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Monday, November 21, 2016


When I was a kid, my mother, father, grandmother, and I would go to my aunt’s for Thanksgiving. It was such a special day! I would get to see my two cousins who lived all the way out in Tigard. We would run to their room to play while the men talked and the women pulled dinner together. The fare wasn’t sumptuous, but it was hearty and always enough with the big turkey as the centerpiece of the table. Sometimes there would be paper cutouts of gray-clothed pilgrims and sometimes a small bunch of flowers from the wintering garden. No one had heard of Martha Stewart back then.

After dinner, we kids would fill out our Christmas lists, all of our desires practical and inexpensive. (If we got too imaginative, such as asking for a pony, or too extravagant, like listing the Barbie Dream House plus Complete Wardrobe, my grandmother would frown disapprovingly. She had come through two World Wars and the Great Depression and still believed a tangerine and a handful of pecans, both somewhat exotic back in the fifties, was a worthy present.) Then the whole lot of us would make another list, a list of thanks.

A magical day spent with love, joy, and plenty, it was always hard to say goodbye, but I could take solace in knowing that next year, like clockwork, it would happen again.

Then everything changed. We stopped going to my aunt’s, and I found out that for years, my mother had just been going through the motions. To me, Thanksgiving meant play and excitement, but to her it was a little bit of a nightmare. Where I saw dress-up and celebration; she saw my dad fighting with his sister, my uncle drinking, and us kids getting rowdy and out of hand. She stuck with the tradition until we were teens, then when she deemed us old enough to deal with the harsh reality of the real world, couldn’t be done with it fast enough.

For me, it was worse than discovering there was no Santa Claus. What I’d believed to be one thing was really another. Bad enough that my perfect day was a lie; how easily I’d been deluded shook the foundation of my being.

As I grew up and over the half-century that followed, I often tried to recreate those perfect Thanksgivings. I had kids of my own, then grandkids, and every few years, I’d host the holiday dinner, trying to capture the innocence of my childhood memory. I would don a calico apron and run myself ragged making turkey and all the fixings, buying flowers to arrange in a centerpiece with candles and hand-painted gourds. (by then, Martha’s uber-styling was setting standards for home d├ęcor that no real person could ever meet). I’d slug back a few glasses of wine, shout at my husband about nothing, shudder in the corner with anxiety. I’d listen to one son fight with his wife as the other got drunk. I’d watch my granddaughter throw temper tantrums while my grandsons slouched, glued to their Nintendos. I’d read off their Christmas lists, pages of expensive toys, electronics, and designer clothes, knowing that I couldn’t afford even one of those things; knowing full well that they expected to receive them all.

These gatherings drained me, never coming near my ludicrous expectations; I was just going through the motions.

Some time back, I quit trying, quit controlling, quit judging. It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy to let go and let people be who they are, but serenity was a goal well worth attaining. I quit attempting to relive a past that, though wonderfully real to me, was illusion. I’d never understood the whole picture of my childhood fantasy, and I needed to move on and take the holiday for what it was.

What it is.

Giving thanks.

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Happy reading!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Vietnam Combat Zone on Thanksgiving

Imagine being in a combat zone far away from family and friends on Thanksgiving. Some don’t need to imagine what it is like—they have experienced it.

One such person is my husband. His Thanksgiving in Vietnam was one of his many stories I fictionalized and included in my novel, Family Secrets. Here is an excerpt from the book:

            By rights, I should have celebrated the last Thanksgiving Day of my life in Vietnam. That should have been my last time eating turkey and dressing and pumpkin pie and everything that goes with it.
            There were no football games to watch in Vietnam, and that is what I really missed about the holiday. I didn’t miss listening to Patty tying up the telephone with her friends and all her giggling and whispering and squeals that went with it. Sometimes she talked so loud that her voice drowned out a referee’s call. No, I sure did not miss that.
            I definitely did not miss having to listen to Rodney brag about all the advantages made available to him by the grandparents we did not share. I hated being told to keep my “snide remarks,” as my mother called them, to myself in order to not upset her and spoil her holiday. Her former in-laws claimed most of Rodney’s time and attention since they lived back where he was stationed. The few days she saw him around Thanksgiving, Easter and a week in the summer were sacred to her. We lesser children were not allowed to disrupt her joy by disputing his outrageous claims, or failing to praise his accomplishments, let alone ignore his bragging, or anything else that our mother might perceive to be our lack of enthusiasm over his condescending to grace us with his presence. For me to say that my half-brother and I didn’t get along would be an understatement. 

