Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Donkey's Tale


Once upon a time there was a donkey named Jake minding his own donkey business in the field, chomping on hay, warding off coyotes, braying his opinions every now and then, when what to his enormous long ears would he hear but the clank and the clatter of the horse trailer being moved. 

Being the curious donkey he was, he trotted over to investigate this noise. His owner lured him closer with the largest, most delicious looking carrot his eyes had ever beheld, so he followed the bait up the waiting ramp. A slam behind him mattered not. His attention was on the treat. The trailer beneath him moved. He chomped on. The trailer stopped. The back opened and he unloaded, fully expecting more food, an apple or two for his trouble.

A man and a woman approached. He lifted her onto Jake's back and tugged on the reins. Jake obediently followed…and followed…and followed. Over and over and over again that night they went down the same path. Crowds watched them and expressed delight. He ate his treats and his belly filled. When the evening ended, Jake loaded back onto the trailer and returned to his pasture.


A few days later, the same strange event occurred again. He was whisked away and brought back, but this time the thrill faded. “No more,” he vowed in his jackass of a brain.

The next afternoon, when he heard the clink and the clatter of the horse trailer, he ran the other way. He absconded. He didn’t know the word, but he lived the definition, to depart secretly and hide oneself. Absconded.

The owner searched and searched to no avail. Text number one to the pageant director: We can’t find Jake anywhere.

No worries. The afternoon was still young.

Two hours later and darkness descending, text number two: Never did find that dumb ass. Looked everywhere.

Mary and Joseph walked that night.

When the trailer clanked its presence the next night, final performance by the way, Jake had returned. He was ready. The lure of the snacks beckoned him once again and the prodigal donkey came back. He acted his part as if nothing had ever happened and charmed the audience. When it was over and he received the loving pats from actors along the trail, Jake returned to his pasture and to doing what donkeys do to keep warm in the cold, dark days of winter.

There’s bound to be a moral to this story. If I were Aesop, I’d come up with one for sure.

But I can’t. For you see, I was the pageant director on the receiving end of the “We can’t find Jake anywhere” text. I was the one who fretted over that absconding donkey knowing the disappointment of the children in the audience expecting to see a furry creature in the scene. We made do, although he was truly missed.


Strange thing, though. I wasn’t mad at that stubborn donkey who was acting like an ass acts. I was jealous. He did what I wish I could do sometimes when things don’t go my way. He took off for the hills. He didn’t have the ability or the desire to know what he was doing to the rest of us in the pageant. He just wanted to escape. He didn’t have the capacity or the humanity to realize how much his presence meant to us. He just wanted away from the madness.

The real bottom line of this story is that Jake came back. I’ll never know what was going through his mind that led to his decision to return, but I can guess. I think he took that time to renew himself. He needed a break from the spinning world. We all do.

Returning is a courageous but necessary act. If any of you want to pull a Jake, I say go for it in your own time…after you tell someone …after you prepare. Take a breather for an hour or two, but know you are needed. Refresh. Come back strong.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Saturday, December 16, 2017

Spiders I have known

I'm not too big on spiders. I avoid them at all cost, including having the bug man show up yesterday and spray. SOOOO when a dear friend and member of my critique group was writing a story about a spider, I wasn't all that excited. After all, who could get excited over a squirmy creature that appears nightly and weaves its lair in secret, only for me to walk through the next day. Not my favorite morning activity!
Who can turn this bland spider into a lovable story?
E.B. White pulled it off with his classic Charlotte's Web, but I couldn't imagine anyone else even attempting the challenge, much less accomplishing it.

But wait.

I read her manuscript about a spider named Spivey from the first time she submitted it, through several revisions, until the book became a reality and let me proudly say, MY FRIEND SANDRA WARREN JUST PULLED IT OFF!!! Her previous children's book was about an alligator who thought differently than other alligators. This one carries that theme and introduces Spivey, a creative thinker who designs a web of her own making despite being ridiculed by the other spiders. I was already rooting for Spivey and her independent nature, but when I saw the finished product with its fantastic, over the top art work, I really felt that I knew Spivey and her feelings. Talk about pulling it off, artist SUSAN FITZGERALD JUST PULLED IT OFF!!!!

I can like spiders now, especially after seeing this lovely miss pictured above as she tells about her new web. I can't wait for you to read the book with its unexpected ending. Spoiler alert, it's a Christmas story that can be read any time of the year, Spivey's Web.
Available not only in print, but also in all kinds of ebook formats. Look for it on Amazon. Download it for your Christmas morning enjoyment.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen






Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Thankful Heart

The whole idea of giving thanks is one of the first concepts a parent passes along to the next generation. I can see it in my mind's eye, someone handing a toddler a cracker and the mother speaking to the child, reminding him or her, "What do you say?"

