Mamas comfort food, p.1

Mama's Comfort Food, page 1

 

Mama's Comfort Food
 



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Mama's Comfort Food


  Mama’s Comfort Food

  By RHETT DEVANE

  Mama’s Comfort Food

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by Rhett DeVane. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form, electronic or mechanical without permission in writing from the publisher, except for brief quotations contained in critical articles and reviews.

  Published by Writers4Higher

  Cover photo by Rhett DeVane

  Cover design by Donna Meredith

  Author photo by Lance Oliver, www.LanceOliverPhotography.com

  Printed in the United States of America

  Dedication

  This book is dedicated to all of the healthcare workers who daily provide comfort and the benefits of healing touch and kind words.

  In memory of my mama, Theresa DeVane, a strong Southern woman who understood the link between love and food.

  And in memory of Donna Larson, a dynamic woman and friend who bravely fought the dragon. Twice.

  Acknowledgements

  Over and over, I see: no one does anything alone.

  My heartfelt thank you to all of my loyal friends, family and patients.

  To Ann Macmillan, Barbara Mason, and Lois Davidson for sharing their stories.

  To all of my friends who joyfully shared memories of their mothers’ comfort foods.

  To medical experts: Timothy W. Bolek, MD, Radiation Oncology, North Florida Radiation Oncology Associates, TMH Cancer Center; Dawn Bishop, RN, MSN, AOCNS, Director of Oncology Nursing, Archbold Memorial Hospital; Ann Hatcher, RN, BSN, Nurse Manager, Outpatient Oncology Services, TMH Cancer Center; Mary Menard, RN; and Dianne Sutherland, RN.

  To John Gandy and Warren Jones of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

  To proofreaders: Ann Macmillan, Cathy Ricks, Angie Colchiski, and Leigh Ansley.

  To editor Paula Kiger, reigning queen of the Big Green Pen.

  To editor Donna Meredith of Wild Women Writers Publishing.

  To law enforcement experts: Kathy Kennedy, Chris Garrison, Jimmy DeVane, and Kelly Walker.

  To the Wild Women Writers Critique Group for encouragement, love and kind direction.

  And especially to my readers. Without you, a book is just a random gathering of words.

  May we never forget these simple truths: Magic and mystery surround us. Every day we are allowed on this Earth is a gift.

  Thank you to God for allowing me to be a messenger.

  A note from the author

  Each individual diagnosed with breast cancer must make treatment decisions based on doctors’ advice, timely research and personal preference. The path the main character follows in this work of fiction is loosely based on a blend of several women’s journeys and is not an endorsement for one form of therapy over another.

  She was looking deep inside for such a long time

  Where head and heart collide

  All by herself for far too long

  But now she’s feeling strong.

  The spirit of love is standing by your side

  And heaven above will always be your guide.

  Wherever you go, don’t you know

  That love is always on your side.

  There is no easy path to follow

  But everyone must find a way

  To where all hearts must return

  When will we ever learn.

  The spirit of love is standing by your side

  And heaven above will always be your guide.

  Wherever you go, don’t you know

  That love is always on your side.

  From “The Spirit of Love”

  Hugh McKenna, Mae McKenna

  Reprinted by permission.

  From the Shore to Shore CD

  Mae McKenna 1999

  Prelude

  Excerpt from audiotape for Karen Fletcher—made by her grandmother, the late Piddie Davis Longman.

  “Well, gal. I don’t reckon you’ll ever get to listen to this tape, what with you all settled in up there in Atlanta, pretendin’ to be someone else. It felt odd, not leavin’ a tape for you, is all. I made one for everyone else. Maybe, if you come to yourself one day, Evelyn will see fit to give this to you.

  “Chattahoochee ain’t such a bad little town. You were surely in a bust-a-gut hurry to leave out after you graduated FSU. Nobody really understood why you felt you had to desert us the way you did, but I suppose you had your reasons. It surely hurt your mama and daddy. I pray every day that you’ll make it right with them, somehow.

  “To call this place a sleepy little town is purely laughable. Maybe it is, to some folks’ eyes. But there’s a heap going on here. We’ve had our sweet boy, Jake Witherspoon, beaten up for being a gay feller here a couple of years back. That got us swarmed with reporters and such. Beats all I’ve ever seen. Then, lo and behold, if one of our prize citizens—Hank Henderson, a lawyer, to boot!—didn’t turn out to be a child pornographer. I suppose you heard all of it, you bein’ in the TV business and all.

  “My point in all this, Karen, is that we’ve got all kinds of folks, even in such a small place. You gonna have drama anywhere you have human beings. If you ever decide to come back home, you won’t be at a loss for entertainment. This place is better than The Young and the Rest of Us! (Laughter) That’s what me and my best friend, Elvina Houston, call that ‘soda popper,’ The Young and the Restless.

  “I love you, Karen. You was my first grandbaby. I cherished you from the time you was just a twinkle in your mama’s eyes. I changed your diapers and wiped your little red behind even before your mama and daddy did. Don’t you ever doubt for one minute that you got a family here ready to take you in with open arms. Forgiveness is our nature—comes as easy as breathin’ in and out.”

  “My mama made the best sweet potato biscuits in the whole wide world. I remember standing on a wooden stool when I was just a little bitty youngun, watching her mash the clay-colored dough with her fingers in her favorite robin’s-egg-blue pottery bowl. She’d pinch off a handful and roll it around in her flour-dusted hands till it was a perfect ball. Then, she’d mash it gently into a greased pan. When those sweet tater biscuits came out from the oven, the kitchen smelled like heaven on earth. They were light and airy—near to melt in your mouth. My daddy always maintained you could make a meal off a couple of sweet tater biscuits slathered with butter. Yessir, I can catch a whiff of them cooking to this day and get a warm feeling deep inside.”

  Piddie Davis Longman,

  from the audiotape to Karen Fletcher

  Chapter One

  Anyone watching the woman in the maroon midsize rental car would have thought her behavior suspect. Either she had hit happy hour hard or she couldn’t decide whether to head east or west. Every few miles, the car executed a swift U-turn, idled in the paved median, then turned to continue in the original direction.

  “I don’t know what the bloody hell I was thinking,” she said aloud in a polished British accent. Realizing she was alone, she continued in a tone more suitable to the part of North Florida she now covered at twenty miles above the posted limit.

  “I must be crazy. Why did I get on the plane and leave Atlanta in the first place? I have no business just showing up.”

  She shoved a limp hank of hair behind her ear and glanced in the rearview mirror. Good. No cars behind her to wonder if she was some kind of complete nutcase, driving like a maniac and talking to herself.

  “And what will I say, exactly? Not like I’m in the neighborhood and just de
cided to pop by.”

  Her life could model for a daytime drama. Only, she had yet to see her particular set of dysfunctions in any plot line.

  The insistent trill of the doorbell pierced the drone of Evelyn Longman Fletcher’s morning shower. Dripping wet and thoroughly aggravated, she twisted the water control hard to the left.

  “God knows, I simply don’t have time for this,” she muttered.

  She whipped a thick white towel turban-style around her shoulder-length brown hair and donned a pink chenille robe and matching slippers. Normally, Evelyn welcomed visitors at any hour. Her mother, the late Piddie Davis Longman, had drilled genteel Southern hospitality into her soul at a tender age.

  Never close yourself to a front door knock, Piddie had instructed, you might miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Could be Ed McMahon and the prize-awarding team come to hand you a check for a million dollars! And believe you me, he ain’t gonna stand out there on your front stoop all day with flowers and balloons and such. Friends come through the back door, but opportunity and blessings from Heaven come to the front.

  Today wasn’t such good timing. Evelyn, designer of ELF-Wear, custom clothing for women, children, and infants, was to be featured on the Good Morning Show on Channel Six out of Tallahassee. Two of the ensembles she planned to offer up as proof of her talent were incomplete. The fancy computerized sewing machine that had set her husband Joe back five state retirement paychecks could only do so much. Human hands were required for the intricate finish work.

  “I’m a-coming! I’m a-coming!” she yelled loud enough to carry straight through the front door.

  She passed by the kitchen long enough to flip on the coffeemaker. No hostess worth her salt would entertain a drop-by visitor without offering food and drink.

  “Good. Joe left a couple of fresh sticky buns.”

  Retired from a thirty-five year stint as staff psychiatrist at the state mental hospital on Chattahoochee’s main thoroughfare, Joe Fletcher was the new owner and chef of Borrowed Thyme Bakery and Eatery. Long before his wife arose, he showered and slipped from the house to ready the small main street eatery for breakfast patrons. By the time Evelyn had barely finished her first cup of strong black coffee, Joe was flipping blueberry pancakes and eggs over easy, and buttering tall pyramids of Piddie’s famous Cathead biscuits—old-fashioned biscuits made with lard, big as a cat’s head. Saturday mornings, he substituted sweet potato biscuits. Before eight-thirty, all six dozen of the russet-colored sugar and cinnamon-dusted breads would disappear.

  Evelyn hid slightly behind the door as she opened it a crack. “I’m sorry. You caught me at my morning shower. But if you want to come on in, and can give me just a minute—”

  Evelyn stopped speaking when she recognized the caller. Piddie would have told her to shut her mouth, as she’d allow flies to buzz in.

  “Mrs. Fletcher?” The thin stately blond woman inquired in a clipped British accent.

  Then, in a delicate Southern drawl, she spoke again. “Mama?”

  Karen Fletcher, alias Mary Elizabeth Kensington, Evelyn’s estranged and deluded forty-six-year-old daughter, offered a weak smile. Balanced like a graceful fashion model, she stood on Evelyn’s front porch, framed on either side by a lush Boston fern.

  Donald James “D. J.” Peterson jerked the wheel of his black Acura NSX hard to the right, narrowly avoiding a Ryder rental van intent on occupying his lane.

  “Ya stupid moron!”

  He downshifted and maneuvered three lanes of ball-busting Atlanta traffic to the 14th Street exit off I-75. Atlanta drivers had grown surlier in the past years, and for good reason. Not only had the city’s population mushroomed, the entire sprawling metropolis had morphed into one contiguous nightmarish construction site.

  By leaving his upscale home in Buckhead before five-thirty, D. J. managed to avoid the heavy morning expressway crunch when tow trucks circled like vultures awaiting the inevitable fender benders. A small café two blocks south of his workplace at public television headquarters served fresh pastries and gourmet coffee—by far, a more pleasant start.

  His brow wrinkled as he considered his fiancée’s brief message. “Curious and extremely odd,” he whispered as he sipped a tall caffe latte.

  Donald, Mary Elizabeth’s voice mail had said, I’ll be out for a couple of days, tops. Family matters which to attend, that sort. Ring you up on my return. Toodles, luv!

  She was one of the few people who could make his given name take on a classy ring. With the killer British accent, Mary Elizabeth could ask him to take out the garbage and sound sexy.

  “What family, exactly?” he muttered. “Her mother and father are deceased. She mentioned an elderly relative once. Was it Pity . . . or, maybe Patty? But that woman passed away a few months back. I remember Mary E. wiring flowers to the wake.”

  D. J. grimaced at a woman behind the service counter who was looking at him in an odd way. “Just talking to myself,” he said as he tipped his head and flashed his best lady-killer smile. He really had to break the habit of out-loud pondering. With all the crazies loose on the street, someone was bound to think he was one.

  Perhaps Mary Elizabeth’s trip had to do with the distant cousins she’d made brief reference to: the ones she’d lived with while attending Florida State University. Still, she’d never seemed particularly tied to them.

  In their five-year relationship, D. J. had gleaned a few sketchy details of his fiancée’s past. To others, Mary Elizabeth was the epitome of the ice-cold, self-sufficient British female—closed off and emotionally unavailable. His dogged persistence paid off. One by one, her defenses peeled like layers of an onion, revealing a kind, trustworthy core—honest to a fault. He thought about the time a scruffy stray wandered into their path one evening. Both of them were dressed in semi-formal attire for an award function, Mary Elizabeth in pearls and heels. The young terrier-mix, clearly lost, stank of garbage and feces. Probably supported a hundred fleas and an equal number of knotted hair tangles. Mary Elizabeth took one look at its weepy brown eyes and without pause leaned down to scoop it into her arms. She took it to her veterinarian, paid for shots and worming, then kept it in her spare bedroom—separate from the two inquisitive felines—until she could locate a suitable home.

  No one at Georgia Metro knew that woman, or the one who kept gift slips for fast food meals in her purse in case some homeless person begged for food or spare change. All the little glimpses of her kindness might have seemed staged—way too smarmy to be believed—except for the fact he had been there and she hadn’t used any of the incidents to garner praise from him or anyone else.

  He bit into a warm cinnamon roll. Glazed sugar crumbed and stuck in his thick mustache. D. J. frowned as he mulled things over. And she’s been acting so freakin’ strange for the last couple of months. Actually, ever since I gave her the engagement ring on Valentine’s Day. Have I rushed things? Is she getting cold feet? Lord, women are so damn hard to figure.

  How many times had he felt like giving up, and what made this particular female so alluring that he’d endure any hardship for an hour of her time? One lesson D. J. had learned the hard way: never push Mary Elizabeth Kensington. She could be a regular hell-cat when cornered. Best to let her gallivant off to God knows where. Eventually, she’d call.

  “What a hopeless loser I’ve become.”

  D. J. used the soiled napkin to wipe the crumbs from the bistro table and deposited the waste paper in the trash bin on his way out. Crisp spring air greeted him, laced with the delicate scent of flowering plants and damp fertile soil. Unconditional love swelled unbidden in his chest, a down payment on disaster.

  “My mama—cook? That would’ve been the day. If it didn’t come from a can or box, we didn’t eat it. Still, I can pop one of them Swanson frozen dinners in the oven and think of home. Especially the one with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and that cherry dessert.”

  Wanda Jean Orenstein, hair stylist

  Chapter Two
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  Tiger stripes of morning sun pushed through the mist, casting shining dapples of light across clusters of blooming azalea and bridal veil spirea bushes beneath towering pine trees. The soprano mating calls of songbirds filled the air, with bass undertones provided by an occasional bumblebee harvesting nectar.

  Amidst carefully groomed grounds, the Witherspoon mansion sprawled on a small rise—a gracefully aging dowager. A fern-studded porch stretched the length of her façade, providing deep shade for a series of white rocking chairs. Built in the late 1940s by Colonel Bud Witherspoon for his bride, Betsy Lou, the Greek Revival style home sported tall Doric columns spanning two stories: the sort of overdone Southern mansion where Scarlett O’Hara could have stepped out for a breath of fresh air, a crinoline-stiff gown forming a three-foot moat around her.

  In 2000, the North Florida grand dame had been resurrected from decline and renovated as the Triple C Day Spa and Salon. Under the meticulous watch of Jake Witherspoon, Betsy Lou’s only son and sole heir, the home once again paid tribute to Southern grace and over-the-top fashion.

  Directly behind the house, spa reservation specialist and little-ole-lady-hotline president Elvina Houston sat on a wrought iron bench beside a patch of pine straw-thatched ground. By midsummer, the Piddie Davis Longman Memorial Flower Garden would be in full glory. This early in the season, patches of early weeds were the only hints of green amidst the blanket of brown.

 
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