Winter Blogfest: Fleeta Cunningham


This post is part of Long and Short’s Review Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of “Innocent Journey”..

It Just Isn’t Christmas

Christmas in the Panhandle of Texas when I was a child was about as predictable as sunrise and sunset. I’d be up at the first light of day to check out the Christmas tree for Santa’s special gift—usually a doll in a ruffled dress created by my mother. It was understood that I could take the doll back to bed with me if I waited quietly until my Christmas-beleagured parents, fueled by coffee and rolls, could deal with my headlong dash into the bright boxes beneath the tree. Mom worked in a department store and Dad carried the mail. Christmas was tough on them.

Once the presents were out of the way, the family would begin to gather, either at our house or the homes of one of my uncles, where the kids would dash to the den for games and treats and the adults would convene in the kitchen. Best part of the day was Grandmother coming from her little house to join us with her special ‘candy cake’, a concoction of orange-slice candy, nuts, raisins, dates, and a dash of something slightly alcoholic—probably peach brandy. It just wasn’t Christmas until Grandmother cut that first slice of cake.

Time passed and, as things are prone to happen, I grew up, went off to school, and married. Had a little girl of my own. Grandmother aged, gracefully and almost imperceptibly. She still made the candy cake for me for Christmas, even when she was far into her eighties. We couldn’t have Christmas without our special cake. And she’d chuckle when, from time to time, she’d say I really should learn to make that cake myself. I’d smile and say, “Maybe next year.” I was never much good in the kitchen. I could manage to wash dishes without breaking the silverware, and my family swears I raised them on three dishes—soup, enchiladas, and meatloaf, three things even I couldn’t ruin.

Then one year, there was no candy cake. Grandmother, at the advanced age of ninety-six, was gone. I’d never really believed in a world where there was no Grandmother, where her tiny, busy self wasn’t bustling about, always ready sit and visit. To pour coffee and concern in equal portions. To put her soft little hands over mine and say, “Now tell me about your day.” Certainly there couldn’t be Christmas without her presence—and her cake. But there was. Life did go on, not quite so sweetly, perhaps, but it went on. And I never had learned to make that cake.

It’s been a long time now since Grandmother crossed that last bridge. Long enough that I’m now the grandmother who comes for Christmas. I love sharing the holidays with my children and grandchildren. As the grandchildren are now adults, I suppose I’ll be sharing the festivities with great grandchildren in the near future. I think they look forward to seeing me and like the things I bring. But even now, half a century later, it somehow still isn’t quite the same. It just isn’t Christmas without Grandmother and her special candy cake.


Meg Brown vows her life and dreams won’t follow the narrow aristocratic Southern pretensions of her parents. She’ll never be a debutante nor make a dynastic marriage. Her brother escapes to the Air Force and is sent to Vietnam, while a distant college offers her freedom of another kind.

There, too young and reserved for most social activities, Meg is involved with her colorful roommates and their friends. Two men challenge her deeply held values. Ferrel, with his dancing blue eyes, exemplifies the “if it feels good, do it” philosophy of the era. Cass, a grad student of hard experience, regards everything with world-weary cynicism. One offers Meg friendship that survives the hardest test and lasts forever. The other leads her to a breaking point where everything she believes about herself comes to a shattering halt. Only one thing will keep her going—the infant conceived on the worst night of her life.

About the Author: A fifth generation Texan, Fleeta Cunningham has lived her entire life in Texas, both small towns and big cities. Drawing on her southern roots for this series, she writes about the unique character of the South in the latter third of the 20th Century. After a career as a law librarian for a major Texas law firm, writing a monthly column for a professional newsletter and other legal publications, she returned to her home in Central Texas to write full time. Fleeta has been writing in one form or another since the age of eight. When she isn’t writing, she teaches creative writing classes, makes quilts, and designs miniature gowns for her huge collection of fashion dolls. She loves to hear from readers.


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LASR Anniversary: Fleeta Cunningham

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In the summertime when all the trees and leaves are green…

In the small town where I grew up, Summer officially started with the Old Settlers Dance on the Saturday after Memorial Day. It was held on the pavilion behind the Courthouse with a small local band playing all the old time favorites. “Over the Waves Waltz”, “The Maiden’s Prayer”, and my number one choice, “Put Your Little Foot”, always drew couples to the floor. Everyone danced, grandmothers with their first-grade grandsons, brothers with sisters, middle-aged married couples, and even young marrieds holding a toddler between them. I learned to dance standing on the toes of my granddaddy’s boots and holding on to his belt. I wasn’t quite three years old, but I knew a cowboy waltz meant a wonderful whirl around the floor with the best dance partner I ever had.

Everyone had a grand time. Admission was fifty cents for the gentlemen and a dollar for a couple. Kids and single ladies were free. On the sidelines, when anyone needed refreshment, soft drinks, cotton candy, and homemade ice cream were available.
It was a lovely time to be a child. No one thought twice about bringing the children. They were safely watched by everyone in town. Young couples courting weren’t about to do something that would disgrace the family—not with every widow and spinster scrutinizing every move to be certain. The music might have been home-grown, but everyone understood the words, felt the beat, and could dance the steps.

When I write about Santa Rita, for the time I’m engrossed in the story, I’m back in that small town. I can hear the cowboy waltz, feel the excitement of a Paul Jones round, and almost taste that homemade ice cream. I try to share those moments with my readers and re-create the charm of the time and the place. Drop by Santa Rita when you have a free afternoon. We’ll pour a sweet tea, sit on the porch, and visit with the neighbors as they walk by on their way to Piggly Wiggly or Arwine’s Drug Store. Happy Summer!

perf5.000x8.000.inddAt the height of World War II, Merline fled Santa Rita. Ten years later, when her sister is killed by a car, Merline returns to close the estate, hoping to avoid inevitable questions. Memories make painful companions as she clears the tag ends of their life in Santa Rita. Most of all, she remembers her beloved Paul, lost when his bomber crashed. Paul Winfield, rescued by the Resistance in France, has searched for his lost love, never found her or anyone to equal her, and is now Santa Rita’s high school principal. Knowing Merline will probably return for her sister’s funeral, he comes knocking on the door of her childhood home, but she sends him away. Paul survived the tragedies of war; he won’t let anything stand between him and Merline again, but they are different people than they were ten years before. Will a shameful secret and their own history keep them apart?

About the Author: Fleeta Cunningham is a fifth generation Texas and has lived in small towns all over the state. She writes about life and love against that background, including the nostalgia of the fifties–its fashions, fads, music and mores. When she’s not writing, she teaches Creative Writing, quilts, keeps house for her four feline roommates, and designs vintage gowns for 16 inch fashion dolls.

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