No Birthday Without Her


Scooter and me walk to the swimming hole. He’s playing the blues harp, but even his sour notes don’t distract me from thinking about my birthday. Without Mama, it wouldn’t be a birthday anyway. It would be a few friends, a cake and presents without promise. Now I have to talk to The Secret Keepers, Miss Helen or Miss Delores. If they know where Mama is, maybe they can send word that I refuse to turn twelve without her.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket, by C. Dennis-Willingham

photo credit

via Present

More Than a Relic


While on vacation in Crested Butte, Colorado, I saw this old washing machine sitting in a front yard of a beautiful old house. Why did I take a photo?

Not only was I mesmerized by its beauty, I pictured the gone-by years when it actually worked. (From what I can tell from a wee bit of research, this machine was probably created in the 1920’s.) I conjured up the image of a person who used this machine. I pictured flapper attire, boys knee-length trousers, looser corsets and fancy stockings being pushed through the wringer.

Although its function was temporary, my curiosity — and perhaps those of others who had strolled passed — remains.




Weekly photo prompt – temporary


Two crackers shy of a box

She’s here. Now.

No need to check on me.

Go home, Miss Helen,

moonshine maker.


Miss Helen

two crackers shy of a box

hair colored orange (she thinks is red)

pokes out on the ends like soggy cactus needles

unless she’s driving Roadster

pulls red tam pulled tight over head

big bosoms poke steering wheel

with hands clutched tight

elbows poking out on both sides

Peers through windshield

wearing aviator goggles.


She’s here. Now.

No need to check on me.

Go home, Miss Helen,

moonshine maker.


Beats her gums about town folk –

“Saw Betty at the Five and Dime…”

“Oh, Lordy, the dentist, he’s …”

I stop listening

Think of something else.

Oh, Lordy.

She slaps and fluffs a couch pillow.

Dust bunnies flit around her orange hair.


Don’t lay down! Don’t lay down.

Go home, Miss Helen.

moonshine maker

My house, too small

for two crackers.




photo credit

daily word prompt: fluff

Emma June remembers something


“Shut up, Betty. You’re drunk.”

“Not enough. I thought this would be easier. I would never have told you except, except, well, now we need your help. The money’s dried up. You’re my only friend.”

“Friend? You’re not my friend. You’re a liar, a traitor. How could you?!’

Mama’s crying now and I think I have to upchuck again.

“But Bernie, I’m all he’s got. And if I don’t have help, I’ll be forced to, to tell everyone. Everyone!”

My head hits the back of Beauty’s seat. Mama has screeched the Model T to a halt.

“You’re threatening me now?” Mama’s words are Spikey like cactus needles. She never yells like this. “Is this why you befriended me in the first place?” Mama sobs. “For money? For …”

It still doesn’t make sense. The only thing that does is being home with Daddy.

I stumble through my front door trying to breathe.

“Emma?” Daddy says. He rushes to me with arms wide enough to hug all of Holly Gap. Choppers licks muck from my face.

“Oh, Daddy, Daddy.” I let him hold me.

He lifts my chin and stares at my dirty, scratched face. “What happened, Emma June? Tell me.”

His voice is worried. But there’s no truth I can tell him. Not now.


Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket, 1928



Lustful jelly-mixing?


“Daddy says that an almost fourteen year old boy might want something more than an almost twelve year old girl might want to give.”

Now it’s Miss Helen’s turn to puzzle her face. “A thirteen year old boy tried to take advantage of you?”

“Take advantage?” I say.

“Sit down, child.”

I start thinking we’ll be late for school.

“Emma June,” she says. “Boys that age don’t always think above their neck.” She sees the look on my face and says, “Let me continue. They have this jelly that runs through their veins and makes them look at girls with lustful eyes. Pay attention now, you’re not leaving till I’ve had my say. Anyhow, I don’t know if they can help it or not, but a boy trying to grow into a man wants to touch every part of a girl trying to grow into a woman.” Miss Helen leans back to peek in her family room where Mr. Leonard is sitting. “Well, grown men are kinda the same.” She mumbles and turns back to me. “Now, as girls get older, they get their own kind of lustful jelly. But girls need to keep that jelly under control and wait until they’re married to mix their bodies with a man’s.” Her hands fidget with that ugly, flowery, ruffled apron around her waist. “Clear?”

About as clear as thick chocolate cake.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket


Not such a Vivid response, is it?

The Smart Crust


March, when Scooter turned fourteen, the handmade crown Miss Primrose gave Scooter never stayed on his head. I’m not so sure it was the crown’s fault.

“I agree, Scoot, ol’ Buddy,” Frank says. “We should wait until we’re real kings to wear crowns.”

“King Scooter Hutchings.” Scooter chuckles. “King Scooter Hutchings doesn’t walk on crutches.”

“Frank,” I say. “Are you teaching Scoot to rhyme?”

