Mammy tying the laces on Scarlett’s corset.

Confession, I think, is good for the soul

I read Gone with the Wind the summer after fifth grade. I wanted to be like Scarlett O’Hara, but not because she was beautiful, flirtatious and rich. For me, a skinny 11-year-old, Scarlett was a symbol of endurance and a worthy role model. She was a courageous, pragmatic fighter who would not, could not, be defeated. I needed her in my life.

This isn’t a statement on Gone with the Wind. That’s been done before. This is a statement on amnesia. White amnesia, I call it.

This magnificent, sprawling novel resurrected a lost world for me. I remember dashing Rhett…

Collage by Natalya Kochak

I have come to realize that this absent man, this phantom who might never have taken form except for my tenacious curiosity, contributed a great deal to the person that I am.

When I had children, I decided at a young age, I would do everything right and they would be accountants or attorneys. They would be solid, respectable folk who did not waste their time chasing rainbows or building castles in the air. My well-nurtured children would grow up to be steady and even-tempered, unlike the people in my family — all of whom were prone to flights of ecstasy or irritability and bouts of bone-crushing despair.

Instead, I raised artists and architects. One is a financial analyst, but Michael arrived at that career along a convoluted path involving a period…

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

All of us bibliophiles owe a debt of gratitude to the robber baron who built libraries across the country.

God bless Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish industrialist and philanthropist whose generosity built more than 2,500 libraries in the U.S., Great Britain and Ireland.

Thanks to Mr. Carnegie, I was able to spend long, hot summer afternoons in the cool, domed Dodge City Public Library, located on the western Kansas prairie. My child’s body rarely traveled past the stockyard and feedlot at the edge of town, but my mind was free to explore foreign countries, spend a season with a Bedouin in the desert, or see the world through the eyes of a French madame. …

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

You might sneer at me for giving money to strangers, but guess what? I actually, really don’t care.

I am on the way to Walmart with my husband when I see her. She is tall and slim, with brown skin and long dark hair, wearing a gray mask across her delicate features. I can’t place her ethnicity, although when she speaks to me she has a slight accent. Middle Eastern is what flits through my mind.

She is standing on the grass at the far end of the parking lot, holding a hand-lettered sign that says she lost her job and can’t afford food for her daughter. …

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Blame my grandmother’s basement for making us travelers

When I stayed with my Grandmother White, I shared a double bed in the upstairs bedroom with my sister Kelly. We were both afraid to stay up there unless the two of us were there, snuggled together. The lonely bedroom was reached by a steep flight of wooden stairs lined with faded portraits of unknown family members in ornate frames, one of the sepia-toned, posed photographs being a woman reputed to smoke a pipe.

My grandmother’s house was perfect, in my mind. A wide porch swept across the front like a smile, with a wooden swing on one end. There…

Photo by Tom Strecker on Unsplash

My most enduring memory of the pandemic is and always will be that skinny, reticent, unemotional man who saved me.

My daughter needed me, so I decided to make the long trip from Alabama to Miami. Stupid, probably, in the first stage of the coronavirus pandemic. Hard to believe it was just a year ago.

I brought along yellow latex gloves, two dingy face masks retrieved from our garage, and an industrial-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. I thought I was prepared.

The long trip progressed as planned. I passed through Columbus on the Georgia-Alabama border, then angled south past the tiny town of Plains, hometown of Jimmy Carter, and past acres of pecan trees. …

Artwork by Natalya Kochak

Sometimes, journalists are like priests. We hear confessions.

I met the woman years ago. She was old beyond her years, one of the rural poor who collect in small towns all over the country. She lived in the little Alabama village of Loachapoka. The woman was destitute, seeking aid because her old trailer, the only thing she owned, had burned.

I worked for the local newspaper in a nearby college town, and she hoped I could help. She told me her story, then paused. Tentatively, she told me something else.

“You know, my husband was in the Klan,” she said. “On his deathbed, he confessed he was one…

Artwork by Natalya Kochak

Unaccompanied minors will continue to come from the Northern Triangle, like drowning people fighting to board a lifeboat.

It’s happening again. Thousands of unaccompanied minors are crossing our porous southern border, raising legitimate concerns about where to put them all. U.S. policy allows children under the age of 18 to enter the U.S. while their claims are processed, so they can’t be abandoned.

What is going on? And what can we do about it, since nobody I know actually advocates open borders?

First, an important distinction is in order. These kids arrive at the U.S. border without a parent or guardian, but they aren’t 3-year-olds being pulled sobbing from their mother’s arms. The largest number are between 15…

Photo credit: iStock

My twin brothers were famous for their fearless shenanigans, from climbing the TV antenna to playing in ant piles.

It’s been a scorching Kansas summer day, 103 degrees in the shade in the days before air conditioning. You can’t get in the car wearing shorts because the vinyl seat is too hot, and you can’t walk barefoot on asphalt or cement or you’ll be sorry. If you are out in the country, you’ll see water shimmering where the highway meets the horizon, but you know it’s a mirage.

Better to be outside than indoors, though, because in western Kansas there’s always wind, sending tumbleweeds scuttling down the side of the road. I’m not talking about a timid little breeze…

Photo by Laura Seaman on Unsplash

This is the matrix in which I was made, a harsh land of short-grass prairie and endless, sun-bleached sky

When people think of Kansas, they think of the staid Midwest, but western Kansas is on the High Plains stretching toward the Continental Divide at the summit of the Rocky Mountains. It is a harsh land of short-grass prairie and endless, sun-bleached sky that is closer to Amarillo than Kansas City. The land isn’t flat; it curves softly like a woman’s body. The colors tend toward shades of gold for the land and shades of blue for the sky, accented by an occasional field of vivid yellow sunflowers. …

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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