The Storyteller

Why do writers write? And how do they find the inspiration to write about meaningful things? This is a question I have been asked to address many times, and here is my answer: Writing is not a choice for us; we have to write! Our every waking and dreaming moments are spent trying to make sense or beauty or catharsis out of our worlds. Sometimes it hurts to write, and sometimes it stops the hurt. Word Play is delicious! I personally enjoy arranging the words on the page as much as I enjoy thinking them up and writing them down.

Writers see things in a different way.

As for inspiration, I draw on the backstory that everyone has, their influences, teachers, friends and lovers (both mental and physical), their families and how they fit into those families, decisions they made and implemented and the repercussions thereof, and the codes they live by, moral-ethical-religious.

I invite you to check out my blog to see how I process my world through my poems and short stories and vignettes and books as I write them. I will tell you why I chose key words, the process I go through to capture a character’s exact personality, describe a setting so well that you feel you are there, and then try to explain the satisfaction I feel when I know that a poem or a story is “done”.

I am a Storyteller.
I embellish what I say.
If I don’t like what really happened,
I’ll re-tell it my way!
So read my words carefully –
(The facts may be skewed in your eyes)
But when you read my version,
You’ll understand my lies.

So, come sit beside me at my computer and watch me write a short story – a vignette, actually – about who I was as I entered the Freshman Class at Millsaps College in 1957 as a girl of 17. But first, the backstory about something very near and dear to a high school person’s heart – the high school PROM!

Unless you didn’t get to go, that is…

June 13, 1999. THE TENNESSEAN. This headline grabbed my attention: “Grads who never went to prom get chance to dance the night away.” Writer Sue McClure continued: “Anyone who missed his or her high school prom will have a chance to relish the experience of dancing the night away in a high school gymnasium under a spinning, sparkling silver ball when Retro Prom ’99 will be held in the old Spring Hill School.” Since I never got to go to my high school prom, to think I could go back and do it at the Retro Prom was almost beyond belief!

I was a Junior at my high school when I found out that I would be graduating in June. I was a girl “nerd” who took English courses each summer because It was both easy and fun! My plan was to take the harder physics, chemistry and higher math courses my Senior year and graduate with my class. But the school officials decided that since I had fulfilled all the requirements for graduation, I would graduate early at age 17. Since I had no boyfriend, a date was assigned to me from the Senior Class. I got an engraved invitation in the mail, naming my escort and giving the place, date and time of the event.

I – who had never even had a date – was thrilled to death!

Shopping for the perfect dress began in earnest. I finally found a teal blue strapless dress with a bouffant skirt that just skimmed my knees. It made my green eyes sparkle, mother said. But it wasn’t just the dress. It was THE PROM! The event warranted a trip to the beauty parlor, a luxury usually reserved for my elders. The beautician offered to do my makeup since I didn’t even wear lipstick! My mother kept saying “You look so grown up,” as she wiped her eyes. New shoes pinched my feet, but I was confident that I would break them in before the evening was over. Dancing was frowned on by my church, but this was THE PROM!, an occasion to celebrate. A lot of money (or so it seemed) was spent on getting me “all dolled up”, money my widowed mother could ill afford. But it was worth every penny because it was for THE PROM!

At last the big evening came! I was almost drunk with excitement, anticipating the wonderful evening ahead. I got dressed. And for the first time in my life, I got a glimpse of how I would look as a woman. My shoulder-length reddish-brown hair was the perfect background for the beautiful opal earrings my aunt lent me. The matching opal necklace and bracelet were just the icing on the cake! I felt like a queen all dressed in my finery as I went into the living room to await my date.

I sat down in the chair facing the front door. And I waited. Then I got nervous, just sitting, so I got up and paced. After a while, the new shoes began to pinch my feet, so I sat back down. And I waited. And I watched the clock. Then I got up and moved to the couch, to await the sound of the doorbell which would be rung by a Senior member of the FOOTBALL TEAM, who would then whisk me off to a fairy tale evening of dancing, and maybe even of romancing!

My mother came in to the living room every fifteen minutes or so to check on me for the next couple of hours. But no phone rang to tell me of my date’s wreck or sudden illness. When it finally occurred to me that my date wasn’t coming, I got up from the couch, took off my shoes and all the “finery”, washed my face, and went to bed.

The next day, no one in my family even mentioned The Prom. It was a non-event. Sunday, I went to church where I saw all my friends. No one said a word. And Monday I went to school. And thankfully, things seemed to be back to normal.

But things weren’t normal for me. I buried my feelings of anger, rejection, and betrayal for years. Whenever the event would surface in my memory – which it did at the most unexpected times – I still felt so numb that I couldn’t even cry. It was a gash in my very soul that never got better, never healed.

Years later, after college, I met and married a wonderful man. Dancing was not – and is not – a priority for my husband, but the need to dance still burned within my soul. And, after reading the “Invitation to the Dance” article, I asked my husband to the prom – and he accepted!

And so began the flurry of pre-Prom activity! I found the perfect dress – cerulean blue with a filmy matching scarf. I found the perfect (comfortable) shoes. How should I style my hair? Should I wear eye shadow? Would there be pictures? Would my “date” bring me a corsage? As I looked at my husband, who wore his dad’s tuxedo and looked so handsome, I realized that a mature man was a way better date than a high school football player!

The high school gym had been transformed into a dance venue, complete with a sparkling spinning silver ball! There was a buffet dinner. And then the swinging sounds of a dance band took over. That’s when I felt we were truly at THE PROM! We danced, and danced, and danced! And when it was over, we were ready to leave.

I had been so excited, looking forward to an evening of dancing – and romancing – with someone assigned to me NOT by the Senior Class, but by a Higher Power. I was 100% sure that THIS date would show up and whisk me off to a fairy tale evening! And the best part was that I got to go home with my Knight in Shining Armor, after the ball was over.

As I wrote this, I carefully chose words that not only expressed my feelings, but also the feelings of a 17-year-old girl. I used exclamations to show excitement, and run on sentences to imply breathlessness – and, and, and. I wanted to set the scene of a hugely hyped event with the attendant buildup of emotions balanced by the dull realization that something was over before it began. I carefully avoided using the word “Why?” I do not think I could have written this piece had it not had such a satisfying ending. I summed this up with one sentence. Can you guess which one it is?

I am starting my new book and will explain the processes as I go through each step. So stay tuned and watch me write!

BACKGROUND – It all started with a letter that my Mother received from the principal of my high school in January 1957. I had just turned 17 that January and was eager to start school again after being out for Christmas holidays. The letter stated that since I had completed all four of the required English courses (by going to Summer School), I would be eligible for graduation at the end of the current semester, in May of 1957. In essence, I would be entering my Senior Year – right now. I would graduate with the class ahead of me, who were the real Seniors. They were not exactly thrilled that I could just waltz in at the last minute, grab a diploma and start work on a college degree with only three years’ worth of effort.

Then a post card came directly to me, stating that I had been accepted as a freshman at Millsaps College for the Fall semester of 1957. In just a few months I had gone from being a high school junior to being a high school senior; would graduate a year early; and would enter college as a freshman at the end of the summer. How great was that? And finally, a telegram arrived:


That was a lot to look forward to, and I was excited by all the challenges posed by this chain of events.

THE SETTING – The actual story is set at Millsaps College in Jackson Mississippi from 1957 to 1961. The world outside the College was in turmoil but all was fairly peaceful inside our campus.

THE CONFLICT – Russia sent up its first satellite (Sputnik), and the Space Race was on. The Cold War was in full swing. The threat of Nuclear War was very real, race relations were heated, and the Swine Flu Pandemic was just beginning.

THE BEGINNING – I decided to start this book with a poem I wrote during the summer of 1957 when I worked at Blue Ridge NC. Dr. H. E. Finger, Jr., who was President of Millsaps College, was at the host camp for a seminar while I was there and we got to know each other. During the summer, prior to enrolling at Millsaps, Dr. Finger wrote me a letter welcoming me to the College. After I arrived on campus, he asked me to read my poem at the opening worship service. The poem appears at the end of my book Murder in the North Carolina Mountains and I re-created  it in the previous blog below.


“Murder in the Blue Ridge Mountains” is Now Available

I have been away from my blog for a long time while I was writing my latest book “Murder in the Blue Ridge Mountains”. It is a story about an experience that I had during the Summer of 1957. The following is a description of the plot that is printed on the back of the book:

“When Nancy was offered a summer job at a Christian host camp in the North Carolina mountains, she jumped at the chance. Her mother’s former boss and his wife were leaders at the summer camp and suggested that she work as a waitress.  She had never been away from home before so when her cousin Tom also got a job there, she felt that with friends and family she would not be lonely.  Her mother made Nancy promise to write a letter home every day. But instead of comforting her, the obligatory letter writing made her homesickness even worse.  Fortunately, her dorm mother and the postmaster were very helpful and supportive.

The first night at camp, the counselors handed out assignments and camp information. But when the counselors went to their dormitory, a gang of girls told everyone the way it really was going to be, along with the threat that if they told anyone, the gang members would harm them and possibly kill their families.

Thus began a summer of sleepless nights, days filled with accidents, intimidation, fear and dangerous seduction.  All of this was set against a backdrop of regal mountains, glorious sunrises, and budding romances.

Where was God in all of this?  Despite many prayers, the situation escalated until it came to a head in a terrible rainstorm when God showed His power and his plan to provide the camp workers with safety and peace.

Nancy Baker lives with her husband south of Nashville Tennessee.  She welcomes your comments addressed to and invites you to visit her blog at”

A poem that I wrote while at Blue Ridge is included in the book.  The poem entitled “BLUE RIDGE –Verbal Technicolor” was published in The Staff Stencil, the Blue Ridge Assembly newsletter.

Blue and Green are God’s colors;

Green is verdant



Smoky blues are thoughtful and receptive.

They will drink you in,

Absorb you,

Fill you with serenity and rest.

They have confidence…And why shouldn’t they?

The Green Kingdom




Are all growing up toward Him,

Or else they bow to His perfect will.

Green is the changing color because it has Life!

And all Life must end sometime.

Thus, in the Fall, Green gives way,

Ungrudgingly and willingly,

To searing, flaming death shades of



Vibrant Yellow!

Dull Brown!

All is bare, naked, ugly…


The silent soft silvery snow covers the Earth.

There is still Blue.

It reigns quietly for the most part

During Winter.


There are days when blackness and storm

Have the upper hand –

But not for long.

And then one day,

The Earth becomes subtly charged with a poignancy –

A yearning feeling, a growth feeling…

The Rebirth!

For though all things must die

Even so must they be born again…

And this is Spring!

Now the ever-changing Green is lively, young, eager!

It shows off by wearing many colors – flowers!

The Blue becomes brilliant now

And the very air is super-charged

With the lushness of Blue and Green!

Let us borrow Peace



And Happiness

From Blue,

And let us


Enjoy the great Greenness

Of Life!

