Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween in the 1950's

Halloween was much more simple for the children of the 1950's than it is today, at least in Pilot Mountain school territory. They'd throw on a make shift costume and grab a sack and head out the door.

One person I interviewed told about going trick or treating to the school late one Halloween evening. She was with a few of her friends and they debated which door to knock on. That's not so strange, considering the principal lived in the school building.

There were no security lights at this school, not in that day and age. No need. There was no reason for classroom lights to be lit, either, so the building was completely dark, a gigantic angular monster lurking on top of the hill. Silent, too, I'm sure, since few cars traveled the roads then.

What was familiar in the day, transformed to beyond frightening that night. Those girls didn't even make it to the front steps. They high tailed it home!

Catch of the day,


Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm not here today. I'm here being interviewed by Linda Anderson about the Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse project. Click on over.

Linda is blogging for the Christian writers group, write2ignite. Their goal is to provide children's writers with resources and encouragement as they use their talents to bring a Christian perspective to children's literature.

The teachers at Pilot Mountain School would have truly appreciated their efforts.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Sport Called Marbles

Ever played a game of pig’s eye marbles? Oh, yes, there was such a game. I heard it from an expert. The usual ten foot circle-in-the-sand wasn’t the only marble game in town, not at all.

When there was a one-on-one challenge, these Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse children preferred the “pig’s eye” version of the game. It sounded simple when I first heard the rules, but then I realized there was more to this version of marbles than met the eye.

Whoever threw out the challenge, drew the pig’s eye.

Size didn’t matter.

Shape didn’t matter.

This was a game of strategy.

Each player put five marbles in the pig’s eye. Then they both stood about ten feet away and rolled another marble toward the eye. The player whose marble stopped closer to the eye without going in won the honors of shooting first, but the first shot had to be from that same spot.

The object was to knock a marble out of the eye with a shooter, a larger marble. When a player accomplished that, he could put the marble he captured into his drawstring bag. For keeps. And it was still his turn.

The catch was he had to shoot from the spot where the last marble stopped rolling when it came out of the eye. Power and thumb muscle didn’t always triumph when that marble went rolling merrily too far along its way.

Just curious, how many other ways can a child play marbles?

Catch of the day,


Saturday, October 23, 2010

She played the role of Scout in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mary Badham, and she spoke to a Southern Cultures Class at a high school near me. I went to her evening presentation last night more out of curiosity than anticipation. After all, what could a child star from the sixties possibly have to share? Five minutes in and I knew the answer.
Her experiences growing up in segregated Alabama to some extent paralleled those of the children at Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse, although her family had servants, “colored” women from across town. In the Pilot Mountain School district, children’s chores accomplished the same thing at no cost. Here the children worked alongside their parents, scrubbing the floors, planting the corn. There the mothers taught the girls how to wear white gloves to the department store while their maids scrubbed the floors.

But it was still the south. There were still the rules and laws and accepted ways of doing things. Daily life was separated into two parallel existences that rarely intersected. Separate water fountains. Separate sections in the movie theater. Separate schools. Separate but equal, supposedly.

Mary Badham talked about change and how it sometimes takes a crowbar to get the system moving. I’m researching the sixties now and seeing how the crowbars impacted Pilot Mountain School. How can I write a memoir of a school in the south and not include this? Oh, yes, it will be included.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marbles Play Time

The game of choice for the 1940’s children at Pilot Mountain School was marbles. Since there was no such thing as Physical Education as we know it today, the children were free to entertain themselves during recess and before school. Entertain they did.
The young boys brought their toy guns to play cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians. The older boys brought balls and bats. The girls had jump ropes. But most everyone, young and old, even a few girls, had a little bag of marbles in their pockets.

First step, draw a circle. No, wait, first smooth the grit and lumps from an area, then draw the circle. On official tournament days, the circle was defined by a string with a nail at both ends and a geometry lesson of their own making. But most often it was a hurried circle that fit everyone’s liking.

Those who were playing that round placed an equal number of marbles in the center. The first person, usually the one who drew the circle, “broke” the pile with a strong thumb flick of his shooter. He kept any marble that he knocked out, for keeps. If no marbles went out, the next person took a turn.

The shooters were larger, often left over steel ball bearings from their fathers’ machines. The playing marbles were from the dime store, seven marbles for a nickel. Agates, Cat Eyes.

They made their own calls and abided by them. They refereed themselves and settled their own disputes. Adults had nothing to do with this game. Except twice.

Once the teachers decided playing for keeps was gambling. They imposed the adult rule of playing for fun. That didn’t last long. Playing for keeps came back and stayed. For keeps.

The other time adults had anything to do with the game was when the mothers complained. Seems that their sons were coming home with their pant knees worn bare, but nothing a little patch couldn’t solve.

There’s not much marble action these days. The ideal spots for marbles, good old fashioned dirt fields, were long ago grassed in by adults or paved over by youth organizers.

What were they thinking?

Catch of the day,


Friday, October 15, 2010

Wooden ink pens by used2Btrees are interesting even without the back story. They're not primitive sticks, not at all, but works of art crafted by artisans who view a chunk of wood like Michelangelo would a block of marble.

Here's one from a red oak tree:

A great advantage to being a storycatcher is meeting and interacting with the people I interview, going beyond the story into the tears and pain. But I also get to go into the joys and accomplishments. Last spring I met Henry and his son, David. Both of them attended Pilot Mountain School, Henry in the opening years, David in the final years. They were two ends of the spectrum, two completely different stories to catch, but they had one thing in common, a gift to create with wood and an eye to see the magical in the ordinary. Musical instruments, cabinets, tables. And ink pens.

Here's his display case. Zoom in and look at the pens. You'll be glad you did.

It just so happens that a two hundred year old oak tree at my church had been struck by lightning that very week. Death was imminent. Sad.

Light bulb moment here. Or was it destiny?

"Could you make pens from the tree?" I asked.

And so, the woodworker, David, came to the tree the day it was cut and selected pieces. He preferred the junctions, where the energy of the wood made different colors and paths and patterns. He made a prototype and showed it to several members of our congregation. Yes, just right.
We've passed one hundred and twenty-five pens and each one has been a unique creation. David's branched out, no pun intended, into designs and various hardwares that are beyond what any of us imagined. I wish the pictures I took could show you the beauty of the grain in the wood pens. This 200 year old white oak tree had secrets hidden inside that in its death are just now coming to light. Because of this artist. Because of the Pilot Mountain project.


Catch of the day,


Monday, October 11, 2010

Music Class

No. We didn’t have music.

No. There was no music teacher.

Those were the usual answers I would hear during many of the interviews when I asked about the Pilot Mountain School music program. I’ve learned, though, to peel away the layers and go beyond the answers and I was on target this time, for sure. There was more to the music program than the lack of a specialized teacher. What I found was a community rich in traditional music brought across the Atlantic generations ago. Music was such a part of the lives of these children that they didn’t even recognize it as “music.” It was life.

Irish folk tunes. Blue Grass. Gospel. Hymns. Ballads. They sang at church. They sang at family gatherings. They sang at school. They brought their guitars and banjos to class and they taught each other just by sharing and watching and experimenting.

Music as life.

Catch of the day,


Monday, October 4, 2010

Library Books

What is more basic to a school than library books? No money? No books. Not true, because when talking about the most precious element of a school, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Teachers and school systems can get very resourceful.

Pilot Mountain School in the 1940’s had little money to establish a library. The few books that were available stayed in the classroom of the teacher who brought them from home. The school system contracted with the county public library system for a bookmobile to make bimonthly stops at the outlying county schools such as Pilot Mountain. The original bookmobile, an old clunker of a converted delivery truck, sat disabled on the side of the road all too often. Next came a government surplus vehicle that had seen its fair share of battles during World War II. This library on wheels arrived at Pilot Mountain School every other week, on schedule, for the children to exchange their books for new ones.
Speaking of World War II, there were several army bases in North Carolina that were no longer needed after the war. There were libraries on each base. In fact, during the war, there had been a home front/war effort drive to collect gently used books to supply these base libraries. Now those same books were government surplus and available to schools. Pilot Mountain received several shipments of books. A good thing, isn’t always a good thing.

Imagine the delight! Books. Finally. Boxes and boxes of books. But also, there was no librarian to check through the books for appropriate language and content. These books were for mature readers. These children had never seen such words in print. They didn’t know things like that could happen. Sixty some years later, those former students still remember those books and chuckle.

Catch of the day,