summer reading: Love, Ruby Lavender

Here she is, Ruby Lavender. She has quite the story to tell. 

Ruby started as a picture book I worked on in the mid-1990s, in a poetry workshop I took at Frederick Community College in Frederick, Maryland, where I lived at the time. I was a freelance writer and editor, after having been a magazine editor for one fateful year.

I was also in the midst of some grant-funded oral history work for the Community Foundation of Frederick County, which took me to the most interesting places, with the most interesting voices: people over 100 years old; knife makers, farmers and farm wives, potters, artists, community activists, former mayors and police chiefs, civil rights activists, and more.

Their voices, and their stories, in concert, over the years I interviewed them, reminded me so much of the voices I heard telling tales (some of them tall) on the front porch of my grandmother's house in Jasper County, Mississippi in the sixties. 

Ruby was born because I missed them all so much, wanted to bring them close to me, and wanted to honor their memories through telling a story, just as my new friends in Frederick had honored me with their stories.

So I went back to Mississippi, like I did every summer, and this time to document a time and place. I've been back so many times, always back, although no one I grew up with lives there anymore. 

I've made some new friends there, though, and they come out to see me every time I stop by. And my kinfolks live an hour north, near Jackson. I go there, too. And if I'm lucky, I wrangle one of them to go with me to Louin.

I remember my great-grandmother, Nanny (great-great Aunt Florentine in Each Little Bird That Sings), coming out this door (it leads to the kitchen) in the early morning, after eating her toast and drinking her coffee, and walking down the steps in her long button-down dress and wide-brimmed hat, heading for the garden, which is behind me. 

I remember those cousins as kids, and that cemetery as a playground, and the pie at the Bayless is still that good (like the Cake Cafe in A Long Line of Cakes).

I remember watching Sea Hunt on a black and white television in the living room at night, with all the lights turned off. I remember Miss Eula's dentures in a glass of water by her bed at night. I remember the moths that danced around the porch light and the beez that buzzed in the car house.

I remember what it all looked like to a ten-year-old kid, what it smelled like, felt like, tasted like, sounded like, and I remember it all now as if I were still ten, that place that became a little girl's homeplace filled with those who loved her best in the world and couldn't wait to see her from summer to summer, every year.

Next: How did these memories turn into Love, Ruby Lavender? How did that book get written? I promise to be back soon.  


  1. Takes me back to being 10 years old in Iowa. We would travel most weekends down to the family farm to visit - apple trees, chickens, gardens, and barns to explore. The county store across the highway and the old church graveyard waiting for us to join our cousins in summer fun. Thanks for sharing and stirring up old memories!

  2. I have loved all of your books, but Love, Ruby Lavender is by far my favorite. I shared it with many kids in the classroom before retiring 5 years ago. The students loved it as well.
    It resonated with me because it truly could have been my story. I grew up in south Alabama and everything about it brought back so many memories.
    I loved the format of the book. I had planned to be a county extension agent, but love sent me to Florida and to a beach community...not much need for county extension agents, so teaching it was. A great career I had though.
    My students loved it because it was just a good story.

    1. Sandy, this is so, so lovely to hear, thank you. How many people know what a county extension agent is these days? You make me smile. I love that you shared the book with so many young readers and that they loved the story. Thank you, thank you. xo Debbie

  3. Hey, Deborah! Congratulations on (nearly) reaching that elusive finish line! I’m still here in AZ, still watching from afar as your star continues to ascend, and still sending you best wishes in all that you do. I do wonder, from time to time, why your birthday appears as May 5 on all of the “official” websites I see, since I thought that was MY birthday (and Sarah Ban Breathnach’s, FYI).
    I hope you’re still happy in your little house with the purple door and that you and all your kin are doing well. It’s been fun to see the heights to which your literary talent has taken you, and I wish you every success with “Anthem.” You take care now!
    Your (certified) #1 Fan (That means I was your very first official fan.)

    1. GIRL! write me at or give me your phone number (or if you have my old email address, that works)-- I want to talk with you! I think of you every day. I am looking right now at my golden star (I see it every morning, hence I think of you), and right near it is that little plaque, "To the house of a friend, the way is never long." I believe that. I miss you. Write me! xoxoxo


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