Kevin's Perfect Gift

Image from Pixabay

They agreed on a $200 spending limit. It was one of the most generous limits Julie and Kevin had imposed in their 15 year marriage. Julie was determined to spend it well. And it was time to begin shopping – today. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be done by Christmas.

“Good to see you again, Mrs. Dillard,” Joey, the Publix cashier interrupted her thoughts.

“You too Joey. Are you done with exams?”

“Yes ma’am. I got all A’s.”

“That’s great! See, I told you chemistry wouldn’t ruin your GPA.”

Joey smiled as he scanned groceries. “Thanks, Mrs. D. That’s $47.08. Do you need help getting it to your car?”

“No thanks, I got it. You have a Merry Christmas, Joey.”

As Julie walked to her car, she noticed a man sitting on a bench at the bus stop. She’d seen him there before with his rusty grocery cart. He wasn’t actually waiting for a bus. It was more likely he was seeking shelter from the cold drizzle. Julie placed her groceries in the trunk of her car, and then she walked toward him.

“Hello, sir,” Julie said shyly.

“Hi there, Miss.” He smiled a toothless smile. “You waiting on a bus? I can get out of your way…”

“Oh no, I’m fine. I just…” Julie wasn’t sure what to say. “Well, do you like burgers?”

“Yes, Miss, I sure do.”

“Well, you see, someone gave me this Milo’s hamburgers gift card. And I don’t really eat hamburgers. I thought maybe, would you be interested? I’d hate for it to go to waste.”

The man smiled more widely. “Why bless you, miss. I sure would.”

“Good,” Julie handed him the card. “I’m glad.” She watched him pull his ratty blanket tighter against a gust of wind. “Are you sure you’ll be warm enough here?”

“Oh, I’ll be fine. And now I can go get me some coffee and a hamburger.” He offered a calloused hand. “My name’s Jefferson, Miss. Jefferson Hamilton. My mama liked president names,” he smiled.

“Nice to meet you, Jefferson. I’m Julie. You have a nice day.”

The house was quiet as Julie put up her groceries. It was the first Saturday of the month, and that meant hunting. Kevin always looked forward to hunting weekends, and cold drizzle, even the promise of snow, never deterred him from holing up in a deer stand with his life long friend Stuart. Julie never understood how freezing one’s toes off looking for Bambi could be fun. Especially when she could hibernate inside with her coffee and Hallmark movies.

As Julie lounged in Kevin’s recliner under a quilt, the predictable story unfolded on the screen. He was a country boy, and she was back home taking care of family business. They’d dated and broken up in high school, but the spark was still there. They were about to kiss when a commercial interrupted to build the suspense that no one felt.

“Tonight at 6:00, the New Leash dog shelter is asking for your help. They are out of room, and they need you to adopt a dog before Christmas. Who could resist these adorable faces?”

Julie look at the array of dogs on the screen and shook her head. Kevin was dying to get a dog. Whenever one of those commercials aired, he was the one with puppy dog eyes, trying to sway Julie. Dogs were messy, though. And they shed and barked and pooped. They didn’t have time for a dog.

The phone rang, and Julie muted the television. It was Pam. Sighing, Julie also paused the movie. There was no such thing as a short conversation with Pam.

“Oh Julie, I hope I’m not interrupting anything. I was just wondering if you had heard about the Lewis family.”

“No, I haven’t. What’s going on?”

“Well, you know Suzanne has been worried about Ashley their oldest. She’s had that awful flu thing. Turns out she has leukemia. They found out yesterday.”

“Oh no,” Julie sat in a kitchen chair. “They must be devastated.”

“Oh I know they are. And you know, since David is self employed, their insurance is it the greatest. I’m going to call Pastor Tom and see if we can get a collection started.”

“That’s a great idea,” Julie smiled. Pam might be a chatterbox but she had a big heart after about 20 minutes of conversation, Julie hung up the phone and resumed the movie. Halfway through the second special, Julie fell asleep

On Monday after work, Julie decided to stop by Macy’s. She still had people to shop for, and Macy’s was convenient. She started with her little sister Karen, who was getting married in March. Karen had always bragged on Julie’s Christmas dishes, and Julie had been collecting a piece here and there ever since her sister’s engagement. Macy’s happened to have the platter on sale, so Julie bought it. As the cashier wrapped it, Julie marked through her sister’s name.

After crossing a few more names off her list, Julie meandered into the men’s department.  She had been eyeing an overcoat since the early fall. It was long, heavy, and navy blue. It would look great on Kevn, and with the holiday sales, it was under their agreed limit. She fingered the sleeve, trying to make up her mind.  Was it the right gift? She couldn’t quite decide.

Stopping by Publix’s on the way home, Julie saw Jefferson sitting on the sidewalk. He waved to her and lifted a cup of coffee bearing the Milo’s logo. She waved back. He was still wrapped in the dirty blanket. Though today was warmer, she knew he wouldn’t be very comfortable. Thank goodness he could buy coffee and warm food for a little while

Julie noticed her neighbor’s kids playing outside as she pulled into her driveway. They were tossing a ball back-and-forth, though not very well. Their Labrador retriever, Lady, intercepted the ball and streaked away from them and into Julie’s yard. When Lady saw Julie, she dropped the ball and loped over, jumping on Julie and nearly knocking her off her feet.

“No Lady! Stop!” The children ran over. Nia pulled lady back by her collar. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Dillard! She’s just glad to see you.”

“That’s OK. She certainly is loving,” Julie remarked as the lab licked her fingers.

“She likes to kiss everybody. Come on, lady! Get the ball!” Lady looked at Julie for several seconds, wagging her tail, before running back to her own yard. Julie carried her bags inside and washed her hands. 

The clock showed 1:15 a.m. when Julie woke up and tiptoed out of the bedroom. She’d been waking up at about the same time for weeks, unable to go back to sleep. Instead of tossing and turning, she made a cup of tea and picked up a book to read. The neighborhood was quiet and dark. Julie plugged in the small Christmas tree and read in silence.

After about an hour, a siren sounded in the distance, and Lady began barking. Julie knew Lady would bark until one of the Taylor’s came outside and let Lady into the house. That dog had the family trained, Julie thought, chuckling. She stifled a yawn. Maybe she could go back to sleep.

Once she was under the covers, Julie lay there listening to Lady’s barking. Sure enough, Mr. Taylor opened a door and called for lady. The barking stopped, and the door slammed closed. It was quiet again. And in the silence, an idea came to Julie. The longer she thought about it, the more excited she became. By the time she fell asleep, it was after 3:00. But she slept soundly.

The two and a half weeks leading up to Christmas were busy, as they always are. Julie worked, spent more time shopping, and opened too many Christmas cards to count. She taped each one to the door frames, as they always did. When she marked through the last item on her shopping list, Julie rewarded herself with a red velvet cupcake from Dixie’s Small Sweets. They were her favorite.

 On Saturday, December 21st, Julie loaded a few things into her car and drove toward the south side of town. She passed Publix’s, the movie theater, and their small Presbyterian Church. As she turned onto a side road and drove through a set of gates, she smiled a little.

It wasn’t particularly cold that Saturday. Julie carried a large point setter and walked across the grass to a simple marker. She dusted it off and placed the plant in the basin attached to the top. The marker was grey stone, and it read, “Kevin Andrew Taylor, loving son and husband, January 20th, 1979 to October 6th, 2019.” Wiping away a few tears, Julie spread a blanket and sat on the ground

“I know it’s a few days before Christmas, but I couldn’t wait. You know I like to open things early. I wanted you to know about this year’s gifts. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but that sweet little girl, Ashley, has leukemia. Her parents don’t have the greatest insurance, so the church took up a collection. I used the $200 for my gift to help. I thought you would like that.

“I met the nicest old man named Jefferson Hamilton. I know, what a name! He said his mother liked presidential names. He spends his days outside. That coat I’d been eyeing was on sale, so I bought it for him. It looks great. He has blue eyes like you.

“And,” Julie pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I got this. Or rather her. She’s some kind of retriever and shepherd mix, I think. I named her Holly. She’s 5 years old. She’s only chewed a few things, but she does sleep on your side of the bed now. I didn’t figure you would mind.”

Julie sat there for a while, talking to her husband about how much she missed him and about what she was learning. Finally she stood and folded the blanket. She walked back to the car, feeling a little lighter. Kevin would have been pleased. She had gotten him the perfect gifts.

This story was submitted to ‘s story prompt contest, found here:

Episode 9: Helen Cassidy Page

Listen on Spotify, Overcast, Breaker, PocketCast, Google Podcasts, and RadioPublic

Happy Friday, and welcome to Episode 9 of the words from the river podcast.  We’re back in Muscle Shoals this week, and I’m talking with author Helen Cassidy Page. Ms. Page lived in San Francisco and publishes fiction and nonfiction.  As a fiction writer, she has published mysteries, romance, paranormal mysteries, suspense, and historical fiction.

In addition to being an author, Helen Cassidy Page is also an editor, writing coach, and life coach.  When not creating or reaching, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and photography. Be sure to visit Ms. Cassidy’s site at and take a look at some of the diverse works she has to offer.  I’m reading one of her mysteries right now, and I plan to dive into the historical fiction next.  You can also read writing by Ms. Page on Remember, if you sign up at for just 5.00 a month, follow me at laurielivingstonnave, and send me a message with your username, you’ll be entered into the January 1st drawing for a 50.00 prize.  Just email me at  Next week I’ll be talking with Christina Ward about her love of poetry and her latest book.  Have a great weekend!

Episode 9 Audio, may take a few minutes to upload

This week’s music for the podcast is provided by Jack Binkerd. You can find him on Spotify and Apple Music.

Episode 8: Final Friday Fiction

This week, we’ll be reading flash fiction from two authors as well as an excerpt from a work in progress. Our first piece of fiction was written by Lisa Tomey. Lisa writes, fiction, poetry, and essays, and she has published a book of poetry, Heart Sounds, which is available on Amazon here: Heart Sounds. Lisa Tomey has been writing ever since she took to the pencil, really getting a true taste at the age of 11 when she was inspired by her 6th grade teacher to keep participating in Creative Writing. Her class participated in an anthology of poetry and shared poetry in the various forms they had been studying.

While poetry is Lisa’s favorite writing style, she has also written short stories, prose, memoirs, fiction and non-fiction. As a professional, she wrote plays for use in grade schools. She has also written many presentations and speeches for her work. Many years ago, Lisa was bitten by the puppetry bug and created puppets and wrote plays to present with her family at church and for herself to use in the local library. She is currently working on a book about creating puppet plays and including many of the plays she has written. As a college student, specializing in journalism, Lisa wrote for her college paper and illustrated her own and other’s work. As you can see, writing has infiltrated about every facet of Lisa’s life, early on. 

Our second flash fiction piece was written by Susan Brearley. Susan writes fiction poetry, essays and articles, and satire. Susan Brearley is a brilliant strategist, a published book author, writer, seasoned editor, essayist, occasional comedy writer, and an accidental poet. She is currently working on her second book, a murder mystery about an OCD detective, who’s been called a “young version of Monk.” She’s a retired systems engineer and salesperson from IBM, a serial entrepreneur, and a survivor of a stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer since 1995. She’s also working on her US Coast Guard Captain’s license, has her US Sailing keelboat certification, and is the creator and elder teacher of a new program, “VisionQuest” that mentors and teaches adults of all ages how to create the life they were born to live. She is currently based in the mid-Hudson Valley, New York. You can find her on Medium, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Our third piece is an excerpt from a crime novel work-in-progress entitled Path. It’s a manuscript I’ve been working on to put a new twist on the idea of sociopathy.

As always, you can find the work of all these authors on And remember, from now until the end of 2019, if you join Medium for just 5.00 a month and email your username to, along with giving my page, Laurie Nave Author, a follow, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a 50.00 gift card on January 1, 2020.

Enjoy the episode!

Lisa Tomey:

Susan Brearley:

Episode 7: Jonica Bradley

Welcome to Episode 7 of Words from the River! This weeks I’m talking with Jonica Bradley, a writer, artist, rancher, and bee farmer. She writes for Medium and Grit, and boy does she have some amazing stories to tell. A native of Los Angeles, she currently resides in Texas with her husband, children, and an assortment of goats ,sheep and other animals.

Listen to Episode 7 using the links below:

Be sure to follow us on Spotify, Radio Public, Overcast, Pocketcasts, and Anchor!

Words from the River: Episode 7

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Episode 6: Brianna Bennett

Brianna Bennett


Medium handle:

Brianna is currently in graduate school completing her M.A. in Publishing and M.F.A. in Creative Writing. She’ll graduate in 2020, and she’ll be working to publish first book around that time too. She’ll eventually be including excerpts from that book, but you can also find snippets on her Twitter feed.

She’s currently living and writing in Pennsylvania, USA. Her hobbies include reading, writing, listening to music, watching YouTube videos, and playing video games.

Some of her favorite authors include J.K. Rowling, Leigh Bardugo, Susan Dennard, Christopher Paolini, D.J. MacHale, Sarah J. Maas, Laurie Halse Anderson, Kiersten White, Laini Taylor, Mackenzi Lee, Marissa Meyer, and Victoria (V.E) Schwab.

As such, her favorite books are the Harry Potter series, the Grishaverse, the Inheritande Cycle, the Pendragon Adventures, Throne of Glass, Speak, Paranormalcy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, a Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, Heartless, and Monsters of Verity. Brianna mainly reads young and new adult, but she sometimes dabbles in romance and fantasy. Jane Austen is her favorite classic author by far.

While her debut novel is still a work-in-progress, you can sample some of her writing on, where she posts about mental health awareness, writing, personal development, and lots more!

Episode 6

Episode 5: J K Allen

JK Allen wrote her first story when she first learned how to write and hasn’t looked back since. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity, everyday magic, and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. She is the author of the Angelborn series. She is currently working on a new series in the works. Her reading tastes are as varied as the genres she enjoys writing, from Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling. When she’s not writing, you can find her painting, drawing, or lost in another world between the pages of a book. Or on Facebook.

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Check out J K Allen’s work on Amazon:

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Magnolia Jane on Southern Phrases

Image from Pixabay

Hey y’all. I’m Magnolia Jane Clay of the Tuscaloosa County Clay’s, Sergeant-at-Arms of the Phi Mu Alumni Association and 1998 Miss Tallapoosa County. I’m here to help all y’all with some common southern phrases. Bless your hearts, I know it can be confusing. So here’s a sweet tea. Just come on up on the porch and have a seat.

Since I already used it, I guess I‘ll start with Bless your heart. This phrase can be particularly confusing because not all blesses are created equal. For example, I heard just yesterday that Azalea’s cousin’s fiance is in ICU after his Razor fell on top of him when they were out riding after the storm we had last week. Bless his heart. That means I feel for the poor man and hope he recovers. On the other hand, I found out Jacqueline (Pronounced Jack- quell- LINE) was not elected to the board of the PTA after that awful incident with the vegan, gluten free bake sale….bless her heart. I think we all know that was a different version of “bless her heart.” As in, what was she thinking??

Another misunderstood phrase by you Yankees (who I am sure are fine people) is I’m fixing to… This does not mean anything is broken, unless it is, and you are fixing to fix it. This means that you are about to do something or go somewhere. Just like, “I’m fixing to go to the store.” Of course, the word “fix” can mean other things too. Like, “honey, would you fix me a sandwich?” My Gerald says that all the time! Most of the time, though, when we need to fix something, we don’t actually say I’m fixing to fix the furnace. That would be too much. We say, “I’m gonna fix the furnace.”

You may have heard a southerner or two say I reckon. Sounds downright Shakespearean, doesn’t it? Well, you can use this phrase to mean any number of things: I guess, I think, Suppose, even plain and simple agreement. In fact, I reckon it’s just about the most versatile phrase we have down here, except for maybe bless your heart. We can even combine them: “I reckon she’s just not too bright, bless her heart.”

The other day, the day we had that storm, I ended up having to pull up some of my favorite mums, and all the lawn furniture had to be retrieved from the back yard. By the time I finished all of that I was worn slap out. Despite its violent implications, being worn slap out has nothing to do with slapping anyone. It just means really really tired. Sometimes people like to change this one up and say plumb worn out instead. Those who went to that other school system might say wore slap out, which is terrible grammar!

Finally, there’s one you’ve probably hear anytime someone is surprised by some juicy gossip: Well, I declare! It’s not really about declaring the news. It’s about being shocked by the news. For example, we all know that Billy Tuberville’s father is a second cousin of a well known football coach. His family bleeds orange and blue. So when he announced his engagement to Suzanne Hightower, who is married to Nick Saban’s former best friend from college, I guarantee you there were more than a few “Well, I Declare!”’s heard around town.

Before I go, I need to point out that these are all real southern phrases. These are not to be confused with thing’s like “Go to the liberry” or “It don’t matter,” which are just plain bad grammar. Not all of us were raised watching Hee Haw, thank you very much!

Well, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go help my aunt Maylene set up for the Daughter of the American Revolution Annual Silent Auction and Bridge Tournament. She’s too old to climb that stepladder and hang the buntings, bless her heart.

If you liked this southern flavor, read my gossip article about the local heart-blesser!

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The Time Is Coming

Surviving the newest batch of Hallmark holiday movies

Photo from Unsplash

Winter is coming…

And with it, the sickly sweet horror that befalls us all during the months of November and December. Like the yearly dying of the trees’ leaves from inside out while the sun hides from the cold a little more each evening, the icy claw of schmaltz and sugar cookies curls around the television set, insidiously spiking the glucose levels of diabetics all over the country.

Yes…..the Hallmark Channel Movie Season is upon us.

But fear not! It is possible to survive this saccharine-filled nightmare fortnight of limerence and cheese with a a few tools and tricks. If you are prepared, you can escape from the endless recycling of plot devices and romance tropes with minimum injury to life and limb.

  1. Learn to Recognize the Signs of a Hallmark Holiday Movie. If two impossibly good looking characters take an immediate disliking to one another, beware. This holds especially true if one of them recently moved back to their unusually small and idyllic town. And if there is an antagonist bent on buying up all the Christmas shops (where, coincidentally, the word shop is spelled “shoppe”), back away from the television slowly, take the remote carefully, and press the “previous” button. it doesn’t matter if the previous channel was on WWE Wrestling Legends of the 1980s marathon. It is your only escape — use it!
  2. Learn to Recognize the Sounds of a Hallmark Holiday Movie. This will include songs with sleigh bells as an integral part of the percussion section, as well as any country/pop slow tune that talks about Broken Roads or Unanswered Prayers. Be especially wary of the tune, “Christmas Shoes,” as this music will attempt to reduce you to a sniveling ball of snot and tears while simultaneously rolling your eyes. Serious dehydration and ocular injury could result.
  3. Learn to Recognize the Smells of a Hallmark Holiday Movie. This is the most sinister of all the signs because it is often not recognized until you are trapped at the home of a friend or family member. If you smell spiced cider, hot chocolate, or cookies on a random Tuesday night “for no reason,” you have likely been led into a Hallmark Movie Night nightmare, much like the fly is led by the spider into certain tortured death. The only escape from this destruction is not to enter. if your host is wearing a shirt or apron bearing the insignia below, you have been chosen by the Hallmark cult to be their ritual sacrifice over snickerdoodles and peppermint coffee. Do. Not. Enter.

4. Learn to Recognize the Feels of a Hallmark Holiday Movie. If you are watching a movie that causes you to suddenly feel inordinately good, especially if there is snow, a small town doctor or veterinarian, and a villain attempting to ruin Christmas or tear down a quaint inn, you may be an unwitting victim. If you find yourself rooting for the “unlikely couple” as strange liquid begins to leak from your eyes, turn off the television. Immediately. Instead, scroll to your Iron Maiden Spotify playlist as an antidote. If applied early enough, you may survive.

Stay vigilant, my friends. Keep these 4 warnings in mind, and may the odds and the eggnog be every on your favor.

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Episode Four: Jack Bikerd, Songwriter

Jack Binkerd

This week I’m talking with Jack Binkerd, a musician and songwriter who lives in Nashville Tennessee. It’s a great conversation with lots of creativity and humor. Jack has released two EP’s and performs in a variety of venues. He’s an accomplished vocalist and guitarist who writes innovative music. Click below to enjoy the interview.

Click below to hear Jack’s music on Spotify

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