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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Parallel Times?

In a previous century, a country in Europe was in disarray economically, socially, and politically, following a devastating war.  During a political campaign, one of the candidates described how he could bring greatness back to the country.  He promised an economic miracle for the people; he dealt in demagogic diatribes against minorities among the citizenry.  He was elected by a landslide, created a military brutal to the weak and strong in ideology, and made overt efforts to destroy those who were not of the proper heritage.  He ultimately broke with some allies, gathered a satellite ally who mimicked his tactics.  The consequences were horrific: one particular part of the populace suffered deaths in the millions simply for having a different racial makeup.  Eventually much of the world was embroiled in a catastrophic war whose effects even to this day bear scars and unhealed wounds.  All of this can be traced in large part to a demagogue who desired to rule the entire world.  He failed. His personal history ended when he ended his own life.

Demagogues vary in different eras, but remain dangerous because of their ability to employ the worst in human nature to create more power for them.  They use the weaknesses in society to gain strength for themselves.  We can learn lessons from history that will prevent repetitions of such a magnitude of horror.  Are we listening?

Saturday, September 5, 2015


            A quiet Sunday afternoon.  I am reading a gripping murder mystery outside in the lawn chair.  The solution to the crime is being   solved and I follow with deep attention.  I may have figured out the plot and fingered the murderer!  Just a few more pages will tell me if my idea is right.  Suddenly a shout comes from our neighbors.
            “Get him!” the young man shoots a hose at the brick wall of his house in response to the call from his friend.  I head over to the fence between us.  The two are focused on something and pay no attention to me.
            “What’s going on?”  I ask, and learn that a large black snake is crawling up the side of the house.  My question is already answered, as I watch the scaly creature make its way toward the roof.  I remember my own history of snakes: snakes in our bar, under our beds, in our cellars, watching us from the back windows . . . my friend the little snake in a large jar who lived for a few days. . . snakes have mixed personalities, from friendly to deadly.  I love to watch them displayed in museums and zoos but not in back yards.
            The next-door neighbor snake was not interested in me but in what might be available for dinner in the woodsy back yards of our area.  I had a special interest in the snake because of my special gift: that of snake whisperer.  The difficult part for me now is what to say to the snake.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Out Back

            We watch the creature activities at our patio and back yard where squirrels, birds, and chipmunks have found the peanuts and birdseed we set out for them.  Our back door is a sliding glassed access to outside, so we are able to watch the many scenes that entertain us.  Birds at the feeder, squirrels who would love to get all the seeds there, and the chipmunks who gather up what falls from the feeder.  We place unsalted peanuts in the shell on the railings to the steps down to our lower back yard, and then watch the furry ones carry them off or eat them on the spot.  Once in a while a cardinal or crow will grab a peanut and fly away with it.
            Recently, we counted five squirrels, three chipmunks, and numerous birds of several varieties, but this week something has changed.  Birds continue to visit the feeder, but only one chipmunk shows up, and now instead of five squirrels, only the one appears.  It bears a tumor on its back, with some fir missing on it.  Did it have a confrontation with siblings, we wonder.  Is the wound serious or will the little one heal?  And where have the others gone? 
            When darkness settles over the back yard, upper and lower, the cicadas strike up the band, and as Katie our beagle-jackrussell and I head to steps leading to the lower yard, they serenade us.  Now, when summer moves to its close, they sing more softly with their ch-ch-ch’s.  
            I watch each morning for our little injured squirrel, concerned about the lump on its back, the hairless circle that it has caused.  Nature has healing power, and although we can’t take this little creature to the vet for treatment, we are hoping healing is taking place and soon that lump will disappear and fur will cover the spot.  
            The chipmunk home is somewhere behind or under the spot for our large garbage cans, and Katie searches and waits for one to show up.  Their speed is their protection.  They are nature’s cute ones, and I’d love to keep one as a pet, the way Charlie’s brother had them in his house at one time. [Three chipmunks.  A house full of kids.   One chipmunk nearly drowned in the toilet bowl before nick-of-time rescue.  The elderly sisters who came to visit were startled when two ran across their shoulders in a chase.  Sometimes the little creatures would be invited to the dinner table where they might be given a few morsels.]  We have not tried to duplicate that arrangement, and I believe Katie would be a danger to any of them.  But wouldn’t that be fun, to have some indoor chipmunks?  Katie is not likely to form a welcoming committee. 
          The alternative is to spend our mornings watching what takes place outside.  The activity is always worth our time to witness.  We are thus aware that as seasons move always to the next one, so do Charlie and I.  Now in our eighties we navigate more slowly.  Our delight in what nature provides for us increases.  We have time to watch, time to offer nourishment, time to relate to the little ones out back.

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.