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Thursday, August 27, 2015


            The group gathered for their weekly prayer time in the pastor’s study.  An added blessing was that all the members had shown up this time, with no one missing.  They began by sharing news of the church, events coming up soon, lists of who was sick or needed financial help and other problems.  The young man looked in the doorway and was motioned in by those inside.  They were curious as to why a white man would want to join them, but they welcomed him with smiles.  He seemed nervous.  Perhaps this was the first time he had visited a black church, but soon settled down and listened as various names and concerns were brought forth, and scripture passages were read by some of the group.  As they began to discuss the verses read and joined in prayers for those named, violent sounds ripped around the room.  Bodies fell over, hit by bullets from the gun carried by the visitor.  He continued shooting until all seemed dead and then walked out.  One member managed to crawl away, leaving the others lifeless, staring at nothing.
            Later, when the horror of that moment was announced, shock destroyed all joy.  Yet not long after that, families began to voice their grief in unexpected responses: that of forgiveness for the killer, who had been arrested and stood defiantly before a judge.  He claimed his action was for the purpose of beginning a race riot.  When he was told that he had been forgiven by the victim’s families, he sneered.  But there in that courtroom someone stood up and faced him directly.  Those in attendance recognized the speaker as Mark Twain, who made a solemn statement and disappeared:  “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
            In his cell, alone, the killer noticed a sweet odor permeating his surroundings but could find no source for it.  It engulfed him despite his efforts to wave it away.  It remained permanently with him during the trials and sentencing and long afterwards until the fragrance joined him in the grave.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Smoke Gets in My Eyes

            My father was a constant cigar smoker, and I hated to be in a closed room or car while he lit up another stinky cigar.  My mother and I tolerated the habit once as we drove from Washington State to North Carolina, along with our aging cocker spaniel, Inky.  I promised myself never to marry a cigar smoker when I grew up.
            After his death, I managed to avoid most cigar smoke simply by moving to another room, or move far away from such smokers if I happened to be at a gathering.  Eventually, smoking anything, pipe, cigarette or cigar was banned from most public places, which was a blessing.  Just before such a universal ban took place however, I endured the cigar smoke from the Mayor of our small town of Madison.  I served two terms on the Town Board, as the first woman elected to that spot, and during that time one Mayor was an inveterate cigar smoker, and would light up during our meetings.
            I had learned years before that, however, that if  you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  A few days before the next Board meeting was scheduled, I began cigar hunting.  I narrowed my choice to an expensive, exclusive model that came in its own glass tube.  The die was cast.  I carried it in my purse to the meeting.  My plan was to wait until the major business had been decided, and while lesser issues were discussed, I would proceed with my nefarious plan. 
And it came to pass that I found the moment, pulled the glass tube from my purse, extracted the cigar, brought out my book of wooden matches (for greater effect), put the cigar in my mouth, licking it a bit as I had seen my father do, struck the match and lit up, with little smoke clouds issuing from the weapon.  During this entire process, I could sense without looking around, that suspense was building.  While one of the members droned on with some minor business, I took a puff, blew out the smoke, and then another puff.  I eventually smoked the entire cigar right down to the last inch while taking surreptitious glances at reactions from my colleagues. 
         Fortunately, the experience was a good one.  Good humor ran throughout the meeting room, from those at the table with me to the townspeople in the observers’ seats.  I had been a hit, and my point about noxious cigars was made, even though it did not change the practice by the Mayor at subsequent meetings, who continued to smoke his way through one of his stogies. 
        It was later that I learned my action had made the news, not only in our local newspaper, but was picked up by other papers across the state.  My brother at the time was with the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, and had read about me in the Madison Messenger.  I have an idea he was the cause of the story traveling to other localities in North Carolina, but he never owned up to passing the story around.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Times Are They Ever A'Changin'?

            I was going through a scrapbook full of my feature newspaper articles of long ago, my letters to editors, and other commentaries, and found this letter tucked in the scrapbook.  It is a response to my long letter to the editor in the News-Record back in 1966, when I wrote at length against the violence of mob actions.  I’ve become a bit more radical since those days, but here below is a letter from a woman here in Greensboro agreeing with my premise and telling a horrifying story of something that happened when she was a child.  I will quote the letter but not provide her name in order to protect her privacy, or if she is no longer living, the privacy of her family.
The letter:  (written in the vernacular of her day and of the 60’s)
            I just read your letter in Public Pulse, and you are so right, there is nothing on, under or over the face of the earth like the sound and sight of a mob in action.  I know, because I lived through 2 days of fear and horror when I was a girl of 17, in Lincoln Co. Ga.   A drunken negro killed a deputy sheriff (white) at a church near my home, at Lincolnton, Ga.  The mob of about 300 men, and bloodhounds chased him right across our pasture.  We had a large plantation, worked mostly by negro tenants, sharecroppers, good people whom we loved and respected and protected.  But we couldn’t protect them against that vengeance mad, kill crazy mob.  One of our colored men was suspected of having given him some food, and when he couldn’t tell them where the killer went, he was beaten almost to death, and when he attempted to run, they shot him. 300 guns can make an awful mess of a human body.  I will never forget the pitiful faces of his wife and children, and the angry tears of my father, as we helped her pick up what was left of him, for burial.  Later, the mob picked up another negro, who had been forced at pistol point, by the killer, to drive him 12 miles to a swamp in Wilkes Co.  He was also beaten to a pulp.  Late that night they caught the killer and brought him back to Lincolnton, again right thru our yard.  By then, there wasn’t a human being in that mob.  They were beasts who had lost every spark of decency and reason.  The law tried to rescue him, but all appeals failed.  It was worth one’s life to even get near them.  They took the killer and the negro who had driven him to Wilkes Co. to Lincolnton, where they drove an old automobile bumper in to the ground for a stake, tied them to it with wire, piled wood and old tires around them, poured 5 gallons of gas over them and burned them.  I shut myself in to my room, with the windows down, but I’ve never forgotten the screams, and the stench of burning human flesh, and neither will the men who were in that mob.  When it was over and sanity had returned, just beginning to realize what they had done, a few weeks later, 3 of the men committed suicide.  Some of their wives left them, refusing to live with a man who could so easily turn into a beast.  The memory of those 2 days and nights will never fade.  It has governed my whole life, in my attitude toward any sort of defenseless human, colored or white or even animals who dare not bite when kicked.  I wish every one who thinks differently, could see just one mob in action, and feel the aftermath.  Then more people would feel as you, and I do.
End of letter.
I have never been able to forget what she wrote, and it has become one of my own guides to relating to others, and also, as she notes here, to animals.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Calling of Other Voices

            When I was finishing high school and looking for a good college or university, my preference was Michigan State University’s School of Journalism.  I wanted to be a journalist, and my work on our school newspaper had convinced me of that calling.  My heart was set on it. My father had other ideas.
            He feared my exposure to radical ideas such as communism, and also had concerns about how far from North Carolina I would be.  He was nearing retirement from the Army Medical Corps and my parents would be moving back to the Old North State soon.  Disappointed in not having such a great opportunity to study journalism at a school known for such, I began searching through the Blue Book of colleges.  Because my boyfriend planned to attend Georgetown University in Washington, DC, I decided to seek a school in Virginia, my mother’s birth state.  Randolph-Macon Woman’s College won the prize and I began my freshman year there, graduating in 1955 with a major in political science and a minor study in English.
            It was at R-MWC that I began writing for the two campus magazines and the newspaper.  I spent my senior year as editor of the newspaper, The Sun Dial.  The experience whetted my appetite for more of the same, and when my husband, daughter, and I settled in Madison, NC after our first home in Bremerhaven, Germany with the US Air Force, I found the opportunity.  The Madison Messenger and papers in nearby cities took my feature articles.  I wrote a column in the local paper as well.  I loved writing about interesting people and also helped husband Charlie with articles on Madison’s history for a publication honoring the town’s sesqui-centennial.  It was a fulfilling time that I could manage while at the same time caring for our four children as they grew up.
            At some point, however, my direction changed and I became deeply involved in the life of our local Presbyterian church.  The effort eventually led me to seek ordination at a time when women were barely recognized for such leadership.  Before I began that journey, graduate studies in English at UNC Greensboro broadened my understanding of literature and enhanced my writing skills.  The latter became important as I worked on church newsletters wherever I found a chance to minister.  I also became extremely active in women’s organizations that supported opportunities for leadership in many fields, and my choice was to serve as a chaplain in hospital and hospice settings.  Writing sermons, a challenging genre, occupied much of my creative efforts.
            Retirement provided opportunities to consider other possibilities.  I began working seriously with different genres: poetry, varieties of prose, letters to the editor on political and social issues, and eventually managed to publish some books.  Two are by a small press in Maine, the rest self-published by a North Carolina company.  Included are poems, a collection of stories about a small town, and stories of children in WWII and of rescued pets.  The latter two books are closer to my former journalistic efforts. 
            What now?   Well, I think another path is calling me: some form of feature writing about interesting people and events.  I don’t know how that will materialize, but I see myself headed along other directions in my writing, part of which will include my blog page.  Watch this blog for further news.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


            I like alligators.  I respect alligators.  After seeing how they surround our national government, however, how they are up to our President’s knees at times, don’t ask me to befriend them.   To make friends with alligators at the same time I keep my distance from them seems to be an impractical relationship.

            Alligators lurk in many places.  Once they showed up in a church that I served.  Circling, menacing, snapping . . .  They hissed falsehoods and sang old songs no one knew.  They are kin to crocodiles, and some might mistake one breed for the other.  Both are dangerous to keep around as pets.  When they are let loose in a congregation, the dangers last long after their audition, and leave their wounds, which then leave scars, and then bad memories.  When they began to circle me, I tried to play nice, say kind words to them, and pet their knobby heads.  Almost lost a few fingers with that last attempt.   

            It’s best to avoid alligators in churches.  There they tend to be even more deadly, and can destroy everyone who is present.  My own efforts to befriend them resulted in their becoming even more destructive.  I learned finally to get out of there and find safe haven elsewhere.  The ancient church alligator grinned a huge toothy smile of joy upon my departure.  I later learned that it consequently attacked the congregation, with the help of a bevy of younger beasts.  Stay away from churches that nurture alligators.  They are bad news.

            As for alligators in swamps, when they remain in their natural habitats I have no complaints.   

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Woman Who Never Died

            It was difficult enough to outlive her children.  To watch them die from illness, or accidents, or old age.  How intolerable  to witness her grandchildren and great-grandchildren die while she lived on . . . never to die. 

            When she was still a girl, she had said out loud, but to herself, “I wish I could live forever.  I wish I could see how the world changes, and how life turns out for everything in it.”  What she did not notice was the presence of the Wish Spirit who had lingered over her that day, listening to her wishes, as the Spirit does for everyone.  The Spirit then chooses whether to grant or deny wishes she hears.  The reasons need not be specified, whether about longevity or good and evil, or even human sexuality.  Thus the Wish Spirit hovers over all the living at some time or another, to hear our desires.  She has the power to choose which ones to bring about.

            This time the Spirit made a vital decision, perhaps as an experiment, in granting the wish of that woman, who at the time was young enough yet to experience much of what life might hold for her.  What the rest of us have yet to find out, however, is what this young woman discovered simply because she made a wish that we too may have uttered at some time. The difference is that the Wish Spirit has not yet granted our wishes but has done so with the woman who once was young and now is ageless.  Her name is Evelina.  She will live forever.

            We don’t know with certainty when she entered into human life.  Her birth records were destroyed in a fire long ago.  Nor do we know how long eternity will last.  We can see Evelina only as we experience her presence in our current lives.  We can wonder how she relates to the fact of death as she is witness to it in times of war, disaster, illness, or accidents or other kinds of destruction of human life.  Her memory is intact. She has not been through any diseases or illnesses that would cause her death.  What we cannot know or predict is when, and if, her human life comes to an end.

            The question: “Is Evelina satisfied with the result of her wish for life forever?  Does she consider eternal life to center solely upon existence as she is now: a living human being who, like all, is fully flesh and blood?”

            What, dear Reader, would you choose for your own life?  Eternity of human existence?  A time that your life in the flesh will end, whether from age or ill health or violence?  Think about Evelina and how she has discovered the power of a wish.  Do you envy her?  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7, 1941: Honolulu, Hawaii

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the day the United States was launched into World War II.  It was a surprise to all but those who were expecting an an act of war against our country.  The date itself turned out to catch even the military at Pearl Harbor unaware, when Japanese planes bombed the Naval base on Sunday morning, December 7.  President Roosevelt was to give that day a name: the Day of Infamy.
I will give an account of that time as it affected me and my family, from this excerpt from my book, Rachel’s Children: Surviving the Second World War (All Things That Matter Press, 2010).   It is found on pages 9-10 of the book.

“Children in American territories joined their counterparts around the world, by spending the next few years in a climate of war and its accompanying horrors.  It was not a time of glory, no matter how many patriotic speeches would be delivered, no matter how many inspiring songs were sung and encouraging prayers offered.  It was instead, a time of war.

“My own experience as an eight-year-old in Honolulu was shared with classmates many times after my mother, brother and I returned to the “mainland.”  My father remained in Hawaii where he was a pathologist with the Army Medical Corps.  After the attack, he was to continue his service as Commanding Officer of the North Sector Tripler General Hospital.  He remained at that post until the end of the war, when he was assigned to the Army hospital at Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY.  By then I was in grade 7B at Public School 104, and wrote an essay duringthat time about my experience of the December 7th day in Hawaii.”

From a poem in my book:

            Black smoke on a Sunday morning,
            planes appear from the sea
            to interrupt the December weekend.
            Sirens scream through streets
            indiscriminate of homes and buildings
            where Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian
            and wahine neighbored.  Church bells
            call worshipers to services while whine
            of bullets and flash of light accent
            the morning bright with hope transformed
            into fearful surprise.