Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2016 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Education of Dixie Dupree

I don't like to read about cruelty to animals or children. For instance, I couldn't get through Jacie Dugard's A Stolen Life. There were sections of The Horse Whisperer that I skipped. However, I recently read  The Education of Dixie Dupree, Donna Everhart's debut novel which deals with child abuse—particularly pedophilia—and I enjoyed the book. How could that happen?

Perhaps because—in this southern coming-of-age story set in 1969—Dixie, the eleven-year-old narrator with a propensity for lying, tells her story in a pretty much straight forward manner. And the reader knows from the first three sentences what the problem is:
My diary was my best friend until I gave it up as key witness against Uncle Ray. Mr. Evans, the prosecuting lawyer who would go to court on my behalf, showed up on our doorstep here in Alabama  all the way from New Hampshire just to get it. I had no idea it was so important, but he told Mama it was, even though everybody already knew what had happened.
So, we know right away that something bad happened to Dixie, her Uncle Ray was responsible,  it happened in New Hampshire, and that Dixie lives in Alabama. Those three sentences tell a lot. Plus, they assure us that Dixie came through this horrible event and is safe now. Sometimes it's good to know the ending in advance.

Dixie's family is dysfunctional. Her mother isn't happy and is sometimes abusive to Dixie, sometimes loving. Dixie's parents fight a lot and her father drinks. Dixie doesn't know exactly how her parents met. Somehow her mother left New Hampshire and appeared in Alabama where Dixie's father immediately fell in love with her and they were soon married. Dixie's older brother AJ soon was born. But in 1969, Dixie's mother talks about New Hampshire and how she misses it.

When a tragic event ensure, Dixie's Uncle Ray comes down from New Hampshire to help out his sister. AJ is impressed with Ray's car and money; Dixie isn't impressed with how Ray is putting his hands on her. She tells AJ, he but doesn't believe her—everyone knows what a liar Dixie is.

When Dixie's mother gets some insurance money, she buys a car and the family goes to visit her parents in New Hampshire. Dixie and AJ take turns riding with Ray and wit their mother. Ray makes advances toward Dixie when she's in his car.

In New Hampshire, things get better. Dixie's grandparents adore her and AJ, Dixie has her mother's old room which is wonderful, Uncle Ray is back with Aunt Trish and their son. But things go horribly bad one day. . . .

Despite what happens to her, Dixie is resilient and bounces back. And she learns several family secrets that explain a lot.

One strength of this book is that it's told in Dixie's voice and filtered through her experiences and perceptions. The book is well-plotted, with twists and turns that eventually fall into place. And it's good southern fiction. I liked it a lot.

Despite the narrator's age, this novel isn't for middle graders; its subject matter—sexual abuse and a dysfunctional family—is definitely for older readers. But this debut novel, published las month by Kensington and already a USA Today and IndieBound bestseller, is definitely worth reading.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

November SOTK

November SOTK 
by Tanner (housecat-in-chief)

Here is my latest "State of the Kitties" report.

All the household and barn cats are still here. Camilla—who is real, real old—hasn't died yet. She goes out on the deck every day and sits with Olivia. Sometimes George, Jim-Bob, and Chloe sit with them when they take a break from their cat-work. George likes to sleep on the deck. Chloe still likes to run on the roof when she gets a chance.

George sleeping on the deck
The big news is that we have added another kitty, although Arlo and I voted against it. For several weeks, a little wild kitty hung around outside. Back in September, we saw the kitty with Tony-the-Tiger, a wild feral cat who sometimes eats breakfast at our house. Before long, Tony brought the kitty onto the deck and Mommy took pictures through the screen door.

The wild kitty came close to the door to look at Arlo and me.

The kitty was kind of scrawny and didn't look like he'd amount to much. but he had a good appetite.

Mommy started leaving extra food in the old gazebo where she leaves food for Tony. The little wild kitty, which Mommy named Alfred, hid under the same bush where Arlo used to hide when he was a little refuge kitty. By mid-October, Mommy had trained the kitty to come when she yelled "Alfred!" By late October, she was able to touch little Alfred.

That's when she realized she'd have to change the kitty's name to Alfreda. A few days later, she grabbed Alfreda and brought her inside. 

Mommy wouldn't let Arlo and me see the little kitty for a few days. When Mommy introduced me to Alfreda, she told me that since I'd done such a good job raising Arlo, that I could raise little Alfreda. I tried to tell her that I didn't know anything about raising girl kitties and that I didn't like the way Alfreda chased me and jumped on me. after alfreda took over my cat-tower, Mommy said I should reach out to her, so I climbed up the tower and did.

Anyhow, it wasn't long until Alfreda laid claim to all the cat toys and forced me to play with her whether I wanted to or not. She is one pushy kitty.

You will notice in all those pictures that Arlo is nowhere to be seen. After Alfreda jumped on him a couple of times, Arlo made it plain that he wasn't going to get involved. It looks like I will have to raise this kity all by myself.

I don't know if I will be able to set a good example for her. I did a bad thing yesterday. In fact, I did it twice. I discovered if I pushed hard on the back storm door that it would open and I could get out. So that's what I did. The first time, Mommy heard the door slam and looked out to see me running out of the garage. It took her a long tme to catch me, but George helped her. I felt bad that her legs swole up and started hurting while she was trying to get me, but I liked running loose.  

But feeling bad about what I did didn't stop me from doing it again last night. I didn't think she would find me in the dark, but she used a flashlight. And George an Jim-Bob kept heading me off. I thought I could stay away from her if I climbed a tree, but she grabbed me as I came down. She is good at grabbing cats. 

Anyhow, that is my SOTK report for now.


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Dead Shall Rise

If ever there was a book to read during Halloween,/Samhain/All Souls' Day, The Dead Shall Rise—a debut novel by Melanie K. Hutsell—is it. And that's when I read it. The book is seriously creepy. But it's a lot more than that.

It's also wonderfully lovely and lyrical—and so beautifully written that I'll likely re-read it in a few years. Think Appalachian literary fiction meets magical realism. Here's the first two-thirds of the opening paragraph:

She came from the lowlands, her long, black hair wild and tangled. She came alone and she walked with sorrow in her long bones. The people of Beulah Creek had never seen anyone like her. They did not want to see her. They knew it that first morning when she walked into their midst. She seemed to clutch the dark about her like the long folds of her skirt, the fringes of her shawl.
And thus we are introduced to the main character, Malathy Jane—a mysterious and unwelcome stranger who, in the fall of 2000, buys the old Greenberry house where Jess Greenberry hanged herself years earlier. And where Jess's ghost still resides. Malathy Jane stays with widower Clement Foster and his teenage daughter Emmy for a time while Noah Carpenter fixes up the long-abandoned house. Then she moves in, and continues to be the subject of gossip by the folks who live in the mountain town of Beulah Creek. But Emmy adores her, and Noah is attracted to her.

One of the Beulah Creek denizens is elderly Granny Barnes, who as a child witnessed one man kill another in the woods and never told anyone. Has the dead man returned after all these years? And why, in the dead of winter, does Malathy Jane's garden grow and prosper while the townspeople fall on hard times? And why does Malathy Jane change so much? Many questions hang in the air.

The dialogue in The Dead Shall Rise is sparse and sometimes ambiguous, but it works. Sense of place is strong in this novel—the mountain, the Greenberry house, the town, nature, and the creek contribute to it. All function more like characters themselves than just setting.

The Dead Shall Rise gives the reader much to think about and ponder. The tale, while appearing simple, is a tangled web where evil lurks. Hutsell's words will haunt you for a while after you've read them.

I look forward to reading future works from this debut author.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Childhood Memories

Over on her Blue Country Magic blog the other day, "Country Dew" posted a list of 13 things she remembered. That got me thinking, What important things do I remember? Here are some things  I remember from growing up in Roanoke:

The earliest President I remember is Harry Truman. I saw him in newsreels at the Roanoke and Rialto Theaters. In those days, movies included a cartoon or two, a newsreel, and coming attractions as well a the main movie.

I remember hearing on the radio about Queen Elizabeth being crowned queen. After I heard it, I went out on the back porch. The weather was warm. I was in second grade at Huff Lane School then. That year, because of over-crowding, I attended school only in the mornings; another class came in for the afternoon.

I remember the names of all six of my Huff Lane Elementary School teachers: Mrs. Zoe Willhide, Mrs. Cheatham, Miss Nancy Driscoll (who became Mrs. Finley the following year), Mrs.
Ellen Clarke, Mrs. Pocahontas Shelton, and Mrs. Ruth Creasy. Mrs. Clarke was my favorite.

Mrs. Clarke's 4th grade class (1954-55)
Mrs. Clark

I never bought a school lunch in elementary school. I walked home for lunch most days—a trek of three blocks. On the few days I ate lunch at school, I carried a lunchbox. 

I remember going to Mill Mountain Zoo when it was brand new.  I liked the "Mary Had a Little Lamb" schoolhouse, the prairie dog town Noah's ark, and the whale.

I remember seeing my cowboy idol, Gene Autry, and his horse Champion at the old American Legion auditorium when I was 7 or 8. The auditorium burned down a few years later.

I remember walking up the street to watch the Howdy Doody TV show with my friend Johnny Campbell. His family lived with his grandparents, who'd gotten the first TV in the neighborhood. WSLS—Channel 10—was the only TV station available. It had started broadcasting in December of 1952, when I was in the second grade.

I remember our first TV was a Zenith, which we must have gotten around 1954.  Channel 10 came in good with the rabbit ears, and we could just barely get a very fuzzy ABC station‚ Channel 13 from Lynchburg.  I remember when we finally got a second local TV station—WDBJ, Channel 7—when I was in the 5th grade. My father bought the TV from Mr. Quinn, who'd opened a TV store next to my father's service station on Williamson Road. I went to high school with Mr. Quinn's daughter, Gail.

I remember watching Disneyland (albeit not too clearly since it was on ABC) and really liking the Davy Crockett segments when I was in 4th grade (1954-1955).

I remember going to the "Kiddie Show"on Saturdays at the Lee Theater on Williamson Road when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. Usually the movie was a Western, and there was always a serial (Tarzan) to keep us coming back, and there were several cartoons. It was a pretty good walk to get there, but most kids walked. (Parents rarely attended.)

I remember going to Lexington and Natural Bridge with my fifth grade class. I remember seeing the skeleton of General Robert E. Lee's horse, Traveller at Washington & Lee. (The bones have since been buried.) I also remember that my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Shelton, had us sing "Dixie' as part of our morning devotions.

I remember riding the Williamson Road bus downtown in the summer of 1957 to go to the Roanoke Public Library in Elmwood Park. Sometimes my friend Martha Via from across the street went with me; sometimes I went alone. After getting off the bus, I had to walk a couple of blocks to the library. There I discovered Walter Farley's Black Stallion series. The pond in Elmwood Park had huge fish in it.

I remember buying bus tokens every day to ride the bus to Lee Junior High when I was in 7th grade, but I can't remember for sure if the tokens were two for 15¢ or two for a quarter. I think 15¢.

In January 1960, I remember sitting on one of the heavy tables in a biology classroom at Wm. Fleming High and watching JFK's inaugeration on a small black-and-white TV. I rmember Robert Frost reciting "The Gift Outright" when he was unable to read the poem he'd composed for the occasion because of the glare from the snow and the wind that kept blowing the paper. The biology room was packed full of students. (I remember where I was when JFK was killed, too, but I wasn't in Roanoke then.)

And I probably remember a lot more stuff, too.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Reading About Spirits

Since it's so close to Samhain, it's only natural that I should be reading about various forms of spirits. The books I've read over the last month or so certainly cover a variety of spiritual goings-on:

Two of the authors, Susan Coryell and Ginny Brock, are members of my writing group—Lake Writers—so I've known both for a long time. I've also known Franklin News-Post reporter and columnist Morris Stephenson and genealogist Beverly Merritt for several years. I just met Arlene S. Bice at the Brewed Awakening Bookfest in Danville earlier this month. I've never met Vaishali, but Brewed Awakening in Danville offered her book as a freebie.

Coryell's novel, Nobody Knowsdeals with ghosts at Overhome, an estate located on fictional Moore Mountain Lake in Virginia.  As in her two previous novels in the Overhome series, ghosts get the attention of the heroine Ashby Overton to help them resolve an issue. Spooky stuff ensues over the course of a summer.

Some of the ghosts Bice writes about in her non-fiction books, Living With Ghosts and  Ghostly Spirits of Warren County, North Carolina and Beyond, also have issues. Living With Ghosts is about the numerous spirits who inhabit the town of Bordentown, New Jersey, where Bice lived for a time. Some of the ghosts Bice describes are benign, others not. But if you like true ghost stories, you'll find the book interesting.

Brock is known around the Smith Mountain Lake area for having psychic abilities, and her latest non-fiction book,  As It Is in Heaven taps into those abilities. Subtitled True Stories about life before life on earth from children who remember, Brock relates stories of children who did indeed remember their  previous lives and where they came from. This book, which deals with our spiritual natures, gives you something to think about.

Vaishali's non-fiction book, Wisdom Rising, is subtitled A self-help guide to personal transformation, spirituality, and mind/body/spirit holistic living covers a lot of territory in a person's own spirituality. This book also gives the reader a lot to think about. 

Stephenson and Merritt's non-fiction book, Franklin County's Famous 1935 Moonshine Conspiracy Trial: Complete Daily Newspaper Accounts is about a whole 'nother type of spirits—the liquid kind that made Franklin County, Virginia, the moonshine capital of the world. Stephenson and Merritt didn't so much write this book as they compiled it. They collected and put together anonymously written newspaper stories (now in public domain) that reported the trial activities on a day-to-day basis. These stories are what the average person, who wasn't present at the long-running trial, would read in 1935. This book will give you an idea what was happening in the Rocky Mount courthouse in 1935.

So—if you're interested in reading about spirits in their various forms, you might want to consider these books.

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Monday, October 03, 2016

Cat on a Roof

Chloe, one of the household perimeter patrol cats, patrols the roof most mornings. Does she think we have roof rats? If so, she hasn't found any yet. But better safe than sorry, though.

Despite how the picture below looks, Chloe does not arm herself with a jousting pole. (What looks like a medieval weapon is actually a ham radio antenna.)

 Sometimes she checks the gutters. A kitty never knows what might be lurking therein.

When she's finished her patrol, she comes down the same way she got up—via the red-top tree. It's only one small leap for a kitty.

. . . and she's on her way. The blur in the leaves is Chloe, but you can see her orange tail ring.

She's down!

Now that her patrol is over, she'll likely take a nap.



Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Arlo's Origin

by Tanner (Resident Cat-in-Chief)

My kitty Arlo is pretty much all grown up now. He is bigger than me, which means he beats me at cat-rasslin’, and I can’t force him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.

He has also been asking me a lot of questions that are hard to answer—like “What did you do when you were a young cat?”

Well, I hate to admit I did some things I shouldn’t have, but I don’t want to tell him that. For instance, the late great Dylan introduced me to catnip, and I might have over-indulged with him a few times. 

There was also the matter of the times I slung dirt in the living room and lied about doing it. Mommy has blogged about that here and here. My lawyer had to get involved. But I didn’t want to tell Arlo that. Then he asked the big questions: “Where did I come from?” and “How did Mommy become our mommy?” I wasn’t quite sure, so I made up a story. Here it is:

Where Arlo Came From

Once upon a time, on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge, all the cats who used to be Mommy’s kitties got together and decided she needed another kitty.

Eddie-Puss, who raised me from a kitty and who crossed the rainbow bridge a couple of years ago when his thyroid gland quit working, said, “We ought to send Mommy another kitty to fill in the gap that some of us left when we had to leave her.”

“I agree,” said Foxy, the cat matriarch who left a year or two before Eddie-Puss. “Dylan’s cancer will send him to join us in a few months, so there’s going to be an empty space to fill. We should send this new kitty before Dylan crosses over, so she won’t be too upset about Dylan’s leaving.”


“What kind of kitty should we send?” asked Joshua, the Siamese who crossed the bridge 16 years ago when he was 17.
All the cats thought and thought.
“Maybe he should have a little of the best of us,” said Dino, a big black cat whose lymphoma took him across the bridge in 2001. “Mommy likes black cats. At least she’s had several of us, so the new cat should be black.” Eddie-Puss, Spookie, and Oprah agreed.
“She likes white feet,” added Spookie, who had white feet, so they all agreed to this. Then they decided to add more white areas underneath so the new one would have something of his own. Plus Mommy had some black and white cats that she liked.

“Soft, shiny hair,” said Eddie-Puss. “She always admired my hair.” Everyone agreed that soft, shiny hair was a must.


“And he should have some of our habits,” Foxy noted. “For instance, I always had breakfast with her every morning. I would wait beside her while she ate breakfast from a white plate with the blue edge, and she would always save me a few bites of egg. The kitty we send should do this too.”
“I remember the time Jim-Bob pushed in front of you,” Eddie-Puss said. “You smacked him so hard that you knocked him sideways.”
“That was the smack heard round the house,” said Foxy. “Jim-Bob never jumped the line again. He’s turned out to be a good, hard-working cat." It was then decided the new cat should eat off Mommy’s white plate with the blue edge.

“What about bad habits?” one of the cats asked. “Dylan is bad to bite up paper towels.”
“Well,” Foxy said, “Dylan does have bad habits. But he once did a very kind thing for me. A few days before the cancer brought me here, I wanted so badly to catch one last mouse. I was sitting on the deck when Dylan appeared with a dead vole in his mouth. He dropped it in front of me, and I picked it up and carried it around. It was almost like I’d caught it.” Foxy, who’d been a great hunter in her prime, thought for a moment. “Maybe the new kitty should bite up paper, and maybe even out-do Dylan in paper-biting skills.” The cats agreed he should have this skill. Then they wondered where they could find a new kitty soul who had all these characteristics.

“I’ll check the data base of new souls,” said Eddie-Puss, “and see if one is available. Otherwise we’ll have to put in an order, and goodness knows how long that will take.” He hurried off and was back in a flash with a new kitty soul.

“This is X-2016-8-ARLO,” Eddie-Puss said. “Arlo was just created the other day.”
The cats explained to the new feline soul where he would be going and what he would be doing.”
“It’ll be scary at first,” Foxy said. “The world has many scary things in it. You’ll be wild, like I once was, so you’ll have to live by your wits for a while. But there are lots of bushes to hide in, and Mommy will serve food to the other cats. If you keep watch, you’ll know when she is bringing food. The other cats will let you eat their leftovers. Then, when Mommy knows you are around, she will bring food just for you.”
“How will she know?” the new soul asked.
“She’ll catch fleeting glimpses of you in the yard,” Eddie-Puss explained. “Then you might look in the window on the front porch so she’ll see how cute you are.”

“Is that what you did?” the new soul asked.
“I was hiding under a bush when I heard her call one of the other cats. I came out and ran to her,” Eddie-Puss said. “She saw how skinny and tiny I was, so she scooped me up and took me in and fed me. I ate and ate.”
“But you’ll stay under the bush where you’ll feel safe,” Foxy said. “When she sees you, she’ll start bringing food. She never lets a stray animal go hungry. After a few days, you’ll start coming to her. Then you will let her play with you and pet you. When she calls you by name, you will let her pick you up and take you inside.”
“What’s inside? How will she know my name?” the tiny soul asked.

“Inside is a wonderful place where you’ll be safe and have all you want to eat and even toys to play with,” Eddie-Puss said. “The night before she gives you a name, she’ll watch an Arlo Guthrie special on PBS. The name will stick with her. Oh, she’ll think she thought of it herself, but she won’t know how we’ve planned things. People never do.”

“But I don’t want to leave here. It sounds scary!”
“Oh, you’ll be back eventually,” Foxy said. “We all return here where we began.”
“It’s only scary for a little while,” Eddie-Puss said. “After you cross the bridge, you’ll go into a dark tunnel that’ll take you to the world. When you finally come back, a tunnel of light will bring you back to the bridge where we’ll be waiting for you. You won’t be scared then.”

“We promise,” said all the cats as they began herding the little new soul to the bridge.
“You won’t remember this place very well once you’re in the world,” Foxy said. “Except maybe for little bits in your dreams.”
Then they waved good-bye with their tails as the new kitty Arlo started his journey. “Till we meet again!” they all purred.

Arlo didn’t say anything while I was telling this tale. Then I looked over and saw that he was asleep. 

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.William Wordsworth


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