Thursday, June 21, 2018

Yesterday at the Museum

Amazing.

That's yesterday pared down to one word. Just amazing.
Last spring when we set June 20 as the date for featuring my newest book, Dr. Jane Carswell: Family Physician, Humanitarian, Friend, I began the planning process, what to say, what not to say as I narrowed this extraordinary biography into a thirty minute presentation. Then I became caught up in last minute necessities of getting a book on the market and the excitement of the launch and a couple of week-long, much needed vacations. Yesterday came suddenly and now that it's over I can sigh and reflect and fill you in on the details.

Each month the Caldwell Heritage Museum here in Lenoir, North Carolina, features a "Coffee with the Curator" morning break introducing some aspect of history in our county. Curator Cindy Day meets, greets, and eats doughnuts with the visitors. I've attended many events and find them all to be entertaining beyond informative. My hope was to not only inform, but to honor the remarkable doctor I had written about. I think we did that.

I say "we" because there were others present who honored Dr. Carswell. The museum itself had a display about her and two other women doctors who blazed the trail for future women doctors in our community.

Dr. Beth Davison, the Director of Interdisciplinary Studies at Appalachian State University, and family friend of Dr. Carswell's, debuted a video she had prepared for the occasion. She included interviews with Jane Carswell's husband, Kenneth Roberts, along with several others who knew her well. Beth came to the launch back in May and videotaped an interview with me and included snippets from that in this presentation.

So then it was my turn to speak, and speak I did, to the packed room. (We even had to add more chairs!)
I described Dr. Jane Carswell with verbs. Adjectives just didn't fit. True, she was remarkable, outstanding, exceptional and every other matching synonym under the sun. But those words fell short and didn't give the description I wanted to paint. Instead I used persevered, advocated, fought, pushed, diagnosed, delivered, responded, and developed, words that gave the listener (and my readers) a complete picture of this remarkable, outstanding, exceptional physician.

As I was writing the book, I interviewed many people who set the tone from the very beginning. They made comments like:

Faith based compassion...

Servant's heart...

Caldwell County is a healthier environment because Jane Carswell came to live here...

This organization would not be viable without her vision and continuing encouragement...

Cast a shadow...

She was just a force...

She knew the meaning of the word servant...

As I read the comments aloud, along with several others, I paused between each for the listener to soak in the mood, the tone of the book and my speech. I wanted most of all for them to realize the book was a call to action, just like the verbs. It shows the unselfish life of a beloved physician, and my prayer is that it inspires the reader to take up the call and, like Jane Carswell, make the world a better place to live.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Launched!

This past week we launched my latest book, Dr. Jane Carswell: Family Physician, Humanitarian, Friend and had a wonderful time doing it during a meet, greet and eat social sponsored by the ladies of Fairview Presbyterian Church here in Lenoir. I had fun keeping the cover hidden under a cloth until the big reveal (that met with cheers and applause, by the way).
 I filled the crowd in on the purpose of the book (to share the life story of a beloved physician) and the format I chose to include quotes and nature photographs at the beginning of each chapter. We talked with people about their memories of Jane and how she impacted the community. Her husband Kenneth also spoke.
I met several people I had only spoken with on the phone during our interview time. I also met a character from chapter seven, Rufus the puppet. He was the feature of the Happy Hands Puppet Ministry.
Isn't he a cutie? Dr. Carswell wrote the scripts for the puppet shows and made sure Rufus was the bumbling doofus who was wise beyond what people imagined.

So now the book is out and about and doing its own thing. I'm thrilled, but also a little nervous. Did I do Jane's story justice? Did I offend anyone in the process? Did I correct all the typos? Did I leave anyone out in the acknowledgements? And the list goes on, mostly in the wee hours of the morning.

One thing I do know, this book needed to be written. Her life was too exceptional not be shared and her accomplishments too great not to be spotlighted.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dr. Jane Carswell: Family Physician, Humanitarian, Friend

It's finally here, the day I can say to you, THE BOOK IS OUT!!!

Before I show you the cover, I want to talk you through the wonderful portrait of Jane that we chose to feature on the front.
The minute I saw this photograph I fell in love with it. I knew it would make a great cover, I just didn't know how it could be used. Before I turned it over to my book designer, Books That Matter, I needed to get the proper permissions. First I contacted the photographer, Spencer Ainsley, and he so graciously granted his permission. Then I contacted the Lenoir News-Topic, where the photograph appeared in 1984, and they so graciously also granted permission, along with several other photographs I used in the text.

Next I turned to my go-to person, Bill Tate, who restored the ancient, faded, cracked newspaper picture, doctored it up a bit, and colorized it. Isn't it perfect??? There Jane sits, in her office, at the desk that once belonged to her minister father.

Cover designer Kim tried several different approaches that I hemmed and hawed over, and oohed and aahed over. But when she coupled the above portrait with this photograph of a rose that Jane had taken herself, I knew we had struck gold.


Isn't this a beauty of a rose! Merge the two together and TA-DA!!! May I present the cover:


Now available on Amazon and at odds and ends of places here in Lenoir.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Carswell Book, Part Three

Friend

In her left over time from being a physician and a humanitarian with numerous causes, Dr. Jane Carswell managed to develop many long lasting friendships. From what I figured out, a friendship with her meant going on a journey, whether hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or searching for a rare flower she hadn't photographed, or seeking answers to life's questions during a spiritual conversation. 
Here she is with friends identifying a rare Gray's Lily
along the Tanawha Trail in the Blue Ridge. This picture is in the book.
This picture of Jane hiking at the twin poplar trees is not in the book
since she was too hard to identify, but there she is in a local landmark.
After a brutal war between two Native American tribes, the elders twisted poplar trees together.
Generations later, the trees stand joined together as  a symbol of their peace treaty.
By the way, the three sections of the book are separated from each other with a title page sporting this rose, one of Jane's photographs. It's on the back cover, the inside title page, and all three section title pages. 

Part three of the book (Friend) is the shortest, three chapters long, or reworded, three long chapters, each packed full of life and love. 

Chapter 13, Friendship. This chapter tells about her love of roses and photography and travel and all things sport, and the friends who journeyed with her.

Chapter 14, Joy. I chose this chapter title because this is where she meets her true love and marries him...at age sixty-eight. It is a love story that will capture the reader's heart. 

Chapter 15, Retirement. What she accomplished in her retirement, as throughout her entire life, went beyond the norm, but this time, she had a partner. Their love story continued. Writing about her death sapped my energy. Reading about it will be uplifting.

So that's it, the entire book in three parts. I conclude with a nod to the many sources who helped me in this project and with a list of organizations that Jane was connected to, in case anyone feels led to step up and help out. It's what she would have wanted.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Carswell Book, Part Two

Humanitarian

Being a humanitarian wasn't exactly what Dr. Jane Carswell set out to be when she attended medical school. That just came naturally...because of her strong faith, and her belief that with faith comes action.

And act she did! Over and over during the interviewing stage of my research I heard people say, using their own variations of the concept, "If you look deeply enough, Jane's fingerprints will be on just about every cause in the area." I often felt like I was peeling an onion, there were so many layers. I said that to one man I was interviewing and he stopped me. "No. An onion is not a good analogy. She's more like a diamond with many, many facets." I checked online for diamond facets and found they are the surfaces that refract the light within the diamond and give off the spectrum of colors. Yep. That's Jane in her humanitarian causes. Not an onion. A diamond. She saw a need and she didn't just complain or tsk her tongue. She acted, and that action refracted all kinds of light here in Lenoir, North Carolina.

Chapter 7, Interracial Relations. She had experienced discrimination, and as it reared its ugly head in her community, she stepped out of her comfort zone and stood up to it. She drew people together in a common good.