Frank shrugs and smiles.

“All the time,” Scooter squeals.

We laugh our way to the final steps of the schoolhouse. “Scooter, remember about tonight. We can’t tell Bernie about our plans. It’s a secret,” I tell him. “I want our plans to come to fruition.”

Scooter crinkles his nose.

“You know—”

“Work as planned,” Scooter says, pulling out his pocketknife.

Scooter is the smart crust around the Juicy apple pie that holds everything together.

Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket


The Lone Wolf Trembles

Carla falls into my arms. Her pale face is scratched up and whiter than usual. Her dress is ripped at the bottom. When I hold her, she feels like a stranger.

Remembering how Daddy helped me the night I ran home from Frank’s house, I steer her to the kitchen, plunk her on a chair, and hand her a wet rag. She won’t stop crying.

“You going to tell me?” I say.

“Oh, oh, Emma. It was … was just awful …. He.. he…”


Carla blows her nose and looks at me like she remembers us being good friends. “He pinned me down. Said I wanted it. Said I’d been asking for it a long time. But I wasn’t, Emmy. I never asked for that! Never!”

She blows her nose again. Her tears are real, like when we were little girls and Stevie told her she looked like a possum.

“When did this happen?”

“Right after school.” She squeezes my arm. “Sometimes? I feel so lonely without you that I think kissing a boy would take my mind off not being around you and Scooter.”

She’s blaming me for acting like a tart?

“We used to have so much fun. But my parents made me stay away from you.”

I’ll ask her about that later. Right now, I think about jelly-mixing. “What did he do to you? He didn’t, you know …”

She shakes her head and cries again. I count to three. “Then what?” I say.

“He almost did. He pulled up my dress. He, he saw my panties, Emmy, my panties! He would have done more but, but we heard Rachael yelling out for me. She didn’t know I’d gone with him behind the schoolhouse. Anyway, he clamped a hand over my mouth, told me to shut up.” She’s stopped crying, but now she’s shaking like a tornado through a house.


Excerpt from The Moonshine Thicket



Emma June remembers

I don’t feel any different after gulping Brandon’s swill. All I feel is happy to be away from him and doing something new.

Carla points to the sign.

‘Madam Zola’s Expert Fortune Teller

Past, Present, Future

Crystal ball gazing, Palm reading

Tarot Cards.’

We don’t care there’s a line waiting outside the door. We sneak to the back where no one will see us then lay on our stomachs. Carla peels up a side of the canvas so we can have a good listen to what Madam Zola’s tells her paying customers.

The first customer asks where she can find her lost dog.

The second voice is Beauty’s.

 I hadn’t thought about Mama all day.

Now, I have to poke my arm to keep from crying.


From my upcoming novel, The Moonshine Thicket.

A find after the find- Priceless!

Yesterday, while looking for something else, I found a poem I had written to celebrate my new-old parlor grand Steinway. Today, serendipitously or not, I received a FB post from a friend who remembered the party and sent me this picture! The party was 16 years ago so I’m a few years older now. 🙂


left to right: two of our friends, me in center, my hubby, and Will, our fabulous pianist for the evening. He is also the one who rented the Rolls Royce for picture taking.

I looked, but found something better



I found a treasure instead. My piano, “Three-Legged Dog”, a 1917 parlor-grand Steinway piano, helped me write this poem for her coming-out, coming home party in 2000.

We celebrated her arrival in 1920’s costume and music.

She was born in Chicago in 1917, went to New York, was renovated, and settled in my living room many decades later.

So, here she is, my Three-Legged Dog, sharing her poem.

(I would scan the original  poem but, I’m happy to say, red wine stains cover some of the words. So I’ve retyped.)


Well, I’ve seen a lot of changes 

many looks on many faces

But I’m wondering what you think of me tonight.

So I stand here in my glory

many years and many stories

And I hope to shed for you a little light.

So looking back, we’re sorting

we begin the process courting

of a kinship to discover varied pasts

And I hope that you will find me

just a little more enlightening

than the accumulation of years gone by too fast.

My insides renovated

many hands participated

in the making of this body – Parlor Grand

I’ve been sheltered, I’ve been trampled

left behind and gently sampled

But I’m balanced on these three legs where I stand.

Have you seen me at my low times

or my even just-for-show times?

Can you tell when I need company by sight?

Let me do some rearranging 

’cause the times, they keep on changing

So I’m wondering what you think of me tonight.

In front of you I’m standing

so proud of parlor granding

and though it seems you haven’t known me very long

I’ll keep us entertaining 

for the years that are remaining

’cause the bond I have with you is very strong.

So, I’ll be here ready for you

and I’ll try hard not to bore you

I’m  lucky and I thank the stars above

And I’ll be open, you will hear me

it’s my fortune if you’re near me —

CD-W, 10-24-2000

(or is this me I’m really speaking of?)