Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats.
And maybe a border collie or other critters.
© 2006-2017 All rights reserved
- Name: Becky Mushko
- 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.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
October's Almost Over
The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crispèd and sere,
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir:
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.
These pictures were taken in my woodland on Polecat Creek Farm.
I doubt that ghouls haunt it. And it wasn't night. The sky wasn't especially ashen. And the leaves aren't crispèd and sere. And it isn't misty.
But aside from that, it is October. At least for a few more days.
OK, maybe we need to get a little closer. Now, check out the license plate:
It's a farm vehicle! I'll bet some of y'all citified readers of this blog thought farm vehicles were old pick-up trucks. Well, think again.
How many bales of hay you reckon a body could haul in that Caddy? Or sacks of feed? Or hogs—lessee, at least three in the back seat, another one or two in front. . . .
Reckon that Caddy could pull a bush-hog?
Labels: rural life
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Curio and Curiouser
Here Peggy takes a picture of Mary, who is coning the clay prior to making a pot.
A close-up of the coning process. The clay has to be coned three times before it's shaped.
And here's the bowl taking shape.
Don uses recycled wood to make his furniture. This pie safe was made from wood he recycled from an old granary.
And this one is made from wormy chestnut recycled from an old barn. Don even had a picture of the old barn before it was torn down.
I should have taken some pictures of the dumplings, that were absolutely wonderful, but they were selling fast at the CC, andJohn and I promptly ate the ones I brought home.
A lot of folks came to the CC to chat, including my cousin Judy. From Hilda, one of the folks sitting around the kitchen table when I was eating my dumpling, I learned how to pick up a skunk so he doesn't spray you. A skunk has to have his feet pushed against something—usually the ground—to spray. When you grab him by the tail, don't let his feet touch the ground or any part of you.
From another at the table, I also learned more about the Rockingham turkey processing plant that I ever want to know. You can always count on down-home conversation at the CC.
When I returned back home, a few minutes before four, the rain had stopped and our lawn looked lush and lovely in the waning sunlight.
When I fed the horses and dogs—about 6:20ish—I heard a couple cars going really fast on Novelty Road. A minute or so later, a red car sped down Listening Hill Road really, really fast. I figured the other car I'd heard would be behind it. But it wasn't.
I exited the dog pen and walked around the horse pasture a bit. Suddenly all four dogs stopped wolfing down their chow and ran to the LH Road side of the kennel. They barked frantically. What could have happened? Did one of the horses get out? (Cupcake did that once.) I went out to check. As I rounded the front of the shop, I saw a silver car in the ditch across the road, and a couple other vehicles near it. One belonged to my next-door neighbor, the district supervisor.
Then I looked at my lawn—that two hours earlier was so perfect. But wait—a picture is worth a thousand words. So, here's "three thousand" plus a few extra words:
The above picture is my side yard. My driveway and mailbox are at the top left. See the tracks? Looks like one car drove with only its right tires on the grass; the other had all its tires on the grass. Now follow those tracks into the next picture which shows my lower driveway.
In the picture below, you can see my lower driveway (where I have a "flower bed"). The grass was so wet (a inch of rain earlier!), that the tires were pretty wet, don't you think? Anyhow, they left wet marks on LH Road. I got my camera and snapped these pictures before the wet marks dried.
Now, see where those tracks above go? All the way across the road. Do you think they might have ended here?
The driver, however, insisted she hadn't driven on my lawn. "I didn't do that!" she said. "I must have skidded on loose gravel." The driver of a red car, who turned around and returned when her friend wasn't behind her, also said that she hadn't been speeding.
Notice how the car is turned completely around and is facing the direction from whence it came. It's right front wheel is hung on our drainage pipe, which drains into the cow pasture across from us. Had it not caught the car, the driver, her passenger, and the two toddlers would likely have flipped into the fence and rolled down the hill to the pasture, which is below road level.
(Look back at the two earlier pictures. See any loose gravel?)
Anyhow, by the time her uncle pulled the car out, it was getting dark. That's why we didn't think to check the front lawn.
However, this morning, here's what my front yard looked like:
Again, two cars drove over the lawn. The first car only had the right wheels on the grass. The second car left tracks over top of the first car's tracks and drove way up onto the lawn. However, when the two cars turned right onto LH road, neither car hit the telephone pole or the big rock or my mailbox. How strange that both drivers lost control, regained control and made the turn just fine, and then lost control again.
It gets curiouser and curiouser.
Labels: rural life
Friday, October 24, 2008
Win Some, Lose Some (Almost)
I suggested “Outback Shack.” While it’s not exactly a shack, it is outback. If you kind of squint, it looks shack-like.
My prize was an Andreas Vollenweider “Midnight Clear” CD. As I post this blog, I’m listening to the soothing harp music now. A good prize!
On another note: If you recall my recent post about my reclusive house cat Potter venturing out, well—Potter’s now been venturing since early Tuesday morning when my husband let him out because “he was crying to go out.”
So far, he’s stayed in the vicinity; he just won’t come back in. Yesterday, he sat on the steps for a while and ran across the deck at least three times. But he wouldn’t come in. Earlier tonight, for a few minutes I watched him through the security camera as he wandered around in the driveway. When I went out to see if I could get him, I made it to about ten feet from him before he ran the other way.
My animal communicator buddy Karen has been in touch with Potter, but so far he’s resisting any advice. He has too many snug little hiding places in the yard.
If you're so inclined, please send some vibes to Potter. Tell him to go inside. Couldn't hurt; might help.
Meanwhile, take a look at The Blue Ridge Gal’s blog. I think you'll like it.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Shady Rest (in Fall)
The barn at Shady Rest was most likely built of lumber that my grandfather, Joe Smith, sawed at his sawmill up the road. The area has—or at least had— several barns identical to this.
The house is falling in—victim of age, rot, termites, and weather. But from a distance, it still looks like a house. One of the big maples that long ago provided shade is dying.
In the picture below, at the left, you can just barely see the shape of one of the sheds. now it's covered with Virginia creeper and poison oak.
Three-quarters of a century ago, when Shady Rest was a working farm and home to the John Thomas Brown family, the shed looked like this:
The man in the middle, Guy Brown (JT Brown's son) married Louise Mattox, my first cousin once removed, who lived not far away. She was the daughter of my Great-Aunt Tokay, the younger sister of Joe Smith.
Guy and Louise lived in Roanoke, less than a mile from where I grew up. He worked for a Pontiac dealership on Williamson Road. When I graduated from college and secured a teaching job, I bought my first "new" car—a brand-new 1967 Firebird—from him.
JTB, as an older man, stands by the corner of his house—the same house that appears in the first two photos on this entry. The house corner looks strong and sturdy and solid—as if it could last forever.
As a young man, Brown was handsome. Here he is with three of his children:
The house was handsome in its hey-day, too. But nothing lasts forever.
Autumn's falling leaves are proof of that.
Thanks to Patricia Martin for providing the old photos.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Early on One Frosty Morn
I love the way a pocket of mist hangs in the air and how the rising sun turns the jet trails pink. Many jets must have gone over Smith Mountain Dam before sunrise.
Planes based in Virginia Beach practice maneuvers here and then fly west to pull up over Ferrum Mountain. I've been told they use the X shape of the Ferrum College Chapel as a marker. When I used to teach at Ferrum, my class was sometimes interrupted by the scream of a low-flying jet streaking past. Lately, we've had a lot of planes go over here.
A few minutes later, the sky looked like this:
The jet trails were white again and the mist had lifted. I wasn't the only one who saw this from my porch. Ruby the dog from down the road was on the front porch and watched with me.
Most mornings, Ruby chases her owner's car down the road and then stops here on her way home. Often she "knocks" on my door to tell me to get out and feed the horses and dogs.
Ruby is a sweet and sociable dog. Since she's been patrolling the neighborhood, I haven't seen any coyotes. Her greeting is always a nice way to start the morning.
Especially a frosty morning like this one.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Writing Advice: Vanity Publishing
For my recently completed middle-grade novel, I know that an agent is the way to go if I want to see my work well-published. Recently, a top-notch agent, who’s made some good deals this year and who represents some talented clients, requested a full—based on my query and first two chapters. (She also requested an exclusive for a few weeks, so y’all keep your fingers crossed for me!)
How did I learn to write a good query? From attending writing conferences and workshops and from listening to experts. Chuck Sambuchino, who spoke to my writers group last July, recently posted his query-letter information on his “Breaking Down the Query Letter” on his Guide to Literary Agents blog. Agent Nathan Bransford also has some good query how-to information in his “Query Letter Mad Lib” entry on his blog.
But for those who aren’t willing to query an agent, who don’t do much research other than the ads in the back of writers’ magazines (Aarrggh!), or who think a publisher will snap up their book right away because it’s so wonderful—you need to be really, really careful. Too many scammers are out there. Remember how easily my (now-deceased) elderly mixed retriever was offered a contract from one of the biggest scam vanity publishers/author mills for his nonsensical pseudo-poetry?
If you’re considering an independent publisher or a small publishing house whose editor thinks your work is absolutely wonderful, do a bit of checking to make sure that the publisher is legit and not a vanity publisher in disguise. Here’s a checklist to help you.
This checklist recently appeared on the Flights of Fantasy blog. Thanks to the blogger, Marian Perera for giving other bloggers permission to re-post.
Ways to recognize a vanity press
No matter how much smoke and mirrors are produced, though, there are several sure signs of a vanity press. If anything in the checklist applies, investigate further. Some of these are signs of amateur presses or inexperienced micro-publishers as well.
___ The publisher charges an upfront fee before the manuscript will be accepted
___ When questioned about this fee, the publisher responds that it is an investment or necessary contribution on the part of the author
___ The publisher charges for any other aspect of book production and marketing
___ The publisher responds very quickly to manuscript submission, sometimes accepting the manuscript in under a week.
3. Types of manuscripts accepted from unpublished writers
___ Collections of poetry
___ Collections of short stories
___ Non-fiction from writers without a platform
___ Fiction of almost any length and all genres
___ Editing is minimal, often limited to a spellcheck
___ The author is given the option to have the book printed without editing
___ This is couched in positive terms such as the author having complete control over the process or the publisher not altering the author’s unique voice
5. Book covers
___ Authors are asked to write their own blurbs for the back covers. These do not receive editorial input
___ The publisher does not send review copies out in advance of the book’s release
___ The publisher says it may send review copies out, provided reviewers request such copies
___ Authors routinely provide each other with positive feedback, which is accepted as a substitute for professional reviews
7. Sales of books
___ The publisher relies mostly or exclusively on POD
___ The publisher says that its distributors are Ingram and Baker & Taylor
___ The publisher assures authors that their books will be available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com and the publisher’s own online store, and this is presented as an adequate substitute for bookstores
___ The publisher offers discounts to authors if they buy their own books, but does not offer the same or better discounts to bookstores.
___ The publisher encourages authors to buy their own books, especially in bulk
___ The publisher does not make the previous relevant experience of its staff available
___ The publisher provides full names and bios of the staff, but they have no industry experience listed
___ Authors work for the publisher, e.g. reading slush
9. Publisher claims and achievements
___ The publisher claims membership in organizations whose requirements have nothing to do with the way authors are treated, e.g. the BBB, Mensa, etc.
___ The publisher claims to have signed up the largest number of previously unpublished authors, but says little or nothing about the number of books sold
___ The publisher’s advertising is geared to authors, e.g. making their dreams come true
___ The publisher refers to itself and its authors as a family
___ When asked whether it is a vanity press, the publisher responds that it is a traditional publisher, self-publisher, subsidy publisher or co-investment publisher
Friday, October 17, 2008
Pink Sky at Morning
Remember the old saying, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight"? Or this poem?
Morning red and evening gray
Sends the traveller on his way,
But morning gray and evening red
Brings down rain upon his head!
Pink clouds scattered across yesterday morning's sky.
Last night the moon peeked through the clouds, and I observed a pink ring around it. "Ring around the moon, rain coming soon." When I woke up about five this morning, rain was falling hard.
This morning's sky was, of course, gray.
So was the garage floor where the rain blew in. The round spots are the raindrops hitting the concrete.
Rain fell all day—over two inches. We really needed this rain.
Tonight the sky glowed red, but I didn't get outside with my camera in time.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Sun and Moon Together
Meanwhile, the sun glowed behind the pines.
Dylan and I watched the night sky. Glowing, glowing. . . .
And only the moon is left to light the night (and Dylan) in a silver glow. Like this poem:
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Going Home to the Farm
"You can go home, but you can't go back."
The old house is behind them; the new outhouse is further back.
Because I was at the old homeplace on Sunday to visit some cousins visiting from out of town, I decided to re-post this story I wrote five years ago. "Going Home to the Farm" was originally published in the July/August 2003 issue of Blue Ridge Traditions.
c. 2003 by Becky Mushko
"The farm" was Kate and Dave Mattox's place in Union Hall, Virginia, down a dirt road off a paved road that now leads to Smith Mountain Lake.
An old carriage road used to run past the house, which—according to Ralph's cousin Ron Mattox—was originally built by a Mr. Street in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The main part of the house was once used as a way station. A kitchen was later added to one end of the original log house and a bedroom to the other. Clapboards now cover the entire structure, but the logs are visible from inside the main section.
The road was still in use in the late 1800s and early 1900s. "My grandmother was born in that house," says Ralph. "She said people frequently passed through there."
"Mr. Street," notes Ron, "died about 1837. He's buried on the left." The graves of Mr. and Mrs. Street are in what used to be the front yard of the house. A trip to the outhouse, which required passing the graves, was called "visiting Mr. and Mrs. Street."
Ralph regrets that he didn't pay more attention to the old family stories, "But a child thinks everyone is going to live forever. They talked about people that were a hundred years before my time, and I was only eight or ten years old."
Once Ralph's uncle, William Mattox, taught him to plow with a team of horses: "I can remember working a horse and slide when we were getting in tobacco. I didn't care much for getting the worms off, but I liked anything that involved horses."
Ralph particularly enjoyed the Sundays when Tom and Berthie Brown, who lived next door to his grandparents, would come by in their buggy.
"They would let me drive them home, and I'd walk back home by coming through the woods. My mother said she used the same path when she was a little girl."
His mother and the Brown girls would walk up to the main road together—a distance of about mile—to catch the bus to he old Glade Hill Elementary School, which used to be in the woods behind where the current Glade Hill School is.
"I remember eating many dinners by the light of two kerosene lamps" Ralph recalls. "We got our water from a spring about 200 yards away. On washday, it took 8 to 10 trips to the spring carrying two buckets. I guess it's a way of life we're never going to see again, and while some of it was hard, all in all, it was a pretty good life. I know I'd love to go back and do it again."
The spring is located near where slave cabins used to be, about 50 yards from the house. In pre-Civil War times, a slave coming to work at the house would bring water. Decades ago, Kate Mattox would point through the kitchen window and tell her grandchildren, "See those jonquils? That's where the slave cabins once were." Now even the jonquils are gone.
Ralph remembers parts of a story his grandmother told about family members who left long ago: "One of the brothers loaded his family and possessions in a wagon and headed west. This relative had two back-up horses tied to the wagon."
Their departure would have been shortly after Mariah Louisa Martin and Henry Silas Smith, Kate Mattox's parents, were married in 1876. Henry Silas was 23, and Mariah, his second wife, was 22. Mariah was the daughter of Rev. John Reid Martin and his third wife, Elizabeth "Queenie" Webb). Henry Silas was the son of Samuel Wood Smith and Malinda Laetitia Holland, who had owned the place.
Kate Mattox never heard any more about the family members who left, but some other relatives thought maybe they went to Texas or New Mexico. Neither Ralph nor Ron knows who these relatives actually were, or even how they're related.
Ralph had many adventures on his grandparents' farm: "I had a lot of good times on that farm but there were a few scary times also. I stumbled onto a moonshine still back in the late forties. I was squirrel hunting way back in the woods east of the house. I was probably a mile or a mile and a half back in there. In the 1800's, one of the main roads in the area came through there. . . . It followed the upper edge of that hollow. It was slightly below the level of our yard, went on down, crossed the creek and back through that area. I was told that it eventually came out over towards Rt. 40 towards Penhook.
"I was following the remnants of the old road and came around a curve when I saw two men, the still, and an old truck. They loaded some quart and gallon jars on the truck and covered the bed with brush. I was afraid to slip out, and I knew they hadn't seen me yet, so I just laid down and hid in the brush. They sat around, talked, checked the still, and in an hour they left. I went back home and told my grandfather about it and he contacted the sheriff. Two days later, I showed several men how to get to the still. I later heard they got the still and all the equipment, but they didn't catch anyone. It was a good hunting spot with huge oak trees, but it was awhile before I ever hunted there again."
Another scary time involved an escaped convict: "One morning, two deputies and a guard from the chain gang woke us up about daylight. It seems a convict had escaped the prior evening, and the bloodhounds had tracked him right up to my grandfather's truck that he used to park under the old tool shed. Fortunately, he always locked it at night. They caught the guy later that morning hiding in that old building a mile from our place. It used to be a black church. I used to go up there sometime on Sunday morning and listen to them sing."
Ralph remembers the old place fondly: "One thing about that place, good or bad, calm or crazy, I loved every minute of it; but since I've gotten older, I get a little bit of a sad feeling when I go there. It's kind of like that country-western song with the line that says, ‘You can go home, but you can't go back.’”
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Mysteries and Maybe Treasure
After they had run themselves out and soaked in the creek, we went to the old Smith home place to visit some cousins. Eventually the talk turned to graveyards. Cousin Mike told me there is a large graveyard on Brown Farm, but all the stones were stolen by moonshiners many decades ago. The flat tombstones made handy supports for the distillation equipment. Apparently there were—are!—a lot of graves now lying unmarked. He also said that some stones had been stolen from the old Smith cemetery—where our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents are buried. This was the first I’ve heard of a cemetery on Brown Farm, much less of tombstones taken from there. Strange to think that we Smiths apparently have a long-standing tradition of having our tombstones stolen.
Years ago, I’d noticed a spreading patch of myrtle on one of the hillsides at Brown Farm. Since myrtle is a typical ground cover for graveyards, I’d looked for some stones but hadn’t seen any. Maybe this is where the graveyard is. For now, it’s a mystery.
When I returned home with the dogs, I noticed that my horses must have had company while I’d been away. The tell-tale horse manure on the grass outside their paddock certainly wasn’t theirs.
Less than an hour later, things got even weirder. An elderly gentleman rang our doorbell. He explained that he was a dowser and had passed Smith Farm and “felt” something buried in the woods.
He wanted to go look around. John—having had enough problems with trespassers and vandals in the past—none too politely refused the request. I, however, decided to pursue the matter and invited Mr. Harrison to follow me to the farm. I’m always on the lookout for a good story, and I already know some folks with interesting, er, abilities. So, I was open to a weird experience.
He told me about how he’d aways been interested in treasure hunting, but he’d been doing this for about 30 years. He’d done searches in New Mexico and was interested in Bedford County’s Beale treasure. (His idea about the Beale treasure is that after Beale died, his associates dug up the treasure and transported it to Colombia.)
At the farm, Mr. Harrison took his rods and pointed them. The rods moved. I watched his hands to see if he might be turning them, but I couldn’t detect that he was. The rods seemed to swing of their own accord.
He said that something big was buried in the woods, and it had been there for 150 years. He wouldn’t tell me exactly where unless he could have access to it. I don’t care to have my woods dug up, so I declined.
Whatever—if anything—is buried under my woods will remain a mystery. My woods are enough of a treasure for me just the way they are.
People ask me where I get all my weird ideas for stories. Well, sometimes the ideas come and get me.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Perfect Fall Day
We went to the wedding of our neighbor's daughter. I've never much enjoyed attending weddings, but I really liked this one. This wedding was outside, at an old homeplace place called Sundara in Boones Mill. From what I understand, a wedding is held there almost every weekend. The old homestead has lots of old and really big trees, like this elm where the harpist is setting up her instrument:
A creek flowed just the other side of the elm:
Behind the altar was a view of Cahas Mountain:
Here's another view:
One of the nicest things about this wedding was that the bride and groom invited their whole families—kids included. The wedding party featured two flower girls and two ring bearers.
The little girl who sat in front of us was attired in an elegant dress:
Even John cleaned up pretty good:
Of course, we had to wait about a half hour before the ceremony started. Some got restless while waiting for the bride and groom to appear.
Having a purse to swing around makes the time go faster:
Finally everyone was lined up, Yolanda and Evan faced the minister, and the ceremony was just getting underway . . .
. . .when the youngest flower girl lost her nerve and fled down the aisle. She dropped her flowers but she kept hold of her cookies:
The rest of the ceremony went of without a hitch. Well, Yolanda and Evan did get officially hitched—after the minister had cracked a few jokes and a grandfather had made a few comments.
After the ceremony, we went to a huge tent to partake of refreshments. The cakes tasted as good as they looked, and the chocolate dipped strawberries were heavenly.
The cake cutting:
Today was a perfect day for an outdoor fall wedding. Best wishes, Yolanda and Evan.