The Effie Series, Winnie’s Word, Part III

By Karen Brode

Church people had brought so many casseroles. Winnie took them from the refrigerator and put them out on her kitchen cabinet. Aunt Emma sat on one of Winnie’s kitchen chairs leaning forward on her walker, never taking her eyes off Winnie. Winnie had already thought about knocking her out of the chair, but then she decided no, she would slap her.

Then, she caught herself, closed her eyes and said a quick prayer, “God, help me not to hurt anyone.”

Travis walked through the kitchen. As he walked past Winnie, he squeezed her shoulder, and that’s all it took. The tears came to her eyes so quickly, but she held them back. Poor Travis had witnessed enough out of control emotion for one trip. She had already decided that he might never return for another visit. How could she blame him if he didn’t? Travis went to the bathroom off the kitchen, and Aunt Emma continued to watch Winnie’s movements as if she were an exotic animal who might do something really interesting soon.

Winnie stuck a macaroni casserole into the oven and wondered what she would serve with it. She wasn’t hungry, might never be hungry again. Pete had gone to bed with a sore throat and laryngitis. Winnie could only hope that his voice would never come back. If he wasn’t going to die, then that would be the next best thing.

“What is wrong with me?” she wondered. She took the casserole out of the oven and ran to the toaster oven to get the rolls just as the bottoms turned black.

Aunt Emma had started from the kitchen into the dining room on her walker. It would take awhile. She pushed the walker in front of her then took baby steps to catch up to it. She stooda few minutes to catch her breath, then do it all again. Travis and Jane stood on either side in case Aunt Emma needed help on this perilous journey from Winnie’s kitchen to the dining room.

“I’ll have to get home as soon as supper’s over,” Emma said. “Those cats are probably wondering what has happened to me.”

Travis’ face remained impassive, but Jane pointed out that cats had a way of taking care of themselves.

“Oh, but these babies are spoiled!”Aunt Emma reminded her. “They don’t know how to take care of themselves. I know they are waiting for their momma to come home! And their daddy won’t be home anymore…..” At this, she dissolved into tears and Travis and Jane patted her shoulders.

“Let’s get on over here to the table so you can eat, Aunt Emma,” said Travis. “Winnie has some lovely dishes on the table!” Emma plopped down in the chair closest to her, and Travis and Jane helped her get arranged.

Pete lay in the bed staring at the ceiling. He kept a small bottle of whiskey in the enclosed bookcase that was the headboard. He kept it for times when he lost his voice. It was the only thing that helped. He had taken two good swigs of it already, and was considering a third.

Winnie didn’t care if he had it, but she didn’t want anyone to know about it, and she asked him to go to Bonham to buy it so he wouldn’t run into anyone they knew. Winnie, and her rules!

She wasn’t so funny to him right now. He thought of what she might do if he wandered into the dining room wearing his pajamas pretending to be drunk, and he would have whiskey breath to prove it! That might just finish Winnie off. A smile came over his face as he considered the shock and embarrassment he could cause her!

It wasn’t the first time Winnie had been mad at him, but this time seemed more permanent. He halfway expected her not to even come to sleep in their bed with him, but where else would she sleep? Travis and Jane were in the North room, and Kathy and Karen were on the folded out couch. He didn’t think Winnie hated him enough to sleep on the screened in back porch, after all, it was supposed to freeze overnight.

He wouldn’t put anything past Winnie if she was mad enough. No one in her family knew how she could be at times. She went to great lengths to preserve this image of Christian womanhood. And she was a good woman, he knew that, but she could also be a child sometimes. He would never forget the day she put him out of the car on the road to Denison. He kept thinking that she would come back for him, but she didn’t.

He thought that maybe he should go to the back porch, but that would be like admitting he was wrong! He wasn’t going to give in to her petulance! He put his hands behind his head on the pillow as he lay in his bed, and looked around the bedroom. There was the picture of Winnie’s mother, Effie, looking like the face of death itself. On the other wall, a picture of Travis in his Navy uniform. She may have thought that he didn’t notice that his picture was not on the wall, but he took note of it. He knew Winnie better than anyone.

Everytime Travis came to visit, Winnie rolled the red carpet out and made such a to-do over all of them. She had never been nearly as excited about him. But he could stand that. He could stand all of it: the gossip that their marriage had grown cold, the withering looks Winnie gave him when he preached one minute past 11:45 on Sunday mornings, even knowing that she kept a picture of Roy Gene Blakey carefully hidden in her Bible. It marked Deuteronomy Chapter 4. Pete had found it the first year they were married. On the back, in a slanted script, Gene had written, “Always And Forever, Your Gene.”

Winnie’s father, John Hawk, had moved out onto the screened-in back porch and slept in the old iron bedstead after Pete and Winnie got married. It was as far away as he could get and still be in the house. Pete knew that Effie had not liked him, but he hoped he and John Hawk could get past their differences. They both loved Winnie dearly. Pete knew that he did not bring a young bridegroom’s passion to the marital bed, but he brought his devotion and his companionship. He always thought of Winnie first, and he never told her he had found the picture of Gene.

