Monday, February 28, 2011

Overmountain Victory Trail

I'm fine tuning my manuscript, chapter one especially, checking to make sure the historical information I'm presenting is worded correctly to match the library research with the stories I've caught in my net.

When I was atop Pilot Mountain last week, I imagined myself back in the days of chapter one. I stood next to a stone wall, supposedly erected in the early 1800's for a gold mining enterprise, but also used during the Civil War for defense against the invaders. My question, could it have been there earlier, when the overmountain men marched through the valley on their way to change the course of the Revolutionary War?

Standing there, I could almost hear the horn in the west signaling to the mountain men, "Alert! Muster now!" I tried to imagine sounds of hundreds of men marching in the valley below me on their way to fight Patrick Ferguson and his British troops. Snapping sticks. Crunching leaves, because it was late September when they passed through. Horses snorting. Voices? Maybe, but these men were more intent on finding the elusive Ferguson than on conversation. They found him at King's Mountain and the rest, as they say, is history.

For a most interesting look at this same trek, click HERE and listen to master storyteller Bill Carson tell about the overmountain men and their march through the valley. There are road signs now, labeling the two- lane road in front of Pilot Mountain School as part of the Overmountain Victory National Historical Trail. They've been there since 1980 when a group of men re-enacted those days from two hundred years ago, days when there were no signs directing the way on paved roads, no fast food lunch breaks, no motels. These historians marched from Virginia, from Tennessee, from western North Carolina, past the schoolhouse, on toward King's Mountain. They were not just pretending. They were honoring.

That's what storycatchers do, honor those who came before us. In my own way, I have my distinct version of re-enactment. I use words instead of costumes.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Climbing Pilot Mountain

I did it!!!

 I hiked Pilot Mountain and lived to write about it. So it was only 2063 feet tall and I didn't make it all the way to the top. So the outcropping of grantie rocks stopped me in my tracks. I can walk hills, I can't scale rocks.

But I still claim to have accomplished climbing Pilot Mountain. Did I go above and beyond the task of a storycatcher?

No, especially since I caught more than sore muscles on this trek. I caught stories.

Wonderful, gold mining stories.

Trouble is, these stories from the western side of Pilot Mountain are the same stories from the eastern side of Pilot Mountain. Each story is specific to the mountain, each almost identical about two different sides of the mountain.

Gold mining flume from the top of the mountain: east side, ten miles long going past the knoll where the schoolhouse would later be; west side, three miles long aiming toward the setting sun.

East side, old man sneaks to his hidden spot to dig for gold, purchases a car. West side, old man sneaks to his hidden spot to dig for gold, buys groceries. East side, teenagers hide to catch man in act of digging, intending to sneak back and find their own fortune. West side, same exact teenage legend. Both sides, unsuccessful teens that never found the secret.

I had to come back home and rewrite chapter one!

Catch of the day,


Monday, February 21, 2011

Pilot Mountain School Opens for Visitors

If you rebuild it, they will come.

They did...last Saturday, when Tom and Judy Brittain hosted an open house at the newly remodeled Pilot Mountain School facility. By "they" I'm referring not only to former students and teachers, but to many others who have driven past the school the last few years, observing the reconstruction efforts. "They" took the time to stop in and see the final product. "They" were thrilled. As was I.

I visited with now grown children who once marched in a line down these halls. I visited with retired teachers who started their careers in these classrooms. I taped a few stories that will add yet another level of richness to an already wealthy manuscript.

I've always been one to get the cart before the horse. Saturday I got the crowd before the book. I have completed the manuscript, rough though it be, and now I'm in the process of hosing off all the excess muck I dumped into its thirteen chapters. Soon I'll chisel away the last few chips, maybe add a few new comments from the interviews I'm doing this week, and this amazing story will emerge. I can't wait to share it with you.

There was one more group in the "they" list that came to Pilot Mountain School last Saturday. My SOUP Critique Group. We have supported each other for several years now through all our various projects. They have invested time and energy to make me a better writer. They have challenged me beyond what I ever imagined I could accomplish. They have rejoiced with me in my accomplishments and consoled me through my rejections. Best of all, they were with me on Saturday. Teresa, Sandra and Debbie!

Every author should be as fortunate as I am.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Open House at Pilot Mountain School

I've caught its stories.

I've met its students and its teachers and written about them so much that I can feel their joys and their pains deep in my soul.

I've heard about the building at its worst.

I've seen the building at its best.

Now it's time for the big reveal, no, not of the memoir that I'm writing, not yet. That's still a work in progress. The reveal is of the building itself, the final product of five years of hard labor, sweat and jumping bureaucratic hurdles. It's the newly completed, entirely finished Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse that will be open for public viewing this Saturday, February 19 from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon. To read more of the story click here.

I will be there, flier in hand, drumming up interest in my project, finding answers to a few questions I still have about the school.

Y'all come.

Catch of the day,


Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Parties

Two parties a year.

That was the standard operation at Pilot Mountain School. The teachers selected Christmas and Valentine's Day for their parties, and then squeezed in an end of year picnic. With only two parties,  they really went all out in a grand sort of way. Valentine's was the relaxing one, not the hurry up it's time for Christmas break stressing one.

The room mothers arrived on cue with the cupcakes and juice. Nothing more. That was enough. The children exchanged cards for the party entertainment.

Some classes had a centralized box of Valentines, one huge cardboard box covered in white construction paper and decorated with red crepe paper streamers. The week of the party, the children brought carefully addressed envelopes and slid them one at a time in the slot at the top. They traveled from class to class to deliver a few Valentines in every box.

Other classes had individual folders, white construction paper folded in half, red and pink hearts glued for decoration with the child's name across the front. In red, of course.

The "postman" opened the box and started delivering the Valentines. That was the slow, spend a lot of time, enjoy each Valentine as it arrived method. Woe to the person who forgot to put names on the envelopes.

The much quicker method was the individual folder, invented no doubt by a teacher who wanted to get it over with. Everyone opens Valentines at the same time.

Image courtesy

No Dora the Explorer cards. No T-Rex cards. No princess or pirate cards, either. Maybe a Superman card or two. Mostly pictures on the cards were smiling children telling the reader how much they cared in silly "Be Mine" ways. Life was simple then.

Catch of the day,


Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentine's Day Card

As the construction workers ripped apart this old school building, they found a few long forgotten items slid behind the bookshelves or tucked under cracks in the floor. A rusty pair of scissors. A few pencils.
A Valentine.  

Image courtesy

Found, one Valentine, a Will You Be Mine? Valentine similar to the one here. It took sixty years to be delivered. It sat there, silently waiting behind the nailed-to-the-wall, painted-over-the-cracks bookshelf. When it finally saw the light of day, it was barely faded. The name penciled across the back could still be seen.
It is now delivered. It no doubt brought more joy arriving late than it would have so long ago - well, a different kind of joy, at least. Then it would have been hastily read and stuffed in a folder with the other cards. Now it is relished, held up as a message from the past.

What a wonderful Valentine's gift.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Pilot

Great name, Pilot. It conjures up images of a captain at the helm of a troubled ship, of a fearless aviator or even a Snoopy on his dog house roof. Usually, though, a mountain doesn't come to mind.

Unless you are in North Carolina, naming mountains.

There are eight mountains in the state with the name Pilot Mountain. I knew of two, but when I was cross checking my facts yesterday in the NC Gazetteer I found the list. Eight. Here's the Pilot Mountain this school is named for:

I suppose Pilot is to mountain like Main is to street and Washington is to county. Common but significant. Purposefully chosen.

The Pilot stands out. The Pilot is the guide. It is the steadfast always-there-to-find-the-way landmark.

When names were being tossed about hundreds of years ago, no one bothered to check if there were other Pilot Mountains. The name was a matter of convenience, a recognition of the mountain's purpose. That mountain was the pilot that gave direction to their wanderings.

So when it came time to name this school, Pilot Mountain fit. It conjured up what the community wanted for the children. What a perfect name for a school.

Catch of the day,


Friday, February 4, 2011

Polio and the Sugar Cube Campaign

After the polio epidemic of the 1940's in the Pilot Mountain area, there was a second epidemic wave in the early fifties. Not as severe this time, it was still just as frightening as the first. This time, though, salvation was on the horizon.

A doctor by the name of Jonas Salk developed a vaccine that came on the market in 1955. The children at Pilot Mountain were assigned to go to a nearby school for their inoculations of the Salk Polio serum on Tuesday, April 25, 1955 at the county health officials suspended the clinic due to questions and concerns about the vaccine's safety. It was rescheduled for May and postponed again until the fall when finally the children were immunized against this dreaded disease.

A second doctor, Albert Sabin, developed an oral vaccine that came on the market in 1962. Eight counties in western North Carolina planned a massive "Stop Polio" drive and set Sunday March 8, 1964 as the target date. Local schools, including Pilot Mountain School, were designated "Feeding Stations." The PTA, Parent Teacher Association, organized the drive at the school and helped to administer the vaccine. There, in the school library.
No sharp needles this time. No pain. Just a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down, only in this case it was a cube of sugar to make the serum go down. One liquid dose was dropped onto a sugar cube and handed to the client. Yum. What child would resist a sugar cube?

Eight weeks later, again on a Sunday, again at the school library, the process repeated for the second required dose. This sugar cube campaign succeeded in putting an end to polio in the valley.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eradicate Polio

I saw on the news that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has declared the elimination of polio as a top priority. Once and for all. Gone. Thank you!

Like most of the world, I live in a polio free country. I don't have to worry that my child will wake up this morning gasping for breath because the muscles that work the lungs won't work. Or worse, that my child won't wake up at all.

That was not the case for the parents of Pilot Mountain School in the mid 1940's during the first wave of a polio epidemic. Their children had no protection from this dreaded disease. During the summer of 1944, when fifteen cases of polio were reported in the county per week, local officials made a desperate attempt to stop the spread. Quarantine.

Children under the age of sixteen could not leave their property. No Sunday School. No movies on Saturday morning. No summer camp. No trips to the store for candy. No playing with friends. They did stand on one side of the creek and wave at their friends on the other side - when their mothers weren't watching. But for the most part, they obeyed. They were too scared not to.

Ever wonder what the town of Hamlin was like after the pied piper drew away all the children? That was this community, childless. Joyless.

School didn't open on time in the fall because the children were still confined to their homes. When new cases dropped to one or two, officials lifted the quarantine and life began again. Wonder what the teachers said to their classes the first day of school?

We can't forget the past because that's how we understand why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative is so important. No town should be like Hamlin. Eradicate polio. Now.

Catch of the day,