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, May 26, 2017

The Greenbrier Ghost

I've always liked a good ghost story—especially if it's a true one. Last year, I self-published a novel, Them That Go, which had several ghost stories in it, including a true one: the Greenbrier ghost.


In one scene, a high school student relates the story of the Greenbrier ghost to her English class. If you're not familiar with the story, there are several versions of it online, and even a couple of videos. Here's one that summarizes the story:


In a chapter of Them That Go, the English class has been studying Hamlet, in which the ghost of Hamlet's father tells Hamlet about how he was murdered. The teacher asks if the students have heard any ghost stories, and—on pages 99-100— this is what Lizzie says her aunt told her:

“Well, Aunt Sarah said back in the 1890s a woman named Zona married a good-looking stranger who come to town. He worked as a blacksmith, so he was real strong. But he was real mean, too, and Zona’s mama didn’t much like him. One winter day, the blacksmith sent a boy to his house for some reason or other, and the boy found Zona dead at the foot of the steps. The boy run back and told everybody, and the doctor was fetched to see about Zona. But the blacksmith got there before the doctor and was carrying on something awful about his wife being dead. He’d even took her and put her to bed and had her all cleaned up and dressed, even though other womenfolk are supposed to do that for a woman, not the husband.”

Several girls nodded. Likely they had witnessed some home burials. A lot of folks in the county can’t afford a funeral home and have to make do the old way.

“Anyhow, the doctor didn’t get to examine her real good, what with the blacksmith carrying on and crying and hanging onto her. When somebody rode out to fetch Zona’s mama, she said that no doubt that devil had done killed her daughter hisself.”

Nobody was saying a word while Lizzie told this. It wasn’t like some of the boys to be so quiet.

“Well,” Lizzie continued, “next day, they carried Zona in her coffin out to her parents’ farm to get buried. The blacksmith stuck pretty tight to that coffin even during the wake. He put a pillow on one side of her head and a rolled up sheet on the other, which struck her family as odd, but he said it seemed like to him it made Zona more comfortable, so they didn’t mess with what he was doing. He tied a scarf around her neck, too, and said it was her favorite so she ought to be buried with it.

“Right before they closed up the coffin, Zona’s mama slipped that sheet out of the coffin. After Zona was buried and folks had left, Zona’s mama washed the sheet but couldn’t get a stain out of it no matter how hard she tried. She took it as a sign that Zona didn’t die no natural death.

“Meanwhile, she started to pray that her daughter would come to her and tell what happened. She prayed and prayed every night for nigh onto a month until Zona’s ghost appeared and said her husband had got mad and killed her. He beat her some and choked her and broke her neck.

“Zona’s mama went to a lawyer who listened to what she said and got the doctor and some deputies to look into what had gone on. They dug up Zona and examined her real good this time.” Lizzie paused to take a breath. This was the longest I—and likely everyone else—had ever heard her talk.

“What did they find out?” Susan Collins asked.

“Found out that her neck was indeed broke and her windpipe was mashed and her neck was bruised up like somebody had got a’holt of it, so they arrested the blacksmith, and he was tried for murder and sent to prison. Turns out he’d been married twice before and his second wife had died mysterious too. 

“At least that’s the story my aunt told me,” Lizzie said. “I thought it’s kind of like in Hamlet. A ghost appears and tells about a murder.”
* * *
How did I happen to include this particular ghost story in Them That Go? In late summer 2015, when I was midway through Them That Go, I asked on FaceBook if anyone knew of an Appalachian ghost story in which a ghost gave information about his or her own death. A couple of people suggested the Greenbrier Ghost. One was best-selling Appalachian novelist, Sharyn McCrumb, who'd been researching and writing her new novel—a novel, that I was later to learn, based on the Greenbier ghost. 

At the Franklin County Library in spring 2016, when I heard her speak about her then-new novel, Prayers the Devil Answers, Sharyn gave a bit of a preview of her next book: The Unquiet Grave. When it comes out in September 2017, the cover will look like this:


Meanwhile, I just finished reading an advance reader copy that her publicist sent me. 


I'll do an "official review" on this blog in August, but I can tell you now that I really enjoyed the book. Even though I was familiar the basics of the story, Sharyn McCrumb's novelization of what happened in Greenbrier County back in the 1890s was compelling. It kept me reading way past my bedtime two nights running.

I always enjoy a good ghost story, and The Unquiet Grave was indeed a good 'un.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Senior Day at Kroger

For nearly two decades, I've been enjoying Senior Citizen Day at Kroger, when those of us over 55 get a 5% discount every Tuesday. However this senior perk ends next week. A lot of us seniors are angry about this.

I'm angry about something else Kroger does—or doesn't do: make the store where I shop handicapped accessible. Those of us with mobility problems have to use the handicapped buggies. To get to a buggy, I've often had to push aside one or two signs that block easy access. Yesterday, after I'd pushed the signs away, and gotten into a buggy, I remembered I had my camera. You can see that the other end of the buggy row is blocked by a box and a sign:


A lot of aisles were blocked, too. I wanted to go down this one to get some organic sweet potato chips, but there was no way—between the pole and the stacks of boxes—that I could do it.


I thought maybe I could get into the other end of the organic section. But when I tried to make the turn, there wasn't quite enough room.


Finally, by taking a long way around, I got to the other end of the organic aisle. Nope, that was also blocked. 


 Later, a sales associate did go down the aisle for me, but there weren't any organic sweet potato chips. Meanwhile, I headed for the produce section. Again, there were places where the handicapped buggy wouldn't fit. I couldn't quite make the turn here, and had to back up and take the long way. . . .


. . . only to find the section where I wanted to get mushrooms was blocked.


I went back several minutes later, but the aisle was still blocked. I asked the guy if I could get through, and he pushed the big black cart to the side so I could squeeze through and get the mushrooms. In another part of produce, I had to ask another employee who'd blocked the aisle if he'd hand me a cauliflower, which he did. There was no way I could maneuver the cart close enough to select one myself. 

In the meat department, I couldn't get close enough to the case where the bacon was on special. I couldn't even get through what is normally a very wide aisle. Totally blocked! (Do you see any sales associates here? Neither do I.)


At that point, about a third of my journey through the store,  I stopped taking pictures, I did encounter several more blocked aisles, though. And there were a few things I didn't buy because I couldn't get to them.

I wonder about all these blocked aisles. Would they be a problem if a fire broke out? Are they just blocked on Senior Citizen Day, or are they blocked at other times? Why is it necessary for so many boxes to be brought out at once? Do all the Kroger stores do this, or is it just the one where I shop?

Anyhow, for those of us who are old and gimpy, these obstacles don't make for a pleasant shopping experience.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Whistling Woman

I'm a big fan of Appalachian novels—both to read and to write. When I ran across a free Amazon download (free at least for Prime members; 99¢ for others), I figured I'd take a chance. I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed CC Tillery's Whistling Woman.


A plot description is on the back of the paperback version:


The back-cover description covers the basics but hardly does the book justice. It doesn't let the reader know that the book has such a rich texture. I was impressed by the details that make this book truly Appalachian—a sense of place (rural Kentucky setting), time (late 19th century), daily life, the sense of family, traditions, and superstitions.

Some of Whistling Woman echoes my self-published novel, Them That Go, but with a different setting and situation. I'm pretty sure that those who like my book will like this one, too. And there's some "going" in Whistling Woman, too.

While Whistling Woman reads like a novel, it's actually creative non-fiction by sisters Cyndi Tillery Hodges and Christy Tillery French, who use the name CC Tillery to write about the life of their great-aunt Bessie. You can read more about the authors and book here.

Whistling Woman is Book 1 in the "Appalachian Journey" series. The other three books follow later events in Bessie's  life: Moonfixer, Beloved Woman, and Wise Woman. The e-books are a good bargain at 99¢ each, but they're also available in paperback.
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