This place, ‘beautiful for situation’

(as Psalms 48 puts it)

Encourages us to

Be Still…and know…God.”

The book is available through Amazon in print format (02/27/2020) and in digital format now for Kindle, through Barnes & Noble in print format (02/27/2020) and in digital format now for Nook, and now in Apple iBooks.

My three books are available as follows:

1. “Touchpoints” written under the pen name Sally Shirley
Book: Touchpoints –
Kindle: Touchpoints –

2. “An Agreeable Man” by Nancy Baker
Book:  An Agreeable Man –
Kindle: An Agreeable Man –

3. “Murder in the Blue Ridge Mountains” by Nancy Baker
Book:  Murder in the Blue Ridge Mountains –
Kindle:  Murder in the Blue Ridge Mountains –

An Agreeable Man is finally published!

An Agreeable Man was several years in the research, writing, editing and publishing stages, but oh, so worth it to have the book in my hand!  I am so pleased that I finally found a publisher who cared as much about the finished product as I cared about writing the book. Xulon Press is the name of the publishing company that brought my book into being and I will be commenting on our further relationship as time goes on.  I will say this: so far, so good!  In the meantime, Google them, and look at their competitors as well. As writers, we need to share our publishing and marketing experiences so that we can influence our various outcomes.  

If you like Murder Mysteries, An Agreeable Man will take you on some amazing twists and turns and really surprise you with where the story goes!

Check out the preview of the book on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), or iBooks. Buy this book either in a paperback or digital form and please leave a review!


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Where Are the Wise Ones?

Where are the wise ones?

The Teachers? The Grandparents?

The Ones who would/could tell us

Who we are?

Where we came from?

What we stand for?

What is our family/tribal history?

Who are our people?

What is the meaning of our names?

What are our customs?

Where are our sacred places?

What is our path? Where does that path lead us?

What is our mission?

How do we forge a link to the future

for our children?

Who will become the teachers?

When I taught Journalism at the university, I used the first day to ask each person to stand up and tell us his/her name, where he/she was from, what he/she was studying, a bit about their family, something they felt strongly about, and something important about themselves. The time limit was just a little over one minute.

After the first few comments, I was distressed at how much personal information I was getting. No topic seemed too personal to comment on.  There were multiple moms and dads and siblings as their parents seemed to destroy and create families every few years. Many moves were involved, many houses were lived in and moved away from.  It was obvious that important information was gotten from friends, not parents (who were viewed with disdain). Nothing was mentioned about religion; much was made of cell phones and the beginnings of social media.

These students wanted to be someone the world would view as important – Divas, actors, musicians, sports figures, fashion experts, etc.  No one wanted to be a Mom or Dad or minister or priest or doctor or lawyer or teacher.  And no one mentioned having kids.

Except for the last student who spoke.

Tears were streaming down her cheeks as she stood up, saying “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry” over and over.

What on earth could cause this reaction?  I mean, I was upset – even angry – that these students had been shortchanged on the very most important parts of life as I knew it. But crying? No.

“Oh, Mrs. Baker, I live at the bottom of a big hill in a valley in the mountains. My people are all hill folk and they get married real early and they have lots of children. My grand daddy lives at the top of the hill with my grandma and every time one of their children grew up and got married, they helped them build a house just down the road that goes  around and down the hill. And when it came time for them to have kids, the grand parents and the aunts and uncles and cousins all got together and helped build the newlyweds a house further down the hill.

My mom and dad and I live at the bottom of the hill and so far, there has been no more kids but me, so everyone’s been watching me. But when I decided to get educated instead of getting married, they held a family meeting. The minister came and we met out by the lake in back of our house, and he conducted the meeting.

“He asked me why I didn’t want to get married and I told him I hadn’t met any body I could give my whole heart to. He asked me if I wanted children when I did get married and I said I did because I wanted to give my love to my children the way my momma and daddy loved me, but that I didn’t think I could do that without first loving my husband.  Then he asked me why being educated was so important. Obviously, he said, I could do the work that women did within the framework of the home – be a helpmeet to my husband, cook, clean, give time to my family, my community, and to my church – without being formally educated. Basically, he asked me ‘Why bother with education?'”

“I told the minister – and my family members – that I felt the pull of the Future on me. I had talents that marriage could not develop, nor could I learn them on my own. I had gone to one of my land cousin’s homes during the summer and she introduced me to the world of computers. I came to see that this was the way the world was headed. I then made a plan. Anything important that I would do with my life has to help me and others. I also have to get excited just thinking about it! Therefore, I figured if I was able to learn all about computers, I would be able to help my family members in many ways. And I got excited just thinking about it!”

The minister said “Yes, I see your point and I believe you are on to something of great value to your family and many other people who will benefit from your knowledge as well.  But it bothers me that you don’t seem to view finding a husband as being equally important.”

“And I told the minister – and my family – that I had a test for that, too. And as soon as I met my life partner, and I got excited just thinking about him, I would pursue him just the way I was pursuing an education!”

The class broke out in laughter!

“But why are you so upset, crying and all,” I asked.

“Because I am apparently so different from everybody else,” she said. “No one has ever been divorced in my family. We marry for life. Everyone has the same momma and daddy that they started out with, and all the brothers and sisters belong to the same family.  I didn’t hear anybody talk about prayer or going to church and that’s a big part of my family life. Whatever job I wind up with, after I get my degree in computers, won’t nearly be as important as my family will be.

“Our whole family has always supported each family member.  In fact, my grandparents and aunts and uncles have all offered to help pay for my college expenses while I am in college so that I can graduate without any debt. They said they have faith in me. Do you know what that means to someone who has never even been away from home except to visit family members?

“I have so much to be thankful for but I didn’t hear anyone here say “Thank You,” and nobody sounded happy. Didn’t the Lord say we should be joyful? I just don’t know if I have what it takes to get along in today’s world.”

Thankfully, the class ended.

What else was there to say?

Writing to Specifications – Another One

I like stories that end with a twist. It is the kind of story I like to read as well as write.  But when your word count is limited, it’s hard to get in everything you want to say…

Money Well Spent

“Oh, no!” she moaned. “Not another overdraft notice!” The bank envelop with the distinctive etching on the outside and the perforated end tab was by now all too familiar to Sally. What would she say to Richard this time? He alternated between praising her for taking over the bill paying because he was increasingly overworked and had no time to do it, and yelling at her that she had to cut back on expenses because the money just wasn’t there to absorb “frivolities.” Once she had asked him to make a priority list of how the bills should be paid, and wasn’t really surprised that it was almost the exact opposite of her priority list. They never agreed on anything, so why should she expect agreement on this?

Richard and Sally weren’t newlyweds. In fact, their kids were grown and gone, but just barely. The kids still asked for money for things they couldn’t quite afford on their own.  Sally had resigned herself to giving them checks only on Christmas and their birthdays, just to keep the budget on an even keel. Twenty-five dollars for their birthdays and $100 for each birthday wasn’t a lot, and she was able to pay for it by joining the bank’s Christmas Club and saving all during the year.

She shopped at outlet stores and cut-rate grocery stores. Magazine and newspaper coupons were a blessing! It had been a long time since she had bought a “dry-clean” dress. Everything she owned could be washed in the washing machine. Thank goodness for permanent press! Truth was, she loved bargains and she was good at finding them. At least that was one thing that Richard praised her for.

It wasn’t as if Richard were a big spender either, but they had been living on his salary alone now since downsizing had eliminated her job at the company last year. Where she had made two thousand dollars a month, she now made nothing. The unemployment figures in their town were “wonderful, almost approaching full employment for everyone who wants to work,” according to the local paper. Well, she wanted to work, but she couldn’t find a job.

That’s why she had answered the ad in last Sunday’s paper. Apparently there was a need for a receptionist at the new hotel, working in the Executive Suite on the Penthouse floor. She had an interview scheduled for this afternoon. The lady who had set up the appointment told her that she would need to wear something “professional,” so Sally had been at the Mall all morning, shopping for interview clothes. The cobalt blue suit she found was dressy in a tailored sort of way.  It made her blue eyes shine, and it was 50% off! She had stopped by the discount hair styling salon in the Mall, where for only $15, her hair was cut in the short bob that the stylist assured her was all the rage.  Fortunately, her Easter shoes and handbag were still in good shape.

She had rushed home to put everything on, including makeup (which she seldom wore anymore), when the mail arrived. Hoping to find her unemployment check, she found instead the overdraft notice. There was also a rather formal looking envelope, but it didn’t open easily, which only increased her frustration. Bursting into tears, she could hardly see to look through the rest of the mail. No check. Shoving the mail in her purse, she ran for the car, barely making the interview.

After the interview was over, Sally tried to make some kind of sense out of the meeting she had had with the Human Resources people. There was a woman – prim and proper – and a man, who was more casual. Sally tried to answer their questions, which were alternately warm and almost cold. It reminded her of the “good cop, bad cop” routine.

The discomfort started when she walked into the conference room. Before she could take a seat, they silently walked around her, looking her over from head to toe. Then they looked at each other for a long minute, but made no comment. At times, they would almost joke with her, and then they would retreat into formality.

Abruptly, they rose. There were at least two other people they had to interview before they would make their decision, they said, but she would be hearing from them soon. The only thing Sally was sure of was that she wouldn’t be getting that job. She had the strong sense that the next interviewee was probably the candidate they were seeking, and she was just there as a setup to fulfill the Human Resources requirement.

The interview was obviously over.

Dazed, all Sally could think of was that she hadn’t gotten the job, but she had gotten the clothes! Over $150 spent on this interview, with no return on investment! How could she tell Richard? This, on top of the overdraft? She wanted to run away somewhere and hide.

At home, in her bedroom, she began taking off the clothes. Maybe she could return them to the store, saying they didn’t fit, or that she really didn’t like the color. That was a possibility, even if they were sale items.  At least the purse and shoes were hers.  As she started taking the things out of her purse, she noticed the unopened mail. Getting a pair of scissors, she cut open the envelop and reached inside. Unfolding the letter, she saw a check spiraling down to the floor. It was for $2,500 and it was addressed to her!

Momentarily distracted by the amount of the check, she methodically examined every inch of it, front and back, looking for the dreaded words: “This is Not a Valid Check.” But it was, in fact, a valid check and it was, in fact, made out to her! Who was it from? She scanned the letter.

Of all things, it was a sweepstakes prize!

Sally entered every sweepstakes promotion that crossed her mailbox, long ago ceasing to buy anything, but meticulously following every direction “if not ordering at this time.” And now, it had paid off! This was her money, her reward for those years of patiently and loyally sending in the sweepstakes! She was so proud that she had kept at it!

But Richard wouldn’t be proud. First of all, he didn’t know that she had continued to enter the sweepstakes, after he had yelled at her for buying all those magazines and books a couple of years ago. Secondly, he would probably not view this as “her” money, especially after she told him about the overdraft and the purchases she had made today.

It was almost time for Richard to come home. Dreading the approaching  confrontation, she grabbed her purse and ran back to the car. Any place else was better than being here!

An hour later, Sally drove into the garage. There stood Richard – smiling – holding flowers! He opened the car door and helped her – gently – out of the car and into a big bear hug. “I’m so glad you are home!” he said. “Oh, Richard, you won’t be glad when you find out what I’ve done!” And, sobbing, she told him all about the day’s events.  All, that is, except about the check.

Amazingly, he didn’t get mad. Putting his arm around her shoulder, he said “Let’s go  into the house. I’ve got something to show you.” There on the kitchen table was an envelop. “Open it,” he said. The card showed two bunnies side by side in the grass.  Inside, the two bunnies were rolling in four-leaf clovers.  It was a “Thank You” card that read:

To The Love of My Life

“Thank you for loving me

In spite of my imperfections.

Thank you for loving me

When I lost my sense of direction.

Steadfastly you stood beside me

When I thought my life was over.

And now it’s your turn, darling,

To roll with me in the clover!

Richard then explained that he had been working hard on a big project at work, and that his long hours had paid off – literally! He had gotten a promotion and a raise that was more than the equivalent of Sally’s lost salary. The only thing he regretted, he told her, was that all the long hours had taken their toll on him, and he was worn out. And until he actually got his raise, money would still be tight. Too bad they had to cancel their vacation.

“I can help with that,” she said, handing him two round-trip tickets to Hawaii. “And all paid for, too!”  She put her finger across his lips, as he started to ask questions. “Just call it my project money,” she laughed. “I think it’s money well spent!”

Writing to Specifications

A few years ago, I thought I would try my hand at writing short stories and submitting them to those little magazines that you see as you stand in line at the checkout counter in grocery stores. They pay pretty good money. This story was written to the specification of 1500 words. I have added in a few more words for this publication. To my knowledge, this story was never published.

The Best of His Life

The Colonel looked up at the steps looming before him.  Damn! Why couldn’t she have her office on the first floor?  Thirteen steps.  He could have taken them three at a time in his younger days, but not now.  He had been in great shape then. Lean. Muscular.

Handsome enough to get the prettiest girl in school, too.  How he had managed to keep her all these years, he’d never know.  She said she didn’t mind those extra pounds, or that he had lost some hair. (She used to tease him that she was so short, she couldn’t see the top of his head anyway!)  But she did mind that cough. She called it “rheumy,” and said it sounded serious. Wanted him to go to the doctor.  Hell! Doctors were no good.  They just wanted to poke around, ask silly, embarrassing questions, and make pronouncements: Stop Smoking!  Lose Weight!  Slow Down!

To tell the truth, he’d been considering retirement.  So much hassle at work nowadays.  Young people half his age coming in at twice his salary, telling him what to do.  Him, with 25 years experience at this job, not to mention his military experience! How dare they!  It was enough to make him quit.  If they wanted to call it retirement, so be it.  A man shouldn’t work where he’s not respected.

That’s what brought him to this building.  It looked like an old house – no, an old home – a lot like the house he grew up in.  Two stories, gingerbread trim, lots of character. Not like the houses in the neighborhood he lived in now.  Not a lick of personality in any of them.  Brick houses with white siding front porches, not wide enough to hang a swing on to sit in at night.  Nothing interesting to watch anyway.

All his neighbors were into doing whatever worked up a sweat – running, shooting baskets, soccer moves, in-line skating – and they did all this while pushing baby strollers!  Never saw so many babies! Didn’t these people know the planet was overpopulated?  He and June had produced two children, and they had produced two children.  Theory of sustainability – two, replaced by two, replaced by two, and so on.  Two by two.  Sounded Biblical…

Biblical.  Accountability.  End-of-Life.  Meet Your Maker.  Can’t do a proper job if you’re always thinking about the end of things.  Maybe it was time to go.  Always said if you can’t produce, get out.  But he wasn’t ready to go yet, he realized.  There was the sense that something else had to be done.  Things at work might be over, but his life wasn’t yet complete.  Being forced out by “things” wasn’t fair.

Not fair to June either.  She deserved better.  How lucky he felt, having her by his side.  Not a day went by that he wasn’t reminded in some way of his good fortune.

Fortune. That’s why he was here.  June had asked him to talk to her friend Callie.  Not  his friend.  They had never met, but June and Callie were friends from childhood.  “Sisters by choice,” June once said.

“Just talk to her about work, and retirement, and the things you are thinking about…” June had said.  “This is what she does for a living, listening and advising, using her gifts to help others.”

Oh, yes.  There was the matter of her gifts. Callie was a psychic, plain and simple.  No matter what other people might call it, she claimed to be able to look into the future and advise you – for a price.  He had to admit the price was reasonable.  Because of her friendship with June, this was to be a “free consultation.”  He wondered: “if you get what you paid for,” what would he have? But then, what did he have to lose?

So here he was, trying to negotiate these blasted stairs without coughing.  He must have a touch of asthma.  Guess talking to a psychic wouldn’t matter – she wouldn’t be asking all those questions that a doctor would.  She should know!

He knocked on the door.  It opened easily.  “Won’t you come in?” said the pleasant woman who looked up at him.

Not what he expected, not at all what he expected.  Must have been thinking of a gypsy-type woman, although he knew June would never be friends with such as that.  But he felt at ease with this woman, as if he had known her for years.  June had spoken often of her, so he did know about her, yet she seemed familiar beyond that.

Of course! It came to him in a flash.  They looked enough alike to be sisters!  My God! He had never thought of there being two Junes – yet here she was, same height, same honey-colored hair, same smudgy-blue eyes.

