Saturday, March 28, 2020

History Repeats Itself

I'm sitting in front of my computer, hunkered down, waiting for the storm that hasn't yet shown up, might blow over, or might blow us all to kingdom come. Epidemic! Just the word alone brings a level of fear I never imagined this time last year, last month, even last week. Our state will go on stay-at-home status this coming Monday afternoon, although I see little difference between that and what I have already started. Schools in North Carolina have been canceled, at least through April, and children and parents have already settled into the homeschooling/work-from-home mode.

Two words I hear thrown about in regards to much of what is happening now in 2020 are "unprecedented" and "unchartered." While those appear to be convenient words as we flounder about looking for solutions to this virus epidemic, they are incorrect when applied to our response to this horrid coronavirus. There is a precedence. We have chartered a path before, although it was in vastly different times.

I'm talking the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Three years ago I uncovered a fascinating detail when I was working on a project about a school in western North Carolina. Deep inside a box labeled principal's reports in the archives in Raleigh, my researcher, Diane Richard of Mosaic Research and Project Management, found, copied, and sent me the mundane, run of the mill school year reports I requested. Like this one:

I read it with casual interest, just like I read all the other end-of-year reports pertinent to the dates of this Spring Creek School. Further down the page I found this:

Note two things. Under the number promoted, zero. Not one person in the entire school (okay, thirty-two students, but it was a small school tucked in the far away mountains of the state). Under the number of graduates, again none. But then the note, "School was closed because of epidemic."

Later in the report, Principal Woody penned in the details: school that year ran from August 5, 1918 to March 21, 1919.

Her closing remarks:
And here we thought 2020 was unprecedented. In 1918, this school closed for the year on March 21 because of an epidemic. Sound familiar?

Of course I included this in the book I wrote with Jasper Reese, Back in the Time: Medicine, Education and Life in the Isolation of Western North Carolina's Spring Creek.
Never in my wildest imagination did I consider that history would repeat itself. But it did, and here we are. Parents in 1918 were as fearful for their child's life as parents are in 2020. A hundred years can't erase the protection emotion of a parent. That is basic and hasn't changed, won't change. Medicine and computers and stay at home, keep the child busy techniques have changed, however. My grandchildren are doing lessons on computers. Their great, great, great grandparents did chores. They worked on the farm. They helped their parents. Wait. My grands are doing more chores now than they ever have. They are helping in the home, doing chores and classwork as their parents telecommute their daily jobs. They are learning what family does in crisis.

Don't tell me the children of this calamity have no future. They will be strong. They will learn to overcome. Just like their ancestors.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, March 14, 2020

Sunshine Award

Thank you, Joan Edwards, for recognizing me with a Sunshine Blogger Award. Check out her blog that just oozes with her lovely sense of optimism. I can always depend on Joan for an encouraging word and so must many others because she was recognized as a "Sunshine Blogger." Now she passes the award on to me and several others who she lists on her blog.
This sudden surprise made me smile. A sunshine award! Not that I'm always Susie Sunshine or anything (I can claim that title because Sue is my middle name), but my aim IS to be positive in my blog posts.

So here goes on what Joan sent me to reply, quoting Joan, with my answers in red:
  1. What makes you happy? Accomplishing what I hoped
  2. What is your favorite place to travel on a vacation? Taos, New Mexico Why? Besides being art colony to savor the atmosphere, it is where my daughter lived for several years
  3. If I could ask one question of an important leader of a country now or in the past, who would you choose, and what would you ask him/her? I am researching the Whiskey Rebellion for a project I'm working on now so I'd like to ask George Washington about his role in that.
  4. What is your favorite color? brown Do you have many outfits in that color? Yes. I prefer earth tones.  Attach a picture of you wearing one of your favorite colors.
  5. How would you prefer to spend your weekend? Creating great art, writing, movies, or hiking? A little dab of all four! 
  6. What is the most important quality of a friend? Truthfulness
  7. What is your favorite book? I can't pick a single book, but usually it's the latest book I'm reading. I meet with local writers once a week and each of them have new books out. I've read them all and enjoyed each for its uniqueness. Would you read it again? By all means, and I have read the haiku poetry book by one member a couple times.
Reading back through what I have written, I'm looking for the sunshine amidst the brown, earthy answers. I see it in the books I choose to read. I surround myself with positive books so I can keep my mindset on the joyful wonders of life rather than the darkness that creeps in when least expected.

I want to refer you to a few equally Sunshine blog friends of mine who deserve the "Sunshine Blogger Award." They are authors in our Foothill Writers group. To them I ask, "Why are you overflowing with sunshine?"

Polly Anna Watson writes about Biblical Joy in her book that is to be released this week on kindle, Joy Actions. Her blog, Joy Regardless is a companion to the book and worth checking out for the sunshine it brings.

Stefanie Hutcheson takes us on a journey as head wanderer in her blog, Wandering Through the Bible. Her book, The Adventures of George and Mabel, is a delightful book that she has extended through a facebook page, GeorgeandMabel Harrison, as she writes the sequel.

Also on an author facebook page is Jan Lindie, who does her own beautiful art work in her soon-to-be-released novel, From Darkness. I am so looking forward to reading it.

Stop by their sites, visit with them a bit and see why I consider them worthy of the Sunshine Blogger Award.

There are other authors in our writers' group that I want to mention who have published recently but don't have an online presence beyond personal facebook pages. Carol Starr writes poetry that she shares in her "Little Poems" book, Ripples. Vivian Satterwhite writes short stories and includes an award winning short in her book, Sweet Tea in Autumn. Thomas Ballantine, a pseudonym for our buddy we call Tom, released a novel, Ridge Runner, that entertained me with a trip back to my own early adult years. I just completed a novel by Gena Williams, Stolen. I had this book on my "to-read" list for a few weeks and saved it to last because a friend who read it warned me that once I started I wouldn't be able to put it down. Friend was right.

If you are homebound the next few weeks, you should find your own sunshine by reading these books.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap Day Thoughts Bouncing Around in My Head

Happy Leap Day, World!

I'm not sure if that's the customary greeting for a day like today, but since Leap Day comes but once every four years, I thought I'd get into the spirit and wish you happy leaping! Meanwhile I'll muse a tiny bit about leaping and my books.

Since the last leap year in 2016, I published a book with Neil Armstrong's declaration upon landing on the moon, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." I've been to classrooms in two states with this book and fourth graders could recite that sentence. It's part of their culture. Yay for teachers who teach modern history! Makes me want to leap for joy.

There are also Leaps of Faith throughout my books, as in all great life stories. My mother's cousin, Lorraine Frese, took a giant leap of faith when she answered God's call to upend her life and move to the Salvation Army's Mountain Mission in western North Carolina. I wrote about her in 2013, nearly two leaps ago.

Dr. Jane Carswell likewise took that same leap of faith to move to eastern Kentucky and serve the people in a coal mining town as a medical doctor. Her biography is a book I've published since last leap year. I've published other books since 2016 that are also filled with life stories of men who took the leap of faith and went on to great (and ordinary, but necessary) accomplishments. 

With leap year comes election year, a topic I'm even more familiar with as I'm working on a new project with a retired politician. I am thinking in chunks of election cycles as I structure his memoir, which just happen to also be in chunks of leap years. 

Lots can happen in a quantum leap!

I'm friends on facebook with people celebrating birthdays on February 29. They laugh that they are younger than others since they have fewer notches on their sticks. Do they store their fun and games and blow them all in a once upon a four year day? I wonder if parents anticipating births this year will induce labor a day ahead, just in case, or if they will induce on leap day, just to be special. 

I can't help but also wonder what will happen between now and the next leap of year. Will I have other books to share with the world? Will I check off my complete bucket list and be searching for more? 

My wish for everyone is that we all take that leap of faith necessary to make the world a better place. Without leapers, where would we be! I hope in 2024 my blog title will be 

"My Leap of Faith Was So Worth It!"

Catch of the day,


Saturday, February 22, 2020

I Was Blessed

My mother has been on my thoughts lately, so for no special reason, I'm writing about her today. She died nearly two decades ago, but she never really left me. A fashion piece, she was not, although in my favorite picture of her, she appears quite stylish.
It's not her birthday, although she'd be a hundred and nine this coming November, so that counts for something. It's no longer Valentine's Day. She was too practical and would cringe whenever my father brought her flowers. She was a product of the Great Depression, after all, and spending money on such an extravagance went against her nature. It's not Mother's Day, the one day she did allow flowers, on corsages, white orchid for her to wear to church in memory of her mother, red rose for me because, as tradition dictated, girls whose mothers were still living wore red flowers in their honor. We only went out to eat at a restaurant once a year. Mother's Day. Even when we traveled we did not eat at a restaurant. We packed a meal or we brought out the Coleman stove and cooked beside the wayside picnic table on site.

She had gone on a cross country adventure of her own aboard a tour bus before World War II and before air conditioning. Each evening the bus stopped and unloaded cots for the women to sleep under the stars. She had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single day for the three week duration of this adventure, consequently she never served me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Never. I had no idea they existed until I was further up in age.

I might have been deprived of a pb&j childhood, but I wasn't deprived of the wanderlust gene that I was fortunate enough to receive from both my mother and my father. They traveled around the United States dragging my brother and me into the most obscure museums ever invented. When they both retired, they traipsed across Europe visiting places they never imagined they would see.

Their life long goal was to see Alaska. That dream ended when my father passed away unexpectedly, so my husband and I picked up the dream and drove the Al-Can highway in his honor, dragging our two children to the most obscure museums ever invented. A few years later my mother accompanied me on a trip to Alaska where we traveled by state ferry instead of a luxurious ship chocked full of glamorous delights.

She wanted to see more of the world, so she promised her grandchildren she would take each one of them to any place on the face of the earth as long as she had not been there before, which narrowed the list a great deal. Her oldest grandchild, my niece, picked Ireland, and off they went. My nephew chose Greece. My daughter picked the Netherlands. And my son, the baby of the four, chose a safari in Africa.

Last fall my cell phone rang. My younger granddaughter was on the other line. "Granny Gretchen," she started. "You know how Daddy's grandma took him to Africa and Auntie Jenny to Holland?"

Where she heard the story, I didn't know, but "Yes."

"When are you going to do that for us?"

Guess what is in my future! Thanks, Mom. You're the greatest ever. I was blessed.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Alexa, May I?

One game my friends and I played nonstop all those many, many years ago, was "Mother, May I."

Looking back through the lens of years, I'm wondering where in the world that game came from. We learned it at school, I'm sure, and adapted the rules to fit our circumstances in the side yard at home, but I wonder which teacher first stood before her class and laid out the rules. Probably a teacher who was determined we were going to learn our manners, come what may.

One person was assigned to be the mother. She stood at one end of the yard and we lined up at the other end. When our individual turns came, "Mother" gave us instructions we had to follow. Like "take two giant steps forward," or "hop like a frog three times." The object of the game was to be the first person to get to mother.

If we obeyed without asking "Mother, May I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. If we said, "Mother, Can I?" we had to go back to the beginning line. Sometimes we added the "please" rule, and that set us back even more. The mother in our games usually wasn't all that fair, either. I played with sisters who disliked each other and ordered "baby steps" when they saw each other winning. Life lessons there.

My childhood training in "Mother, May I" came in handy one day last week. I went to my volunteer job, opening the Red Awning Art Gallery where my books are for sale. I was alone and the building creaked as the wind howled, so I needed noise to off set all those imagined footsteps an author like me manages to create in her head. I plugged in the neon "Open" sign and leaned over to the music box and said, "Play music." Nothing happened. I said it again, "Play music." Nothing. I remembered the please rule and added that. Still nothing. I was defeated by a black circle. I felt like I was sent back to the beginning.
Alexa sitting behind some art work
on an antique desk at the gallery

Lightbulb moment.

"Alexa, Play music."


Who would have thought that some obscure game I played once upon a time would be a part of reality in this century!

Catch of the day,


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Play Pretties

I'm starting a new project that takes place in, you guessed it if you know my past projects, the mountains of western North Carolina. In my research I ran across the term "play pretty," as in "taking a play pretty from a baby" or "like a play pretty on the end of a string." What a delightful way to describe a toy. The Dictionary of American Regional English lists several examples of this southern way of talk, including a map showing where the expression "play pretty" has been found. Yes, the mountains of western North Carolina were on that map. Yes, my research was on daily life in previous centuries, although I found "play pretty" in the more modern Urban Dictionary.
Fort Defiance, Lenoir
When my fourth graders went on a field trip to Fort Defiance, the restored home of our town's colonial namesake, General William Lenoir, the docent taught them about play pretties from colonial times. One was the game of Graces, where players use a set of dowels to pass embroidery hoops from one to the next. 
(Public Domain,

Another play pretty was a hoop from a barrel that children could roll down a path using a stick to keep it moving and balanced. I wonder if any of those children in the Appalachian mountains all those years ago ever considered rotating the hoop around the belly. By the time I came along, the hoop went around the belly. And the neck. And the wrist. Times changed! Play pretties changed.

Our play pretties were simple. We played marbles until our school's playground was paved. Even the grassed lots didn't work all that well, since we couldn't find any sand where we could draw a circle for a game. 

We had metal pointy thingamajigs called jacks that we picked up each time we bounced a ball, first one at a time, then twosies, then threesies, and so on. I was not so adept at those evil play pretties. I doubt I ever picked up sets of jacks beyond the sixes or sevens. That's why I wasn't a fan, that and the fact that they hurt like crazy to step on in bare feet.

We skated, using another play pretty that wasn't so pretty when I skinned my knees and the blood dripped down my legs. I had a key for my skates. I inserted it into the metal slide between the two halves of a skate in order to change the size. I stayed in my regular shoes to skate and clamped the metal skates to them. Those straps around my ankles kept coming undone and tripping me. What a fun childhood I had!
I could write a book!

But wait. I am writing a book and the play pretties children found to entertain themselves three generations ago is a part of this book. Stay tuned.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, December 28, 2019


As we start into this new 2020 year and dust off the leftover crumbs of the 2019 past, I'm taking with me a little reminder-to-self of the importance of character, not only in my daily interactions with others, but in my recording of history. How I write my books shows as much about my character as that of the person I'm writing about.
Last week I made a delightful Christmas visit to my mother's cousin, Lorraine. She is ninety-two years old and still the lively, active subject of our book about her, Called to the Mountains.
In the midst of our little two-person celebration, she dragged out a photograph she found while scrounging through her many stacks of photographs. "Could you help me figure out what it says on the banner?" 

A history mystery! A challenge.
She brought out a magnifying glass and we at least were able to decipher the date, 1928. Despite all efforts, we were unable to go further. "Who are these people?" I asked. They appeared to be college aged, all dressed similarly in Sunday best. Or maybe graduation best. She had no idea, not even an inkling of where she got the picture.

"Could I take this with me and I'll scan it and work with it? Maybe then we will figure it out." Oh, the joys of modern technology when a puzzle is upon me!
Between the zooming in and the color clarity manipulation, the results revealed enough for me to call Lorraine and announce the words I found on the banner: Character is the Cornerstone of Success 1928. Wow. The past speaks! Lorraine might be ninety-two years old, but her thirst for knowledge has not dimmed. She wanted to know more, and so did I.

I searched the internet to see who originated that saying, as it sounded like an adage worth claiming to me. The only direct quote I found with those exact words was on a fortune cookie, and that doesn't match the 1928 roaring twenties of this picture! 

Next I went to the reverse image search engine called Tin Eye that I have used several times when I needed to locate the origins of photos I wanted to use in my books. 
Struck out there. 

I'd like to say I found more information, but I didn't. The trail is cold for the time being, but maybe, just maybe, I will hit a clue somewhere down the 2020 vision line and discover more about it.

Meanwhile I can only look at the individuals in this picture and wonder how life turned out for them. They would be over a hundred years old if any of them survived into this new century. This was 1928, when the world was on the cusp of a Great Depression. Did any of them succumb to their own depression and jump off a bridge to end it all just one year after posing for this photograph? Who among them were killed in the Second World War? Who had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren walking beside us now? Which ones took that Character is...banner to heart and made such a tremendous success of themselves that we could write glowing reports about them today?

The people in this picture were frozen in time under a banner heralding the key to success. Their life was still a promise of yet to come days. The question I can't help but ask, when we take our own character is photograph on January 1, 2020, what will people in ninety years wonder about us? 

Catch of the day,