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The Light in the Room

(by Tonia Renee Lee)

When I was in junior high school, we had to write a paper about our best friend, and I wrote about my mother. The school administrator called a meeting with my mother, thinking something was wrong with me since I did not choose a peer. My mother set her straight.

Perhaps like many others, my first memories are of my mother. Since my father was in the Army (yes, I’m an Army brat), I spent more time with her, and a lot of my memories were captured in pictures. The one of Mother showing me how to pose coquettishly when I was three years old is a special moment reflecting her sense of style and sophistication. She could light up a room when she entered. She walked with confidence and dignity.

Mother always made me feel special. When I was in kindergarten in Lawton, Oklahoma, she surprised me with a big birthday cake for my class. It was from a local bakery, which, at the time, seemed very cool, fancier than the cakes Mom made because the icing was smoother. I’d never had a bakery cake before, and as a kid, it looked more appealing.

Next stop: Alaska, where my father was stationed at Fort Greely when I was in first and second grade. Mother signed me up for the Brownies, which has a philosophy of service, so giving of myself at an early age was due to my mother’s influence. She was always involved in making a positive difference, never just “sucking up air,” and because of her, I learned that life must have purpose. She devoted a lot of time to raising money for sickle cell anemia, March of Dimes, Boys Town, and the Alzheimer’s Association. She organized a Bible Club for women and, since she was an avid bowler, a children’s bowling team.

After two years, we returned to Lawton, and I joined the Campfire Girls. Our troop needed a leader, so I asked Mother and, as usual, she said yes. (She seldom disappointed.) We did a lot of community service and social activities. Mother was a terrific leader. She taught by example, showing that there was always a right way and a wrong way to do something. Mother demonstrated the right thing in all circumstances.

When I was in the fifth grade, my father was stationed in Korea, and Mother worked every day from nine to five as the manager of a dental office. I was a latchkey kid, at home with my brother in the afternoons, so my mother started teaching me how to cook. One night, while making dinner, the contents of the pot fell on me and burned my knee. I had been looking forward to going to camp, my prize for selling the most candy with the Campfire Girls, but the injury meant that I couldn’t go. My mom would bring my meals to me in bed while I was recuperating, and took me out to eat when I got better. Restaurant dinners were unusual, so it was a nice consolation prize.

I was making chicken and dumplings when I got burned—a favorite even when I used to beg Mother for the Campbell’s Soup version, which I ate as an after-school snack while watching “Lost in Space.” Mother taught me how to make it homemade style, along with others of her favorite recipes. She taught me what her mother had taught her—for the most part, the food had a Southern flair, developed in Como, Mississippi, while watching her mother and aunts cooking. Eventually, I put together the recipes of my mother and grandmother into a cookbook. I sold quite a few copies at book signings at the now defunct Hastings Bookstore.

As my mother told that school administrator so many years ago, we shared a special bond. I could talk to her about anything, knowing that she would never reveal my secrets. In her later life, she became a teacher (of business office technology at Job Corps), a counselor (about alcohol and drug abuse), and a realtor—always a caring and honest broker, happy to help her clients find new homes. She sold my hubby and me our house. We would not have gone with anyone else.

I remember my mother always reaching for me, up until the night she passed away, two years ago. Her eyes were closed, but suddenly she opened them one more time, as if to say goodbye. She is always with me in memory, and I will keep serving up her recipes.


Tonia Renee Lee has been an actor, casting director for Movie Tech Studios, and talent agent for the Dale Garrick International Talent Agency. She was executive producer of Red Letters (2020), Thirst (2017), and Foster Home (2014), and co-producer of Find Me a Man (2014). She is the author of seven books, most recently Reflective Quotes. She is a John Maxwell Team certified teacher, trainer, and speaker. She lives in Lawton-Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. She can be found on Facebook.

Chicken and Dumplings

3 lb. chicken breasts and thighs, cut into pieces

(can be on the bone or boneless)

1 T. seasoned salt

1 T. black pepper

1/2 c. chopped onion

2 c. water

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Sprinkle seasoned salt and black peppers on both sides of the chicken.

Place chicken in a foil-lined baking pan.

Spread onions around the pan, and add water.

Bake for about 1 hour, or until tender.


2 c. flour

2/3 c. water

2 T. vegetable shortening

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl stirring until blended.

Add more water if needed to make a soft dough.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness.

Cut into bite-sized pieces.

When chicken is done, remove pan from oven and place on stovetop over medium-high heat.

Spoon dumplings into the boiling broth.

Reduce heat to medium.

Cook uncovered approximately 10 – 15 minutes, until dumplings rise to the top, and a toothpick comes out clean.


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