Chapter 8, Shelter Home. "He really hit her hard, right in front of me. But she wouldn't press charges. She said she had to go home and live with him, that she didn't have any place else to go," said by Jane after her experience in the maternity ward as she visited with a new mother. An enraged Jane set out to create a place for her, and the many others like her, a shelter from the abuse she witnessed in many women seeking medical attention.
This portrait of Dr. Carswell hanging in the shelter home didn't make the cut in the book. The wooden carving that gives the name of the building, "The Jane Carswell House," didn't come out clear enough in the printing process, so we eliminated it.
The shelter home started a sign campaign to change from a culture of violence.
Chapter 9, Caldwell House. A halfway house for former drug and alcohol addicts that Jane worked with. After she retired from its board, she began writing the newsletter. She interviewed clients and wrote their stories as inspiration for the others. 

Chapter 10, Caldwell Friends. A big brother/big sister style organization for early teens where Jane volunteered much of her time.
Jane drew this picture of Caldwell Friends mascot Raydell.

Chapter 11, International Missions. Jane's experiences in the mission field could be a book in themselves, especially the robbery incident. 

Chapter 12, Helping Hands. In response to seeing the un-and-under-insured citizens in the county go without proper medical care, she worked with several other concerned physicians and nurses to create this program.

Chapter 13, Cradle-to-Grave. End of life issues were important to Jane. Her church sponsored a residential complex for seniors, Koinonia, where Jane visited clients on her "apartment" calls. A major end of life project, Caldwell County Hospice began with a group of people sitting in Jane's house and brainstorming what could be possible. 
I took this picture of the Hospice Angel in the lawn of the Caldwell Hospice.
It's not in the book, but I think it is a good example of what hospice means to so many people.
Another picture that didn't make the book was this one from the inside front of the hospice facility.
The building overlooks downtown Lenoir.
Another view from the upstairs windows of Hospice
with local landmark,
 Hibriten Mountain, in the distance.
If you need the definition of humanitarian, look no further than the life of this distinguished physician. Dr. Jane Carswell equals humanitarian.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen




Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Carswell Book, Part One

Family Physician

A book has to start somewhere, so why not at the beginning, unless the author takes a little liberty and does a bit of finagling. That would be me. I start this biography at the peak of Dr. Jane Carswell's career, after she has been acclaimed as the "1984 National Family Physician of the Year," and when she is speaking to the classes at the medical school she once attended. "Family medicine keeps one humble," she said. "Often you as a physician can do very little to help the patients, but they still give you their trust and share their joys and sorrows with you." She said it, and she believed it.

That belief came not only from her upbringing by two parents who devoted their lives to serving God, but also from her heritage and the long line of steadfast family members who helped make Jane Carswell who she was. So there. Chapter One, Heritage. Her mother's family called Williamsburg, Virginia home. Actually, they called the Peyton Randolph House home, where her great uncle, the mayor of Williamsburg, along with her aunt raised Madeline, Jane's mother, after her own mother was killed in a farm accident. It is now one of the restored houses open to the public for viewing. As her mother walked through the house on tour with Jane years later, she talked about living there before the village became the remarkable institution it now is. That alone is a book in itself.

Chapter Two, Childhood. Here's where the family values were instilled in Jane. She was born in 1932, so that put her square into the Great Depression as a baby, and into the homefront of World War II as a growing child. This chapter is mostly Jane's own recollections of growing up in the sandhills of North Carolina, written in speeches she gave at various church homecomings. 

Chapter Three, College. This is the only place in the entire book (beyond the preface) that I inserted something personal as a homage to being a fourth grade teacher. I'll let you seek out that on your own, but I will say that Jane attended Flora Macdonald College and wow, the stories from her experiences there! Strict Presbyterian Women's College. Dress code. Decorum code. Korean War era near the Fort Bragg military base. Add those together and there's a story. One of her required physical education classes was the Highland Fling, and that's part of the story.
No, Jane's not part of this 1946 picture, but she did have a kilt and the plaid.
When she was over seventy years old, she performed the fling for an astonished crowd of friends.
Chapter Four, University. She was female. She could not enroll in UNC Chapel Hill until her junior year, and even then she was in the minority, as at the Medical College of Virginia where she was one of five females in her class of a hundred. She learned what discrimination was all about.

Chapter Five, Kentucky. Her first job, that lasted only a year, but that's a different story. Bloody Harlan, Kentucky. As I wrote this chapter I couldn't help but sing Tennessee Ernie Ford's song that I grew up with, "Sixteen Tons." She didn't live in the community where that song originated, but the circumstances were the same where she did live.

Chapter Six, The Practice. She found her way to Lenoir, North Carolina and established herself as a physician of the highest degree. 

I can't wait for you to read these chapters to get to know the good doctor.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen













Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Carswell Book, Timeline

Early on we came up with a working title of the biography of Dr. Jane Carswell that we've kept without any variation because it says it all:
This is a portion of the front cover. I can't wait for you to see the rest of it! That's one of Jane's photographs of her roses in the background, by the way. But what I want you to notice is the subtitle, "Family Physician, Humanitarian, Friend." She was a complicated individual who's life can be narrowed to those three simple words.

When I began structuring the book, I realized I could not do it in chronological order. Things overlapped. Things got muddled in a timeline. A day by day chronicle just wouldn't work for this book, so I did the book in parts, chunks of time that are independent of every other chunk of time.

Part One does follow a linear timeline, sort of, although I freely vacillate from one period of time in her life to another and then back to another. In the end, it  makes sense. For instance I wanted to include photographs of her parents and I put them in chapter two, her growing up chapter. But some of the photographs show her parents in their later years, and I mention them retiring and then list their death dates. But the next chapter picks up when Jane goes away to  Flora Macdonald College when her parents were very much alive and vibrant and getting her ready for college.

But it's in Part Two (Humanitarian) that the timeline loses its mind. It wanders back and forth and up and around. Each chapter starts with when Jane became involved with a particular cause and continues through that narrative, usually to the end of her life. Each following chapter does the same, goes back in time and picks up at the beginning and goes throughout the time she was involved in that project. Some chapters even go back into history and give the backstory of the situation so the reader can understand what Jane was facing.

Talk about a structure nightmare!!

Don't worry! Part Three (Friend) ties it altogether in a grand love story that will give purpose to all the wanderings in the wilderness.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Carswell Book, Quotations

As I was researching the book about Dr. Jane Carswell, I was fortunate enough to have abundant resources available. Her husband, Kenneth Roberts, handed me a two inch thick folder crammed with newspaper clippings about her. Believe me, I read every single one. I spent hours in the archives of several organizations, poring over long forgotten pages in scrapbooks. I used my cell phone camera to photograph articles so I could have them at my disposal during the writing process. Like this one, from the shelter home, chapter eight in the book:


That picture shows the shelter for abused women (that Dr. Carswell was instrumental in creating) before the security fence was installed. The reason for the fence is a compelling story I included in the chapter. I didn't write much about the white house to the right of the shelter. It was used as a halfway house for women who no longer needed the intensive care offered in the shelter, but had no place to live. It gave them a chance to restore their lives before they moved on. That building was cleared away in a controlled burn when a small apartment complex was added on the grounds.

As I read the articles I found so many of Jane's quotes the reporters included in their writing about her that showed her personality or her thinking. I knew I wanted to incorporate them somehow into the book, to make them stand out from the text. I came up with a way. For instance, in the chapter on the shelter home, here's a quote from the Charlotte Observer, December 9, 1984:
"He really hit her hard, right in front of me. But she wouldn't press charges. She said she had to go home and live with him, that she didn't have any place else to go." 
The quote is the first thing the reader sees in the chapter, right under the title, and right before the photograph. Here's the picture I selected to start the shelter chapter:
Jane took this photo I have labeled "butterfly on iron weed" for future reference. To me, butterflies represent new life, just as what was offered the women who came through the shelter.

The quote from Jane that I fit into the beginning of another chapter, chapter six, the one about her practice of medicine, sums up her philosophy of how she conducted her medical practice:
"Family medicine keeps one humble. Often you as a physician can do very little to help the patients, but they still give you their trust and share their joys and sorrows with you." from Family Practice Hi-Lights, Medical College of Virginia Student Family Practice Association, Winter, 1984.
I can't wait for you to see the quote at the beginning of chapter fifteen, the chapter I titled "Joy." It is from a poem Jane wrote about her happiness at being married to the love of her life.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Carswell Book, Photographs

One of the early decisions I made in structuring this Dr. Jane Carswell book was to do it in full color. I tried to stay in black and white to keep the consumer cost down, but when I switched Jane's unbelievably beautiful nature photographs from vivid to drab, I knew I would regret it. I could see myself apologizing to people as I handed them the book, "I'm sorry, you should see it in color, but..."



See the difference? While there is a certain beauty in black and white, to be sure, in this specific book, color is everything.



Since I made that choice, then I had to use every nook and cranny on the interior to fill it with splashes of color. The printing cost is the same regardless of how many color photographs are included. It's page count that increases costs. But then the challenge became on how I could incorporate a selection from her thousands of pictures into the narrative that is her story. There are just so many ways a writer can talk about a flower or a hillside in a story about a humanitarian.

Then I had a light bulb moment. In the art of the bookmaking, the first letter or word of each chapter is usually highlighted in some way. Different font. Increased size. Fancy flairs. Anything to set a reader's mind into the newness of a fresh chapter.

What if, instead of that, I used a postage stamp sized photograph that started each chapter with beauty!!! Those daisies start chapter two. This mountain laurel starts chapter fifteen. I chose that flower because it was what she used with roses for decoration at the wedding, and that was the wedding chapter.


The majority of the sixteen chapter opening photographs are flowers, except for chapter ten. For that one I chose a photograph Jane took of a bird at Fontana Dam. When you read the book, you'll understand why.


Because of choosing color, I tripled my per book wholesale cost and will need to charge twenty dollars for each book when I'm selling out and about. The listed price on Amazon will be $22.50. 
But still, it will be so worth the difference to the reader.

I can't wait for you to see the rest of the pictures I selected. Your eyes are in for a treat.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Thursday, May 10, 2018

MY NEW BOOK

In case you haven't noticed, I've been off the blog radar for a few long months working to finish my newest project. And TA-DA, it's so close to being finished, I can now announce a launch date: May 24!! In the next days I'll give details as to time and place, but for now, let me start introducing my book.

About a year ago a man in our community, Kenneth Roberts, the retired superintendent of schools and my former boss, came to me and asked if I would help him write a book about his wife, Dr. Jane Carswell, who died in 2015. My first question to him - "Would she have been okay with this?"

He replied, "Probably not, but it needs to be done."

As I've worked on her biography this past year, I became more and more aware that he was so correct on both counts. She was a very private person who preferred to work in the background and give the credit to others. Yet this is a story that needed to be told. Her life was an inspiration.

We had a working title from day one:

Dr. Jane Carswell: Family Physician, Humanitarian, Friend

In the past my books have been in the memoir genre, but this time I've crossed over a slight bit to do a biography, although the genre line between memoir and biography is not all that distinct. I used several memoir techniques in constructing this book...interviewing people who knew my subject...researching what they told me to add more or to fact check...making phone calls...sending emails...knocking on doors.

That's all behind me. I'm in the final proof stage and assuming all is as it should be, pushing the publish button is imminent. Almost.

I'll start with the back cover, created by my go-to book cover designer, Books That Matter.

The rose is significant. First off, it is a photograph taken by Dr. Carswell herself, one of thousands we had to choose from. Second, Jane Carswell grew roses. She didn't just grow them, she nurtured them, doctored them, and basked in their beauty. This rose earned its place on the back cover.

I did not know her before I wrote this book, except that she was the doctor who covered for my own physician whenever he was absent. Invariably my children took sick on his day off, and we ended up in her office. But about the Jane Carswell as humanitarian or friend, I knew nothing.

As I became acquainted with her, I grew more and more protective of her story. I had to tell it right. I couldn't misrepresent anything about her, nor could I insert my own awe into the narrative. There was plenty enough without my side comments.

I can't wait to introduce her to you.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen







Saturday, March 31, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Habitat Hat

I like to say I wear many hats. There's my author hat I put on long before I get up in the morning as I toss and turn and head-write the grandest of all paragraphs that I forget by dawn.

There's my family hat, wife, mother, granny. There's my church lady hat that turns into earmuffs during the Christmas Trail performances.

Now I have a Habitat Hat. Make that a Habitat HARD Hat.
So there I am at the ground breaking ceremony for the Habitat for Humanity's Women's Build. Note the hat.

Let me back up and explain that during 2017 my husband and I were advocates for a Habitat family. We attended classes sitting beside them and were supposed to advise them, but instead we learned along with them, things that I wish I had known when we were young and starting fresh in a new house, things we still hadn't picked up on but made do instead.
With our wonderful Habitat family
The most delightful part of the process, beyond getting to know a really super family, was being with them when they selected the nitty-gritty of their house, the siding, the cabinets, the flooring, those kinds of fun things. It was at that session that we were told this house would be special.

Their house would be built entirely by women.

And so the hoopla began. Pictures of them choosing their lighting fixtures. Pictures of us watching them pick their lighting fixtures. Grand Ground Breaking complete with t-shirts all around and plastic, decorative hard hats that would never pass OSHA safety regulations, but sure did look good for the newspaper. Yes. Front page of the newspaper.
By the way, that's my husband in the bottom left picture, wearing his pink Habitat man's shirt and hard hat. Here's a better shot, so note the saying on the back.
I don't know enough about building to be the one to say "Yes Ma'am" to, but I'm game to pick up a hammer and pound a few nails. I'll keep you posted about that. It's going to make a good story.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Little Read, Big Deal

The recent Little Read event in the Caldwell County School System here in western North Carolina proved to be much more like a Big Deal event for me as the visiting author. The concept is fantastic, a huge shout out to whoever conceived it. Every fourth grader in the county reads the same book, discusses it with each other, and meets the author...Me!

The book they chose? When Christmas Feels Like Home and it isn't even Christmas, which in the end proved to be an advantage. The students could focus on the theme of the story rather than the frame I built it around.
It's all about being comfortable in new situations. In my powerpoint presentation I showed (basic rule of writing, show don't tell) them my experiences living and going to school abroad, just like Eduardo in the book. I had them experience being in class when they couldn't understand anything the teacher said as I recited a selection I had memorized in French class all those many years ago.

And they got it. THEY GOT IT!!!

From that little language experiment, they understood what Eduardo went through when he first came to America. We had fun going through figurative language and miscues I wrote in the first few drafts of the book. I let them in on a few background secrets, like the holly misplaced on the Thanksgiving table.
And the name changes of the characters...and the title.

They had worked through activities based on the book created by my teacher/daughter-in-law.


They asked questions at the end. Great, well thought-out questions that were an extension of what we had discussed. After I introduced my other books, the question came (in all six presentations at the various schools) "Which one is your favorite?" which I always threw back to them, "It's like asking your mother or grandmother who is your favorite. I love them all the same."

The question I had most fun with was "How old are you?" 

The first time, I answered truthfully and they collectively gasped! So I came up with "I'm a grandma, so I'm about the same age as your grandmas" Yuk, yuk to that. Some of their grandmas are in their thirties!

Being a grandma is fun. I can love on the little ones and send them back home with their parents.

Being a visiting author is the same kind of fun. I enjoyed those fourth graders and realized there were parts of teaching I missed. But then, when we were finished, I waved goodbye to them all and sent them back to class with their teachers. 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Helen Hall's My Story Memoir

One of the fun sides of being a self-published author is helping others to accomplish their goal of publishing a book. Last fall a former teacher/friend in the county, Dr. Helen Hall, contacted me about a memoir she had completed and was seeking help with getting out into the world. I love being the midwife in a birth such as this!

We had several formatting sessions at her house. Her vision of the book included a hardback cover, something I had never done. In fact, in the end, we had to go with a company I had never worked with, but about which I had heard only good things, Lulu. We were not disappointed, especially when the process was nearly the same as my earlier comfort zones.

Helen's daughter, Sigrid, designed the cover. Didn't she do a grand job?


The back cover contains a family picture, because, bottom line, the beginnings of her life story is centered around this very group. 

Of course there were glitches in getting this book out. There were days of doubting this would ever come to pass. There were decisions to make, from major ones, which photographs to include, to minor ones, which font (which wasn't all that minor after all!). 

Strange thing, I did not read the book at this point. I wasn't the editor. I helped with interior design. I read a paragraph here and there when we had issues with spacing or widows and orphans (technical term I throw in to say we were on top of this!). But I did not read the actual My Story: This is How It Was until the first shipment of books arrived at her home and I had a personally autographed copy in my hands.

Oh what a story! Her subtitle, This is How It Was, was so aptly chosen. She made growing up Phillips sound like the most wonderful, exciting experience ever, while at the same time holding very little, if any, of the negatives back. She gives a rarely revealed insight to life in a rural black community in the days of segregation, including the many accompanying challenges. This Dulatown community defined her even further beyond her family. Like her parents, it nurtured her and prepared her to face the realities of the outside world. You'll just have to read this story!

So now Helen Hall, like the published author she is, celebrates. 

She held an audience spellbound at her first outing of the book this past week. The presentation was taped, so click on over to Youtube and experience it yourself.



 She signed books and ran out, returning to her home to bring more copies. 

Some stories just need to be shared. This is one. I feel humbled and proud that I had a small part in it.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Donkey's Tale


Once upon a time there was a donkey named Jake minding his own donkey business in the field, chomping on hay, warding off coyotes, braying his opinions every now and then, when what to his enormous long ears would he hear but the clank and the clatter of the horse trailer being moved. 

Being the curious donkey he was, he trotted over to investigate this noise. His owner lured him closer with the largest, most delicious looking carrot his eyes had ever beheld, so he followed the bait up the waiting ramp. A slam behind him mattered not. His attention was on the treat. The trailer beneath him moved. He chomped on. The trailer stopped. The back opened and he unloaded, fully expecting more food, an apple or two for his trouble.

A man and a woman approached. He lifted her onto Jake's back and tugged on the reins. Jake obediently followed…and followed…and followed. Over and over and over again that night they went down the same path. Crowds watched them and expressed delight. He ate his treats and his belly filled. When the evening ended, Jake loaded back onto the trailer and returned to his pasture.


A few days later, the same strange event occurred again. He was whisked away and brought back, but this time the thrill faded. “No more,” he vowed in his jackass of a brain.

The next afternoon, when he heard the clink and the clatter of the horse trailer, he ran the other way. He absconded. He didn’t know the word, but he lived the definition, to depart secretly and hide oneself. Absconded.

The owner searched and searched to no avail. Text number one to the pageant director: We can’t find Jake anywhere.

No worries. The afternoon was still young.

Two hours later and darkness descending, text number two: Never did find that dumb ass. Looked everywhere.

Mary and Joseph walked that night.

When the trailer clanked its presence the next night, final performance by the way, Jake had returned. He was ready. The lure of the snacks beckoned him once again and the prodigal donkey came back. He acted his part as if nothing had ever happened and charmed the audience. When it was over and he received the loving pats from actors along the trail, Jake returned to his pasture and to doing what donkeys do to keep warm in the cold, dark days of winter.

There’s bound to be a moral to this story. If I were Aesop, I’d come up with one for sure.

But I can’t. For you see, I was the pageant director on the receiving end of the “We can’t find Jake anywhere” text. I was the one who fretted over that absconding donkey knowing the disappointment of the children in the audience expecting to see a furry creature in the scene. We made do, although he was truly missed.


Strange thing, though. I wasn’t mad at that stubborn donkey who was acting like an ass acts. I was jealous. He did what I wish I could do sometimes when things don’t go my way. He took off for the hills. He didn’t have the ability or the desire to know what he was doing to the rest of us in the pageant. He just wanted to escape. He didn’t have the capacity or the humanity to realize how much his presence meant to us. He just wanted away from the madness.

The real bottom line of this story is that Jake came back. I’ll never know what was going through his mind that led to his decision to return, but I can guess. I think he took that time to renew himself. He needed a break from the spinning world. We all do.

Returning is a courageous but necessary act. If any of you want to pull a Jake, I say go for it in your own time…after you tell someone …after you prepare. Take a breather for an hour or two, but know you are needed. Refresh. Come back strong.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen