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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I married into a wonderful Italian American tradition.

Some Holiday Memories by Jim Smith

Nana in retirement in Florida

For Christmas, in our dreams we travel over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. At present it is across town and along I-10 over several state lines to our house in Tallahassee the family comes. 

Christmas holidays remind me of dinners long ago at my Nana's house. She set a table that groaned with the weight of traditional Italian and American dishes.

These Italian grandparents on my mother's side really spread the holiday bounty. In attendance were family, friends, children, grandchildren, cousins, brothers, sisters and spouses. If you were invited to my grandparent’s table for Christmas, for example, plan on arriving early and remaining late. Plan to slowly, slowly, slowly eat, eat, eat from mid-day to dark.

          The repast was served in courses. I cannot recall exact menu selections, but dishes served went something like this:

Before beginning, fill all glasses with red wine, usually homemade from grapes gathered among relatives’ backyard vineyards or from the cool wine cellar in the basement. No respectable Italian home in America was without a wine cellar. But that's another story.

First Course—Antipasti including an assorted bruschetta plate consisting of roasted butternut squash and prosciutto ham, goat cheese, tuna in olive oil, black olives, fresh tomatoes and basil, assorted deli cold cuts and cheeses, hard-crusted Italian bread.

Ladies arise from table, gather dirty dishes. Retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine glasses.

Ladies return with:

Second Course—Caesar salad or spinach salad with nuts. Toss it with red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.

Ladies arise from table, gather dirty dishes. Retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine glasses.

Ladies return with:

Third Course—Traditional roast turkey with giblet gravy, cranberry relish and focaccia, sausage stuffing, plus (for those who didn't like turkey) baked ham with mashed sweet potatoes.

Ladies arise from table. Gather dirty dishes, retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine glasses.

Ladies return with:

Addition to third course—Creamed corn, mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach.

Ladies arise, gather dirty dishes. Retreat to kitchen.

Men refill wine.

Ladies return with:

Fourth Course—Four cheese ravioli with pesto alfredo sauce, chicken and spinach manicotti all garnished with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Ladies arise. Gather dirty dishes. Retreat to the kitchen.

Men pour wine.

Ladies return with:

Fifth Course—Toasted Nonna's (Italian for grandmother) pound cake, warm apple crostada, chocolate zuccotto cake, tiramisu profiteroles, pumpkin praline cheesecake.

Ladies remain seated after dessert, take a short rest, then clear table.

Men retreat to basement wine cellar.

            It's about four hours into the meal, and of course, everyone is beyond stuffed. Ladies finish clearing table, then bring out their pennies jars and everybody plays poker including lone male grandchild, who is still in elementary school at the time. And, oh, yes. I had my own glass of wine too, extremely watered down, of course.

After several hours of poker, desserts reappear along with coffee. Whiskey replaces wine to enhance flavor of coffee. About 11 p.m., the party is over. Everyone bids a fond farewell.

My Italian grandparents had two daughters. Each daughter delivered a grandchild. I was the only male grandchild. My aunt presented them with the only female grandchild, eight years my junior.

In composing this family history tidbit, it occurred to me that no matter how many people sat at my grandparents’ giant dining room holiday table, my grandfather sat at one end, and I sat at the other. Everybody else sat on the sidelines—daughters, spouses and female cousin, in secondary positions. I'm sure it represented some old-world tradition. Had there been an oldest son of my grandparents, no doubt I would have been bumped.

At least 60 years have passed. I can see it clearly today—the house on the hill, the bright sun-filled dining room, the long and extended table, food prepared on the giant kitchen table, the family seated, the poker, the desserts, my grandfather and I at the table ends in command positions.

May your Christmas holiday be filled with memories that go over the river and through the woods, with family and friends in the grandest of your traditions.


The Italian Grandparents
Vincenzo and Esterina Coppo Grande

Friday, December 16, 2016

"A book is a gift you can open again and again." Garrison Keillor

As many of you know, when I was growing up, there were always books for Christmas. My parents taught me the value of reading very early in my life. From my first memories, I recall being read to by one or the other of them. Books were always around the house, and Dad was a prolific reader.

When I entered first grade, no pre-k or kindergarten then, I quickly became an avid reader for myself. By fourth grade I had read every book in our elementary school library, mostly biographies of American heroes. (Yes, it was a fairly small library.) Thank goodness that after fourth grade the local library was on the bus route and even within walking distance when necessary.

But it was at Christmas that I received the seeds of a family tradition and added to my list of books read. I discovered early on that my Mother listened closely to my ramblings about books I wanted to read. She would then rush out and buy them for Christmas. They would quickly be hidden away, or so my folks thought.

I discovered the hiding places and would sneak the books out and read them. After putting them back I would casually say something to the fact that "Oh, Joanne's mother bought her such and such, and such and such, etc, and she let me read them." A little later I would mention other books I wanted to read, the list was as endless as it is now, and Mom would dispose of the read books and put more in their place. Some Christmases this pattern could be repeated 2,3 or even 4 times.

I was well into high school when it stopped. I never learned if she had a 'deal' with the local bookstore, or if those books went under someone else's tree through the church or work gift collections. I always felt that I had outsmarted my parents.

Years later, my Mother casually let it slip that she and Dad knew exactly what I was doing, and they helped perpetuate the myth. Perhaps that would explain why they started buying and hiding the books immediately after Thanksgiving.

They also helped start a family tradition, for everyone in my family knows they will have a book or books under the Christmas tree. When our daughter married, we were told that it wasn't necessary to buy our son-in-law a book because, well, you know. He received a book and has for the past 22 Christmases, and some birthdays! No complaints. The same story with our daughter-in-law. "Not that much of a reader," she said. Now, 13 years later, she feels free to give me lists of titles she wants to read. Our five grandchildren know to look for at least one book under the tree. They also feel free to offer pre-Christmas suggestions and I always think, "but what if you read them before the big day?"

This year some of the requests from the young folks in my family include:

In previous years, I offered gift giving suggestions with small blurbs. This year I'll shorten the blurb and offer more suggestions. So, here are some books that would make great Christmas and Hanukkah gifts. Most of these are not from the best seller list, but great reads just the same. In no particular order.

Happy Holidays to all.


Music, Art,  Love, and War
Wonderful Books

                                            Two book about the Paris apartment closed up for
                                            decades. Opened within the last few years, it was a
                                            treasure trove. Two lovely books about this apartment
                                           and the courtesan who owned it. Seen through the eyes                   
                                           of a modern woman.

Other recommendations in not particular order:


                                             Of course, don't forget mine and Jim's!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

75 Years Later, We Remember

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There will be memorials and memories shared across the U.S. and beyond. In my WWII historical fiction, Twilight of Memory, the attack marked a major turning point for 22 year old Henry and his Japanese American girlfriend, Lilly. Here is the beginning of the chapter that describes some of the personal events of that day as it touched their lives in a peaceful western Colorado valley.

Chapter 3

December 7, 1941

After church services on December 7th, Henry and his family returned home from Sunday School, had an early mid-day meal, and were enjoying a quiet afternoon. Ginny was in her room writing to a friend in Denver; Mom and Dad were in the living room listening to the weekly broadcast of Sammy Kaye’s Sunday Serenade from the University of Chicago, and Henry was in his room listening to the static-filled broadcast of the football game between the Giants and the Dodgers in New York. He would see Lilly later when they went for a late afternoon horseback ride in the foothills of the National Monument.
Henry, was leaning in to hear the description of the ‘hard hit’ by Bruiser Kinard on the 27th yard line. Suddenly, came a new voice through the static.

 “We interrupt to bring you this important bulletin from United Press. FLASH, Washington: The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.”

While Henry’s mind tried to convince him that he had heard incorrectly, the game returned to the airwaves and the play continued. Henry stood and walked into the living room.

“Mom, Dad…,” he began.

“Shh,” both parents said as they too leaned closer to their radio. Henry could hear what they were trying so hard to hear.

 “…from the air. I’ll repeat that. President Roosevelt says that the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii from the air. This bulletin came to you from the NBS news room in New York.”

As the music started once again, Henry’s Dad flipped off the radio and looked at his wife and son. For what seemed to Henry a very long time, no one said anything.

Finally, his father spoke. “God help us. We’re in it now.

Upon hearing the news a second time, Henry ran to Lilly's home. The curtains were closed. No lights were on. He could hear crying. They would not let him in.

The following day the United States' Congress declared war on Japan. Again Henry ran to Lilly's home. The curtains were closed. No lights were on. He could hear crying. Again, they would not let him in.

Suddenly America was grieving and vowing justice.

Japanese Americans were grieving and becoming fearful.  

Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The United States, in turn, immediately declared war on them. The entire world seemed to be at war."

Several years ago, I spent two weeks studying at the East-West Center through the U of Hawaii at Pearl Harbor. I walked every inch of Pearl Harbor that was walkable and boated to many others. I learned the history from 'backstage' so to speak. I found my mother's childhood friend's name on the USS Arizona memorial wall, and I had lunch or dinner every day with a Dec. 7, 1941 survivor. It was an amazing, humbling experience.

Today we all remember.

My favorite of the many ship memorials:
The USS Utah.
Many of the men are still inside that rusted hull you see.

The USS Arizona, still underwater.
The Memorial sits astride the sunken ship.
Oil from the ship continues to bubble to the surface forming
beautiful, but haunting, colors in the water.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rest in Peace Veteran

Today a member of our family, a cousin, is being buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Harry was a career member of the Navy who was proud of his country and proud to commit himself to serving for over 31 years. He was an active man, a lifelong athlete and sportsman who, just as he was about to reach that age when he could slow down with his wife, children, and grandchildren was cut down by that insidious disease ALZ.

Almost to the end, Harry was active. His wife, Audrey, would take him to the gym and other participants there would talk with him and marvel at his physical ability. But his mind was slipping. Slowly, like a combatant he could not conquer, ALS robbed him of most of his mental capacity. It was heartbreaking to watch from afar, to know what the family was going through, but through it all they were there with him, strong, loving, caring, and taking care of him.

Somewhere along the way, Harry decided that he wanted to write his own obituary. Here is a part of it.

"This has been a wonderful life! I have had the privilege to serve our great country for over 31 years from the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam to Desert Storm (First Gulf War); I have sailed in every sea and Ocean on the planet except the Antarctic; and have had the honor to serve with the best sailors and Marines in the world. To my shipmates, Fair Winds and Following my Marines, Semper Fi! A man is blessed to have a loving family and faithful friends, I have been such a man."

CAPTAIN HARRY E. BAILEY US NAVY, retired, died on March 9, 2016 from Alzheimer's.  The family has been waiting for his turn to be honored with burial in our nation's most revered military cemetery since that day. Today, December 1, 2016 is that day.

During the wait I have learned many things about burial in Arlington. The cemetery conducts funerals Monday through Saturday, conducting between 27 and 30 services each week day and between 6 and 8 services on Saturday. I have learned that the process is long and complex, for many deserve the honor. Arlington schedules services based upon available cemetery and military resources. It can take months, as in Harry's case March 9 to December 1.

 During each family's long wait others are being honored, and in the true manner of military, the family waits once more for their military loved one to come home and rest. So today is Harry's day.

With aching hearts, we were not able to make the trip, but the family knows and understands that the hearts of the Smith and Knox families are with them.

                 Rest in peace dear Harry. Now join your brothers in sisters in eternal peaceful slumber.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

For Veterans' Day...Free WWII Historical Fiction

                                                      KINDLE EDITION
                                   FOR THREE DAYS: NOVEMBER 10, 11, 12
                        WWII: 10th MOUNTAIN SKI TROOPS: COLORADO: ITALY:

At twenty-two Henry Townsend had the world in his hands; his cherished Lilly by his side; a bright future planned in his beloved valley home. Life promised him happiness. America’s entrance into WWII turned that promise to dust. Desperately, Henry sought to find a way to serve his count...ry while remaining by Lilly’s side. On the night he found his solution, Lilly disappeared. Months later only one thing promised a shattered Henry survival… a band of brothers: skiers and outdoor enthusiasts like himself. Together they formed the 10th Mountain Division. America's Ski Troops of the U.S. Army. Together they trained for war, made their way to Italy, and fought desperately against the Germans. The same war that shattered Henry’s dreams, now threatened to shatter Henry’s life. Could this same war, somehow save him? Could the peace he had known in his Colorado valley be found in a war-torn valley in Italy? Could salvation be found in the arms of a war-scarred nurse? Twilight of Memory explores the power of memory and love: to hurt, to haunt, and possibly to heal. Get to know Henry, Lilly, Daisy, and the 10th Mountain Ski Troops in this gentle historical fiction love story.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

VICTORIA by Daisy Goodwin...A lovely, enlightening read for British history lovers.

