Tuesday, August 10, 2021

William Booth and Major Jean

Major Jean. That's how she's known in the Smoky mountains of western North Carolina. For sixty years plus she traveled from home to home and church to church spreading the Good News as an officer of the Salvation Army. To me, however, she's Lorraine, my kin folk, and at ninety-five years of age, the last of her generation. She was a cousin to my mother, their mothers were sisters. That makes me her first cousin once removed. Since she was raised by my grandparents alongside my mother and her brothers and sister, that makes her my unofficial aunt. She's living with my husband and me for now, and is as much as blessing to us as we are to her.

Last Sunday, I became more deeply acquainted with the Major Jean side of her when my husband and I attended the annual (since 1936 except for covid last year) Singing on the Mountain at the Salvation Army Waynesville Corps. 



While the singing originally was held on top of a mountain at Maple Springs, it has moved to an open field behind the Salvation Army Corps in the nearby town of Waynesville, North Carolina. We were specially invited because Major Jean was to be awarded the highest honor given by the Salvation Army, the William Booth Award, named for its founder. This award is to the Salvation Army what the Oscar is to the film industry, except with only a few individuals being honored ever. My cousin/aunt was one, and she earned it. Many times over, I'm sure.

We came into the singing by golf carts, and just by coincidence, or by Divine God-incidence, we entered the tent while they were singing my all time favorite hymn, Precious Lord, Take my Hand. Several uniformed majors and captains rushed to hold her frail hand and escort her to our reserved seats up front. I actually gasped as the congregated Army sang the words together: 

Precious Lord, take my hand 
Lead me on, let me stand. 
I am tired. I am weak. I am worn. 
Through the storm, through the night 
Lead me on to the light. 
Take my hand precious Lord, 
Lead me home. 

Look at her precious hands fixing her hair the morning of the singing. Her friend Karen came to help her dress in her uniform, and couldn't resist taking this picture. The second verse hit me just as we stepped under the tent:

When my way grows drear 
Precious Lord linger near. 
When my life is almost gone. 
Hear my cry, hear my call, 
Hold my hand lest I fall. 
Take my hand precious Lord, 
Lead me home.

 After many more of the old, old songs, Commissioner Barbara Howell took the mic and asked Major Jean to join her at the foot of the stage, just a few steps from where we sat. Once again, uniformed soldiers of Christ stepped up and held her hand as she walked.

When the darkness appears 
And the night draws near 
And the day is past and gone. 
At the river I stand, 
Guide my feet, hold my hand. 
Take my hand precious Lord, 
Lead me home. 

 


The Commissioner spoke about the years Lorraine/Jean devoted herself to the Kingdom of God, about how she rode horseback to deliver the message, about the care she gave the people so far back in the mountains that no one else dared to venture. And then she gave the mic to Major Jean, and probably, being a high ranking officer from "up north" was not prepared for what she got.


In her humble thank you for the award, she slid in a few stories, like the one about coming upon a bootlegger and his still. Good old stories about the good old days! The crowd chuckled. They knew her, and they probably had heard plenty more stories from her.

After more songs and a dynamic speaker, we stood and sang the closing hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers. I know I've sung that particular song hundreds of times, but when surrounded by an Army of uniformed souls, it took on a whole new meaning.

Now she is here in our home. Feeble, though still full of stories. Tired and drained after several hospitalizations including a covid positive test. (Thank you God, for the vaccine that helped her survive with little side effects.) My prayer is that she be able to continue on with her life mission by testifying even in her illnesses. And when that time comes and she is, in Salvation Army language, Promoted to Glory, that her Precious Lord meets her and takes her precious hand.

Catch of the day,
Gretchen

PS When I taught fourth grade, my students read a book called The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Beth Mathis. It was framed around Precious Lord, Take My Hand, the hymn by Tommy Dorsey. I studied that hymn and its origin in order to teach the students. The words came from his heart as he grieved the loss of his wife. Look it up. Sing it out. It is my faith.

Monday, August 2, 2021

It's a Circus out there

 When I wrote the Spring Creek book several years ago, I came across an old, abandoned schoolhouse in Keenerville, North Carolina. Many of the people I interviewed had ties to the school or knew people who went there. I visited there this summer and the building had fallen, so I'm glad I was able to take a picture of it before it did.


Looks are deceiving, however. Old and decrepit as it might be in this photo, it was once the glory of the community. Children by the dozens at a time flocked to this one-room school house for their primary education. For many, what the school offered was the only "book learning" they had. Their success in life later is a testament to the basic learning they received. Many of them owned their own businesses and achieved what few of us in modern times would guess was ever possible considering their humble beginnings.

All this to say, I ran across a cartoon in the Sunday paper a few weeks back. It is from The Family Circus by Bil Keane. He has a knack of zeroing in on what touches me, but this particular day's strip showed my feelings exactly.
Does that look like the Keenerville School or what!!

Oh, my, someone else in this world recognizes the value of those old schools. In case the image is too small, let me explain. Mr. Keane drew characters of all kinds around the school to show their adult successes. Not only that, he had the modern children superimposed at the school and wondering what ever became of the "poor little kids." The illustrations answer that. They did well in life! 

If only the walls could talk, what stories would they tell these children? I've heard some of the stories and included them in my book, Back in the Time.
That's my co-author Jasper Reese on the cover when he was fourteen years old. He didn't attend Keenerville School, but his ancestors did. Back in the time, school was in session when the children weren't in the fields working. Teachers lived with families in the community. Students were related to each other. All of them. The older students helped the younger. They walked to school and carried their lunches, as there was no cafeteria. No indoor bathroom either. One year, 1919, the school closed early for the year. Spanish flu epidemic. Last day of school was in early March. The principal reported that there were no promotions. Everyone was held back in the current grade. 

Back in the time...

Catch of the day,

Gretchen








Saturday, July 17, 2021

A Great Place to Gogh

A couple years ago I drove from North Carolina to Ohio to do school visits at the schools where the grandchildren of my BFF from high school attended. Several people advised me to listen to books on tape to entertain me since I was driving alone. Selecting the right one wasn't as easy as I thought. I had already decided on non-fiction, but the choices at the library overwhelmed me. Finally I settled on one that sounded intriguing to me, Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers. Indeed, I was entertained for hours and developed a new appreciation of Vincent beyond what I learned in my (required) art appreciation class in college.

So when advertisements of a Van Gogh experience began appearing on my facebook feed, I knew I had to go. Let me rephrase that, I knew I had to gogh.

So why not use this opportunity to offer some art appreciation lessons to my family, I reasoned. Tickets to this experience would make perfect birthday presents, I reasoned. 

And I was right!
In the weeks ahead I sent little "gogh" jokes to my teenaged granddaughters. 
Who was Vincent Van Gogh's magician uncle? Where diddy gogh.
What kind of bird did Vincent like best? Flamin-gogh.
What bank did Vincent use? Wells Far Gogh.

Finally the day arrived and we were so ready to gogh.  We appeared at the door, checked in and chose our posters that came with our ticket level: With ear or without ear? That was the question. We also picked up the pillows we rented and bought a glass of wine and bottle of water to boot. Like I say, we were so ready. 

We entered the room mid-cycle (think gigantic warehouse, single room). The ticket punchers had told us to find a circle and sit down. Simple as that.
Since the same digital images were on multiple walls, we didn't block anyone's view as we groped around in the dark to find a spot. From the very first we all were captivated. There was no narration as I expected there to be, only intense orchestral music that fit the scenes before us. When that performance was finished and the credits rolled, about half the audience left and the other half of us repositioned ourselves to watch from a different viewpoint.
.
I could have watched for several additional cycles, but the girls really wanted to gogh to the gift shop that you couldn't escape. So I'm a granny. This was birthday. What can I say?