"Thank you," is the expected response, although often in beginning stages it's more, "Kank ooh." I'm loving that image.

An opinion, just because today is Thanksgiving and this is my blog: The whole idea of thanks has been misconstrued. Yes, we are to say thanks to others. That is basic, the cornerstone of civilization. Reading through my friends' posts on facebook, I can see that genteel side of being thankful.

But there is a deeper side of Thanksgiving that needs to be passed along to the next generation.

It is also necessary for me to give thanks to my creator, a basic tenet of my faith in a higher power. "Thank you, God," I say not nearly enough. The psalmist says it frequently. Thanks. Praise. Joy. One of the first psalms I memorized beyond the twenty-third was the hundredth, the one that starts out the way I remember, "Enter into his gates with Thanksgiving..." But there's more: "Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever."


I'm learning to make posters like the one above, and I want to use this new skill to do good, to remind people of what life should be all about, to uplift and honor. I see that I should have capitalized the word "His," according to the grammar I learned in the old days when paying homage to God necessitated capital letters even on pronouns. Now God has no gender specific pronouns in many texts I read. Using that rule, I can rewrite: Give thanks to God and praise God's name, for the Lord is good and God's love endures forever. Either way, I'm still thankful to God for the blessings I've received.

I took the picture behind the quote specifically for this poster. It's a tray my mother gave me years ago, one I usually keep on my table the whole month of November. It reminds me of the joy of Thanksgiving and the closeness of family back when we could sit around the same table and linger over pumpkin pie and catch up on our latest doings. 

Those days are over. New groups surround the table now, yet no matter where I am, those I'm with give thanks to God and teach our younger ones to have a thankful heart. 

We are so blessed.

Indeed.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen






Saturday, November 18, 2017

Honoring a Veteran

So many wars. So many lives interrupted. So many men lost. 

So much to say to them. 

Last Saturday, November 11, 2017, I tried. I stood with the crowd when the emcee of the event I was attending stopped the action cold. He pointed to his watch. "It's the eleventh hour," he spoke into the mic, "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month." We didn't need the accompanying explanation to tell us this was the moment of the armistice signifying the end of the first great war. We had our poppies on our lapels to remind us. Saying "Thanks for your service," doesn't seem adequate, although that one single act goes a long way. 

I stood next to this man, Jasper B. Reese, the co-author of my book, Back in the Time, and a veteran of the Korean conflict. 

At Yokota Air Base in Japan
We were at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Society of Historians, an organization formed to collect, preserve and perpetuate North Carolina's heritage...and to recognize those persons who fulfill the society's objectives. That's why we were there, to be recognized. 
Jasper Reese holding our recognition award,
and me, holding the book
We received the distinguished Historical Book Award for this memoir of his that I helped him write. He wrote his part, describing growing up in the far western mountains of North Carolina, watching his father go to war in the forties, going to war himself in the fifties. I wrote my part, describing the schools in the Spring Creek community of Madison County. We subtitled the book, Medicine, Education and Life in the Isolation of Western North Carolina's Spring Creek, pretty much summing up the story line of the book.

Meanwhile I was doubly honored. Another of my books won the Historical Book Award as well. I wrote this one with Johnny Mack Turner. Racing On the Road and Off in Caldwell County and the Surrounding Areas. 
With Johnny Mack's daughter, Cindy Smith
This book needed no subtitle. The title says it all, and the book tells all, well, mostly all, since there were a few stories we decided not to include because maybe, just maybe, these men didn't tell their children and grandchildren about their escapades dragging on the road in the wee hours of the morning back in the forties and fifties. Historical? Indeed.

History isn't all wars, thank heavens. It's daily life. Daily living. Daily getting up and going about the business of making a life. 

That's what these historians found in both of my books. I appreciate the honor, but the real honor goes to those we wrote about. I salute them, veterans or not.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Missing Man Table

Armistice Day

Veteran's Day

Call it what you want, but today is a day to remember. The name matters little. The reason matters most.

Today I post a picture of a table, not just any table, but the Missing Man Table lovingly assembled by the curator of our Caldwell County Heritage Museum. 

The empty chair is one that will never be filled by the son who went to war and never returned. The red roses and ribbon signify the blood spilled. The upturned glass, never again to be lifted in joy and celebration. The unlit candle, life snuffed out. The salt on the plate, our tears. The lemon, war's bitterness.

I went to a lecture about Armistice Day given by Beverly Beal, retired Superior Court Judge. He told the standing room only crowd about many of the World War I veterans from Caldwell County. Beside him as he spoke was this Missing Man Table.

Silent.

A testimony to the sacrifice of those who went before us and gave all so that we could meet there on that day, exercising our freedom of assembly right.

When he finished he introduced me to read the poem In Flanders Fields. In his introduction, Judge Beal, knowing I was a writer, made the statement, something to the effect, "The greatest book will never be written. It died on the battlefield."