John Hawk had challenged him on so many occasions in church when Pete preached the Sunday sermon. Winnie sometimes thought that people came to the Ambrose Church of Christ just to see what John Hawk and Pete Fitzhugh would argue about that Sunday morning. It was a sad state of affairs. But Pete wasn’t going to back down just to get along with Winnie’s father. Satan came in many forms and had to be fought with truth and righteousness. Pete quoted the Bible until John Hawk sat down in frustration. John would look around at the congregation and scratch his head, and Pete would finish with a prayer that Christian brothers could get along.

Pete preached the truth as he read it. He did not compromise with the world as so many preachers nowadays did. He wasn’t out to win any popularity contests. He didn’t care if people got mad at him because what he read in the Bible was The Gospel. He couldn’t have told people at the funeral today that Charlie Taylor had entered into the gates of heaven, and the Lord had welcomed him and said, “Well done, good and faithful servant” Did Winnie want him to lie and make stories up? She was an ignorant woman if she wanted him to do that, and he would tell her that if he ever got his voice back.

He could hear them all in the dining room having a grand old time. He didn’t even want to know what they were saying. He turned over on his good ear so he couldn’t hear any of it. Ice was already forming on the bushes and trees outside the window, and the early winter evening light created a beautiful scene in his front yard.

He snuggled deeper into the warm blankets and thought how proud the Lord must be that there was still one man on earth who would preach the truth.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

The Effie Series: Winnie’s Word, Part II

By Karen Brode

The day had crept by so slowly. It was almost time to leave for Charlie’s funeral. Winnie could not remember being so nervous, and she had been plenty nervous in her life. Pete was in the bedroom rereading the scriptures he would use in the funeral service. It was a wonder that her nails were still in such good condition. Winnie was a woman who took great pride in good nails. She often held Karen’s hands in hers and surveyed the bitten off nubs of nails and sighed in resignation.

Travis and his family were in the living room. She couldn’t help it that Uncle Charlie had died right after they got here for Christmas. She knew they were disappointed that they had to attend yet another funeral here in North Texas. And this wasn’t one they would have attended if they hadn’t already been here. She kept feeling as if she should apologize to someone, but to whom?

Karen was sitting stiffly in the living room in her Sunday dress. Winnie had debated about whether Karen should go to the funeral. Karen was so nervous and had been through her own father’s funeral just a few years back. Winnie stared at Karen and wondered who she could get to stay with her if she didn’t go to the funeral. Maybe it was better if Karen went with them. Winnie didn’t know! Why did everyone look to her to have all the answers?

Travis was leaning his head back against the wall in the living room – so much like their daddy, Winnie thought as she looked at him. He had come home and it was Christmas and she had envisioned a much different time together with Travis. Now the Christmas tree with it’s twinkly lights looked garish in her front room window. She had pictured Travis and her going for a leisurely walk if the weather permitted. Or maybe he and Jane and Kathy would like to go to the new mall. And, of course, she would take him to the catfish restaurant she had found at the lake. But now, all these outings were secondary to Aunt Emma’s needs.

“It’s a little after two, are you ready?” Pete asked as he looked at his watch.

Winnie got up and got her purse. Travis announced that he and his family would ride separately in their car. Winnie’s heart fell a little because she had hoped they would all ride together, but it would have been crowded. Winnie could tell that Karen was already tired, and Winnie wished they were doing something fun for the girls to enjoy, but this wasn’t her fault. She kept reminding herself of this fact.

They pulled up at the cemetery, Aunt Emma was still sitting in the funeral car which had gone to pick her up. Her walker was sitting by the open car door. Winnie wondered how the funeral men had gotten her down the front steps of her house. Maybe they had carried her. At least, she had not brought any of the cats with her to the cemetery. Winnie had thought that she might, and really, there was a limit to what Winnie could stand. She might just run screaming down the road and let all of them find ways to go on without her.

Winnie walked over to the funeral car and stuck her head in.“Emma, are you okay?”she asked in a motherly voice.

Emma had been staring out at the cemetery. She turned to Winnie and tears ran down her face. “Oh Winnie! I don’t know if I can get through this! It’s too much!” Then Emma cried in earnest, heaving great sobs as Winnie held and soothed her.

Winnie helped Emma get out of the car. She stood close by and held Emma’s arm as she pushed her walker away and caught up with it. Winnie felt conspicuous. She felt everyone’s eyes on them. Aunt Emma had to stop and catch her breath. Winnie stopped and held onto her. Pete followed behind with his head down.

Winnie sat next to Emma on the front row of folding chairs spread out under the makeshift tent. Today, the tent wasn’t much help because it was about 35 degrees and windy. Winnie cringed when Emma sort of fell onto the chair. It wasn’t a real sturdy chair, and Aunt Emma had put on weight.

Winnie glanced around to see that Travis and his family were on the next row. Karen came to sit next to Winnie and Aunt Emma on the front row of chairs. Karen leaned over onto Winnie to try to comfort her, and to keep warm.

“Ah, let’s begin this service so we can get in out of the cold,” said Pete after he cleared his throat. Aunt Emma moaned and keened as Winnie grabbed her and held her tight. The casket sat in front of them. There was no way not to look at it. It was covered with flowers and the hole was already dug and Uncle Charlie would be lowered into the ground as soon as the last prayer was said. In fact, the grave diggers were standing over in the corner of the cemetery waiting.

