Happy Birthday Dad

Yesterday was Dad’s 79th birthday. Of course it was also three and a half months since he died. Let’s just say I had lots of feelings but they all boiled down to this–I miss him.

wedding day

It’s been raining a lot in Western North Carolina. Dad liked the rain and he taught me to like it, too. When I was small, we’d sit in a rocking chair listening to it drum on the roof. I felt perfectly safe then. Perfectly.

Dad also liked to get out in the rain. There’s not much farming you can do in a downpour but you CAN clean ditches. He once came home from doing just that with a sodden baby opossum. They’re cuter when they’re small. I wish I could tell you he grew to be an ugly, old opossum but in truth he wasn’t with us long.

At any rate, here’s a poem I wrote about my father. Because remembering helps.

CLEANING DITCHES

When it rained and the fields
could not be worked, my father
would take a shovel and walk
the muddy byways.
He watched the ditches
for clumps of leaves—little dams
forcing the flood across
the rutted road and one by one
released pent-up eddies of dirt
and debris. Maybe it was the need
to be doing, to be busy even as
nature went about the business
of watering the farm. Or maybe
it was the peace of walking
through a world narrowed down,
where the rain limned
each leaf and twig and stone,
where he could see his problems
in a glut of filth pried loose,
giving way, washing free
down the side of a mountain.

The Best of West Virginia

I know lots of people are passionate about their home state. But I think those of us from West Virginia are particularly so! We know all the corny jokes and can tell them before you can. We know telling someone to “watch out for deer” when they get in the car really means, “I love you.” We can rattle off the state bird, tree, fish, and lots of other random facts. And if we won a Golden Horseshoe in eighth grade we’re still really proud of it. Oh, and we can sing the state song (although our husbands ask us not to–or is that just me?).

So, having an opportunity to be named Best Author in WV Living Magazine’s annual poll has me excited! And today’s post is nothing more than a shameless plug for your votes. C’mon, it’s an election year–vote for me!

I’m probably NOT the best (I mean, Pearl Buck! Homer Hickam! Denise Giardina!) but I just might be the most excited about being nominated.

Feeling Nostalgic

A big part of my brand is nostalgia. My stories often appeal to readers who are longing for or remembering the “good ole days.” Even when they weren’t always all that good! It comes from being weaned on Dad’s stories filled with nostalgia for his own childhood.

Ahhhhh, the 80s! Plus, I had a perm.

So when I feel nostalgic, it’s not unusual. Except lately I’ve been feeling nostalgic for high school of all times! I mean, I didn’t even LIKE high school all that much! I blamed it on the fact that this summer marks THIRTY years since I graduated. I’d even thought I would go to the reunion this time around (of course, like everything else, there isn’t one).

Still, I was surprised to be feeling that bittersweet longing for . . . high school dances? Talk about a lackluster memory. Dad was a math teacher and wrestling coach at my high school. Let’s just say I didn’t date–or dance–much.

Then, while going through the self-check at the grocery store, it hit me. The songs DJs played at those dances are now canned music!

As I hummed along to “Faith” by George Michael while running canned tomatoes across the checker I began to understand. I’m now old enough to officially feel nostalgic for me OWN growing up years.

Sigh.

What makes you feel nostalgic?

Appalachian Thursday – Westsylvania

I’ve shared before about how West Virginia came to be a state in a pretty unusual way. Basically, some mountaineers west of the Allegheny Mountains vacated all the state (of Virginia’s) offices and filled them with their own elected officials. President Abraham Lincoln went along with it and West Virginia became the only state formed by presidential proclamation.

Photo credit: e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

But turns out this was NOT the first attempt to do something like this! Way back in 1769 a group of land speculators tied to Benjamin Franklin tried to form a colony they called Vandalia. The proposed colony included almost all of modern-day West Virginia as well as bits of Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. The name was an attempt to charm Queen Charlotte back in England who was allegedly descended from the Vandals. It failed.

Then, in 1775, a group of 2,000 or so mountain men signed a petition asking the Continental Congress to create another new colony–Westsylvania. This would have been the 14th colony. It was ignored.

The Westsylvania petition was renewed in 1783, this time proposing that the territory become a state. Ignored again. But mountaineers are nothing if not persistent. Turned out the fourth attempt was the charm and West Virginia became a state eighty years later in 1863.

Our state motto may be “Mountaineers are always free,” but it could also be “Mountaineers never quit.” Although I think we could use a little help in coming up with creative names . . .

Three Months ‘Til a New Release

In these days when it seems like we can’t really plan for much of anything, how about planning to read my next story? It officially releases on election day (Nov. 3) and who doesn’t want a distraction from THAT?!?

Here’s a teaser to hopefully whet your appetite. While I feel like I’m not all that good at writing romance, the pieces of this story that focus on an estranged married couple trying to rekindle what once was . . . now that was fun to write!

Appalachian Thursday – A dog named Lant

I’m a dog lover. And I enjoy researching family history. Imagine my delight in finding the two passions intersecting!

The Pioneer
These booklets are priceless resources for researching my family history.

I’m descended from David Phillips who first purchased the property we now own in West Virginia back in 1833. In reading up on the family, I found a story about David’s brother, Elijah Phillips, and a dog named Lant. I’ve put it down word-for-word, simply because no one writes like this any more. Or, at least, no one should.

“Edwin owned a dog named Lant, which possessed remarkable intelligence as illustrated by the following incident: One night Edwin was awakened by a distant barking of his dog, and supposing that a raccoon had been treed, dressed himself and went into the woods from whence the dog’s voice came. Upon reaching the place, however, he found old Lant walking behind Elijah Phillips, his father, and barking at frequent intervals. This was unusual conduct on the part of the dog toward one with whom it was well acquainted and would indicate the opposite of intelligence under ordinary circumstances; but when it is explained that the aged man who the dog followed had lost his mind and was apt to go wandering from home and become lost explains the act. No possible motive can be assigned to this act of the dog except a desire to warn his master of the danger which attended the wandering of the feeble and mentally helpless old man.”

The story goes on to describe Elijah as being, “Low in stature with dark eyes and hair, inclined to corpulency, full of life, a great talker, a man of good sense.” I think I may have to include such a man (and his dog) in a future book!

Monday Meanderings – Just Flowers

It’s been a quiet weekend with early morning hikes before the heat, humidity, and insects get bad. I know lots of people love the hustle and bustle of a city, but give me a couple thousand acres of national forest any day!

Especially when there are sweet spots of botanical sunshine all along the way!

What’s blooming where you live?

Appalachian Thursday – A puzzling connection

Some friends and I have been trading jigsaw puzzles back and forth. I have a pretty good collection, mostly from my mother who shares hers with me. My friends had discovered puzzles based on art by Charley Harper, a renowned illustrator and artist who specialized in nature art.

Charley Harper: Woodland Wonders 1000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle NEW image 0

I am NUTS for these puzzles! I love the detail, the birds and animals, the saturated colors. Gorgeous!

And while chatting with my mother I mentioned my new discovery. “Oh, he’s from Buckhannon,” she said. That would be the nearest “town” to our farm in West Virginia. Hmmm. Really?

Well, Mom was wrong. He’s not from Buckhannon. He’s from Frenchton, WV, which means he grew up about five miles from where I did! I like to think I enjoy his art so much because we were both originally inspired by the same hills, creeks, trees, and critters!

Harper had this to say about when he became interested in nature: “When I was growing up on a farm in West Virginia, learning that I didn’t want to grow up to be a farmer. I goofed off a lot and roamed the hills. I disliked hoeing corn, hauling hay shocks, cutting filth, and stomping down sheep wool inside those big burlap bags on hot summer days. I tried to disappear on hog butchering and cattle dehorning days because I felt so sorry for the animals. And before I was old enough to use a gun, I learned that I never wanted to. A hunter fired over my head at a rabbit and put a shotgun pellet through my scalp. I’ve been on the side of the rabbits ever since.”

I love discovering such nifty connections. And there are now Charley Harper murals up in Buckhannon. I’ll be sure to check them out next time I go to the farm. Stay tuned for a selfie . . .

Monday Meanderings – My Two Cents

I’m so weary of all the controversy in the world right now. People have so many opinions and strong feelings about just about everything. And we’re all so doggone determined to get our two cents in. Well here are mine:

The flowers sure have been pretty this year! I mean, like, the best ever. Thank God for that. If you disagree, I don’t want to hear it. The end.

Appalachian Thursday – Ghostly Testimony

More than 120 years ago, in July 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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