When I received this novel from Netgalley for review purposes, I did not know that it was written by the creator of the PBS/Masterpiece series, Victoria. In fact, I did not know there was a PBS series about Queen Victoria planned. Now, I cannot wait to find the series and make up for my lack of knowledge.

From the books blurb:
"Early one morning, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. 

The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. Surely she must rely on her mother and her venal advisor, Sir John Conroy, or her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who are all too eager to relieve her of the burdens of power.

The young queen is no puppet, however. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.
"I do not like the name Alexandrina. From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.” 

Everyone keeps saying she is destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously."
Victoria is so well written and engaging that I was unsure of its historical authenticity. That's when I researched the author and learned of her extensive research for the PBS/Masterpiece series. Her work translates beautifully into this novel. 
The characters were so well drawn that there were times I wanted to shake the young queen and times I wanted to shake everyone around her. The dialogue and descriptions were light and easy and moved the story along without effort. 
I was especially curious about her attachment to Lord Melbourne. I knew, of course, that Victoria married Albert, 'the great love of her life,' but Melbourne seemed to forever be in the way of this happening. Perhaps it was all fatherly love and concern and returned the same way to him. Perhaps not, but I was often irritated by both of them and their attachment to each other. But, all was well in the end.
Amanda Foreman sums it up beautifully when she writes, "Victoria is an absolutely captivating novel of youth, love, and the often painful transition from immaturity to adulthood. Daisy Goodwin breathes new life into Victoria's story, and does so with sensitivity, verve, and wit."
Daisy Goodwin, the author, drew from Victoria’s diaries, which she first read as a student at Cambridge University. She has since added extensive research. She is  the author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria. She effortlessly brings the young queen richly to life in this novel.
The book's publication date is November 22, 2016 from St. Martin's Press. This will be a wonderful gift for those on your list who enjoy British historical fiction at it's best.  I highly recommend this work.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Memory of Us... by Camille di Maio offers a different WWII story.

The blurb for the book:
"Julianne Westcott was living the kind of life that other Protestant girls in prewar Liverpool could only dream about: old money, silk ball gowns, and prominent young men lining up to escort her. But when she learns of a blind-and-deaf brother, institutionalized since birth, the illusion of her perfect life and family shatters around her.
While visiting her brother in secret, Julianne meets and befriends Kyle McCarthy, an Irish Catholic groundskeeper studying to become a priest. Caught between her family’s expectations, Kyle’s devotion to the Church, and the intense new feelings that the forbidden courtship has awakened in her, Julianne must make a choice: uphold the life she’s always known or follow the difficult path toward love.
But as war ripples through the world and the Blitz decimates England, a tragic accident forces Julianne to leave everything behind and forge a new life built on lies she’s told to protect the ones she loves. Now, after twenty years of hiding from her past, the truth finds her—will she be brave enough to face it?"

A woman about to commit suicide, a birth, a death, and a priest. Wow! What a combination for the opening of a rewarding novel. A little later add an unknown twin brother hidden away in an institution and WWII. There you have The Memory of Us in a nutshell. But don't stop just knowing that. The book, while not deep in history, while not steeped in thought provoking moments, is still a very good read. 

I received the book from Netgalley for an honest review. It should be available at all major outlets. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Kobe Manatee....a feast for the eyes and a treat for the ear... for adults and young children alike.

From the book's blurb: 

"Gold Medal, 2016 Readers' Favorite International Book Award in the Children's Educational category

Winner of the 2015 International Book Award in the Children's Educational category

Packed with exciting illustrations and interesting facts, this adventure story will enchant as it creates awareness for the endangered Florida manatee. In late September, Kobee Manatee is on a twelve hundred-mile mission to get back home to Florida from Cape Cod, Massachusetts before the impending cold threatens his life. On his journey, he meets two new friends: Tess the seahorse, who loves to learn, and Pablo the hermit crab, who is in search for a new shell. Will Kobee and his friends make it to Florida in time?"

I love this book. What a great tie-in to the 'real' news of the Florida manatee found at Cape Cod and recently returned, with the help of humans, to Florida. Facts about manatees are presented in side boxes and can be read at the same time as the story, or perhaps, read later as a means of teaching. 

The story is delightful and the full page illustrations are glorious. If you have young children to buy for, consider this book as a delight to the eyes, the ears, and the brain. If you wish to enhance the classroom of a younger age child, consider this the book to do it. 
If you or your children/grandchild like Finding Dora, you will love this.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Quirky Fannie Flagg: The Whole Town's talking.

The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg.

From the book's blurb:
"The bestselling author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is at her superb best in this fun-loving, moving novel about what it means to be truly alive.

Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening at the cemetery. Still Meadows, as it’s called, is anything but still. Original, profound, The Whole Town’s Talking, a novel in the tradition of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and Flagg’s own Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, tells the story of Lordor Nordstrom, his Swedish mail-order bride, Katrina, and their neighbors and descendants as they live, love, die, and carry on in mysterious and surprising ways."

 Lordor Nordstrom, a Swedish farmer with whom I fell in love, builds a farm, a home, a town (Elmwood Springs), and even a cemetery where he and his fellow Elmwood Springers can rest in peace when their time comes. Lordor is respected, even loved by his neighbors. Only problem, he is not married and there is not an eligible bride-to-be in sight. The solution, as advocated by the women of the community is, of course, to order one. So, by mail arrives the bride.  

The book is full of loveable, quirky characters essential to any Fannie Flagg novel. They meet their problems with the fortitude you would expect of a Swedish farm community and with a grain or two of humor when needed. 

The book is set for November publication, and I would suggest this as a wonderful holiday gift for those readers on your list who like wholesome, sweet, and quirky. For Fannie Flagg fans it is a must and a nice change for everyone else. Should be available at all major outlets and online.

ABOUT FANNIE: (This blurb about Fannie neglected to mention that when I was in college, Fannie was my weather girl. Years later I heard her admit that she knew nothing about the weather, so she simply took the weather forecasts used the day before from a community west of us and used that as her forecast. Oh, Fannie, we believed you!)

Fannie Flagg began writing and producing television specials at age nineteen and went on to distinguish herself as an actress and writer in television, films, and the theater. She is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (which was produced by Universal Pictures as Fried Green Tomatoes), Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, and Standing in the Rainbow. Flagg's script for Fried Green Tomatoes was nominated for both the Academy and Writers Guild of America Awards and won the highly regarded Scripters Award. Flagg lives in California and in Alabama.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Ann Lowe for Alabama Genealogy

In native Alabamian Ann Lowe’s own words she wanted “to prove that a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

Her great-grandmother was a slave. Her great-grandfather was the owner of the plantation. The child born of their union, Georgia, became Ann Cole Lowe's grandmother, a strong woman who surely influenced her granddaughter. From great-grandmother, to grandmother, and through her mother Ann inherited a talent for design and sewing and a strong determination to prove herself. 

As the sun rose on that 1898 morning of Ann’s birth, no one in the small town of Clayton, Alabama (Barbour County) could have dreamed of the heights she would achieve for she was born a squirming, scrawny, little black girl in the Jim Crow South, but from an early age she recognized her dreams.

Her path would not be easy, and any success she might have was certain to be achieved only with steadfast effort and fortitude on her part. Armed with a great inner strength and natural talent, she rose above all obstacles and forged her own future. 

For any designer, designing the wedding dress to be worn by Jacqueline Bouvier, future First Lady of the United States, for her marriage to John F. Kennedy would be a lifetime achievement. For Ann Lowe, it became a statement. The iconic gown would become the most photographed wedding gown in American history proving that (in Ann’s own words), “a Negro can become a major dress designer.”

When she designed and produced Jacqueline Bouvier’s wedding dress, very few knew her name. No one but her staff knew of the disaster that preceded the delivery of that now-historic wedding dress to the home of the bride. Even fewer knew that she was the granddaughter of a former slave.
Even today, few know her story.

Ann modeling her own design.

Ann's grandfather helped build this 1853 Barbour County Courthouse.

Ann designed for the ladies who lived here, the early 1900's Alabama Governor's Mansion.

Ann doing what she loved best, sewing!

 From the Governor's mansion in Alabama, to high society in Tampa, Florida, and then, on to her final destination New York City where she became the favored designer for the ladies of high society--- the Duponts, Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Roosevelts, Lodges, Auchinclosses, and the Bouviers, as in Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. 

Along the way there were husbands, a child, Paris, and even Christian Dior, and the most photographed wedding dress in American history.

I have researched, spoken with the family and written a biography of Ann Cole Lowe's life. Would love to tell you about it, but would probably get kick out of the group even though I see others, one in particular mentioning her books. 
 If you are interested, email me at I'll send you a link.

I would love to think that Ann's story would now become a Middle School student's history fair project---especially in Alabama!