Monday, January 23, 2023

A Sad Find

In the spirit of Look-What-I-Found-While-I-Was-Looking-Something-Else-Up, I unearthed a sad story that seems to epitomize the tragedy of young lives lost in battle. I had been searching for information about a family in Caldwell County, North Carolina during the Revolutionary War when I found it in one of my go-to books for local history. These were written by great historians of our county, WW Scott and Nancy Alexander. They caught stories, just like I do, and they published them for future generations to learn about the past, just like I do.


In his Annals of Caldwell County, author Scott didn't format it to be in chronological order, but instead chose to arrange it as if he would have collected his wits for the day and plopped down a new story he caught. Just like I do in this blog. 

So he has an article about the Confederacy early in the book, followed by visiting his neighbors in the 1930's (which is when the book was first published), followed by the colonial times, and then a few Revolutionary War stories inserted at will. Reading for what I wanted involved page by page reading (or is that an excuse since there is an index...which didn't even have the family name I was researching).

I became enthralled by these stories, but the saddest of all, probably the saddest of nonfictions I've read recently, was on page 42, the story of Captain John Thomas Jones, born in 1841. He was at the university in Chapel Hill when he left to join the Twenty-Sixth Regiment, Company I, of the Confederacy. A born leader, he soon became a second lieutenant, then captain, then major, and finally lieutenant-colonel. He fought in several battles, most famously at Gettysburg. 

Later, at the Battle of the Wilderness, May 6, 1864, he stepped up when his colonel was wounded and led his regiment "in a charge against overwhelming numbers." Do the math. He was twenty-three years old. And mortally wounded in this "charge against overwhelming numbers." 

The surgeon who attended to him told him there was no hope and he would die from his wound. He later reported the death scene, "With a most yearning expression he replied, 'It must not be. I was born to accomplish more good that I have done.'"

My heart melted. He didn't live long enough to accomplish his goals. His life was snuffed out, taken from him like a candle in the wind.

And that is what war does.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Friday, January 6, 2023

A Pot Full of Orchids

Orchids were never on my radar to look at, much less raise. 

But.

For over a year now, I've been tending this one pot of orchids. I inherited it from my Aunt Lorraine, my Salvation Army connection that lived with us the final months of her life. I watched her care for it and when she could no longer walk, or no longer cared to care, I took over. 

My joy has been in watching it bloom this year after her death. 

We're up to three blooms now with a promise of more to come. I posted pictures on my facebook account and some of you have been watching the journey with me. One friend even sent a link to caring for the plant. Check out this Phalaenopsis Care website. The pictures and circumstances of growing my orchid fit exactly with mine. I was most excited with the statement that the plants will be in bloom for months. 

It's really been quite easy following Lorraine's instructions: Water once a week, using only one cup. She made sure she measured exactly one cup, and so do I. Let it sit for one hour, and believe me, Lorraine timed it to one hour. Then pour the water out. And that's it for all the care I did. I set it in the kitchen window where it receives a little morning sun. 

Now I'm reaping the benefits of beauty while I'm remembering the beauty of family ties. Wouldn't Lorraine be happy!

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Monday, December 12, 2022

Nativity

I wish all of you had the same chance as I did last week to view an exhibit of hundreds of Nativity scenes from around the world. I was blown away at the creativity of the artists in their interpretation of the birth of the Christ child. Since I am partial to Peru, where I once lived, let me share this one first:


And since my daughter lives in the southwest US, here's one from there:
What I appreciated most was the wide variety of navities ranging from 
simplicity:


To more complex: 

To whimsical:

And how about this one from Mexico that takes the nativity to a whole other level:


One of my favorites was this one from Kenya made from recycled soda cans:

Just to show you better, here's a close up of the Coca Cola shepherd:

There were so many more I could share with you, but I want to save enough for you to enjoy on your own next year. The amazing collector of all these has plenty more at home (over 400) and hopefully she'll bring them back to the Hudson Uptown Building here in North Carolina. In gazing at these magnificant representations of the birth of a holy figure, I came to the realization that God reaches people through all kinds of art. If presenting his Son to the world in a lowly manger one night in Bethlehem was His choice, and if artists throughout the world received a God-given gift of a creative mind, then we can praise Him and His Son through any path that speaks to us in special ways, such as these.

And for those who prefer comic book/graphic art style to hear the nativity story, let me give a shout-out to the artist of my Marshmallow Stew, Cheyenne Kimberlin. Her simple representation of the birth of Christ is as powerful as any of the above.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen


Monday, November 28, 2022

Happening This Week

I've been digging through winter clothes. Yes, it's that time, but not because of what you think. Winter comes later. First comes the Christmas Trail.

The church I attend presents an outdoor Christmas pageant at our church park, Lelia Tuttle Memorial Park. The location is perfect. In fact, we wrote the script to fit the trail we carved out through the woods. Well, more like we chose scripture from the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, to present the story of Christ's birth in an open air worship experience. Visitors meet at the shelter and divide into groups. Guides escort the groups past scenes telling...no, not telling, showing...the beautiful story of the birth of the Christ child. 

It's happening. This weekend, Friday December 2 through Sunday, December 4.



It hasn't happened for two years. Thanks/no thanks, Covid!

Because we were unable to have the Christmas Trail, I came up with the bright idea to write a book about it, a comic book. One very talented young lady in our congregation, Cheyenne Kimberlin, illustrated it. Her very talented computer saavy father, Scott, helped me with the technicalities, and believe me, self publishing a comic book requires saavy I didn't have.

The premise of the book is based on a true happening, when two girls mistook the guide's comment of "marshmallows, too" to be "marshmallow stew." I took it from there and didn't let the truth get in the way of a good Christmas story.
The story of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus follows the same story as what is presented in the trail and that follows what is presented in holy scripture. Cartoon replaced reality.



Now that we are back to a new post-covid normal, we are once again doing live performances. Isaiah begins with prophecy. We meet Mary, Joseph, (six different of each, by the way) Elizabeth, a Roman soldier, shepherds, inn keeper and wife, angels and wise men.

Come if you can. December 2, 3 and 4, tours start at 6:30pm, leave every seven minutes until 8:30.

 And. There will be marshmallows, too.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen









Saturday, October 15, 2022

Job 19:23-24

 Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a scroll, that they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!                                                          Job 19:23-24

My morning devotions recently came from the book of Job in the Old Testament, and these particular versus really struck home with me as a memoir writer. Job wanted to write a book!

Well, he didn't get the chance, but fortunately someone else wrote it for him, and here we are thousands of years later reading and digesting and discussing his book.

If that doesn't give me permission to write other people's memoirs, nothing else will.

I didn't start out doing this memoir thing. I just wanted to write stories. My first book came to me by way of a friend at church who asked me to collect stories about the schoolhouse he purchased. A few books later, a fly fisherman literally rang my front doorbell with a box of research in his hands and asked me if I was interested in writing a book with him. From that, others came to me with their stories. What an unforgettable experience I've had sitting behind my computer these past ten years. I've been blessed to meet all kinds of individuals, and often those very people were not the ones I was writing about, but rather their friends and relatives sharing life stories. 


There they are, all ten of my memoir books. Behind this banner is a lot of sweat and even a few tears with people as they shared their stories with me. Turns out this work is nothing but preservation in its highest form. These people existed and mattered during their lifespans, no matter how humble or exalted the life they lived. They were privy to a history only they could tell, and tell they did. 

I label a few of these local histories biographies rather than memoirs, the ones about Dr. Jane Carswell and Dr. Marjorie Strawn (who were friends, by the way) and her husband Bill. The memories in those books came from others, as all of them had passed away. Same probably for Claude Minton, as his book was written after his death. (What a fun time I had with that moonshine wagon wheel story!) 

Am I finished? No. Emphatic No. I will work with someone after Christmas, already in the plans. So many stories. So little time.

Catch of the day,

Gretchen



Monday, October 3, 2022

Interior Art

When I was formatting the interior of The Physician and the Forester - Marjorie and Bill Strawn, I knew I wanted somehow to add a  distinctive touch to the text that Marjorie and Bill would have been thrilled about, but I just didn't know what. And then...it happened.

In the process of selecting "Linn Cove" for the cover art, I browsed through picture after picture done by Matthew W. Strawn, the artist (and son of the Strawns). The book itself is filled with family pictures to accompany the text, but wouldn't it be a joy to also include his artwork as well. With Matt's help, we selected nine pieces, one for the beginning of each chapter. Aha moment, I used the title of the picture as the title of the chapter. 

"Beacon Heights I"
Chapter 3
 
"A View of Table Rock"
Chapter 4

Since Bill Strawn spent so much time in the forest, I of course chose a few pictures showing the land he was assigned to protect. And not to neglect Marjorie, I included a couple particular to her, such as this flower that she proudly grew. 
"Night Blooming Cereus"
Chapter 7

Matt trained at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida and has graced the world with beauty ever since. He is the master of detail. His studio is upstairs in the HUB, the building where the book launch will be, so I visited and asked about the chapter pictures we chose. He gave me a lesson on his his technique. It's called etching and the process is fascinating. I asked him to put it in writing so I could share and here's what he wrote:

Etching is a print making process where a drawing can be reporduced by using a zinc or copper plate, coating it with an acid resist ground. By drawing into this specially formulated ground with a metal scribe, exposing the metal and then etching that drawing into the plate using a mild acid, that drawing can be printed on paper using a roller press. 

Okay, it's a little over my understanding, but suffice it to say, the end product is beautiful. He teaches classes, in case you are interested. And joy, he will have prints of his work to sell at the book launch! And originals of the paintings. I did remind him not to sell the cover painting, "Linn Cove" yet. That is destined to be on display October 7. 

Catch of the day,

Gretchen

Saturday, September 24, 2022

It's a Family Thing

My latest project, the story of Marjorie and Bill Strawn, has taken over two years of reading and researching and making phone calls and writing and rewriting. And revising. And rewriting. It all began when a family approached me with a request. Could I capture the story of their mother and her exceptional life? They had read odds and ends of my other books and had in mind something similar.

So we began.

Their mother, a physician and county health director, led quite a remarkable life dedicated to serving the people of Caldwell County here in North Carolina. She passed away in 2017 and her children wanted somehow to remind the public of the impact on their everyday lives.

I started with the family, five children, Sandy, Kelly, Matthew, Anne, and Mark, six counting Rajiv, the high school foreign exchange student from Sri Lanka who lived with them for a year and then used their home as a base during his university years. As they told me family stories, I realized this was as much about their father as their mother. He passed away in 1998 leaving behind a legacy equal to his wife's. 

Although I lived in the same county, I never formally met either Marjorie or Bill, but I was definitely aware of her work at the Caldwell County Health Department. I soon found out that was only a part of the story. The family opened their hearts in telling about growing up Strawn, delightful stories that conveyed the intimate side of the story and added that personal touch to the narrative. They uploaded pictures, hundreds of pictures. And newspaper articles, hundreds of articles. 

They also helped in other ways from pointing me to a particular person to be sure to interview, or digging through tons of plaques and awards to make sure everything was covered, or uploading specific pictures to fill in the gaps. Fortunately for me, Mark is computer savvy by profession and helped me through many a glitch. Matt is an artist and contributed the cover background as well as several interior works of art. 

The launch is on what is known as First Friday, a monthly celebration showcasing  different artists associated with the Western North Carolina Society of Artisans and its Red Awning Gallery in the Hudson Uptown Building, the HUB for short. I am a member and October is my month to be featured, so why not a book launch! The Strawn sisters are coming in town together and asked what they could do besides inviting people. I'm glad they asked because I did have a specific request.  

We serve food at each First Friday, the members bringing odds and ends of delicacies to put on a spread. But since Marjorie Strawn was quite the baker, why not include a few of her specialities that are mentioned in the book. 

Marjorie Strawn busy in the kitchen

Why not add those specials to the heaping pile of food we usually have. I could make a display card with the paragraph where each food item is mentioned. We could even share the recipe. Maybe. I might be asking a little too much there, as secret family recipes do exist.

And, I added, if they really wanted to go all out, they could include their father's famous Brunswick Stew recipe that I mention several times in the book. None of the siblings, however, go hunting for squirrels in the fall, as their father did when he had the hankering for some authentic, old fashioned, recipe-from-his-grandfather, Brunswick Stew. So that will probably be a "no."

But the "yes" came when I suggested we decorate the room with picture frames of all sorts and descriptions filled with many of the photos I used in the book. My desire on the book launch of this outstanding couple is to have them front and center in more ways than just a book.

Save the date, October 7. At the HUB in Hudson, NC. 5:00 to 8:00. Do drop in.

Catch of the day, 

Gretchen