Saturday, September 14, 2019

Revisiting History

A summer Sunday drive a few weeks ago found my husband and me on a back, back, way back mountain road in Madison County, North Carolina. We weren't alone. Riding shotgun (literally, only it was a pistol) was the coauthor of one of my books, Jasper Reese. We had attended the yearly Spring Creek School reunion and were on the way home, or so I figured. "I sure would love to see my old homeplace one more time," this nearly ninety year old hinted. Off we went with his navigating, down an isolated road off state road NC #209 in western North Carolina.

Bluff Mountain Road. It's on the cover of our book, Back in the Time. Take a look at the picture of the road set back in the forties.
That's twelve year old Jasper in his homemade wagon
driving on the Bluff Mountain Road
Jasper described it as a major thoroughfare. Look at it nearly seventy years later:


Still a major thoroughfare, can't you tell! If you stay on it far enough, you'll intersect with the Appalachian Trail and then go on to the backwoods of eastern Tennessee. But to get to Jasper's homeplace, we had to turn off this road onto a much minor thoroughfare that had grass and foot high weeds growing between the ruts. That minor.
Jasper navigating
My thoughts as we inched along? "We could fall off the side of this mountain and no one would ever find us. They wouldn't even know where to begin looking!"

Best part of this side trip was his joy at seeing his old house (even better than my joy when we emerged from the wilderness back onto the major thoroughfare). The driveway was above the house, and he pointed out spots where he carried water from the spring, and where his family fled the night of the 1940 flood, and where he worked the fields that were now overgrown with tall pine trees. His memories were triggered and they flowed joyfully, like pent up children on the last day of school. Celebrating. Free. 

Sad, however, that in the front yard was a "For Sale" sign. Not the sign. His reaction. His mood turned to melancholy as we drove away. "If only I was twenty years younger. I'd buy that on the spot."

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Corn Meal and Clogging

Just in case you think the life of an author is glamorous, let me send you a little reality check. My husband and I had a booth selling my books last weekend at the Happy Valley Fiddler's Convention here in western North Carolina, the setting, at least a chapter or two, in four of my nonfictions.

We've done it before, under a tent on the main drag. This year was different. We were assigned the cow barn. Sounds dreadful, right? Well, they did clear the mess enough to dump a layer of sawdust for us to stand in. And. Since we were on a hill overlooking the festival, we had a panoramic view accompanied by the most lively music ever created. And. We had electricity, which means we had a fan to stir the brutal sweltering August heat. And. We had visitors aplenty seeking a reprieve from their personal baking. We loved it!
My husband is in the center, next to me,
watching the action on the opposite side of the barn.
On the other long side of the barn, there was cement, scraped clean with no sawdust, a perfect location for the dance hall. Remember, this was a fiddler's convention, so the dance style matched the music. Clogging. First however, came the corn meal, which I'm sure the mice have enjoyed ever since we left. Soft shoe and tap dancing can get treacherous even on the wooden frames designed specifically for dancing. To lessen the dancers' slipping and sliding and landing on the bum, a layer of corn meal is sprinkled on the surface for traction.

The teacher stood on his own platform in front of the dancers, instructing them step by step, and slide by slide, and kick by kick.

When dancing wasn't happening, this was the staging area for performers. I felt like we had private shows! And on the knoll just above us was a grave. Not just any grave stuck out in the middle of the cow pasture. The grave of Laura Foster.
In case you can't read the words on the tombstone:
Laura Foster
Murdered in May 1865
Tom Dula hanged for crime
If you've ever sung the chorus to "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley," then you have met Laura Foster, Tom's victim for which he was hanged. Yes. It's a true story, read the tombstone in case you wonder. My friend, award winning author, Charlotte Barnes, the one I'm talking to in the inside the barn picture above, first wrote a well researched nonfiction about the Tom Dooley scandal, and then the based-on-truth novel that just came out, told from the point of view of the reporter who covered the trial. I bought a copy from her and I've read the first two chapters. I'm hooked!

I'm also hooked on history and heritage. It's why I write what I do. And it's why I spent Labor Day weekend in a cow barn.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A New Look at Old History

Years ago, YEARS ago in a previous century, I sort of published my first book. I use the qualifier "sort of" because it was published in the business office of Broyhill Industries here in Lenoir, North Carolina and I sort of was the leader of the pack of historians who tackled a tremendous feat. The church I attend was celebrating a bi-centennial and members wanted its history compiled into a book. I jumped at the chance. This was in the pre-computer era, so every drop of research depended on old newspaper articles, church records, and family lore. We (as in several of us) came up with a manuscript that we were satisfied with and typed and published after hours at the work space of a secretary at the Broyhill furniture giant's main office. Each of the twelve of us chose a typewriter, and off we went, typing and printing copies of what we came up with.
Now that new methods of research are available, computer access to archives in other words, we (as in several of us) have come up with a plan. Re-research. Find new information. Redo the book. After an article in last week's local newspaper telling of our plans, the editorial cartoon person gave us a special treat.
Is that cool or what!

That would be my energizer bunny of a friend, Diana, working her magic to fill in the gaps from the previous book. (And, I must admit, correcting the mistakes we made in our original version.) She's peeling back the layers and finding all sorts of facts that will make the updated book not only more correct, but also rich with details. This history of Littlejohn church is a fascinating read that covers Revolutionary times with overmountain men camping on the church lawn on their way to the Battle of King's Mountain, Yankee invaders riding past on Easter morning while members quickly hide their valuables, including the mules, rebuilding the facility to change from two entry doors (one for women, one for men), and takes the reader up to a fourth century (1700's, 1800's, 1900's and 2000's) with moments of faith in between. What a story it is!

I can't wait for you to read it.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, August 10, 2019

The Difference an A Makes

The current trend in American education is STEM, an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It's an excellent concept, but a bit lacking.

There's no A.

Arts.

Children being surrounded by pure STEM activities and thought will miss out on what gives life its STEAM, its reason and purpose. After mankind discovered the basic technology of fire, he was then able to invent cave drawings to express himself in the darkness of the underground. Since then, mankind has taken a giant leap to great literature beyond those characters on the wall. Both are heartfelt attempts at communicating thoughts, and therein lines my concern. Leaders of tomorrow must be able to communicate, and that's where the A comes in.

I've had this thought ever since the pendulum swung towards all things scientific. I felt like I was the only person on earth ringing the alarm bell amidst the clanging, until I watched a program on CSpan during the Apollo Eleven anniversary week. The topic was spacesuit design and featured a panel of experts who devoted their lives to the ever evolving suits astronauts wear.
This group had recreated the Apollo spacesuit for the anniversary and was eager to share their findings and comparisons with current suits. One of the panelists, Dava Newman a professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT, described her passion for suit design. What interested me most, however, was her other passion, empowering the next generation of scientists through STEM, only she suggested adding the A for Arts, and a D at the end for Design. 

Yes, people, let's get STEAMD up about nurturing a whole individual who is exposed to disciplines across the spectrum. Interpreting all the technologies mankind can develop means nothing without an understanding of history and psychology and literature, or without an appreciation of the fine arts to express emotions and thoughts. 

Time to swing back the pendulum.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen







Saturday, August 3, 2019

More Moon Magic

This Apollo celebration just never ends!! Today a friend of mine gave me a 3-D pop-up card featuring the Eagle lunar module.
How cool is that!
Look at the details up close:
Even the tiny footprints are included.
I added a frame around the cover of the card
to show the whiteness of the moon a little better.
The plan is for me to take the card to book events and wow everyone when I open it.

One thing I won't take with me is the bag of Fiftieth Anniversary Oreo cookies I finally got my hands on. They will be long gone in a few days.

Talk about a way to celebrate! How about imprinted moon-related pictures on each cookie? How about glow in the dark stickers on the back? 
I enlarged this photo so you could see the astronaut on the cookie.
There's a rocket on the cookie that is open and a crescent moon on the other.
Take these cookies with a glass of Tang to wash them down, and I've got the perfect Apollo snack. Too bad massive celebrations like these only come every fifty years.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, July 27, 2019

One Giant Leap

I'm doing a book signing today at an indie bookstore in downtown Lenoir, North Carolina, Tybrisa Books, and to garner a bit of interest, I offered a free copy of my Back on Earth: When Men First Landed on the Moon to the first person who tells me the secret password. When I was selecting the word, I wanted one that meant a lot to me. At first I thought of "one small step," but that seemed too used. Instead I went for "Giant Leap."
My own giant leap
The past few weeks have been giant whirlwinds for me, mostly connected to the Apollo Eleven moon landing. A feature article about my book was on the front page...FRONT PAGE!!!...of the Hickory Daily Record. I also made presentations to several groups. Unfortunately I missed the parade and fun and fireworks at the nearby Rhodhiss community where a textile mill produced the material for the flag that is still there on the moon. What a celebration they had! Their one small step of the process was important to the  American people and they earned those bragging rights.

Instead I was celebrating "Apollo at the Ball Park" in Atlanta, Georgia. Interesting thing about that, major league baseball had their own textile connections to Apollo Eleven's success, and they also bragged. I took these pictures at the Atlanta/Washington ball game on July 20, the very day of the anniversary of the moon landing.
I've been amazed at the contributions I've found of ordinary people fifty some years ago going about their daily work that ended up making history. I've also been amazed at the stories individuals told about where they were at the exact moment Neil Armstrong made his one small step statement.
We might not have been doing such giant leaps as a first major league home run, but we did have our own stories that we shared with this new generation. That was the whole purpose behind my writing this book. Have you shared your story? Have you listened to others as they shared their stories?

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

PS: I've been seeing rustlings about the fiftieth anniversary of Woodstock coming now and people's stories about that. I have none to tell except that I heard about it, but I probably couldn't write a children's picture book about that anyway.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Eagle Has Landed!

Those words, "The Eagle has landed," sends a chill up my spine even fifty years later. We knew back then how monumental this accomplishment was, and that feeling of pure pride has not diminished in the time since.

Wow! Just Wow! Men walked on the moon. Imagine that! We couldn't, not really. No nonbelievers will shake my faith. Not then, not now.
All week long I've watched programs about this event. I've read articles. I've learned so much that I could have put in the picture book. Or not. There is only so much room in a book designed to keep a young child's attention span from wandering. I think I reached that limit with what I chose to include.

I could have told the story about the textile mill near here that wove the material that was used for the flag on the moon. I interviewed the Rhodhiss town clerk so I could share the story with the fourth graders I met when I made author visits this spring. The town is having a huge celebration this evening to commemorate their small part in this grand step for mankind.

I learned from an article in Parade Magazine that because astronauts were in a high risk occupation, they could not purchase life insurance at a decent rate. Each of these three astronauts signed several cards in the case that anything happened and they could not return, their wives could sell the autographs for a tidy sum that would support them for years to come. Didn't happen, but just in case!

So much of a deal has been made this week of Apollo Eleven, that everyone might be on overload. I hope people from my generation have shared their own personal stories with today's children. That was the purpose behind my book, after all. For us to tell about those of us Back on Earth When Men First Landed on the Moon. It's on kindle, so it's not too late to share the wisdom.
In Friday's local newspaper, a tribute column by Brent Tomberlin included interesting facts about Apollo Eleven I had never heard before. One touched my heart. Someone placed a card on President John Kennedy's grave while the men were walking on the moon. It read "Mr. President, the Eagle has landed."

Wow. 

Just Wow to this whole week.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen