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,