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My daughters and me (several years ago)

Does this mean we are vain and shallow? Maybe, but it also means we’re realistic.

By Jacque White Kochak

I’m looking at a snapshot of me with my three adult daughters, and I’m laughing. We’re all dressed up. We are primping for a party in Palm Springs, California, and I am dressed in uncharacteristic finery — elegant black pants and tank top with a spiffy hand-me-down jacket from my sister, a fashionista before the term was popular.

The jacket is also black and see-through, with cut-out leather leaves sewed on to make the design. I had to shed the outfit as the evening wore on, because Palm Springs is located in the desert, and even in the evening the temperature soars to 90 degrees in the shade. My girls are dressed more casually, confident that they are slim and gorgeous. …


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Artwork by Natalya Kochak

I am separated from Paula Matabane by a mere five generations. We both know the sad history that made us distant cousins.

By Jacque White Kochak

I do my best thinking about people when I’m sitting in a choir stall at St. Michael’s Catholic Church on a Sunday morning, gazing out at hundreds of mostly white faces. I’m euphoric as my choir mates and I sing, but then my mind wanders. I know I should be minding Father Bill’s pithy homily, but the temptation to ruminate about people and their foibles, with such a wealth of examples laid out before me, is irresistible.

I watch a trim, handsome widower as he links arms with a young woman who once attended Mass with her former husband and their young son, and I wonder how the transition came about. I look for my friends. I wonder why that skinny teenager is dressed as though she is going to the beach. And often, the thought that wafts through my cluttered mind is that I’m more closely related to Paula Whatley Matabane, a “Black” woman, than I am to any of these parishioners. …


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Artwork by Natalya Kochak

In my memory, Anna Mae is sitting very straight, her beautiful aged face peaceful. We are not prepared for the words she calmly enunciates, dropping them like rocks into a still pool.

By Jacque White Kochak

Sometimes secrets drift like fog from the past, swirling and confusing and erasing edges, making it impossible to see details. Sometimes someone else’s secrets become our own, leaving a heavy imprint and forever marking us, like a brand on a heifer’s tough hide. The past is never past for someone like me, who sees my family stretching backward into time like a living gossamer web of beings who touch me with their cold fingers, imploring me to tell their stories.

Today, my grandmother’s sister, my Aunt Anna Mae, is sitting in a straight-back chair, with her female kin gathered around as if in homage. My mother, my sister and I have made the long drive from Kansas to San Antonio to visit her. My mother’s cousin, Anna Mae’s daughter Carolyn, has made the even longer trip from Seattle with her daughters, so my mother believed it imperative to join her and show off her own female offspring. …


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Gillis and Gerry Morgan

He was in the wrong place at the wrong time or the right place at the right time, depending on your point of view

By Jacque White Kochak

One of the last times I saw my friends Gerry and Gillis Morgan, Gerry told me about her husband’s nightmares. He tossed and turned, crying out, “No! No! No!”

Gerry said she thought Gillis suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of experiences during his days as a reporter for the Birmingham News in his home state of Alabama. Gillis covered the civil rights era and the period leading up to and following the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march. People had been telling her Gillis was one of the unsung heroes of that time, Gerry told me.

When I moved to Alabama some 20 years ago, I expected to find white-robed Ku Klux Klan members lounging on street corners. Instead, I met a lot of warm, generous people who defied the stereotypes that have marred the state’s reputation since the tumultuous 1960s. I needed someone to explain this paradox to me. …


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Turkey is a Thanksgiving favorite everywhere.

In the pre-Civil-War South, our favorite feast was viewed as a Yankee holiday and an abolitionist holiday

Candied sweet potatoes, cornbread dressing and pecan and sweet potato pie are Thanksgiving staples for many people in the South. That hasn’t always been the case, because Thanksgiving almost didn’t happen in the South.

When the holiday was finally accepted, though, the traditional dinner was almost indistinguishable from a feast in Boston or New York — and cranberries don’t even grow south of New Jersey.

In the 1700s and early- to mid-1800s, Thanksgiving was viewed as a Yankee holiday because of the holiday’s origin in New England and its trappings and traditions, such as turkey, cranberries and Pilgrims. There was no fixed date, with governors of individual states establishing the holiday every year by proclamation. …


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Tennessee Gov. Albert H. Roberts (1868–1946) certifying the state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. Memphis suffragist Charl Williams stands watching. Photo credit: Nashville Tennessean (in the Tennessee State Library and Archives).

The struggle to win the right to vote for women was far more dramatic than most people realize, and it turns out that my grandmother’s uncle played a key role.

The state of American politics these days has got me ruminating about an uncle who died six years before I was born — a minor character in the drama of history, a forgotten footnote to a very important chapter. He’s also, in a way, my hero—and a testament to the consequences of personal and political courage.

Albert Houston Roberts was first a schoolteacher, then an attorney and circuit judge, and then governor of Tennessee. He held office a hundred years ago, in 1920 — just in time to help change history. The year before, Congress had passed the 19th Amendment, 39 straightforward words that inflamed passions nationwide. …


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Surveillance video showing Ibraheem Yazeed (Source: Auburn Police Department)

Abduction of UFC fighter’s stepdaughter ends in tragedy

Auburn is one of the fastest-growing small cities in Alabama, a thriving college town nicknamed “the loveliest village on the plains” after a poem called The Deserted Village by Oliver Goldsmith. The poem, penned in 1770, evokes “Sweet Auburn,” a hamlet in 18th-century Ireland.

The town is a little more than 50 miles down I-85 from Montgomery, Alabama’s capital city. Montgomery was the first capital of the Confederacy, the city where Rosa Parks claimed a forbidden seat on a city bus and helped change history, and the site of a great deal of turbulent civil-rights history.

In other ways, Auburn is a million miles away from the Alabama capital. While Montgomery became synonymous with malignant racism during the troubled 1960s, Auburn was integrating schools, restaurants, public restrooms, and drinking fountains in a fairly uneventful way. The town prides itself on a forward-looking image. …


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Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

My head said I couldn’t stay; my heart said I was a monster

A ghost has haunted my dreams for more than 30 years. He is evanescent and ephemeral, in the way of dream figures. Unlike most ghosts, however, today he exists somewhere, most likely balding, with a pot belly.

Long ago, I knew him well. His name was Tim — still is, I guess. He was a frat boy with a houseful of Beta brothers all bound for law and medical school. His daddy was a doctor, and the golden boy was on the same track. He had a loving family, with two sisters, a brother and a stepmother. …


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Photo credit: Antonio Rivera, iStock

As a busy mother who wrote on the side, I was pretty proud of myself—until my high-achieving sister came to visit.

The joke in my family is that I always wanted a white picket fence. Translated, that means I wanted a life of ordered domesticity, with a well-kept home and well-behaved children. I was completely out of step with the aspirations laid on me by others. I was smart. I was supposed to do something. You know, ride the crest of the wave of second-wave feminism and make my Daddy proud.

Instead, I popped out five babies in seven years and settled down in a tidy Cape Cod in New York City’s northern suburbs. I was fascinated by my children, and a friend told me I was the only woman she knew who seemed actually to be fulfilled by motherhood. I kept writing, though, so I was pretty proud of myself. As contributing editor for a national trade magazine, I interviewed company execs while nursing a newborn, my older children playing safely with a teenaged babysitter up the street. I got up at 5 a.m., …


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Photo credit: iStock Photo

My father said he was born with dust in his blood, and he loved western Kansas almost as much as he loved his children.

Children really never know their parents. They are like books with pages torn out, and the pages contain crucial information that helps the story make sense. Daddy was like that. I know he was the wild child, the boy who had trouble learning to read and fidgeted in class and couldn’t fathom the intricacies of math when he got a little older. He was an annoyance and later a disappointment to his big brother Joe Pat, and I expect my prim and proper grandmother had no idea how to handle him, especially after his father died.

What I do know about my father is that he loved western Kansas almost as much as he loved his children. He said he was born with dust in his blood, and he wanted to build a big house on a big spread of land where his children could live with their families. Instead we all moved away after college, because there really aren’t many jobs on the High Plains if you’re not a wheat farmer or a cattle rancher. …

About

Jacque White Kochak

I have been writing for years but more recently transitioned to writing grants. I have published extensively in the past and am just getting up to speed again.

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