Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas to us all


A message that never gets old, Christmas joy.



Have a Blessed Christmas Day 

Gretchen

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Christmas Past

This week I had the pleasure of eating supper with a group of exchange students from around the world. The discussion eventually got around to Christmas and while some of them were from cultures where Christmas is not celebrated, they all were aware before they arrived of Christmas and Santa and decorations and candy canes. What was surprising to them was the length of the Christmas season in America, starting at Halloween and stretching for nearly two months. 

It wasn't that way when I was growing up in the fifties and sixties. The week before Christmas we chopped down a tree from our field and brought it in. We decorated it and watered it and put presents under it on Christmas Eve, presents we had purchased the week of Christmas. 

Yet I found evidence that Christmas lasted even longer than that. It was in a penny postcard with no year date, only stamped April 14 at six pm. It was in a series of postcards from the early 1900's, so I know it's around a hundred years old.


April 14! 

Half of the back was the address. Name, town and state only. No street listed. No zip. The message side explained the reason for the April date. The sender had run out of penny post cards, so he was using this one to send a hello. Nothing special, just hello. Just a Christmas Greeting in April.

How special. Maybe it's true that the true joy of Christmas lasts not only year round, but a hundred years later. 

Just in case you missed the sentiment, here's another undated but elegantly simple penny postcard, no year, but definitely in December.


So let the naysayers argue that Christmas is getting too long nowadays. It's never too long for spreading the joy.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When Christmas Feels Like Home



A friend of mine just posted about one of my books on her Grateful Writer blog,
Thanks for the mention, Sandra Warren.

Eduardo asks, "When will this feel like home?"
Christmas is not all that far away and her holiday post reminded me of the tradition we have to bring out something as simple as an ornament from our past, if nothing else but to make us feel more like we're home. Or to make our newest home, feel like home. Reading what she wrote will brighten a rainy depressing day like today, so click on over.

I haven't started tree trimming for this season, focusing instead on an outdoor Christmas Trail drama my church presents yearly. We opened last Sunday evening in the rain, not a pleasant task, but we did it! Below is a photograph from that evening. If you are around the western North Carolina area December 4 - 6, drop by Lelia Tuttle Memorial Park, 4010 Hartland Road, Lenoir for a walk through the woods and experience the Biblical Christmas story. Groups depart the picnic shelter every seven minutes starting at 6:30. Dress warmly.

Courtney Chapel photograph by LaRae Spears Bradshaw
This picture shows our church chapel reconstructed in 2007 using logs from our 1825 church building. It's a bit of the past that makes me feel like I've found a home whenever I sit on the handmade pine benches. I feel a connection. 

Isn't that what we're all after? Connecting, whether it's to a moment from our past or to the love of our present. Connecting, so that no matter where we are, we still have a bit of home with us.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Interesting Old Time Trivia

Today's facts I'm posting are intended to bring a smile to your face, a little light history of living in the foothills of North Carolina.

I've read several books this past week, researching and playing. (One way authors play...we read!)

In the process I ran across this nugget about fiddles in the pioneer days, although I'm not sure from which of the ten or so books it comes. Back when the wilderness was true wilderness and settlers were the infringers, some method of protection from wild animals was necessary. You'd think guns, and you would be correct.

Only partially.

One main defense weapon against the coyotes that ranged the Appalachian Mountains (and still do) was the fiddle, and not in a hitting-them-over-the-head kind of way. Rather in a high pitched, screeching kind of way. According to the book, campfires required not only wood, but a fiddle for when the fires died down and the coyotes circled. A few ear quivering strikes against the strings frightened them more than their howls frightened the musician. 

And here I thought our ancestors were in it for the music.

Also this week I attended the sixtieth anniversary of the Gamewell Ruritan Club's founding. Only one of the charter members is still alive and he was unable to attend. So we're talking way, way back. The children of some of those members did, however, attend and one was able to answer a question posed by the guest speaker, a National Director from Ruritan National. He had read through the history booklet with its year-by-year accounts and was curious about one thing. 

"Pig chain."

He couldn't imagine the concept of a pig chain. Neither could I. All I pictured was a line of pigs held together by a chain.

"It was a service project," offered this charter member's child. "I received one." Now I was more curious.

Then he went on to explain. One child was given a baby pig, more specifically, a baby female pig. When the sow grew up and had a litter, the child was required to donate one of her babies to another child, and that child was to repeat the process, and so on down the line - er, down the chain.

Pig chain.

Times have changed and pig chains are no more. But, wouldn't the "pay it forward" campaign of today be the same? Times might have changed, but the generosity and forward thinking of our world hasn't.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, October 31, 2015

Story Ideas

Most of my published work has been in nonfiction, and don't get me wrong, I love writing nonfiction. I love the research and exposing the connections that are hidden to the world.

But there's something to be said about my swapping comfort zones and delving into fiction.

Yesterday I swapped, for a moment, if only in my mulling mind. I was on an adventure in the western part of North Carolina, the second Friday in a row, researching a prospective nonfiction by touring with the locals. Once again there was no cloud in the sky. Once again the trees were alive with color.

