @cindyswriting.

Meet Daisy from Valerie Fraser Luesse’s Almost Home

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Today a character from Valerie Fraser Luesse’s newest novel stopped by to introduce herself!

Name: My name’s Daisy Dupree.

Parents: We’re not real close. Mama tried to marry me off again before any grass could grow on my husband’s grave. Can you believe that? And with the war on, all the young men around home are overseas. You shoulda seen some o’ those geezers she brought to my door.

Siblings: I’ve got four brothers. Most of ’em’s a lot older’n me, but I’m close to my brother Mack. He’s in the Navy. Don’t let me forget to drop this letter off at the post office soon as we’re done with this interview.

Places lived: Spent my whole life in the Mississippi Delta till my husband enlisted. Thought I’d lose my mind sittin’ in that farmhouse, wonderin’ what was happenin’ to Charlie over there. So I heard about jobs at an Army plant here in Alabama. That’s what got me to Blackberry Springs.

Jobs: I helped Charlie on our farm till he shipped out. Then I worked in the factory over in Childersburg till . . . well . . . till I got that telegram tellin’ me Charlie was gone.

Friends: If you’d told me a year ago that I’d find the best friends I ever had in Alabama of all places, I woulda said your biscuits ain’t done in the middle. But we’ve got us a regular little sisterhood goin’ here. Anna moved down from Illinois with her husband, Jesse—he works at the plant. Me and Anna’s about the same age, and we hit it off right away. You ever had a friend like that—one that’s completely different from you, but you can finish each other’s sentences? That’s me and Anna. And then there’s Dolly—she owns the boardin’ house where Anna and Jesse live—Dolly and her husband, Si. Dolly Chandler is one of a kind. She looks after all of us, not just her boarders. I don’t even live there, but she mothers me more than my mama did. Don’t tell her I told you, but Dolly lost her boy when he was just a little thing. Breaks her heart to this day. Breaks mine, too. I need to hush about that or I’ll cry, and I HATE to cry in front of anybody. Our other friend is the oddest one of all—Evelyn—an out o’ work college professor from up in Chicago. Can you believe that? An Illinois farm girl, a Chicago professor, an Alabama inn keeper, and this ol’ Delta girl—all the best o’ friends. War’s a funny thing, you know?

Enemies: Ghosts. At least I thought they were my enemies till I found out what they were tryin’ to tell me.

Dating, marriage: This is a touchy subject right now, but I’ll try. See, me and Charlie grew up together—knew each other our whole lives. It was just a natural thing to get married after we played together as kids, went to school together . . . I always loved Charlie, so it was easy to marry him. But now along comes Reed. We’re strangers, really, but Anna says there’s something between us. I just can’t let myself believe that. He’s a war hero, for heaven’s sake. And he looks every bit of it. Got the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen—strange in a beautiful way. And I said that to him the day I met him—you ever heard of anything so stupid? I just blurted it out: “You’ve got the strangest eyes I’ve ever seen.” But he says he likes the way I say what’s on my mind. I’m tryin’ to help him get well. He got hurt real bad over there—and I don’t just mean the leg that got shot up. He got hurt real bad on the inside. Know what I mean?

Children: Me and Charlie didn’t have any.

What person do you most admire? Well, Dolly of course! I’ve never seen anybody with so much love in her heart—and such a longin’ to give it to other people.

Overall outlook on life: I don’t know any more. I was plannin’ to hide myself away here—spend my days sketchin’ on the creek bank. I like to draw—did I tell you that? It’s like I’m waitin’ on a storm to pass—sorta takin’ shelter. But then Reed came along . . . I don’t know. Let’s talk about something else.

Do you like yourself? I haven’t for a long time now because of something I did. But Reed and Anna say that what I did wasn’t wrong. Sure feels wrong.

What, if anything, would you like to change about your life? I wish me and Charlie had seen what was precious and what wasn’t before it was too late.

How are you viewed by others? You’d have to ask them. I just know the people here make me feel like I’m okay the way I am. There’s a real comfort in that.

Physical appearance:

Eyes: They’re green.

Hair: I say it’s mousy brown. Reed says it reminds him of caramel. I wear it short.

Voice: You tell me! You’re the one doin’ the listenin’.

Right- or left-handed? Right—why?

How would you describe yourself? I try to tell the truth, and I try to do my part. I’m pretty curious, which gets me into trouble sometimes. Dolly and them think I’m funny, but I don’t try to be. It just comes out that way.

Characteristics: Heavens to Betsy, girl! I don’t know. I just try to be honest about who I am.

Strongest/weakest character traits: Anna says I’m pretty and don’t know it. I am not pretty. Beauty queens are pretty. I haven’t put on makeup, well, ever. Not much anyway. And since Charlie died, I’ve worn these overalls every single day o’ my life. All that to say, I’m kinda hidin’ out, so I don’t think I’m very brave.

How much self-control do you have? A good bit till you put me in a situation—like church—that reminds me too much o’ Charlie. And then I have to get out o’ there or I’ll have a come-apart.

Fears: I’m afraid I’ll fall in love with Reed and he’ll fall in love with a beauty queen. And I’m scared to death o’ church.

Collections, talents: I don’t collect anything really. But I do love to draw. And people say I’m good at it. So I guess that’s my talent.

What people like best about you: That I say what I think.

Interests and favorites: Me and my brother Mack used play river pirate when we were kids, so you can’t begin to imagine how excited I was to find a diary that turned out to be . .  . Oh, wait. I need to hush. I’ll give too much away.

Food, drink: This is the South, so pretty much everything is good. I guess my favorites are Dolly’s chocolate cake and homemade lemonade, her sweet tea on a real hot day, fried chicken, catfish and hushpuppies, banana pudding, sweet potato casserole, fried peach pies, real creamy grits with lots o’ butter, hot biscuits with sawmill gravy, Delta tamales, chili dogs, collard greens . . . Is that enough?

Books: Catherine’s story of course!

Best way to spend a weekend: You gotta promise not to tell a livin’ soul. You promise? Okay, here goes: Best way to spend a weekend is with Reed. Doesn’t even matter what we’re doin’. But if you repeat that, I’ll swear you’re lyin’.

What would a great gift for you be? Nobody would ever guess this, what with me roamin’ the countryside in overalls, but I’d love to have a string o’ pearls. Don’t even ask me why.

When are you happy? I’m gonna let you guess the answer to that one.

What makes you angry? Anything that hurts the people I care about.

What makes you sad? Goin’ to church and listenin’ to all those old hymns Charlie loved so much.

What makes you laugh? The women at Dolly’s. We have the best time together.

Hopes and dreams: I hope that one day my black cloud goes away—that I feel like it’s okay for me to be happy again.

What’s the worst thing you have ever done to someone and why? Anna and Reed know. I can’t talk about it with anybody else.

Greatest success: Finding the diary.

Biggest trauma: Losing Charlie.

What does you care about most in the world? People—the people I love. Don’t nothin’ else matter.

Do you have a secret? Everybody does.

What do you like best about the other main characters in your book?
We’re all on a journey together, but we’re travelin’ for different reasons. And the people at Dolly’s, they’re the best kind—honest and carin’—and funny. We all stick together, but we’re all different, and that’s what makes it interestin’.

What do you like least about the other main characters in your book?
I accept ’em for who they are, so I can’t really answer that.

If you could do one thing and succeed at it, what would it be:
That’s another one o’ my secrets. Reed knows the answer, so you’ll have to ask him.

Most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you: How much time you got?

Haha! I guess we’ll wait on that one!

***

Valerie Fraser Luesse is the bestselling author of Missing Isaac and an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently the senior travel editor. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.Luesse_Valerie_MAIN

An Interview with CeeCee from Karen White’s Dreams of Falling

Thanks to Elise Cooper for providing this interview. You can find more from Elise here.

For those who do not know CeeCee Purnell she is a reflection of her times, growing up during the 1950s and 1960s in the South.  Her life is a plateau, with many ups and downs. Growing up and living in Georgetown, South Carolina, she raises her late friend’s daughter, Ivy, and her daughter, Larkin. CeeCee is grateful that Larkin has returned home after nine self-exiled years to help locate her missing mother, Ivy. Larkin finds out that in 1951 three best friends, Ceecee, Margaret and Bitty have just graduated from high school with all their dreams ahead of them.  CeeCee has agreed to open up about her experiences and what happened during those turbulent years.

It must be bittersweet for you to have your granddaughter returning home, while your daughter, her mom, is trying to survive a horrific accident. It must have brought back memories from 1951 when your life changed forever. Thank you for consenting to this interview because you can be an inspiration as someone who had hard knocks but survived.

 

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NPT: Do you see yourself as a product of the 1950s?

CeeCee:Definitely.  Especially Southern small-town 1950s.  Being the only daughter of a pastor, I was definitely sheltered from the realities of the world outside of Georgetown, South Carolina.

 

NPT: Do you regret going on the road trip after graduating high school?

CeeCee: No.  I wish I could go back and change a few things, but if I hadn’t gone, I never would have met the love of my life, Boyd.

 

NPT: Do you think writing on ribbons and sticking them in a tree is rather nerdy?

CeeCee: I’m not sure what you mean about the word ‘nerdy’?

 

NPT:  A geek?

CeeCee:If you mean fanciful or even a little far-fetched, then yes.  It’s like blowing on a dandelion and making wishes on the seeds—we know it’s not real, but we can’t help but believing there’s a small part of truth in the legend.

 

NPT: Were you, Bitty, and Margaret considered The Three Musketeers?

CeeCee:We were never called that, but I felt that way many times throughout our childhoods together.  We were rarely apart, and believed we really were “all for one, and one for all.”

 

NPT: How would you define friendship?

CeeCee:A good friendship can be defined as loving someone unconditionally—even when things in your own life are sliding into the ocean and all has been stripped away, you can still be loving, giving and kind to your friends.

 

NPT: How did it feel to be a surrogate mother to Margaret’s daughter Ivy and a surrogate grandmother to her daughter Larkin?

CeeCee:I don’t feel as if you need to be related by blood to feel a kinship with someone.  I was raised with two younger brothers, but always felt as if Margaret and Bitty were my blood sisters.  My mother was a wonderful example of how to mother, and I suppose that’s why when I saw two children who needed mothering, it was easy for me to step in.

 

 

NPT: Do you agree with your granddaughter’s friend, Bennett’s attitude about Carrowmore and developers?

CeeCee:Absolutely.  Few people seem to realize anymore that our history lives on in old buildings, and that once they are gone, along with the stories and memories that are contained within their walls, they are gone forever.

 

NPT: Do you wish Bennett and Larkin hooked up?

CeeCee:When, while back in high school?

 

NPT:  Yes?

CeeCee: No. They were friends first.  It’s only when they became adults and Larkin could see Bennett with adult eyes did it make sense for their relationship to move into something deeper.  And neither Larkin nor Bennett are the ‘hooking up’ kind of people—their relationships are meaningful.

 

NPT: Do you think it is good or bad to keep a secret?

CeeCee: It depends on the motive.  If it’s to protect a loved one, then it can be excused and/or forgiven.  If it’s used for subterfuge, or to keep hiding something that might help another person, then no.

 

NPT: Does Bitty still play an important role in your life?

CeeCee:I think it’s natural for people who’ve known each other for so long to get on each other’s nerves sometimes, just as it’s natural for your love to grow to something deeper.  There is something special about someone who’s known you your whole life, knows all your secrets and flaws, yet loves you anyway.

 

NPT: After the accident and Ivy unconscious, was it hard to see her physically there, but unable to communicate with her?

CeeCee:Of course—she’s always been like a daughter to me.  The one thing that got me through those early days was believing she would wake up and be able to answer all the questions we had for her.

 

NPT: Do you think dreams really do come true?

CeeCee:Only when hard work and determination are added to the dreaming!

 

NPT: Who taught Larkin how to shag dance?

CeeCee:I’m thinking probably her mother, or Bennett.  They used to have impromptu dance/ barbecue parties when they lived near each other.

 

NPT: What do you do for fun?

CeeCee:I love to work in my garden and of course I love to bake.  I always make sure I have something in the freezer waiting to be defrosted in case of unexpected company.

 

NPT: What are your interests besides baking and gardening?

CeeCee:I love keeping in touch with my friends and being an active member of my church and community.

 

NPT: Are you content with your life?

CeeCee:Absolutely.  I’m surrounded by family and loved ones.  I’ve had losses, but I’ve also had a great deal of love and blessings in my long life.

 

NPT: If you could put another ribbon in the tree what would it say?

CeeCee:I wish Larkin would stay in Georgetown forever!

 

NPT: Is there anything you want to add, if so please do?

CeeCee:Be kind to one another.  And honest. Those two things alone will guide you through life.

 

NPT:Thank you for your time and insight!

Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty previous books, including The Night the Lights Went OutFlight PatternsThe Sound of GlassA Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, and a coauthor, with Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig, of The Forgotten Room.

Karen White credit Marchet Butler
Karen White credit Marchet Butler