Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Under the Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas Everyone! For your Christmas pleasure, here's a picture from one of my critique partners of the trees in her house. The ceramic tree on the right was crafted by my mother's cousin who just happens to be the topic of my next book. Isn't this a picture to remember on Christmas morning!
I hope each of you woke to a day of beauty and promise. I did, and this blessed morning I am a little more excited than usual.  Under several Christmas trees in homes scattered throughout the area are copies of Lessons Learned. I know because I wrote the Merry Christmas greeting to the recipient.

I'm awed at the thought, a little apprehensive, but nonetheless, awed. Humbled, too, definitely humbled. I want to be there and experience the moment with each person. Are the books wrapped in silver paper with a red bow trim? Are they in Santa gift bags stuffed with green striped tissue paper? Or, are they plain, handed straight from one friend to another, no wrapping or formalities necessary?

Most of all, will the person be thrilled or disappointed? That's where my apprehension lies, to not know if it will it be tossed to the corner, forgotten in the stack of unread books from Christmas past or be eagerly opened, devoured and savored as much as the Christmas feast will be in a few hours.

That's one lesson I've learned this year. Once a book has launched, it's gone. Sometimes I get feedback, mostly not. I have to trust and believe that what I have presented is worthy of a spot under someone's Christmas tree.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Recitation and Declaration

Although children at Pilot Mountain School memorized everything from basic reading words to presidents to state captials, the majority of stories I caught about memorization was connected to the yearly competition known as Recitation and Declaration.

The upper grade children would select a piece of literature to memorize and present to a panel of judges. They studied. They memorized. They practiced. When competition day arrived, they had one chance to do it right. One chance.

The schools I personally attended growing up never adopted this recitation tradition. Oh, I had to memorize, especially the Psalms in eighth grade, and the Gettysburg address in maybe fifth grade. But as far as competition, no.

Perhaps I should have gone through this process because I had a chance to post a "read by author" segment of my book at Southern Writers Magazine online.
This month they opened their online "Take Five" to promote writers who are from the southern United States or who write about these southern states. I qualify on both counts, not born in the south, but raised here, the school certainly southern. The format is a five minute audio presented through a casual, "spend a few minutes listening to an author read her own work."

It sounded so simple. I knew my work, knew what segment I wanted to read. I practiced a bit, learned the system from my computer, and then started to record. The first time I finished maybe ten sentences before I pronounced a word incorrectly. The second, even less. The third, fourth, fifth...you get the picture. Four and a half hours later I made it through the entire five minutes, not perfectly, but acceptably.
Here's your invitation: Go to the Take Five page, find Lessons Learned and hear my voice as I read parts of several pages. While you are there, listen to the other authors as well. We want to do more than entertain. We want to share our books with you and in reality, share a bit of ourselves with you.

Just like those children performing in the Recitation and Declaration so many years ago.

Catch of the day,


Friday, December 7, 2012

The History Museum of Burke County

On this, the seventy-first anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day, I will be surrounded by history and by history lovers. What better place to be than in a museum, the History Museum of Burke County!
Okay, so the picture is a little out of season, but that is the museum and I'll be there from one until seven this afternoon, along with several other local authors at a signing event. I appreciate the chance to be a part of this yearly event. I'm the newcomer to the crowd, yet they've accepted me with open arms.

Not only open arms, but with open books and open private collections, I might add. The folks at this museum were invaluable during the research phase of catching stories about Pilot Mountain School.

This is me on the ladder in the vault of the museum, downstairs in the dungeon where the precious records are preserved. Behind me are stacks and stacks of bound News Herald newspaper editions dating back to the eighteen hundreds. Although these are all on microfische in the county library's North Carolina room, I needed several original photographs, especially the one of the construction, the oldest picture available of the school. I found it here, in the museum.

In their education room I found a water color drawing of one of the old schools in the community that predated Pilot Mountain School, an 1885 water color drawing to be more precise. Could I use it for this project? I dared to ask. Yes, they graciously answered.

In yet another vault I discovered stacks and stacks of original ink drawings by the Burke County school superintendent from 1925 through 1963, Robert Patton, Jr. Again, permission asked and granted. What a time traveling experience that was, viewing local, state and national politics through the eyes of a very astute artist and his political cartoons. I selected two that fit into the narration of my text, but I could have picked a hundred and two.

Most of all, the docents and other volunteers at this museum helped me with fact checking my manuscript. They read over what I had written and pointed out places that needed rewording or re-researched.

Join me today and see what the museum is all about.

Catch of the day,


Monday, December 3, 2012

Saturday's Reading

The plan last Saturday was for me to read from my book, and I did, to a small but enthusiastic crowd at a coffee house called Java Journey. Since most of those in attendance weren't acquainted with Lessons Learned, I chose the selections with a lot of thought, looking for the uniqueness that makes this schoolhouse stand out from the rest, for reasons why people would want to open it and read further.

I found examples aplenty, starting with the year the school opened in 1942 and the war effort the teachers led on the home front. The children collected scrap metal to bring to school for the teachers to log the weight and reward them with a sweatshirt when they reached a particular level. The children brought nickels to buy stamps for their redemption booklets that the teachers held in a side desk drawer. As each child's booklet filled, they converted it to a War Bond. The teachers remained late after school and came to school on Saturdays to register families for their rationing books, using precious gasoline and rubber tire coupons to operate their personal vehicles to be at school to perform war time duties.

Establishing a cafeteria during war time rationing was next to impossible, as the readings I selected also showed. I read to the crowd about the barter system the school established and the home grown produce the workers served.

I could have read selections from the baby boomer years, from the desegregation years, from the final years when the school was converted to a junior high, or even from the more recent years when it has become a coffeeshop and reception hall. But instead I chose to read personal stories people told me about being a student at the school, stories like going to the gold mine holes and digging clay to take for art class, stories of being nervous for the yearly recitation and declaration contests, memories of feed sack clothes and wearing holes in pant legs from playing marbles on their knees.

All too quick my time was up. But I had so much more to read!

Next time.

Catch of the day,


Monday, November 26, 2012

A Read, A Signing and A Plan

Since Lessons Learned has hit the shelves (and the internet @ amazon) I've entered a whole new side of the writing business - marketing. I've had a very successful launch. I've participated in author events, spoken to groups about my journey to publishing and developed a website.

December 1, this coming Saturday, I will be entering yet another venture. A Read. A ten o'clock in the morning Read. A Coffeehouse, ten o'clock in the morning Read.

The place is Java Journey and its existence is a story in itself, so check it out, and then plan to come Saturday morning. 2149 N. Center St., Hickory, NC 28601
I've read to groups from my book before, but I knew the specifics of the group and they knew a little about my book. This is different. I'll be with other authors who will also be reading from their works. They know about my book because we're in a marketing group together and have shared with each other for months.     It's the visitors I'm wondering about, the ones who have never heard of me or Pilot Mountain School. Should I select favorite vignettes, stories within the story, or should I go for the history that is so fascinating and rich?   For sure, I will read the preface, part of which is to the right of this blog post in the "About" section. I will read the first page of chapter one where I compare an empty school to a mausoleum, and the final page of chapter thirteen where I declare it to no longer be a mausoleum, instead remodeled and reborn. It's the inbetween part I'm not sure about. What to empahsize - the school during World War II - the school during integration - the way the community moved from poverty to prosperity - in my time limit, what snippet can I pass along that will make them realize why I wrote this book and why they should read it.   I'll figure something out, appear at Java Journey eager to read and sell and sign. Next week, I'll let you know how things turned out.   Catch of the day,   Gretchen  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Edith Satterwhite

This past weekend I was the guest speaker at the fall meeting of the Alpha Nu chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma. The members are current or retired educators, so I felt a kinship to them with my teaching background. More than that, I know one of their former members, Edith Satterwhite, teacher and principal at Pilot Mountain School.

"Know" perhaps is not the word I should use in this context. I was never fortunate enough to meet her since she died in 1999, long before I began this project. Yet I know her well. I know her through her former students who looked to her for guidance, through her co-workers who remember her as hard working, through her family who praises her for being their rock, and most of all, through her writings.

In a written version of a speech she presented at her church, she showed her personality. "A little more than fifty years ago I came to this community shortly after Pearl Harbor in 1941. I was twenty-nine and a half years old. My hair had already turned grey...that's one reason for my being called Old Mrs. Sattershite for the last fifty years. You know the other reasons..."

She dropped out of high school in order to care for younger children in her family when her mother became too ill. She returned the following year and graduated top of her class.

To raise money for tuition at Appalachian Teacher's College, she worked as a nurse at the nearby mental hospital. She appeared before the North Carolina state legislature to open their eyes to the horrific conditions she witnessed there.

As a beginner teacher she lived away from home, only returning during the fall break when her school closed for the fall harvest season. She eventually married and found a position as teacher and principal at Pilot Mountain School the year it opened. Not only did she teach the ABC's, she participated in the home front war effort. She weighed scrap metal the children brought to school and awarded prizes for those who earned them. She collected nickels from students buying war stamps and converted their filled booklets to war bonds. She stayed late and came on Saturdays to register families for their ration booklets.

She always taught a combination class at the school, two grades together with two sets of lessons going on at the same time. She was music teacher, physical education teacher, art teacher, librarian and nurse.

More than that, she inspired children. She encouraged them to always reach higher goals. Many former students of hers became teachers because of her influence. Her legacy lives on in the students they in turn taught in their classrooms.

Yes, just like me, many in the county "know" Edith Satterwhite through the actions and words of the children who once sat in her classroom.

What better way to live on than through an unbroken chain of teachers.

Catch of the day,


Monday, November 12, 2012

The Map and a Tale of Three Counties

One email I received about halfway through the publishing process was from my editor suggesting that a map showing the Pilot Mountain area would be a great addition to the text, giving the reader a sense of place.

So I set about doing a map.

I sorted through geological maps in the North Carolina room of the Burke County Library. I reviewed maps I had run across in my research, most importantly a map by former school superintendent R. L. Patton showing the locations of county schools in 1925. I eliminated, added back and then re-eliminated school names and landmarks from my potential map, deciding to stick to only those that I mention in the actual text itself.

I sketched a basic map, went to my trusty computer whiz-kid and showed him what I wanted, where to locate the Catawba River and the two main creeks that go through the community, those so important in the gold rush days, Silver Creek (I have yet to figure out why it's not Gold Creek) and Brindle Creek. We determined where on the map to place the South Mountain State Park and the mountain peaks that played a part in the text as well.

All that finished, I felt it was time for the truth or consequences test. Take it to the old-timers at their breakfast hangout and let them critique it. Good idea because critique it they did. More like they argued it, discussed it, made suggestions. Slide the creeks around because Silver Creek is closer to the county line. No, slide it back over here. No, over here. Move the peaks because they aren't that far to the north.

Walker Top is easy to find, one tells me. Drive to the dumpsters on the road, look directly above the one on the end, and that's Walker Top.


After much deliberation and back and forth comments, the men came to a consensus and I came up with a map.
Then yesterday, over a month after the completed book was launched, a friend of mine pointed out that I had left off a bordering county. My mind raced through the outline, wondering where I could have gone wrong. He told me, and my fingers raced to the computer to verify. All those people I had consulted couldn't have missed it, I said to myself as I waited for a county map of North Carolina to appear on the screen.

I can see where I was misled. Drats. He was right, but only by a hair.

Seems that there is one place where three counties meet, Burke, Cleveland, and Lincoln, about at the spot where I have a the jagged lines above the words Cleveland County. This man is a preacher now at a church that used to be called Three County Rock Church. He told me about a rock that was the marker for the three counties, how it was in a museum in Cleveland County until recently when it was returned to its spot. He told me about how, when he first preached at the church, he stood at the pulpit in one county and his congregation sat facing him from the pews in another. Issues with building permits a few years ago caused them to petition the state to re-draw the county lines. The state approved and finagled the line around the church so that now the entire church facility is in Burke County. But for a bit, only a short distance, Lincoln County touches Burke.

So the map is incorrect, by a hair.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, November 8, 2012

This Election is History

No, I'm not referring to 2012, although it is now over and into the history books.

I'm thinking of the election stories I caught while I was interviewing the former students and teachers for this Pilot Mountain School project.

In a mock election in 1968, the school overwhelmingly selected independent candidate George Wallace with all but two votes. Those two went to Richard Nixon, leaving Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey with zero votes. The results were similar in the next cycle, Richard Nixon again winning.


This picture is in the book, although photoshopped a bit to remove the crease in the center. It was taken by one of the teachers during a mock election the year Nixon trounced McGovern. By that election date, Pilot Mountain School was mere months from closing its doors forever. The students holding those signs or cheering for a candidate were looking to a future that promised newness, not to the past of their grandparents.

Those very children now are grown and at the ends of their careers, successful for the most part. They have become the citizen leaders of the community and have led productive lives. As they went to the polls this past Tuesday, I wonder if they were thinking about this date in 1972 when they learned about the election process, or about the election of 1968 four years earlier when they were even younger, just barely old enough to comprehend. Probably not, but the democratic process requires training each generation in order to stay alive, in order to pass along the value of the freedom to vote and to have a voice in the future.

Hooray for Pilot Mountain School teachers who went to great efforts to hold mock elections.

They trained the future that we now know as the past. Think about that sentence and then think about the responsibility that is upon all our shoulders.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Birthdays at Pilot Mountain School

Besides being All Saints Day and Halloween Recovery Day, this day, November first, is my birthday. I'm keeping it low keyed, a list of chores to do, lunch out with my husband, a dinner meeting this evening with my sorority sisters. Once upon a time I sat at home waiting for the phone call from my daughter and son. Now I am mobile and I go out and about with my cell phone ringer on its loudest notch, still waiting for the well wishes call from my daughter and son and now, grandchildren.

During the interviews for the Pilot Mountain School project, I caught several birthday stories and ran across several birthday photographs. One even ended up in the book itself, page 116, although I didn't identify it as a birthday party in the caption. Several pictures didn't make the cut, like this 1957 celebration, complete with the special soft drink, a rare treat for children of that era.

Or this photo given to me by a man in the community. His sister's birthday celebration didn't happen at school, but in a home, and I could not justify including it in the book, but doesn't this picture tell a story!

Fifty odd years have come and gone since these celebrations. The presents have long been forgotten, destroyed, tossed to the back of the closet, lost. The memories have been catalogued in the brains of these children, dragged out on command, or hidden so deep they will never surface.

Birthday parties for children of the fifties might not have had theme napkins or clowns and jumping machines, but deep down, deeper than the clothing, the haircuts, and the decorations (or lack thereof) there is no difference in a photograph of a 1957 birthday party and a 2012 birthday party. There is happiness and there is promise.

Hooray for birthdays, past, present and future.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Simple Hot Dog

Last evening I attended a bonfire along with fifty or so American teenagers and a dozen or so teenage exchange students from across the globe, Switzerland, China, Norway, Germany, Indonesia and Chile. Also attending, to add another layer to the mix, were adult exchange teachers from Morocco, Haiti and Germany.

Of course the main attraction was the bonfire, a blazing inferno that supplied warmth to break the autumn chill. After several hours, it died down to mere embers, perfect for roasting the marshmallows for the s'mores. We had to explain the derivation of the word s'mores to the non-Americans, as in "that's so good, I want some more," which, in slang shortens to "s'more," an obvious reaction to the hot marshmallow served on a Graham cracker, topped by a chocolate square.

We also had to explain coleslaw, that most common southern topping for hot dogs. And the chili, that we explained, and laughed along with the girl from Chile.

But hot dog, now that we didn't have to explain. Hot dog is to America as spaghetti is to Italy or rice is to Japan. The visiting students and teachers knew about hot dogs and surely had eaten several during their months already in America.

Which brings me to Pilot Mountain School and the simple hot dog...

Hot dog complete with chili, onions and mustard.

Children of the South Mountain during the early years of the school were fed local food, unprocessed, fresh or canned during the summer months by their mothers. A hot dog is none of the above. Several people I interviewed mentioned that the first hot dogs they ate were at school, not home. Hot dogs were an unusual delight to them.

Imagine a simple hot dog being special. How wonderful the memories that first taste was for them. I can't remember my first hot dog. Can you?

Catch of the day,


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant/Nora Brooks

As far as historical figures go, Ulysses S. Grant was not high on my "pay attention to" list, so I almost skipped last night's visit by Nora Brooks, aka Julia Grant (as in Mrs. U.S.) to the Caldwell Historical Society meeting.

So glad I didn't.

Two years ago I attended a session where Nora Brooks presented herself as the daughter of Robert E Lee, so I knew this presentation would be outstanding. But Ulysses S. Grant? Really?

I was so wrong.

The real Julia Grant
He has moved up on my appreciation scale, not top notch, but higher. After all, this was from a "wife's" point of view. Nora Brooks did such a marvelous job impersonating Julia Grant that I became lost in the moment, especially when she described his anguish at developing a war plan, their sadness during the death of President Lincoln, and the tormented final year of his life suffering from the throat cancer that claimed him.

After the hour long (seemed like five minutes) presentation, she came out of character for a question/answer session. She was asked how she chose her characters and if she planned another. She posed that back to the audience, who would you suggest, then responded. She prefers the Civil War era because that's what she is comfortable with and in this small theater style, comfort counts. She crawls into the skin and the mind of her character, then dresses the outside to match. She researches and speaks in character only what she discovers.

As she talked, I thought to myself, who in my Lessons Learned would I like to become if only for an hour?

I don't know if being in a Civil War era mindset influenced my decision, or as in this case, being present with the "wife" of a general, but I knew the answer to that question right away. I would like to be inside the mind of the wife of this man:

Fate Lane
 Fate Lane.

Lafayette Lane to be more exact. He served in Company B of the 46th North Carolina Regiment of Infantry and was with Lee at the surrender at Appomattox, which would also put him with the husband of Julia Grant at Appomattox. I heard "her" version of the surrender. I'd like to hear Fate's wife's version.

I'm not sure about her name, I know I have it somewhere in my research, surely. But this woman, this first wife of Fate's, oh what a story she took to her grave. She shared him, she did, with six (some reports say even up to eight) more women, all at once. Their cabin in the mountains was a two story log building surrounded by six, seven, eight slightly smaller cabins housing his other "wives." But wait. Not to excuse his actions, but there's more to this story than meets the ear.

These were war widows, wives of comrades that didn't return from the war between the states. They had nothing. They had no support, and in most cases, no family, no money coming, no food other than what they could scrape together.

So he took them in, gave shelter to them, assumed the husband's role and had a large family. Forty-two children! Need I say more?

I can't think of another character in my book that I would like to be for an hour than Mrs. Fate Lane. Just imagine.

Catch of the day,


Monday, October 8, 2012

Turning Point Softball Game

Pilot Mountain School, as I point out in Lessons Learned, is no longer a formal school in the traditional sense. Please allow me, however, to point something out now, postscript, and to take you outside the box, onto the ball field behind the school.

Pilot Mountain School is still the scene of many lessons learned.

I learned a few this past Saturday myself at the annual Turning Point Services Softball Game.

Sportsmanship. Support. Value. Perserverence.

Many of the stories I caught during my three years of interviews and research took place on the softball field behind the school, but none are as dear to my heart as the ones about the annual ball game between, actually "among," the clients of Turning Point Services. These special needs adults have aged up and beyond the limits of childhood education services and are now as young adults or middle agers, a part of this unique program.

The day was slightly cloudy, enough to take away the glare of the sun, but not enough to cast a chill. The peanut gallery was in place, bags of peanuts at the ready. The emcee/sports announcer stood behind the backstop, clearly announcing each name as the player stepped up to the plate.

The crowd lined the walking trail down the third base line...
parents, grandparents, employees, caregivers, community volunteers, all ready and eager to cheer for everyone, not just their own.

On this one day, no one was handicapped. No one was singled out as different. Everyone was a winner. Pilot Mountain School lives on in new lessons learned.

Life should take a lesson.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Week to Remember

The book launch for Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School was one week ago today. Wow, what a week! Book signings. Speeches. And a writers' conference tucked in between.

The same day as the launch, I spoke at the monthly meeting of the Burke County Historical Society and shared with them the how and why of my writing process. Beyond talking about the book and the related Burke County history that I included in the text, I told them a few stories that ended up on the cutting room floor, or in more appropriate terms, the delete box. Earlier versions of my manuscript, for example, included pages and pages about gold mining in Brindletown, the family that made a fortune and lost it within five years, the slave revolt where slaves who were allowed to mine one day for themselves argued with owners about what belonged to them and what belonged to their owners, the old hotels that served the fortune hunters and the "interesting" activities that took place there. That was only one element of the book.

What to include? What to delete? I developed a litmus test of my own. Rule one, the story or quote must have some connection to the school and the children who attended, not just the community.

There was no rule two.

I included gold mining because the now-grown children talked about playing in the gold mine holes, about digging for clay in those holes and bringing it to school for art class, about panning for gold and about hiding in the woods, spying on adults who were following a vein so they could later sneak back and strike gold of their own.

Each decision on including or deleting weighed heavy on my heart. Some people shared heartbreaking stories, then through tears, pleaded with me not to include them in the finished product. I honored those requests. Some stories I felt were not complete and because I never found the full story, I felt I could not include them in the book.

But oh, the stories I did include! I can't wait for you to read the book and see for yourself.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Launched and Soaring

Finally, (nothing like starting today's post with the word finally!) the project I've put my energy and heart into for the past three years is out and about on its own, flying to places I'll never know about, touching emotions I'll never be privy to.

This book was indeed launched in style! From the fullscreen backdrop book cover...

My very supportive critique group
To the refreshments and the News Herald reporter who commented on it on her facebook page (thank you Cheryl Shuffler)...

You know if a book has livermush in it and the launch party for the book serves livermush, it’s got to be a special book. Congrats to Gretchen Griffith
and the release of “Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School.” The event was like a big yearbook party for all the former students... Cheryl Shuffler

From the many individuals standing in line for a personally signed copy...

A line! I was humbled indeed.
To my covergirl and her mother that took the picture...

Mary Waters and me with Covergirl Beth Ross
To my editors at Bright Mountain Books, the very capable twosome who supported me through the ups and downs of putting this together...

Cynthia Bright and Carol Bruckner, many thanks for believing in this project and making it more than I ever imagined!
And to the photographer who became my right hand man.
Andrew of Andrew Pitts Photography

Add all that together and you'll have an idea of the success of Tuesday's book launch. Through it all, however, I told the organizers and the speakers (Tom, Judy and Floyd~another big thank you) I wanted the focus to be on the community, not on me. I was merely the vessel that transported this fantastic story.

I wouldn't have changed a thing!

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

And We Have Launch!

I've been counting down the days until today's book launch and now it has arrived. The book is on the market, available as of ten o'clock this morning!

Isn't it beautiful? I've shown it before, but today I get to open it, reverently and with more than a little awe, to reveal the rest of the story.

The dedication comes near the front of the book and that's what I'll present first at the launch. This took zero amount of time to decide who to dedicate the book to, that was a given, but hours and hours to frame my feelings into the twenty-three carefully chosen words it eventually became.

To the children of Pilot Mountain School,
who went into the world and made a difference,
and to the adults who empowered them

As I was interviewing former students, one theme came through more powerfully than any other. Overcoming. They entered this mountain school as children of poverty, yet by the time I met them as adults, they were accomplished and for the most part retired from active employment. They have been (and still are) productive citizens that turned their community from poverty to prosperity.

I found proof that backs up this statement in the Burke County Consolidated Board of Education minutes, July 10, 1972, page three to be exact. I remember sitting in front of the microfische machine, searching for something entirely different, when the paragraph that took my breath away scrolled into sight.

To this date the school had been a part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, receiving federal funding under Title I projects, remedial reading and math, Head Start, kindergarten. But now that money was withdrawn from the school - for one glorious reason. It no longer qualified! The poverty level had risen above the 33.2% substandard housing requirement.

How did this community do it? Hard work, education, common sense. Where did they learn this? From the adults that empowered them - at home and at Pilot Mountain School. That's exactly what the Lessons Learned dedication expresses.

That's exactly what this book is about. Can't wait for you to read it!

Catch of the day,


Monday, September 24, 2012

One, as in Tomorrow

To-mor-row, to-mor-row, to-mor-row...Hear me singing???

One more day and

Lessons Learned:
The Story of Pilot Mountain School

comes out of the boxes and into readers' hands. I'm blown away at the possibilities, a tad bit nervous, too.

The countdown is all but over. It's down to "ONE."

The most obvious reference to "one" is found in the subtitle - Pilot Mountain. This mountain stood apart from the nearby South Mountains, as if an afterthought to creation. These mountains to me look like the back of an alligator, ridges rising out of the depths. They form a chain winding gently through the valley looking like a sea creature showing only the humps and bumps on its back. Yet there, to the side, alone, is this one little rebel mountain. It's so remarkable that two hundred years ago it was noted on charts as the pilot, the landmark to orient oneself in the wilderness.

How appropriate to name this one school after this one mountain.

Another obvious reference to "one" in the text is the old fashioned, one-room school that Pilot Mountain was destined to replace. At the turn of the twentieth century, there were over forty of them in the county.

Gilboa School as drawn by Jessie Patton in 1888
This picture of a one room Gilboa School hangs on the wall of the History Museum of Burke County. Since Gilboa is one of the schools that would eventually be replaced by Pilot Mountain School, I asked and was granted permission to use it in my book. Special thanks to the museum because it really adds to the story.

That's what this book is, a story. Once upon a time the title word was "History." Now, on the day before release, it is "Story." Oh, what one subtle change can mean. This book is a community's story, from the one room school to the one more day before launch.

Can't wait for you to read it.


Catch of the day,


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Two Days to Launch

Day after tomorrow (sounds shorter than two days, doesn't it?)

Lessons Learned:
The Story of Pilot Mountain School

will be a released book, out in the world on its own.

Two days.

Two, as in two different societies - Cherokee and European settlers - that claimed the South Mountains as home.

Two, as in two peculiarities that the Scotch-Irish settlers brought with them across the Atlantic, a fierce love of independence from government control and the knowledge of brewing fine whiskey.

Two, as in two different groups that funded the early schools in the South Mountains, the mission boards of various Christian denominations and the North Carolina state government.

Two, as in the separate but equal system, white and colored schools that served the children of the state.

Two, as in two NYA (National Youth Administration) teams that helped adults build the school. We're talking fifteen year old boys!

Two, as in the partition between two classrooms was removed to make one large room in replacement of the promised auditorium. That would come along a decade later.

Finally (oh, there's more, but I'll stop here) two, as in two outhouses, one for boys, one for girls. The apple tree beside the girl's outhouse provided fun for the boys during caterpillar season!

Join me in two days at the launch, auditorium at Pilot Mountain School, ten o'clock in the morning.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Three Days to Launch

Only three more days and this project,

Lessons Learned:
The Story of Pilot Mountain School

will launch out into the world.

Counting down to next Tuesday's launch, today I'm at three. Three, a cheerful number, odd, rounded.

I searched through the book for the number three and found this, the number of stories in this hotel. What place does this hotel have in the history of this school? Read on.
Deep in the South Mountains, long before Pilot Mountain School was even considered, sat the largest wood framed hotel in the western part of the state. Three stories high, it was a majestic piece of architecture set in a beautiful location. A Scottish merchant traveling through the South Mountains during construction suggested that it deserved an equally majestic name. Glen Alpine.

Glen Alpine Springs Hotel
It opened in 1878. Even though it boasted a promenade around the top, a billiards room, even though there were large bedrooms with high ceilings for cooling in the summer, an orchestra for dancing, a dining hall that seated two hundred, even though the nearby mineral springs offered healing, it could not stay financially viable and closed before the turn of the twentieth century. It became a boarding school, a mission to the children of the community. That, too, was unsuccessful. It became the county poor house, a haven for the homeless. It burned to the ground in 1936, but its legends lived on in the stories I caught. No one I interviewed had seen it in person, most of them were born after it was destroyed. One by one, however, they told me of hiking to the foundation, of sitting on the front steps to nowhere, of imagining what life was like once upon a time inside this elegant yet doomed building.

Just one of the stories I caught. Can't wait for you to read the rest.

Three more days until the book will be released.

Catch of the day,


Friday, September 21, 2012

Four More Days

FOUR days until this project,

Lessons Learned:
The Story of Pilot Mountain School

gets launched into the world.

Today's operative word - four, such a non-invasive number. Four, square, completion.

One man I interviewed tried to get his point across of how poor his family was. At the beginning of the school year, his mother broke the solitary long pencil into four pieces, one for each child and no one got an eraser. There wasn't one.

Four classrooms - That was the size of the school on its first, first day in 1942. No lunchroom. No library. No principal's office. No auditorium. Plenty of nail kegs, however, since the school was still under construction. Overcrowding at nearby Salem school reached such proportions that these four classrooms were urgently needed.

Four sheets of paper - A story I caught: "I have done my lessons on a brown paper bag. Sometimes I did not have notebook paper because we could not get it. I was not made light of for that. I was not made fun of for that. The teacher checked the papers just like she did the notebook papers. Whatever grade I got, I got, and there was nothing said about it. She'd return it to me just like she returned it to everybody else. Sometimes we would get the Belk's Department Store bag. All they had on them on the front was Belk's in big black letters, but the bag was wide and tall. You could cut down the side and cut the bottom off it and you could make three or four sheets of writing paper from that. Every time I could get a Belk's bag from anybody, I would do that. You'd just do what you had to do, but it made you stronger."

Four brothers - One first grader that 1942 year had four brothers serving in the armed forces. The oldest, in the Air Force, was married with children and was not sent to battle abroad. The brother in the Marines contracted malaria and was hospitalized for a year. One brother in the Navy was shipwrecked and spent a long terror filled night in the ocean before being rescued. The second Navy brother was killed in action the same year this child started first grade.

Four - a number with a powerful story.

Can't wait for everyone to read the book!

Catch of the day,


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Five Days and Counting


Five days to the launch of

Lessons Learned:
the Story of Pilot Mountain School

Since today's countdown number is five, I searched through the text to find any references to the number five. It was like striking gold. Five here, five there, over and over, five.

The first reference to five is the number of teachers in the system in 1905 who had college degrees. Five. Out of the sixty-seven schools, only five teachers were certified.

On a lighter note, one person I interviewed talked about her cousin's goal to stand at home plate and hit as many baseballs over the new cafeteria behind the school. One fine Sunday afternoon, he succeeded in breaking five windows in the process. And he replaced every one of them with his own money.

Another five, the fee to join the electric co-op that came through the year before the school was built. Monthly power bill would be one dollar fifty cents.

Five gallon buckets were mentioned several times by the two school construction workers I interviewed. They remembered using them to carry mud for the bricklayers to lay the bricks.

The local school committee size was increased from three members to five after a disagreement over lunchroom policies, settled in part by the free lunch program started in the late fifties.

And my favorite, taken as a quote from the News-Herald announcement of a fund raiser at the school:

“Serving will begin at five and continue as long as hungry residents show up to get a feast of chicken pie.”

In five days, beginning not at five, but at ten in the morning, I will be reading the dedication from my book and then it will be available for purchase.

Join me, at the school auditorium. I can't wait.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Six Days to Launch!

Six more days!

I'm doing a countdown here until

Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School

launches into the world and today I'm at SIX! That neat, rounded figure. Six...

The number six appears early in the book, at the beginning of chapter four. I list the teachers who are waiting for the children on that 1942 first, first day of school.

Then I continue:

No lunchroom ladies. Not even a school custodian, although tall, lanky Bob Baker arrived in winter when the furnace needed stoking. Basically, what they had was four teachers, six grades, and a war.

Those six grades did not include kindergarten. That wouldn't come along for almost thirty more years. But you can do the math, four teachers, six grades. Something had to give to jam six grades into four classes. 

This was accomplished through combinations, the trademark of small rural schools. First graders usually went into one class only, if at all possible, to allow each child the benefit of an undivided teacher. From then on, however, the classes consisted of two grades together. The teacher assigned one group individual work while she went to the other grade to teach. Then while they did their work, she returned to the first group for the day's lessons.

Some children listened to both sides and learned two years at once and were able to skip a grade.

Some children listened to the lower grade for reinforcement, hearing the same lessons two years in a row.

Some children were lost and confused with a parallel instruction going on while they were trying to work on a completely different topic. They couldn't ask for help from the teacher because she was too busy with the other grade. Instead they had peer helpers that sat beside them. Sounds like a modern teaching technique, but used for generations.

Six grades, four teachers. Oh, and a war. That's chapter four. Can't wait for you to read it.

If you are anywhere near the schoolhouse on highway 64 west of Morganton, NC on Tuesday, September 25, please come to the launch. Ten o'clock in the morning. Hope to see you there...in six more days!

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One Week and Counting

September 25 is one week away, just one more week and Lessons Learned will be in the hands of readers.

I'm thrilled about the plans for the launch as much as I am for the release of the book itself. Well...almost. Anyway, my intention for the launch party is to present the book in the very place where all the action took place. That's the advantage of nonfiction. There really is such a place!

The launch will be in the auditorium of the school, now converted to a reception hall, by the way. We'll have a short ceremony at ten o'clock, complete with the big reveal (as if everyone hasn't seen the cover by now!) and the dedication. I'll read a few selections and then...gulp...the book will be in their hands. I won't be able to control it. It will be a teenager driving solo for the first time, leaving the proud mama smiling behind clenched teeth.

Then afterward, while everyone is thumbing through their copies of the book, finding gems, laughing at memories I've captured, we'll party. I'll be available to sign books and hopefully many of the characters in the book will be available to sign my personal copy. That's my plan. Can't wait!

The auditorium where the book signing will be held.
If you are nearby highway 64 southwest of Morganton between 9:30 and 2:00 on Tuesday, September 25, please stop in. There's always room for more.

Catch of the day,


Here's the plan.

9:30 until 2:00, with a book signing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ten Days to the Book Launch

I'm into countdown mode now.

Ten, nine, eight...days until Lessons Learned launches out of its shipping boxes and onto the shelves.

Holding at ten for today, though.

What a cool word. Launch. Someday I'll research its derevation and see how it was used before space exploration became a part of our daily lingo. Did Wilbur and Oliver use it? How about a reporter watching the first hot air balloon rise into the sky? Did "launch" find a spot in his breaking news?

The children at Pilot Mountain did hear that word, read it in their Weekly Readers from what they remembered, saw it in action in real time on the small tv screen the principal brought to the school that morning, rabbit ears and all. Today's child would scoff at the sight, metal rods extending above some tiny box, the principal holding one end, twisting it around, barely breathing when the focus hit exactly the spot because if he moved, the image would distort or worse, disappear.

The parents of those children of the fifties might have used the word launch when they were standing outside at night, tracing the bright artificial satellite named Sputnik, teaching their own kinds of lessons about space and the future. What did they say? How did a parent back then explain what would be ahead when he had no idea himself?

Back snug in bed, in the coolness of a pillow, just before sleep overtook them, what lessons ran through these children's heads?

Lessons Learned!

Launching soon, September 25, 2012.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book Launch in TWO WEEKS

Announcing to the world!!!

(Drum roll please!)

Two weeks from today at ten o'clock in the morning, yes, a Tuesday morning while the world is busy going about its normal business, there will be an unveiling, a reveal and a spectacular launch (no fireworks necessary) happening at the Pilot Mountain School auditorium.

Because that's when I will stand on the stage and present to the community the book I've worked on with them for the past three years. Isn't it a beauty??

Okay, so I've revealed the cover before, but what's inside is the true reason for the launch.

There won't be clowns (not officially, at least) or balloons. Glitter and glitz just doesn't seem appropriate for a book designed in black and white tones inside and out. In my head, however, the colors will be vivid, Fourth of July starburst vivid.

The ceremony will be short. And sweet. A prayer, a word of welcome, a dedication and many expressions of gratitude from me. And then...

And then I'll hold my breath as my book goes into the hands of those around me and it will be no longer mine.

Ten o'clock. Tuesday. September 25. Pilot Mountain School on highway 64 west in Burke County.

Hope to see you then.

Catch of the day,


Sunday, September 9, 2012

More Stories

Well, it’s happened already and the book is not yet out…

The thing I sort of anticipated, yet dreaded…

The disadvantage of structuring my book as I did…


On Saturday I was doing some advance publicity for the upcoming, soon to be released (September 25)

Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School.

The scene was the Historic Burke Festival and there I was, at the old courthouse, greeting people at my table, handing them a business card and writing the launch date (September 25) on the back.

The “where were you a year ago when I was doing my interviews?” phenomena started. Former students, those who flew far below my radar during my interview stage, stopped to chat. They had read the newspaper announcement about the book and were full of their own wonderful stories. Make that Wonderful with a capital W, stories I could have used, stories that would have found a spot in my soon to be available (September 25) three hundred and seven text pages. Alas! Not to be.

Those stories I shall share here, starting with one about the horse on campus.
In my book, I use a quote from a girl who states the obvious, that this was a farm community. She said the fact that the janitor rode his horse to work and tied it to a post behind the school was nothing more notable than teachers who drove their cars to work and parked in the makeshift parking lot.

True, but Saturday I heard more to that version. Yes, horses were no big deal, yet being from a rural background, these children had learned compassion for all things farm. They took care of that horse that was tied up all day long while its owner swept the floors and stoked the furnace.

Behind the school, not all that far from this horse, were apple trees, the same ones that found a prominent part in the story from the 1940’s. But children of the late 1960’s generation, in addition to climbing the trees to pick the apples to eat or to throw at each other, were now picking the apples to feed the horse. It was their mission, tending the horse.

It has been my mission for the past three years to present this school to the public, recording memories, researching to fill in the gaps. Phase one is complete. Phase two starts with the launch (September 25 in case you didn’t catch the date). Then phase three starts, collecting more stories and posting them here.

I can’t wait.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

More First Days of School

Last week I recognized the August 31, 1942 first, first day of school for Pilot Mountain School children.

Let me continue with the second and third first days of school, because there's more to the story. In 1943 the state of North Carolina increased the required days of school from eight months to nine for a new total of one hundred eighty days. To accommodate those extra days, school began earlier in August. Not too early, though. This was pre-airconditioning. This was a rural county where children were needed on the farm. Most days were added in the spring.

But there's even more to the first day of school stories because in 1944 school didn't open until mid September, almost a month later. Why?



Children were not allowed off their properties, were confined to their homes until the county polio epidemic was contained and believe me, this is one law these families followed to the letter. The assigned first day of school passed with no relief in sight. The August 31 first day of school date passed also. Finally, four weeks into the school year, the quarantine was lifted and the children flocked to school, happy to be free from the imposed stay at home restrictions.

As first days of school pass this year, keep those 1944 polio epidemic children in mind. Kiss your children, celebrate your grandchildren, post their pictures on facebook, but remember the past and the blessings of medical advancements that today's children enjoy.

Catch of the day,


Friday, August 31, 2012

August 31, 1942

Seventy years ago to the date - August 31, 1942 - Pilot Mountain School opened its doors to the first, first day of school.

I describe it in the opening to chapter four:

School opened August 31, 1942 on the very first, first day of school. Four teachers were at the door to greet the children: Neva Crawley, kind hearted first grade teacher who taught the year before at Salem; Ruby Mast and Mary Ella Bingham, friends and graduates from Appalachian State Teacher’s College; and Edith Satterwhite, lead teacher and designated principal, who had taught in the North Carolina schools of Casar and Nebo.
That was it. No lunchroom ladies. No custodian, although tall lanky Bob Baker arrived in winter when the furnace needed stoking. But basically, four teachers, six grades and a war.

I can only imagine that first day, although some former students who were there did describe it to me. They remembered the feelings of pride and joy more than the shadow of war that hung over their heads. War lessons would come later. For August 31, the lessons were positive, hopeful and down to business. They learned that day that every first day of school is a promise, even in times of hardship. Looking back seventy years later these students recognize that promise.

May every child know that feeling.

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cover Girl

Ta - Da!!! Now, presenting - the COVER!!! And the TITLE!!!!
Yes, the Pilot Mountain Story is ever closer to being a reality, a narrative nonfiction hold in your hands book.

I'm pleased. Ecstatic would be a better word choice, but I'll stick with pleased, just to stay cool about it.

It's a combination of two pictures, the front entrance of the school, Andrew Pitts, photographer, and a 1956 picture of a student posing on the bumper of the school bus, Mary Waters, photographer. This cover girl represents all that is good and innocent and possible in a "picture is worth a thousand words" kind of way. Life was different back then, as different and yet as alike as this 1950's school bus is to the 2012 bus of today. Some things change, like fashion and style and bus design; some things never do, like possibilities in the face of a child. That's what this cover says.

Can't wait for you to read the book! Coming soon!

Catch of the day,


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Computers and Pilot Mountain School

Today I picked up my laptop from the "emergency clinic" pc medics. It had been there for what turned out to be a minor repair that took five minutes to fix, after a two day search and recovery operation. I'm using those terms, comparing all this to a crisis intervention, because I need to use clear images to get my point across.

I suppose the inventors of computers and the internet had to be creative as well to establish a new technical language that the children who sat in the seats at Pilot Mountain School would eventually understand if they would survive this brave new world. Back then a mouse was something the teacher ran from, especially if the class clown slipped it into her desk drawer when she was out of the room. A web was behind the seldom used bookcase. A virus was what gave them polio or flu. A desktop was where they rested their elbows when they were daydreaming, and a laptop was where they found solace when they had had a bad day at school.

Computers were not unheard of, make no mistake. Even in the fifties and sixties, children knew there was such a thing because they read about them in the Weekly Reader, the serial publication they received each Monday. One lady I interviewed remembered the article that pictured a computer the size of a room and the brash claim that one day, all the words of an encyclopedia could be contained in a small disc. They scoffed. Unbelievable, they said, but now, decades later, they are the very ones who made the successful transition into the technical age. They were not born into it. They were forced into it, and they have adapted and thrived and now relish in the wonders of the internet. Okay, so they ask their grandchildren how to work those fancy buttons, but still they relish.

And they can do it at the school that once held them captive in wooden seats. Yes, wireless internet access is available. During all those daydreams, I'd bet those children would have never imagined this marvel would come to pass.

Facility Coordinator, Connie, takes advantage of wifi in the back corner of the current Pilot Mountain School Cafe.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 18, 2012

South Mountain Language

To me, one of the fascinating aspects of this project has been uncovering the language of the South Mountains. I'm so glad I captured a bit of it because unfortunately, it's fading away.

So is the accent. No one I interviewed pronounced words in the old style. Children go to the county fair, not the county "far." Their parents change a flat tire, not a flat "tar." They carry in wood for the fire, not the "far." Wait, bad example. They don't carry wood anymore.

These old pronunciations have been replaced as the generations moved out into society and adapted, without even realizing it. Or as the older generations would say, without even realizing "hit."

But the beauty of the language is still there in the sentence structure and the old sayings. One man who moved into the community as a seven year old sixty years ago remembers laughing at the way people talked, but when I pressed him for examples, he couldn't tell me any. His statement, "I can't tell you because I say them now myself. They have become a part of me."

I did hear a couple from others. Like, raise the winder down. When the coal powered heating system over worked and the classroom became too hot, the teachers opened the windows, raised the winders up. When the room cooled too much, then they raised the winders down.

Going up highway 64. Both directions were up. East, go to Morganton. West, go to Rutherfordton. Either direction, the car would go up the road.

Sort of sad to lose a part of a community that makes it unique from the rest of the world.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pilot Mountain

I've mentioned before that there are eight landmarks in North Carolina named Pilot Mountain.


I assume way back when the various explorers and pioneers and soldiers were blazing trails through the wilderness, they didn't bother to consult each other as to what names to give landmarks in case one was already taken. They just anointed them with the most convenient, most descriptive name to make directions clear. When a general wanted his men to meet at a particular spot, he'd use a pilot to guide them in a "turn left at the pilot mountain" kind of way. He needed something that stood out, apart, recognizable so that, with no room for errors in judgment, no one would second guess. A pilot. Pilot Mountain.

Because it stands apart from the South Mountains to its east, this mountain has been
often used as a landmark for travelers. Col. Patrick Ferguson’s 1780 chart of the region
labels it “The Pilot Mountain.”
That's the caption that I wrote to go with the picture of the mountain in the book. What the reader can't see is the chain of mountains to the east, all lined up in a row, like good little children in a class on the way to lunch. All except for this one, this little stubborn mountain that stands alone. It is covered with trees that hide the gashes and gullies carved by gold miners generations ago. Perhaps deep in its bowels lie riches beyond imagining. Gold. Or perhaps, those men of long ago, the ones that moved on to the California Gold Rush, extracted it all, bled the mountain dry before they left.
What a perfect name for a school. Pilot Mountain. They both stand alone, this school, this mountain. They have stories, some told in my book, some hidden in memories too private to share. But some stories, when the moment is right, are there waiting for a storycatcher to find them, pass them along.
That's what this project has been about.
Catch of the day,

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


So, it's been a while since I've blogged, I just didn't realize how long. But I have been busy doing what writers do, writing, just not here.

My writing this summer consisted more of composing short bits, two to three sentence captions to fit the pictures. The process is not as easy as it sounds.

For example, this photograph was given to the project by Floyd Thomas, the son-in-law of Frank Baker, the man in the picture who donated the land to the county.

By all accounts, he is standing in the exact spot where the school was built in 1942, based on the mountains in the background and based on the opinions of the many advisors I had looking over my shoulder, discussing it among themselves. (That was a fun day.)

I flirted with several captions, trying them out, seeing what fit best. When the picture location in the final layout ended up being a few pages further into the book, I rewrote yet again. It all seems so simple, this finished caption, maybe even a bit boring, yet it says what needs to be said. Believe me, it is the result of hours of mulling and rearranging.

Frank and Altha Baker donated a portion of their land for the Pilot Mountain School site. The school would face the South Mountains seen behind him in this undated family photograph.

I'm almost finished with the entire project, only a few odds and ends to tie together, not simple little odds I might add. Then the actual printing.


Catch of the day,