A BOWL OF CHERRIES
by Tekla Dennison Miller
When Tekla was thirteen, her mother committed suicide four years after her father died. Tekla's twenty-three-year-old siter, Alyce, a working mother and abused spouse, becomes her guardian. This memoir presents their journey from a tragedy-filled life in a bleak railroad town to one of victory over impossible odds. The two sisters encounter not only death of their parents and domestic violence, but other fearsome and timeless demons: flight for their lives, attempted murder, rape, abuse, kidnapping and poverty.They also experience the kindness of strangers, delight in the humorous moments of everyday life and discover the strength born of the love between two sisters. Together they struggle to understand and ultimately define their roles as women and prevail against terrible odds. This often sad chronicle celebrates their triumphs and leaves us with the knowledge that we can shape our own destiny and accomplish our goals despite adversities.
CHAPTER ONE: THE 4:10
When I heard the first explosion, vibrations shot through my body. A chair bounced into my chin and the kitchen table pitched. A bowl of potatoes my mother had been peeling plummeted to the floor.
As a second explosion thundered through the house, my mother dropped her paring knife: "Oh God,: she said. "It's the 4:10."
Dad worked on that train. We were getting supper ready for his return.
Mom grabbed my hand and pulled me through the front door. Outside, our neighbors, mostly women and children, streamed from the doors of their houses. They converged onto Kinne Street like a warm of bees. Mothers toted babies on their hips, dish cloths still in their hands. Others clutched the small fingers of confused children. Mom and I joined them.
No one spoke. We moved in one large wordless mass. Looking from one face to another, each tight with worry, I searched for an answer to our silent movement. Maybe talking would confirm something awful had happened. Although Mom held my hand, I felt adrift in a black nightmare. To my seven-year-old eyes, every person was a mute, faceless blur.
Except for her white, terry cloth turban covering her head and her tight grip on my hand, like every mother in the 1940's, she dressed in a plaid house dress, white bib apron, black-wedge shoes and white ankle socks. Like the others, her face was ghostly and pale.
The closer we got to the depot, the larger the procession. We Walked faster. The faster the movement, the more frightened I became. I tugged at Mom's hand to get her attention. She just kept her eyes focused straight ahead toward the depot, two blocks away, in the center of town.
I looked for some comfort in each stone face. My eyes stopped on Father Kelly's. The Catholic priest in our neighborhood hurried to the front of the group. Sourness slid into my throat and my stomach did a flip-flop. Father Kelly never missed dinner unless someone died.
"Life is just a bowl of cherries sounds wonderful until later in life when we discover how many of the cherries in our bowl have pits. In this book, sisters Tekla and Alyce show us what they did with their pits! It is a great celebration of sisterhood making those of us without sisters green with envy."
- Patricia Schroeder, Former Congress Woman
"An author, a former prison warden, a corrections consultant, a teacher, a volunteer, a social activist and a national speaker on women's issues, juveniles, criminal justice reform and the death penalty, Dennison Miller says it all began at Cazenovia College. 'What I learned those years helped me to be fearless and gave me the qualities to be successful in whatever I pursued. I learned to never be afraid and to take a leap into the unknown if it meant a better life for me and my family.'"
Cazenovia Magazine, October 2004
By Wayne Westervelt
"Warm Your Heart, Stiffen Your Spine,"
"Look no further than A Bowl of Cherries, if you want to read a compelling story about victory over some of the toughest circumstances imaginable. More happened in Tekla Miller's young life than one would think possible outside of a Hollywood scriptwriter's imagination: her father's injury in a train wreck and his subsequent death, discovery of her mother's suicide, abuse by her brother-in-law, rape, extreme poverty, flight, fire and third-degree burns, deprivation. These difficulties might have made Tekla Miller bitter and hard. Instead, with the help of her equally remarkable sister Alyce, Tekla learned how to use her personal tragedies like refining fire, and emerged strong, certainly defiant, immensely capable, happy, and with a great sense of humor intact. In recounting her story, Ms. Miller leavens the dramatic saga of her teen years with funny moments (check out driving lessons, Tekla-style, and you'll never want your own child behind the wheel of a car!), always showing herself to be quick-witted and up to the task of coping with whatever challenges come her way. Her sister, too, showed great ingenuity in creating a life for Tekla and her own children that approximated normal, while getting her own college degree and ensuring Tekla did as well--all during an era when women were facing great odds against independence. This memoir celebrates the extraordinary love between two sisters and the great triumph possible in even the most difficult life. This is truly a book to add courage and heart to every reader."
- Elizabeth Testa