Appalachian Thursday–The Greenbrier Ghost

Ghost markerOn July 1, 1897, Edward Shue was convicted of murdering his wife Zona “Elva” Heaster Shue–thanks to HER testimony.

The story out of Greenbrier County, WV, actually rates a state historic marker. And it goes something like this:

On January 23, 1897, Elva Shue was found dead–either at the foot of the bed or the bottom of the staircase (stories vary). The doctor who examined her determined that she had experienced an “everlasting faint.”

Elva’s husband Edward had gone to work that morning and sent a boy home at lunchtime to see if Elva needed anything. The boy returned with the awful news that his wife was dead. Edward rushed home, moved the body to the bed, and dressed it in a high-collared dress. This was unusual in those days when the women of the community would have washed and dressed the body before laying it out for viewing.

When the doctor arrived, Edward was so hysterical, the doctor barely had a chance to examine the body. He declared that Elva had died of natural causes and left. Elva was buried soon after and that was the end of the story.

EXCEPT.

Elva’s mother Mary Jane Heaster somehow felt Edward was responsible for her daughter’s death. She claimed that when she washed a white sheet she had taken from inside the coffin, the water turned red. About a month later, Mary Jane said that her daughter’s ghost appeared to her claiming that Edward broke her neck because she hadn’t prepared any meat for dinner. After three nights of this, Mary Jane went to the local prosecutor and insisted they dig up Elva’s body and reexamine it. He refused until the doctor confessed that he really hadn’t done a proper autopsy.

On February 22 the body was exhumed over Edward’s protests and it was easily determined that Elva’s neck had, indeed, been broken. Edward was charged with murder. Mary Jane served as a key witness, testifying to the visitations from her daughter. The defense tried to make her look crazy, but Edward was convicted and died three years later in jail, still proclaiming his innocence.

The Greenbrier Ghost hasn’t been seen since.

And people wonder where I get ideas for stories . . .

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Winning an INSPY . . . and Confessing My Praise Addiction

INSPY AwardI try not to care too much about winning awards. Really I do. But I’m the girl who made straight A’s in school. The one who liked taking the SAT and becoming a National Merit Scholar . . . more . . .

Come on over and join me at SouthernBelleView so I can do my best to give credit where credit is actually due . . .

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Appalachian Thursday–Mining My History

Treasures!This week I’m dipping into one of the two boxes of family items my Dad had tucked away at the farm. My ultimate goal is to sort through everything and preserve these treasures, but for now, I’m just enjoying unearthing nuggets of pure gold.

First, we have a pay stub from the Q & Q Coal Company, Inc. My grandfather, Rex P. Loudin, worked there long enough to earn black lung payments that my grandmother continued to receive until her death a few years ago. On July 15, 1952, his tally included:pay stub
-60 tons @ $1/per = $60
-3 pick tons @ $1.20/per = $3.60
-10.5 hours @ $1.10/per = $11.55
Deductions include $1.80 for powder and caps, 60 cents for lights, and $1.09 for social security. His final paycheck was for $71.66. I plugged that into an inflation calculator and it came out to $643.06 in today’s dollars. If that’s what he averaged twice a month, that means he was making the equivalent of around $15,500 a year. I guess hunting and farming really were important!

DeedAnd it may very well be that Grandpa needed cash to help pay for the land he and my Great Uncle Judd (Arthur Loudin) bought in 1946. Dad’s box also contains the deed to what I grew up calling The Rexroad Place. Turns out Grandpa and Uncle Judd bought it for $1,025. It’s around 40 acres measured in poles from tree to stake to stake up to the Higginbotham line (I assume this was a neighbor). The deed also addresses coal rights and an oil and gas lease.

I especially enjoy writing stories set in the 40s and 50s. Reading from these bits of paper makes me feel like I have a direct line back to that time period. It’s an opportunity to peek through the keyhole of a door set in time and oh, how I love peering through.

Who knows? A Higginbotham may show up in one of my books before I’m done.

Posted in Appalachian, Family, Memories | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Happy WV Day (two days late)

WV flagSaturday was West Virginia Day. Don’t worry, gifts aren’t expected. (Although one of those little black bears carved out of coal is always nice.)

We had friends over for dinner and served food seasoned with WV sea salt (no, it’s not a joke–check out JG Dickinson Salt Works.). There was a bouquet of rhododendron (the state flower) on the table and we listened to a Kathy Mattea CD (she’s a native). The shortbread peach cobbler was baked in a cast-iron skillet and, yes, I did sing, “Oh Those WV Hills,” much to my husband’s mortification.

But we West Virginians are nothing if not loyal to our home state. I’m astonished to realize that I’ve now lived in the Carolinas longer than I lived in West Virginia, but once a hillbilly, always a hillbilly. And proud of it.

I’ve shared this poem before, but in honor of my home state’s birthday, here it is again. An ode to the Mountain State, previously published in Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.

MOUNTAIN MAMA

There is truth in the trailer park
and honesty in the car on blocks.

Starvin’ Marvin and “as seen on TV”
live cheek by jowl with the likes
of handmade quilts and apple butter;
old-time music and the oral tradition.
Some folks say it isn’t True,
isn’t the way things used to be.
But lose a grandfather to the mines,
an uncle to the war, your mother
to a cancer that gnaws at her soul—
lose a child for no reason you can see.
Then you’ll find the fragile beauty
in the never-ending yard sale.
You’ll learn to love the tourists
who buy corncob pipes, coonskin caps,
and lumps of coal carved like bears.

When the giant timber companies
run the local sawmill out of money
and Aunt Eunice can’t remember your name—
when your best friend moves to California
and minimum wage is doing alright, man.
Then you’ll find the potent wisdom
in workers’ compensation, food stamps
and tonight’s lotto number—
dear God let me win.
A one in a billion chance is better
than watching the land your ancestors
cleared wash away . .  . no wish away
on the promises of strip mines
and a future you can’t afford to wait.

At night, the lights from Wal-Mart glow
like the promise of a better tomorrow.

Posted in Appalachian, Food, Friends, Memories, Poetry | 2 Comments

Appalachian Thursday–The Sentimental Stuff

treasureDuring this last trip back to the farm in West Virginia, Dad let me gather up old photos and letters so I can preserve them. A wooden box probably isn’t the best container!

I’ve sifted through them and am really looking forward to putting everything into some semblance of order. Items from Dad’s baby pictures to Grandma and Grandpa’s marriage certificate. Letters from WWII and ration stamps. A story idea treasure trove . . .

In addition to the printed materials, I gathered a few other treasures. Now, the funny thing is, there probably isn’t anyone else who would want this stuff. A pair of bookends I remember from the shelf in the family room. An elephant-shaped bottle opener Dad gifted Grandma Nellie with one Mother’s Day. The butter mold my Great-Uncle Willis made for Mom. A salt-box that used to hold recipes.

It wouldn’t amount to much on eBay.

But to me, these items are beyond priceless. I already have the butterfly rug my great-aunt made. When we came in the house as children our shoes went immediately onto the little rug. And the bookcase that sat at the end of the hallway. Not to mention several of my great-grandmother’s quilts.

If there were a fire, this stuff would be right behind my laptop on my rescue list.

How could I assign a value to or replace something the grandmother I never met once held in her hand? I can’t. But I can hold it in my hand and feel as though we are–almost–touching.

Priceless, indeed.

Posted in Appalachian, Family, Love, Memories, Miracles | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Where is home?

Sunrise at the Farm

We just spent four days back on the farm in West Virginia. We spent time with family, I gave a reading at a farm dinner, and we tended to some family business-type stuff. It was a very productive time!

And when it was over I felt utterly torn. That farm is my first home. The house and I are the same age and some of the land has been in my family for seven generations. Roots grow deep there.

After sitting out on the deck watching deer graze through the pasture, rambling through the fields and woods with Thistle, poring over family albums, cooking in the kitchen where I learned to cook, sleeping in my parents’ old room . . . Well, as we packed up the car I wasn’t sure if we were going home or leaving it behind.

It’s an odd sensation–feeling so very connected to a place. I think I’m going to need to spend some time contemplating what “home” means.

Dictionary.com lists one of the definitions as, “a person’s native place or own country.” Now that would be the farm. I am indigenous to those 100 acres in central West Virginia.

Another definition is, “the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.” Ah. Now that would be the house in Western NC where I live with my husband. He IS the center of my domestic affection.

So then. Perhaps I have two homes and will simply have to deal with the tension tugging my heart up and down this stretch of the Appalachian Mountains. Two beautiful places filled with people I love.

I think I can live with that.

 
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True Love Stories and a Winner

LoveLast week on SouthernBelleView I asked readers to share true love stories in order to be entered to win a copy of Until the Harvest. Just let me say, after reading the comments I realized this was a brilliant idea (which means the credit for it lies elsewhere!). I promised to share some of my favorite stories with you, so here we go:

CINDY – “I was supposed to have quit my job at the local roller rink two weeks earlier. But I loved that job! I had been through three bad relationships in a row and was tired of boys and dating. I just wanted a friend to skate couples with me when the couples song played so that I could skate and not be alone while I kept my whistle at the ready. A new guy showed up one night. Then he came a few more Saturday nights. My parents were reminding me to quit the job since college classes were out for summer and I was not making enough to pay for my gas. After several weeks of his coming to the rink, I memorized the new guy’s skate size and saved the best pair for him. And I “forgot” to quit that job. When he came up that night, I plopped those best skates on the counter. He plopped a brand new pair of skates right beside them. He bought a new pair of skates! My heart skipped a beat. A couple of more weeks–enough for me to secure a first date–and I finally quit my job. By then I knew he was a true gentleman and was the kind of guy I had been looking for. One year later we were married and both our families were very happy. We’re still married 35 years later as of June 7, 2015, and still very much in love.”

Isn’t that the best “how we met” story? Happy anniversary, Cindy! Sounds like not quitting that job was the best investment you could have made.

DEANA – “Growing up in a home where love was not shown or even spoken, I never knew what it felt like to be loved. I got married and my husband and I had two boys together. One day I decided I didn’t want to be married anymore. After all I still didn’t know what love was, even though my husband showed it every day with words and affection. We got divorced after thirteen years and I was on my own with two boys thinking I could find love. An emotional wreck, I realized I was all alone. My now ex-husband still saw his boys and continued to tell me that he was praying for me and standing for reconciliation. Really, I thought? Why is he doing that? One day something touched me and I knew that I had made the biggest mistake in my life. After dating my ex-husband again, my heart began to soften and I truly saw my husband for the first time. Through his prayer and God’s love, I began to feel loved. We remarried and had another child. We call him our restoration baby. I now know what it feels like to be loved unconditionally and to be able to return those feelings. I thank God everyday for giving me a husband who loves me unconditionally and never gave up. We celebrated 32 years of marriage in April.”

Phew. How many people today need to hear a story like that? I especially appreciate how Deana recognizes that it wasn’t just her husband’s love, but God’s that restored her heart.

And now, the winner of the a copy of Until the Harvest is . . . Carolyn Hiatt! Carolyn, send me an e-mail with your address and I’ll get your book in the mail (salt96 at charter dot net). Thanks to everyone who commented–it was a joy to read your stories!

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