Monday, December 15, 2014

Author Visits

'Tis the Season. (Since my book is a Christmas book)

For author visits. (To talk about my Christmas book)

Got one tomorrow. (Because Christmas is near)

I'll be sharing and talking with fourth graders about my writing process...and my book.

I've been to several schools this season, each offering an experience so delightful I almost feel like going back to my first career love, teaching. (Almost!) I miss the children, their joy and curiosity, even their crazy, out of context questions. I miss eating in the lunchroom where a bit of reality is served up daily. I miss watching the light bulb moments when a child understands a concept we've gone over and over and over and then ka-boom, he gets it. 

Last week I went to a school in a nearby county. The fifth graders had prepared welcome signs that were displayed in the hall. I read every one and I signed a thank you note on each poster. What fun. These children had visited me before I ever arrived...imagine that. They had gone to my webpage during computer lab class and read through it as a lesson. They played with my interactive page where I reveal my messy desk and the tools I use as I write. Check it out here. There's a hidden gem in the picture, so see if you can find it. 

By the time I walked into the gym, those students were ready to visit as old friends. I was ready for them and they were ready for me.

Advice to other authors, be prepared. Take a water bottle just in case. Dress in layers. I visited in classrooms in a school where I was cold in one room and burned up in another, depending on how far away from the ancient heater the room was. Be familiar with the writing objectives the teachers are required to follow because this is your chance to reinforce them. You are the example they will use the next time they teach a concept.  Most of all, enjoy the day and appreciate the privilege of meeting readers up close and personal. 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen






Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Retro Toys

Between all the Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday sales pitches going on, I heard a still small voice speaking about toys of the past making a comeback. Some have never left, the yo-yo, dollhouses, bicycles, although each of those have updated versions, new etch-a-sketch.

New and improved Chatter Phone by Fisher-Price. Modern children might not know what it is for or how someone would ever use it, but it still is for sale, still fun to them.


One toy I didn't see in the video is the one that drove the teachers at Pilot Mountain School rather crazy.

Clackers. Study them well, because I would bet they will never become a retro toy on the market. What were we thinking?

They don't look like much, sitting there so innocently, balls on a string, just the right weight to give a solid bang when they collide. Yet given over to the hands of a sixth or seventh grader of the sixties, they came alive. They spun in orbit and clacked together at the other side. Or they clomped up against someone's head. Then they clacked some more. And more. 

Homemade versions of this toy just didn't work because the sound that drove the teachers crazy just wasn't the same. From an interview of a student:
  • Something came through here called clackers. It was a ring with a string and a ball on each end. You went pow, pow, pow, pow. Two clear plastic balls, you tried to get them going fast enough and you’d hear it. The clacking. The teachers got tired of that after a while and they banned them.

And teachers today think they have it so rough!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Monday, November 24, 2014

Recycled

I have a wonderful husband. He spent a couple of his golf coupons on me at the pro shop. Such a kind thought, buying golf balls for me. He knows me too well, knows I rarely complete 18 holes without losing at least one. Okay, two, three. I've been known to go through quite a few.

So his gesture is appreciated, but I must laugh. Read the cover of the Tee It Again box:

Check out the company, Links Choice. These balls have been recycled!

No, let's just say these are experienced balls. They've been around. But wait, let's call a spade a spade. These are nothing more than used balls. A rose by any other name is still a rose.

I've noticed a lot of businesses are doing this same thing, re-purposing words, taking a not so popular product and dressing it up a bit, giving consumers a new look at it through a new connotation, a new attitude.

It's working for the used car business...um...er...the previously owned car business.

I remember when my daughter discovered the Goodwill Store near her college dorm. She bought a gently used coat for three dollars and couldn't wait to call home to tell me about it. I called it a second hand coat and popped her balloon a bit, but that didn't stop her from finding what she called "treasures." Why they weren't treasures when I was footing the bill, I'll never know.

I shop consignment stores at the beach and find more "treasures" with my friends. The greatest of all, though, are the yard sale "finds." I have friends that can look at a damaged, well used piece of furniture and envision what they can turn it into. All I see is something else to dust.

Recycling words is what I do because there's no need to dust words. They move too fast. They dance to another meaning like a ballerina flitting across the stage. They are fluid and they ooze into the language where they are least expected. They seep into our brains and delight us with new ways of looking at life.

The golf balls might have to wait until winter thaws into spring, but meanwhile, I'll be working on words.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Monday, November 17, 2014

Let's All Go to the Tilt

Okay, I must admit I'm not all that into sports even though, on rare occasion, I have been known to write about a particular sport. My first published article was "Finding Forty-two" in Highlights for Children, a nonfiction about baseball and Jackie Robinson. My latest project is about a baseball field in the community where I now live (a most interesting catch of a story, I might add).

Yes, my husband and I have been to every major league ball park, although we have one new one yet to check off, in Minnesota. Yes, I was a bleacher mom for years of soccer, basketball, football and baseball. For proof, here's my son's high school picture.

Senior Football Family Portrait 
So I do know some sports, but I learned them as I went along raising a daughter and a son and being married to a coach. I certainly didn't bring sports to the marriage. The only reason I ever attended ballgames as a teen was to play in the pep band, and to socialize, definitely socialize. My family was more into big band music and flying airplanes, my normal. That and reading and talking about words that I ran across in the books I was reading.

Which all leads me to one simple little four letter word: TILT. When our children were teens, we had a pinball machine in our playroom downstairs and the word TILT became a part of my vocabulary beyond the everyday, mundane, "Don't tilt that glass, you'll spill your milk."

But as I've researched through sports pages of the forties and fifties, I began to notice TILT in the titles of articles. 
  • Bearcats Triumphant in Tilt 
  • Friday's Tilt Postponed Due to Rain
  • Tilt Begins at Seven Tonight
Using the context clues I had taught my reading students, I soon developed a concept for "tilt." Game. I asked my husband if he had ever heard such an archaic usage of this word and he laughed. Of course he had, and it is not archaic, he said. It's used yet today, he said.

Surely not! 

Two weeks ago, on a Friday football night, the sportscaster on the local channel warned the audience, "If you plan to go to tonight's tilt, be sure to take an extra layer. It's going to be cold."

And there it was.

How have I missed it all these years? But, I'm sorry. Tilt does not come across the same. I just can't sing "Take me out to the Tilt" during the seventh inning stretch.
Souvenir Cups from Major League tilts
Catch of the day,

Gretchen









Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

Today I'm pausing for a moment to remember those who went before me and by their sacrifices, made sure that I can write this blog, unrestrained, free. Did I say "Thank you" yet?

Thank you.

My brother served in the US Army in Viet Nam on helicopter duty. He returned unharmed in body, but forever changed in spirit. "Thank you" seems so insignificant for me to say for such a tremendous service he did for me and you. Is there another more powerful word to express my gratitude?

(Picture courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

I'm thinking also of four men in my latest project, brothers in the US Army in World War II. One served in Iceland, one in Germany, one in Africa and one, the baby of the family, the apple of his mother's eye, killed during basic training. "Thank you," again, insufficient a word for me to say.

In another project I write of a local man killed in action in World War I, buried at the site with the others in his unit, and finally, after years of searching by his family, brought back and buried in the churchyard of his childhood. I sit on Sundays not an acorn's throw from his resting spot. "Thank you," again, not enough to express what I feel.

Lesson learned. Freedom isn't free.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NC Society of Historians Book Awards

There is a wonderful group of history loving readers in our great state and they call themselves the North Carolina Society of Historians. They advocate in behalf of books and they spotlight a variety of media that records the past: newsletters, newspaper articles, dramas, cd's and dvd's. 

In their own words from their own website the purpose of their organization is to share information with people throughout the state in regards to history, traditions and folklore distinct to North Carolina.

Once a year they assemble and celebrate what they consider outstanding works that preserve our history. They also "reward those who have worked tirelessly to bring this state's past, present and future to the forefront. In 2013 Lessons Learned: The History of Pilot Mountain School was recognized with the Willie Parker Peace Award. 

This year, my work was recognized again, actually three times!, and wow, thank you, historians, for appreciating the stories I caught and recorded because they indeed bring the past to the forefront. 
Co-author Johnny Turner and I accepting the award

Wheels and Moonshine: The Stories and Adventures of Claude B. Minton was recognized with a Willie Parker Peace Award. We planned this project to bring a bit of humor to history through the stories and adventures (I wanted to call it the misadventures) of an eccentric character from Wilkes County, NC. We didn't anticipate the wonderful reception it would have, but we relish in it, and I'm sure the main character, co-author Johnny Turner's Uncle Claude, would have been delighted to be up front accepting this award as well. He would have stolen the show! Read the book. You'll know exactly what I'm saying.

I brought my cover girl to accept this award
Called to the Mountains: The Story of Jean L. Frese was recognized with an Ethel Williams Twiford Religious History Book Award. Jean's picture is on the cover of the book complete with her Salvation Army bonnet. On this day, the bonnet has been retired, but her uniform still in use. We accepted together, she took the microphone and she took over the crowd.

And the 2014 President's Award goes to...
Me.

While I was up front, the president asked me to stay, she had one more thing. One more big thing. The President's award. and here, in the society's own words, is why my Called to the Mountains book won: 
  • Only one award is given in this category per year. It is the North Carolina Society of Historian's current President's choice. Those qualifying for consideration must have a winning entry during the current year...winning by unanimous decision of their category's panel of judges. From those receiving an award, one is chosen for the award by the President.
One book, and she thought enough of this religious history story to say it was the winner. As I wrote it, I knew it was good. The story is honest, told with just the right amount of humor for a religious book. The Salvation Army in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina is a story in itself, but add an 88 year old fireball, and that is story. A winning story.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, October 20, 2014

Fancy Groceries

I am deep into a new project. Deep, 1920 deep. Way back. I didn't intend to get into this white rabbit hole, but digging myself down here sure has been fun. In my researching and interviewing I find all kinds of words that once meant one thing, but now another. Case in point: I came across a term I hadn't heard before, but assumed I knew, "fancy groceries."

If you are picturing walking the aisles of the new concept grocery store with the millions of gourmet selections artistically displayed, aromas strategically planned to entice, color themed shelving, deli/salad/olive bar section conveniently located near indoor picnic tables with wifi available, you know, fancy...

you would be wrong.

Back story:

As I was interviewing a man about my current baseball field project, he mentioned that he had a trunk full of old commercial calendars from stores here in town, one of which just might be an advertisement for the store owned by the men who built the baseball field. Would I like to see them?

Some questions aren't necessary.

There they were in pristine condition, calendars dating all the way back to the earliest one, 1907. The pictures on the calendars didn't match the establishment, the funeral homes, banks, flour mills, bargain centers, and the ones that held my attention, stores that sold fancy groceries. The beautiful girls on the top halves of the calendars gave no hint as to what these stores sold or what services these businesses offered. All they offered was eye candy that would be hung in the kitchen for a year, same cover picture, tear off each month, to be replaced by a different version the next year.

Since the calendar girls offered no insight, I turned to interviewing. No one I asked had ever heard the concept of "fancy groceries," although everyone guessed, incorrectly as it turns out.

So I turned to the internet, the source of all knowledge, sort of.



See this toy truck with its fancy groceries sign? I found it on www.rubylane.com a website for antiques.

 Or this one, an inside view of Wilson Fancy Groceries in Muncie, Indiana:

Even then I didn't grasp the last century concept of "fancy groceries," that, by the way, still is very much a legal term. It wasn't until I read a 2014 court case from Florida that I began to understand a simplified version of what it means, and here, is my non-legal interpretation, for what it's worth.

Some stores specialize. Butcheries sell meat. Bakeries sell baked goods. A greengrocer sells fruits and vegetables. A grocery store sells the staples, the basics a household needs for food products. A fancy grocery store sells all of the above but also sells laundry detergent and toothpaste and paper towels and other nonfood products.

The eleventh court of appeals affirmed that definition in March of 2014. One of the parties in that particular case was the Winn-Dixie, a store no longer found in western North Carolina. In the time period that I am researching, however, it was very much in business around here and called by its pre-merger name, Dixie Home. That, people remember. Not the fact that it was a fancy grocery, but the fact that on Saturday mornings, the day after pay day, after the children ran to the picture show and the fathers to the hardware store and the mothers to the Guarantee Store for clothes, the family would meet up at the Dixie Home and buy their weekly groceries.

Sometimes being fancy isn't what it's cracked up to be.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Epidemics

My heart is heavy.

I have a hard time listening to the evening news segments about ebola and enterovirus and seeing the faces of those who have died in the last few days, an adult who was at the wrong place at the wrong time, a four year old child who went to sleep one evening, no symptoms, no indications of problems, but didn't wake up the next morning, two viruses, two individual stories among thousands.

This is the twenty first century, for goodness sake. I should not be writing about this. But I am.

Now I see with different eyes what I wrote in Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School.

Back then it was polio, infantile paralysis.

I was young when the epidemic came through, so I didn't know the fear of putting a child to bed, praying that she would waken in the morning. My mother no doubt did and I'm looking with astonishment at the prayer I recited every night that concludes with "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." It's more than rhetoric. It's real.

When I was listening to the former students and teachers talk about quarantines and fears, about inoculations on sugar cubes and reliefs, I hadn't grasped the concept of epidemic. I'm getting a bit clearer picture now.

Photo from Getty Images: This is the new face of epidemic
In the late 1940's and early 1950's the polio virus grew to epidemic proportions in the counties surrounding the South Mountains of North Carolina. During the summer of 1944 all activities that involved children came to a halt. Children under the age of sixteen were quarantined, required by law to remain at home and not associate with other children. The opening of school was delayed almost a month. Those were desperate times. Parents put their children to bed at night not knowing if they would waken in the morning, or if they did, if they would have lost the muscular ability to walk or to breathe. 

No men in hazmat suits came to their houses and sprayed chemicals. How frightening that would have been. Imagine the stories young children who survive the current ebola epidemic will tell sixty years from now. What do they think of these unearthly creatures knocking on their doors? Fear has many levels.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims, because as an interviewer, I know the distant future of their feelings. These epidemics, like polio so many years ago, will be engraved in their souls. They will whisper. They will tear up. They will cover their mouths with their hands to regain composure.

Someday a parent putting a child to bed at night will have no hidden fears about her waking up the next morning. The words in that prayer will be unnecessary. 

That day is not here yet.

Gretchen

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Music to Work By

This past weekend I attended a writing conference.

That one sentence is packed with hours and hours of back story, believe me. I soaked up more ideas and suggestions than I ever imagined possible. I compared notes with other writers. I signed copies of my books and in turn purchased other books for those authors to sign for me.

A good time was had by all. 
(I just love that sentence! It seems so classical.)

Then I returned home and sat in front of my computer to apply all this new-found knowledge. The issue was not what did I learn that I can use. The issue for me was, where do I begin.

Hmmm.

I'll start with music and the notes from the intensive revision workshop. Music, "it seems," awakens all parts of the brain, including both the creative and the logical. Music calms the brain, slows it, and the right music perks it back up. Make a play list of music to fit your manuscript, says the instructor. So, since working with a little surround sound makes perfectly good sense, I began delving, searching, surfing the web for the music that fits my writings.

I'm currently working on a project about a small town baseball field and no, I'm not going to run through an all day, YouTube marathon of Take Me Out to the Ballgame video selections. 

But I can't help but revert back to the Lessons Learned manuscript and the many hours I sat before the computer, no background noises, typing, creating, researching and revising. Music permeated the community, so why did I sit in silence. It was such a part of life in the South Mountains. People I interviewed invariably mentioned music. 

If only I had listened to "Cripple Creek," a Bluegrass favorite of the students there at Pilot Mountain School. There also was "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" during recess time, the banjo player picking on the front porch of the house across the road from the school. There were Irish jigs and reels. There were mandolins and guitars. There were jam sessions after hours, young people standing on the side, absorbing the music from their fathers and uncles and elders.

That was community.

Not only did they play instruments, they sang. And sang. And sang. Bluegrass, yes, but also Gospel. One man reported that his fifth grade teacher required the class members to recite a Bible verse and sing a solo every Monday morning. He claims he sang "Onward Christian Soldiers" until he wore it out.

There was no formal music teacher until the late sixties. Music instruction (as everything else) came from the classroom teacher or from a parent or from a child, favorite selections, the songs by Stephen Foster.

They shared a songbook:



One child took the book home and learned the songs on the piano, came back the next day and taught it to the class.

Community.

In the fifties and sixties those same young people branched out. Rock and Roll seeped in, bringing Elvis and his pelvis. The Beatles arrived, bringing long hair and a new beat. Their parents didn't understand the attraction. Wasn't the old music good enough?

The community changed. The world changed. So what if the music changed, too? The heart was still there expressed in new lyrics and strange rhythms and the brain was calmed, perked back up, energized.

That's what music does.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Friday, September 19, 2014

Franklin Roosevelt and Pilot Mountain School

I've been watching the Ken Burns series on The Roosevelts. Watching isn't exactly the word. It's too nondescript, because this history narrative has enthralled me. I checked to see if that's the word I really wanted to use and um, yes...enthralled, to hold spellbound, to captivate.

None

Not that I was even alive during the Roosevelt years, any of them. After "watching" these episodes, I'm positive I wouldn't want to have been alive during the Roosevelt years, any of them, although I more than admire those who doggedly survived those years, and grew strong because of trials they faced. Tragedy. World wide war. Uncontrolled disease. World wide depression. World wide war, again.

It's not as if I hadn't studied history. I have, although by the time my introduction to US history classes in high school and university arrived at the twentieth century, time was running out and we hurried through.

These episodes don't hurry. They show what I missed in those history classes, the family saga connected to the country where I live.

What I found most interesting is the verification of details I found during my research on the story of Pilot Mountain School. I saw this school's story unfold on television in the background of the Roosevelt story, Franklin's at least. He had polio. Chapter five, Pilot Mountain School children were quarantined due to the polio epidemic and their parents lived in constant fear that this horrid disease would strike their children next.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Roosevelt, 1937.
Photo credit: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library
As president, FDR made a deal with the country, a New Deal, one designed to help the individuals suffering through the Great Depression no matter where they were, the South Mountains of North Carolina even. The REA, Rural Electrification Act, brought electric lines through the valley and to the proposed school site. The PWA and the WPA and the NYA, all economic recovery acts that brought jobs and institutions and training and yes, Pilot Mountain School. Partially funded by the PWA, the Public Works Administration, overseen by the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, and built by the boys of the NYA, National Youth Administration (boys age 15 and up because the men were called to war), this school would not have existed without some kind of deal, some kind of New Deal. It's there in chapter three of Lessons Learned, the results of the Roosevelt initiatives.

Chapter four, now that's another Roosevelt story, the World War II story and how the children and teachers of Pilot Mountain School supported the war effort and endured the hardships of the war reality. The Roosevelts: An Intimate History Check it out and as you watch, enthralled, think of this little school in the South Mountains of North Carolina.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day of School

Today is the first day of school in our county. Even if I wanted to avoid it, I couldn't miss that fact. Not only is it on the local news, it was in the newspaper, in announcements at churches, and no surprise here, on facebook. Ah, facebook, the modern equivalent of the grapevine, only better, because photographs are included. 

I'm sitting on my deck this morning, reading through comments my friends posted about the first day of school, teachers excited about the prospects, parents snapping pictures of nervous children holding new backpacks and lunchboxes, grandparents requesting prayers as they sit back and sip their second cup of coffee and remember the once upon a time when it was their turn to have that goodbye, good luck, have a nice day intimate moment with their child.

I can only speculate what Pilot Mountain School would have been like on the first day of school if facebook had been around. 

Not that different, I'd venture to say. 

Nerves are still nerves whether 1942, 1952 or 2014. The unknown is still unknown. The teachers are still at the door. The children are still wide eyed. The parents are still fretting. The grandparents are still praying. Well, so are the parents. And the teachers. And, dare I say, the students.

True, lunchboxes have changed from brown paper bags with greasy spots at the bottom to Hello Kitty or some other variation with a thermos tucked inside.

True, book bags have evolved from a belt for strapping around the books to a full colored Hello Kitty design to match the aforementioned lunchbox.

True, the yellow number two pencils and Blue Horse notebook paper were bought from the school store, not from Walmart with its list of materials each school "suggests" their students bring the first day.

But also true is the hope that a new beginning brings. That will never change, thank goodness. 

It's what keeps teachers coming back.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, August 18, 2014

Small Southern Town Baseball Fields

The title says it all.

About my latest project, that is.

Crump Field in Caldwell County, North Carolina


Is that a cool picture, or what! Look in the background at the three story grandstand and at the team "bus" that used to be a hearse. Study the players' faces, their pride.

That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is 1955 small town south.

Only better. That is rural small town south, if there could be such a designation, out where there are no blue laws to prevent the teams from playing baseball on a Sunday afternoon, out in the fields surrounded by cows and horses and corn. Blue Law Baseball, that was my original working title, but as I've researched and interviewed, that's changing. The story is so much more.

Rural small town baseball was definitely in existence on the grounds of Pilot Mountain School.

The story is different, but the theme is the same: The love of the game and the love of community. That's what caused the fathers to come out to the schoolhouse and build a ball field where their children could spend hours and hours being kids. Both boys and girls were there on the field in the mornings before school. They played ball during recess and lunch break. They rode their bicycles back to school after their chores were finished at home. Younger boys modeled their style after the older boys they played alongside. Older boys allowed for mistakes and unknowingly influenced the little ones. On Sunday afternoons whole families showed up. Not much was organized. Not much was official. It was just play.

For the love of it.

I can't wait to share my new project with you.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28, 1914

Seems like this month has been chocked full of "anniversaries" of significant world events. Forty-five years since the man on the moon giant leap and already the press is gearing up for the fiftieth in five years down the pike. There's always the Fourth of July to recognize and following that, the fourteenth of July, Bastille Day. 

This morning I saw one more to add to the list in these waning days of July, 2014.

The beginning of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars. Sigh. H. G. Wells wrote essays about it. Woodrow Wilson borrowed the term, used it once in his argument to save Democracy by leading the US into the fighting. 

Book Title page from Wikipedia

President Woodrow Wilson Photo from Wikipedia
One hundred years ago, following the assassination of Austria's Archduke Ferdinand, tensions boiled over into battle. July 28, 1914. A hundred years later and now we know. The war to end all wars didn't. Sigh.

What is it about July? The heat? The weather? The climate? Maybe that's where the catchphrase "political climate" comes from.

1914 in the South Mountains of North Carolina, the political climate was being reestablished after The Civil War fifty years before. The War Between the States. The War of Separation. The War of Northern Aggression. The Brothers' War. Mr. Lincoln's War. And my favorite, the Unpleasantness. Sigh.

The parents of the students who eventually attended Pilot Mountain School were just beginning their lives around 1914, a hundred years ago, babies unaware of the troubles across the pond, babies depending on adults to make the world right. The school was not even considered until 1925, not built until 1942 in the midst of yet another great war. Amazing how life can be sectioned by the wars of each generation. 

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing, long time ago? 

Those song lyrics come from my generation's war and much of the Pilot Mountain School era as well. VietNam. Sigh.

When will they ever learn?

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, July 7, 2014

On Editorial Cartoons

As I was driving this morning I tuned in to NPR and heard an interview with Ed Williams, the former editor of the editorial page of the Charlotte Observer, discussing his new book, Liberating Dixie: An Editor's Life from Ole Miss to Obama. This was, in case you missed it, as I was driving. One of his statements early on I wanted to remember and so I dug around for a pen and paper to jot it down. As I was driving.

I could only rummage so far.

I found a brown Subway napkin, left over from an earlier meal. I drew circles on it (the broad airbag spot on my steering wheel as a desk) with the ink pen I found in the door pocket, but I couldn't get ink to flow. Meanwhile, traffic flowed around me and I could do nothing but flow along with it. I began chanting the sentence over and over and over. It almost became a mantra:

The job of the editorial page is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Or something to that effect since I was doing it from memory. Over and over I said this, overlaying the conversation on the radio, waiting for a stop light to catch me, which for the first time ever, it didn't. When I pulled into the bank parking lot I wrote hastily, before I forgot, while he was still talking.

The quick research I did when I came home attributed that quote to Finley Peter Dunne, an editorial writer in Chicago. It's a far leap from the audience and the needs of the comfortable and the afflicted in Chicago's south side to the audience and the needs of the comfortable and the afflicted around Pilot Mountain School of the south mountains, but I'm going to make it, thanks to the superintendent of schools in Burke County from 1925 to 1963, who couldn't help but stir the pot with his editorial cartoons. He saw what the world didn't, the underbelly of mountain culture and how it affected his students and his teachers and his community. So he did what all activists do. He stood up for them. Through his drawings he gave an insider's view to the political situation in North Carolina and offered a glimpse of his dealings with legislatures who controlled the budget.

How much has changed since the 1950's?

When I was writing this book I went through stacks and stacks of original editorial cartoons now in the possession of the History Museum of Burke County. Looking back with that quote in mind, I see how the afflicted were comforted in the fact that at least one person understands their tribulations. I see how the comfortable became afflicted (and enraged, I'm sure, at some of the cartoons I was privileged to see) when their actions were questioned.

So today, and every day, read to become comforted. Read to become afflicted, too, in case it's speaking to you.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sequel

So many times I've run across people who have some connection to Pilot Mountain School, but were not in my radar for interviews. The stories they tell could fill another book, Lessons Learned, the Sequel.  

The same goes for people I interviewed, who are mentioned and whose stories already enriched the book. They approach me and tell me of something else they remembered. Lessons Learned, the Sequel. I really ought to do it. But no. I'll just post them here.

Last week I was sitting in an outdoors venue, Catawba Meadows Park in Morganton, NC, listening to Bluegrass Music at the eleventh annual Red, White and Bluegrass Festival. 

A sample photo from the 2007 performance
 from the Red, White and Bluegrass website photos
Just before dark, when the lightning bugs would be the only visible form of illumination beyond the stage lights, I recognized a man I had interviewed on the school project. Yes, he remembered me. And yes, he had a story he had forgotten to tell, but not about the school. This particular memory was precipitated by my asking him if he knew a particular moonshiner I mentioned in my newest book.

Yes, he did and that man's family made the best banana brandy ever. While I was mulling that taste over in my mind, he went on to tell a story.

Since his mother was the only local medical person living in that part of the South Mountains in the late thirties, people often came to their home for assistance. Late one night a knock came at the door, rousing the family from a deep sleep. It was a neighbor from further back in the hills. He had been in a drunken argument that ended in a violent fight. His enemy had bitten his ear, tore at it, nearly pulled it off, left it dangling. He came to this nurse, begging her to cut it off. She refused, but he persisted. Finally she woke her husband, told him to build up the fire in the cookstove and boil some water so she could sterilize the kitchen butcher knife. She whacked off the ear, threw the evidence in the fire, patched him up and sent him on his way. I don't know who really learned the lesson that night, but it was well remembered seventy years later.

I admit, some stories fit into a sequel about lessons learned at a school better than others, but this particular story gives a glimpse into one thing that I found over and over at Pilot Mountain: community. Reasons don't matter. Compassion does, caring for neighbors, helping them through rough patches. What a lesson this man learned as a small child that night. We should all be so fortunate.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Attitude, Natitude

I love word play. I'm a writer, how can I not? So when my husband and I went to DC last weekend to attend three games between the Braves and the Nationals, he watched the baseball game and I watched the people, especially the ones who wore t-shirts displaying the word "Natitude."

What a word, this combination of hometeam Nationals coupled with the emotions assigned to attitude. Natitude, an expression of optimism and fortitude and, well, attitude! It's an announcement in a "Look out, people, here I come" kind of statement. Full of energy, that word. Full of the brashness of youth, too. To be crammed into the Metro with thousands of red shirted people with Natitude is quite the experience, believe me.

Of course that word play wouldn't work for the Braves. I don't think Bratitude would send the same kind of positive message to the world. I pull for the Braves, but I wouldn't even cheer once for the Brats.

It's all in the usage.

I learned that word play lesson not too long after Lessons Learned was published. My husband was reading it and enjoying the real book instead of a flat manuscript, when he shouted, "Found a mistake."

There it was, "The Three Baers."

But wait. That was intentional. It was the title of a book by Bertha Moore, of the Pilot Mountain area, an author who paid frequent visits to the school. She didn't coin the word. It was a family name, German in derivation. Baer. She borrowed it, word played with it to develop a story around a set of triplets with the last name Baer.

My mistake wasn't in using the word. My mistake was in not explaining the spelling of the word to the reader. Lessons learned there.

Natitude, on the other hand, doesn't need much explaining. All it takes is being at a ball game surrounded by thousands and its context is obvious.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Granny Gretchen

When my son and his wife were expecting their first child we had a conversation about what name I would be called, as in Grandma, Nana, Mawmaw, Grandmother. I remember firmly stating, "They can call me anything except Granny." Granny would make me sound old, or so I thought.

Fast forward a few years and, yes, you got it, I'm The Granny Gretchen. It doesn't make me feel old, it makes me feel carefree. I'm The Granny, not any old granny on a rocking chair, although I've been known to sit on one whenever I get the opportunity and I do not apologize about it at all.

My husband and I just finished what we call "Granny Camp" with our two grand girls, ages nine and six. This year it was five days. Five days away from their Mama and Daddy. Five days to fill with activities and fun and making memories. First we went to the land of Oz and followed the yellow brick road with Dorothy.
My grands posing with Dorothy
It's a tourist trap, but so much fun, open on Fridays in June, at the top of Beech Mountain Resort in the North Carolina Appalachians. We went through the fake tornado, which was a scary experience for the six year old. We came out the other end, over the rainbow, house on the wicked witch of the east, Dorothy waiting to take us through.

That would be me in the bonnet
Script in my hand
There were no other characters, so the audience participated. I traded my granny hat for Auntie Em's. Grandpa was Uncle Henry. The scarecrow and the tinman and the lion were so perfect for their parts that I thought they were part of the production. But no.
We read the book, well, a picture book version that suited the purpose to prepare them for the adventure. We sang the songs. Oh, and we rode the ski lift to get to "Kansas."

With a start like this, how could Granny Camp follow up. No problem. These girls are getting older and able to entertain themselves in the down time from trips to a water park and a farm and a hot dog roast at the park, relaxing days of watching and joining in when invited.

I'm winging it. See, I had no grandparents and I've always been a little jealous of those who did. All mine had died before I was born, so I'm basing my grannyhood on what I imagined as the ideal grandmother. That and what I gleaned from my mother and mother-in-law when they were the grand generation. I'm also watching and learning from my many friends who also have grands. What works. What doesn't work. What I never plan to even attempt.

Grannyhood is like going down a yellow brick road. It's thrill a minute, so rewarding and so precarious with all kinds of creatures and goblins waiting in the woods. Holding on to little hands, reassuring them, comforting them. "There's no place like home. There's no place like home."

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Celebrate Last Day of School

Watch the Celebration here


I remember it well.

The last day of school.

While the children are off singing their personalized version of "School's out, school's out, teacher let the mules out," the teachers are meanwhile, as the final bus pulls out of the parking lot, doing their own personalized version of "Celebrate Good Times."

Yes, I remember that emotion. It's a job well done, you can go home now, emotion of relief.

My friends who are teachers are expressing their emotions on facebook today, the last day of school here in our county. One shared this celebration, caught on camera. What uninhibited joy!

So did the teachers at Pilot Mountain School perform such antics the moment they were free?

Oh. Yes.

Okay, so I wasn't there, but I know teachers. I know end of year relief. They might not have cavorted in the halls, but they celebrated. Then they went home, worked their necessary summer jobs that would hold them over until the next pay check three months away. Or they tended their gardens and canned their vegetables in preparation of the next winter. All this time away restored their souls and prepared them for what they faced come the next time the bell rang.

That's what those teachers in the video are celebrating, the chance to rest, the job well done, you can go home and re-load. Because all too soon, that next bell will ring.

And they'll be ready and eager and full of promise. Because that's what teachers do.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, June 2, 2014

Memoir Writing Workshop

This past Thursday evening a member of my critique group, Sandra Warren, and I presented a workshop on writing memoirs. This was our debut session, hopefully the first of several to come. The venue was perfect for our endeavor, a small room inside an art gallery, The Arrowhead Gallery and Studios of Old Fort, North Carolina.

Sandra's two books about the experiences of military nurses during the Persian Gulf War gave her plenty of insight into writing about the lives of others.



We shared our techniques with an eager group of aspiring authors. We let them in on what worked for us and just as important, what didn't work for us. I wish I had someone to advise me when I was writing about Pilot Mountain School.

Then again, I'm sort of glad I didn't.

If I had not floundered around, flopping back and forth like the fish out of water that I was, I would have missed way too much. I'm thinking of all the personalities I might have by-passed in the desire to get it done. Royal personalities. Enriching personalities, both in my life and in the quality of the book.

I would have saved time. I would have saved energy. I would have come up with a different book entirely.

What I learned from book one proved invaluable to me as I worked through books two and three in the memoir genre. That's what we shared with the group, where to begin, what to do next, and next, and next. It wasn't as much a "how to..." kind of workshop as it was a "how we..." kind of sharing. What worked for me and what worked for Sandra were two completely different approaches.

The project I'm working on now is similar to Lessons Learned only this one is about a ball field. It will require interviews with personalities I can't wait to meet up with, royal personalities that will enrich my life and my manuscript. The lessons I learned and shared with the class last week will guide me along the way. I know where to start, how to research those dogging questions, how to get the manuscript ready to publish.

Here's where the adventure begins though, with the unknown ahead, the surprise obstacle lurking around the bend just waiting in the shadows to add a clinker to my progress. It will be there, rest assured. It's a part of the process I couldn't possibly explain in a writing workshop. It's too unknown. It's too personal. It's too valuable to avoid.

It's the joy of writing.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

Today I am wearing a bracelet. It's plain, smooth, not at all decorative except for two simple logos and a name etched into it.

Oh, and a date. 09-30-68. That's the reason I chose this bracelet of all the ones on display at The Wall.

This wall.


On that date, I was a newlywed, a mere 16 day newlywed. My focus was on the future. When I chose the bracelet in 1996, my focus was on the sacrifice of someone I didn't even know. I couldn't help but wonder what he was doing the day I was married. Was it a normal day for him in Viet Nam, if there was any such thing? What was he thinking that Monday morning, September 30, 1968? And most of all, what happened to him? 

On that date, Pilot Mountain School was going through a normal day of operation, a Monday when a new week presented hope and promise. Teachers taught lessons. Children learned lessons. These were ordinary life experiences made possible by veterans through the years who fought for our right to exist as a nation.

So today I celebrate the life and sacrifice of the man on my chosen bracelet. Missing. Not forgotten.



Domenick Anthony Spinelli
ON THE WALL:Panel W42 Line 51
PERSONAL DATA:
  Home of RecordOak Harbor, WA
  Date of birth:11/06/1925

MILITARY DATA:
  Service:United States Navy
  Grade at loss:O3
  Rank/Rate:Commander
  Note:Promoted while in MIA status
  ID No:027145860
  MOS/RATING:1310: Unrestricted Line Officer (Pilot)
  Length Service:34
  Unit:VA-196, CVW-14, USS CONSTELLATION, TF 77, 7TH FLEET
CASUALTY DATA:
  Start Tour:Not Recorded
  Incident Date:09/30/1968
  Casualty Date:01/10/1978
  Age at Loss:52 (based on date declared dead)
  Location:Province not reported, North Vietnam
  Remains:Body not recovered
  Casualty Type:Hostile, died while missing
  Casualty Reason:Fixed Wing - Crew
  Casualty Detail:Air loss or crash over land

  This page Copyright© 1997-2013 www.VirtualWall.org
Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Friday, May 2, 2014

NEW BOOK!!!

I'm going to divert a little from the school theme and introduce my newest book to you. 

         TA-DA!!!


Just out. As in this past week.

It's another life story, this done with a co-author, Johnny Turner. As I explain in the author bio at the back of the book:
Gretchen Griffith’s husband, Van, introduced her to Johnny Turner, one of his golfing friends, who had a request. Could she preserve the stories of his Uncle Claude? That answer was an enthusiastic, “Yes,” and the months of research and writing began. With this latest book, she adds to her collection of true life stories from the North Carolina mountains. 
Note the final sentence, "...adds to her collection of true life stories from the North Carolina mountains." That's the sentence I'm most proud of, the reason I am already into my next storycatching project. I have found my niche through stumbling upon these wonderfully rich life stories of real people. While I am writing fiction (that manuscript is begging to be revised, revised and completed...and submitted) I find compelling stories in nonfiction that I could never have constructed in my mind. Truth truly is stranger than fiction!

This was a fun book to write, filled with all kinds of wheels and moonshine stills.

There's history and early car wheels...

There's roller skating wheels...

Stagecoach wheels...

Wagon train wheels...

And, yes, Moonshine stills...

I can't wait for you to read it. Available now from Amazon or from the trunk of my car. Coming soon in Kindle ebook version.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Friday, April 4, 2014

Tweetsie the Train

I've been flying under the radar the last few weeks finishing a project that sucked all my writing energy, drained my brain in the process and cramped my precious fingers into almost permanent keyboard-hovering claws. I'm so close to being finished I can breathe a bit this morning and catch up with my Catch of the Day. Whew!

This new project doesn't stray all that far from my Lessons Learned book about Pilot Mountain School. No, there's not school in my new book, unless you count the one phrase where I say that Uncle Claude, the main character, attended Lebanon Schoolhouse for his first three years of schooling, and very little after that.

The setting for my new project is the foothills of western North Carolina. Hey, I write what I know. I also write what I don't know, namely moonshine, and through that topic, the two books overlap. Claude was a moonshiner...more details on that later...but he was also a stagecoach builder, a very good stagecoach builder.

And that is how these two books overlap in a most delightful way.

Lessons Learned, page 265...a quote about a first grade field trip with teacher Lana Reavis:

  • One year we took them to Tweetsie Railroad theme park, with its reenactment of the Wild West. When the Indians started shooting, all the first graders wanted to sit in your lap. 
New Book, (Name still pending), page unknown:
  • All that was missing in the mock western town was a stagecoach...until Tweetsie officials heard about Uncle Claude.
Ta-Da! 

The children from my first book play in a stagecoach 
built by the main character of my new book.

How Cool Is That!
Uncle Claude's Stagecoach, 
now parked for safety reasons.

Before I lucked across this picture from another stagecoach craftsman, Tommy Winkler, who so generously donated it to our cause, I asked friends and family and anyone and everyone for Tweetsie pictures I could use in the book. In the end, I'm going with this photo alone, but I do want to share the pictures one mother sent me and agreed I could post on my blog. 


I can't wait for the book to come out so you can see the rest of the story!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

PS If you have Tweetsie pictures, send them along. Let's share the good times.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Down with Negativity

Bad reviews. Negative political campaigns. Grouchy people. Facebook intimidations. Youtube videos of things-gone-wrong. Widespread negativity.

Sigh.

I read a post on negativity by Sandra Warren recently in her Grateful Writer blog this week. With a blog named Grateful Writer, how could she ever claim to have negative thoughts? Easy. Writers all do. We go through periods of self doubt that are reinforced (or begun) by not so flattering, but very public, book reviews.

Been there. Done that. Survived.

Sandra mentioned research by Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist delving into how negativity affects the brain. His recently released book, Hardwiring Happiness, sounds like something I want to read. Negative events remain imprinted in our brains for a reason, he says.

Survival.

Positive events take a lesser role in memory, he says. They're usually overshadowed or repressed by the negative.

But wait. I interviewed nearly a hundred former students and teachers at this school. They told me the positive first, and not just to warm up to the negative, either. Most people had to search their brains for the negative and when they came up with less than happy stories, they were told as lessons learned rather than as tattle-tale reportings.

Perhaps time mellowed their feelings. I'm talking at least fifty years, usually sixty or more. Goodness might take time, but it wins, at least at Pilot Mountain School it did.

In the moment, though, negative statements hurt. Lessons learned is little consolation for hurt feelings. So I decided this Lent period to rid my life of negativity rather than my usual. Chocolate. I will be positive, think positive thoughts, emit positive vibes, surround myself with Pollyannas.

Lent started for me the moment I felt the minister at my church draw the sign of the cross on my forehead. That was Wednesday. Thursday I was writing a post on facebook about the sleet and snow that was falling yet again. "Will this winter never end???" I wailed.

I lasted barely a day without being negative. Forty days looks like a long stretch ahead...ooh, that even sounds negative. Instead I'll say that I have forty days of opportunities ahead to turn my attitude from the negative to the positive. I will.

I'm positive I can.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Em NC

The 2014 book festival season kicked off for me this past weekend in Lumberton, NC where Roberson Community College hosted Book Em NC. 

Seventy-five authors!

Hundreds of books!

Sessions on writing, sessions on publishing. How to, how not to. 

Author's lounge!

For me the most fun was touring the author tables and gleaning ideas. Oh, the candy bowls, wonderfully delicious. One author who writes about pirates had a treasure trunk full of chocolates.

So I'm not a professional photographer, but this photo I snapped of my table display shows my attempts at spreading the word about my books.

How do you sell mountain stories in the flatlands? 

Easy. You share techniques. You share processes and ideas. Yes, Lessons Learned is a story about a school in the South Mountains of North Carolina. But it is also the story about growing up in the forties, the fifties and sixties. It is unique and at the same time it is universal. The reader sees himself in the pages, no matter what decade or which century. That is the selling point.

And before you leave, look in the far right side of the display table. There in the glare of the camera's flash is the first hint to my newest project. Coming soon!
Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Monday, February 10, 2014

British Invasion

The British Invasion. That's how I remember the fifty years ago arrival of the Beatles. Yes, I was in love. Paul. No I wasn't one of the screaming fans in the streets, but I would have been if my mother had let me go all the way to New York City.

And that is the key. Not the distance. The mothers. And the fathers. Those parents who saw these Beatles as invaders. They didn't look threatening to me when Ed Sullivan brought them onstage. Threatening they were to an older generation.
So the boys in my school started wearing Beatles style hair cuts. The girls started wearing black. Not me, but a few of my friends. That didn't threaten me like an invasion should. I was young, having fun, forgetting that our nation's innocence was shattered only months before in Dallas, Texas. Nor did it threaten my mom. She laughed. She tsk-tsked. She knew it wouldn't last, as in "This too shall pass."

Ha!



Fifty years later the tributes keep coming.

Fifty years later their music keeps charming the hearts of young people.

Nearly fifty years later I captured Beatles stories for Lessons Learned. How the eighth grade students begged the teacher to play their music during after lunch quiet time. How one boy lost his mop-top wig during a Beatles impression in front of the PTA. How bluegrass music and Beatles music shared equal time at school dances.

I captured Kennedy assassination stories, too, from the same people. They didn't connect the two, neither did I until talking faces on TV this weekend pointed out that the timing of the Beatles phenomena wasn't all that a coincidence. It was us, the American youth, looking for relief from a tragedy not even three months old. Maybe it began our healing process.

Last week I interviewed a ninety-two year old man for a project I'm currently working on. He said one thing that reminds me that yes, we, those who lived back then, are authorities about the Beatles, about the Kennedy assassination, about the past.
This is who we are. It’s not that we’re so knowledgeable, but we lived what we know. If that makes any sense. The way we remember things is because we lived it. 
Remembering the Beatles, watching the tributes fifty years later, what joy that was to me, especially since three months ago the television and online buzz was all about a fifty year old sadness that never went away.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen