Ties That Bind
Copyright © 2016, Jo Huddleston
Published by Jay Books
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed without the author’s consent.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version
This book is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, living or dead, an organization or event is coincidental.
For more information about Jo Huddleston, please visit
The core of any culture is the family. It is into this core of family that a newborn first connects with the world. It’s where that baby learns about love—feels love from family members and later, sees examples of how he or she can love others.
Harmony in a family unit is the bedrock of a thriving society. Indeed, the building of character or lack of such building begins within the family.
Thank you for welcoming me and my short-short stories about family dynamics into your home. I hope you enjoy reading them and will appreciate your family even more after doing so.
The Story of a Widower
The old man lives alone now since his Ginnie passed away in her sleep six years ago. His two grown children live up north and visit only two or three times a year.
He still does his own cooking, foods he likes. He cleans house, when and where he thinks it needs to be cleaned. I come in every Friday to do his laundry. That’s the only day my husband has off from the factory and can stay home with the children.
Sometimes while I’m in his small house, I straighten things up a bit. Most times he fusses when I do, but I believe he really doesn’t mind all that much.
One thing he does mind, though. They won’t let him drive his car anymore.
I was there that day the two young deputies came to the house. Jacob knew they were coming by. The doctor’s office had called to let him know they’d contacted the sheriff. After Jacob had the small stroke a while back, the doctor told Jacob he shouldn’t drive anymore. But Jacob went right on driving to the bank to deposit his Social Security check and around to the courthouse to sit with his friends on the shaded benches.
“I believe I should be able to drive if I want to.” He looked up from his rocking chair when he’d answered the deputy.
“Mr. Whitley, please give me your driver’s license. We don’t want you driving anymore.”
Jacob softly protested. “I don’t think that’s right, you telling me I can’t drive my own car.”
“How old are you, Mr. Whitley?”
“Eighty-three.” The words added to his indictment.
“Sir, please, let me have your driver’s license.”
Outnumbered and obviously discouraged, Jacob took his thin wallet from his back pocket and slid the license from beneath its clouded window. His wrinkled hand trembled over so slightly as he surrendered the precious possession.
Still he pleaded. “I need to drive my car. You ought not to do this to me.”
Taking the license and making some notes on his clipboard, the young deputy informed Jacob that his driving privileges were now revoked, and he no longer had permission to drive his car. Although kind to Jacob, the two young deputies couldn’t understand Jacob’s high value of independence.
“It’s not right. I’d sooner lose my right arm than not be able to drive myself around.”
But the young men had left the porch, and only the breeze and I heard Jacob’s appeal.
Since that day, his step is slower and more shuffled, his daytime naps longer. His eyes look beyond me when we talk. When I come by to take him to the bank or to church on Sunday, he’s uncomfortable. But he has resigned himself to sit in my car’s passenger seat. He nurses a silent rebellion.
Today, I decided, I’ll spruce up the house a bit more, make it a little brighter for Jacob. I glanced out the window. Rooted as usual in his wooden rocking chair on the porch, Jacob moved only to swat an occasional fly with his rolled-up newspaper.
I’d just finished with his bedroom when Jacob appeared in the doorway.
“Lillian, what are you doing? Where’s all my clothes?”
“Oh, Jacob, you startled me. I thought you were outside.”
“I was. Where are all my things I had there on that chair?”
“Jacob, I wanted it to be a nice surprise for you. I’ve rearranged things so it will look a little better in here. See, I’ve set your Sunday shoes in the bottom of the closet and hung up all those clothes. I’ve even put this big picture over the bed, so you’ll enjoy it more.” I was proud of myself for being so helpful to Jacob.
“I didn’t want any of those things moved!” He’d never raised his voice to me before.
“Jacob, look how nice and roomy everything is now. I’m sure you’ll like it once you get used to it.”
“I don’t want to get used to it! Do I come to your house and move the pictures around and put your clothes where you don’t want them?”
His words yanked me from my assignment.
“Of course, I don’t!” He answered his own question. “You wouldn’t like it any more than I’m liking it, either. Why are all you people treating me like this?” His eyes glistened with tears he could barely hold back. He slumped heavily into the empty, overstuffed chair, his dignity stripped away.
His frustration found its voice. “First, my Ginnie goes, and it’s never going to be the same. Then, the doctor says I’m liable to have a big stroke anytime and tells me to quit my cigars. Next, the police come and take away my driver’s license. And now, you. I didn’t think you’d turn on me too. I don’t have any living left.”
What had I done? He looked up at me as if he were the child and I the scolding parent.
Without a word, I went to the closet. I removed the several shirts and pants I’d just hung up and flung them carelessly over the chair, some falling across Jacob’s lap. He watched quietly.
Finally, I picked up his Sunday shoes from the closet floor and tossed them—first one and then the other—toward the middle of the room.
I smiled at Jacob, understanding that the scattered clothes helped him to regain a measure of his treasured independence. The tight corners of his mouth slipped slightly upward, and his chin raised noticeably. The Sunday shoes would hold their place in the middle of the floor, right where Jacob wanted them.
“Sunday Shoes” by Jo Stone Huddleston was originally published in The Lookout magazine, Standard Publishing.
A Father-Son Story
My son and his teammates raced for the pitching mound at the last “Strike!” call. The ten-year-olds mobbed their winning pitcher, hands raised in high fives. The ball field emptied. Jimmy’s team moved toward the dugout like a whirlwind crossing a dusty vacant lot.
Jimmy’s team couldn’t win the city championship, but tonight they had played a big part in its outcome. Their teamwork deserved a special treat. Everybody met later at a local hamburger place where the Friday night crowd approved their celebration.
When the excited boys and girls began eating, the place grew calmer. The rush at the counter was over. The workers rested.
Then the dirty man walked into the restaurant. All heads twisted his way like they do at church when someone comes in late. He shuffled to the counter, head bent, eyes looking at the floor.
His wrinkled clothes hung loosely over his thin body. Shaggy gray hair escaped from beneath his baseball cap and lay matted against his frayed collar.
He approached the girl at the cash register. She leaned forward when he spoke and then slowly shook her head. The man turned away but instead of going out the door, he paused. Changing direction, he detoured through the eating area.
Jimmy knew he shouldn’t stare, but I noticed my son couldn’t help himself. This man wasn’t like other adults in his life. My son inched across his side of the booth, away from the aisle, as the man walked nearer.
The man spoke a few words at a table, then waited. People at the table shook their heads. They continued eating, ignoring the pitiful figure standing before them.
He repeated the quiet scene at a second table. The third table where the man stopped was near enough so we heard what he said.
“Do you please have some money I can have for food? I haven’t ate all day.”
Before the man could be turned down a third time, the kitchen doors flung open as the manager stormed out.
“Hey, you! What’re you doing? Leave those people alone.”
As the manager hurried the dirty man toward the door, they passed our table.
“Don’t you come back in here bothering my customers. You don’t have any money, you don’t eat here,” said the manager.
“But I’m hungry.”
Then the old man looked straight at us as the manager pushed him past our table. I saw the pleading pain in the man’s eyes. Jimmy saw it too. Confused, Jimmy looked across the table at me.
Seeing my son’s confusion, I groped for the proper words. “Don’t worry about it, son,” I said. “He’ll be okay.”
“But, Dad, he’s hungry. How’s he going to be okay if nobody helps him?”
“I can’t give money to a stranger, son,” I said. “He’d probably leave here, wouldn’t even use it for food. He could go buy drugs with my money.” I knew Jimmy hadn’t thought about that possibility. He stared once more at the old man. Almost to the door, the man turned, looking our way again.
“Dad…?” Hesitation rode high in Jimmy’s voice before he chanced bothering me again.
“What is it, Jimmy?” The loudness of my voice revealed my impatience with my son. Jimmy seemed embarrassed now because people at nearby tables listened, waiting to see what I’d do. Jimmy tried once more to plead the old man’s case.
“Dad, that man’s not a mean man, he’s just hungry. Can’t you figure out some way to help him?”
The kindness in my son’s voice outweighed my own impatience. I followed Jimmy’s gaze toward the door. Then, looking back across the table at Jimmy, I realized the pleading look in my son’s eyes matched that of the old man’s.
Putting down my hamburger, I stood beside our table. “Wait a minute,” I called.
“You’d best stay out of this,” said the manager.
“No, wait, please.” I withdrew my wallet as I approached the manager and handed him some money.
With trembling hands, the old man reached for me. I laid a comforting arm around his dirty shoulders.
“I’m going to pay for your supper, sir. You just tell that young lady what you want.”
“Thank you, thank you…I’m very hungry…thank you.” As he moved toward the counter, he glanced back to smile at Jimmy.
When I returned to our table, Jimmy let out a sigh of relief as he smiled up at me. “You did a good job, Dad.”
For just a few moments, time seemed to stand still. It was then I knew God had teamed up with my son to prod me into action.
In my son’s eyes, I’d seen the compassion of Jesus. In my son’s words, I’d heard Jesus speak: “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat…inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these…ye have done it unto me (Matthew 25:35, 40, KJV).
Finally, in my son’s praise, Jesus had said to me: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, KJV).
I picked up my hamburger. My appetite had increased. The smile on my son’s face made up for the cold French fries.
“Teamwork” by Jo Huddleston was originally published in Seek magazine, Standard Publishing.
A Daddy-Daughter Story
I remember the day Daddy lifted them from his car trunk—two scrawny, leafless twigs with a little dirt clinging to their skinny roots.
I wondered at the wisdom of his plan. He detected my doubts. He always could read my face like a road map. Nevertheless, he continued with his grand scheme.
“Where do you want these? Where’s the best place?”
“Daddy, are those supposed to be trees?”
“Yes…trees. Of course, trees.” He smiled down at me. “Someday they will be big oaks. In a few years, we’ll sit in their shade and watch your future grandchildren play around their huge trunks.”
We couldn’t know then that in less than a few years, he wouldn’t be around. He would never sit with me in the trees’ shade.
“How about out back?” he continued. “When they’re big, they’ll keep the hot evening sun off the house and give you a shady backyard.”
“Sure,” I said, still not convinced the two bare limbs held the promise of a regal future.
Later that afternoon, I watched as Daddy’s lanky frame bent over the kitchen sink. He let the strong spray force dark soil from underneath his fingernails. Reaching for a paper towel, he motioned for me to come near.
“Look out there. See where I put them?”
I followed the direction he pointed, looking through the windowpane, past the deck, and across the yard a short distance. Then I saw them. Stakes and taut strings held the little trees upright and straight. Strips of white cloth tied to the strings and swaying in a light breeze stood guard against lawn mowers and running children. Daddy had secured their place in the future.
“Oh, there they are. Yes, I see them.” The trees rested some twenty-five feet apart parallel to the fence.
“Ten or so years from now, birds will build nests on their branches. Cardinals and robins will sing from their highest limbs.” His voice revealed his satisfaction. Humble pride spread a smile across his weathered face.
Since my earliest memory, Daddy had always planted things, eager yet patient for their eventual harvest.
The oaks matured and outlived their planter. On stormy days, I’ve paused at my kitchen sink and watched blustery winds bend the growing oaks nearly to the ground. I’ve even heard myself projecting thoughts to them. “Hang in there, little trees,” I’d say. “You’ve got to make it for my daddy. You must live on in his place.”
Yes, today I did sit in the shade of the oaks and watch my grandchildren play around the trees’ huge trunks. Now, finishing the ritual of cleaning up after supper, I stand again at my kitchen window. I must lean forward to see the top leaves on the two full oak trees in my backyard.
As their canopied branches reach toward my kitchen window, I’m mindful of Daddy’s love, which survives through the oaks’ present strength. From scrawny twigs to huge sentries, they stand watch over his memory.
“Sentry Duty” by Jo Huddleston was originally published in Mature Living magazine, LifeWay Christian Resources/Southern Baptist.
Her Mother’s Daughter
A Mother-Daughter Story
“Here, Pam, let me change her.”
“Thanks, Mother, but I’ll do it.”
“You sit back down and rest. I’ll do it. Let me help you that much.”
Pam eased back into the rocking chair. She watched while I lifted little Callie from her arms and started toward the nursery.
Callie and I had enjoyed only a few moments alone when Pam padded softly into the room. Still in her housecoat, she pushed back her tousled hair and leaned over my shoulder.
“Mother, why don’t you diaper Callie on the changing table over by the window?”
“Oh, this is fine. I used to change you in your baby bed. This way still works.”
“It would be easier on your back at the changing table. Besides, she’s used to being changed over there.”
Before this small discord had time to turn into real conflict, I’d replaced the soggy diaper. Callie rewarded me with dimpled cheeks when I swung her high above my head. Intending to repeat the fun ride for my granddaughter, I started another swoop toward the ceiling.
“Don’t do that, Mother!” Pam’s hand locked firmly on my arm. “You’ll upset her stomach.”
How had our roles become reversed? Lately, Pam was the scolding, reprimanding parent and I the frustrated but obedient child.
I tried to shrug off the nagging feeling as I handed Callie back to my daughter. After all, Pam is her mother, she can do with the baby as she pleases.
I left them alone and walked into the kitchen.
Caring for the baby had limited Pam’s time for doing much else, of course. But today she’d completely abandoned the house with no apology for its appearance. To my amazement, Pam sat relaxed with her four-month-old, oblivious to the surrounding clutter.
At least, I could bring some order to the kitchen. Just moving stacks of dirty dishes into the dishwasher improved the room.
“Where’s your foil? I’ll cover the rest of our sweet rolls and put them away.”
“Mother, I’ll take care of that. Come back in here and spend some time with Callie and me.”
“In a minute. Let me help you while I’m here. Where do you keep the foil?”
“Look next to the refrigerator, the second drawer from the top.” I heard the resignation in her voice.
I wrapped the plate of rolls, put it in the refrigerator, and rejoined Pam and Callie in the living room. The rest of the morning passed more pleasantly.
On the drive home from Pam’s, my mind kept returning to the messy house. Pam hadn’t turned out to be the neat housekeeper I’d expected. I couldn’t understand it. She wasn’t raised that way.
“Pam hasn’t learned a thing from me,” I said aloud to myself. “She doesn’t even respect me enough to follow any of my examples or to do anything the way I did them!”
Later, as I prepared hamburger patties to grill for Tom’s and my supper, my thoughts drifted to our granddaughter. Callie was such a pleasant baby, always ready with a broad smile—just like her mother when she was a baby.
Raising Pam had been full of good times. I remembered the easy days when I’d forget everything except my new baby. We’d play together, stopping only to eat. My child grew up each day, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of that.
Absently, I reached in a drawer for foil to cover the hamburgers for Tom to carry outside. I carefully crimped the foil along the edges of the pan. Returning the box of foil to its place, I let my gaze linger on the narrow drawer.
“Are the hamburgers ready for me to…What are you chuckling about?” Tom asked as he entered the kitchen.
I was amused by my earlier evaluation of our daughter. All afternoon I had allowed the little irritations of my morning visit with Pam to harden into another brick on the wall growing between us.
Our relationship had always been delightful until Pam began to be her own person—and until I had wanted her to stay my little girl. Now, I admitted to myself, Pam walked in my shoes of twenty-five years ago. She had her priorities arranged correctly: Callie before housework.
How could I, of all people, not have seen that? And now, here was the box of foil.
Tom joined me at the kitchen counter. “What is it?”
“Look,” I said, pointing at the open drawer.
He looked, smiled at my amusement, but obviously, couldn’t make the connection. “Tell me what’s got into you.”
“She didn’t turn out so badly, did she?”
“Our daughter, that’s who.”
“I don’t remember thinking she did turn out so badly.”
“Oh, Tom, I almost convinced myself that she did.” But not anymore. “She’s her mother’s daughter.”
I smiled and slowly closed the drawer—the second drawer from the top, next to the refrigerator.
“Her Mother’s Daughter” by Jo Huddleston was originally published in The Lookout magazine, Standard Publishing.
Inside Our Circle
A Husband-Wife Story
“We got a letter from Andy and Susan today,” Gloria said when I walked through the door.
“Great! Are they coming this weekend?”
“Yes, they are. That makes all three of the children! They’ll all be here for the whole weekend.”
“I guess you’ll be cooking and getting the house ready, won’t you?”
“Sure will. I enjoy a houseful of family. I hope this week flies by.”
“Now, Gloria, don’t work too hard. Let those daughters-in-law help you with some of the cooking when they get here.”
Gloria smiled just thinking about having everybody under one roof again. I put away my coat while she finished getting our supper on the table.
Later, when I took out the garbage, a sense of melancholy gripped me, compelling me to linger outside. I walked around the back of the garage and stood in the front yard, checking over the house. I stretched my long arms, reaching toward the December sky. My breath’s frosty trail drifted toward the garage.
The basketball goal hanging over the garage door captured my attention, luring me like a magnet. I pushed my hands deep into the pockets of my corduroy pants and crossed to the driveway. Only frayed shreds of the original red, white, and blue net clung to the basketball goal’s rim. The house’s corner floodlight cast its beam across me, causing me to feel as though I were in a time machine. My thoughts flashed backward.
I recalled the constant splat-splat-splat of the basketball bouncing on the concrete driveway in the evenings after homework and during summers. Gloria and I would roll our eyes at each other over the aggravation of the noise, hoping it would soon stop. At least, we knew where our children were.
The kids decided the edges of the driveway would serve as the out-of-bounds lines of their basketball court. After each basket was made, somebody would jump off the concrete, scuffing up the grass, to pass the ball back into play.
I remembered how every summer I’d become concerned about the trampled grass alongside the driveway. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t keep grass growing within three feet of the concrete.
“The grass will grow back after the kids grow up and move away,” Gloria had finally said. After I quit stewing about my precious grass and thought about her words, they made sense.
Our three kids made good use of this recreational area, one of the best parenting decisions my wife and I ever made. The kids stayed at our house more, their many friends gathering in our driveway. Our house became the place to be. All of them knew they could count on Steve, Andy, and John’s mom to bring out something cool to drink and homemade cookies to eat.
When their friends couldn’t be here, the boys would challenge me to a game of one-on-one, or when John, our youngest, got big enough, a game of two-on-two. Gloria was the cheerleader (for both sides, of course) while also operating the refreshment center.
Tonight, I scrounged around inside the garage until I found the old basketball I’d never been able to throw away. Its bounce wasn’t as spry as it used to be. Something like me. The grained leather surface of the ball had been worn away to a smooth shine.
I tossed up a one-hander, but it never reached its mark. Moving a little closer, I aimed my next shot at the backboard, watching as the ball hit the rim and fell back toward me. After a few more practice shots, I put one through the ragged net.
After a few minutes of this, my cold hands signaled the end of my solo game. I tucked the basketball back in the box where I’d found it and retraced my steps to the backdoor. A spitting snow had just begun, stinging my sweaty face.
I went inside to the warmth of the house, but the chill of missing the kids stayed with me. None of them lives a great distance from us, but all three of them seemed far away tonight.
I joined Gloria on the sofa in front of the fireplace and drew her close into a gentle hug. Somehow she always understands me, her smile as soothing as a cool cloth on a fevered brow.
Surely Solomon described Gloria’s character when he wrote Proverbs 31. She’s always looked after the boys and me with unselfishness. She’s never put herself first, but included us all in her watchful care.
Gloria senses when I’m sentimental about our family. She knows when I hug her close without words I also draw our children inside the circle of our arms.
We sat like that for a long while tonight, content to gaze into the flames and feel secure about our whole family. Reflecting on my game just now, I smiled. Maybe I hadn’t lost my touch, after all.
“Yeah,” I said out loud. “When the kids come home, I’ll challenge them to a game of basketball.”
Gloria smiled at me as if she’d known I would say that.
“Inside Our Circle” by Jo Huddleston was originally published in Mature Living magazine, LifeWay Christian Resources/Southern Baptist.
A Note from Jo
Thank you for spending your valuable time reading Ties That Bind: Stories of Family. I hope you enjoyed reading these short-short stories. If you did, please tell your friends.
If you read any of my full-length books, I’d appreciate your placing a short review on Amazon—one or two sentences would be great. That’s all you really need. You don’t have to describe the plot since that is always done on the website or in the book’s description. All that is needed is your reaction to the book. Simply tell why you liked my book, and this would help others to find clean fiction to read.
Another way you can keep up to date on my writing is to sign up for my . I have a monthly drawing among those who have signed up for my mailing list, and the winner receives a free eBook copy of their choice of one of my books. On my , you can read the first chapters of all my novels and novellas.
Hearing from readers is such a pleasure and a blessing! Your kind words encourage me. You can email me from the on my website and I’ll respond personally. To those of you who’ve written a review of my books on Amazon and Goodreads—major thanks! Reviews are helpful and very much appreciated.
About The Author
Jo Huddleston is a multi-published author who writes novels inspired by her fascination with the 1950s and her love of her native American South. Novels in her endearing Caney Creek series, her West Virginia Mountains series, as well as her stand-alone release, Tidewater Summer, are sweet Southern romance novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Literary Hall of Fame at Lincoln Memorial University (TN). Visit Jo at her where you can sign up for her mailing list and read the first chapters of her novels and novellas.
OTHER BOOKS BY JO HUDDLESTON
Beyond the Past
Wait for Me
With Good Intentions
Amen and Good Morning, God
Amen and Good Night, God
His Awesome Majesty: Praising God’s Greatness
America: Her Hope for the Future
*Co-authored with Vickie Phelps
This volume contains five short stories about family dynamics. The core of any culture is the family. It is into this core of family that a newborn first connects with the world. It’s where that baby learns about love—feels love from family members and later, sees examples of how he or she can love others. Harmony in a family unit is the bedrock of a thriving society. Indeed, the building of character or lack of such building begins within the family. These stories are fictional examples of varied family relationships.