Thursday, January 15, 2009


by Jackie Lee Miles

I spent the month of December in Florida. Most mornings I was up at daybreak watching the sun climb over the horizon. Not one sunrise was ever the same. How can this be—three-hundred and sixty-five mornings a year with never a repeat? Year after year of sunrises, thousands and thousands of days bursting forth, not one ever the same as the one birthed before it?

During morning strolls on the beach I watched as the waves pummelled the packed ground. Some waves gathered strength quickly and pounded the shoreline. Others rolled in slowly and barely kissed the sand. As the waves rolled in I saw its many personalities. Sometimes it was angry and attacked the shore with a vengeance. Other times it was timid and licked at the sand like a kitten lapping up milk.

No matter how many waves rolled in, they were unique in their formation—another amazing spectacle of nature. How many millions of waves have rolled onto the shoreline, not one a repeat of the one passing before it?

That got me thinking that no matter what the sunrise looked like, or the sunset for that matter, or what the wave formations were for any particular day, I didn’t want them to end. They all took my breath away.

Some books are like that. You want them to go on and on. The authors are gifted word-painters whose prose grabs hold of your heart and squeezes firmly, and you have to gasp to get another breath of air in place. It’s that way for me whenever I read Elizabeth Berg. I just finished True to Form, such a simple little book with a sweet message of how important it is to be true to ourselves. Berg’s words positively dance on the page. It debuted in 2002, but don’t let that stop you. I knew I was in for a treat when I read the opening pages. The protagonist, Katie is describing her aunt’s kitchen and how people exclaimed they could eat off of the floor. And she says, “Why would you want to do that? And I picture my uncle Harry, sitting there crossed-legged with his napkin tucked into his shirt, leaning over awkwardly to lift his scrambled eggs from the linoleum.”

There are so many parts in this book to savor. In one particular chapter, Katie is feeling rather distant from her father who has recently remarried. (Katie’s mother died of cancer.) Katie likes her new step-mother who’s name is Ginger. Katie says two miracles have happened. First, Ginger has just won second place in a jingle contest. Katie considers the second miracle to be the fact she may be getting a scholarship to the prestigious Bartlett School for Girls. Katie and Ginger are sitting out on the back porch. Katie leans back on her elbows and eyes the night sky. She says, “Sometimes I get this feeling of a wink coming down from the heavens to me. After a while the screen door bangs shut, and here comes my dad. He’s heard our voices. They’ve called him out. Seems like summer nights just do that to a person, make you kind of sociable. There you are, watching “Rawhide”, and the voice of your wife and your daughter curl around you like pie smells in a cartoon. All he does is sit down and light up a cigarette. But it is a lot.”

Katie has a summer babysitting job taking care of the three Wexler boys, Henry, Mark, and David. Only on this particular night Mr. Wexler forgets she is coming and Mrs. Wexler isn’t even there and the boys are at his sister’s house. Mr. Wexler answers the door in his pajamas and invites her in. Here’s the rest of the scene:

“Now I know we hired you for the summer,” Mr. Wexler says, “and I’m going to pay you what you would have earned if you’d worked for me.”

“Oh, no, that’s okay.”

Mr. Wexler holds up his hand and says, “I would feel much better if you’d let me.”

“Well, I don’t really. . .maybe I could help you clean up a little. That way I could earn it.”

He looks around like he is seeing the place for the very first time. And then he says, with a kind of dignity, “It’s all right. I’ll get to it.”

“I could just do the dishes for you.”

“Katie,” he says. “Mrs. Wexler has left me.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m afraid I’m at a bit of a loss, here.”

“Well, if you. . .I’d be glad to help you. I mean, clean up. I can help you do that. And also, I. . .”


“Well, I just want to say I think you’re a very nice man.”

“Ah.” He leans his head back and I get the terrible thought that it’s because he’s crying.

“Mr. Wexler?”

He clears his throat and quick wipes away the tears. “Yes?”

“Do you want me to wash or dry?”

He looks at me with such gratitude it’s as if I have knocked on his door and said I am from The Millionaire.

Katie’s other summer job is helping an elderly man, Mr. Randolph care for his ailing wife. On this particular morning Katie is helping this sweet lady with her morning sponge bath:

I take off her glasses and hand her the washcloth. This part she can do—she washes her face and I wash her glasses. It makes you feel so tender to see someone wash their face with such trembling hands and then hand you back the washrag, looking up at you like they’re waiting for you to grade them.

You can see what I mean when I say her words just dance on the page. She is such a talented and gifted storyteller. And of course there are sooooooo many others out there as well. I marvel at the uniqueness of each of their voices. Though some may sound familiar, they’re never, ever exactly the same. And, of course, the stories themselves bare witness to the creative powers of each of their wondrous minds. Good, golly, Molly, it keeps me ever humble.

J. L. Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River, Divorcing Dwayne, and Dear Dwayne, releasing in April of 2009. Dating Dwayne will follow. Visit the website at Write the author at


Anonymous said...

Elizaberth Berg is a favorite author of mine too.Thanks for the lovely essay.

Anonymous said...

Dear Reader,
Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed my post! I just finished by latest novel All That's True. One of my readers said, "Oh, it reminds be of Elizabeth Berg." I wept.
All best,
Jackie Lee Miles