Callie was murmuring something about his having been ‘right on time.’ Of course he was on time!  He couldn’t abide tardiness.  Show up early, work late.  That was the way to succeed! Touching his elbow, she guided him to a large overstuffed chair, and indicated that he was to put his feet up on the ottoman.  She sat in a chair nearby and leaned back, fingers of one hand crossed with fingers of the other.

“June tells me you are considering the pros and cons of retirement – ?”

He nodded.  Taking in the room, noting how ‘normal’ it all seemed, his gaze came back to Callie.

“I know you are evaluating when you might possibly leave your…position?”

He knew this technique well, making statements that were actually questions, and then pausing so long you had to fill in the silence.  Used to make him mad when his boss did it – sounded so damn know-it-all. Never knew how to handle it then.  Didn’t know now.

“Have you thought about what you and June might do, where you might go, if you did take retirement now?”

This was a real question. Demanded – deserved – an answer. He looked into her eyes and said “Yes, I have.”

He was not prepared for the effect these three words had on her.  Callie recoiled as if she had been slapped!  She put one hand up to her face, and held it there, while she righted herself in her chair with the other hand.

Leaning forward, eyes fixed intently on his, she spoke slowly. “What if you walked into your office and told them that you were leaving now because you had more important things to do with your life?  What would happen?”

Wonderful scenarios immediately came to him – travel, boats, wind, hot sunshine, sunsets on the water, sunrise on deck, insects humming, birds singing, fragrant flowers, Monet landscapes, sitting with June, talking about their lives together while sipping cool drinks, sending emails to the poor miserable chaps at work who were stuck there at their desks, having to put up with bureaucratic crap, never feeling appreciated, knowing precisely how a thing should be done with no one to listen or care…yes, YES, YES! It felt wonderful just to think about it!

Callie reached out and took his thick hairy hands in hers. (Callie’s hands were so like June’s dainty hands, not painted up claws like those women at the office had.)

“Honor. Obligation. Responsibility.” She allowed these words to sink in.  “I know these are very important to you.  But I have never had such a strong feeling as I am having at this moment that you would be very smart to quit your job today and get started realizing your dreams! If you do, I see these next six months as being the best of your life!”

Six months later, at the Colonel’s funeral, June held on to Callie’s arm.  “I don’t know what you told him that day he came to you, but when he got home he was like a new man!  He called the office and told them to pack up his things and mail them to him, and then he put the house up for sale!  We found a buyer in two days and bought a small yacht that afternoon.  We lived every day of the next six months to the fullest.  He was the happiest I have ever seen him!  He had quit smoking (“Don’t need ’em!”) and had lost weight.  Did you tell him to do that?  I know when he got home from your place he said there was no need to see a doctor.  Said you told him the best of his life was ahead of him…”

Callie said, “When he opened his mouth to speak, June, the cancer shot out at me like a huge black tongue!  It almost knocked me off my chair.  I knew he wouldn’t want to die in a hospital bed, lingering for the few months he had left.  And so – God help me! – I sent him on a six-month adventure!”

Poems – Private and Public


He looks at her

like my dog looks at steak.

He smiles at her,

delighted to be in her presence!

His jaw, resting on his hand, is firm.

his smile is lopsided, a little goofy.

“I only have eyes for you” is the clear message

he sends.

His eyes are riveted on

her lips,

her eyes,

her face.

He listens to every word she says,

with no distractions.

“I understand,” he says,

as he leans forward,

eager to hear more.

He’s not lecturing,

or explaining,

or teaching,

or telling her anything.

He’s just enjoying her company.

Clearly, they’re not married.

This poem (above) was written at a Cracker Barrel in Murfreesboro, TN. Somehow I am able to write in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant, whereas my very quiet office is the best place for editing and re-writing.


She glances too quickly

towards the door

as it opens –

Sitting at her table,

eating breakfast.

Then she raises her cup

 to her lips

to hide their trembling.

She knows he won’t come

Yet she hopes…

Eating together in public

is too public

and can’t be done.

Loving together

in private

is too private

And shouldn’t be done.

(Why does restaurant coffee

always taste bitter?

Or is it only this way

at the cheaper hotels?)

It seems to her

that breakfast

shouldn’t be eaten alone.

Even steak and biscuits

don’t substitute for


A waittress friend told me that everyone who comes in brings a story with them, and some are more easy to read than others…


I watch the fire go from new logs,

with flames spitting blue and yellow,

to the dull red and gold of pulsating embers.

Someone stirs the new logs,

repositioning them for maximum burn,

and the flames perform a lively dance!

I watch, mesmerized…

Later, as the fire dies down,

and burning bits of wood drop into the ashes,

I watch the constant irregularity of it,

and I am fascinated.

And now I am watching as the embers glow less brightly,

still pulsating,

still full of fire,

their impact diminished only by Time.

Long ago, someone came

and moved me

so that I

could burn properly.

Then, you came,

not so long ago,

and stirred me

so that flames leaped up, like so –

And bits of fire,

filled with the hotness of desire,

fell down into the ashes

of my first love…

And now I pulsate

and I glow,

remembering the fire

and the desire

that you both showed me.

This was written on a very cold, windy, snowy day when I ventured into a Cracker Barrel store to get warm and full. Their fireplace added a dimension of nostalgia and resulted in this poem, which I love…

Essays and Poems and Opinions, Oh My!

Being raised in the Deep South, I lived most of my life under the admonition “What Will The Neighbors Think?” Since our yards were huge and our houses were not jammed up close to one another, it never occurred to me that our neighbors might want to watch anything that I would do, or listen to anything that I might say, or even be aware that I lived next door. Now, of course, we are able to see and hear far more than we want to of what everyone in the world – or in Space, for that matter – is doing.

Last year, I entered a Vanity Fair Essay contest regarding the way we as Americans are seen in the world around us. I certainly didn’t expect to win a prize – I don’t recall what the prize was, actually – but I did want to put down on paper just what I felt like to be an American. And I wanted to do some research in order to know where we were going as a nation, which meant we had to find out where we had been, and how we got to where we are now.

To See Ourselves As Others See Us – Americans in today’s world

Americans are, economically speaking, a pear-shaped demographic. The head of the pear represents the few very wealthy Americans who either earned or inherited their money; the bottom of the pear, those who live in poverty. The rest of us comprise the vast middle class, the “haves” who do not have it all – yet. What determines part of our character as Americans is what happens when we decide which demographic we will aspire to stay in or rise out of. We are not bound by our circumstances. Ambition and initiative very much figure in the American psyche, as do laziness and boredom. The fact that we can change our situations as Americans sets us apart from most of the rest of the world.

Another key characteristic is our diversity. Ours is a land peopled by immigrants, people who came to America looking forward to that nebulous “freedom” that we consider so important even today. We are not all from the same place or from the same people. Our ancestors wanted to be free from religious tyranny, the religion of the State, and so they tolerated many different expressions of religion, even the right not to be religious. But make no mistake about it: our country was founded on religious principles. We still believe that religion is important enough to appear on our money; to give thanks before we eat; to begin and end government meetings. We do indeed “praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his “Democracy in America” that Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions…This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society.

Our forefathers stressed the fact that our freedom depended on a moral, religious citizenry.

The term “American” describes no one person. To picture who and what we are, think of meeting “The Americans” – a four-generation family. Each generation’s family members  represents his or her time here in a different way, yet all are members of one family. The time frame is roughly 1930 to 2013.

Our grandparents, in general, observed the tradition of the Father as the breadwinner, and the Mother as the homemaker. Meals were home cooked from food that was home grown. If they wanted something that cost more money than they had, they saved for it. God, Country, Family, and Friends were important – in that order. Authority was not questioned: teachers and church leaders and doctors and their elders were looked up to. People earned – and gave – respect. They were grateful for the blessings of life and its goodness. The family was the support system for each family member and they took care of their own, no matter how hard it was. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” was their mantra, if they had known what a mantra was.

Parents were the role models. We wanted to grow up to be just like our fathers and mothers. They had been through two World Wars, separated by the Great Depression – a dark time. The survivors learned to assess their wounds and count their blessings. They had their priorities in order. Our parents wanted the best for us, and while we were exposed to the basics of their generation – hard work, religion, education, family – we determined that when we became parents, we would work harder, earn more and give more opportunities to our children.

If success meant moving away from family and friends to accomplish these goals, then so be it. Our support system became the people we worked with in the new jobs in the new towns we moved to. We worked long and hard because it was “for the children” and therefore, worth it. We wore ourselves out – and worked ourselves to death – for our families. Stress became a household word and its antidotes were many, from exercise to prescriptions to meditation to diets to non-prescription panaceas.

A new phenomenon emerged: Credit! No longer would we have to wait to have our heart’s desire – we could have it NOW! We could have whatever we wanted, and we wanted it all. We were consumed with consumption. The acquisition of things became the new measure of success.

America was subtly re-shaping itself in terms of its people. The heartland of America still held to the traditional values, but around the perimeter of the country, the people reflected the stresses of City Life. As the pace of constant working accelerated, it became more difficult to stay together as a married couple. While teamwork was touted in the workplace, single parenthood became a more accepted option in the home. “The Children” became “The Children of Divorce.” Balancing work and family life became the goal for the successful single parent. Women became steely in their emotions; men became more emotional in their response to Work and Life. Not having children as a choice became a controversial option. Fulfilling oneself became accepted as a lifestyle.

Television began to have a huge impact on our lives. Initially, we gathered around the tube together; then we taped programs for later viewing; then latch-key kids watched alone without parental monitoring. Soon our children began to get their information and their values from TV. Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street were positive influences, but then television programming changed. It has been estimated that by the time a child reaches school age, he or she has watched more murders, rapes, robberies, and other heinous crimes than entire police precincts in their home towns. Constant exposure to vicarious violence and the degrading of others, nudity, strong language and disrespectful acts numb children to the consequences of their actions. When sensibilities are not developed at home or in our educational systems, we slowly lose our humanity.

Many Americans saw a formal education as a way to succeed, and most Americans believed that every child deserved a public education. We were most proud of our corporate successes for they showcased our vast wealth around the globe. We didn’t learn about “corporate culture” until later. This two-edged sword provided unimaginable opportunities for its workers while luring its corporate officers with the siren song of unimaginable riches. Our news media were zealous in exposing the irresponsible acts of our corporate and elected officials.

In her excellent essay on “Character and Corporate Influence”, Vicky Davis stated: At some point in our history, there was a fork in the road…Honesty, integrity and humanity are (now) characteristics held in low esteem. Greed, dishonesty and inhumanity are rewarded. Just as the magnetism of the poles is shifting, so too is our national character. Right is Wrong. Good is Bad. War is Peace. Marketed correctly, anything can be sold to the American people.