Winnie’s feet were so cold. It was beginning to mist or sleet; it was hard to tell which. She wished Pete would hurry up. Winnie glanced down and saw that Emma had no hose on. Another pang of guilt. She should have helped Emma get dressed! She looked at Emma’s dress to see if it was right side out. Once, she had gone to visit Emma and her dress had been on inside out.

Winnie felt that she was single-handedly holding the world together and she was getting very tired. She wanted to be free! She wanted to go home! She wanted to be alone with her brother and his family. She wanted to soak them up and spend hours with them! She wanted away from Aunt Emma and Pete. Why had she been denied this time with her brother and his family? It made her mad. She didn’t ask a lot out of life, and yet these things happened to her all the time.

She thought ahead. She knew tomorrow night would be colored by the funeral. It would be Christmas Eve and they would open presents, but there would be a pall over it all.

Pete started reading from the Bible. He could go on forever, thought Winnie, as she watched him in disgust. He was reading about judgment day.

”Depart from me, ye who are wicked, and go to eternal damnation where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

Winnie listened in horror as he closed his Bible and continued.

“Now, I don’t mean to upset anyone, but I just think we should be realistic” intoned Pete as the afternoon grew darker and colder. We all know that Charlie was a good man, a kind man, an honest man, but he didn’t go to church a day in his life.  All his life, he watched other people go to church and worship God and he chose to stay home or out in his fields. He took care of his cows as if they would always be his. He worked his land as if it would always be his. He made no provisions beyond this temporary place on earth. He didn’t prepare for his real future.”

Pete sighed and looked across the cemetery. Winnie was seething and she was horribly cold. Why did she have to sit here in this cold awful place?

Pete continued, “There are only two destinations in the afterlife, and I believe that we are all certain where Charlie is.”

Winnie stared at Pete in horror.

“OH SHIT!” Winnie screamed from the front row.

Then, she became very quiet. She slowly turned around to look at Travis. It seemed that he and his family had scooted their chairs several inches farther back, away from her.

She didn’t blame them. She was beyond shame. She tried to think of who else was back there as she hung her head.

At least, Aunt Emma was not cryin g anymore. The drama that had taken place had captured her attention, and taken her mind off her own sorrow.

Winnie kept her head down. It was all she could think of to do. Pete had crossed a line. Why did he have to do this now when she just wanted to have a nice holiday with her brother and his family? Why was she denied even the slightest happiness in life?  She knew that Pete would be sullen and difficult the rest of the holiday. Why couldn’t he just keel over right now and die?  It would make her life so much easier.  She stared at Pete and willed him to die, but he didn’t.

The funeral home workers gathered their supplies and helped Emma up.  Winnie would have to get up and go on with her life. She wished she could disappear, but she had to go on with her life and take care of Aunt Emma.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

The Effie Series: Winnie’s Word, Part I

By Karen Brode

Winnie turned over on her left side to try to get comfortable in bed. She had never understood how anyone could sleep in brush rollers, but the television commercial had shown a woman resting peacefully with them in her hair. The picks that she used to hold the rollers in place were digging into her head in several places, and she wasn’t sure she had rolled her hair right. Things never came as easily for Winnie as they seemed to for other people.

Her mind was racing. There were meals to plan, Christmas presents to buy, and now Uncle Charlie’s funeral to put together.

Winnie had known something was wrong when the phone rang that afternoon.There was something different about the ring. And then Aunt Emma was on the phone crying and, between sobs, telling her they had found Charlie out in the field.

At first Winnie had asked if he was in the hospital, and Emma broke down all over again. No, he wasn’t in the hospital – he was dead!  As Winnie listened to Emma on the phone, she turned and looked at the guests sitting quietly at her dining table.  All of their heads were slightly bowed as they anticipated the bad news that Winnie was hearing: Travis, her brother, his wife Jane, Winnie’s husband, Pete, and those two sweet darling little girls who were her nieces, Karen and Kathy.

Winnie always made sure that Karen came to her house when Kathy was visiting. Winnie felt that family ties were very important. It angered her in some primal way that this was happening; that Uncle Charlie’s death at this particular time would rip a big tear in what all she had been planning for her visitors. Couldn’t he have died after Christmas? She felt bad about herself when she looked in the mirror and saw how angry she was!

They packed up and went to Aunt Emma’s house immediately. Emma was so grieved. Her hose were torn and her dress was old and faded, and Winnie was so embarrassed – as if this was all somehow her fault. Winnie glanced at Travis to see if he was blaming her for Emma’s condition. She hoped not.

Winnie looked at the house as she imagined Travis and Jane might be seeing it. They didn’t have to come every week and she was certain that the sights and smells that assaulted them were nauseating. She knew they must be repulsed by the chair covered in cat hair. Winnie knew that they must feel as if they had stepped back into the former century. A huge potbelly stove burned in the corner of the room and cats wound their way around Emma’s legs.

Emma was crying. She picked up the orange cat and comforted it.“He’s just a baby! Poor little thing! He knows Charlie’s gone!”

Winnie looked at Travis in fear.  Winnie felt as if she was seeing Aunt Emma for the first time, and she was suddenly aware of how crazy Emma sounded, how helpless she looked. Winnie usually looked away when Emma started talking and cooing to one of the cats, and Winnie doubted that Travis had ever seen such behavior except maybe in his psychology books. Travis taught psychology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, and Winnie felt somehow guilty that he had witnessed this odd behavior in one of his own relatives.

Winnie heard the clock strike three, and she turned back to her right side. She stared at Pete sleeping peacefully through the night. What was she going to do about Aunt Emma? Aunt Emma had no one now that Charlie was gone, and Winnie had not yet bought Karen’s and Kathy’s Christmas presents. She knew she wanted to get clothes for them. She might get them matching outfits. Were they too old for that? Winnie didn’t know.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

The Effie Series: 1951

By Karen Brode

Winnie and her father, John Hawk, stood nervously outside the hospital room.  John paced a few steps one way, and then almost to the end of the hall, the other way.  He had put on clean over-alls and a freshly ironed chambray shirt.  He had gone home late last night and come back early this morning.

Winnie stayed in place outside her mother’s room, but she wanted to run away.  They had told her that the doctor would come by sometime this morning to see her mother, Effie. The young doctor who had been assigned to her Mother was probably the most arrogant person she had ever met.  His name was Doak Blassingame.  What kind of a name was Doak anyway?  She wished they could have a real doctor – a kindly older doctor who was seasoned – not this upstart who challenged her by firing questions faster than she could think.

“How long has she had heart problems?  Does she have a doctor she sees regularly?  Is she on any medication?  Has she ever had a heart attack?”  All of this without giving Winnie time to think, much less open her mouth to answer.  Then the doctor, apparently deciding she was a deaf mute, turned on his heel and entered her mother’s room.  Winnie didn’t know if she should accompany him?  He gave her no indication of what he expected of her.

Winnie stared down at her swollen feet.  She had sat in the hospital room all last night and she tried to keep her feet up, but it wasn’t the same as sleeping in a bed.  Her mother had moaned in her sleep and Winnie had waked often to check on her.

“Which one of you is Winnie?”  the doctor yelled from her mother’s room.  Winnie felt that this, too, was another insult to her.  Surely, he knew that Winnie was a woman’s name.  He was an idiot, but an idiot who scared her.

Winnie felt fear deep in her stomach as she bravely opened the door and stepped into the hospital room.  She stayed near the door, and the doctor glanced up and said, “Well, come over here so I can talk to you.  Are you Winnie?”

Winnie managed to shake her head affirmatively.  Not only was she scared by this young doctor and all of his arrogance, but she was mad at herself for being scared, mad at herself for not showing him that he could not treat her this way.  She was a teacher, she had gone to college for four years!  She wasn’t some white trash lay-about.  She was somebody, and he should know that.  She wanted to tell him that she had taught school for twenty years, and he could stop acting like she was a brain damaged child, but she couldn’t seem to form the words.

“Your mother’s potassium levels are very low.  It has caused her heart to go into a dangerous rhythm.”

Winnie stood staring at the doctor.  Then she said, “What can we do?”

The doctor looked at her again as if she were a simpleton. “You could have done something a few months ago or maybe a year ago.  There’s not too much you can do now.”

It seemed to Winnie in her math teacher’s mind that if her mother’s potassium levels were low, they could give her potassium. That was the reasonable assumption.

“Can we give her potassium?”  Winnie asked.

“It’s not that simple.”  the doctor replied as he moved his stethoscope over her mother’s chest.  He didn’t bother explaining why it wasn’t that simple, and Winnie was too intimidated to ask him.  Oh, she hated this part of herself.  She so admired people who could take charge of situations and demand answers.

“I’ll check on her again tomorrow,” said Doak Blassingame as he made notations on Effie’s chart.

Winnie cleared her throat, and asked another question.  “Can she go home?”

Doak put the chart down and stared at Winnie.  She continued to hold his gaze, and then he said, “Yes, she can go home if that is what you want.  She will have to stay in bed and take her medicine and you will have to take care of her.”

Winnie thought – so what else is new?  Winnie had been taking care of her mother since she was eleven years old.  She had been pulled into this arrangement with her mother before she was out of childhood.  She didn’t know anything else.

Sometimes Winnie would look at other people her age, and she would wonder how it was that they were able to have their own lives?  She made a wrong move somewhere along the way, and she’d had to pay for it with her life!

Her mother had been steadily going downhill for about thirty years now.  It was hard for Winnie to get all that excited about her mother’s illness because she had been ill for as long as Winnie could remember.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

The Effie Series: 1942

By Karen Brode

The train made a clackety-clack sound as it rolled on the tracks toward California. It was as far as Winnie had ever been from Ambrose, and she felt a little scared when she looked around and saw no one that she had ever seen before. She took deep breaths and tried to focus on her book, “How Green Was My Valley”.  She had seen the movie and now she was reading the book. It was usually better to do that in the reverse order. Now, instead of her imagination taking over and supplying faces and voices for the characters, she was seeing the people who starred in the movie.

She rubbed the cushioned seat and tried to relax as she watched New Mexico going by outside.  She had never seen such red earth and such desolate places. There were miles and miles of canyons and gulleys with nothing at all growing, but it was kind of pretty in a way.

One of her good friends lived in Portales, New Mexico. Actually, she was a distant relative. She and Winnie wrote to each other once a week. Every Sunday afternoon, Winnie got out her stamps, envelopes, and writing tablet to correspond with all the family members who were far away.

Her cousin’s name was Foy, Foy Outhouse. Foy also taught junior high math. Winnie could just imagine the titters and guffaws when Foy introduced herself to the class. When Winnie was being thankful, she was often thankful that her last name was not Outhouse.

She wanted to see Santa Fe, but they would go through there at 3 AM so she wouldn’t see much. She had heard all her life about the beautiful crafts and Indian artifacts. She would have loved to spend some time there, but the train didn’t stop there.

The nights on the train were the worst time.  Some people had bought berths to sleep in, but Winnie had only purchased her train seat all the way to California.  She was young, only thirty one. She could sit in a train seat for thirty hours.

The truth was that she hadn’t wanted to spend the money for a sleeping berth. She could be a tightwad. It’s how she had bought her cars.  She had saved and saved her money until she could go down to the car dealership and pay cash. And she didn’t pay the first price that was quoted to her either. She always said she would come back later then the salesman practically begged her to look at this other car, or that one. The prices got better and better.

An older woman sat across the aisle from her, a Mrs. Angela Jacobsen from Amarillo who had told Winnie that Amarillo  meant yellow in Spanish.  The woman made her own dress and wore a corsage. Winnie hoped that the corsage lasted all the way to their destination.  The two little children with the woman had fallen asleep much to Winnie’s relief. They were on their way to a funeral in Arizona. Winnie felt sorry for the woman having to travel with children.

People felt sorry for Winnie sometimes when they learned that she was not married, had no children, but Winnie didn’t feel sorry for herself.  She loved babies, but after children reached a certain age, she could stand them only in small doses. She taught in junior high when children were at their worst. Parents were so often wringing their hands in worry and misery. She was so glad that those children were not her own.

She rubbed at the window with her handkerchief. There were some bright flowers blooming not far from the tracks. She wished her momma could see them. Her eyes teared at the thought of her momma. Just fifty-two years old and so many problems. Her mother had never been what you would call healthy, at least not in Winnie’s lifetime, but it seemed that the last twenty years had been hardest on her.

She remembered the day her brother, Travis, got his draft notice. Effie screamed and told him to throw it in the trash! Burn it! Travis had looked from his mother to Winnie and walked out of the room.  It was 1942. Young men had to join the military.

Effie had gone to bed and been ill for several days. When Travis walked past her room, she seemed to cough louder and cry harder, but Travis had gone to the draft board and signed up.  He had to. He understood that. He didn’t know why his mother could not understand things.

He had joined the Navy. Winnie thought he looked very handsome in his Navy Blues, but most of all, she was proud that her brother was helping in the war effort. Churchill and Roosevelt would get this taken care of, and the world would return to normal. Winnie had faith.

The porter came down the aisle with warm milk to help people sleep. Winnie took some and tipped the porter a nickel. Nighttime on the train was hard because no one in the U.S. was allowed to have lights on after dark. When she looked out the window, she could see nothing. The train might as well have been traveling through the depths of hell, she thought as she closed her eyes. Even Ambrose had been advised to turn off their one streetlight. Winnie smiled to herself as she thought of Ambrose as a possible target for Hitler and his forces.

Just last week, she had heard a radio program about Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The reporter described entire families being loaded into military trucks and taken to camps in Germany.  Winnie shuddered and was glad she lived in the U.S.where Roosevelt would never allow anything like that to happen. She liked Franklin D. Roosevelt a lot, especially his wife Eleanor, who wasn’t pretty at all but who still had a full life and did lots of good works.  Winnie respected women like Mrs. Roosevelt. She wanted to be like her.

Franklin Roosevelt reminded her of her daddy. When he sat down to have a fireside chat with the nation, Winnie often pictured her daddy, John Hawk, instead of Franklin Roosevelt doing the talking.

Roosevelt would say, “I hate wahh, Eleanoah  hates wahh, and Fowla hates wahh….”  as if a dog could hate war! Roosevelt was very personable. Winnie felt that she knew him well.

Her mind turned to her mother again. When her daddy had taken her to the train station in Bells, her mother had sat in her chair crying.

“All of my children are gone now,”  Effie had said between sobs. Winnie had reminded her that she was only going to San Diego to see Travis, and she would be back in 10 days. It wasn’t forever.

Still, all her mother could see was her leaving. At times, Winnie thought her daddy was tired of it all, but then he would clap his hands and ask Effie to go get some ice cream with him, and she would let herself be talked out of her bad mood.  Winnie hoped that her daddy had done something like that after he took her to the train station in Bells.

Winnie heard the muffled cries of the child across the aisle. She heard Mrs. Jacobsen try to quiet him and rearrange his body in sleep. The poor mother couldn’t stretch out or relax, but the children were sleeping in the seat next to her.

When it began to get light, Winnie opened her eyes. She suddenly remembered that she was on a train headed to California to see Travis at the naval base!  It had been her mother’s idea that she go, but when Winnie decided to really go, she hadn’t wanted her to leave after all. In the end, Effie wanted Winnie to stay with her, take care of her.  Effie was childish in many ways. It was almost as if Winnie was the parent now.

Winnie got out her mirror and looked at her bloodshot eyes and sallow complexion. She would need to sleep, because in the morning she would see Travis!  She tried not to get excited. There was still such a long way to go.  It was better to hold off the excitement until she was almost there.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

The Effie Series: Repentance

By Karen Brode

Travis stood on the walkway in front of his Mother’s house. His right hand curled around the handle to the car-bed that carried his baby girl, Kathy. He would’ve rather been anywhere in the world than here.

A few weeks ago on a Sunday, Winnie had driven his mother and father to Kilgore unannounced. He had done the best he could under the circumstances. He knew he had. But now he could hear the accusation in Winnie’s voice.

“Momma went to bed when we got home, and never got up again.”

Was everything in the universe his fault? He was 28 years old, and he was doing his very best to be a good father, a good husband, a good provider, but now he hadn’t been a good enough son. Well, no one could be a good enough son to Effie. Albert didn’t even try. Albert had somehow gotten past those guilty hooks that held Winnie and Travis so securely.

Poor Winnie had gotten the worst of it. Travis hung his head when he thought of Winnie. At least he had a life away from here. At least he had been able to break free and find his own way.

Winnie came out on the front porch and walked down the steps to greet Travis. Jane was still getting things out of the car, and Travis thought, trying to postpone this as long as possible. He couldn’t blame her.

Winnie stood in front of Travis, and said, “She’s really bad off. The doctor said she may not make it much longer. She laid down when we got home from Kilgore that Sunday, and never got back up again.”

Why did Winnie have to keep saying that? An accusation that he was somehow at fault for his Mother’s condition. And hadn’t he heard that same accusation very thinly veiled all his life? Effie was never the same after she had him. As if he had done something to her as she carried him in her body.

Travis went up the steps and into his mother’s house. His dad was sitting in a rocking chair in the front room, and Travis went to him. His dad looked so old and worn. Had he looked that old when they came to Kilgore? Travis couldn’t remember. He didn’t think so.

Travis set the car-bed down at his father’s feet, and John’s eyes brightened at the sight of his new granddaughter.

“Why she’s pretty as she can be!” surveyed John as he studied her while she slept.

Travis and Winnie entered the bedroom.

“Momma? Momma?” Travis asked but there was no answer. His mother lay somewhere between life and death, somewhere between awake and asleep. Travis knelt by the bed and held her hand. “Momma, I’ve come to visit. You need to wake up so you can see the baby.”

But she didn’t wake up.

Travis went to the car-bed and tenderly picked up the baby girl in sleep and took her into his mother’s bedroom. He gently laid his daughter beside his mother in the bed. “Momma, Momma, the baby’s right here! Open your eyes and you can see her!”

The baby laid there asleep next to her grandmother for several minutes, and then the baby woke, and cried.

“I’m coming with a bottle! Just give me a minute.” Jane said from the next room.

Travis needed to think. He needed to be alone and work this out in his mind. He knew that Winnie would blame him, but Winnie’s idea of fault and blame were not necessarily his own. What had he done that was so horrible? He had not allowed his mother to come into his home and disrupt everything, and that was what she required.

Would he do things differently now? No. So why did he have this nagging guilt and worry? It was because Winnie kept glancing at him with that look. He had seen that look since he was old enough to remember. It wasn’t anger, it wasn’t sadness. It was disappointment, and he had never wanted to disappoint Winnie.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.

The Effie Series: Baby Goodbye

By Karen Brode

Effie felt that she was going to die soon.  She couldn’t explain this feeling  – it was just something she knew deep in her soul.  She didn’t know why they wouldn’t listen to her.

Effie’s daughter, Winnie, drove all over the countryside teaching school and shopping and going to meetings.  The issue on the table now was a quick trip to Kilgore to see the new baby, Effie’s first granddaughter.  It was a small favor that would take half a day, but they were arguing.

“Momma, it might be better if we waited until the baby is a little older”  Winnie said, and Effie’s husband, John, added, “Those folks are probably worn out, Effie. That baby is only two weeks old!  I know that it’s 1951 and there’s been lots of medical advances since our babies were born, but I think it’s just to soon to go for a visit.”

Effie hung her head, and delivered her coup de grace.  “I don’t know how much longer I have.”

With this pronouncement she stared down at her empty plate.  There wasn’t anything for her to live for if she couldn’t see that new baby. Couldn’t they see how important this was to her?

Winnie and her Father looked at each other with worry.  Effie’s mortality had become an oft-mentioned subject.  They both knew that Effie’s health truly was failing, but because it had been failing for so long, they didn’t pay as much attention as they might have if her illness had been more acute.  And no one – including Effie – knew exactly what was wrong with her.  There were vague pains around her heart, and her ankles swelled if she was on her feet a lot, but she was 62!  Most women that age had similar problems.

They got on the road about 8 AM  the next morning.  The early morning air had been so refreshing to all of them, and as Winnie backed the car out of the car-shed, they felt as if a great adventure awaited them.  John sat in the front passenger seat so that he could read the road map and help Winnie make all the right turns.  Effie sat in the backseat where she was less likely to get carsick.

Winnie had packed a picnic lunch and Effie’s mouth watered when she smelled the chicken Winnie had fried yesterday.  There was potato salad and homemade rolls, and a thermos of lemonade.  Effie loved Winnie’s fried chicken.  There was an air of celebration and festivity in the car.  Effie felt lighter and happier than she had in quite awhile.

So far, she had seen only one  Burma- Shave advertisement.  The signs were on the side of the road, and made a complete thought in a succession of signs placed approximately 500 feet apart.

“Don’t stick your arm” was printed on the first sign

“Out too far…..” came next

“Or it might go home”

“In another car!”

And then, the signature end sign said Burma-Shave

John  read all the signs as they drove along as if the rest of them couldn’t read for themselves.  Sometimes, John got on her nerves.  Sometimes, she wished he would shut up.  And what really made her mad was that everyone liked John so much!  There was no one in three counties who didn’t know him, like him, and want to be his friend.  He could stand and talk about nothing all day with a stranger.  She didn’t understand.

Winnie never drove faster than 45 mph.  Effie wanted to get there quickly so she would have more time with the baby.    It was all she could do not to tell Winnie to drive faster.  At this rate it would take them most of the morning to get to Kilgore.

Effie held the little pink sweater she had crocheted for the new baby girl up to admire it’s perfection one more time.  Each stitch was perfect. It was Effie’s best work, and she feared it was her last work. But at least she had rallied and crocheted this sweater. It took a lot of time and energy, but it would be worth it to see it on the new baby girl.

Effie smiled to herself at the thought of her dear son, Travis, having a daughter.  Oh, how she loved him.  He was her crowning glory.  He was the son she had dreamed of.  He was everything she had ever wanted in a child.  She had known Travis would be her last child, and she had tried to hold onto him as long as possible.  She had carried him in her arms until he started school, and she simply refused to let him play outside.  She wanted Travis to stay inside where she could watch out for him.  She wanted to protect him from all the hurt and pain of the world.

Effie had secretly been hoping her son, Travis, and his wife, Jane, might name the little girl after her.  Well, maybe not Effie because that name wasn’t really in fashion anymore, but her middle name was May.  Couldn’t they have named her Kathy May?  Travis had probably wanted to name her Kathy May, but Jane might not have wanted to.  Jane didn’t like Effie, and Effie could never understand how anyone could not like her.  She tried so hard to be a good Mother.  Effie had felt a cold distance from Jane ever since Travis introduced them.  Effie didn’t know what to do.  It seemed the harder she tried, the less Jane liked her.  And what made it all hurt so much worse was that Travis and Jane both adored John.

They drove into the town of Kilgore about 11:30 AM that brisk cool November Sunday morning.    “Let’s see”  John said as he unfolded the directions Travis had given him.  “You turn left at Main St. until you come to Maple, and then you go a few more blocks.”  Winnie navigated the turns easily, and they drove up in front of Travis and Jane’s house.

Winnie went to the door while John opened the back door of the car to help Effie out.  “John, I can probably get out by myself.”  but John stood there giving her something to hold to as she climbed out of the car.  Effie didn’t want Jane to see her needing help to get out of the car.  She wasn’t sure why.

Maybe this visit would be different.  Effie was now the grandmother of their little girl.  Surely, that would soften them and make them see that she was an important figure in their lives as well as the little girl’s life.

Effie couldn’t walk very fast, and it angered her at herself.  She saw Travis standing in the doorway in his pajamas, and she wanted to run. She wanted to throw her arms around him and tell him how much she loved him.  Then, she wanted to hold that baby and cuddle her in her arms.  Effie was so excited inside herself and so unable to make her body do what her heart wanted.

It seemed to take forever for Effie to get across the yard as John clutched her arm.  She didn’t want John to hold onto her as if she were an invalid, but if she jerked her arm away, it would set the wrong tone for the entire visit.  John was studying the flowers and bushes.  Everyone loved John, and did he crochet a sweater for the baby?  Did he beg them all to come and see the new baby?  Was he excited beyond what he could stand?  No.  He was ambling along the way he always did.

When they got to the porch, Effie scaled the steps quicker than usual partly because of her excitement, and partly because she didn’t want Jane to see how hard it was for her and how out of breath she was.    John let go of her hand, and Travis grabbed John.  Travis hung onto John and for a minute, it seemed Travis would cry.  John patted Travis on the back, and said, “Son…”

Then Effie grabbed Travis, and even though Travis returned her hug, she could feel his body stiffen and pull away.

“Hello Jane”  Effie said when she entered  the living room.  She was afraid to hug Jane because she didn’t want to hurt her.   Effie was certain that Jane must still be very sore.  “Congratulations on your new daughter! – I just can’t wait to see her.”

Jane said, “We just put the baby down to sleep.”

Effie stared at Jane silently….. Effie didn’t understand what this meant exactly.  Did it mean that she couldn’t even look at her new granddaughter?

Effie sat down in the first chair she came to which was  a rocking chair by the window.  The others went into the kitchen to eat some chicken.  Who could think about food at a time like this?  Here Effie was in the house with her new granddaughter, and she wasn’t sure what was going to happen.  She bit her fingernail as she stared out at the yard.

Jane peeked around the corner, and asked Effie if she would like some lemonade?  “No…not right now.  I’m just going to sit here and rest a bit.” answered Effie.  Effie was very much out of breath.  She couldn’t tell if it was the excitement of thinking she might see the baby or if something was wrong with her heart.  Maybe both.  She listened to all of them in the kitchen – laughing, talking, enjoying themselves.   No one cared that she wasn’t getting to see that baby.   She just didn’t understand.  If Travis loved her at all, he would have brought the baby and placed her in his Mother’s lap.  A tear rolled down her face as she fingered the little pink sweater she had worked on for so long.

She could hear Travis talking animatedly with John.  He so clearly loved John, and that was evident to everyone.  But when she tried to talk to Travis, he had very little to say.  All of it made her so sad, and the longer she sat in the rocking chair, the sadder she got.  They had obviously forgotten that she was even there.  Winnie and John had forgotten why they came to Kilgore because they were laughing so hard at Travis’s stories.  It was clear to Effie that not one of them would miss her a bit if she were to drop dead this very moment.

Effie remembered when Travis had brought Jane home to meet them.  Effie had tried so hard to impress Jane with her cooking.  She had made smothered steak and John had brought in so many garden vegetables that the table was laden with food.  And Winnie had made skillet cornbread.  They had sat at the table for almost an hour after they finished eating.  Travis was such an entertainer.   Jane hung on Travis’s every word, and Effie knew then that they would get married.

Effie wanted Jane to like her, but Jane was an educated woman, a college woman, a professional woman.  And Effie was afraid that Jane looked at her and saw a provincial, small-minded woman.  Well, she wasn’t, but she didn’t know how to show Jane that she wasn’t.  People who took the time to know her realized that she was very quick-witted.  Her children were all brilliant – that should prove something.  She wanted to tell Jane there was a difference between being educated and being smart.  Effie tried to think of things to talk about with Jane, but they really had so little in common….. mainly just Travis.

Effie thought of her recipe books, her dress patterns…. Jane wouldn’t care about these things.  Effie thought of her Mother’s china that sat in the buffet.  Maybe she would show that to Jane.  She just wasn’t sure what to do.

Everyone had disappeared and Effie cleared the table.  Jane had offered to help, but Effie shooed the kids off to go enjoy themselves.  Effie pumped water at the kitchen pump into the metal dishpan.  Then, she poured the hot water that had been sitting in a pan on the stove.  She began to do the dishes, and when she looked out the window she caught sight of John sitting on the glider with Travis.  Jane was leaning on the tree nearby.  They were all laughing.  John was smoking his pipe, and looked so content and at ease.  He didn’t have to worry about what to say.  Effie sighed as she continued to do the dishes.

Effie continued to sit in the rocking chair in Travis’s living room wondering if they would even let her see her new granddaughter.  They just didn’t understand how important this was to her.

Just then, Winnie came back into the living room with excitement in her eyes.   “Travis said we can go in and look at the baby, but be careful not to wake her because she was up most of the night.”  Effie’s eyes brightened, and she started trying to get up out of the rocker.  Winnie helped her up and they started down the hall toward the nursery.

Effie clung to the sweater as Winnie held her elbow and steered her toward the room. Effie almost ran to the crib and looked at the tiny beautiful girl lying there asleep.  Effie could not help herself.  She couldn’t have stopped herself from picking up the baby.  Her arms reached out and brought the baby to her bosom and stared down into the angelic face.  Her granddaughter.  “Why, Winnie, she’s cold!  Her little legs are just as cold as they can be!”  Effie said in a whisper.  There was only one flannel blanket in the crib with her.  “She needs more cover!”  Effie said.

Winnie glanced around nervously and said, “Maybe we should just put her back in the crib.”  Effie looked around the room and saw a knitted blanket over the chair.  Effie laid the baby back in the crib and put both blankets snugly around her.  “Poor little thing!”  Effie said as she stared down at her.  Suddenly, the baby opened her eyes and looked at Winnie and Effie.  They all stared silently at each other for a few seconds, and then the baby screamed louder than either of them would have thought such a young baby could scream.

Travis and Jane came running into the room.  “Mother, what are you doing?” asked Travis.  “She was cold, Travis….I put an extra blanket on her.”  Travis took the crying baby and handed her to Jane and asked Jane to try to quiet the baby down in their bedroom.

Effie sat at the table with the rest of them.  She ate one chicken drumstick just to be sociable, but she wasn’t hungry anymore. She hadn’t meant to wake the baby.  Couldn’t they see that she only wanted to help?  She was trying to keep their baby warm.  Surely they could appreciate that.  But instead they had taken offense.  Now Effie was ready to throw up her arms.

Soon, they had said their goodbyes and were on their way back home.  In the backseat, Effie began to cry softly.  She knew that she would probably not ever see that baby again.  And she was so beautiful.  And she was HER granddaughter.  Didn’t they understand this?  She had a right to love and hold this baby.  But this situation was like everything else in her life.  Unfair.  Effie had never felt so misunderstood, so unjustly reviled.  It seemed to her that Travis and Jane were determined to make her a villain, and Winnie and John certainly weren’t standing up for her.  No one cared what happened to her.

She laid over in the backseat and buried her face in her arm and wept.  She didn’t think Winnie and John could hear her, but if they could, that was okay, too.


Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972.  She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years.  She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon.  Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.