About Deanne Durrett

I was born and raised in Oklahoma. My husband and I raised our family in California and returned to Oklahoma after his retirement. I'm the author of 20+ nonfiction books for kids and the co-author of two memoirs plus more than a hundred newspaper and magazine articles and stories. I'm currently working on three novels I plan to publish in the near future. All the ideas for my writing come from the events that make Ordinary Days special and sometimes extraordinary.

What Did I Miss?

Robert Fulghum says, “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” and he made a really good collections of essays based this premise. I love his essays, but this book made me wonder what I missed.

When I was five years old, our town didn’t offer kindergarten. I don’t think it fit the local budget. So I learned what I needed to know at home, under my parents’ guidance. I had a sandbox, a swing set, some kittens, puppies, a little brother, and some chores.

Don’t throw sand, don’t hit, and watch your mouth came first. Then I learned that the right to ownership carries the option to share. Brownie points could be earned by sharing with little brother. I also was given the responsibility to respect authority (parents), be kind (to little brother), and tell the truth (if you do something wrong, own it). Failure to do any of these resulted in consequences I didn’t like much.

All this gave me a good foundation for what I would learn in grade school. Our school day began with the pledge to the flag and Lord’s Prayer. We learned that we lived in a free country with a lot of rights. Oh, wow! The right to do what you want… ??? Yes, as long as what is learned in kindergarten (at home) is honored – respect for authority (teachers), be kind (to classmates), and tell the truth.

We soon learned that what the teacher meant when she said, “Your freedom to swing your fist ends where the other fellow’s nose begins.” Experience soon proved that encroaching on someone else’s rights had consequences when the nose owner’s right to self-defense came into play.

Yes, I agree. Everything I needed to know I learned early. Respect authority, kindness, and honesty pretty much form the foundation for everything one needs to know to get along in society. From my experience as a child, and as a parent, the biggest responsibility for this learning and teaching experience is in the home.

 

Earth Angel Rescue – 1947

Scan-6I’ve been scanning old photos this weekend and this photo triggered a flood of memories. I’m about seven here, heading into second grade in the fall. Our yard is fenced; see the gate at the edge on the left. There is no fence separating the pasture from the driveway and there is livestock grazing in the distance. Looking to the north, there was a fence separating the pasture from the distant field. This sets the scene for my first memory of an Earth angel.

I’ve never known how it happened. Mama was very watchful and but that day something must have distracted her when it was time for the school bus to bring me home. I think she usually met me at the gate at the end of the driveway, about a quarter mile from our house. But this day, I got off the bus and she wasn’t there. So, I crawled through the barbed wire and headed home.

Way in the distance, a horse raised his head and looked toward me. He took off on a gallop as thought he’d been spooked, making a beeline for me. I knew he was danger on four hoofs. So, I hid behind a mesquite bush that was little taller than me and offered no protection. There was nothing else around and the horse was closing in.

The next thing I knew, there as a large high-school boy by my side. The horse had been diverted, and I was safe.

Here’s the rest of the story:

Daddy hired a couple of high-school boys to help him with the plowing.  As I remember, my Earth angel was Hilbert Hammock. He was plowing the cotton field across the pasture to the east of the house. He was about a quarter mile from the house, and ready to make the turn. I guess he saw me about the time he spotted that horse. Somehow, he stopped the tractor, jumped off, hurdled the barbed wire fence that kept the livestock out of the cotton field, and reached me in time.

Mama saw it all from the house. She told me how frightened she was as she watched me hide in that small bush as the horse galloped toward me. There was nothing she could do but pray. I’m sure she did. Then Hilbert jumped off the tractor and no one knew he could run so fast. But I’m sure God whispered in his ear and gave him the strength he needed as my mother watched as an Earth angel rescue her child.

As for me, I couldn’t imagine that many, many years later, I would be an author writing stories woven around people who are in the right place, at the right time, willing to help someone in trouble. They’re God’s boots on the ground and I call them Earth angels.

Happy Fourth of July!

Fourth of July

It’s the Fourth of July weekend and we don’t have any plans. During the drought, our city cancelled the fireworks display and it hasn’t been reinstated. So we won’t be seeing fireworks from our backyard again this year, but I’m thinking of the happy celebration of Independence Day when I was a kid.

A Carnival came to my hometown, and we celebrated the Fourth in the park. I rode the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round. There were the usual carnival booths with food and games, but I don’t remember much about them. The merry-go-round was my favorite back then, and I still love it. And the swimming pool was open. It was a fun time!

Besides the celebration in the park on the Fourth, Daddy always brought in a brown paper bag filled with sparklers, Roman candles, and firecrackers… and a big watermelon. I still remember Daddy lighting the Roman candles in the front yard and then running to safe place to watch the blast off. Sometimes it only spewed a few sparks on the ground and then fizzled out… After the bag was emptied, Daddy cut the big watermelon in half lengthwise. We all got a spoon and dug in, Daddy, Mamma, and me…  We ate the heart first and then went for the seedy part… I got in trouble for spitting the seeds back in the watermelon… I know… Ewww… (I was little.)

By the time I started school, the Fourth of July celebration in the park was cancelled due to polio. The epidemic scared everyone. No one knew what caused the dreaded disease. All we knew was that it was highly contagious, crippling, and sometimes fatal. Back then, parents faced each summer with fear. I remember pictures of polio patients in iron lungs, and recovering children in leg braces and crutches. It was frightening for everyone. Fear took away the summer fun. The pool was closed and the carnival was cancelled. We celebrated at home with fireworks and watermelon… and I learned a better way to deal with the seeds.

Years later, after I was married and had small children, we were among the first to stand in line to get a sugar cube laced with the polio vaccine. Thanks to Jonas Salk, the fear of polio was gone and the Fourth of July celebration in my hometown came back but I had moved away. I saw a message on Facebook about big plans for the Fourth of July celebration in the park this year…

Happy Fourth to everyone – Those of us who have memories and those who are making them.

Monday Morning Blues? Not me.

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Monday morning blues? Not me. I like Monday. But I didn’t as a child. Modern technology has changed my life and attitude.

My mother’s Monday was a day to dread way back when.

She pulled the wringer washer out and set it up with the tubs. In the early days, she pumped water from the well. It took several buckets full to fill the washer and rinse tubs. If she used hot water, she heated it in a teakettle on the stove. If Daddy’s work clothes were stained with axel grease or oil, she soaked them in gasoline while she did the rest of the wash, one sorted pile at a time, in the same wash and rinse waters.

The wringer had a hand crank on the side and she ran every item through the wringer into the first rinse tub, repositioned the wringer, and ran the rinsed items through to the second tub… and when that was done, the items that would be ironed were tossed in a dishpan of starch and wrung by hand. This was not an easy task since Daddy’s jeans and overalls needed starch… and wringing them out by hand was no easy task. His work clothes would have been the last load so she may have used the wringer for them. If not, my mom’s hands must have been much stronger than mine.

Next task, carry the basket of wet wash from the front porch to the clotheslines out back and hang each item on the line with clothespins… and hope for a sunny day so everything would dry before it rained.

A few hours later she brought the laundry in, folded the sheets, towels, washcloths and underwear. And then she prepared the rest for Tuesday’s ironing. She sprinkled each garment, rolled it, and placed it in the basket. When she was done, she had at least one bushel basket full and covered it with a couple of towels to keep it moist until the next day… Tuesday.

Monday’s unique chore was laundry but the family had to eat three meals. So she cooked, fed the family, and cleaned the kitchen between washday tasks.

Of course, things improved for her. We got electricity soon after we moved to the farm and some time after that running water in the kitchen. And then a water heater. She used the washer in the kitchen, didn’t have to pump and heat the water, and the hand crank was replaced by an electric motor… Still… I like my Mondays much better than the ones I remember from my early days. (However, I have a vivid memory of diapers freezing by the time I put the second clothespin in place) I love modern technology… it’s Monday and here I sit at my computer. We don’t have a clothesline and I’ll … well, you know… washday isn’t all that big a deal these days. If the drier buzzes and I’m doing something else, it can wait.

It’s a Magic Pot and Writer’s Friend!


I discovered the Instant Pot quite by accident. It’s a little crazy that it grabbed my attention since as far as cooking goes, I consider myself “retired.” But I do like kitchen gadgets and appliances. Once I started reading about the Instant Pot, I kept reading and the Amazon Customer Comments made me want to try it even though… a pot couldn’t be all that! Could it?

So, I ordered the product pictured above, and after I read the instructions, it took me a couple of days to work up the nerve to try it. Fear of failure at work I guess. My recent cooking history has an shameful number failures. It is a pressure cooker, and I haven’t used one for years and years. But it has safety features that make me comfortable.

It can be used as a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, for sautéing, and several other things including yogurt making! (No, I don’t plan to make yogurt, but I may toss my Crockpot out!)

After I cooked a pot roast in 35 minutes, I was liking this pot. But when I popped in a few frozen chicken tenders and some barbeque sauce with the recommended amount of water… and they were done in fifteen minutes I was liking this pot even more.

When I discovered how easy it is to clean and that I could put my meal in the pot, cook it the allotted time, and let it sit until time to eat… well, I LOVE this pot! There is more to like and more to love. But you have to see for yourself, I’m still in discovery mode. Some of the best appliances were never in my grandmother’s wildest dreams. But, a pot couldn’t be all that, could it? Yes!

And, what about the  magic? Well, anything that can draw me out of kitchen retirement must be some sort of magic – I like to eat out. But this works for me. I can put something in the pot whenever I decide to take a break from writing, lock the lid, and press the button. I can let it vent naturally and open it when we’re ready to eat. Time is not of the essence in my kitchen when the instant pot is making dinner. I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner, or where we’re going, I just go back to work. You call it what you want but I think it’s magic!

The Day I Was Born

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I’m not sure how old I was here but the thing I see is that my mother was so very thin. I know she was still in bad health. Look at her arms.

Yesterday was my 76th birthday and I thought of my mom several times throughout the day. She’s been gone almost four years and I miss her. So, on my birthday, I thought of her and tried to remember all I had been told about the day I was born.

I guess the first thing is that Mama and Daddy ran off and got married when she was sixteen and he was seventeen. My maternal grandmother was not pleased. Since Mama was a minor she had the marriage annulled. But the love they had for each other in their teen years endured, and after Mama had a year of college and Daddy had a job in Oklahoma City they remarried.

In 1940, when I was born, they lived in a small apartment in Oklahoma City. Daddy earned 35¢ an hour working for Hires Root Beer Bottling Company. So, funds were tight even by 1940 standards.

Mama told me she didn’t eat much during her pregnancy. She mentioned lettuce leaves with mayonnaise. Surely she ate something else. She has always worried about her weight, but I can’t help but wonder if it had more to do with what they could afford. Anyway, she didn’t show much, plus it was winter so she wore a coat, so no one in the apartment house knew she was pregnant.

Mama was in labor three days before I was born. I was two months early and very small. My birth weight was not recorded because they rushed me to the incubator in the nursery. I’m not sure how long I stayed in the incubator. Mama told me she was in a room with several other new mothers. When the babies were brought into the room every four hours, all the other mothers were very quiet. They thought Mama had lost her baby. And then one day, I’m not sure when, I was placed in Mama’s arms for the first time and the room was filled with chatter and laughter.

I don’t know how long I was kept in the incubator or how long we stayed in the hospital. I know my mother was very ill after my birth. Probably had to do with the strict diet. As far as I know, no one in the immediate family came to help. (My maternal grandmother still disapproved of the marriage and was not pleased about being a grandmother.) Fortunately, one of Daddy’s aunts lived nearby and she came to help. Mama told me about Aunt Maggie although I’m not sure I ever met her… But I know this, Mama loved her all the days of her life. Little things mean a lot… and big things even more!

Guess What We got!

Newborn Joy

Joy Lynn about one week old, first day home from the hospital.

Fifty-two years ago today, I sat on the side of the bed waiting, and amazed. After  twenty-three hours of labor, I wasn’t tired and I could sit on the side of the bed with no pain. But that wasn’t on my mind. The slow tick of the clock had my attention. I had to wait until 9 AM, when they opened the drapes on the nursery window, to see my newborn daughter for the first time.

We hadn’t told anyone when I went into labor a month early. We hoped it would stop, and as it progressed, we decided to wait to call family after the baby was born. We’d know if we had a boy or girl and could tell them everything was alright.

So, while I waited, I decided to call my mother and give her the news. “Hello, Mama, guess what we got.”

“Oh, I don’t know. A puppy?”

“No. A little girl.”

“Oh, Deanne!” I can still hear my mother’s surprise and excitement as though it was just a few minutes ago. She lived a couple of hours away and decided to come help us with two-year-old Tim and the baby when we came home from the hospital.

As the nine o’clock hour neared, Dan escorted me to the nursery. We were there with our noses pressed against the glass when they pulled the drapes. We spotted the name tag on the isolette positioned a few feet on the other side of the window. Durrett Baby Girl was absolutely beautiful. Tiny (4 pounds 12 ounces) and perfect. I still have that first view of her in my mind. Healthy pink coloring with tiny little eyebrows. I longed to hold her. But back then, parents were not allowed in the nursery or near the child in the isolette.

I had to wait a few days. I don’t remember how long… except it was a long time. When I held her the first time, I was alone. Visitors, including daddies, were not allowed in the room with the baby. So it was just Joy Lynn and me. She was so tiny! I wanted to remember how small she was. She didn’t open her eyes but her tiny hand gripped my finger. I made a mental note that her fingers were no bigger around than a matchstick.

We hadn’t really had time to get acquainted when a nurse came bustling in, pulled the blankets away from my baby’s feet and started thumping them, hard. I bristled. The nurse shot me a stern look, “Preemies don’t wake to eat. You’ll have to thump her feet to get her awake enough to nurse. She has to eat.” Thump! Thump!

By this time, my milk had come in. We learned that this was a big disadvantage for a tiny baby. Maybe it was payback for the foot thumping, anyway, nursing was very painful for both of us until she got the hang of it.

Joy Lynn couldn’t leave the hospital until she weighed five pounds. One evening, the doctor came in with the good news that we could go home the next morning. But the next morning, he changed his mind, “Someone weighed her with a wet diaper,” he said. And we had to stay another day.. a week in all.

I had a two-year-old at home I wanted to see. I called Timmy every day but he didn’t believe it was me. I’d say, “Hello Timmy, this is Mommy.” He answered the same every time, “No. Mommy went to get the baby.” But when we came home, he was waiting at the door, not to say hello to me. Instead, he said, “Gimme dat baby,” with his little arms reaching for her. My mom snapped the photo but I can’t find it.

This is the story of your birth, Joy Lynn, my beautiful daughter. Happy birthday across the miles!

 

Old Photos Stir Memories

Mag and Hiram Pearson

I’ve been fascinated with this old photo since the day I found it a couple of years ago. Taken long before my birth, it stirs memories of my great aunt. Of my grandmother’s six sisters, Aunt Mag was the one I saw most and knew best. She made dolls and her work was impeccable.

When I was little, she gave me a rag doll that was almost my height. The doll had blonde hair, like me, and was dressed in her Sunday best – her only dress. Aunt Mag sent the doll home with my grandmother. When Grandma rode the bus from Oklahoma City to Mt. Park that day, people wanted to buy the doll from her. It was a wonderful doll, created with well honed skills and hours of love.

A few years later, when I was in my teen years, Aunt Mag made me a china doll. This one had a cloth body with ceramic head, arms, and legs. She had a ring on her tiny finger and black high-button shoes.  Aunt Mag painted her face and sewed her beautiful clothes (including underwear) with the same skill and love as she had put in the rag doll. I kept my china doll on my bed for a long time. I may have taken her to college with me. But when I married, I packed her away and left her behind… to face a fate she didn’t deserve.

About two years after Dan and I married, my parents left the farm, moved to town, and our house was abandoned. A dam was being built and water would soon cover the land. In the move, some things were left behind and one of them was my china doll… she was long forgotten then but fondly remembered now. l remember her white dress with tiny red dots, the lace, and ribbon sash. She had black hair and her painted features gave her a sweet expression. She was beautiful. It’s sad that some relics of childhood are temporarily forgotten and remembered as treasures too late.

(I planned to blog about a snapshot in time and the interesting things revealed in the background of this photo… but I got caught in memories of my aunt and decided to share them… the snapshot will be another blog. It’s a twofer!)

The Best Part of Christmas 2015

The holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas is always chaotic for me with the cooking, making lists, shopping, decorating, wrapping, and other stuff. It all comes to a finale with Christmas dinner. Beginning about the middle of November, I look forward to the time when the last dish is back in the cabinet and I can start thinking about my next book.

But five-year-old Ella Deanne made this year special.

Ella Santa Hat

We hadn’t seen her for a year and a lot of changes take place between four and five.  She’s taller, but that’s not all. She has added about a zillion words to her vocabulary and is determined to put them on display. Talk, talk, talk. And write! I had no idea a kindergartener could write whole sentences and enjoy it so much. (I have to admit this fills my heart with joy… but there’s more!)

I gave her some books. When she climbed into the recliner with me I was more than ready to read her a story. I read the book of her choice and then she took the it from my hand. “Let me read it to you,” she said.

And I thought she would pretend to read, repeating the jest of the story I had just read.

Until she added, “In my own way.”

She snuggled against me and began adlibbing, spinning a story somewhat related to the pictures on the pages. She finished that one and was ready to start another. About half way through the third book, she stopped. “Oh wait,” she said. “Let’s start over.” And she closed the book, opened it, and began a new storyline.

We did a lot of this and I enjoyed every moment of it. If I hadn’t had to cook we would have done more. She has no idea what this means to me. When I gave her the stack of books, I wanted to share the joy of reading. I had no idea we were going to share the joy of writing and storytelling… She’s my namesake and a little bit like me. This is a good Christmas!

Favorite Christmas

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Dan, Diddle (our dog), Timmy, and me Christmas 1961.

I’m trying to decide which Christmas would be my favorite. It isn’t easy when one has 75 to choose from. However, the one that stands out today is 1961.

Dan had graduated college in June 1960 and hired on with Philco Corp as a techrep assigned to oversee the installation of weather equipment on airbases located between the Canadian border and the Gulf, bounded on the east and west by the Mississippi and the Rockies. We were in a location six weeks to three months… We had bought a mobile home, but Dan decided he didn’t want to pull it behind our car and having someone else move it from Altus, Oklahoma to San Antonio, Texas didn’t fit our budget.

So, in December of ’61 we were living in a motel in San Antonio and the small tree in the corner looked pretty bleak. It was my first Christmas away from my parents and I was homesick, feeling even worse that we didn’t have anyone to share our baby’s first Christmas.

When Dan’s cousin invited us to have Christmas with them, we loaded our car with baby stuff and Christmas presents and headed for Kingsville, Texas.

Like most first-time parents, we were expecting baby giggles and coos as his little hands grabbed each new toy. But, if you have first Christmas memories, you know how that turns out. Still this Christmas was special in an unexpected way.

Timmy was three weeks past 6 months and we were quite proud that he had learned to stand alone. Of course, we had to show off his new skill soon after we arrived in Kingsville. I held Timmy’s hands while we worked on balance. When I turned loose, he stood alone and teetered a bit. Then he flashed a smile and took three steps!

After that, we helped him open gifts thinking each one might cause his eyes to light up or generate a giggle. Nothing much grabbed his attention until the gifts were all opened, then he sat on a box, clutching the wrapping paper, and tasting the ribbon. We got the first steps… what more should be expected?

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Timmy standing alone showing off his Christmas outfit.

(The date on the photos is January ’62, but the first photo was taken Christmas Eve ’61, the second a few days later. Shooting photos back then included loading film, inserting flashbulbs, sending the film away for developing, and a long wait.)