Friday, October 28, 2011

A Courthouse Visit

I made a solemn visit yesterday to the Viet Nam memorial at the Burke County Courthouse. I hadn't planned it, otherwise I would have taken my camera, but the chance was there before me, too good to pass up.

When I visited the courthouse earlier in my research, I didn't imagine that one day I would need to walk among the monuments outside just as I needed to dig through the documents inside. But I did. I needed to see how two former students from Pilot Mountain School were memorialized, remembered forever.

Both were killed in action during Viet Nam.

I saw their names, touched them, felt the chiseled numbers that told exactly what day each was killed. I copied the dates to make sure I had the information correct in my manuscript.

Then I left. I had the freedom to come home, to write this blog, to watch an uncensored television show. All those names at the courthouse garden allowed me to do that and for that I am grateful. For that I will make certain these two men are included in my book. I owe it to them.

Catch of the day,


Monday, October 17, 2011

Saturday at Pilot Mountain School

There's more to Pilot Mountain School than its past.

There is also a present and I was witness to it last Saturday.

The Pilot Mountain campus is also the work center for a business called Turning Point Services which provides in-home care and support to adult clients identified with developmental disabilities. Every year TPS sponsors a softball game. This year I dragged my lawn chair out of hibernation and plopped right down in the midst of proud families and cheering fans. It all began with a flag ceremony, followed by a choral presentation.

In this game, there were no outs. Everyone made it to first base and beyond. There were no losers, either. What a concept!

The game was held on the field behind the school where once upon a time children played marbles, where they played softball or football or jumprope, where past meets present. Now there is a walking track for these same clients to participate in community on a daily basis.

During a break in the action I walked around to the front of the school to photograph the fall leaves. The color in the higher Appalachians in western North Carolina was at its peak Saturday, but not here in the South Mountains. There were only a few red and yellow patches to tease leaf-peepers like me. I didn't find fall leaves but I wasn't at all disappointed. I found inspiration, not in nature, but in words.

In the front of the school is a two sided sign. The front side is for the world to see driving by on the highway. It announces the name of the school in huge bold letters. The back side, however, is more of a reminder to those who are inside the building looking out. Isaiah 40:31 the sign simply says. I looked it up and here's the full verse, NIV translation.

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.

Those clients at Turning Point Services soared like eagles Saturday. They ran and their spirits never grew weary. They walked and never grew faint. They were renewed.

So was I.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, October 13, 2011

An Arrowhead and a Story

The fall of the year is when many elementary classrooms across the state discuss the Native American culture. I suppose dried cornstalks and colorful Indian corn make the perfect background for discussions, not to mention the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and the chance for children to wear feathered headbands or Pilgrim hats. Art lessons mean weaving paper strips into fake baskets. Music lessons have the beat of drums in the background. Arrowheads become the featured attactraction during show and tell.

Cherokee arrowhead
There were plenty of arrowheads in the farmland around Pilot Mountain School. For hundreds of years, this was the designated hunting grounds for two ancient tribes in North Carolina, the Cherokee and the Catawba. They traveled the South Mountains in search of food for their families and left behind many a broken arrow with its carefully honed arrowhead. Seasons changed from one year to the next and eventually the shaft rotted and the weapon shard settled into the ground beneath layers of leaf debris.

Arrowhead found in Tennessee


One day...

...when the farmer in the field turned over the sod and there, barely recognizable in the caked mud, it saw the light of day for the first time in hundreds of years.

A storeowner near Pilot Mountain collected Cherokee artifacts. I caught this story early in my interviewing process.

·        My grandfather was a collector of Indian artifacts. His collection of artifacts is now in the Cherokee museum. The kids would follow the plows and pick up the arrowheads for him. They’d trade my grandfather for candy. Being older, wiser and smarter, my brother would get out early in the morning right after it had rained. The ones barely covered up would be the ones that would be soon exposed.

Now these arrowheads fetch hundreds of dollars on internet trade, not exactly candy anymore. To me they also fetch out a certain sadness for greatness lost. I'm always looking for story. What story could you tell, Cherokee Arrowhead?

Catch of the day,


Monday, October 10, 2011

Columbus Day Musings

I read a poster online today that says something to the effect, "In honor of Columbus Day, go straight into someone's house and tell them you live there now."

Food for thought there, and I've done a lot of thinking, especially in relation to what I've heard from people I've interviewed during this project.

By the time their ancestors, the Eurpoean settlers, arrived in the Pilot Mountain area, the native Americans had already lived there for thousands of years. Well, they had not exactly lived there as in huge villages, because that very spot had become a neutral territory between two tribes. Both had agreed to disagree and maintain a buffer between them, the Cherokee in the higher Appalachians and the Catawbas in the piedmont. The South Mountains and the foothills between were designated hunting grounds by a treaty.

The few families that did live there eventually adapted and intermarried into this new society or moved on when they saw their land taken over. Those that chose to remain were eliminated by the notorious "Trail of Tears," the process in the early 1800's by which the Cherokee tribe was relocated to land further west.

But there was one man who refused to move from the South Mountains, refused to be dragged away from what he had known his entire life. He lived alone, hiding in a cave under Raven's Rock. I heard his story from a man who was a student in the early years at Pilot Mountain. His grandmother told him. Her grandmother told her.

He had explored this cave and found a knife, showed it to his grandmother. That's when she told the story of this unnamed Cherokee. He had hidden alone in the cave for years and when he became too old to survive in the ruggedness of the mountains, he found shelter in a white man's cellar. The family took him into their home, into their lives. They weren't making any political statements. They were answering the pleas of a fellow human being.

Today in honor of Columbus Day, I honor this Cherokee who wouldn't give up.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, October 8, 2011

October Poetry

Today is a perfect fall day, not too hot, not too cold, clouds so sparse I can count them on one hand. This is the kind of day poets write about when they are in a good mood, when the shadows have disappeared and all appears well.

Photograph by Vanessa McMillon

Poetry and autumn go together, at least according to one former Pilot Mountain student as she spoke about one teacher, Mrs. Seals, and the impact she made on her life.
  • Mrs. Seals is the one that would have us recite poetry. When the school would start we’d learn “September, the golden rod is yellow, the corn is turning brown.” I still say it every year. My husband says, “Well, it’s time for the poem.” Then next, “October’s bright blue weather.” I kind of got into that world. It was an escape for me. I could get a book and sometimes I would stop on the way home from school and sit and read or I would just sit in the broomsage and look at the books. The fall of the year it seems like that poetry would really get started and I would relate to everything.
Sixty plus years and her heart returns to the same poem, over and over and over. She doesn't need comfort food. She has comfort poetry!

We should all be so lucky.

Catch of the day,