Military patches (flashes) given by servicemen to Jennie Frankel & Terrie Frankel in Vietnam 1968.
             So, in my mind, Thanksgiving as a family celebration was out. And, although I liked the turkey dinner well enough—especially the pies afterwards—without the football to watch, the holiday just was not that important to me the year I was in-country.
            That fall our company was assigned to hill duty. We took our turns holding a perimeter on a hill formation several miles to the west of the compound. We had nineteen bunkers up there, each holding about four or five guys at a time. The men in the company alternated one week on hill duty and two or three weeks off in the compound.
            Thanksgiving week was my week to be in the compound. The COs had promised a big turkey dinner with all the trimmings to everyone who would be in the compound on Thanksgiving. It created quite an excitement, especially for some of the guys who had not been in-country all that long and who were still battling homesickness. But it was also understood that those who had hill duty would get the usual C-rations. No one was going to cater a big Thanksgiving dinner out to the bunkers.
            Prescott in Squad D was scheduled for hill duty the week of Thanksgiving. He just would not shut up about how unfair it was that he was going to miss out on the big Thanksgiving feast. He repeatedly described his past Thanksgiving dinners at home in detail, like they were a religious experience, or something. He went on about how they held hands around his grandparents’ table and said a prayer, and then his grandfather carved the turkey. He was having a real tough time not being home with his family. After awhile, each time he started  one of his Thanksgiving stories, the guys shouted him down, or threw the first thing they could grab at him.
            Prescott was not the only one who found it hard to be away from home, but having to listen to Prescott whine about it made it worse for them. Even Sarge told him several times to shut up about it. But Prescott would not take the hint. The idea that he would be stuck on the hill living in a shelter cut from the side of the mountain and reinforced with sandbags, eating rations instead of turkey was more than he could stand.
            The way I looked at it, since I couldn’t enjoy what was really important to me about Thanksgiving, having the big turkey dinner was no big deal. So I finally offered to swap weeks with Prescott. Some of the guys thanked me or acted like I did a really great good deed, like I was a Boy Scout or something. I didn’t let on that I did it for selfish reasons. Sure, swapping with Prescott meant being out on perimeter guard duty that week. But, it also meant that after it was all over, I could stand down the following week and look forward to relative comfort in the compound for weeks to come. 

Home is where you dig it - Vietnam 1968
            Thanksgiving week on hill duty was uneventful. To me, it was just like any other week. I did my best to not think about missing out on the turkey dinner. I was surprised that I actually missed my family a little that Thursday. Maybe it was because I knew that Rodney was here in Nam, too, albeit stationed on an aircraft carrier offshore. I would not have been required to tip-toe around him this year if I had been home. But, I kept my thoughts to myself. No one on hill duty that Thanksgiving wanted to talk about what they were missing out on this holiday.
            When the week was over, what we were really grateful for was that it had been a boring week. When Prescott showed up to relieve me, I made light of missing the turkey dinner while Prescott could not thank me enough. I just looked forward to standing-down.
            But that didn’t last. Five days after I got back to the compound we received orders to get our rucksacks and weapons together double-time. We were heading back up to the perimeter on the medevac copters to be inserted on the hill. Considering the number of us that were ordered to go, I figured something big had happened.

Remember our warriors this Thanksgiving season. Please keep those who are in a combat zone in your thoughts and prayers. Give thanks for the veterans who have put their lives on hold and on the line to serve your nation.

Give thanks for all your many blessings, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novel, Family Secrets, was published by Fire Star Press. For more great images about this book, visit and follow the Family Secrets Pinterest board.

Please visit and follow the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Comforting Words

I got my love of reading honestly – it was a gift from my mother. My mother and books are forever intertwined in my memories; I can’t remember a time when mama didn’t have a book with her. As mama aged, her love affair with books continued. Even when it was no longer easy for she and daddy to get to the bookstore or library, mama read. She had a large collection of books and never minded revisiting the friends that she had met among their pages.

I accompanied my parents on many trips to numerous doctors, especially over the last couple of years. As we sat in the many look-alike waiting rooms, mama would fill the time telling me (and anyone else who would listen) about the storylines of her favorite books. Her descriptions were detailed and enthusiastic. It was obvious how much her books – and the characters that inhabited them – meant to her. 

Up until a few months ago, my mother read several books a week. However, as so often happens with couples who have been together many years, after my father’s death my mother’s health began to decline – both mentally and physically. It was scary to learn that mama could no longer walk, but not unexpected; her mobility had been severely limited for many years. What little mobility mama had maintained for so long was mostly a sheer act of will and without daddy, she lost that will. It was unnerving to learn that mama had almost stopped eating; daddy did the same thing a couple of months before his death. However, the one change that truly struck terror into my heart was when I learned that mama had stopped reading. Mama not reading was almost the equivalent of her not breathing. At that point, I tried to steal myself for the loss of my mother only a few short months after my father. But, she held on.

Eventually, mama started eating again. (Apparently, I gave her The Look. Had I known that was all it would take, I would have done it sooner.) Once mama began eating a little better, she also bounced back somewhat mentally as well. During one of our phone calls, she was excited to tell me that she was reading again. I breathed a big sigh of relief and lost some of the sensation of impending doom. Shortly after that call, mama was admitted to the hospital and my husband and I made a trip to see her. It was then that I learned that mama’s “reading” consisted mostly of just re-reading the same couple of pages, but it was progress.

During her hospital stay, as I sat by her side, I watched mama pick up her book, “read” for a minute or two and put it back down. This process was repeated many times and I don’t know that she ever turned a page. It was as I watched her sleep, her book open on her chest, that I realized, that it wasn’t just a book – it was a friend. A friend whose presence brought my mama comfort. She finds peace in holding a book and looking at the words it contains, even if she can no longer focus on them or understand them as well as she once did. Mama has been through many changes in the last few months, changes over which she has had no control. She lost the love of her life and then had to leave what had been her home for the last six years. Yet, through all of the changes and loss, mama’s books - her friends - are still with her and their stories haven’t changed. 

Mama and her friend.
As a writer, it can be hard not to base what I think of as my level of “success” solely on the number of reviews that my books receive. The fact is, most readers will never leave a review. Out of the hundreds of books that mama has read, I doubt that she has even reviewed one. But, what is more important? The fact that she never left a review or the fact that even now, in the twilight of her life, she holds onto her books. (My sister says that mama takes at least one book with her everywhere, even if they are just going into another room.) Why does she cling to her paperback friends? Because the stories mattered to her. And, when it comes right down to it, isn’t that the best reward that I can have – the honor of writing the stories of my heart in the hopes that someday they might touch someone else?

What stories have touched your heart?

Until next month, happy reading!

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