Saturday, January 21, 2017

Old Style Misinformation and the Perkinsville Tunnel

A frontpage feature article in the Charlotte Observer this past week told the story of a graduate of nearby Davidson College who wrote the intentionally misinformational (is that a word?) article about fraudulent votes. He faked it all, yet it went viral and fed into the "rigged election" frenzy. In fact, the headline of the article about him read "Faking 'News' for Profit."

He needed the money, he says. "You're fired," his boss says.

I have so many comments about this blatant disrespect of the reader, and of the writer's integrity, that I could fill every post on my blog from now on. But that's not today's topic. Today I want to tell you the story of the Perkinsville Tunnel. Hang with me here, there is a connection.

During my graduate year at Appalachian State University, my husband commuted to his job from our apartment in Boone, down the mountain to the other side of Lenoir. His time spent on the road frequently doubled because the highway was being widened into three lanes and he was stopped by construction crews. Once we moved to Lenoir I mentioned the construction in an offhanded comment to someone, whom for the life of me, I can not remember.

I do remember he (or she) leaned over and whispered, "You do know there is a tunnel going up the mountain, don't you?"

This I had never heard. Nor did I know why he/she was whispering.

"It's top secret. Military. They needed a tunnel to get the supplies unseen to their storage sites."

I passed it off as preposterous, completely contrary to the logic I had studied as a university student. How could anyone believe such absurdity? Okay, so this was the early seventies filled with daily reports coming from Viet Nam, and from Viet Nam protests. Even then, the idea of a tunnel made no sense.

Fast forward almost fifty years and there I am in front of my computer working on my latest project, this one about racing in Caldwell County (yes, you read that right). I flip the page of the scrapbook I'm using as a resource and I find a 1993 news article clipped from the Watauga Democrat, the Boone newspaper. Headline: 50s dragsters gather near the Perkinsville Tunnel.

As I'm reading through the article, this long ago story of a mysterious military tunnel begins to rattle in the deep recesses of my mind. The dots start connecting. That person who whispered in my ears so many years ago...wasn't so loony after all. Maybe.

And here's why...

Drag racing.

On the street drag racing.

Middle of the night, on the street drag racing.

Stay off the road because in the middle of the night, there's drag racing.

We need an excuse to force people to stay off the road because in the wee hours of the morning, there's drag racing.

People will believe anything if we stick the word "military" to use as an excuse to force people to stay off the road because in the wee hours of the morning, there's going to be drag racing.

A tunnel. A top secret, military based tunnel that people will believe, and not question, and the more elaborate the lie, the more likely they'll accept it.

The word spread. The road is blocked because of construction tonight. You'll have to pick an alternate route, as if there was that much traffic to begin with that needed to reroute on the mountain roads after midnight in the fifties and sixties. That roar of engines you hear? That's the construction gearing up.

Bob Barnes, a disc jockey on Boone's radio station WATA got wind of the story. He knew it was misinformation, but the temptation to spread the word was too good to pass up. He even coined a name, the Perkinsville Tunnel, using the nearest community as reference. He'd announce updates on the tunnel construction, knowing full well this very tunnel did not exist. His warnings were heeded and people stayed away (and those in on the ruse knew something was afoot... bring the cars, we're drag racing tonight).

These former dragsters laughed with Bob Barnes when they met at the reunion in 1993. They talked over old times and how they fooled the world into thinking there was a tunnel. They had no pictures to share and point at and to ooh and aah over. Drag racing on the street was illegal and no one at the time wanted incriminating photographs. Instead they came out of the woodwork years later and held a reunion in broad daylight, complete with newspaper reporters. What a difference a couple decades make!


Former drag racers meet and greet at the Perkinsville Tunnel Reunion

So if I ever think of who that was whispering to me years ago, I'll be sure to set them straight. That, my friends, is a little old-style misinformation for you to pass along.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saving the Environment the Old Fashioned Way

This past week a facebook friend of mine posted a copy and share article that set me to thinking. With a bold title like "Green My Ass," I'm surprised I even bothered to read it, but I'm glad I did.

The unknown author wrote about an encounter between an older (I can call it that now since I'm edging on up there to that label) customer and the checkout clerk at the grocery store. "Paper or plastic?" got the rant started, especially when the clerk chided the customer about her generation not saving the environment.

Game on.

