Tag Archives: Sondra Ramsey

NaNoWriMo Day #5: Taking in strays …

Here’s another excerpt from “Dixieland,” my National Novel Writing Month project that has reached 14,676 words. Tonight I wrote a scene that is, so far, the most difficult scene I’ve ever written. Unfortunately, that’s both a confession and a tease, because I can’t reveal that scene until the novel is finished.

I followed that challenging effort with something more light-hearted, and I have to admit that I’m having a blast making light of Sondra Ramsey’s pretentiousness. Sondra is Edna Mae Ferguson’s mother, and after Edna Mae’s hubby, Alvie, goes off to war, Edna Mae begins taking in strays. Her mother is present when the menagerie of cats and children begins.

In this excerpt, three of the children living in sharecropper shacks on the Ferguson Homestead have shown up at Edna Mae’s front door with a momma cat and two kittens. I realize I’ve referred to her mother as Sondra Ramsey AND Mrs. Ramsey. These inconsistencies will live at least until Dec. 1. (Inner editor, bound and gagged with duct tape, is going mad). Keep in mind: it’s an unedited work-in-progress. Comments, critiques, questions are not only welcomed but encouraged.

Dixieland, from Chapter 3 …

The raggedy little children kept their heads down but their eyes raised toward Mrs. Ramsey, who had called on her daughter in a in a tightly-wrapped, floor-length white dress. She wore a cream-colored hat – sort of resembled a nurse’s cap – on her head and two-inch high heels on her feet.

“I’m sure you were expecting guests, Edna Mae, because, I declare, it would be positively rude –indeed – to just show up uninvited.” She crossed her arms and looked down at the children. The momma cat was trying to get free. “Positively rude.” Mrs. Ramsey raised her eyebrows with the last “rude.”

Gertie Leeper, the middle child, finally spoke, never taking her eyes off Mrs. Ramsey.

“Miss Ellie, who is this lady?”

Edna Mae grinned to herself.

“I’m going to look at these poor felines,” she injected, completely dismissing her mother’s lesson in Southern etiquette and disarming her unapproving gaze.

“But, dear, you must give a reply to the invitation.” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped the Leeper children and handed Edna Mae a press-printed, personally signed invitation to the Natchez Garden Club’s spring pilgrimage tour planning social. In addition to the where, when and what time neatly arranged on a pink-tinted card, it also bore the signature: “Dear Edna Mae, please come. Respectfully, Sondra (Mrs. G.E.) Ferguson.”

The momma cat jumped from the oldest child’s arms and dashed up the stairs.

“What impudence, Edna Mae. Really!”

Edna Mae just shook her head. “Really, mother? You couldn’t have just signed it, ‘Mom?’”

“Well it’s quite the social event, and requires …” Mrs. Ramsey sidestepped again to avoid stepping on a kitten. “It requires a formal request and a formal response.”

Edna Mae patted the youngest child’s head and thumbed the invitation. She gently directed the oldest child to go retrieve the momma cat.

“Well, they’ll just meddle in your bedroom, I just know it …” Mrs. Ramsey’s indignation grew. Edna Mae whispered to Gertie, “Go and help your sister find the momma cat,” again dismissing her mother’s haughty words.

“Mother, could you be a dear and help me make some lemonade for these children?” Edna Mae reached down and scooped up one of the scrawny kittens. She held its nose to her nose then handed it to the youngest Leeper lad.

Sondra Ramsey stomped her foot, barely making a “clink” with a high heel on the hardwood floor.

“Do you not detect the slightest bit of boorish, disrespectful incivility?” She stomped the other foot. “All this carrying on.” Edna Mae headed toward the kitchen.

“Come on, mother, let’s squeeze some lemons.”

“Well, I declare!” Mrs. Ramsey was shouting. “I don’t know how to tell your father how you’ve let this get so out of hand. Wild animals in the house – IN the house! – and colored children coming and going …”

In a flash, Edna Mae turned and was nose to nose with her mother.

“They are children, mother. Children.” She wanted so badly to put a finger in her mother’s face, in the same way she’d been raised. Edna Mae stepped back and Sondra Ramsey began to speak.

“Ah!” Edna Mae raised one hand, just above waist-level. “You, mother, are the only one who has crossed a line here today.”

Incidentally, I realize I’ve now made reference to “sidestepping” at least a half-dozen times. I take that as a sign that I’m not subconsciously making sure that my theme of racial tension is included in the fabric of the story. (The white folks in “Dixieland” sure do a lot of sidestepping.)

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NaNoWriMo Day #4: That old-time religion

Tonight was my first (slight) detour from my outline. I’m at the point where I need to write the main conflict — the meat of the story, the single event that changes my main character — but I realized I hadn’t yet injected enough back story about her journey of faith which, for many years, was superficial and based not on love but on fear. What follows is a 700-plus word excerpt from Edna Mae Ferguson’s conversion experience at the age of 8 in April 1926.

Unedited. Some rabbit trails here. Hey, it’s a work-in-progress, right? But no apologies, fellow WriMos. Remember, these are our stories, our rules. And inner editors remain bound and gagged in padded, sound proof rooms in our mental closets. Right?

EXCERPT, “Dixieland”

But eight-year-0ld girls didn’t question spiritual things. Edna Mae learned that lesson the hard way. Pastor Clemens a year or so earlier expounded on the virtues of childlike faith and how the Lord Jesus besought the children to come to him. He also said that anyone who came to him with the faith of a little child would go to Heaven. In the same breath, Pastor Clemons directed all the parents to “cease the infernal shuffling and fidgeting of your disrespectful children.” Sondra Ramsey thumb-thumped little Edna Mae on top of the head as a domino-effect of thumb-thumping cascaded through the congregation.

“Ouch!” Edna Mae exclaimed. “What did I do?”

She’d already said too much and it was unusual for her daddy to answer in church, but when he said, “You’ve got to stop fidgeting,” Edna Mae immediately responded, “But little kids fidget, and Jesus loves little kids.”

What followed at home was the worst spanking of her life, and probably had more to do with the ladies on the pew behind them that giggled and guffawed over Edna Mae’s cute little quip. But it embarrassed her daddy. And you never, ever embarrassed George Elliott Ramsey. Apparently one needed childlike faith to come to Jesus, but once you were there, no more need for that. And no fidgeting.

“What’s a wretch?” Edna Mae couldn’t get that thought and images out of her mind. “A wretch like me.” Sounded like “witch,” and that wasn’t good. Whatever it was, a wretch was someone who Jesus could love, but probably nobody else loved a wretch, and Jesus could save a wretch, but then did that person have to remain unwretched in order to stay in good graces with the Lord?

So many questions, but she dare not ask.

Sister Maybelline played a long instrumental piece while the deacons passed their hats to collect offerings from the folks who had been tossing in large coins and even paper money earlier in the week, but now, on the seventh night of hat-passing, there were mostly pennies and probably a few super saver grocery stamps thrown in. George Elliott Ramsey wore a brown fedora with a pheasant feather tucked inside the trim ribbon. He tucked the feather into his front pocket before passing the hat to collect coins.

Edna Mae whispered under her breath, “What is a wretch?” and when it came time for Brother Burden to preach his final sermon of the revival, he dramatically DASHED to the pulpit, shouting “What?” before he even grasped the pulpit. Nary a shoulder slouched.

“What is a wretch!?” he shouted.

Edna Mae didn’t know whether to be terrified or overjoyed that God Almighty so quickly answered a question that she hadn’t even put in a prayer that was properly bookmarked by “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen.”

You are a wretch!” the preacher shouted, his brow already drenched in righteous sweat. “If you are lost in your sin and don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ, YOU are a wretch!”

Edna Mae – and the other 70 or so worshippers underwhelmed by the big ceiling fan – sat motionless.

“And if you DIE as a wretch, oh, my friend, my beloved,” Brother Burden continued. “If you die and don’t know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, oh, my friend …”

Brother Burden’s voice trailed off, his head dropped onto his chest, and he wept. “OH, my friend, my beloved …”

Edna Mae wanted to stand and shout, “Oh, my friend, my beloved – WHAT?”

A great thing was about to be said, and for the perfect punctuation, God Almighty sent another lightning bolt that struck a tree just outside the door. The lights went out.

“Oh, my friend, if you die a wretch, you most certainly … will … go … to HELL!” Another lightning bolt and church-shaking clap of thunder. “Come to the altar NOW! and say the sinner’s prayer!”

Edna Mae sprinted to the front of the church and had no trouble finding the altar in the pitch dark church. Someone lit an oil lamp and the light glistened and reflected off Brother Burden’s red face. Undoubtedly every person under 40 was at the front of the church, kneeling.

The collective spiritual angst was a din of commotion, yet also separate and distinct. The patter of raindrops on the church’s tin roof. Sister Maybelline’s piano gently playing “Just As I Am.” Brother Cy Burden repeating, “Oh, my friend, my beloved.” The sniffling and tears of sinners being saved. And a little girl, surrounded and lost in a crowd of wretches, softly pleading, “I don’t want to be a wretch I don’t want to be a wretch.”

If this comes across as a mix of serious, child-like reflection and a humorous depiction of an old-time revival service, please let me know, because that’s the effect I’m looking for.

Current word count: 12,058. Target for first four days: 6,668. On pace to finish: Nov. 16. But I’m not counting on it. The next three days will be especially challenging for my NaNoWriMo effort. My day job at the Columbia Daily Tribune — Tuesday’s election and a couple of other in-depth projects — will need my utmost attention between now and Wednesday.

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