I can say this was some bizarre, out-of-our-comfort-zone experience. When it was all said and done, for those hours in time, we were lifted from our daily routine and placed into a world beyond our imaginations. A world of art. And beauty. 

Life is good. Gogh for it!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen














Saturday, July 10, 2021

Sgt. York

 There's a new old book on my to-read list.  It matches a movie, both done decades ago. It was written as an autobiography by Sgt. Alvin York and first published in 1918. It was republished in 2018, a hundred years later. I saw the original.

It was on his desk. At his house. In the backwoods of Tennessee.
I toured his home with my husband and a few other tourists a few weeks ago. How we found this out of the way gem, I have no idea, but I'm glad we did. It was stuffed with everyday living from a century ago, from a family of a beloved World War I hero. The state of Tennessee maintains it as a state historical park.

I must admit I didn't know much about WWI before I entered this park, but I learned a lot about the war and about one humble soldier who fought so valiantly. When he was drafted into the army he completed forms to be a conscience objector, but despite his dramatic faith story, his plea was denied. He went to the front lines in Europe and when the time came to defend his friends and comrades, he did. He was lauded for his actions of killing enemy soldiers to save others. He returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York City, but only wanted to return to his home in the hills of Tennessee and leave the world behind. 

My personal experience in military is limited, so I can't pretend to imagine his feelings that fateful day when his company was under attack. However, for those of us wondering, the park built a model of the trenches soldiers fought from during this "Great War." 
My husband and I walked the trenches. Everything was pristine. No blood. No dead bodies. No moaning injured.
We had to imagine. My goal now is to read Sgt. York's book and watch the movie based on it. I want to hear it from his own words, not the well researched words of others, no matter how compelling  and excellent their books. An autobiography is from the soul. I want to dive into his soul beyond what I saw in his house. I want a first hand view of living in those trenches. 

Often through my teaching career I referred to us classroom teachers as workers in the trenches. After visiting this state park, I will be more careful when I use this comparison. Actually, I'd say nothing compares to the original use of Sgt. York and the doughboys being in those trenches.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen





Saturday, June 12, 2021

A Tale of Two Families

When I release a book I never know its future. It could wait on the shelf for years for someone to pick up and read. Someone could spill a pitcher of ice tea and ruin its pages. Someone else could smear suntan lotion on the cover. Or someone could read it and uncover just the right gem to brighten their day.

That last one happened this past week when I met with members of two families featured in one of my latest book, Ernestine Shade's memoir, With God and My Mother's Prayers. Back in the 1930's, Ernestine's parents worked at Dula Hospital in Lenoir, North Carolina. This was during the depression, so for both parents to be working was remarkable. Unfortunately, her father had a heart attack at work one December day, not too long before Christmas. His death changed Ernestine and her mother's lives, and but for the grace of God and Dr. Dula, would have devastated their small family. 

Thanks to this doctor, her mother was able to save her house from those people who falsely claimed her father owed them money. Because of his kindness Ernestine and her mother had a more secure future.

Dr. Dula had a son, Fred, that was born after Ernestine went away to college. He grew up not far from where she grew up. In reality, however, they were raised in two completely different universes. After all, this was the segregated south, although by the time he was in high school, North Carolina had gone through school desegregation. Turns out, one of his good friends was Ernestine's first cousin. That's just one of many coincidences. 

He grew up, left Lenoir, became a doctor, and married. She grew up, became a teacher, married and moved to Los Angeles. Neither knew the other existed. 

One of the delightful twists in Ernestine's life story was the finding of her long lost childhood boyfriend. She had not seen him for sixty-five years when they reconnected after their spouses passed away. They talked long distance coast to coast, met up at a church homecoming, and three months later married.

His story was so similar to hers, I still shake my head in disbelief. He married his high school sweetheart late in life after both of them had earlier marriages and careers. His story was on the front page of our local newspaper, the NewsTopic. 

I knew the minute I read it I had to connect these two people. We arranged a visit, working around covid restrictions. His sister joined us, as did her husband. I sat back this past week and let the magic happen. When Fred was ten years old, his father died. He told Ernestine he felt like he didn't really know his father, so she filled in the gaps with stories about her family and his. She also told the Black perspective of living in the same town as he once did. The stores she could not enter. The clothing stores that did not allow her to try on clothes. The nurturing Freedman community where Black owned businesses thrived.

Fred Dula is a descendent of Squire Dula, who in the 1800's not only had a family with his first wife, but had a second family later in life with Ernestine's great-grandmother, Harriet. In fact, Ernestine is active in the Dula reunion that Fred declares he will some day attend.

Fred Dula in center with his sister Laura Jo and new friend Ernestine

This one day I felt like I was given the gift of traveling through time. What I experienced I now hold in my heart. It was that special.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen






Monday, May 31, 2021

Part 2: A Place Called Trust

I zoomed an author visit with a class of fourth graders recently and had a glimpse into the Covid reality of a classroom. The teacher had to relay the questions students asked because they were masked muffled, even though their interest in what I had to say certainly wasn't suppressed. We had a great time. They asked the usual questions, which book do you like best, why do you write, how old are you... those questions.

My favorite question this time was new. "What is the best thing about being an author?"

Easy answer.

Meeting my readers, which was what I was doing with these students.

That was Tuesday. Then Saturday I did exactly that, and did I ever enjoy myself. I even introduced my ninety-one year old coauthor Jasper to the joy of meeting our readers. We were at a little country store in Western North Carolina's backwoods (Trust General Store and Cafe) along with a huge group of locals and tourists stopping in. As I saw it, Jasper held court. 

He mesmerized the crowd with his stories, and he had plenty to tell. 
He met new friends and ran across people who knew his old friends that long since passed away.


Being an author has introduced me to experiences I never anticipated when I submitted my first manuscript years ago. It's been some ride!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Thursday, May 27, 2021

A Place Called Trust

If I were to pick a spot on this earth to live by using its name alone, not considering any other factors, I'd probably think seriously about a place called Trust. It sounds safe, trustworthy, as if the neighbors have an element of faithfulness to each other.

There is such a place here in North Carolina, and I'm going to be there this Saturday at an Opening Day Celebration at Trust General Store & Cafe. From 11 to 4, fellow author Jasper (JR) Reese and I will be sitting on the front porch, meeting and greeting anyone who stops by.


We have written two books together that we can't wait to share and answer questions about. Both take place in the same valley as this store that's at the corner of scenic NC Highway #209 and even more scenic NC Highway #63. Our first collaboration, Back in the Time, tells the story of the community where Jasper's father practiced medicine in the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains around the Trust, Hot Springs, and Spring Creek Communities.

Cover picture shows Jasper at fourteen (in the thirties)
driving on the main road in his homemade wagon

Jasper had plenty more stories he collected in his ninety plus years of living, so we wrote a follow-up book, The Way It Was in the Backwoods. Again, the location is in the Trust/Hot Springs/Spring Creek communities, and my bet is we could write a few more books. Yes, there are that many stories to tell. 

Cover picture shows Max Patch in the background,
with inserts of
Jasper and his wife, and Jasper with his great-grandchild

Our goal was to tell "it" like "it" was in the nearly three centuries his ancestors lived off the land there in Madison County. Ancestors can no longer speak for themselves, so we must put them into print before the details of living in the backwoods are lost.

These stories came to him through years of listening to the old folks tell them over and over as they sat on the porch in the heat and humidity of mountain summer evenings, as they worked in the hayfields, as they shucked corn or snapped beans, and as they sat around the wood stoves of general stores of yore. 

Saturday is the next best thing. There at Trust General Store and Cafe, Jasper will swap tales with anyone who sits a spell. 

Come. Join us.

Catch of the day,
 
Gretchen