And it wasn't even a contest. She (I'm assuming it was a she because she fumed about hanging diapers on the line on ice cold days instead of using disposable diapers to overflow the landfill) started with milk bottles as in "We returned milk bottles," and from there it went to a list of items that were no doubt on the counter as the clerk clicked up the price. Drinking from a water fountain instead of a plastic, often thrown away, bottle. Then it moved to walking instead of using (abusing) gasoline powered autos. And riding the school bus instead of clogging parent kiss and drop lines. On to television in every room wasting electricity.

I was raised by depression era parents. In the summer my father mowed the lawn with an engineless push mower. I tried to help several times, but the thing was way too heavy for me even on the flat stretches. In the winter he shoveled the snow with a garden shovel because with not all that much snow in the south, purchasing a rarely used snow shovel would be a waste of money.

My mother saved all kinds of electrical energy by hanging clothes on the line. That, I was old enough to help with, much to my dismay. The newest generation should at least once have the wonderful experience of cracking their air dried jeans back into human shape. The stretch metals that my mother inserted when they were wet didn't help all that much, either. Besides, inserting them into wet pants was my most dreaded chore.

She had few gadgets or specialized appliances in the kitchen. Her cooking was on the basic burners or oven. When we made cranberry relish at Thanksgiving, I helped her cut each berry in half, one by one, a good half hour's job if we anticipated a large crowd to prepare for.

Wait! What am I thinking?

I make that same relish each Thanksgiving using my food processor and finish the entire recipe including clean-up in a quarter hour, ten minutes if I'm rushing. My poor mom. I wish life was easier for her. Her hands might not have been so chapped if she could have used a dryer those cold days. And for my dad, he would have so enjoyed mowing on a riding mower and spending saved time fiddling in his garage.

So there's trade offs. Can we save the environment and still enjoy the amenities that modern life offers? That answer lies in awareness and effort and potential innovations that help preserve our resources so that in the future a clerk at the grocery store won't have to be lectured about saving the environment the old fashioned way.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Preparing for a Long Cold Winter

I'm sitting here in the warmth of electric heating, not worried at all that I need to fetch wood for the fireplace. Although there's a good five inches of fresh fallen snow outside, it's downright toasty in here. We do have a back-up heat plan in case of emergency, an old Franklin stove in the basement (thank you, Ben) and plenty of firewood my husband chopped last fall (thank you, Van).

As I'm working on memoirs for other people, they often talk about the "good old days." I've come to the conclusion that parts of the olden times were not all that good. Take wood chopping. Please (thank you, Rodney).


Times were simpler when struggling to survive was the major day-to-day activity. The housewife in the mountains wouldn't have had time to stress about facebook posts or twitter accounts. The latest styles from the runway in Paris meant nothing to her. A new scent sprayed on her as she walked near the perfume counter in the department store? Wouldn't have happened. Ten minute supper preparation from freezer to microwave to table couldn't have even been dreamed of it.

Face it, folks, the good old days didn't pass out any favors to the women who worked the earth. They had it hard. True, they were a sturdy breed because they had to be, in a do it or die sense. Most did it. Some died young from the labor intensive household, or the labor of having a baby a year.

I recently read Asylum on the Hill, a nonfiction about the Athens, Ohio Lunatic Asylum by Katherine Ziff. This book traces one institution from its beginning days just after the Civil War to its closing in 1993. I was surprised to read case studies about men who suffered PTSD (with a different name) from serving in the Civil War, thinking post traumatic stress came about only recently. And the mothers and fathers who lost sons during that horrid war between the states, their ranks filled the asylum as well.

Saddest of all, I read of wives who could not cope. Look at the picture of this housewife in the mountains with traces of snow on the frozen woodpile and imagine what a harsh and lonely life she might have led. 

But wait. 

The human spirit doesn't usually quit when the going gets hard. Not usually. Not when there is support from family. Not when children or caring neighbors come along and help with the chores. Not when faith in a higher power restores faith in getting through the day.

I wish I could tell that woman in the picture that it gets better, but I'd bet she'd say back to me, "I'm doing right well, thank you very much."

That spirit is what gets us all through a long, cold winter.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!!!

Okay, so 2016 wasn't my best year with all that went on health wise. I'm not glad I went through the cancer part of it, but at the same time, I feel blessed that I did. I learned more this year than I ever imagined possible, about life and love and friendship.

I'd say to you I hope you never have to go through anything like this, and I really do mean that. However without the bad, you will never learn lessons about life and love and friendship. I wish you good health in 2017. I wish you prosperity in 2017. Most of all, when the inevitable happens, I wish you lessons learned.


This charming card came to my husband's great grandmother in 1911, a very good year because that's the year my mother was born. No wonder the elves are extra gleeful knowing that by the next time they dance around the clock, there will be a wonderful soul born. 

This new year, I must tell you, I dance like these elves. I anticipate happiness. I look for great accomplishments. I will love life, every minute of it, come good or come bad.

And I wish the same for you.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas 2016

Merry Christmas Everyone!!!

Our family presents are bought, wrapped and soon to be delivered, and I can't wait. I'm going to enjoy this year's festivities. Yes, I am.

Just like my husband's great-grandmother did in 1919 when she went to the mailbox and found this Christmas greeting.


The sentiment is the same, even after a century of its sitting in a cardboard box.

I'd like to be a pretty wreath of Christmas pine or holly. 
Then you could hang me in your house to help make Christmas jolly!

Have a jolly, holly Christmas! From our house to yours,

Gretchen

Monday, November 21, 2016

Why I Write

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago and a man approached me. Last spring he had purchased a copy of my Lessons Learned book.

He wanted to share a story with me. Although he was originally from the community where the book (nonfiction, by the way) takes place, his family had moved away before he was old enough to attend the school. But his sister was, and there-in lies the story.

This sister is now living in a constant care home, suffering from Alzheimer's. She barely recognizes her family, isn't aware of the world, and rarely reacts.

He brought the book to her room on a visit one day. He had read it, finished it within days of first purchasing it, and he found his sister in it in a group photograph. He wanted to show her, hoping for at least one more connection, anything. He would take anything.

He read the pages around the picture to her. Then he showed her that picture. She found herself. She pointed to others in the pictures and spoke their names, every one, even the teacher.

With tears brimming his eyes, this man said to me, "I want to thank you. For five minutes, your book gave me my sister back."

This is why I write.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Reflection

It's been almost a week, and what a week it's almost been.

I was there. On the front lines. All day Election Day, from before six in the morning to well past eight in the evening by the time all the legal paperwork was signed and submitted. As a precinct judge, my job was to remain impartial and ensure our system of choosing people to represent us continued. At least in our case, Gamewell Precinct Two, the system worked. I witnessed it in action.

As an observer looking for potential characters in my writings, I was not disappointed. I saw an elderly lady dressed to the nines, no doubt specifically for this day. Not appearing was not an option for her. I saw young mothers, babies in their arms, shifting them to their hips to free their hands to ink in their choices. I saw parents steering their children to the table so they could watch them make choices that will affect the world they will grow up in.

We made judgments on voting in several cases, namely voting out of precinct in a provisional ballot. One case in point, a married couple had moved this summer from one end of the county to another. The man took the time to go to the election board and change his residence. His wife assumed it would be done automatically for her. It wasn't. She would have had to drive to the other side of the county, before work even. Wouldn't happen. So together we judges allowed her to fill in a ballot and the chief judge placed it in a provisional envelope. After the election, when the final canvas happens, her ballot will count if her other precinct did not list her as voting there. The system worked.

It worked also for those people too feeble to walk inside. The chief judge went to their cars and with one more layer of paperwork to complete, allowed them to exercise their privilege as Americans and vote. We had reading glasses for those who could not see the ballot clearly. We had a machine specifically for those who were blind.

I handed the ballot (being careful that my fingers didn't point to a specific candidate, per my pre-election training, and yes, we still use paper ballots, but electronic counters) to numerous people who had no idea what to do next. Young and old alike, these people were voting for the first time ever. I could offer no suggestions other than to fill in the dot next to the person you want to vote for. How they voted, I could not hazard a guess. I could also not touch the ballot again. The voter had to insert it in the machine him/herself. That's how the system works.

The only time I was aware of individual's voting preferences was when I heard the machine kick the ballot to a separate direction if that person filled in any write-in candidate selections. Of course, I had no idea who, nor did I care. It was part of the open process. Vote for the candidate you think is the best. At the end of the day, we hand tallied the write-ins. No machine could read their handwriting, believe me. Jesus Christ got three votes. Mickey Mouse didn't get a single vote, contrary to what I would have suspected. For the most part, the write-ins were serious decisions people didn't take lightly, no doubt even those who voted for Jesus.

You know the rest of the story. Some people are pleased, others not. There have been protests. There have been individuals who interpreted the results as a mandate to hate.

I am humbled to have taken a small part in the process. Our democracy depends on its citizens to show up at the local precincts, including those in our small town in the foothills of the Appalachians. That's the way the system works.

Catch of the week,

Gretchen