Chasing Lilacs: A Novel

Chasing Lilacs: A Novel

by Carla Stewart


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It is the summer of 1958, and life in the small Texas community of Graham Camp should be simple and carefree. But not for twelve-year-old Sammie Tucker. Sammie has plenty of questions about her mother's "nerve" problems. About shock treatments. About whether her mother loves her.

When her mother commits suicide and a not-so-favorite aunt arrives, Sammie has to choose who to trust with her deepest fears: Her best friend who has an opinion about everything, the mysterious kid from California whose own troubles plague him, or her round-faced neighbor with gentle advice and strong shoulders to cry on. Then there's the elderly widower who seems nice but has his own dark past.

Trusting is one thing, but accepting the truth may be the hardest thing Sammie has ever done.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446556552
Publisher: FaithWords
Publication date: 06/17/2010
Pages: 291
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Carla Stewart's writing reflects her passion for times gone by, cherished relationships, and the mysteries of God in our skid-marked world. She and her husband have four adult sons and delight in the adventures of their six grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt

Chasing Lilacs

A Novel
By Stewart, Carla


Copyright © 2010 Stewart, Carla
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780446556552

[ ONE ]

THAT JUNE, RIGHT AFTER I finished sixth grade, Norm MacLemore’s nephew came to Texas for a visit. Benny Ray Johnson brought home a new Edsel. And Mama tried to take her life for the first time.

We lived at Graham Camp then—a petroleum plant with company housing. A spot in the Panhandle of Texas where the blue of the sky hurt your eyes and the wind bent the prairie grass into an endless silk carpet as far as you could see in every direction. God’s country, some people called it. While it may be true that God created that corner of the world, it crossed my young mind that he must have been looking the other way when it came to Mama. Why else would Mama’s spells, as Daddy called them, drive her deeper into her quilts? Lights out. Shades drawn.

Her spell that June had gone on longer than most, and she seemed to be slipping farther away. I hoped my being out of school might snap her out of it, and I had no trouble inventing excuses to linger in the house and be of some use to Mama. Mostly, she let me fetch her things. An ice bag for her headache. Another one of those pills from the brown bottle.

I tiptoed in and out with her requests and studied her for signs of improvement. With every smile or pat on my hand, my insides lurched. Maybe today she’ll suggest we bake a cake. Or take a walk down to Willy Bailey’s store. I would have settled for just having her sit with me on the couch and watch television.

Please don’t get me wrong. Mama was the primary thing on my mind, but a few days into the summer, I began to get restless. Itchy. As I scribbled ideas for the newspaper my best friend, Tuwana Johnson, and I planned to write, my mind drifted, wondering what the next three months would hold. When the floorboards creaked beside me, I looked up, startled to see Mama shuffling into the front room. A little flutter came into my chest. Mama’s robe hung limp on her thin frame, the belt trailing behind.

My gaze traveled to her face, searching for signs that the fog had lifted. One look at her eyes and I knew nothing had changed. Flat. Muddy. Looking at me, but not really seeing me.

“Hi, Mama. You want to watch Queen for a Day?” I kept my voice light, airy, and made room for her on the couch beside me.

She flopped down. “Not those wretched stories. It would give me a headache all over again. No television.”

“You’re feeling better, then? No headache?”

She fiddled with the button on the cushion. “Not exactly.”

Her answer could have gone either way. Not exactly better. Or not exactly a headache. A huge silence hung between us.

Before I could think of something else to say, the back door slammed and Daddy came in. Even without seeing him, I knew the routine. Hard hat on the hook by the back door. The plunk of the metal lunch box on the kitchen counter. Then Daddy clomped through in his steel-toed boots and appeared in the kitchen doorway.

“Hey, Rita. Good to see you up.” He leaned over and brushed his lips across Mama’s cheek.

She dipped her head away and pushed herself up from the couch, whisked around the end, and pattered to the bathroom. Not a single word.

When Daddy winked at me, I couldn’t tell if he was trying to cheer me up or cover the disappointing welcome from Mama.

Mama came from the bathroom and stood, feet apart, robe gaping over the same nightgown she’d worn all week. Her fingers curled, white-knuckled, around the brown pill bottle.

“I’m out of pills.” She held out the bottle.

“You know, sugar, I could take tomorrow off. Take you into Mandeville and see Doc.” He put his arm around her slumping shoulders, but she shrugged him off.

“I don’t need to see Doc. I need my pills.”