That stunned me and I barely could stumble through my assigned reading, but in honor of those who served and never came back, I made it through. I've copied and pasted here. Read it now. Read it again. Absorb the words. Most of all, appreciate a veteran on this day.


IN FLANDERS FIELDS

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow 
Between the crosses, row on row, 
That mark our place; and in the sky 
The larks, still bravely singing, fly 
Scarce heard amid the guns below.


We are the Dead.  Short days ago 
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, 
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie 
In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe: 
To you from failing hands we throw 
The torch, be yours to hold it high. 
If ye break faith with us who die 
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow 
In Flanders fields.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A Week of Celebrations

Hall of Fame

Yes, that would be my husband, Wesley Van Griffith,
inducted into the Caldwell County Sports Hall of Fame


I'm so proud. Excuse me while I digress from my usual blog posts and let the world in on an important part of my life.

His plaque identifies him as an educator, coach and community volunteer. The medal around his neck hangs as a reminder of all those years he spent working out his passion of serving others. If everyone just knew!

Hours of getting to the ballfield early, dragging the infield, mowing the outfield, counseling the players, teaching them not only the rudiments of baseball, but the rights and wrongs of life. There were dark times, but they pale with the many, many joys of being a coach influencing the next generation. In his acceptance speech he mentioned his satisfaction in watching former players step up and take their part in the workings of the world. This induction into the Hall of Fame is a validation of his many years of hard work.

So we celebrated. Both of his brothers and their wives drove to join us at the banquet. Sadly their parents didn't live to see this, but they knew. They were the ones who raised these boys to become men who were servants to others. 
Aren't we something!

Our daughter flew in from her home in Taos, New Mexico. Our son took the afternoon off and brought his family. Our college roommates drove in to surprise us. Numerous friends from our community attended the banquet to show support for my husband. He was humbled. So was I.
Aren't WE something!

The next day was Halloween and the grandgirls celebrated being kids. After sitting politely and listening to a couple hours of speeches the evening before, they earned the chance to have their day.

Wait! We weren't finished.

Not only was this the week of the Hall of Fame induction and Halloween, but it was also my birthday, and my son Allen's as well, so the celebrations continued. The only thing I requested for my birthday gift was a Thanksgiving feast, complete with turkey and all the fixin's. This would be the first time this century we celebrated Thanksgiving under the same roof, beyond the "put Jenny in the corner" Skype experience we had done a couple times. Reagan, my younger grand, baked a pound cake...all by herself...her first...the finest pound cake EVER! And did we take a picture???? No!

By the time we took my daughter Jenny back to the airport early Thursday morning, I was worn out from all the happiness. Hall of Fame, Halloween, two birthdays, and Thanksgiving! All in four days! But I wouldn't have changed a thing.

Life is good.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen





Saturday, October 28, 2017

Pirated

Once upon an innocent time children dressed as pirates for Halloween. I remember well. We didn't spend money on the latest costume hanging in the stores. We created.

Tear a shirt, hike up the long pants, smear some of mama's make up on our faces, find a stick that looks like a sword, fashion an eye patch and we're good to go. We even used brown paper grocery bags to collect our goodies.

Today's rant is not about the commercialization of Halloween, although that would make a great topic. Today I'm talking about pirates. More exact, the verb, to pirate.


Yes, sad to say, "I've been pirated." Not me. My books. My intellectual property, as the legal term goes. Hard earned, time spent in front of the computer screen, butt in chair sweat equity kind of property.

I belong to an excellent facebook group of soulmate writers that shares the joys and woes of being an author. A recent thread of discussion has been pirating. Different authors related experiences of finding their books at various sites on the internet...for free...without their permission. Several people offered solutions.

Being the curious one I am, I decided that perhaps I should check out this phenomena. 

Alas, I almost wish I hadn't. Ignorance is truly bliss and I'm no longer blissful. I'm mad. I'm angry that some "business" has taken upon themselves to offer my materials without my permission to anyone who dares. I won't dignify them by giving names, but there are many, in my case, fourteen. Doesn't the word copyright mean anything anymore?

Okay, so for $9.99 per month I can pay a different company to monitor my book and blast the titles off any unauthorized site. I'm considering my options here on this, because it almost seems like paying a ransom but to a third party. Go figure. 

When children play pirates and board the monkey bars of another child and sword fight until one walks the plank, it's all make believe. It wasn't make believe or even high seas romantic adventure when a grungy, filthy pirate full of malice boarded a ship in the middle of the vast ocean and took what didn't belong to him. Let's not fool ourselves into thinking it is anything but dishonesty for a "publisher" to pilfer through my books and offer them to the public on a legitimate looking website without my permission. Buyer beware! 

Being pirated is not for the faint of heart.

Rant over.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen