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Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Children of all ages enjoy the books written by Dr. Seuss or Theodore Giesel.

Across America today, millions of people will share a good book to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

School children will don the clothes and persona of one of his characters and take their favorite book to school to share with the class. (On Facebook this morning, I saw some of these pictures.) In some classes, green eggs and ham might be served. (Green Eggs and Ham was the result of a bet to the author that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 simple words; Dr. Seuss proved him wrong.)Parents and other volunteers will read his books to small groups. Picking out a favorite character, “I Am” poems will be written. Cat in the Hat hats will be crafted out of red-and-white construction paper. Plenty of coloring pages, story maps, and word-searches for the author’s made-up words will be available for small groups.

NEA (National Education Association) set up The Read Across America seventeen years ago to encourage children to keep reading and learning, and the celebration date is Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

Read Across America expects more than 45 million readers throughout the country both young and old to pick up a book and read today.

When I taught a reading class for secondary teachers, I encouraged them to look at picture books as viable options to introduce a new topic. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax has potential for a science classroom. In a history class, a teacher might share The Butter Battle Book when studying the Cold War or The Sneetches with Hitler and his anti-Semitism. Quotes from his books are perfect to use as a prewriting activity in an ELA classroom. Oh, the Places You’ll Go is a popular, high school and college graduation present.

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”  Oh, the Places you will Go

Enjoy this YouTube video of one of my favorite authors.

His books make all of us smile. Thank you for each one of the books you wrote and illustrated, Dr. Seuss!

 

Thanks for Your Time!

A friend of mine shared this story with me the other day, and it is certainly worth passing it on.

Over the phone, Jack’s mother told him, “Mr. Belser died last night. The funeral is Wednesday.”

Memories flashed through his mind like an old newsreel as he sat quietly remembering his childhood days.

“Jack, did you hear me?”

“Oh, sorry, Mom. Yes, I heard you. It’s been so long since I thought of him. I’m sorry, but I honestly thought he died years ago,” Jack said…

“Well, he didn’t forget you. Every time I saw him he’d ask how you were doing. He’d reminisce about the many days you spent over ‘his side of the fence’ as he put it,” Mom told him.

“I loved that old house he lived in,” Jack said.

“You know, Jack, after your father died, Mr. Belser stepped in to make sure you had a man’s influence in your life,” she said.

“He’s the one who taught me carpentry,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in this business if it weren’t for him. He spent a lot of time teaching me things he thought were important. Mom, I’ll be there for the funeral,” Jack said.

As busy as he was, he kept his word. Jack caught the next flight to his hometown. Mr. Belser’s funeral was small and uneventful. He had no children of his own, and most of his relatives had passed away.

The night before he had to return home, Jack and his Mom stopped by to see the old house next door one more time.

Standing in the doorway, Jack paused for a moment. It was like crossing over into another dimension, a leap through space and time. The house was exactly as he remembered. Every step held memories. Every picture, every piece of furniture. Jack stopped suddenly…

“What’s wrong, Jack?” his Mom asked.

“The box is gone,” he said

“What box?” Mom asked.

“There was a small gold box that he kept locked on top of his desk. I must have asked him a thousand times what was inside. All he’d ever tell me was ‘the thing I value most,'” Jack said.

It was gone. Everything about the house was exactly how Jack remembered it, except for the box. He figured someone from the Belser family had taken it.

“Now I’ll never know what was so valuable to him,” Jack said. “I better get some sleep. I have an early flight home, Mom.”

It had been about two weeks since Mr. Belser died. Returning home from work one day Jack discovered a note in his mailbox: “Signature required on a package. No one at home. Please stop by the main post office within the next three days,” the note read. Early the next day Jack retrieved the package. The small box was old and looked like it had been mailed a hundred years ago. The handwriting was difficult to read, but the return address caught his attention. “Mr. Harold Belser” it read. Jack took the box out to his car and ripped open the package. There inside was the gold box and an envelope. Jack’s hands shook as he read the note inside.

“Upon my death, please forward this box and its contents to Jack Bennett. It’s the thing I valued most in my life.” A small key was taped to the letter. His heart racing, as tears filling his eyes, Jack carefully unlocked the box. There inside he found a beautiful gold pocket watch.

Running his fingers slowly over the finely etched casing, he unlatched the cover. Inside he found these words engraved:

“Jack, Thanks for your time! -Harold Belser.”

“The thing he valued most was.. my time”

Jack held the watch for a few minutes, then called his office and cleared his appointments for the next two days. “Why?” Janet, his assistant asked.

“I need some time to spend with a friend,” he said.

“Oh, by the way, Janet, thanks for your time!”

We spent a few days in Charleston, and the one thing I wanted most was time with my family. Dinner with my sister-in-law and my nephew and his family was perfect. For almost two-year-olds, the twin girls were angelic at the restaurant. Then the next night, we visited for a couple of hours at their home, after those same angels had gone to bed. The hot tea was good, but the banter and conversation were even better. I can’t tell you how much their taking time to spend with us meant to me. It was a gift more precious than they know.

Time is a unique gift to give and to receive. Our culture is becoming more self-centered with our time. We are so busy running from one activity to another that we seldom stop. We spend more time picking out the perfect gift than just “setting a spell” with that person.

I want you to know how much I appreciate your following my blog posts and my author Facebook page. You could be reading many other writings, and yet you take time to read my wool gatherings.

As Barbara Bush once said, “At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, now winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.”

Thank you for your time!

 

Unexpected Entertainment

On Valentine’s Day, John and I went to a local Japanese restaurant for lunch. We were seated by ourselves at a table, received our drink order, and waited for more people to show up before the cook prepared our meals in front of us. We had no clue to the entertainment we were about to be a part of.

Three couples sat down, two with children, all three boys. Their ages ranged from seven to eight. They were decidedly full of themselves, as my Nanna used to say.

For 17 years, two of the couples have been celebrating this holiday together. The wives met in college, became good friends, and started this tradition when they married. They warned us and apologized ahead of time of their children’s possible antics, but the boys were models of the deportment of their ages.

The cook engaged them in conversation, and one of the boys even tried to juggle with the egg and a big spoon. Two of them ate a few bites, and the other was adamant in wanting no vegetables, only rice and chicken. (Sounds like a Southern boy to me.) One of the dads who was brought up in the low country spoke of the standard menus at his grandmother’s of biscuits, fried chicken, banana pudding, stewed corn, butter beans, etc. It was obvious that he was hankering for his family’s cuisine and not the one on the plate in front of him.

The couples reminisced about other holidays spent together, and the boys were obviously not shy in each others’ company. The bantering was all in fun, and we thoroughly enjoyed their being there. It was a time of strangers sharing time around the table,  and there is much to be said for table talk.

In our society today, table conversation is becoming a lost art. Meals are picked up at a drive-through window and inhaled on the way to a sports or ballet practice. Adults eat and drink standing up in the kitchen. A family place is often in front of the television.

Growing up, our meals were always around a table, whether it was the kitchen table or the dining room table. It was the same at both our grandparents’ houses. Even when we gathered in chairs outside, the chairs were grouped together, specifically for conversation. Meals were a time to share stories and remember other good times together.

These young couples had it right, in my opinion. With two generations and two strangers, they were swapping memories of other times and making a new memory at the same time. It was a good time, and we enjoyed breaking bread with them.

 

Cosmic Possum (2)

The poet Jane Hicks wrote a poem that explains the term, cosmic possum. She says, “the possum is the perfect symbol of my beloved Appalachia: underappreciated, misunderstood, and the ultimate survivor in the face of all manners of predation.”
How We Became Cosmic Possums

(Suburban Appalachian Baby Boomers)

“Caught between Country Club and 4-H,

Neither shrimp nor crawdad,

Neither hip nor hillbilly,

Neither feedsack nor cashmere.

Neither shrimp nor crawdad,

Daddy punched the time clock,

Neither feedsack nor cashmere

Worked weekend tobacco on Grandpa’s farm.

Daddy punched the time clock,

First generation out of the holler,

Worked weekend tobacco on Grandpa’s farm,

Saved for our college diplomas.

First generation out of the holler,

Veterans who never spoke the horror,

Saved for our college diplomas,

Television lullabies shaped weary dreams.

Veterans who never spoke the horror,

Stanley thermos and lunch pail full,

Television lullabies shaped weary dreams,

Believed our country always right.

Stanley thermos and lunch pail full,

Feared beatniks, hippies, and Communists,

Believed our country always right,

Scorned unions in the plant.

Feared beatniks, hippies, and Communists,

Secretly applauded our highest draft numbers,

Scorned unions in the plants,

Wars they never spoke of, fierce dreams.

Secretly applauded our highest draft numbers,

Searched the skies for nuclear rain,

Wars they never spoke of, fierce dreams,

Built fallout shelters for our future.

Searched the sky for nuclear rain,

We learned to “duck and cover,”

Built fallout shelters for our future.

Became the hippies our fathers feared.

We learned to “duck and cover,”

Neither shrimp nor crawdad,

Became the hippies our fathers feared,

Caught between Country Club and 4-H.”

This is the child born first generation from down the mountain or out of the holler. He/she is the child that tells the stories of the older generation. He remembers the round snuff boxes, talks about the good eating from the iron bean pot, and wants cornbread crumbled in buttermilk for a meal. He plays a harmonica for fun and enjoys running across a log over a creek.

Mountain roads and dirt roads beckon him. Interstates are boring. Picking blackberries for a homemade cobbler is not work, but an opportunity to enjoy nature’s bounty. Carving spoons or making trays, benches, and stools makes him smile. He even built by himself a Little House Art Studio over a summer and insisted on a tin roof, like his home used to have.

Yet this is also the man who learned Autocad in his forties. Pizza is one of his favorite foods, and he joined the Navy at age 16 because he believes in defending this country. Television, except for the news, the history channel, and This Old House reruns, is a waste of time and money. He likes country music and the shows of Celtic Women.

His father taught him to never miss an opportunity to learn something new, and he lives by that advice. Since retirement as a designer, he has focused on his painting.

Meet my very favorite cosmic possum; he is my husband John.

He is sharing his memories of growing up in Ingle Holler, outside of Union, SC, and they are becoming short stories about a lost time in the mill villages of the Upstate. Since we both believe in preserving history, it has claimed our attention with writing about his family’s heritage, but also South Carolina’s heritage.

Cosmic Possum

I finished reading Sharyn McCumb’s book, The Songcatcher, this morning. As in all of her writing, I learned more about the Appalachia land and people.

When I was reading yesterday, she introduced the term “cosmic possum.” I laughed out loud when I read it, as one of the characters was called by this name. Yes, it tickled my funny bone, and I didn’t know why.

Then today she defined it on page 218, and I realized I am thirty-five-years married to a cosmic possum. Then I really laughed knowing that my husband John has a new nickname.

He is a child born to parents who are first-generation out of the Tennessee hills. His grandparents lived in a cabin on Green Knob Mountain before they moved to South Carolina. They traveled in a wagon headed for work in an upstate mill.

John, his brothers, and cousins were raised in Ingle Hollar. Grandfather Ingle bought land outside of Union, South Carolina and sold plots of it to his family.They were a tight clan.

He listened to his father and uncles make music on the porches with fiddles, banjos, mandolins, and dulcimers and still remembers those family songs. John didn’t live in those mountains around Erwin, but he heard the life stories. He grew up churning butter, and we have his grandmother’s butter mold and his mother’s dough bowl.

His mother taught him how to shoot a rifle, and she was a crack shot. She practiced her marksmanship by lighting matches stuck in a chopping block outside. As they did in the mountains, John’s father, uncles, and grandfather built their homes.

Last summer, I started interviewing John about the women in his family. I had been listening to the stories of his life growing up in Union ever since we met. He is the keeper of the family stories and enjoys sharing them. I am writing short stories about this bye-gone time in the mill villages of South Carolina, as the Ingle family transitioned into an unknown textile community away from the support of the land.

That first generation passed on a love of home to their children. They literally moved away from the Appalachian mountains, but they brought parts of it with them. Even as they quilted, smoked their hand-rolled cigarettes, and enjoyed beans and cornbread, they also listened to the radio, bought cars, and wanted education for their children. They kept the best of the past and moved into the future.

Heritage is lost when the storytellers are no longer with us. If you are the storyteller in your family, it might be time to write down those stories.

Do you have a cosmic possum in your life? Then you have a treasure-trove waiting for you!

 

“Beulah Land”

Allison Kraus visited our community in the 1980’s at a concert at Converse College, and I bought tickets for John and Scott. They talked about it for years. Here is her rendition of “Beulah Land.”

Edgar P. Stites was a veteran of the Civil War and a riverboat captain. He wrote the lyrics to this song in 1876. The musician, John R. Sweeney, composed the hymn tune.

This Southern gospel song describes a longing of an unseen land. It is an eternal country over a river. Often this hymn used to be sung at funerals, because of its promise of a better place than our earthly existence. It is based on the scripture, Isaiah 62:4 “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”

This is the beginning of a new year, 2015. Many are making resolutions to either stop or start something.  Others are specifically adding trips to foreign countries on their bucket lists. If we watch the news, we wonder what is happening to mankind, as some make destructive choices. Choosing a simpler life in the mountains, off the grid as it is called, looks like an attractive possibility.

My great grandmother, called Granny by all of us, was a member of a small church off Kanuga Road in Hendersonville, NC. I can barely remember the steep hill going up to the church and my surprise that cars parked all over the grass. There wasn’t a parking lot, and there were grave markers all around. There was only a sanctuary with open windows and hard benches to sit on.

We went to worship with her there only a few times. This would have been in the mid 1950’s during the spring and summer. It was different and foreign to me. I was young, and the memory has faded with time. But I remember the happy faces of those there; hugs were added to greetings. Bird songs competed with the preacher, and butterflies flew in and out.

“Beulah Land” was the song they sang at the end of the service every time we went. Just like the author of this song, who was looking for a better land after the Civil War, this congregation had their eyes wide open for one, too.

As I look toward this new year and wonder what it has in store, the optimist in me is wide awake. One of the most endearing compliments our son has ever given me is when he said I was the most positive person he knew. The cup is always half full in my eyes. Helen Keller once said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Martha Washington

One of the ladies in my ancestry is Martha Custis Washington, the wife of our first United States President. I have always admired her for her the way she supported her husband and the soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Martha Dandridge was the eldest child, and oldest daughter, among the eight children born to Frances Jones and John Dandridge. On June 2, 1731, she was born, about thirty-five miles from Williamsburg. As members of the local gentry in New Kent County, Virginia, the Dandridges lived a comfortable, though not lavish, life at Chestnut Grove, a two-story frame house situated on the Pamunkey River.

 

Martha grew up learning from her parents how to navigate in the society of eighteenth century Virginia. Her father insured that she was a member in good standing of the Church of England, the Virginia colony’s official state religion. Baptized as a child, she attended religious services at the local Anglican parish, St. Peter’s Church.

Martha learned both to read and write at an early age. Throughout her entire life, Martha found pleasure and solace in reading. She read the Bible and other devotional literature for religious edification and novels and magazines for entertainment and instruction. Although only a small fraction of her letters survive, she was also a voluminous correspondent.

Her mother also instructed Martha in the skills she would eventually need to know to become mistress of her own household. Except among the wealthiest Virginia families, who had domestic servants and slaves to help them, the female members of the family were responsible for performing all household tasks. These tasks included cleaning the house, washing the clothes, planting a vegetable garden, caring for small domestic animals, preparing the meals, and caring for the children. In an era with few trained doctors, mothers were also supposed to be proficient in the healing arts. Martha’s mother would have taught her folk remedies and the preparation of medicinal herbs to treat common illnesses.

Sewing was among a woman’s most important tasks. The mistress of the household had the primary responsibility for clothing the entire family. Although the wealthiest Virginia planters might import textiles from Britain, most colonists still spun their own thread, wove their own cloth, and sewed their own garments. As an adult, Martha remained fond of needlework, including darning, embroidering, and knitting, and was known for her excellent handiwork.

Like most women of her social class, it is likely that Martha always envisioned her future in terms of being a wife and a mother. Because of her family’s status as members of the local gentry, Martha was able to acquire the values and behavior that would enable her to marry well. She imbibed the fine points of etiquette, learned to dance, and mastered the art of horseback riding. She knew how to deport herself in public and converse with men.

Martha Dandridge and Daniel Parke Custis married on May 15, 1750. Almost nineteen years old, Martha was slightly younger than the average Virginia bride, who married at age 22. At 38, Daniel Parke Custis was nearly twenty years older than his new wife, and significantly older than the average Virginia man who married for the first time at age 27. Yet by waiting until he found a woman of whom his father approved, Custis guaranteed his own financial future as well as that of his future heirs–and of Martha herself.

Two of her four children reached the age of adulthood; two died before they were five. In the colonial era, childhood was the period of greatest vulnerability to death and disease. Only about 60% of children born at this time lived to the age of 20. In 1754 Daniel died, probably of malaria; Frances died in 1757. John Parke Custis (called “Jacky”), who was born in 1754, and Martha Parke Custis (called “Patsy”), born in 1756.

Her husband died on July 8, 1757. By all accounts, their seven-year marriage had been a happy one. Now, however, at the tender age of twenty-six, Martha Dandridge Custis was left alone in the world, a widow with two small children to raise. She was expected to marry again, and she did; her second husband was George Washington.

On January 6, 1759, less than ten months after their initial meeting and less than eighteen months after her husband’s death, Martha Dandridge Custis married George Washington at her home in New Kent County. For both Martha and for George, a new era dawned.

As you can see, she was trained to be a woman of substance and a leader in her community. She was well prepared to run Mount Vernon, support her husband during the war years, and become the First Lady of our country.

Although Martha adored her husband, she was not overly deferential to him. It is said that when Martha, more than a foot shorter than George, wanted to get his attention, she pulled on his shirt collar to bring his face down to her level. (I love this story about her!)

 

The Sons of the American Revolution give out several medals to women. The Martha Washington Medal was authorized in 1971 and may be given by the National Society, a state society, or a chapter to a woman over 18 years of age in recognition of outstanding service to SAR. It is presented to those who have assisted the Chapter or in making a significant contribution to the Community.

At their Christmas dinner on Monday night of this week, my husband John, the President of the Daniel Morgan SAR Chapter, presented me with this award. What a surprise it was! And what a treasure it was to me to have John give it to me. Thank you, sirs, for this honor.

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