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...

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,


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 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,


Thursday, October 9, 2014


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.