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 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,