Appalachian Thursday – Decoration Day

Mom - decoration

Mom decorating a grave with mountain laurel while wearing my favorite dress — 1960s.

Monday is Memorial Day–the unofficial start to summer. And in Appalachia it means time to start planning for Decoration Day. Usually held on a Sunday in June, this is a day when cemeteries would be tidied and flowers placed on the graves.

I’m not talking about those silk monstrosities either. I’m talking roses and daisies and mountain laurel. Maybe some irises that are still hanging on or peonies if you’re grandmother grows them.

I loved tying the little bundles of flowers against soft ferns and then picking the prettiest bouquets for my grandparents’ grave. It was a special day for the community and we’d linger at the church singing around the piano or just visiting long after the last bloom had been placed.


They bring lawn chairs
and kitchen chairs, chairs
from the back bedroom
roped in pickup trucks.
They set them out front
of the church in clusters.

First they walk the cemetery
with Mason jars of flowers,
and stained peach baskets
holding bouquets cut and tied
against a backdrop of ferns
still damp with morning dew.
The fancy few bring silk flowers
frozen in time, unnatural, fading
in the glare of the sun.

Once kin have been counted
and all the flowers arranged,
they wander back to the chairs
and settle in to visit with the living.
Settle in much as they will one day
under the grass next door.

When the roll is called
up yonder, they’ll be there.

Appalachian Thursday – Time to Plant the Garden

farm market

A Farmer’s Market haul from late June last year. As pretty as the catalog pictures!

I still have to work hard to resist them.

The catalogs filled with beautiful, full-color images of corn and strawberries and squash and green beans . . . The displays of candy-colored seed packets at the store . . .

I don’t even have a garden.

Oh, sometimes I grow a pot of tomatoes on the porch or plant some herbs in the flower bed, but I don’t have a place to grow rainbow blend carrots no matter how gorgeous they are in that picture. All clean and perfectly straight.

The problem is, I know all too well how wonderful fresh garden produce is. And it’s been long enough that I’ve mostly forgotten the agony of weeding, harvesting, and putting up.

So when the catalogs start rolling in and the displays start going up, I begin to have delusions of grandeur. I can envision glossy, yellow ears of corn; watermelons that split open with a satisfying crack; and multi-hued peppers hanging like Christmas ornaments.

Bush beans, sugar snap peas, heirloom tomatoes, and baby lettuces wilted in a little bacon grease. Oh, the seed companies have my number!

When we were kids, Dad would sometimes let us choose something to grow in the garden. One year it was popcorn (which didn’t do well at all!). I always wanted watermelon, but the only time I remember it growing satisfactorily that far north was when we pitched rinds over the fence and the vines came up on their own.

I’ll probably attempt to grow something this year. I’ll succumb to the bedding plants at the garden center and tuck some peas between the cosmos or plant a hill of squash under the mock orange. There are already herbs in a pot on the porch.

I’ll be surprised if it all amounts to much. Mostly it’s just a nod to memories that grow prettier each spring when I pull them out and polish them once again.

Tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, anyone?

Appalachian Thursday – Mother’s Day Started in WV

shrineYup. That’s right. The woman who invented Mother’s Day was born in Grafton, WV.

Anna Jarvis campaigned for the holiday in honor of her own mother Anna Reeves Jarvis. Mother Anna was a social activist who organized Mother’s Day Work Clubs during the second half of the nineteenth century. The clubs raised money to help needy families and nursed those stricken by tuberculosis. They also fought for clean water and safe sewage disposal.

Anna’s passion was likely the result of seeing only four of her TWELVE children live to adulthood. It was one of the four–Daughter Anna–who campaigned for the creation of Mother’s Day. A bill introduced in 1908 failed to pass (holy politics!!) but supporters got 45 states to establish the holiday and in 1914 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May a national holiday.

The first Mother’s Day observance took place at Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, WV, on May 10, 1908 (who needs passage of that durn bill!). Today, the church is known as the International Mother’s Day Shrine. Swing by next time you’re in WV!

When Silence Sings – Preorder

mountainsI don’t often flat out promote my books on this blog. I always have some links and refer to my stories with some regularity, but I’m rarely so blunt as to remind you that, well, you can buy my books.

Yesterday was the start of the six-month countdown to the release of my next story–When Silence Sings. So, I’m taking this opportunity to point out that you could place a pre-order if you were so inclined. Barnes & Noble,, Amazon, your local independent bookseller–they can all guarantee you a book come November 5.

Here’s the cover copy:

Colman Harpe works for the C&O in the Appalachian rail town of Thurmond, West Virginia, but he’d rather be a preacher and lead his own congregation. When a member of the rival McLean clan guns down his cousin and the clan matriarch, Serepta McLean, taunts the Harpes by coming to a tent revival in their territory, Colman chooses peace over seeking revenge with the rest of his family.

Colman, known for an unnaturally keen sense of hearing, is shocked when he hears God tell him to preach to the McLeans. A failed attempt to run away leaves Colman sick and suffering in the last place he wanted to be–McLean territory. Nursed by herbalist Ivy Gordon–a woman whose unusual appearance has made her an outcast–he’s hindered in his calling by Serepta’s iron grip on the region and his uncle’s desire to break that grip. But appearances can be deceiving, and he soon learns that the face of evil doesn’t look like he expected.

So there you have it. Your commercial for this quarter. I’ll not do it again until closer to the release date 😉

Appalachian Thursday – Kumbrabow

leaf yellowWhen Dad told stories about hunting in Kumbrabow State Forest I assumed the name was Native American.

Not so.

The story I’m currently writing (due out in late 2020) is set in Randolph County not far from where I grew up in WV. As I’ve researched the area I inevitably found some information about the state forest there.

Turns out it was established in 1934–the year of my story. The land was purchased in December of that year and the name was in honor of Governor Brady KUMp, businessman Spates BRAdy, and attorney Hubert BOWers all of whom were key in the area becoming a state forest.

Here are a few interesting facts about the forest:

  • It covers nearly 9,500 acres.
  • It’s the highest forest in WV at more than 3,000 feet above sea level.
  • Logging and wildfires ravaged the forest in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but thanks to a conducive climate there’s been rapid regrowth.
  • The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the parks facilities including rustic cabins and picnic shelters.
  • The forest today is rich in black cherry stands.

My hero, Creed, lives in a cabin on Rich Mountain in Kumbrabow State Forest. Of course, he started living there before it’s naming. One more intriguing detail I’ll get to work into my next story!

I just may need to book a writing weekend in a rustic cabin . . .

Appalachian Thursday – Legend of the Dogwood

dogwoodI’ve always loved to bring wildflowers in the house. As kids we’d pick daffodils and forsythia, then wild azalea and lilacs, then daisies and black-eyed Susans. I even got in trouble for breaking off a branch from my mother’s redbud tree!

But we never cut dogwood. It’s a holy flower–especially around Easter.

I worked the legend of the dogwood into my upcoming novel, When Silence Sings. Here’s a short excerpt for you on this week after Easter. Colman Harpe is an itinerant preacher tasked with sharing the Gospel with a feuding clan. He finds his way through stories like this one . . .

“Dogwood tea,” a woman said, leaping to her feet and touching a flowery branch. She spoke to the woman to her right. “Ivy says it’s good for easing sore muscles if you use it externally. But taken by mouth, it can break a fever. I just remembered. Try that for Avery next time he takes a fever.” She snapped off a flower and resumed her seat, examining the creamy petals.

“Can I see that?” Colman asked while seeing a way out of the conversation about Ivy.

She nodded and handed him the flower. He looked at it closely, remembering what his grandmother told him when he was a boy. “I guess you all know the legend of the dogwood?”

All eyes turned to him with expectant looks. He supposed at least some of them knew the legend but didn’t want to get in the way of hearing a good story. He smiled.

“Dogwood trees used to grow big as oaks,” he began. As a matter of fact, they were so big and strong and had such good wood, the Romans used one to make the cross they crucified Jesus on.” The ladies were still now, almost reverent in their attention. “But after His resurrection, Jesus took pity on the tree and said that never again would it be used for such a purpose. From that day to this, dogwoods don’t get much bigger than this one here.” He stood and patted the trunk he could easily circle with both hands. “And this”—he held up the flower—“is shaped like a cross with two short petals and two long. And at the tip of each petal is a nail scar.” He showed them the crimped pink-stained petals. “While in the center rests a crown of thorns. I guess, if we take the time to look around, reminders of God’s gifts and graces are all around us, just waiting for someone to notice them.”

A gentle breeze wafted through the trees and set the branches of the dogwood to stirring as if in approval. Colman looked around the group and saw smiles softening faces that likely saw more than their share of grief as the women struggled to raise families and support their husbands in this hardscrabble mountain land.

Nell dimpled at him. “That’s the nicest sermon I’ve heard from a preacher in a long time.”

Colman felt a surge of pride and noticed Nell had soft brown eyes to go with her golden hair. He looked through the branches of the tree to the cloud-dotted sky beyond and thought maybe it was the nicest sermon he’d preached ever.

Appalachian Thursday – Turkeys, a dog, and poetry month

April is National Poetry Month. You probably knew that 😉 I think MOST of my poems fall into the Appalachian category in some form or fashion. Here’s one inspired by a walk in the woods with a dog and some turkeys . . . Sure do miss my Sammy . . .



He’s an old dog.
So, when he spies the turkeys
he tries to run like a nightmare
of running with leaden feet
and his goal fast receding.

I hold him, make him sit
and watch the turkeys fade
into the forest with a rustle of leaves
and soft calls of indignation.
I rub his head, massage aching hips,
scratch his panting, heaving side.
But his bright eyes are on the trees
and he would gladly give chase
if only I would let him.

I call him to my side
and head home.
He limps beside me
because it’s what I ask.
But he does not choose,
would never choose,
this holding back.