Saturday, August 20, 2016

Snowball Bush

The first few years I taught fourth grade my classroom was in an old 1925 building...no air conditioning...bat drippings oozing down the walls from cracks in the super high ceiling...wooden floors with so many years of summer wax job buildups, a fire would have spread instantaneously...ancient radiators that hissed steam...windows above the radiators that spanned the rest of the height to the ceiling...gravel (muddy) parking lot for teachers.

The good old days.

While building maintenance was hard to keep up to standard, beautification projects kept a certain air of dignity about the campus. I don't remember all that many flowers except for a string of bushes that bloomed gigantic white balls. The children called them snowball bushes. I looked upon them as pesky. The sarcastic teachers called them death traps.



Let me explain to all of you who don't remember life in a hot classroom with no air conditioning, even before global warming reared its ugly head. Closing the windows was not an option. Lowering the shades helped some, except that often the one most needed had scrolled its way to the top of the window frame and the janitor was nowhere around with a ladder to reach the cord that pulled it back into position. Electric fans would have helped, except that the wiring along the string of classrooms on my side of the hall was tricky. If the teacher next door was showing a filmstrip, power to my plug just didn't happen. Children learned early how to turn yesterday's math worksheet into a paper fan. Teachers learned early to go over the important skills in the relative coolness of the morning.

And bees learned early that the insides of the schoolhouse offered all sorts of tasty, inviting juice remnants. Which brings me to the snowball bushes arrayed beneath the windows of my classroom and the swarms of bees doing what bees do when the flowers are at their peak. They made a bee line to these delectable snowballs, and often made a few detours in the open windows. Only one year did that cause a concern, the year of the superallergic, ten minutes to get a shot from my top desk drawer or die, student. We took this shot outside on the playground every day. We took it on field trips. For the entire year it accompanied me, unused, thank heaven. One child's beauty is another's tragedy.

This past week my husband and I traveled to Shatley Springs Restaurant  near Jefferson, North Carolina for a breakfast treat, no small treat, I might add. It's served family style and offers any and every breakfast item a southern home cook would offer, including country ham, sausage, bacon, gravy, grits, eggs, potatoes, stewed apples, biscuits and strawberry jelly. Make that homemade biscuits and homemade strawberry jam.
The pancakes came later
On the way inside we passed a noisy snowball bush. No, the bush wasn't making the noise. The bees were. Too bad this photograph I took of the bush doesn't come with sound. I'd love for you to hear it. That's the restaurant in the background, on the other side of the bush, at the end of the walk that goes directly below the bush...and the bees. My guess is that when the blooms start shedding their individual petals, the ground is as white as the winter snow. But this is summer and the tasty food and accompanying smell of fried country ham overrode my fear of noisy bees. I was not disappointed.


Dodging bees there at the bush brought these schoolhouse memories back. Strange how the most unexpected thoughts come from a simple morning out.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Myrtle and Sharon

Sounds like two ladies, Myrtle and Sharon, but they're not. They're plants. They live in my yard. In fact, they thrive there.

Here's Myrtle
And here's Sharon











Crepe Myrtle and Rose of Sharon, that is. I took these photos this week, in their peak. Their greenness and color are a welcome sight every summer, because both of them are downright bare during the depth of winter.

Here's winter Myrtle

And here's winter Sharon






One of my projects has involved research of French botanist Andre Michaux. He trekked through western North Carolina in the late 1700's, in fact on Bastille Day was not all that far from where Myrtle and Sharon now stand. He introduced Crepe Myrtle to America, brought it from Japan through the Charleston, South Carolina harbor where it thrived and spread and generations later, found its way to adorn my house.

Rose of Sharon, on the other hand, was already a part of the early settlers' awareness. It's Biblical, mentioned in the King James Version of The Song of Solomon, Chapter 2, verse 1: I am the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley. My reasoning here: This is the Bible belt. Rose of Sharon would have ranked well up there for ornamental plants.

One thing I've learned through all this writing about flowers, there's always a story to catch even in the beauty of my backyard. I'm going to keep researching until I find where the names Myrtle and Sharon fit into the grand scheme of things. Sounds like a plan.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen







Saturday, August 6, 2016

Highway 64, Part 2


After last week's post about US Highway 64, I thought I would add more details as to why this road is near and dear to my heart. Not only do I live off it in North Carolina, and my daughter lives and works off it in New Mexico, it's also featured in one of my books!



Chapter three. Page 26:
There was only one main road on the western side of the South Mountains, state road number #181, a narrow unpaved gravel/mud road that connected the town of Morganton to the town of Rutherfordton, thirty some miles to the south. A trip over that road in the 1930’s meant the traveler in a car, or most often, horse and buggy, must ford at least thirteen streams between the two towns. The roads branching off from the main artery had deep ruts and even deeper mud holes that became next to impossible to navigate during rainy periods. Conditions were so bad that in March of 1936, rural mail delivery stopped.
In March of 1938 the US government approved federal aid to North Carolina for the improvement of #181 south of Morganton. Engineers plotted the road to the Burke/McDowell county line. With new techniques of road building and less winding roads, the travel distance between Morganton and Rutherfordton was reduced from thirty-five to twenty-seven miles.
  • The old road wandered all around creation, especially up there around my house. It went in front of my shop and on up past my garden and back to where highway #64 is at now. Climbed up the top of the next hill and circled back and went back down to Brindle Creek and crossed the creek and went up to the top of the hill and come back again. Goes as a matter of convenience from one property to the next. That’s how crooked it was. You don’t think nothing      about the road until you get to looking at where it used to be. Henry Lane, student, 1942-48
This new road included a tar and gravel surface and up-to-date banking on the curves for safety. It opened to much ballyhoo and excitement on July 30, 1940.
A mere two weeks later, on August 14, 1940 surging floodwaters from an unnamed hurricane destroyed most of that exciting new road along with the valuable farmland and crops throughout the valley. Many bridges on the road washed away.
  • They was so much water ‘til it looked like an ocean to me. The field looked like you could go swimming in it. All the stuff washed away, an old barn we had there, the stuff we had in it, the straw, hay. Crops. Everything was gone. It got it all. Preston Denton, construction crew, 1941-42
By September the WPA approved flood relief for farmers affected by the hurricane and employed local men to work on a farm-to-market road project designed to rebuild the road. The engineers returned and directed these men in repairing highway #181 with more federal money. They completed construction by the end of 1940 and designated this route as a part of federal highway #64. 

I love catching the stories behind the stories. 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen






Thursday, July 28, 2016

Highway 64

US Highway 64 is near and dear to my heart.

Strange statement, right? A road. An ordinary, run-of-the-mill, get-me-to-work, road.

But, as in just about everything that crosses my path, there's more to this story than miles of pavement. This is not just any road. It's a road that has intersected with my life in more ways than one.

To begin with, I live within siren wailing distance off the road. Maybe a little closer, more like noisy motorcycle revving distance. Our house is in a subdivision here in western North Carolina, a turn or two off the main thoroughfare, far enough for peace and calm, close enough for convenience.

If I drive east, staying on Highway 64, I'd eventually run into the Atlantic Ocean where the road terminates in the North Carolina Outer Banks. Been there. On 64, the only choice.

If I drive west, staying on Highway 64, I'd pass the schoolhouse I wrote about in my Lessons Learned book.

If I drive further west, further, further and further, staying on Highway 64, I'd arrive in New Mexico a stone's throw from the vet's office where my daughter works (and six miles from her house).

If I drive even further west, staying on Highway 64, I'd cross the Rio Grande on a bridge that scares me beyond imagination. This photograph shows the bridge spanning the river's gorge. Follow the river upstream and you'd be within hot air balloon eyesight of the back deck of my daughter's house where I greet the morning with a cup of hot tea.

Distant picture of bridge, taken after a hike on the western rim of the gorge

My husband Van, standing on the highway 64 bridge

With the creation of the interstate highway system, roads like Highway 64 became localized, funneling the major traffic to faster, more efficient routes. Here's where my story takes a turn, a right turn, heading back east turn. 

With a logic only my husband and I could fathom, we decided to explore US Highway 64. We had driven a load of odds and ends to our daughter's house in Taos, New Mexico. By the way, important to this story fact, odds and ends fit better in the back of a pick-up truck. We came out following Interstate 40 through western North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas until just after the state line in New Mexico where we took a side road across the mountains to Taos. This was a journey of two and a half days, not bad, except, remember, this was a pick-up truck with plenty of room for odds and ends (including his golf clubs) but only two seats in the cab, with a back space for overnight luggage, pillows and the all important food stash and ice cooler.

We visited for a week and helped renovate her back deck (so I would have a beautiful spot to sit and sip my hot tea and watch the hot air balloons). We plotted our return trip. Not hard to do. Drive six miles, get on US Highway 64 east, drive over a thousand miles, and get off a quarter mile from our house. No cheating. We would follow this road regardless, we decided. Ha!

"Be sure to stop in Cimarron at the St. James Hotel," a North Carolina turned New Mexico friend told us over breakfast the morning of our departure. St. James it was, our first major find in our journey. We stopped in and walked through the lobby where once upon a time the likes of Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Kit Carson, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid had also stopped in and walked through the lobby. Talk about feeling history!

Highway 64 took us all the way through the panhandle of Oklahoma, followed by the part that makes up the pan to go with the handle. (Enid, Oklahoma is a real place to me now after years of filling it in crossword puzzles...just another gem I uncovered on this trip.)
A view of the panhandle out the back window of the pick-up.
And an extinct volcano, out in the middle of  Oklahoma's nowhere.


We found a volcano.We found salt flats. We found a distributor selling tornado shelters. We found Cherokee, Oklahoma. We found Okies from Muskogee. 

We drove a few miles off the route to the museum of the Western Cherokee nation. Our eyes were opened seeing and hearing the Cherokee perspective beyond the North Carolina boundaries.

Museum of the western band of the Cherokee Nation

We drove the back country through Arkansas on a route that appeared to us as quicker and shorter than the huge dip Interstate 40 takes to Little Rock. We crossed the Mississippi on the interstate (no other choice) bridge and picked up the road again in Memphis, Tennessee. Off the beaten track in the back woods of southern Tennessee, we followed a sign that I never considered before. I walked a few steps to take its photograph thinking of those who walked the same steps with a vastly different purpose.


We drove through Tennessee's Davy Crockett State Park and spent yet another night (one of four on the return trip) this time in Chattanooga in the shade of Lookout Mountain. We crossed into North Carolina early on the final travel day and assumed we would be home in a few hours. Wrong. 

Highway 64 goes through some of the most rugged land North Carolina has to offer. The road itself was bypassed by newer highways. When the sign said "No thru trucks" we should have realized what was in store. But we were determined to follow this through all the way, even if it meant cliff hangers. Cliff hangers we found.

What our determination meant was a view of the river traffic jam. 


And a view of a State Park...


                         And a national forest.




Will we do it again?

No, even though this highway is near and dear to my heart, and even though it was well worth the effort. Yet there are other back roads and by-ways waiting to be explored. Those we'll take. We've already got out the map.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen







Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Flood of 1916

Hurricane here in the mountains? Yes, it's been known to happen, several instances in my lifetime as a matter of fact. I'm thinking Hurricane Hugo. Hurricane Hazel.

I'm also thinking of an unnamed hurricane, one that roared through western North Carolina a hundred years ago this month, back before giving recognition to a hurricane with a name became standard, back before the TVA and other dam projects protected the mountain valleys from these once in a hundred year floods. The people here probably didn't realize this dangerous storm originated in the Gulf of Mexico and followed the spine of the Appalachians and dumped its collection of water over Western North Carolina, water that funneled through the back hollars wiping away everything in its path. All they knew was that the sky rained bucket fulls and the wind blew with such force that a hundred years later, scars remain.

This was all documented in my Wheels and Moonshine: The Stories and Adventures of Claude B. Minton. Claude lived through it. He talked about it during a video taping of his life story collected by Wilkes Community College. I had to include it, because it was such a part of the setting where the book is located.

Here's his nephew, Johnny Turner, the co-author of the book, speaking about his uncle and the community of Grandin wiped out by the hurricane:
  • In the early years of the twentieth century, there was a train that ran from Wilkesboro to Ferguson and then further up the valley. Beside horse and buggy and a rare wagon trip to Wilkesboro, that was the first taste of going beyond the farm that most people had. A train trip to Grandin was a popular excursion on Sundays after church. I’ve heard Uncle Claude talk about riding that railroad when he was a little boy and realizing there was more out there than the farm around him. The railway was built for business, for the logging company. It brought the timber from the mountains to the sawmills along the line, and then the lumber from the sawmills out to market. A small town developed, Grandin, named after the timber company owner. It had a doctor’s office, a drug store, and more than enough people to make a community. But it didn’t last. Although the railroad was rebuilt after a flood that destroyed it in 1916, it was doomed by a second flood in 1918 and never rebuilt. We’ve always called Grandin a ghost town, because after the floods washed out the railroads, the town lost its reason to exist and people moved away, walked out and left the buildings just as they were. 
 It's been a hundred years since then, years of wars and peace and Olympics and disasters and births and deaths and prosperity and depression. Life goes on despite the hurricanes that interfere. Life lessons learned.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen









Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Celebrating Blackberries



Weeks ago I posted about the overabundance of blackberries this season in a blog I called Blackberry Winter. 

Now those very blossoms have turned into huge berries, black, juicy, sweet berries, just ripe for the picking.
















So  we celebrated at the Blackberry Festival in downtown Lenoir, North Carolina. Big time celebrated with a carnival atmosphere, fun games, vendor booths and, ta-da, a parade.


The booth where I sold books had a front row vista of this year's parade. I knew they were coming because the lead man, the one you can barely see in the front of this photograph, was playing "When the Saints Go Marching In" on his trumpet. 


All that to herald the most important part of the festival, the blackberry cobblers, ceremoniously carried in on platforms. By the hundreds. Free cobbler samples for everyone! And more for sale.


The one I purchased and brought home to my hungry hubby was baked and sold as a fund raiser by a local charity. The ladies spent hours...HOURS...using a tried and true recipe to bake hundreds of these ten dollar cobblers. HUNDREDS. 

Add a dollop of Cool Whip, and my, oh, my what a treat for a summer evening.

We know how to do blackberries around here.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Mimosa, the tree

I was at Lake Lure, North Carolina this past week, enjoying a day out with a friend, looking for the stair steps from the film site location of Dirty Dancing, when I ran across this majestic mimosa tree.


I don't know if this season is any different from others, but for some reason I've noticed more of the pink blossomed trees than ever before. Maybe I've just never paid attention. Maybe they are making a comeback here in western North Carolina.

I call it a comeback because sixty some years ago, these trees almost became eradicated in our area. The old folks say it was "the blight." In order to keep the disease from spreading, infected trees were first chopped down and then chopped up...into oblivion, destroyed. Yet that's not the full story. The old folks had more to add, and from what I've read in my research, I did find an underlying desperation that accompanied this act.

Why destroy trees with beautiful, silky blossoms?
There were reasons.
Because at the same time, sixty some years ago, the polio epidemic was rampant here in western North Carolina, and parents were looking in desperation for any and every possibility of blame. These trees, with a blight infection creeping up their trunks, became a logical place to point. Local panic ensued. Parents looked above them in the canopy and saw the spread of death instead of the delight of beauty. A determined parent watching the evil of polio creep through the neighborhood would eliminate any threat to the family, real or imagined. This was available. This was tangible. This had to go.

A canopy of death?
Or delicate blooms of nature's umbrella?
Mimosa trees became the scapegoat for a much bigger problem. Maybe the blight would have killed off the trees anyway. Maybe not. But now, after all these years, the mimosas are back, in full bloom and regally adorning our landscapes. I look at the blossoms and see innocent beauty, with not a hint of peril.

Times have changed.

Life goes on.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen