Peevish Pen

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

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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.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Dawning Poetic

Yesterday's morning sky provided some spectacular images.

Yesterday's dawn brings to mind a poem by G. F. Scott.

"Dawn"

THE immortal spirit hath no bars
To circumscribe its dwelling place;
My soul hath pastured with the stars
Upon the meadow-lands of space.

My mind and ear at times have caught,
From realms beyond our mortal reach,
The utterance of Eternal Thought
Of which all nature is the speech.

And high above the seas and lands,
On peaks just tipped with morning light,
My dauntless spirit mutely stands
With eagle wings outspread for flight.
Frederick George Scott (1861 - 1944)

Moments later, the sun rose:


From “Sunrise”

. . . . . . . . . . . .
So tell me, rising Sun, I pray,
What are you bringing me to-day?

What shall this busy brain have thought,
What shall these hands and feet have wrought,
What sorrows shall the hours have brought,

Before thy brilliant course is run,
Before this new-born day is done,
Before you set, O rising Sun?
Frederick George Scott (1861 - 1944)

Later, for a few minutes in the morning, the clouds looked like this:

These clouds aren't "mean," but they're low and unusual.
Emily Dickinson's poem sort of fits.

"The Sky is low -- the Clouds are mean"

The Sky is low -- the Clouds are mean.
A Travelling Flake of Snow
Across a Barn or through a Rut
Debates if it will go --

A Narrow Wind complains all Day
How some one treated him
Nature, like Us is sometimes caught
Without her Diadem.
Emily Dickinson

~

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reading Matters

The problem with reading a really good book is what do you read next?

I’ve just finished two really good books: Sara Gruen’s Flying Changes and Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Flying Changes was a horse book, so naturally I was predisposed to like it. I also like Gruen’s writing style and that she gets the details right. I’ve read too many horse books where the writer assumes a horse is a horse, etc. Not Gruen. She knows her stuff. I’d read her first book, Riding Lessons, and liked it. Flying Changes is the sequel. And it’s better, I think, than the first book.

The Time Traveler’s Wife was a superb piece of writing. At conferences, I’ve heard agents and editors say they want something different: good writing that looks at a subject in a way that it hasn’t been looked at before. The Time Traveler’s Wife is a love story. So, how is it different? Henry travels through time. He doesn’t want to; he just does—sometimes to the future, sometimes to the past. Of course this presents problems to Clare, who loves him.

Reading The Time Traveler’s Wife has changed my perspective a bit. Now, I’d like to think that time-traveling is what my mother did during the last years of her life. Her dementia often seemed to put her in another place, another time. For the three years she lived with me, when I woke her up at 6:15 every morning to start the first round of her medications, I never knew “where” she might be. Sometimes, she talked to me about her daughter and told me things her little girl was doing, not realizing that the “stranger” she spoke to was her daughter. Sometimes she’d ask me where her daughter was. Once, when her mind was traveling in the past, I asked her who she thought I was. “Oh,” she said, “You’re that actress on television.”

Other days, she lived in the present and knew exactly who I was. But after her stroke in 2004 when she was 91—when she had to go to a nursing home, she rarely knew me. For a few days she babbled, then started talking of her impending marriage to someone named “Mr. Wilson.” This was a time I couldn’t figure out, a time in her life where I’d never been and couldn’t go.

Then she fell and broke her hip. I sat in the emergency room with her while we waited for a room, and she told me how to put a scalloped edge on the skirt I was making (I wasn’t making a skirt) and how to make creamed onions. She’d already told a nurse how the catering table fell on her at her wedding, a story that didn’t come close to matching what the nursing home representative said in her phone call: “Your mother decided she wanted to walk and got out of her wheelchair. . . .” So, I must have been a time traveler’s daughter.

What to read next? My stack of unread books that now fills two bookcases. Maybe something by Jodi Picoult? I’m glad a Northside High School student recommended Picoult’s work to me. (One of the perks of being a writer-in-residence was finding out what talented kids liked to read.) Maybe Sheri ReynoldsFirefly Cloak that I bought at the James River Writers Conference when I heard her speak?

One of my favorite indulgences is reading. I’ve heard the average American reads four or fewer books a year. I can’t imagine reading so few.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Evening Clouds



I noticed this sky-view yesterday evening while feeding the critters. I liked the play of lights and darks.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Day 2007


“. . . [B]urnished by the sun” (part of a line from El Gallo in The Fantasticks, one of the longest running plays on Broadway) pretty much describes these oaks. Despite the recent high temperatures, at least the trees now look like fall.

Today is Thanksgiving, a holiday usually ascribed to a celebration by the Pilgrims in 1622. We Virginians know that the real first Thanksgiving happened at Berkeley Plantation seventeen months before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts.

Among the things I’m thankful for is that Dr. C at Blue Ridge Podiatry removed part of my ingrown toenail on Monday. This removal didn’t hurt nearly as much as the one last July and was kind of interesting to watch. He only removed a tiny sliver but the pain instantly subsided. Amazing how such a small thing can be an irritation while it’s there but such a big relief when it’s gone.

Now I’m only limping on one foot and even that one’s getting better.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nov. 22 Revisited

Those of us who are of, ahem, a certain age remember well what we were doing on this day in 1963. Even though 44 years have passed, I still remember that day when I was a freshman at Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU).

My Friday morning classes were over. Before I went to a late lunch, I looked out the window of my room in Founders Hall. My window overlooked Shafer Street, which at that time was still open to traffic. A lot of people were in the street and milling around—more commotion than usual. I went down the back steps to the cafeteria that was in the basement of Founders. I can still see the yellow-tiled walls. A lot of students were there. Some were crying. Then I found out what had happened.

Those of us sitting at the table shared bits and pieces of what we’d heard. This was way before cell-phones—before small transistor radios, even. Our news came in black and white from the TV in the student center or from the one in the dorm parlor. No student had a TV in his or her room. We had “table model” radios, though. But word quickly spread that the president had been shot. A bit later, we learned, he’d been killed.

Some fellow members of the cast of The Crucible were in the cafeteria. Our play was in late rehearsals. I played Elizabeth Proctor, wife of one of the accused. There was discussion about whether rehearsals should be cancelled, but the director decided—and the cast agreed—that the show would go on.

For those not familiar with Arthur Miller’s 1952 play which opened on Broadway in 1953 (and a few decades later became a movie), The Crucible was about the 1692 Salem witch trials, in which a group of malicious young girls accused people in Salem, Massachusetts, of being witches. They started with an Indian slave and a few eccentric old women and then branched out to others. Miller’s play takes considerable liberties with actual history, but the historical account of those strange and horrible events in 1692 is at the Famous American Trials site. Miller’s play isn’t just about the Salem Witch trials. It’s also about a later “witchhunt”—the McCarthy hearings. But I’m digressing.

In case you’re too young to remember the Kennedy assassination, and you want to know about the events that some of us watched on the black and white TV in our dorm parlor, The Fifties Web gives an account of what happened that strange day, November 22, 1963, in Dallas.

November 22, 2007, might be another strange day. Record high temperatures are predicted today for the area. Roanoke might even break its previous record of 73. When I walked around the yard this morning with my little black cat Dylan on his leash, I wore a short-sleeved shirt.

Meanwhile, the show goes on.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Leftover Posting

Last Monday, I was going to post about the previous day's walk in the woods on the new trails so, faithful readers, bear with me that today's info and pictures are a week late:

Last Sunday morning, John and Maggie and I walked the Polecat Creek Farm. John had finished bush-hogging a few days earlier, so more trails were open.




The problem with the walking trails is that I don’t walk well. The heel spur is improving (more about that later) but it still makes its presence known. I need to walk, not only for better diabetes control, but also to lose some weight that will help the diabetes, etc. Nature, however, is not often handicap accessible.

One of the things that help are the “farm use” chairs that John has placed in the woods for me. When an outdoor chair becomes too badly worn out for home use, it gets another incarnation as a “farm use” chair. (No, I don’t have little tags on them. Yet.) It’s nice to know, especially during tick season, that I don’t have to sit on the ground when I need to rest.

But the “new” trails we walked Sunday didn’t have any resting places—except for the porch on the old home site. Maggie, of course, ran big circles around me while I, limping along, marveled at the fall color:





When John and I were much younger—when our move to the country was a distant plan—it didn't occur to us that we wouldn’t be able to get around as well when we finally made our move.

Did we think that we’d always be young?

In spring, do the leaves think they’ll always be green?

Looking back, I wish I’d thought about what I was doing to my feet when I wore high heels in my 20s. Now I notice lots of women of, ahem, a certain age limping along like I do. (Didn’t I notice limping women years ago? If so, didn’t I wonder why they limped?) Two bouts of plantar fasciitis, the fibromyalgia I was diagnosed with in the mid-90s, and the current heel spur are sometimes painful reminders that I’ll never move the way I used to.

Therapy has helped. Currently, Ruth Mitchell—a myofascial release specialist who's also done great things for my elderly horses—is doing wonders for me. Sometimes I can make it through most of the day without hurting. In fact, I felt so good Monday afternoon after she worked her magic on me that I was going to sing her praises on this blog and post the pictures of the previous day’s fall color.

But when I walked into the house, John told me about my stolen tombstone. Minutes later, the deputy arrived to investigate, and I put off my feel-good post.

Until now.

Time is fleeting. Next year we will not be so young. Or so green.

~

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is This How It Might Have Happened?

My mind has been running wild lately (usually it walks, often with a limp) and here is my latest theory: my stolen tombstone was a lake job. Yep, some of those newcomers from the north who recently moved to the lake and just don’t understand how things work around here are responsible. Gotta be. My theory:

An older New York couple—we’ll call them Fred and Ethel—leave their NYC apartment because they’re tired of their neighbors’ shenanigans—Lucy is always coming up with hare-brained schemes and Ricky is always beating on a Conga drum and yelling “Ba-ba-looooo!” Gets on their nerves. Plus all those steps to climb because the elevator never works. Most of their other NY friends and a good percentage of their NJ friends are already at Smith Mountain Lake and tell them how great it is. So Fred and Ethel move into a place on a quiet cove. (Are there any quiet coves left at SML? I’ll work on that later. Back to the plot.)

Anyhow, Ethel starts serving on a bunch of committees and joins a bunch of clubs, and Fred takes up golf—but he’s lousy at it and the other retirees make fun of him. Ethel also notices that their place could use a little fixing up.

One day, when they’re driving through the countryside (what there is left of it in the county), they notice all these little places with upright stones in them.

“Could those be cemeteries?” asks Ethel.

“Nah,” replies Fred. “I’m pretty sure you can’t have a cemetery in your yard.” He looks over the tall grass in the hayfield surrounding the bucolic little cemetery. “And don’t those people ever mow their yard? As big as this place is, you’d think they could afford a gardener or something.”

“You’re probably right, Fred,” says Ethel. “Cemeteries should have hundreds of people in them, not just a few. Maybe somebody tried to build a miniature Stonehenge here and then just gave up.”

“Ethel, are you nuts?” says Fred. “Who’d do such a stupid thing?”

“Well, I’ve heard in Roanoke there’s a miniature Graceland,” Ethel says. Then she gets an idea, which is not a good sign what with all of Lucy’s former influence. “One of those stones would make a perfect step next to the deck. You know, where you’re always falling off? It’s not like anyone is actually using them. Whattya say, Fred?”

“I dunno, Ethel,” says Fred as they climb out of their humongous SUV to take a closer look. “They got people’s names on them. Probably whoever put them here. And dates.”

“Hmmm,” says Ethel, as she squints because she refuses to wear glasses. “The last date must be the ‘use by’ date. Some of these rocks are pretty out-dated.”

“Lookee!” says Fred. “There’s one in the back row without an expiration date. Let’s get it. I don’t see the owner of this place around. It isn’t like anyone will miss it.”

With a lot of pushing and heaving (New Yorkers are noted for their toughness), Fred and Ethel wrestle the stone into the SUV and drive it home where it makes a lovely addition to the backyard. And Fred doesn’t fall off the deck nearly as much.

After trying it both ways, they decide to put it face down so the writing doesn’t show. Ethel’s “Art Appreciation and Wine-Tasting for the Not-Quite-Elderly” group just studied minimalism and merlot, so she thinks the blank side makes more of a statement. Especially when you’ve killed off a bottle of whatever vintage was on special at Kroger’s last senior citizen’s discount day.

All Ethel’s new friends (at least the ones in the most recent arrival division of the latest newcomers club) think her new decorative step looks great.

“It looks great!” they say, as they sip another glass of wine and nod agreement with each other.

Fred uses the stone to practice putting and shaves several strokes off his score, thus gaining respect from the other guys at the country club.

As they sit on the stone in the warm November night and watch the sun set over the property across the cove (the development of which will soon obscure the sight of the sunset and just about everything else) and enjoy the quiet (now that most of the week-enders and tourists are gone for the season), they rest in peace.

And maybe kill off a couple of bottles of merlot.

~The End~

Note: Astute readers (and members of my writing groups) will be quick to spot the major error in this story: “the tall grass in the hayfield.” In this drought? Is that a piece of fiction, or what?

The above story was, of course, fiction that I wrote last night. For those needing a non-fiction fix, here's the scene that greeted me a bit after seven this morning: a pile of gravel surrounded by a church pew and metal chairs.



Wonder what story goes with that?

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Friday, November 16, 2007

A Little Help From My Friends

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
—Edmund Burke


You don’t know who your friends really are until your tombstone vanishes. Turns out I’ve got lots of friends who’ve emailed, phoned, stopped by, stopped me on the street, etc., to offer their condolences and support. I’ve had advice from a couple of detective buddies, offers of prayers, offers of a hex (nothing really harmful, “just psychological stuff,” the emailer noted), an offer of possible FBI involvement (“My son does work for the FBI, wanna call in a favor?” another friend emailed), and a bunch of other interesting offers. An all this was before yesterday’s KNRA/WXLP radio show.

Turns out many of the locals don’t care for the things my harassers do, either. “A lot of people are embarrassed by them,” a guy told me Wednesday, “but they’re afraid to speak out because of retaliation.” He noted that some people visiting him from out of town wondered about the rusty chair display across from my driveway, and he had to explain that it was an example of harassment by some of the locals. (Too bad he didn’t know that it’s “a place for the hunters to sit.” Heck, even I didn’t know that myself until yesterday’s show.)

Retaliation: That’s the key. When good people do nothing, evil triumphs. My area does have a lot of good people in it. Many of my neighbors are wonderful, caring people. I’m proud to know them and to live near them. But many are afraid to take a stand.

Mean people exist. We all know that. Bullying is a problem in public schools. Child abuse and domestic abuse are problems in our society. TV shows, like Dr. Phil and his ilk, often address these problems. Neighbor abuse exists, too. A friend of mine, from an area several miles from me, was even physically attacked by one her neighbors as she was nailing up a “No Trespassing” sign. She didn’t know then about warrants. So, all the mean people don’t live around me. But I’ve got more than my share.

In my younger days, I was a member of a trail club who met in a building (I think it was a Ruritan clubhouse), on the wall of which hung this sign:
If it’s to be,
It’s up to me.
Once a month—for a couple of years during the 1980s—I looked at that sign. Was it a message for me?

Is it up to me to stop expecting that the neighborhood rednecks/”local hunters” get tired of harassing me? Is it up to me to expose the hatefulness of a small group of people? Can I make the world—a tiny piece of it, at least—better because I call attention to those who attempt to bully me?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But I went into town yesterday and “did something”—among other things, I took out a “stay away” warrant on the guy who confronted me on yesterday’s radio program. I’m sure he will consider that another instance of my harassment of the locals. After all, the “local hunters” were only offering to get back my tombstone that they accuse me of stealing myself, and all I have to do is not “harass” them. Uh, does this sound like blackmail?

If it quacks like a duck. . .

And if it’s to be—well, you know.
~

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

What the World Knows Now

Well, the radio interview for the station in Iowa was certainly interesting this morning. One of the “local hunters” was on the other line.

The host asked if I knew a Reverend Randy Watson, I didn’t. Then did I know a K*v*n D*v*d? Turns out I did. (He's a local landscaper who does a lot of stonework at the lake.) That’s who was on the other line.

It seems, according to KD, that the talk around the area—where “the Mushkos have so many enemies”—is that my tombstone theft was an “inside job.” Apparently, according to him, my husband and I stole it! “A witness saw her husband’s truck by the cemetery Sunday night.” Huh? Why has this “witness” not come forward?

If we’d been there Sunday night, we’d have reported the theft then. Now, what are “witnesses” doing hanging around our farm at night? And why? John already asked the closest neighbor if they’d seen anything? Why did she say she hadn’t? (OK, faithful blog readers, can you picture two 60-plus people—one of whom is overweight and has health problems and the other of whom isn’t in great shape either—wrestling a 500-lb. stone out of a cemetery in the middle of the night?)

Gee, did we also spike our own farm driveway and get flat tires on our trucks back in 2003, do you think?

Interesting how KD turned the tables on me. Apparently, I’m the one harassing the local hunters. Is reporting game violations harassment? Is reporting property damage harassment? Is wanting to be safe on my own property or on the public roads harassment?

“None of the game wardens will respond to her calls,” KD said, mentioning that the police don’t respond either. Uh, yes, they do. Every time I’ve called.

KD accuses me of “crying wolf.” I don’t. (And how would he know whether or not they respond to my calls? Is he monitoring my calls? If so, how?)

KD says the theft of my tombstone was a “way to get publicity” for myself. Why do I need to “get publicity” for myself? I write a column. (AHA! Now I know who must have written that letter of complaint about my column a few weeks ago!)

When I asked KD if he was the one sitting beside his brother at my husband’s trial last year (when one of the locals swore out two false warrants against my husband), and my husband—who didn’t even need a lawyer—defended himself and was found not guilty, KD answered “It could have been me.” Could have been? You either know or don’t know if you’re sitting beside your own brother at a trial. (A brother, by the way, who sends us an email a few days later in which he calls my husband “Mushcrapko.”)

Turns out, according to KD, I have “numerous enemies” in the community. That I have been “harassing the hunters” for years.

I had no idea that posting my land or trying to drive along public roads to my land was “harassing.” Gee, who would’ve thought!

Now it seems, the "local hunters," who have endured my “harassment” for so many years, are offering to buy me a new tombstone if I’ll stop harassing them.

OK, let me get this straight: If I no longer report hunting violations to the authorities, if I stop calling the police every time someone drives by and threatens me—whether it is nearly colliding a 4-wheeler into my truck on a public road or stopping in front of my farm to take my picture or firing shots (albeit into the ground) across the road from me while I’m getting my mail out of the mailbox or scattering spikes in my farm driveway—they’ll replace my tombstone. First I’ve heard of it. You’d have thought they would have told me personally instead of announcing it on a radio show in Iowa.

Does this mean they'll also stop yelling “Fat Ass!” at me or the “M-F” word at my husband while they drive by or will one of them stop giving my husband or me the middle finger? If they don’t stop and we maybe become indignant and maybe even contact authorities (who, of course aren't going to respond because we're “crying wolf”), does that mean we’re “harassing” them? And if they actually replace the tombstone, and it turns out that we don't behave in such a manner that suits them, will they haul it away again?

KD also took offense that I called the locals by the term “rednecks.”

“Some of them are self-made millionaires—not rednecks!” he declared. The host pointed out that the two were not mutually exclusive. The host also mentioned that he felt like Maury during this exchange.

KD mentioned some other things that didn’t happen—like we’d harassed them during dove season this year. Well, some hunters were out there across the road from us for a while. But there weren’t many doves and it was hot, so most of them went home early. I stayed in and did housework, only looking out occasionally. Plus, I was still recovering from my hospital stay. (I wonder, are people who look like my husband and me, harassing them? Could that be it?)

KD referred to the old Novelty depot as a “hunting cabin.” When I asked him about the rusty chairs across from my driveway, he said they’re “for the hunters to sit on.” (Why would hunters want to sit on chairs a few feet from a public road and facing a private residence—my home? What, exactly, are they hunting from there?

Picture taken this morning. The flowers are in my flowerbed. The edge of my driveway is at lower right. If you click to enlarge the picture, you can see the old chairs facing the road. The old pew in the center was near the road until last Saturday. What could they be hunting from the intersection where three roads meet? Plus they all live in the neighborhood. They never stay over in the old depot.

Even the host noticed something, after KD had mentioned the details of the 4-wheeler incident (if KD were there, I sure didn't see him) and said we “backed up” (we didn’t) and the kid “didn’t get off” his 4-wheeler and come toward us (he did) and that the kid weighed 250 pounds. The host mentioned that a kid this size might have a few few friends and—well, you know.

(Thank you, KD, for publicly announcing that the kid was indeed on the road. I’m sure his lawyer will be delighted that you verified that he was riding on the public road in such a manner because now the lawyer won't have to waste valuable time determining if his client was or was not on a public road.)

So, anyway, it turns out that I must not really be the victim of harassment after all. Gee, it’s news to me.

And speaking of news: Thank you, KD, for sharing such interesting information with such a large audience—an audience, I’m sure, that reaches many more people than this humble blog does.

Meanwhile, I'm still awaiting a tombstone. Either the original or a replacement.

Update: The day after the interview, KD decided to create a blog to denounce me. His brother created another one.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tombstone Updates

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 14 UP-DATE: The story of my pilfered tombstone spreads across the USA (Well, halfway)! The Dwyer & Michaels radio show in Iowa (Stations KNRA & WXLP; online at www.2dorks.com) wants to interview me. Listen online at 8 a.m. (or thereabouts) Thursday!
~~~

It's still missing. (Thanks to the many faithful blog readers who have called or emailed.) I didn't think my tombstone would return of its own accord.

Mike Allen's story about it made the front page of the Virginia section of today's Roanoke Times. [UPDATE: The Associated Press picked up the story. A story also ran in the  Franklin-News Post.]

I'll update this post periodically today if I hear anything. Right now, we assume it's just one in a long series of harassment by some of the local rednecks. (A summary of their harassment is here.) Or, possibly, the theft is related to the warrants I filed last week.

Time will tell. Or possibly the reward I'm offering will motivate one of the thief's buddies to tell: $500 for information leading to arrest and conviction of person responsible.

Stay tuned.

Edited to add: Was interviewed by phone by Q-99.]

~

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Rest in Peace? No Way!

Sometime between Saturday morning and this morning my tombstone went missing from the family cemetery on Standiford Road in Union Hall.

I don’t think it left of its own accord, so it’s not wandering around loose or anything. From tracks that the investigating officer found, it appears that someone hauled it out of the cemetery on a cart.

I bought that tombstone in 2005 when Rhonda was running a special down at Add-A-Touch Monuments. I’d looked through a whole bunch of designs before I selected the grape-leaf design, which I thought look kind of festive. It was delivered on December 14, the same day I bought Maggie.

Why did I buy my own tombstone? A couple of reasons. For one, I was being harassed by some of the local rednecks and didn’t know whether I’d survive the 2005 hunting season. (The harassment increases during deer season when they roam in mobs and carry guns. Update: I've blogged many times in the past about the harassment, but a summary is here. ) Second, I don’t have kids. Who would pick out a stone for me when I’m gone? (John has lousy taste.) Third, I wanted to mark my place in the family cemetery. Finally, it was on special—I saved 5%.

Here’s what it looked like before this weekend:


Here’s what it looks like now:

The thieves even took the pillar it was on!

Anyhow, if you happen to see my missing tombstone, give me a call. I’m offering a reward for its safe return and another reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever took it.

I won’t rest in peace until it's returned.

Update: Interestingly, my tombstone went missing a week after I'd filed charges against a local boy who'd barely missed hitting my truck head-on while he was speeding his ATV on a public road. We'd been harassed by this kid and his father (see "Tribulations and the Trial") on many previous occasions.

Before long, a couple of blogs appeared denouncing me. The same day the stone went missing, this one appeared. Two days later, the same person posted another blog. His brother, who was in the landscaping/hardscaping business, hi-jacked an Internet radio show I was on a week later and then started his own blog.

A post about the radio show is "What the World Knows Now" posted on November 15, 2007. Another tombstone related post is "A Little Help from my Friends" on November 16, 2007.


A few years later, I bought a replacement tombstone. The original was never returned. Roanoke Times Columnist Dan 

Casey wrote a story about it: "Now She Can Rest in Peace."

~


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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Close to the Edge

Young Adult novels are getting edgier.

That’s what I’ve heard—in various print sources and at last month’s James River Writers Conference. (YA includes ages 12 through 18.)

I hadn’t read that many YA novels since I stopped teaching. Most of the edginess of YA novels from the 70s and 80s dealt with drugs: Go Ask Alice by "Anonymous" was one that was too much for most school libraries. That book was supposedly an autobiography, but was actually a novel. I remember that an 8th grader told me I ought to read it, and I did. An eye-opening experience.

Paul Zindel’s My Darling, My Hamburger (teen sexual awareness) was published in the early 70s. Anne Head’s Mr. & Mrs. BoJo Jones (teen pregnancy, although they couple involved got married and the baby died) was another edgy one from way back in 1967. S.A. Hinton’s The Outsiders seems tame today, but was way out there—edgy—when it was first published in 1967. And S.A. was a young girl when she wrote it!

When I was a YA myself (not that anybody called us "YA" in the late 50s and early 60s—we were just “kids” or “teenagers”), there weren’t many "YA"—er, teenage— books. We mostly read the classics or else the same books that grown-ups read. Or we re-read the books for younger kids.

When I was 12, I was immersed in the Black Stallion series, but I also liked Caddie Woodlawn—about a girl my age who lived in the “old-timey” days. I remember checking it out of the Lee Junior High School library back in 1957. Now, because of a bit of “political incorrectness,” Caddie Woodlawn now seems edgy.

In junior high, I also read all the biographies I could find—I didn’t care who they were about. I doubt that any came close to being edgy.

In high school, my classmates and I continued to read classics (George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, etc.), but I also remember reading Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984. Animal Farm was an “animal story,” only it wasn’t. But it was OK to read. In 1962, the year 1984 was so far into the future as to be incomprehensible. Outside of class, I read Gone With the Wind, “old-timey” novel I liked, although I thought Scarlett wasn’t as interesting as Caddie.

In 1963, after the movie came out, everybody read To Kill a Mockingbird, too, even though it dealt with rape and racism—two topics that polite folks in our male-dominated segregated society didn’t talk about. I guess that made it edgy.

I can’t remember titles of most of the other contemporary novels I read in high school. But I must have read some.

During my first year in college (on my own time, because everyone was talking about them) I read Peyton Place and Catcher in the Rye. Now, I’m told (by a panel at the JRWC) that if Catcher in the Rye were to be published today, it would be marketed as YA. (YA readers today would probably think Peyton Place too old-timey and boring.)

Anyhow, I just finished a new YA novel: Claiming Georgia Tate, by Gigi Amateau, whom I heard speak at the JRWC. She’s a southern writer besides a YA writer, so that was a plus in my deciding to buy and read her book. Claiming Georgia Tate was well-written, and I enjoyed it.

The novel deals, among other things, with the incest/rape of its twelve-year-old narrator. That event happens after the narrator’s grandmother dies and she’s sent to live with her father in Florida but before a boy grabs her butt and causes her to have a bike accident, after which the drag queen takes her in and tends her wounds (both physical and mental), and then there’s her grandfather’s car accident that occurs just before she gets home on the bus—well, a lot of stuff happens to this poor girl, who never does know what actually happened to her mother who abandoned her in the care of her grandparents after she (the mother) got out of the mental hospital where she was sent following her unsuccessful attempt at suicide, which the grandparents never told the narrator about until right before the grandmother died.

I really did like the book and Amateau's writing style. The main character is likeable and believable. I generally don’t enjoy reading about so much misery, especially when so many bad things happen so fast to such a nice kid. However, this was a book I couldn’t put down until I finished it.

I know bad things— child abuse, rape, incest, animal cruelty, war, famine, devastation, misery, abandonment, mutilation, and a bunch of other bad things—happen on a daily basis. And I know that folks need to be made aware that these things happen.

Awareness of a problem can often be the first step in finding a solution. "Edgy" books make us aware.

~

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ban the Books?

A brouhaha has developed in Kanawha County, West Virginia, over whether some books by writer Pat Conroy are obscene, offensive, too violent, etc.—and thus should be removed from the library.

This morning on page 9 of the Roanoke Times A section, I read about the controversy surrounding Conroy’s Beach Music and The Prince of Tides. You can read the article here or here.

I became a Pat Conroy fan back in the early 70s when I read The Water is Wide. In his 1972 memoir, Conroy tells of his teaching experience on “Yamacraw Island,” off the South Carolina coast. About the time he was coping with abysmal teaching conditions on the island, I was teaching 7th grade English grammar in an un-air-conditioned crowded trailer in nearby Charleston County, SC. I was also attending graduate school at the Citadel, Conroy’s alma mater. (Of course, being female, I couldn’t attend classes at during the day. The Citadel’s graduate program was at night and during the summer.) So, you might say that I crossed paths with Conroy, albeit at a distance.

In 1974, The Water is Wide was made into Conrack, a movie starring Jon Voight, and Conroy’s successful literary career was assured. I liked the movie, but the book was better.

But back to the censorship issue: There will always be parents who object to books that might corrupt their innocent little darlings. About fifteen years or so ago at a middle school where I taught, a fellow English teacher told some of us about having to design a separate literature unit for one of her students whose parents didn’t want her corrupted by the literature unit the class was studying. Yeah, no telling how the study of Greek mythology might corrupt a kid!

When I was a kid, back in the early 50s, I read a book that was about parental neglect, violence, cannibalism, and witchcraft. This book should have scarred me for life, right? However, I don’t think reading Hansel and Gretel corrupted me at all.

One thing I know, as both a former kid and former teacher, is that a sure way to get kids to read a book is to tell them they aren't allowed to.

"All life connects. Nothing that happens is meaningless."
Pat Conroy

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Info You’ll Want to Be, uh, Privy To

Warning: possible pseudo-educational content to follow (or at least stuff that isn’t about writing, rural living, or border collies).

On October 25, over on her Blue Country Magic blog, Anita F. listed 13 things that annoy her and asked for comments about other things that annoy her readers. I left a comment with some additional things that annoy me, but I forgot to mention a biggie: the lack of lids on public toilet seats.

Why is this an annoyance? Does the term “aerosol effect” mean anything to you? What about the name Charles Gerba?

From http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a990416.html:

In 1975 Professor Gerba published a scientific article describing the little-known phenomenon of bacterial and viral aerosols due to toilet flushing. The more you learn about it, the scarier it sounds. According to Gerba, close-up photos of the germy ejecta look like "Baghdad at night during a U.S. air attack." The article ominously depicts a "floor plan of experimental bathroom with location of gauze pads for viral fallout experiments." A lot of virus fell on those gauze pads, Gerba found, and a lot of bacteria too. In fact, significant quantities of microbes floated around the bathroom for at least two hours after each flush.
Ewww!

And from a New York Times story about Gerba's work:

That experiment led Dr. Gerba to create what he calls a ''commodograph,'' a method of determining patterns of droplet emission from the bowl. He has also used a strobe light to shoot a time-lapse photograph of a flush, which shows droplets of water, usually invisible, each containing thousands of bacteria and viruses, being ejected from the bowl. ''Keep your toothbrush in the medicine cabinet,'' Dr. Gerba advised. Though Dr. Gerba never published the photograph (he freely distributes it to interested parties), research from that experiment was published in 1975 in the journal Applied Microbiology.

Now do you see the problem? Public toilets have no lids, so they’re going to get you with the aerosol effect—especially since most of them require you to lean over the bowl to reach the handle to flush them. So your face is positioned . . . .

Well, you can do the math.

OK: In keeping with the general theme of this blog, here’s a “rural living” tie-in:
Back in the old outhouse days in rural America, folks didn’t have to worry much about the aerosol effect. Spiders, yellow jackets, the occasional snake—but not the aerosol effect.

~

For those eager to learn more about the subject (or for those with too much time on their hands), here’s a list of helpful websites:

More than you want to know about flushing: http://www.toiletology.com/Research.shtml

Think before you flush or brush: http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/biology/b103/f02/web2/stan.html

Your desk has more germs than your toilet seat. Read “Flushing Out the Truth” for the details: http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/moments/s1143577.htm

Apparently, a toilet seat has been invented to take care of the "aerosol effect" problem. Anybody ever try the Miracle Seat?

~

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dogs & Accents & Nerds, Oh My!

I took an online quiz to find out what kind of dog I am—or would be, if I were a canine. Soon after finishing the quiz, I found out I was an Irish setter. Yep, "Becky, you're a Irish Setter!" they said.

Hmmm. I never pictured myself as red-haired and hyper, which is what I think of when I think of Irish setters. This is my alleged profile:

No bones about it, you're a devil-may-care Irish Setter. Fun-loving and light-hearted, life is an adventure for you — an attitude your nearest and dearest find refreshing and inspiring. Witty, with a nose for fun, you can turn any social gathering into an unforgettable event, which is why you're always at the top of the guest list. Your varied interests — anything and everything from sky-diving to club hopping — make you extremely well-rounded. Just make sure you don't get distracted and lose sight of your responsibilities. As long as you stay balanced, you're a lucky dog who will always be a kid at heart — woof!
"Sky-diving?" "Club hopping?" Not me! OK, "witty" and "nose for fun" are right on.

Deciding to find out what American accent I have, I took another quiz:

My result: Philadelphia. Huh?! I've passed through Pennsylvania a few times—and stayed for a while in Lancaster, Gettysburg, and Hershey—but I've never visited Philadelphia. I'm Virginian, born and bred. Nevertheless, this is what the quiz results said:

Your accent is as Philadelphian as a cheesesteak! If you're not from Philadelphia, then you're from someplace near there like south Jersey, Baltimore, or Wilmington. if you've ever journeyed to some far off place where people don't know that Philly has an accent, someone may have thought you talked a little weird even though they didn't have a clue what accent it was they heard.

Nope, none of the above. I'm married to someone from northern Jersey—and I've passed though south Jersey—but I've never been to Wilmington or Baltimore. Could my two years in South Carolina, two years on the Virginia peninsula, and six months in western Massachusetts average out to a Philly accent?

Finally, I too another quiz to see what kind of nerd I am.

My result: Literature Nerd. Yes! This actually describes me:

Does sitting by a nice cozy fire, with a cup of hot tea/chocolate, and a book you can read for hours even when your eyes grow red and dry and you look sort of scary sitting there with your insomniac appearance? Then you fit this category perfectly! You love the power of the written word and it's eloquence; and you may like to read/write poetry or novels. You contribute to the smart people of today's society, however you can probably be overly-critical of works. It's okay. I understand.

And I'm enough of a literature (actually grammar and punctuation) nerd to be irked by the cliché "today's society" and overly-critical enough to know that a semicolon should go in front of however and a comma after.

And "it's eloquence"? Don't get me started on such an obvious error! Its is the proper form of the possessive personal pronoun. It's is the contraction for it is.

What would the world do without us "overly-critical" folks—us literature nerds— to set the others straight?

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Once Upon a Time

A long time ago, the Perkins family lived in the cabin that used to be on this hilltop on my Polecat Creek Farm. The cabin burned (or was burned by the previous owner) before we bought this farm in 1986. The porch is still recognizable. It would have been added sometime after the cabin was built.

Who planted the English ivy that climbs the tree?


The chimney, still standing until the early 1990s, toppled during a high wind. Most of the stones remain, though, where they fell. They look like the tombstones in the old Perkins graveyard on a neighboring hill.

The hearth would have been to the left.

The only remaining sign that a family once lived here is part of a pitcher. Did someone use it for spring water, or for milk? The spring is far below the house. Someone had devised a way for a bucket to be lowered on a wire to the spring so no one would have to descend the steep hill. Part of a bucket remains above the spring—or at least it did a few years ago.



The patriarch, Benjamin Perkins, isn't buried on this land. His remains lie in the Northfield Cemetery a few miles away. My Aunt Belva, who died in 2003, told me that he died on his birthday—fell headfirst into his birthday cake.

The farm went through a succession of owners after the Perkinses were gone. My husband bought it when it came up at auction.

Another view of the porch.

An older man, who lives down toward Sandy Level and who used to show his horses at the same shows I attended in the 1980s, told me he'd attended some wild teen-age parties here. That must have been during the late 1940s or early 1950s.

Aunt Belva once said of the Perkinses, "Suicide runs in their family." Wonder what old ghosts linger on this hill or on the other hill where a half-dozen graves are marked by fieldstones?

The road into this homestead used to run through the middle of our top hayfield. There's no trace of the road anymore.

Maggie looks in the direction of where the road used to be.


How soon traces of life vanish. How temporary are the marks we make upon the world.
~

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

My Kind of Place

I love independent bookstores. Each has its individual charm. Yesterday in downtown Chatham, I visited a particularly charming bookstore, Shadetree Books.


Shadetree has rare books, old books, new books, books about Pittsylvania County, and books by local authors.


. . . a little something for everybody. (Yeah, I bought a book.)


In the back of the store, owner (and author) Henry Hurt has his own private library. It's huge! Here's a picture of part of it:


Is that cool, or what?

~

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Friday, November 02, 2007

'Tis the Season

Hunting season, that is. Black Powder Season begins tomorrow, so the “scouts” are out and the road is already littered with beer cans.

After I fed the dogs this evening, Mr. Redneck drove by at 5:45 and shot us the finger. Ah, we thought, he’s gone somewhere else, so it’ll be safe to go down the road to the farm, check on things, and get the mail from our mailbox down there.

We headed out at six. The trip along our road was uneventful. However, moments after we turned onto Blacksmith Road—before we crested the hill to start down to where our property begins, we were almost hit by a speeding 4-wheeler who swerved at the last minute but still kicked up a massive cloud of dust.

The driver—none other than Mr. Redneck’s older son, a sophomore at Ferrum College—yelled, “M----- F-----!” as he sped past. He yelled something else too, but I couldn’t make out exactly what he said. From his threatening tone, I knew he wasn't telling us to have a nice day. (He usually yells the "M-F" word whenever he sees John, but this time he yelled it at me, too.)

I fumbled in my purse for my tracphone. John stopped at the crest of the hill so I could call the sheriff’s department. Then I looked behind us. The kid had gotten off the four-wheeler (yeah, driving an ATV on a public road is illegal) and was headed toward us. He looked belligerent. “Go on!” I told John, and he did.

As we proceeded down the hill, we could see the tracks where the 4-wheeler had swerved back and forth across the road.

Trying to get a call to the sheriff’s department while down in the bottom was impossible, so we didn’t stop at our trailhead by the creek. We kept going until we reached our top field where I could finally get phone service. I punched in the number again and the deputy who answered said someone would be out soon.

From the intersection, the donuts he’d spun were evident. He’d spun one right in front of our big “Posted” sign, the same sign where–in years past—we'd sometimes find animal body parts.

Our Posted sign is just to the left.

We got our mail. While John checked out the property, I sat in the truck and read the paper. At 6:12, someone fired a shot from the top of the hill. Was the kid trying to intimidate us?

The deputy arrived about seven. We reported what happened and told how we’d had problems with this family before. The deputy told us that the magistrate wasn’t in Rocky Mount tonight, so we’d have to wait if we wanted to press charges for operating an ATV on state road, abusive language, and other charges.

This isn't my only episode of redneck harassment this week. A few days ago—on Sunday evening about six—I started down the driveway with Maggie in the back of the truck. We’d only gone about 20 feet when JP, the milk truck driver (who’d threatened to kill me in 1999 but hasn’t done it yet) came up the road, saw us, and pulled into the old depot across the driveway.




I figured I’d better not start out with him there. I decided to watch him for a while. He sat for a while, got out of the truck, walked around it, lifted the hood, walked around the truck some more, and must have realized I wasn’t leaving and that I had camera in hand. Finally he left.


Regular readers of this blog will note that the redneck decorating has gotten more elaborate: a chuch pew, as well as several metal chairs, now greets me whenever I leave my driveway.

Uh, if I go for a week or more without posting a blog entry, y’all come looking me. OK?

The number for the Sheriff's Department is 483-3000. Just in case you need to know.

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