Archive for hope

Days and Nights Alone

 

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Across the room, a picture of the two of you,

Its seems like yesterday, but its been 8 years,

in the purest hell. You- taken only four months later.

Your little brother now 6’3” and growing-

the girl who has his heart isn’t me.

I am alone in my heart-I’ve taken in my sick dad-

and the daily reminders of why I left home at 18

haunting my every quiet move, with doors down,

curtains up to accommodate walkers-hospital supplies.

Every time I think “life” can get no worse, it does.

I need you, I need your brother to be little again.

I want to teach 6 kids about bugs and butterflies

and play in the creek. I want to live, love, dream.

Tonight, if and when I close my eyes, please,

my beautiful young man, stolen for no reason,

come to me, be with me, let me remember life.

 

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The Gifts that She Left

 

Together, we sing a special song, “Morning has Broken” as we sat together at the Celebration of Life of a woman who was taken before her time, but faced her illness bravely, with unbounded love from her family and friends.

I will always remember our talks as we strolled down her driveway or stood admiring each others gardens. She was a school counselor, a mother, a wife, a friend. Only a few years ago, she was full of life, taking the vacations of her dreams, planning additions to their house, planting new flowers. It never occurred to anyone that her dreams would be stolen by illness.

As a mother who has lost a child, I still feel the unfairness of my friends and cousins who have lost their battles with disease as adults. It seems so wrong, they had so much yet to give. I lost my best friend of 35 years to cancer when she was just 48. Oh, how I could have used her shoulder to cry on in the times yet to come!

Today, though, I look at the gifts that my friend and neighbor left for us to keep her alive within our hearts. Every time I see a flower blowing in the wind, I will smile and think of her. When I see a child walk across the stage to accept their hard-earned diploma, I will think of her. When I see her husband, walking, alone, I will see her there beside him. I believe with everything inside me that her life will always hold more meaning than her untimely death.

I struggle to allow myself to have these feelings for my 15-year-old son. I STILL struggle. I will always struggle. But somehow, now, when I see the sunrise up into the brilliant magenta sky I will think of her, perhaps laughing and talking to my son in a different realm. Perhaps the most important gift she left me was the realization that no matter how much time we are given on this earth, there will be those who love us-present tense-LOVE us, and that kind of love does not die as the sun crosses the sky and night falls upon us. It simply becomes a different part of our lives.

 

 

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My Father-A Man Among Men

29720194     My Father-A Man among Men

 

I started this story many years ago, but this week, in honor of his 87th birthday and Father’s Day, I have revised it and added a little sentiment. You see, this will be my father’s last Father’s Day or birthday, if he even lives another week and a half. I found out this week that he has terminal cancer. I have spent the last month in a downhill spiral with him. I have gone from trying to keep him from driving, to trying to keep him able to walk, to admitting him to hospitals, therapy programs and now, the hospital again. Rather than change what I wrote before, I decided to leave it, and simply add the thoughts that come to an only child whose mother is dead when she is loosing her father too.

 

This is the beginning of the story I put on wordpress last year. With some additions that came to me as I wrote this year, tears running down my cheeks.

A few years ago, I wrote this story for my father on Father’s day. I had hope to put it on my blog, but it didn’t happen. I found it today after I got home from my third day accompanying my father to a surgeon and decided that I wanted to honor him every day. It was time to write the blog. My father did not have cancer this time.

I had been looking for a poem that I had written my father years ago, when I felt so young and innocent. Life has never been particularly kind to me, bu the last ten years have seen so many changes in my world that it has been hard to hold onto who I am. I realized more than ever that the only way that I have made it through these time was the love and strength I had received from my father (and my mother.)

Within these past ten years, I have lost my best friend and three cousins to cancer. I saw four of my children marry in only four years and have been blessed with seven grandchildren, with number eight due next week.. Not long after my second child got married, I lost my precious 15 year old son very suddenly while he was playing baseball. I lost my health because of this loss and have come close to death myself five times. Not quite four years ago, when I was still recovering from a hip transplant, I lost my beloved mother. The grief that my father felt after 61 years of marriage took a tremendous toll on him.

This story, however, is about my father, one of the most amazing men I have ever known. My father never had an easy life. His dad was a tenant farmer in Upper South Carolina and then Western North Carolina. His family moved nearly every year when he was young. They moved six times in his first six years. He and his brother would nick-name the houses. For instance, my dad would call the house they lived in by a nick-name so that  he and his brother would remember the houses and the places they lived . One house, they called the “smoky house” because the chimney flue was faulty and the house would fill up with smoke.

He and his brother, who was three years older were out earning money doing chores when they were in grade school. They were raised by their dad, with some help from a maiden aunt. She was kind, but very strict and religious. Their dad spent a good deal of time in a Veteran’s Hospital in Tennessee and they would be passed among aunts and uncles while he was ill. His mother, who had been sickly most of his life died when he was five years old. During the 1920′s, it was practically unknown for a single father to raise his children. They were fortunate that this maiden aunt agreed to come and help him raise them. She cooked them good meals and allowed for a a woman’s influence in their lives.

My father has told me stories of his life since I was a child. I would beg him to tell me a particular story. I called him, “Huckleberry Ken” because his life had been so full of both hard work and mischief. After becoming a parent myself, I suggested that he should write down his stories, so that we could pass them on to his grandchildren, along with others who had enjoyed his art of storytelling.

He took my suggestion, and with me acting as editor, he published four books about his childhood, teen years before World War Two, his time in the Navy in Guam, and his years working on both the Highway and Railway Post Office. He has another book that we never officially officially published. Today, I got a check in the mail for someone who had read about his books and ordered some of them.

Helping him with his books was both a chore and a privilege. I has to order photos from museums, obtain permission to use them, hunt down friends he had known 50 years before and record their stories, then scan and edit everything on the computer. In the early 1990′s a home computer was much more complicated than it is today. Ironically, my laptop computer seems more difficult for me to figure out than that old, but expensive computer that we used to prepare his books for publishing. I often wonder why I ever suggested the idea of publishing the books. To my father, it was the dream of a lifetime. Still, I look upon those difficult days, when I had a house full of little children to deal with as well, as some of the most hectic and yet some of the best days of my life.

My dad was the good student, the hard worker, his dad’s “favorite”. His brother had more difficulty in school and would probably be labeled “ADHD” in this day and time. When the school would send home letters about his brothers lack of progress, my father would read them and tear them up, knowing that his brother would be unjustly scolded by their father and realizing that no one at school would follow up on the letters. In the decade when he and his brother were students, kids from impoverished families were looked down on by teachers and administrators. Many of the children had parents who could not read or write and children started school with little knowledge of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” as it was often called. Often, in rural areas,there was a shortage of materials and children who could not pay for books, never received any. There was little chance for these children to get an education when no one could help at home and no one at school seemed to care.  Most of the children from poor families has quit school by their early teens, with boys working late shifts in factories and girls staying home to work on the farm. Many girls were married by their mid-teens. Though there were child labor laws “on the books”, it was easy to lie about your age and not be questioned.

Once, when my father was in the 5th grade, he decided to change schools. After hearing from friends that a nearby school was better than the one he was attending, he made up a simple plan. All he had to do was walk a little further and catch another bus. Without ever discussing it with his father, he simply started the new school year at his “new” school. It was nearly Thanksgiving before his father found out, and since my father was doing quite well in his “new” school, his father just let it ride.

When my father and his brother were still in grade school, they would be out looking for jobs on weekends and in the summer, in order to get enough money for “soda crackers, a can of Vienna sausages and a soft drink for lunch.” In summer, it was easy to pick berries and sell them to the wealthy families who would come south “to summer” in the low country of the Western Carolinas.

He and his brother learned to work hard for very little pay. Often, they were asked to tear down old barns and storage buildings, and do odd jobs. When a wealthy resident or better yet a local contractor would ask if they could “fix cars, lay brick or haul cement”, their answer was always, “sure”. It was in this way that country boys like my father and his brother got most of their “education”.

When World War II was on the horizon, my dad and some friends headed north seeking manufacturing jobs that they had heard were plentiful in the growing automobile industry. A few of them stayed, but my father and a friend, who owned a car, did not. They came home and found work in the construction business, taking any job they could get. They learned to drive trucks, build houses, and any other job that might lead to a “step up” on the employment ladder.

Not long after returning from their adventure “up north”, my father received his draft notice and decided to join the Navy before the decision of which branch of the service he would be drafted into wold no longer be his choice.

His brother had injured his knee when he was a child and did not pass the physical to be placed into the “service”. One of my father’s most poignant memories was hearing his dad’s last words to him as he boarded the bus for basic training.

His father had bowed his head, hiding a tear and whispered, “Son, I don’t think I will ever see you again.” He didn’t. While on Guam during the Christmas holiday of 1945, my dad was called into the chaplains office and told that his father had died of a heart attack. He still has the letter hr received four days later from his father, saying that, “everything was fine.” Communications were very slow in those days but the letter was profound, his father’s prediction had come true.

Upon landing in Guam in the fall of 1945, my father was asked by his commanders if he could drive a truck. Even though he had never held an official driver’s license, he replied confidently, “Sure.” and thus found his job with the Navy would be that of a truck driver as our military men struggled to wipe out the final skirmishes of war and rebuild the devastated countries that had been left in its rubble.

His book about this time of his life is titled, “Two Hundred Thousand Boys on a Rock Called Guam. On the cover is a photo of he and two friends sitting on the top of a captured Japanese submarine, the “rising sun” that was the Japanese flag was seen right below their young, smiling faces. To me, this book is the story of a group of boys being thrust into an unthinkable situation and showing their determination and fortitude. It is the story of “boys” becoming “men”.

My father did not come home from World War II with the ticker tape parades and tearful families rushing up to their ships as it was shown in the newspaper. He got off of a bus in Upper South Carolina and walked several miles down a dusty unpaved road to an uncles’ house where he had lived for a while when he was a child. When he got there, tired and thirsty, no one was home. After walking to a country store to get a soda, he returned to his less than excited family who had been away selling produce. He stayed at their house one night, and realizing he wasn’t wanted, he took a bus to the home of a friend in Western North Carolina, hoping only for an invitation to supper and a bed for the night.

 Surprisingly, the reception he got there was one of love and acceptance. The idea of a third son to help around the farm seemed good to the father, Mr. Jackson. A warm smile came from his wife, Mabel, who had always loved my father as if he was her own. Aunt Mabel, as I was taught to call her, had always had an affinity for this long, lean, hard working young boy. Hoping only for a good nights’ sleep, he stayed there four years, until he met and married my mother.  Mr. Jackson taught my father the skills to help him get construction and truck driving jobs, and was happy to have him “pay for his keep” by helping out around the farm. My father earned enough money to buy an old truck, which he nick-named, “Old Hully”. This allowed him to move up the ladder in the construction business to the hauling of materials, rather than carrying the heavy rocks and such to the construction site. The Jackson family called my dad, “Kenny”. And the name stayed with him in that neighborhood throughout his life.

My father had always valued an education and enrolled in a local Junior College under the G.I. Bill, which had allocated him funds for attaining an education. He took a double major in Accounting and Truck management at the Business School in the larger town nearby. It was there that he met my mother, who was also taking Accounting, riding the bus to night school while working in a bakery during the day.

When they married several years after meeting, my father was working at a Trucking Company and my mother still held her job at the bakery. They soon moved in to a small house on the street where my mother had grown up. I wasn’t born until nearly six years later. I had my father under my spell even before I was born, but when he laid eyes on a little girl with golden curls, his heart melted. After growing up with men and living in a home with only sons, having a little girl was both frightening and a blessing to him.

My father worked two jobs most of his life. He worked in the insurance industry, but decided not to move to Ohio when the company transferred there. I was nearly five years old when my dad was offered a job with The Life of Georgia Insurance Company in Atlanta. Hoping that my mother would be happy in Atlanta, where her mothers’ family lived, he took the job and rented an apartment. Most of the time, my mother and I remained in our new house that he had built in our home town, and my father came home on weekends. When he moved our family to Atlanta, my mother was miserable. It wasn’t long before dad turned in his resignation and came back to our home town hoping one of his applications would be in the mail.

Surprisingly, an application did await him. It was for a job at the Postal Service! The hours were bad, the schemes, where an employee had to put cards into the correct hole in a large stand-up desk were a nightmare, but my dad was up to the challenge and while keeping his part time job with the Tennessee Valley Authority, he passed the test and got the job! His early years at the Postal Service lead to his book about his years riding a highway mail bus that was so long that it required a bolted back section to traverse the country roads, and his years working on a railway mail car, sorting mail and throwing it out onto poles made for this purpose in rural areas. These jobs often required “lay-overs” of several hours or even a whole night and the Postal Service rented out rooms for their employees to rest in as they caught their next “run”.

My father’s job at the Tennessee Valley Authority was my favorite. He often let me help him decode the machine-made charts from places up in the mountains with lovely names like “Sunburst”, which sparked my poetic soul. There was a secret phone number with a coded message on it that told the depth of the river at different locations. Dad trusted me with the number and I would call to check the gauges which sent a piece of equipment down into the different rivers and let out a series of beeps to tell the worker the depth of the river. The office also held volumes of books filled with photographs of the famous 1916 flood which devastated our area and caused several deaths.

More importantly, the TVA office was where I saw my first computer! It was in the late 1960′s and the machine took up a whole room. Its only job was to make the charts that we read to compare the depths of the river at different locations. The most exciting part of being “daddy’s girl” on his TVA job, was that I got to ride with him to observe and record data about floods that occurred in Western North Carolina. I loved telling my friend the stories of seeing houses, flooded up to their porch rails, with a cat sitting forlornly on the roof.

Being a girl, and an only child, I had to be my father’s “son” as well as his daughter. That meant I got to learn all the “boy” jobs, unlike my friends. My father taught me about the stock market, investing and he shared his love of learning with me. We played geography games, such as “who could name the most states, state capitols, or fill in a blank map”. We read books together, he taught me the love of reading and learning. He helped me with my homework. He would stay up hours doing math with me, a man who had only a 7th grade education before he took a double major at a Junior college. He would wrap my curls around his finger and assure me that if he didn’t know how to help me with an assignment, he would learn it with me.

We worked in the garden, build sidewalks and fancy brick walls and made crafts out of wood. He taught me the names of the flowers, trees and insects where ever we went. Although I spent many hours with my mother, aunt and grandparents next door, it was my father who taught me about life beyond our valley.

I had thought about sending a copy of this story only to my father, but later decided that it would make an interesting blog. ab A little girl and her devoted father would make a heart-warming story. He always reminded me of Abraham Lincoln, which did not please him. But he was tall, with curly, dark hair and a serious face, much like our 16th President.

My hope now, years after I first wrote this letter, is that my children and grandchildren will look back on this simple tribute to my father as one of love and respect. At only a few days from 87 and in extremely poor health, he still commands our respect, still teaches us the lessons that he has learned in his life and still remembers our names. Last night, as I left the hospital, he had not spoken in hours. He turned to me and touched my hand. “We live and we die.” he said simply. I kissed his cheek, fighting tears and he said, “Goodbye, Brenda. “ I honestly didn’t know if I would ever seen him again, he was so very sick. He slept all morning but this afternoon was able to listen as his youngest grandson (my youngest son) told him that he had been awarded an internship in his school’s district office. It was an honor only two kids were chosen for . My father looked up and whispered, “I knew I didn’t save all that money for college for nothing and smiled at my 15-year-old son, nearly 6 foot three, tall and thin like my father, who lay before him, sometimes cringing in pain. My father has been generous with his help, strict with his rules and filled with an unequaled devotion to his family.

Though he has not always been agreeable with our modern ideas, he has tried to keep up with technology, taught us to invest and “save for a rainy day”. He reminded us of HIS “Golden Rule” which is “Who ever has the gold makes the rules.” and that, of course , was him.

I cannot imagine having a father who loved his errant, non-conformist, self-proclaimed “hippie” daughter with any more patience and unabashed devotion than he has had with me. It goes without saying that he has had this same love and patience with my children and grandchildren.

I can only hope that in years to come, that my children will have even half as much love and respect for me as we all have towards him. As the old saying goes, “He has learned to turn lemons into lemonade.” The gifts that my father has given have been many, but none were more important than his time. He chose being with me over friends or hobbies. When I asked him what “the most important thing that we had , as young people in this crazy world ” and he would squeeze our hands together and softly say, “Time.” You can’t buy it, or even earn it, but you sure can waste it.” I wish I had listened more closely to his simple wisdom. I feel so fortunate that I have had so much time to spend with him.

This past few weeks , doctors have told me that I was fortunate that he had lived past his very close bout with death, when I was 11 years old. Many doctors and nurses said that it was so rare to see such resilience in a man with a body that had been in pain for nearly 50 years, that they were all amazed by him, that he could smile, still hope, still say “It wasn’t easy, but the rewards were greater than the pain. Next June, I will try to honor him by remembering his determination, his talent, his stern but loving voice. I will try not to cry, but instead, to tell my children and grandchildren what hearty stock they came from and simply, to live to make him proud.

 

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Hard Times in Blackberry Winter

07500012In the Southern Appalachians , we almost always have a cold spell in mid-May. We have all sorts of what we call “winters” after the real winter has passed. The two that are most talked about are “dogwood Winter” in April, when the dogwood trees are in bloom and “Blackberry Winter” in Mid to late May when blackberries are blooming.

My hard times have very little to do with the cold spell right now. My father, who is 87 is having serious health problems and I am his primary health care. I am not well my self, with back and hip issues, scoliosis and the remains of what Cushings Disease did to me when my body and soul could not bear the sudden loss of my 15-year-old son several years ago. I am exhausted. I often come home from my morning trip to dads and just collapse into sleep. The same thing happens after my mid-day visit and picking up my grandchild and son from bus stops. One day last week,I was so deeply asleep that my dad gave up on me and went to bed without supper.

He doesn’t eat much and says he wasn’t hungry or at least more tires than hungry, but I felt like crap. I did go, and he was still awake , but in bed. I won’t go into the issues that I have to go through to help him, but they are not peasant for either of us In the morning, I have to rush over after bus stop time just to help him out of bed.

He has spent most of his life dealing with the pain of a misdiagnosed “inverted appendix rupture’ when I was a kid, almost dying a year later when benign tumors had invaded his intestines and attached to his back area. I guess he is proof that pain won’t kill you because he has not slowed down until the past few years after the death of my mom.

I believe I have written his life story in an article called “In Praise of Fathers” or something similar, so I won’t repeat it, please look it up if you’d like, it was written may 2 years ago around Fathers Day.

I have managed to work in my flowers a little. I have had to give up my big garden because of my own health. Until my father’s health worsened a few weeks ago, I was spending the tie I wasn’t on my feet in bed because my back and hip pain aren’t as bad then.

The reason I am writing this blog is to beg the patience of my loyal readers, read some of my old articles, there are a lot that I think are worth a re-read, and think of me and my dad as I try to get him to a place of better health.

Meanwhile, I will watch (while laughing) as the turkeys fight for dominance over our neighborhood, look out for bears, listen to stories about the bob cats neighbors and even my son have seen and try to get some rest. Best wishes to all my wordpress friends. I will be writing as often as I can.

 

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Sleepless Night

Its 2a.m. darkness and
Cobwebs fill my head.
What am i going to do?
I have nothing left here,
No hope, no dreams to hold,
Only pain and fear-like vampires
They feed and leave me empty.

Where did i go wrong?
Did i love too much-
Care too much?
Did i put to much
Of my damaged soul
Out there to be shattered?

All the things i used to
Cling to, have been taken.
What matters to me so much
Is a joke now to others.

Why am i here? Darkness,silence
Why don’t the ones
Who cause the pain hurt like i do?
I needed that sleep-
The alarm doesn’t care.

Another day in hell-black candles
Flickering, yet,Lost,waiting for the
Love i gave my life for over and over.
Just let me go,blow the candle out
Or make them feel the pain like i do.

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Every War Has Brought Us Here

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The times and experiences of today may differ, however, when we take a close look, they often easily add up to the situations we find ourselves in today.

The Revolutionary War was a victory for the obvious underdog-US-the United states of America. There were celebrations all along the East Coast of the Colonies, now States of a new Country. No doubt, the world found its self in a bit of shock. Citizens shouted that we were free. We were of one soul, one mind-freedom. We read the declaration of Independence, the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even with the knowledge that the fight was far from over, we felt victorious. But who among us, was really “free.”

Women? People of color? The poor, illiterate immigrant? No. On paper, we had freedom of (or from) religion, freedom of taxation without representation and so much more. The document that stated these things was beautifully written. Unfortunately, those old prejudices lived on. Many still do.

We had another war with Great Britain in 1812-again, the United States of America “won”.

About 85 years after the Revolutionary War,, we were fighting amongst ourselves. Was it about “states rights” or“slavery” . Most likely, it was about much more. A new and restless nation, part which had become a leader in world industry and another which had become an agrarian based society with little modern industry. It had found itself dependent on slave labor to make the growing and harvesting of it’s crops profitable. In Europe, such differences in culture and life-style generally produced a new “kingdom. Here, many saw the power of a nation of such size being “one country” as vital to being a world power. Among these men was Abraham Lincoln.

My great-grandfather spent three years without this “freedom”, as a Confederate Officer during the War between the States. He was called up to serve, went with quite a few family members to sing up and was later captured in what was written up as a cowardly surrender by his superior officer near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The letters that he wrote to his wife and children are still tucked in a drawer in my mother’s cedar chest.

This man did not have slaves, he fought for hearth and home, as the average Southern man did. He, in fact, went to court to support a “black” woman’s claim to freedom, and helped her win. He was not wealthy. Neither was the common Northerner who got caught up in this horrible tragedy. My Southern family had its homes burned, crops destroyed, women raped, cattle stolen. Does this make slavery right-absolutely not. Brothers were fighting cousins and uncles. Neighbors, who had gone to church together were suddenly enemies.

Over 500,00 Americans killed-still, we have to pay attention to the question that brought our country into being-are we free yet? The Civil War, The War Between the States, which ever one might call it, it was a tragedy that was not healed by the war, not necessary by any means and set our country back decades from what we should have been doing-upholding the constitution that we fought the British Empire to gain.

It is 1918. World war I has just ended. The Unitted States had tried to stay out of the war, sending supplies, money and support but not troops. Finally, seeing Great Britain and France falling, we were forced to enter this war with our troops. Then, as the war ended, our troops come home to confetti parades, electrically-light arches built in cities across the country to celebrate the end of “The War to End All Wars”. Were we “free” yet?

A terribly written and enforced “Peace Treaty”, The Treaty of Versailles” humiliated Germany, Italy and its neighbors, setting the stage for yet another unthinkably horrible war, only 30 years later. These people were ripe fr anyone who would help them regain their dignity and place in world power. Unfortunately, the “men” who showed up to help with this cause were those like Hitler and Mussolini.Even our “Allies”, such as Stalin were to become a scourge to freedom very soon after a war we fought on both sides of our country was ended in a most unthinkable way-the race for the creation of the atomic bomb. We “won.” Were we now “free?”

I think of slogans, some made popular in earlier wars, that each war fought was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight”. Throughout history, the poor, the weak, slaves, simple farmers have fought and died while the wealthy, for the most part, sat it out, making plans that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

There were wars across the world, the Greek Revolution, the “Cold War” with the Soviet Union, the chill of the Korean war, the steaming jungles of Viet Nam, they all haunted the concept of freedom. The violence over human rights and dignity here at home have only gradually began to find some answers. We still have a long way to go. Again, the idea of freedom for all is more a hope than a reality, even in the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”.

I look at the use of religious beliefs as a cause of war. It is not a topic that many like to address. Yet, it is true,historically, many battles have been fought over religion, many people tortured and killed for holding the “wrong” beliefs at that particular time. There are fanatics in every faith. That makes no sense. If we are Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Catholic, Judaic or any other in our belief, why can we not just live in peace and have respect fr the views of others? Will we every find this illusive “freedom” as long as fighting over just about any difference of opinion continues?

How many rows of graves, or ancient crypts will it take to obtain peace? This is a question without answer. I humbly remember and deeply respect all of those who gave their lives in the quest for what some leader demanded was necessary to finally procure “peace’. I will never understand how we can, “fight for peace”. What a horrible oxymoron. There has been so much loss, over and over. This essay may be too long, but it barely touches the history of war.

Why can we not coexist-live in a world where everyone is free from war and hate? The first step is to simply live our lives in a way that is respectful of others, moral, and honest . To continue to repeat the mistakes of the past is entirely useless.

 

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The Ephermals of an Appalachian Forest in Spring

As a teen, I often wandered in the forest and grassland of my grandparents pasture. The sight of the ephemeral flowers of spring always brought me great joy. It seems one dy, in late February, I would notice a tiny Spring beauty growing below the deciduous tress deep in the woods. Then there wold be another and another. I would round a curve on an old logging road and discover a bank filled with Bloodroot. I felt as though I had found a treasure, as all ephemeral rise up, bloom and disappear within a few weeks, before the leaves are much more that a pale green bud.

There are “arguments” among locals as to which wild flowers of early spring really qualify as ephemeral-meaning flowers that appear, bloom, fertilized each other (sometimes themselves) and disappear within a very short time. I never really cared. I knew which ones fit that category in “My woods” and that was all that mattered. After the first flowers had begun to disappear, others wold take their place. There were Clinton Lily’s. Pink Orchids, common violets, Pipsisewa, May Aapple and many more as spring progressed towards May. Between mid-April and mid-May, the forest was covered with these small shy flowers. I found them to be fascia ting, often getting down on my knees to explore each leaf and bud.

I always enjoyed the sounds of busy squirrels and chipmunks, I loved the way that the sound of the creek became louder as I got closer to a small pond that someone had long ago built for cattle drink from. Occasionally, sight of a foot-long ground snake, would surprise me. We would stare at each other, her head held high,and then she would slowly crawl off into the brown leaves still littering the ground. It was always exciting to pick up a stone and find a resting lizard, remaining still underneath. I often had to put the rock back down right beside the creature for fear of crushing it.

I was raised in the woods. My mother, aunt and grandmother would go on walks with me. We knew where natural springs flowed from depths of the earth, with water as fresh as a spring shower. We would lift rocks with a hoe from the creek where the cattle drank and catch crawfish (who, of course shoot backward when disturbed and were easy to catch.) DON”T argue, crawfish is what we called them! Salamanders would hide in the s shallower areas near the edge or the water plants swishing near the edge of the creeks.

By mid June, blackberries were starting to ripen, and the chiggers that lived on and around them were waiting for a dog, person, any creature that spelled “food” to walk by. When I was 12 years old, my parents made me go pick blackberries and I got 103 chiggers bites. I swore that I would never go again, and I didn’t, until I was a young adult and had to decide on my own whether the seedy berries were worth the briars and chiggers.

The fields are gone now, either grown up or a mansion has sprung  up in the middle of a big “lot”. It should have never happened. It breaks my heart that only my mom cared enough to want to save it and she was out-voted.

Times have changed over the decades. The big houses have chased the bears, wild turkeys, coyotes, even bobcats down into the valleys. There, they have found easy meals from scraps and trash cans. My grand kids will never see the world I knew. I take them to the Botanical Gardens at the University or the Bird Sanctuary at the man-made lake.

There, they can see mallards and red-headed ducks, turtles resting on logs, frogs jumping into the slim-filled swampy areas, birds of all kinds. That is as good as it gets near my home any more. I have always hoped to one day convince an old farmer that what I could offer him to save his land was worth more to his descendants than the crowds of houses the developer wanted to build, smiling and offering him an exorbitant price to destroy his land. I have about given up hope, it seems the green on money means more to even the old farmers than the lush, lovely green of trees.

Perhaps someone with more money than I have will come along, or some old timer with a mind that loves nature like I do, will donate his land to a nature conservancy. In the meantime, I will go to the edges of the woods , when it has just started to sprinkle rain and the fragrance of soil and plants fills my senses and remember what this place was like before the leaders of surrounding towns turned paradise into pitiful.. The Singing Group called the Eagles wrote a song when I was a teenager that said, “Call a place a paradise, and kiss it goodby.” How sad, how true. But I have my memories. Please take time  listen to the song that plays on this blog.

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A Special Place

Red dress 3-31-14

Not far from my son’s high school, sits a mansion, Biltmore House, which was built by George Vanderbilt in the 1880′s. This was during the time when the wealthy seemed to be having a contest to see who could build the largest house. Many were in new York and on Cape Cod.

For some reason, this picture reminded me of the trees lining the way to the front of the house though to  see the beauty of nature leading to a comforting barn rather than a mansion was much more of my taste.DSCN1812

However, I must commend Mr. Vanderbilt and his family for their appreciation of nature, to help in starting Pisgah National Forest and the Forestry Movement as a whole. There are museums and fish hatcheries open to the public along a beautiful stretch of mountain highway, filled with the wonderful rumble of waterfalls, trails lined with wild flowers and nature preserves where we can still see what the beautiful Blue Ridge looked like before the retiree with money filled so many hillsides with their homes.

A line of deciduous trees is particularly beautiful in autumn when the leaves put on their grand show for a few weeks. Often, in spring, wild flowers decorate the area around the trunks, enhancing their beauty.

When I see a photo that reminds me of a location so very different than the red barn and the Biltmore mansion, it makes me realize that, in our hearts, the rich and the poor, the have and have-nots are not all that different in what they find attractive to the eye or soothing to the soul.59100010

I try to appreciate those, like the Vanderbilts, who saved thousands of acres from development (this was before income and property tax days, of course) donating and helping develop these areas that will be kept wild forever. The sound of a bubbling brook, the quiet of a deep green forest, unusual rock formations, accidental encounters with wild animals, all enrich the days of both the young and old.

It is doubtful that money will allow me to fulfill my dream, yet I keep dreaming.
“If I could just let this farmer know that I would not develop his precious farm before the developer comes up waving tons off money to a man who raised a family on $20.00 a week… If, if, if. I will keep trying, a will my children, and who knows, one day there may be a grove of trees and a barn, perhaps an old farm house with my name on it and my heart in it.

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The Oregon Trail and the Modern World

The Oregon Trail

History Majors are an ever-smaller group at our university it seems. If we aren’t finishing a degree in Computer science, business, accounting or the like, there is little need to get in line at the job fairs held on campus or at the mall. In my mind, that of a Public History Research major from the 1980;s, our “learning” is s far out of date we have little chance of being noticed. Yet, as I see my youngest son, obsessed with his computer and coding, never picking up a book to read, unless it is required, I see more and more need for courses to be required in subjects that teach us not only about the future, but how we got here. Who we are, where we came from and the process of learning are just as important to a Computer major as to one of us poor “do you want fries with that’ majors we used to joke about 30 years ago.

I may be wrong, but this photograph looks like one I once saw of the Oregon Trail. It was amazing to me that over a hundred years later, the ruts from the hundreds of wagon wheels traveling somewhere west of where ever the settlers had begun were still visible on the tall grass prairies which led settlers not only to Oregon, but many other places which, today, are as crowded and crime ridden as the ones these brave souls were escaping when the trails were made.

As a historian, genealogist and general lover of the studies of past places, countries and ways of life that lead us to the unbelievable places we can go today, I find learning about these cultures and how they thrived and often ultimately died of fascinating interest.

I admit, I almost agreed with some of my older children when they called the “Humanities” courses “Department Funders” In other words, they had no real use in the modern world. But as I get older, I have changed my mind. Hear the news about Vladimir Putin taking over the Crimea reminds me quickly of the horrors of Sevastopol during the wars with Great Britain in the 1850′s. It reminds me that thinking an event, or one similar to it will never happen again, is not only foolish, it is simply wrong.

I encourage all Universities, colleges and Even Technical Colleges to require students to have some knowledge of world history so that they can have a basis on which to prevent the errors of the past from repeating themselves.

And, lastly, I would like to see today’s children understand why they have the technologies they now possess and what their ancestors endured in order for them to live their lives of luxury, or at least,lives of hope.

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The First Flowers of Spring

07500015I listen for the sound of my grandson’s school bus, walking around his yard as I wait. It is late March, with the crazy hot-then cold mountain weather. I’m looking for springs first flowers, not to magical ephemeral Clinton’s Lilies or Blood Root that grew on the mountainsides on my childhood, now ruined by the mansions of the rich, nor the spring beauties that clustered near the old bath tub where cattle once drank.- Just simple wild flowers that give me the hope of spring.

I spy a few spikes of tiny white flowers, remembering how they shoot out their seeds when their life cycle finishes early in the summer. Daffodils grow in odd places where farms flourished early in thee century, tiny bluet sprinkle the places that grass will soon overtake.

How wonderful the dandelions look in March, when we will be fussing at them by June. The last of the crocuses are dying, Muscari, the tiny cousins of hyacinths pop up among the tufts of green. I smile, with hope, as I hear the bus coming. Spring WILL be here soon and there will be a lot of work to do!

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