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,