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“Little Mistress Chicken”

Little Mistress Chicken
By Mrs. Gordon Rose

Several years ago, I found the 1969 reprint of this book on a shelf in Books on Broad in Camden and was drawn to it because of the illustrations. Though in pen and ink, the details are realistic and give a vivid portrait of the characters and the happenings.

“Little Mistress Chicken” first appeared in serial form in The Youth’s Companion. It was republished in 1913 and 1925, reprinted in 1993.

This is the innocent heroine.

Maybe you are familiar with the now non-existent town of Childsbury, St. John, Berkeley, but I had never heard of it. James Childs built a settlement here in 1707; it was one of the first towns laid out in Carolina by the English settlers. He built a ferry and gave 600 acres away to others for farming. Property was given for a college, a free school, a schoolmaster’s house, a town square, and a place of worship.

Catherine Chicken was the great granddaughter of James Childs. Her story is ghoulish, at best, and abusive at its worst. The cruelty, greed, and pride of the schoolmaster, Monsieur Dutarque astounded me. He tied the young girl to a stone in the local cemetery. He deserved to be run out of town in 1748.

This is the Strawberry Chapel where the young Catherine Chicken was tied to the tombstone by her teacher. It was built around 1725. Various legends and tales surround the chapel of Strawberry that is now on private property and closed to the public.Four services are held there each year, and it is on the National Register.


A chapel of simple yet dignified architecture,  Strawberry is located on Highway 44 just off SC Highway 402 on the Cooper River approximately 10 miles from Moncks Corner.

In the book, Catherine’s story is told in the vernacular of the day, and the suspense is real. I was delighted that she did “live happily ever after” after she was rescued by a slave and then her Aunt Ann. She married Mr. Benjamin Simons but carried the memories from that nightmarish night in the cemetery to her death.

Looking at this illustration, a reader can understand why.

Many authors choose to dedicate their work to someone. The dedication of this reprint reads,
“To the Colonial Dames of South Carolina, lovers of local tradition, guardians of thrilling memories, this bit of family history is dedicated.”

Catherine’s story is tragic, but she is saved. As Maya Angelou once said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Daniel Boone

My dad was raised on a farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and this was our vacation spot when my brother and I were growing up. It was a twelve hour drive to get there, and leaving at 5:00 in the morning was part of the journey. This was before interstates, but not before our going through the Cumberland Gap from Tennessee into Kentucky.

The Smithsonian Channel has this video.

Daddy started the ritual of yelling with glee as we crossed the state lines, and we all followed suit. There was always laughter next. This man loved his home and family, and it always showed. He was thrilled to be in the same state as Mirror Lake Farm, his relatives, thorougbred horses, Churchill Downs, Rebecca Ruth bourbon balls, and the blue grass.

John and I told Mother and Daddy to Kentucky when they were 84. Though he had lost part of his sight to macular degeneration, he leaned forward in the back seat as we moved closer to the state line. His holler was loud and clear; he was in his home state that he loved. We went to the races at Keeneland, visited his cousin Toodlie, ate at Claudia’s Kitchen, and visited the farm. Even though he could see little, he regaled us with his memories at each stop.

Daddy and Mother were content to stay in the car at the farm, but the new owners were kind to show John and I around the house. Their improvements on the farm house built in 1924 were minimal. The wealth of memories that flooded my mind and heart were amazing, and I savored walking again in this house.

Boonesborough was a favorite site for us to stop on some of our trips. By this time, we were all enamored with Fess Parker portraying Daniel Boone. One year, the folks bought Critt a coonskin hat that he begged for. He loved that hat and sported it until it was rotten and fell apart.

“All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife,” said Daniel Boone.

Daniel Boone was born on November 2, 1734, near Reading, Pennsylvania. In 1755, he left home on a military expedition during the French and Indian War. In 1769, Boone led an expedition and discovered a trail to the far west though the Cumberland Gap. In 1775, he settled an area he called Boonesborough in Kentucky.

Daddy’s mother was a storyteller and avid reader; she shared these with us. One of the ones she told us was about Daniel Boone rescuing his daughter and her friends from the Shawnee. Critt and I used to pretend to be these characters and play out the story in our backyard; he always wore his coonskin hat.

Here is a video about that rescue.

Daniel Boone left Kentucky and moved to Missouri, because Kentucky had become too crowded He died and was buried there in 1820. But his body and his wife’s Rebecca were moved to Frankfurt, Kentucky in 1845. From his grave, a person can look over the beautiful and winding Kentucky River and the gray dome of the capitol building. Yes, Daddy took us to this site, too.

Daniel Boone was an adventurer and was always looking around the next bend. He was inquisitive and a man of action. As he said, “Curiosity is natural to the soul of man and interesting objects have a powerful influence on our affections.”

Perhaps we all need to be more curious about what is around the corner; we might miss a surprise blessing if we don’t take that first step forward.



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!



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