But this time my muse was sitting on my shoulder, enjoying the ride as much as I. There was a tap on my mind and my muse pointed to this.

Go closer, the muse whispered.

I did.

Get details, the muse whispered.

I did.


The late fall colors. The abandoned school. My mind went where no mind of mine had been before. 

That is how writing works.

At least for me.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Saturday, October 24, 2015

Trout Unlimited

One of the bonuses of writing in the memoir genre for me has been meeting fascinating people that I would otherwise never have crossed paths with. Through my fly fishing writing and research, I've been introduced to a whole new subculture that existed parallel to mine, one that I never knew, but one that I have learned to appreciate.

This past Tuesday my husband and I enjoyed an evening at the monthly meeting of the local Trout Unlimited organization. Ron Beane, co-compiler of our Fly Fishermen of Caldwell County book, and I spoke about our process and what the book has to offer to them.

As I listened to the dinner conversation I came to a deeper realization of the passion these men felt not only for the sport of fly fishing, but also for the preservation of the streams in our region. Of special concern at this meeting was the severe drought that impacted the trout habitat this past summer. The men rejoiced together when they discussed the recent historic rain that filled the streams to overflowing. They talked about restocking. They talked about catch and release and losing respect for those who chose not to follow the law.

All this reminded me of pictures the men submitted that didn't make the final cut for the book. Ones like this taken on Wilson's Creek by Gene Swanson. It did not translate well to black and white that we ended up using.

Or this other one by Gene.

Neither did this one submitted by Alen Baker.

Trout Unlimited is an organization that fights for trout like those photographed above. If not for the club's dedication, these very trout might not be in existence. The members work tirelessly to maintain natural habitat and push for regulations to protect the waters that offer life to the trout. Conservation is their way of life, not just a good idea. 

I don't plan to go fly fishing any time soon. I tend to agree with one of the fishermen in the book, Randy Benfield, when he explains why he fishes less than before:
  • My main hobby is, of course, fishing, but not as much trout fishing as in the past since they moved the creeks so far from the roads and made the rocks larger and slicker. 
He's joking, of course, although I've learned through all this experience, with a true fly fisherman, the line between jokes and reality blurs a bit. Life on the creek, however, is an experience not to miss. As for me I'll just sit on the side and appreciate the beauty.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jury Duty

The letter arrived weeks ago. Rather than a friendly correspondence from a long lost acquaintance, it was an order from the court. I was to appear at District Court, Room 6 at the Caldwell County Courthouse on October 6, because my name had been selected at random for that great American process called jury duty. My third time, by the way.

I appeared as instructed, after going through a security check at the entrance. No, my cell phone was not with me, per their instructions. No I have no firearms or other weapons, nor do I ever.

With the other fifty or sixty potential jurors, I waited on the hard courtroom benches (at church we call them pews) for proceedings to begin. We watched a training video about the court system that I found fascinating. This was jury service, not jury duty, and by the end, when we were all sworn in, I was even more proud to be an American. After a roll call with far too many citizens being AWOL, we sat and waited for the bailiff to escort us to the main courtroom.

We filed into a larger room where the benches were now rows of ancient (maybe from the fifties) wooden individual seats. Picture Perry Mason courtroom. No, picture To Kill a Mockingbird courtroom.

The judge's first order of business was to select a replacement juror to sit on the Grand Jury and fill out a term for a juror who could no longer serve due to health reasons. A name was chosen at random from our pool of names. The person next to me was the lottery winner.

"Step forward." Ominous words in a courtroom.

She placed her left hand on a Bible and raised her right hand and again swore to uphold the constitution of the United States and of the great state of North Carolina. The judge then instructed her on her duties. Service. And we all listened. And learned. And realized how involved and intricate our system really is.

The rest of us were dismissed and told to call back for further instructions later in the day. In the end we were not needed, as the cases up for trial had all been settled. Thus ended my service.

But it didn't end my interest in the Grand Jury proceedings. Instead it reminded me of one part of my Lessons Learned book, the part where the Grand Jury inspected the county schools. One of the responsibilities, the judge pointed out in his lecture this week to us all, was to inspect public properties and report on their conditions. Yes, the Grand Jury does more than make indictments for prosecution (or not). Twice I discussed it in my book:
  • One of the duties defined in the handbook of the Grand Jury of the North Carolina Superior Court is to inspect state and county owned buildings and agencies to “determine the manner in which individuals in charge have carried out their duties to the state.” A Grand Jury that convened in the fall of 1954 inspected each school facility throughout the county and found only two substandard situations. One was at the black school in the Glen Alpine city system, the other at Pilot Mountain. (page 109)

We, the Grand Jury, have visited all schools in the county systems and found in most instances the buildings and grounds to be well kept, alleviating minor repairs except for the following schools: Pilot Mountain School—lighting facilities very inadequate and find that there is no heat in the auditorium. Also window shades are needed throughout the building...

—Judge J. A. Rousseau, 16th Judicial District of the Superior Court. “Report of the Grand Jury, December 15, 1954”  (page 109-110)

  • A Burke County Grand Jury convened in March 1968 to survey the county public facilities, including the courthouse, jail, and schools. It recommended replacing old dangerous school buildings immediately. To accomplish this, the county commissioners proposed an educational bond issue for the November election. (page 198)

When I wrote those words in the book, I didn't think about the reality that one day I would be a bit closer to the process. A bit, but enough to remind me that the system still goes on.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rain and Rain and More Rain



Rain, rain, go away.
Come again some other day.

This youtube video is of Wilson Creek, the same creek that is pictured above in my heading. Big difference a few million drops of rain make. I've been wondering one thing. Who over-prayed for the end of this summer's drought? Enough already.

Floods and drought; Feast and famine. Taking the bad with the good. That's how life in the western North Carolina foothills goes. The dog days of summer didn't give us late afternoon humid subtropic rains this year. The grass withered and crunched beneath our footsteps. The creeks dried into trickles. The rivers shriveled so much that even the smallest power boats could no longer pass.

When the rains finally came, we were blessed beyond our needs to the tune of a foot in the last few days. The water from the Blue Ridge Mountains flows through our foothills on the way to the Atlantic, funneling into narrow streams that can't support it. So we get the brunt of it.

It's been this way forever.

The Army Corps of Engineers has been able to make some headway into stemming the disasters. I've had a little experience with them when the church I attend restored a chapel in our park and I was on the restoration committee. In order to acquire the correct permits, the engineers had to certify that the building site was in a safe location. I learned about hundred year flood classification, and five hundred year flood classification. They pointed out issues that I never considered, namely what we did on our property had a direct impact on every land downstream from us. What floated away in a five hundred year flood had to end up somewhere. Complain all we want, this flood plain designation meant salvation for someone in the future, maybe not this week, maybe not this century.
Courtney Chapel
In this picture of the chapel, notice it's located on a slight incline. That would be Army Corps of Engineers imprint. Because of their diligence, the two century old logs are not floating downstream today.

This would be a case of when government intervention works!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Class Reunions

I'm headed to a class reunion this weekend. Not just any run of the mill class reunion. This is a fiftieth year reunion.

But it's not mine. Whew.

It's my husband's.

Thing is, I know no one at the reunion since we went to schools on opposite ends of the county, west and east. If you think that is a negative, think again. No one knows me either. They won't judge me on how much weight I gained or how gray my hair is or how different I am from that graduation day fifty years ago. That's definitely a plus!

There was a song about my husband's graduation year.


Actually it was the theme song for a late seventies era television show, "What Really Happened to the Class of '65?" that was based on a 1976 nonfiction book by Michael Medved and David Wallechinsky. They were looking into the lives of graduates from a high school in California and what did they find after the first ten years?

Life.

Everyday humdrum life. Exciting adventurous life. College parties. Marriage. Babies. Divorce.

Viet Nam.

Where have all the flowers gone?

Good question.

It's time for them to write the sequel. What REALLY Happened to the Class of '65? Ten years was nothing. Twenty years. Thirty. Forty. The decades kept piling up right along with the variations of what REALLY happened.

How many were cheated by death from having the joy of seeing classmates again at this fiftieth reunion? How many will have to remain at home and tend to sick loved ones? How many are too poor at this stage of their lives to afford the banquet fee?

Those who are healthy enough (forget the aches and pains for one night), wealthy enough (even if it is a tight squeeze of a sacrifice), and wise enough (revisiting the past does have benefits), should attend. Those who lived to tell what really happened are waiting.

And I get to watch.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Civic Clubs

An article in this past Thursday's News-Topic - the local newspaper for Lenoir, North Carolina - set me to thinking about civic clubs and the impact they have made on our culture, and unfortunately on their demise. Yes. Demise.

The article written by journalist Kara Fohner under the headline Optimist Park may be given to city opens with the phrase, "Because of dwindling membership..."

Wow. Just Wow.

My first thought, "Another one bites the dust."

How sad.

Civic clubs such as the Optimists and Ruritans and Lions and Jaycees and Rotary, and even the PTA among others, have defined small town southern culture for the past few generations. Established originally to spearhead efforts to better their communities, the members of these groups worked endlessly and tirelessly to accomplish the impossible. They built ball parks and hiking trails and swimming pools. They organized volunteer fire departments. They sponsored scouts and sports teams and international visits. They encouraged community participation, each club working within the precepts of their individual organizations.

Yet society is changing, even in small southern towns. Volunteerism is more focused on specifics. Another quote from the article says it best, the current Optimist Club president speaking, "We've had people come and work for a while with us. As soon as their children got out of the age of whatever sport they were in at our club, they just disappeared..."

So instead of the few members struggling to maintain a large facility, the only alternative they see is to turn it over to the government. I can appreciate the logic in that decision.

Just last week the scout master from our community troop spoke about his final two Boy Scouts working toward their Eagle rank. Key word, final. There are no other boys interested in sticking to the goals and rigors of scouting. They have found other interests and are active in those. The discussion among the few remaining adults has been along the lines of what to do with the charter in case there is a renaissance of interest.

The local ball teams withdrew from the Little League organization several years ago and have developed their own association. The more accomplished players have joined "traveling teams" and left the others behind. Not all that bad a decision for the individuals involved, I might insert, but still. They left the others behind, those who need to learn from mentors, from those better players.

Even the school PTA members voted decades ago to leave the national Parent Teacher Association (because a part of the money raised locally would go to the coffers of the organization) and become an unaffiliated PTO, Parent Teacher Organization, keeping all money here in the community. Again, I can see the reasoning behind that decision. Why sell candy door to door only to hand over part of that profit.

But wait. Maybe corporate thinking has merit. One for all. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. The word civic means citizen, so these are in reality, citizen clubs working for the communities.

The spirit behind civic clubs and organizations is a uniting force that cannot be extinguished. Civic clubs are too important to our way of life. The concept is not irrelevant to our times, it just needs a little updating. The demise must not be inevitable.

My opinion.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Writing a Book Review

Back in the "good old days" there was a weekly spelling assignment I dreaded. From our list of twenty or so assigned spelling words, we had to craft a story using at least half of them. Every week. And one year, the teacher required every word on the list to be in the story. Every word!

Spelling text books back then grouped words by phonetics not by word definitions or themes, so connecting the words required a great deal of creativity. Pity the poor teachers who read our stilted stories week after week, and we're talking upwards of thirty-five students per class.

When I became a teacher I vowed I would never give that assignment.

But I did, not often, but still, I did.

And I learned a lot about the students and their abilities to adapt and stretch their imaginations and work within structures.

Yesterday I caught myself going through this same process. Oh. My. Goodness. This is how I write now...well, sometimes, especially when I want to set a tone. I write a list of words ahead of time, words that I want to include. I've done it that way for years, back in my high school essays and later in my college research papers. I would write the list in the margins next to the crossword puzzle or on a sticky note to post on the wall in front of me or on a napkin from McDonald's that I had on reserve in the console of my car. Words often came to me at the most inopportune time!

All this lead-up to say that yesterday I went through this process as I wrote a review of a book I just finished reading. It's an excellent (that word was on the list, but not used) newly released book by one of the gals in my SOUP critique group, Sandra Warren.
Fantastic (another great word to set a tone) nonfiction 
I had read bits and pieces of it that she submitted to our SOUP group as she went along, so I thought I had some idea of what it would be like. But WOW (another great tone setting word that I didn't use). Holding it in my hands, seeing the photographs that enhanced the story, reading it word for word, what a joy! And what a story. I couldn't put the book down. It's that good.

Reviews on Amazon mean as much to an author who checks in daily as to a reader who is depending on the review for honesty, so I knew I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to express my feelings and support for the book, emphasizing the extensive research that went into this project, all in a short paragraph.

I made a list of words, ended up using perhaps a third of them. If you read through what I've posted below, you can sort of figure out which words were on my list. Click on the title and go to Amazon and read the other reviews. While you are there, you can always purchase it...available on Kindle, too.
  • This extraordinary narrative, We Bought a WWII Bomber, isn’t just about a school accomplishing unbelievable heights in the government sponsored “Buy a Bomber” campaign. True, by the time I completed the book, I felt a little jealous that I didn’t attend this remarkable school. While author Sandra Warren gives the reader a glimpse into the reality of life during war times, her research takes us beyond the halls of Grand Rapids, Michigan’s South High into the bomber itself during its final hours and into the community it impacted. This is a not-to-be-missed story of determination and possibilities.
And I meant every word!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen 





Saturday, August 22, 2015

Back to School Shopping, The "Not" List

I made the mistake of going shopping yesterday, the Friday before school opens for the 2015 academic year here in the county where I live. It was not quite Black-Friday-after-Thanksgiving shopping, but close enough that I should have known better than to darken Walmart's automatic sliding doors.

All I needed were name tags and ink pens, my assignment for tomorrow's annual homecoming at the church I attend. In the process of searching this megastore with the hordes, I happened down the same aisles as the back to school crowds doing some searching of their own...for ink pens...and note cards and lined paper and whatever else was on the list. Yes, they each had a list specific to his or her own classroom. Cool idea.

If only I could have given a list to my students back in my teaching years! I would, however, have given a "not" list. First on the list, please do not purchase paper in spiral (wire) bound notebooks. Years of picking up shreds of paper bits taught me that precaution, not to mention the straggly papers causing havoc in the stacks of my homework each night.

Please do not purchase high school ruled paper. Fourth graders' cursive writing is still developing and thinner spacing between lines makes for difficult days ahead. (It's the simple things.) Grade a math paper done by a fourth grader on high school ruled paper and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Don't waste money on 132 count fancy crayon boxes. I had plenty of long nubs left from accumulations in years past. Besides, by fourth grade, crayons are the least needed of instruments that were once so necessary.

Don't invest in ink pens. I did not accept work done in ink simply because of the strike overs that are so frequent in children still learning. They need the possibilities of correcting mistakes with old fashioned erasers in orderly fashion.

Don't buy flip flops for school shoes. Walking through crowded halls in flip flops is torture. So is gym class.

Don't spend money on scissors (provided) or rulers (provided) or calculators (yes, provided) or noisy electric pencil sharpeners (hand crank models provided).

I'm "Old School." I expected my students to come prepared to work with loose leaf paper, number two pencils, a belly full of breakfast (provided) and an open mind.

That worked well.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Saturday, August 15, 2015

Granny Camp and a Book Idea

Another session of what I laughingly call Granny Camp is now over. I've caught up on my rest, the cat is once again sleeping without watching over her back, and the house is clean...and way too quiet.

The highlight of this week's time together, for me at least, was our Wednesday road trip to Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. Along the way we stopped for a quick visit and photo op with the illustrator of my most recent book, Hoop Hike.

Artist Bobbie Gumbert with the real Reagan
Look behind Bobbie and you'll see more of her paintings on the wall. In fact, art fills the home she has made for her and her husband (my cousin) Gerald. I enjoyed being there and discovering her newest projects, one of which on this visit was a parasol that she gifted my grands.


Artist Bobbie and my other grand, Gracie
The butterflies and other art on the top of the parasol are not visible in this photo, but trust me, they made it come to life, which, coincidentally enough, is exactly what our next project will be about: an umbrella and a rainbow hike with the same characters, Sue and Lou and Reagan Roo. The grands threw out ideas on the way to Bobbie's house, some unbelievable that caused us to giggle, some too impossible to include, but most delightful and fun...And we arrived at Bobbie's...And she had the parasol...And met the main character, Reagan Roo. It was like the forces of the universe collided and poof. New book!

Birthing a book is a strange process. The idea often comes from nowhere, almost bonks you on the head. From moment of conception to book in hand is a labor of love filled with excitement and possibilities and yes, pain and frustration. But so worth it. 

Now to write down those ideas before I forget.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Saturday, August 8, 2015

Reunions

'Tis the season!

Reunion season, that is. Between now and the end of September I have a family reunion (my husband's), a church reunion, and a class reunion (my husband's) to attend.

The concept is old school. Get together with friends and family. Catch up on the news of their lives. See how much the children have grown. Pack a picnic basket with a dish overflowing with food to share. Come hungry. Leave full of good food and good feelings.

The church reunion is actually termed a "homecoming." 

Church homecoming from the early fifties

We worship together. We set up a huge tent with tables and chairs from the Sunday School classrooms. The food tables are in the fellowship hall with the air conditioning...food safety. That's now. These photographs were taken well before air conditioning was even considered, back when it was a luxury that few congregants enjoyed.

Another church homecoming, this from the late fifties

After the last amen had been proclaimed, the wives and mothers hurried to their baskets and started the spread. And my what a spread I'm talking about. It was August, when fresh vegetables were plentiful. These were country housewives where recipes didn't count, only handed down knowledge. 

By the sixties, recipes with a jello base started creeping onto the table. And then green bean casseroles, squash casseroles, sweet potato casseroles. Then came more elaborated cakes and pies, well, sort of, because first came the cake mix cakes, then the dump cakes, followed by the bundt cakes with their odd shapes. The plain jane apple pies sat uncut. So did the southern favorite, pound cakes. 
Photograph by Brett Nelson, Lenoir News Topic
Family reunion time in the south
Different family, different times

Now we're in a new century and guess what, the food trend is coming full circle. We're back to basics with much prized home grown tomatoes, corn on and off the cob, pound cake, pecan pie. Not even a green bean casserole in sight. 

As for me, today at the Griffith family reunion, (not the one in the photograph above) I'm taking a salad with lettuce and tomatoes straight from our garden. But on the way down, we're stopping at Ted's Kickin Chicken in Wilkesboro and picking up a bucket of wings. I just can't compete with the family cooks.

Ted's Kickin Chicken, best chicken in western North Carolina
Photograph by Johnny Turner
I know about this restaurant because it's in my Wheels and Moonshine book, page 63. Author tasted and approved, which is why, today, the extended Griffith family is in store for a treat.

Happy reunions, everyone.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cecil the Lion


Cecil, I'm heartbroken.
The world weeps for you.
 
When tragedy arrives, the musician turns to rhythm, the writer turns to words and the poet turns to rhyme. I wish I were a musician or a poet right now to be able to use my talent to express my deep sadness at the senseless killing of this majestic animal. An ode would be appropriate, but all I could come up with was a couplet.
 
Cecil, I'm heartbroken.
The world weeps for you.
 
I'm not going to add my words to the online rant against the man who killed him. Plenty others have accomplished that. Instead I want to address this to the guides behind this cowardly act and to those who are in the guiding business.
 
Since I began the fly fishermen project, I was introduced to a whole new subculture, the hunters and fishers of the southern Appalachians. The men I met and wrote about were outdoorsmen who found solace and comfort in roaming the backwoods. They are the very ones who recognized the need to preserve what they love most, nature. They organized. They advocated. They pushed legislation and they supported the laws that were designed to defend the forests and the animals that are dear to their hearts.
 
The guides they spoke of were equally passionate in the love of the outdoors, whether leading hunts for elk in Colorado, for the elusive trout in Tasmania, or for the hidden, known to no one but themselves, fishing holes in the depths of the cloud shrouded Smoky Mountains. I have confidence that they are trustworthy caretakers of what has been handed to them. I have to have that confidence, because, if they aren't the trustworthy caretakers who follow professional ethics, there will be more Cecils in the future.
 
Cecil, I'm heartbroken.
The world weeps for you.
 
Integrity counts, even in the backwoods.
 
Catch of the day,
 
Gretchen
 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Visit to Charleston

Last week I posted about my plans to travel to Charleston, SC.

Been there.

Done that.

We stayed at the Hilton Embassy Suites, downtown on Marion Square, the original barracks for the Citadel Cadets. It's luxurious now, so I had to stretch my imagination to picture life as a cadet a century and a half ago.


The good thing about staying downtown, everything is right there, and if it isn't, it's a free trolley car ride away. That "everything" includes Mother Emanuel AME Church that was in the block off Marion Square on Calhoun Street, the scene of last month's tragic shooting. We visited it twice since the walk was only down the block and across the street. Both times we were greeted by church members. And tourists. And flowers. And signs. And police barricades.


I can't even begin to tell you my emotions.

One word kept running through my mind. Senseless. There is no explaining a senseless act.

And this week it's Chattanooga's turn for yet another senseless act. One of the men killed there was from Burke County, NC, the location of my Lessons Learned book. My heart breaks.

This time Peter Seeger's song from the war torn sixties ran through my mind.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Gone to graveyards everyone.
When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Confederate Flag

I'm heading to Charleston soon, Charleston, South Carolina, for a quick visit with my cousin and her husband as they tour the city. Since our son went to school there, graduated from The Citadel in 1998, we know the places of interest enough to be guides. Well, at least we know the can't-miss restaurants that serve shrimp and grits and other low country cuisine with fried fish and hushpuppies. Yum. They are in for a culinary treat.

But I wonder how different Charleston is today from the almost twenty years ago when we first dropped our son off at his barracks for his "knob" week. Or how different Charleston is today from a month ago, before the horrific shootings. More than that, how different Charleston is today from yesterday morning.

Yesterday the Confederate flag flew on the grounds of the South Carolina state capitol.

Today it doesn't.

The flag is a symbol I am just now realizing.  I have no ancestral connection to it, being born in Pennsylvania to northern parents whose ancestors, I'm sure, fought against that very flag. We moved south when I was five years old and my mother tried her best to fit our family into the culture.

But, contrary to what many may think, that never included the Confederate flag. Never. I saw it rarely, if at all, during my early years. It's just not part of my past. These were the years before color TV and cable news channels and social media. We were busy growing up southern and learning to duck under desks in air raid drills and protesting the Viet Nam War and riding in buses that passed by black children standing on the side of the road, waiting for their buses to carry them to their separate schools.

The graveyard at the church I attend is the final resting place for soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, on up through Viet Nam. On Veteran's Day every year the cemetery committee places flags on every veteran's grave. American flags. Every veteran.

As I researched the Pilot Mountain School story, I ran across a newspaper article from the early fifties. The Daughters of the Confederacy had donated a Confederate flag to every school in the county. So in my interviews, I asked, "Do you remember seeing the Confederate flag at the school?" To a person, the answer was "No."

In fifty years, when an author interviews people who were the children of today and asks that same question, to a person, the answer will be "No."

My heritage and faith is to look to scripture for guidance and in the first letter of Corinthians, chapter 8, verse 13, Paul writes, "So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live, for I don't want to cause another believer to stumble." That verse on not offending others could be paraphrased to fit this situation as well, "So if what I fly causes another believer to sin, I will never fly this again as long as I live." 

Powerful words.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Honoring My Father

I watch the ads on the television set for Father's Day gifts, smiling fathers cooking in the backyard, busy fathers playing catch, fishing.

I see store fliers in the newspaper full of Father's Day gift suggestions, mostly shirts, few ties.

I walk through the card aisle and see the possibilities, humorous, sappy, nail-on-the-head perfect.

Madison Avenue makes it all seem so peaceful and rewarding, and it is. My husband proved that over and over. I'm thrilled with the card I selected for him this year.

But now I want to direct your attention to this man:
Hiram Glenn Holsopple, Sr.
Isn't he a handsome dude! He's my father and I'm guessing this snapshot of him was taken before I even came into the picture. There's no date on the back, but given his suit coat and the location in Pennsylvania at his mother's, and the lack of color, I can sort of date it to the early 1940's. He was born in 1912, so he would have been in his thirties.

Me in his arms, my brother (Glenn, Jr.) at his side
I would love to run out and purchase a barbecue grill to give him this year, but it's too late. He died in 1981. What he's missed since then, I can't begin to list. Fortunately, he knew his grandchildren. They meant the world to him, yet he missed watching them grow up. He missed taking my mother on trips abroad, although they did their fair share. He missed new cars and talking politics and Mad Magazine issues.

He was a tinkerer. Our basement was crammed with his cars and his machines and his latest projects. Video games were just appearing on the scene in his final years. He connected a table tennis video game to an old television set and played it for hours. I can only imagine his reaction to the games now. I know he would have them ready to play when his grandchildren came over. If he'd only had the chance.

I've had thirty some years of not buying a card for him. That's the way life goes, I suppose, but even then, one thing remains. I love him no less than I did that horrible day my mother called with the news of his death. In fact, as my children grew and my grandchildren grew, I've grown to love him more.

Love never fails. Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Swamp Fox

Research.

So here I am on a Saturday morning, doing what I need to do to get my Crump Field Baseball project finished. Much of my research is complete and I'm in the fact checking mode today, not a pleasant task for a researcher like me. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE researching. I LOVE finding all kinds of interesting facts, which is where the unpleasantness fits in. I find interesting facts NOT related to what I need, but hey, I think, maybe some day. So I spend time dabbling. Fun, but not productive.

Which is why, in writing a rough draft for a 1950's era baseball field out in the foothills of North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, I end up spending over an hour (or three) working on something that will end up being one sentence long, maybe just one phrase long.

The original Crump (ancestor to the Crump field Crumps) arrived in America as Johann Krumm, a Hessian soldier in the service of the British Army, a paid mercenary. His early military record is easy to trace. 


Remember this famous picture by Emanuel Leutz, Washington Crossing the Delaware? Well, Johann Krumm was waiting on the other side, maybe not aware that he was waiting since this was a surprise attack, but still, being there counts as waiting.

He was captured and according to ancestry records, held prisoner until he was used as a pawn in a prisoner exchange and sent to Georgia, where he left the British side and fled to Charlotte, North Carolina. Mecklenburg. German. Of course he went there. That's where he found a German settlement. He joined the American Army, fought for them. I know because I found his military record. He was captured again, this time by the British he once fought alongside. He was released. Again. And according to the family records, joined up with a guerrilla style warfare group under the leadership of Francis Marion. The Swamp Fox. Only thing is, that fact I can't find.
From myservicepride.com

That picture might show what life was like with this historical figure, but here's the Swamp Fox I remember from growing up in the fifties and sixties:
From Walt Disney Productions
It was a TV show starring Leslie Nielsen, and as my brother and I watched faithfully, my mother would again (and again and again) tell the story of how she got her name. Frances. Her brother, Marion. Her ancestor fought with Francis Marion in the swamps of South Carolina, she said. I never doubted. I never questioned the fact that we were from Pennsylvania and he was a leader local to South Carolina. I never asked which ancestor.

Big mistake.

Searching and researching for this Crump ancestor to verify his story, I ran across a list of Marion's Brigade, compiled by South Carolina historian Victoria Proctor. No Crump, no Crumm nor Krumm, nor any spelling variation I've run across. A little air went out of my balloon. Okay, so there is a statement that "formal muster rolls were virtually non-existent." This list relied on secondary sources. Would family lore qualify?

It would be more like a history professor told me out of the corner of his mouth, every family in the south claims some unspecified ancestor fought with Francis Marion. And then, much to my chagrin, he went on to remark, every family in the south has a baby named Francis. Or Marion. Now I understand his derision. But wait. Was he talking about MY family?

So today I looked for family last names that could be even remotely connected to me. There it was. Fleming. Eight of them listed. Someday I'll check the connection. Not today because today I'm working on researching other things. But maybe some day...

Catch of the day,

Gretchen 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Quick! Pick the Cherries!

I've been concentrating so much on the Fly Fishing book that I neglected to report on another of my good publishing news. In the June 2015 issue of Highlights for Children, you will find an article I wrote. Page 32.

Copyright © Highlights for Children, Inc., Columbus, Ohio. 
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

It's a short story I based on my father-in-law’s yearly battle with the birds over the cherries in the trees, and my son’s attempts to help. It was published in Highlights for Children June, 2015 issue.
Here's Grandpa Griffith in a snapshot my niece took him while he was doing what he loved, 
picking cherries.

And now the illustration in the magazine:
Copyright © Highlights for Children, Inc., Columbus, Ohio. 
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Thank you, artist Chris Jones, for your interpretation of Grandpa. You nailed it!

He loved being Great-grandpa!

This wonderful man was a part of the greatest generation. I'm thrilled my children and grandchildren met him and learned at his feet.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Saturday, May 30, 2015

Launched into the World

And we're off...

Rather, IT'S off.

The fly fishermen book, that is. It was released to the world this past Tuesday, although I must admit it has been up on Amazon since May 2. You're invited to write a review, by the way.

But Tuesday, we partied. We celebrated not only the book itself, but the men and women who contributed and told life stories. Here we are all gathered together:

We had a little ceremony, Ron Beane explaining his dream of the book to tell these men's lives, me thanking everyone. The women in the photograph helped by writing about their husbands or fathers. Their stories were from the heart, honoring, showing love and pride.

We presented each man or a representative with a copy. That was the fun part, thanking them for baring their souls for the world to read.


Bill Everhardt

Alen Baker and Gene Swanson
Monte Seehorn



Note their nametags. We wrote page numbers on the tags so that during the signing, people could skip to their pages quickly. And the fishermen could sign on their own profile pages.





I signed books
Co-author, Ron Beane signed books
We all signed books


And signed books

I'm not too fond of overused expressions, but sometimes there's no other way to express a feeling. So here goes: 
A good time was had by all.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Launch

TODAY'S THE DAY!!!

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS  

NOW PRESENTING

THE NEWEST BOOK ON THE BLOCK

FLY FISHERMEN OF CALDWELL COUNTY:
LIFE STORIES FROM NORTH CAROLINA



Isn't it beautiful! That's Newland Saunders in action in a picture taken by Bill Everhardt. Thank you Kim and Brian Thigpen for the cover design.

Now for the flip side back cover:

Thank you to Jim Childers for the fly pictures and to Alen Baker and Doug Suddreth for their eloquent comments we garnered from their writings. In the background is a picture of Wilson Creek taken by Bill Kincaid, the exact same photograph that is at the top of my blog page. 

This book was truly a cooperative venture. So many people contributed their time and talents into making this a reality. We can never express enough appreciation for what you contributed.

To all twenty-eight fishermen in the book, I hope we did you justice. 

I'm proud to be a part of it.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Naming Names

We're four days from book launch and today I'm naming names, revealing the twenty-eight fishermen in the book.

To make the book more user friendly we inserted not only the regular table of contents at the beginning, but also on the next page an alphabetical listing of the fly fishermen for easy reference.

Some of the men wrote their story in four or less pages.

Some of them wrote and wrote and wrote. Their submissions contained unbelievable fish stories, make that unbelievably long fish stories. Our chore was determining which to include and which to toss. Hard decisions.

One minor issue that I pushed for, and achieved, was to label each man's pages with their names in the heading. Since each chapter (by the way, we did not number chapters) is written in first person, the reader must stay aware of who is doing the speaking. Using the word "I" throughout the book works only if the "I" is identified and the reader is reminded which "I" is which.

Are you ready for the "I" list? Here goes:

Newland Saunders
“Cap” Wiese
Charlie Bean
Joe McDade
Henry Wilson
John Turner
Cecil Harman
Stanley Tuttle
Monty Tuttle
Bill Barlow
Monte Seehorn
Jay Reese
Ken Beard
James Henson
Wayne Storie
Kyle Garrou
Tony Woods
Doug Suddreth
Mark Miller
Kevin Story
Don McNeill
Gene Swanson
Brian Suddreth
Bill Everhardt
Jim Childers
Randy Benfield
Alen Baker
Ron Beane

Recognize anyone? If not, don't worry, you'll meet them soon in the book. The order isn't random. Many of the men mention each other and the reader must meet some of them early on in order to fully understand the stories.

The first fisherman on the list, Newland Saunders, was part of the inspiration for the book. He's the one that, just before his death, told Ron Beane, "Tell our story." He's the cover fisherman. He had a strong influence on fly fishing in Caldwell County, in all of North Carolina for that matter. His daughter and his nephew wrote his chapter. He would be proud of what they said.
Newland Saunders at his fly tying bench
We saved Ron's chapter for the end. In the preface he explains his reason for writing the book. In the final chapter he tells his own story. 

This format sandwiches all the stories in between. My, what a sandwich to digest. I can't wait for you to consume it.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen 

                     

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Picture Perfect

To color or not to color. That is the question.

True, color photographs add a dimension to a book that black and whites can't. But also true, color photographs add cost. When the fly fishing book ended up 194 pages, the cost of publishing in color tripled over the cost of publishing in black and white.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

To color or not to color.

We chose not.

To begin with, our book is about story, life stories of these twenty-eight men, not that color photographs wouldn't enhance their stories. But since several members of earlier generations had only black and white photographs, a fraction of the pictures would be in black and white anyway.

Cap Wiese

There is a certain air of distinction in old black and white photographs. The photograph of Cap Wiese came to us only in black and white, so we had no choice.

Cecil Harman


Look at these two photographs, the same ones of fly fisherman, Cecil Harman in Gunnison, Colorado...Black and white vs color.

When color is removed, you see the person and the story and not all the peripheral trimmings. It is almost a truer picture.

Well, that theory usually works. Look at the two versions of this photograph that didn't make the book in the end. It's of a group floating down the Green River in Utah. On the bank is a deer. 
See it? Or did you have to find it first in the color version?




The overwhelming majority of photographs we used in the book are personal snapshots the fishermen had taken of them in action as opposed to professional portraits. We did that on purpose. We wanted organic, natural. That we got. Even the posed photographs of the men holding the catch of the day are Kodak Moment glimpses into the story of their lives. 

When it was all said and done, our decision was to keep the price at an affordable level, ten dollars. After all, the purpose of publishing this book was to tell the life story of these men. If the cost is extraordinarily high, then fewer people would purchase it. And fewer people would read it. And the stories don't get told.

These stories are too precious to sit on a shelf in a bookstore.

Just saying.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen