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





Saturday, October 7, 2017

Musings on an Abandoned Cotton Mill

There's something sad and depressing about abandoned buildings. They are unfulfilled dreams. They are plans interrupted.

And yet there's a certain beauty in nature reclaiming its rightful place, creeping vine by vine through that which could have been.
There once was a thriving cotton mill where dreams of wealth and prosperity should have brought jobs to the mountain people. In the days before air conditioning, locating a mill away from the fields that produced the cotton did make sense. The humidity and heat so important to the growing plants turned out to be damaging to the equipment and the workers confined to the inside of the factory during the heat of the day. Why not use the railroad system already in existence from earlier logging ventures on the sides of the Blue Ridge Mountains? The dream seemed foolproof enough.

Then came a hurricane and wiped away those dreams along with the railroads that supplied the raw materials. King Cotton didn't reign in the mountains. Mother Nature did.

Rumor has it that for many years after the flood, the locals didn't have to buy socks. They picked them from the bushes along the creek banks.

Just something to think about on this Saturday morning.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole

Every so often authors come across a bit of real life that starts their imagining the "what if's?"

This happened to me last summer. I found a rabbit hole. Or maybe a fox hole. Or, considering where I was, maybe a summer version of a bear's den.
In a meadow on top of Max Patch 
I was hiking in western North Carolina with my husband and daughter. The trail we followed was a minute section of the Appalachian Trail, in Madison County, the scene of two of my books, Called to the Mountains and Back in the Time. Disappointed that the view from the summit was obscured by fog, I stopped looking at the broad picture and turned my attention to what I could see...the meadow.
Nothing peeped out at me when I took this closer photograph, not that I wasn't relieved or anything. Adventure has its limits, after all. I didn't physically enter into this hole, tempting as it might have been.

But. 

Mentally and fantastically, I couldn't let this pass, so I went down this rabbit hole in my mind. Played around a bit. Imagined the "what if." Did Lewis Carroll find a rabbit hole once upon a century ago, and let his main character roam through his mind? I wonder what Alice would have experienced if she had fallen into this particular hole on the top of this particular mountain in western North Carolina.

One of the sites I have saved and categorized under Writer Tools on my favorites bar is the Urban Dictionary, a necessary item for double checking nuances of words I plan to use in my writing. After all, the English language is fluid, certainly not frozen in stone, so word definitions and connotations change. I couldn't resist checking on the modern meaning of going "down the rabbit hole."

Alack and alas, it has been taken over by the psychedelic drug vernacular, as in tripping on that which shall not be mentioned here. There are more usages, tending to the "uninhibited behavior" slant, or to the obsessed with something to the exclusion of normalcy slant. 

So if I don't even want to go down that rabbit hole, what exactly am I saying I don't want to do? 

The speaker knows the point he wants to get across and then uses word choices from what is available in his language. He might even coin a word or two, or apply a past experience or two that fits the situation perfectly. The ultimate purpose of communication, however, is for the listener to interpret what the speaker says and apply it to the conversation at hand. Some expressions might fall flat before they even arrive on the Urban Dictionary site. This one didn't.

Some people might think language, with all its twists and tangles of a rabbit hole, is too fluid, but not me. I love it. 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Saturday, September 23, 2017

Who Remembers This?

There's been a series of photographs on Facebook with the caption beneath, "Who Remembers This?" Another version runs something along the lines of "Like if you know what these are." I've been tempted to "Like" when something like "Romper Room" or "Mr. Greenjeans" appears.

But no, not me, I don't "Like" although every single item I'm seen so far is one I can recall somewhere along in my not-so-storied past. My entertainment (amusement), however, in seeing these memes, comes when the "Who Remembers This" item just so happens to be something I am still using, right now, in 2017. Cast iron skillet. Hot curlers. Hand bicycle tire pump. Typewriter with return cylinder. Okay, that one I don't use anymore, but I still have an electric Brother that I never use but just can't part with.

One video that came up this week on Facebook interested me in particular. It showed children inspecting a cassette to decide how it works. Who remembers the cassette? I do. Who still uses a cassette? I do.
This is a cassette
I show this to admit I'm living in the past century as I start researching and interviewing for my latest project. I've tried to update my interviewing methods, especially when I discovered blank tapes are impossible to purchase in my small town and I had to order new ones online. The choices are slim, either get with the program and update, order blanks online, or tape over ones I've already used. 

I practiced taping on my laptop and it worked perfectly. I practiced taping on my cell phone and it worked perfectly. So what's up with my reluctance to convert?
I chose this, to remain with a cassette recorder
It's my comfort zone. I know what works for me. In fact, it works so well I am on the fourth cassette recorder since I began my author journey. The one I'm using now I inherited from my father-in-law last year, saving it from a trash heap doom because of the neo-modern opinion that "no one will buy this in the yard sale." I assume when this one conks out, yard sales will be my only recourse. And yet I continue.

It's not easy being a dinosaur.

Catch of the day,

 Gretchen