Tag Archives: Family

Serving Up Stories


I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus for the past few months. Life has been full and busy with museum work, summer vacation for my children and a whole ménage of other things including some trips to see my family.

When I started writing this blog last year I wanted it to include stories about life and family.  The inspiration came in a few ways.   Southerners have a gift for telling stories.  My family is no different.  My ancestors have lived in the south for…well… FOREVER.  Especially Kentucky. So we know how to tell a good story.   These narratives have come in the form of letters from Civil War ancestors to recent emails from my brothers.  I have been raised on stories  told by my mother who was  a bank teller for many years and came home after work with the latest community gossip and by my father who shared  adventures and mishaps at Patsy Jane, our family coal mine.

I love to write and I love visual art, so I guess it is fitting that I have a passion to carry on this story telling  tradition.    Writing is a great thing to multi task in between work, doing laundry, driving kids to activities and after dinner.  But lately I have been putting my writing aside and resurrecting my love for clay.  With an exhibition coming up this fall, I am busy creating ceramic functional work.  Incised into these bowls, tumblers, serving dishes and containers are narratives in the form of visual poems.  Three things I love are coming together: stories, clay and food.

The inedible accoutrements that we use for meals plays a role in how we taste and perceive food.  I recently heard on NPR a report from the journal Flavour about researchers who studied  how spoons, knives and other utensils we put in our mouths can provide their own kind of “mental seasoning” for a meal.  We all set a common table whether we are rich or poor or from whatever region we call home.  We make and serve our food in pots, pans, serving dishes that can range from a lucky find at T.J. Maxx to our grandmother’s beloved Sunday china.

I can’t think of a better way to receive a story than having it be the vehicle that serves our meals.


The fairly mouse girl has a little bit of my Nanna in her. Bowl in progress!



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I have a doll.  Her name is Rosebud. 

She was given to me when I was ten years old after my Great Aunt Elizabeth passed away.    Elizabeth, known in my family as Aunt Wooba, lived in Hazard where she taught school. She was a teacher who ruled her students with an iron fist.  I know this because over the years, whenever I return home, someone occasionally tells me a story about her devilish antics directed towards children.  Wooba was born in Pineville Kentucky in 1893.   She had seven sisters and one brother, including my grandmother, Charlotte.    My grandmother’s family was comprised of eccentric musical women.  The sisters played instruments and went to college with the exception of my pianist grandmother. Wooba never married, although my father told me she was once courted by a taxi cab driver from Asheville, but other than her taxi driver suitor, she was a spinster who followed my grandmother to Hazard in the 1920’s.

As a child, I remember many times riding in the car with my mother and brothers and gazing out the window and seeing Wooba walking around town with her arms full of groceries or sometimes pushing a dilapidated shopping cart, heading up the ivy wrapped hill to her house on Sunset Street.  When my Mom saw Wooba walking, she would breath in deeply, stop and give Wooba a ride home.  My brothers and I watched Wooba with fascination as she talked about her afternoon adventures, which usually included an altercation with someone such as the check out girl at Bell’s Grocery Store.  At the end of the ride, Wooba tried to give money to my mother for the trip home.   My mom always refused. It was a choreographed interaction I observed so many times until one afternoon when we picked Wooba up in front of Jerry’s Restaurant.  It was a humid summers day, the kind of day where my bare thighs melted into the vinyl seat of my parent’s Buick. In the torment of having three children fussing in the car, the drive to Wooba’s house up the hill felt like an eternity to my exhausted mother.  So when Wooba pushed the wrinkled dollar bills into my Mother’s hand, she accepted just for the sake of getting her screaming children back  home as soon as possible.  Taking the money was never Wooba’s intention and fairly soon Wooba was on the phone calling every business in Hazard, including the insurance agnency where my mother worked, telling everyone that her nephew’s wife stole her money.

During these many rides to Wooba’s house, she talked about Rosebud.   I had heard stories about this doll but never saw Rosebud while Wooba was alive.  The doll was packed away somewhere in one of Wooba’s closets among old clothing and shoes but she talked about Rosebud and how one day she would be mine.  A few months after Wooba died, as my mother was cleaning out Wooba’s house, Rosebud was unearthed from the chaos of clutter.  She lay in a ragged rectangle cardboard box secured with a rubber band.  As my mother peeled off the rubber band and opened the box, there she was, a doll stripped down to the cloth of her body.  Tattered and slightly chipped.  Rosebud didn’t have a hair on her head.

I was a child who had watched one horror movie too many involving demonic toys, including an episode of Twilight Zone featuring a wind up doll called “Talking Tina”.  I was frighten of Rosebud but also fascinated by this naked creature.  As I reluctantly lifted Rosebud up into my arms, I saw that the doll had been lying on a bed of human hair inside the the box.  My Aunt Jeannette told me  this was Wooba’s hair, hair that once was long, chestnut and probably had grown well past her waist. A photograph of  a woman with her back turned to the camera was also in the box, a young Elizabeth with her beautiful cascading tresses.  Wooba’s hair cradled Rosebud, probably embracing the doll for decades, but tucked inside the nest of hair was something else.  I gently moved the locks away and saw hidden under the layers of hair was another doll, a small Chinese man who wore a red embroidered jacket and pants, two ponytails loosely hung off his head.

Opening the cardboard box that held Rosebud and the Chinese man was like opening a sealed tomb.   Magic, oldness, the spirits of my grandmother and her sisters were unleashed that day, a doll that opened me up to my ancestral past and memories.  I imagine those little Bell County Kentucky sisters gathering around Rosebud the day Elizabeth received the doll maybe for her birthday.

That night after we discovered her, I dreamed of Rosebud.  I dreamed of my great aunt holding her and playing with Rosebud as her long hair moved in waves.  I imagined my great aunt as a child and not just as the strange and eccentric old woman I knew.   I also think about the passage of time and the events in life that carve out our paths.

Still and possibly because I knew my Aunt Wooba so well, this doll continued to have an eerie aura, even after my mother had her restored to her original beauty with new clothing, a curly wig and a touched up face, I was afraid to have Rosebud stay in my room. Rosebud was a relic of my family’s past.

Just a few years ago my parents sold the house I grew up in and moved to a smaller home and along with so many other trinkets, Rosebud was packed away in a random box.  She is somewhere among the boxes that have never been unpacked.  So once again Rosebud is stowed away, and I can’t help but wonder where she is among the chaos of my family’s own clutter.  I want her back and I want to reunite her with the little Chinese man.

Holding onto a doll from the past feels good in my hands because I know I am touching something someone in my family before me has touched.   Family memories embodied in the form of a doll.

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My Grandmother and her sisters. Elzabeth is holding the baby

Elizabeth's  hair inside the box that held Rosebud

Elizabeth’s hair inside the box that held Rosebud

Mike’s Chariot

Mike and his beautiful wife, Donna

My cousin Mike Cox died on August 27, 2012.   Although we were very different in many ways, he and I had a connection- a blood tie that bonded us.   He always allowed his opinion to flow freely towards anyone whether they wanted to hear it or not!   He was a strong- willed man with a big heart.  The weekend of his funeral, I started writing something for him.  I couldn’t think of anything that symbolized him better then a coal truck. 


The road up to Cutshin, Kentucky is lush, windey and narrow.  A coal truck is in the middle of our funeral procession slowing the convoy of mourners down as we meander across the hills from Hazard to the Maude Dixon Family cemetery in Leslie County, a place where generations of my family are buried.  I am on my way to say my last goodbye to my cousin, Michael.

My mother says “the coal truck driver is my Uncle Jimmy Dale sending his son off to Heaven”.  My uncle Jimmy Dale drove a truck for Whitaker Coal and died many years ago, but in my heart, he is driving this colossal heap.

As a child, I learned about Elijah who steered his chariot of fire to heaven.  I imagine the coal truck is my cousin’s chariot and I dream of Mike ascending to Heaven with his father at the wheel, a fiery blaze emerging from the coal truck’s muffler as it crosses the sun on its way to Heaven.

June 1972 at the Maude Dixon Cemetery in front of my Grandfather’s grave