The Goddess of Fried Okra


Every life has signposts.
Every traveler has a history.
Sometimes a detour is the only way home.

Six-foot redhead Eudora “Pea” O’Brien, convenience store professional, sets off from Austin with everything she owns in a beat-up car searching, on the advice of a psychic, for the reincarnated soul of the sister who raised her. When Sister was alive was the last time Pea felt safe and whole; she yearns for family and a place to call home.

She travels the back roads of Texas, alert for signs to lead her to Sister while passing the time reading roadside historical markers. Along the way, she rescues a starving kitten and a pregnant teenager, takes on a con man trying to go straight and meets a gun dealer named Glory who introduces Pea to the sword-wielding women of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Glory and her nemesis, a grandmotherly cafe owner named Lorena, along with Howard’s Dark Agnes, become Pea’s unlikely gurus as she seeks to master both swordplay and the art of perfect fried okra on her way to finding both her own strengths and her place in the world.

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Nothing else could have put me on the road again, not after eighteen years on the run.  The road was Mama’s perpetual escape clause for boyfriends, bill collectors or just boredom.

Sister, she used the road to save me.

All those years of running, I swore up and down that once I was old enough, I would find a spot and no force on earth would budge me.

But I didn’t count on Sister.

Sister gave up everything for me, see, and I owed her.  She was only sixteen when Mama died; I was eight.  Life could have been so much easier on her if she’d let the social services people have me like they wanted.  Instead, she even chased off her no-good daddy Alvin when he showed up saying he would take care of us.  She understood lighting-quick that what he really meant to do was lay on his sorry behind.  Only get up long enough to take the child welfare money and buy lottery tickets.  Sure as shooting, he would have let Sister do all the work.

But Sister turned those spooky eyes on him, I can still see him shrinking from them.

From her, from her mojo.  She had it, even at sixteen.

Once she was gone, I lost everything I knew of home.  Ten months went by before that fateful July day, endless hours and weeks when no matter what I tried, I could not get comfortable in my skin.  The hole in my heart was just too big to paste any more patches over.  If only I could see her, talk to her, I thought, maybe the world would make sense again.

Especially if she would forgive me.

Yes, of course she was dead, but Sister believed in reincarnation, see, and she took great comfort from the notion of a do-over.  Me, I couldn’t quite say I shared her faith, but I was desperate.  Sister had it in her mind that the first year was critical for finding a person’s new body, and no matter how much I read on the topic—which I assure you I did, since a person cannot have too much information and anyway, I’d sooner read than breathe—I could not find one surefire source to say she was wrong.  I couldn’t even locate any proof that souls always took up residence in babies.  Some people thought a person could have a near-death experience and awaken as someone else.  Others believed the soul could be an animal next time, or even a plant.  I could find arguments about almost every dadgum thing, while details on the actual process were pretty much non-existent.  That was too many unknowns for a person like me, but if there was a chance in this world that she’d been right, I had to try to find her.  I was whole when Sister lived; what I knew of family came from her.  I needed that again.  Needed her.

And I was getting scared, real scared, that if I didn’t hurry, I would be too late.

That was when I turned to Madame Eva, Sister’s favorite psychic.  I wasn’t sure what to expect on my way over, but I kinda liked that little stucco house with its turquoise door and purple shutters, the riot of zinnias and marigolds tumbling along the cracked sidewalk.  I was nervous, though, about going inside, wondering what all she might be able to see in my head.

She was nice to me, I have to admit.  Took my hand real gentle, and if she spotted all the mistakes I’d made and the misery, she was too kind to say so.  Instead, she told me if I opened my heart, I would find my family, but when I asked where, she only smiled and said the journey was up to me.  That wasn’t one bit what I wanted to hear from her, and I got too caught up in my disappointment and missed some things.

But you can bet that when she told me New Mexico might be in my future, my ears perked right up.  Sister always swore she was descended from Pueblo Indians.  Someday, Pea, she would tell me, I’m going there to meet my people.

Note she said her people, not ours, ’cause we had different daddies—well, at least she had one.  My daddy I called Casper, like the Friendly Ghost, since he never came to visit.  I don’t think it was very friendly, though, not to show up even once.

Sister was short with brown eyes like Mama and Alvin.  My eyes were blue like Casper’s.  Sister said he was even taller than my six feet, but without all this mess of red hair.  I read somewhere that my coloring meant I had Viking blood, and that was a comfort.  Vikings were strong and fierce, and I cottoned to the notion that I had warrior maiden written all over me.

Well, except for the maiden part.

And also the muscles.

I probably could have used some warrior skills when I set off that July day that turned out to be only the beginning of my life’s strangest chapter.  All I owned in this world, once I’d gone a little crazy with grief and sold most everything we had, filled up the trunk and spilled into the back seat of the eleven-year-old Toyota she and I had shared.  What I had left of Sister was a photograph and a tarnished Indian bracelet of Mama’s that Sister treasured.

With my last paycheck from the store, my grubstake was six hundred seven dollars and eighty-three cents which the hospital collection agency would have dearly loved to snatch from me.  But I had a mission, and I could not worry about the place that spit her out on the sidewalk and left her in the hands of the wrong person.

Namely me.

The road, like a tongue-flicking serpent sidling up to Eve, called to me.  Madame Eva said the stars were aligned, that Fate would lead me home.

Home could only mean Sister.  All I could hope was that my hearing was good enough, even after all the loud rock and roll she and I used to dance to.  I was desperate to hear when Fate whispered to me There she is, there’s her new body.

When I found her, as I hoped so hard I could, would she remember me, I wondered, or would I need to introduce myself?  Would she give me a chance to talk or just turn tail and run from me?  Or what if she was a man this time?  Boy, that would be rich, given that the women of my family had, at best, an uneasy relationship with the male of the species.

Stop it now, Pea, she would say if she were here right now.  My real name is Eudora O’Brien, but Pea is for Sweetpea, the name she gave me when I was a baby.  You are frettin’ again.

Like one of us didn’t need to.  I was good at it, and I never liked to get out of practice.

The steering wheel about fried my hands when I grabbed it, but I held on.  Started the engine and backed out of the stained driveway I was a little scared to leave, but I had to.

I propped Sister’s picture—one where she looked young and carefree in a way I’d never seen her—in the ashtray, and I pointed the car northwest.  I decided I had best be alert; no telling if I might find Sister along the way.  There were a lot of unanswered questions, I admit.  Still, despite the heat of the day and the ache in my heart, I felt hopeful for a change.

Hold on, Sister, I thought as I steered away.  I’m gonna find you, and when I do, I pinky-promise I will not let you down, not ever again.

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  • “Eudora Welty meets Sue Monk Kidd and they lunch with Fannie Flagg”


    – Just Janga blog

As a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nearly 40 novels in romance and women’s fiction, Jean Brashear is a five-time RITA finalist and Romantic Times BOOK Reviews Career Achievement Award winner who knows a lot about taking crazy chances….Read More

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