“Seems to me they ain’t doing much good. Maybe Doc could give you a different brand or something….”

She shoved the bottle into Daddy’s calloused hand. “And what am I supposed to do until tomorrow?” Her eyes darted around, jerky little movements. “Please. Take Sammie with you. Just get them.”

She backed up the few paces to her room, then turned and shut the door.

Daddy thumped me on the arm. “You up for a root-beer float?”

In other words, we were going into town to get Mama’s pills and could stop at the Dairy Cream on the way home.

He didn’t say anything the whole twelve miles, just tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, his eyes aimed straight ahead. I counted rusty brown cows with white faces and wished Mama had some physical thing wrong, like a broken leg or appendicitis, so we could say, “Just two more weeks and she’ll be good as new.” But deep down I knew it was something else. I just didn’t know what.

In the waiting room, I thumbed through a dog-eared Highlights magazine while Daddy went into Doc’s office. When they came out, Daddy put the refilled bottle in his shirt pocket, and Doc handed me a peppermint stick. “Take good care of your mother, Sammie.”

I should have taken Doc’s advice.

But the next morning, Daddy told me Mama needed to rest. “Go on and have some fun.”

Sunshine peeked through the window above the kitchen sink. It didn’t really take any convincing on Daddy’s part. I slipped on my Keds and took off. Sweet, dewy grass and a drift of rose scent gave me a heady feeling as I walked the two streets over to Tuwana’s. When she opened the door, the smell of peanut butter cookies floated out. Delicate, sugary sensations tickled my nose. Tuwana flounced into the kitchen and snitched us each a cookie. I took tiny bites and let each morsel melt in my mouth.

I thanked Mrs. Johnson and licked my lips around a stray crumb. She smiled through pink lipstick and told me it was nothing, that she was glad to see me. Wiping her hands on a starched, dotted-Swiss apron, she turned back to the cookies.

Tara and Tommie Sue, Tuwana’s little sisters, giggled above the blare of the television. Through the organdy curtains that billowed out from the window breeze, the sun scattered dust motes. I just stood there, soaking up the clatter, until Tuwana dragged me out onto the front porch. We painted our fingernails, then our toenails, and between it all, talked about a lot of nothing.

When the noon whistle shrilled through every inch of Graham Camp, it surprised me that the whole morning had flown by. Not once had I thought about Mama.

Running into the wind, my hair streamed behind me as I cut through the Barneses’ backyard, darted past a row of tin garages, and zipped into the house. I took a second to catch my breath and listen for Mama, but the hum of the Frigidaire was all I heard. I went to the bathroom, flushed, and reached for the faucet to wash my hands. That’s when I noticed the brown pill bottle on the back of the toilet.

The lid lay off to the side. I picked it up to screw it back on, thinking Mama had been careless when she took her last dose. The bottle was empty. I scanned the bathroom. No other bottles. No other pills laying around.

A tingle zipped up my spine. I raced into Mama’s room, shadowy and stale, and squinted to make out her body curled under her quilt—asleep, it looked like. I touched her lightly on the shoulder.

“Mama, wake up. It’s time for lunch.”

She didn’t move.

I gave her a little shake, not wanting her to yell at me if she had another headache.


A knot formed in my throat. Her mouth sagged toward the pillow, her face ghostly white. I moved the quilt and lifted her hand, but it flopped back against the sheet. Check her pulse.

I looked around, wondering if someone had said the words or if I had just thought them. Check her pulse. How? What did Miss Good from health class teach us? Which side of the wrist? Thumb on the inside of the wrist. No, maybe it was the index finger. Think. Think. Think.

Forget the pulse. Check her breathing. I leaned down close, hoping to hear some air coming from Mama’s mouth. My own heart banged against my chest, filling my ears with its thump, thump, and I knew it was useless. Even if Mama were breathing, I would never hear it.

I flew out the back door, ducked under the clothesline, and tore through Goldie Kuykendall’s yard. Not even bothering to knock, I ran in and yelled, “Goldie! Help!”

Goldie listened to my blubbering and picked up the telephone. “We’ve got an emergency over at the Tuckers’. Get Joe straightaway…. Tell him his wife swallowed a bottle of pills.”

She hung up and made another phone call. Then another. A ticking clock in my head screamed “Hurry!” but the next thing I knew, Goldie grabbed my hand and rushed us across our backyards to my house.

Already, like some strange magic, neighbors appeared, whispering, asking what had happened. I broke loose from Goldie’s grip, and as I raced up the steps to the front door, I heard Daddy’s Chevy screech to a halt. Red-faced from working in the boiler room at the plant, he stormed past me. Goldie took my hand and whispered, “Wait.” In no time, the screen door swung open, nearly knocking me down. Daddy stepped out carrying Mama. He put her in the car and ducked into the backseat beside her. Brother Henry from the Hilltop Church got behind the wheel and roared off.

A sweaty, sick feeling came over me, and the faces of those gathered on our lawn blurred. My thoughts jumbled as I caught the words crying shame, poor Sammie, mercy sakes. I waited for someone to say that Mama was alive, that everything would be all right, but no one did. Then a horrible thought crept in. Doc told me to take care of Mama. Why, oh why, hadn’t I done what he said? I tried to swallow, but my throat had shut itself off, and I knew why.

It was all my fault.


Excerpted from Chasing Lilacs by Stewart, Carla Copyright © 2010 by Stewart, Carla. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Jodi Thomas

Stewart's book CHASING LILACS was a delightful read . . . It'll warm your heart.

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Chasing Lilacs 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Pattina More than 1 year ago
I received and early copy of this book and I couldnt put it down I read it in about 8 hrs. It was wonderfully written and gives you plenty to think abt. If you are looking for something without cuss words and violence then this is the book for you.
WildflowerMom More than 1 year ago
Fans of Ann Tatlock, Meg Moseley, Angela Hunt and Alice Wisler will enjoy this coming of age story set in late 1950's Texas. Love the writing style of this author! She pulls you right into the growing pains of a preteen girl named Sam, and the relationship with her troubled mom. All of the characters from the small oil town of Graham Camp add something to the story, and despite the hard times, leave you feeling hopeful that things really will turn out okay in the end, just like Sam's friend Tuwanna is always telling her. A few plot twists along the way keep things interesting, with some touching moments. Probably not for readers who like a squeaky clean story as there is smoking, mental health issues and a behind closed door adult situation mentioned, although sensitively.
Heart2Heart More than 1 year ago
Her BFF, Tuwana, wants nothing more than to spend the summer practicing to be a cheerleader as they prepare to enter Junior High next year. Her hopes are to make the squad and be one of the football players girlfriends. Isn't that what all cheerleaders do? Sammie's life isn't the easiest for any 12 year old, who lost her sister Sylvia in a blizzard when she was an infant. Since then her mother hasn't been the same and Sammie finds herself wondering if her mother really loves her at all anymore. Her mother spends the days in her old bathrobe, popping pill after pill, hoping to rejoin the family once more. Sammie finds it her responsibility to care for her mom, while her dad rotates from day shifts to graveyards shifts at his job at the oil refinery. What Sammie really wants is to have her old mom back again. The mom who used to bake cookies and brownies with her. Stay up late talking about everything. Yet the story is about to take a tragic turn and Sammie suddenly will question everyone who has been a part of her life and wonder if her life is really worth it after all. I received this heartwarming book, compliments of Hachette Book Groups, Faith Words division, and found it tearful and mesmerizing at times. It's easy to put yourself in Sammie's shoes and see life from her perspective. You see her struggle with trying to be a 12 year old enjoying her summer and the adult trying to take care of her mom. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a wonderful and fantastic summer read. For more information about the book, the author and where to purchase a copy, please click on the links below. You can even get a sneak peek at the first chapter which will hook you from page one. This book is available in paperback and eBook formats. <a href=""></a> To make this a great summer giveaway, Hachette Book Groups is allowing me to giveaway 5 copies of this wonderful book. This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada only. No P.O. Boxes, please. Here are the rules for entering this giveaway, be a follower of mine, and tell me about one great summer memory of yours. The giveaway will end on June 30th. To visit my blog, go to
SarahSundin More than 1 year ago
Breathe in the scent of Chasing Lilacs-nostalgic, yet fresh and real. Carla Stewart has a delicious way with words, and her characters and story are gripping and touching. This is a book to share with friends over coffee and dessert. But your friends will have to buy their own copies because you won't want to let go of yours.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1958 in Graham Camp, Texas, twelve years old Sammie Tucker's mother Rita suffers from nerves. Sammie hopes to become a writer, but needs a typewriter. She actually has a boyfriend, loose definition, in California teenage transplant Cly MacLemore; though her best friend Tuwana Johnson likes the cool cat more than she does. Sammie's world collapses when her depressed mom commits suicide. As she nears her thirteenth birthday, Sammie wonders who she can depend on when people you love leave you by yourself. Family members and Cly try to be there for Sammie, but her mom was everything to the depressed grieving child. This is a strong historical tale as several cast members struggle with personal issues. Sammie cannot move on beyond her mother's death as she wonders if her crazed late mom ever loved her. Cly has parental issues too as his frustrated dad dumps him on relatives hoping the teen straightens out from being a delinquent. Other cast members have problems that haunt them too. Chasing Lilacs is a poignant look at residents of a small Texas town during the Eisenhower era; as everyday people strain to overcome problems; ironically Sammie's mother did just that selfishly leaving behind trauma for her family especially her daughter. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I received a early copy of this book through a Christian book club I joined. I LOVE this book. It kept my attention and I'm sure someone could relate to the events in this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very, very good book!!!
Dollycas More than 1 year ago
Set in 1958, in Graham Camp, Texas, a small "town" set up for the workers of the local petroleum company. Life should be good but young Sammie Tucker doesn't understand her mother's "nerve problems" or why her mother rarely gets out of bed or lives in her housecoat. When her mother is sent away for shock treatments this twelve year old life changes forever. She doesn't know who she can trust, who she can talk to or how to deal with all the feelings she is having. Her best friend "knows" and has an opinion on everything. A new boy moves to town from California but has a lot of his own baggage. The woman next door is always there for Sammie with a hug and there is an older man that is very understanding but he has some secrets of his own. One of Sammie's teachers tries to get her to open up but Sammie doesn't know much she can really share. She does know that her aunt is up to no good and Sammie doesn't not trust her at all. She questions her mother's love and while dealing with all the normal adolescent growing issues she has to face some very adult things that no child should have to deal with. When I first started reading this book I thought it was a young adult coming-of age story. Well before the end of the first chapter I knew I was wrong about that. This is a story with a real adult issue, depression, seen through the eyes of a wonderful twelve year old. Back in the 50's it was called "nerve problems" and shock treatments with horrendous side effects were the treatment. Carla Stewart has written a heart breaking and heart warming novel that will stick with you long past the final word. It is so well written you feel invested in Sammie's life immediately and find yourself wishing you could climb into the pages and help her through the rocky journey she is taking. This is marketed as Christian Fiction but it has a very subtle Christian references so if that type of fiction is not your genre don't let it keep you from reading this wonderful story. Take some time to stop and smell the lilacs. This is definitely an author to watch, she has a voice that tells tough stories with passion. I can't wait to read her next novel Broken Wings. Find out more at Carla's web page. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Faith Words, Hachette Book Group, in exchange for an honest review. The opinions stated are entirely my own. I am stating this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR part 255. "Guides Concerning Use of Endorsement and Testimonials in Advertising"
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HeidiMain More than 1 year ago
I found this novel very emotional. The main character, Sammie, is a twelve year-old girl who is deep and thoughtful and has adult problems. Problems no kid should have to deal with, yet I think that's why, as a reader, I connected with Sammie. The very first chapter reeled me into the story. Those first few pages made the book and enticed me with the characters and the plot. Carla set the scenes nicely - I felt like I was back in my own childhood, the same scents and touches that I remember from growing up. The chapters ended with a solid hook, urging me to continue to read. An awesome debut novel!
AnneKRiley More than 1 year ago
The simplicity of life in the 1950s really wasn't as simple as it may seem to those of us who didn't live during that time. That generation didn't have many of the distractions we deal with now, but people were the same as they are now, each with his own secret that adds to the person that he is. And despite a person's secrets, God is still in control. This is what I learned from seeing Sammie's story unfold through her own eyes. Written in a voice that spoke to my heart, this novel pulled me in straight away. I so enjoyed learning about what life was like in the 1950s, and the characters instantly became alive in my mind--so much so, in fact, that I wish I could meet them. I felt their smiles, their tears, their frustrations... They became friends that I will definitely revisit. (And I want a sequel so I can find out what happens next in their lives!) Well done, Miss Carla! May God continue to bless your writing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A path next to the nursery leads off to a stone wall just outside of camp. A crack in that wall leads into a cave, with plenty of room to keep sick cats and herbs. A small stream also runs through it. There is a little hole in the ceiling that allows just enough light to see. This is the medicine cat den.