Our children, raised in abundance and relative peace, now modeled themselves on television idols and celebrities. They emulated their dress and their causes and they aspired to their lifestyles. They are willing to attempt outrageous things for a fast buck. They are obsessed with “image” while ignoring the illnesses it spawns – anorexia, bulemia, cosmetic surgeries. They are perceived as being self-absorbed and ignorant of any agenda other than their own. The banner of shallowness is held high, and thick skins enable reality programs to dominate programming. Good manners are not only not used, they are unknown.

Many Americans don’t see the value of learning any language other than their own. The need to do so is not pushed in our school systems nor encouraged in our homes. We are quite satisfied with our own lives and can’t be bothered with learning other equally valid lifestyles. “Think globally, act locally” is not an easy concept to grasp because it involves entertaining thoughts of something other than “the American Way”. We don’t know how to react to the idea that not everyone wants to be like us Americans. After all, we are Number One, aren’t we? Aren’t we?

Recent national and international tragedies have thrust a jagged mirror in our collective faces, and we have been forced to see ourselves as the world sees us. It is not a pretty picture for some. But for others, a more hopeful image emerges. For there is a great silent majority of people in our country who do not rush to register their uneducated opinions at the end of each TV news program on topics they know nothing about. This silent majority chooses to vote their opinions in our public elections, where they do  know a great deal about the issues and the candidates who promise to uphold their voting preferences. These people practice the old-fashioned American values that made our country strong and honored in earlier times. They VOTE!

Increasingly, Americans want to travel, to meet different people in distant places. They are willing to educate themselves to get the jobs that will pay for this lifestyle, but they are traveling light. The acquisition of things is not their goal; indeed, they are into simplification. They travel to experience the Earth and her people. They want to leave a legacy of peace and friendship and understanding – of stewardship, if you will. This generation learns by doing, by actually being there, by seeking to learn about everything first-hand, including learning the language. They are perfectly willing to entertain a lifestyle other than the one they experienced growing up American. And they are open to embracing differences and finding their place among those ideas and people and places who are different. They do not think that doing so will lessen their stature as Americans. And for the first time in a long time, these Americans give me hope.

My latest poetry book is TOUCHPOINTS by Sally Shirley

If you would like to read more of my poems, my latest poetry book is called TOUCHPOINTS, written under the pen name Sally Shirley. You can find TOUCHPOINTS on iTunes.  On the back of the book you will find one of my poems that tells About The Author – that is, me.  Unfortunately, a draft version got published before I had a chance to correct it, and I recreate it here as I meant it to be.


She can write a phrase that will turn your stomach

or your head.

She can talk to a priest in church,

or talk to you in bed.

She reveals your secrets to others

As she smiles into your eyes.

She tells your deadly truths

As she exposes your deepest lies.

Poet, Wife, Mother, Daughter –

She never has done what she ought to.

Teacher, Lover, Writer, Friend –

She shares the lessons that Life sends.

Read her words and have a care,

You might just find yourself in here!

So, pick up Touchpoints, take a look –

Are you and your friends in this book?

One of the things I like to do in writing poetry is to play with the words. I especially like words that have double meanings or sound-alike pronunciations. But what I really do best is to get inside the person I am writing about and draw a word picture using first person tense so that it sounds as if that person is doing the talking.  I like getting inside the head of someone who interests me…Of course, some times my poems are straightforward and are just expressing feelings or experiences that I have had.

These next two poems will appear in my next book of poetry. They are more or less “hot off the press.” As with so much of my writing, the poem below began writing itself while I was still asleep, in the early morning hours.  I remember groggily getting up and saying, “Oh, no! Wait for me! Just let me get to a pen and some paper…!” Here is the result.


She made a home for her husband and sons,

But her husband died and left her alone.

He left her with more memories than friends.

Their two boys grew into fine men.

Raising children is expensive, you know.

Her “mite” did not cover all she owed.

Every time she saved, they needed.

Every time they asked, she heeded.

Always with love, without a fight,

She gave her boys her “widow’s mite.”

The boys grew strong and then they left.

She grew bent over and felt bereft.

They were her sons, her only life!

On whom she spent her “widow’s mite.”

And at last when her life was done,

The Lord Jesus called her home.

He took her to a house of light.

She was amazed! It was so bright!

“Look at the house that you built, my dear!

The house that reflects your soul so clear.

Every time you gave on Earth,

Every time you cried, I heard.

Every time you hurt, I felt.

Every time you prayed, I knelt.

On Earth, you suffered many pains.

God turned your tears into life-giving rain!

Jesus said, “You and I are much alike.

We believe our God will make things right.

Come, sister, see what our Lord has for you

There’s so much healing here to do!

Your children on Earth will honor you still

Just because you did God’s will!

And look at your house! Just LOOK! Just see!

Here’s where you will spend Eternity!

Your husband, his love still pure and true,

Will live on in this house with you”

Jesus cupped her face with his rough warm hands.

“You walked the path of God’s commands.

I paid for your sins with my Earthly life,

But you paid for this house with your “widow’s mite.”

The Mighty Widow’s Mite…!”

And now, for a change of pace…


You know me – I’m the one who

Validates your guesses,

Cleans up your messes,

Reads your mind.

I’m the one who

Runs a tight ship,

Stays cool and hip

Goes out of her mind…

Inside, where I live now…

Here is another poem from TOUCHPOINTS. There are more poems from TOUCHPOINTS at this blog site in the Archives section. Scroll back through and enjoy!


In my car

A light comes on

When I need gas

Or oil or water…

Or it flashes red for

“Maintenance Required.”

“You let me know

If that red light comes on,” you say,

“Because I’ll need to

Take care of that right away.”

I wish I had that kind of setup

So that you would know

When I feel LOW or HOT or


Lucky car…