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), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dangerous Roanoke

My hometown, Roanoke, has been ranked by Movoto as the most dangerous city in Virginia (or the 37th safest) if you want to put a positive spin on it. Recently, I read a couple of books about Roanoke that don't exactly contradict Roanoke's reputation, but they do add some interesting insight into Roanoke's past. Both were published in 2013 by History Press, and both are illustrated by photos and drawings.

Haunted Roanoke, by the late L.B. Taylor, contains ghost stories about Roanoke. I've been a fan of Taylor's for years and heard him speak at the Franklin County Historical Society in 2008. 

Haunted Roanoke contains 28 stories. Some aren't actually in Roanoke, though they're close. For instance, "The Man Who Was Buried Standing Up," is about Col. George Hancock's unusual burial arrangement at Fotheringay Plantation in Montgomery County. Another story is about the late John Reiley's ghost-busting adventures in Roanoke and surrounding counties. 

I'd heard version of a few of the stories before—for instance, the ghosts who inhabit the Hotel Patrick Henry and the woman in black who used to walk men home late at night in 1902, but some stories were new to me. 

Hidden History of Roanoke: Star City Stories, by Nelson Harris, is a collection of 15 little known happenings in Roanoke, and it has a few stories that show Roanoke's dark side. The 1949 story of the murder of Dana Marie Weaver at Christ Episcopal Church is one. You can read part of the "Murder at Christ Church" chapter here and you can preview the book here.

One of the events, albeit not a scary one, in Hidden History takes place on a street in Roanoke County where I lived for 26 years. Apparently I missed the excitement by nearly a decade. Bill Cobb, a guy with North Carolina political aspirations, lived a double life in both Morganton, NC, and Roanoke. When a July 1962 issue of Time Magazine spotlighted him for being one of the new breeds of southern Republicans and published his picture, folks in Roanoke noticed. It was interesting to read about happenings on a street where I'd lived. And the other events were interesting, too.

I enjoyed both books and highly recommend them. If you're from Roanoke or currently live in Roanoke or plan to visit Roanoke, you should read Haunted Roanoke and Hidden History of Roanoke. They'll show you a side of the city that you don't often hear about. And some of it is a bit scary.


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Monday, April 28, 2014

Last Friday's April Shower

This morning was gloomy and overcast. Rain is predicted—indeed, we're supposed to get downpours for several days. Last Friday, we were also supposed to get significant rain, but only about a half-inch fell. Here are some pictures from last Friday afternoon and evening:

Last Friday's rain was, I suppose, more of an April shower than an actual deluge.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Saturday at the Farm

Saturday was so wonderfully clear and springlike that I wanted to walk in our woods. The problem: I can't walk very far. The solution: I can ride our Polaris 500 ATV.

Here are some pictures I took as I rode around Polecat Creek Farm (and walked for just a little bit in the woods).


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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jim-Bob's Doppelgänger

Because I feed Potter, the elusive porch cat, on a table on the front porch, some of the other cats—and an occasional possum—have decided that a buffet is open there daily. I have two tables from which cats can dine—one with plates and the other less formal. My study window overlooks the buffet, so I can usually see who's dining there.

Since most of Jim-Bob's cat work is done in the front pasture and under the pines, the front porch buffet  is especially handy for him. He stops in for a snack several times a day.

The other day, I looked up and thought I saw Jim-Bob having brunch.

But there was something not quite Jim-Bobish about the cat I saw. See the face?

And the shoulders?

This is Jim-Bob's face—no orange on his nose.

And Jim-Bob doesn't have so much white on his shoulders.

Here's a closer look. You can see that Jim-Bob's ears are circled in white.

The other cat has different ears.

If you take only a quick look—you might think that Jim-Bob has a doppelgänger. But I'm thinking Jim-Bob and this kitty are kin. 


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Under a Blue Bowl

 I got my copy of Under a Blue Bowl from author Scottie Prichard in Wytheville last Saturday afternoon. I started reading it Saturday night and couldn't put it down.

Subtitled "The Life of Olive Scott Benkelman Mostly in Her Own Words," it's a wonderful combination of oral history, Appalachian culture, memoir, and biography (or maybe autobiography).

 Some years back, when Scottie and her husband were living in Germany, she and her mother Olive kept in touch by exchanging cassette tapes. Olive, who led a long and remarkable life, often taped stories about growing up in Grayson County, about her ancestors, and about her life beyond Grayson County and back. After Olive's death, Scottie transcribed the tapes and compiled them into this book, which she self-published in 2007.

Olive had some pretty interesting ancestors, including her father, Dr. William Worley Scott. When I heard Scottie read the section about her grandfather, I had to have the book:

Is that a great story, or what? Under a Blue Bowl is full of great family stories, many of which happened in Olive's childhood home of Elk Creek in Grayson County.

The book's title is from Olive's observation when she was a child: "Elk Creek was the perfect place to live when I was a child. The mountains surround our sweet valley and I thought the sky was a big blue bowl that God had turned upside down and rested securely on the mountain tops." (p. 55)

During her life, Olive goes far beyond Grayson County but eventually returns. Her first foray away from Elk Creek was when she and her friend Edith Hale went 65 miles away to attend Radford State Teachers College: "Our parents took us to catch the train in Crockett in the morning and we got into Radford in the afternoon, after stopping at every little place along the line. We knew we would not be able to come home until Christmas. It was exciting but I was scared sick. . . . My mother's butter-and-egg money sent me to school. She scrimped and saved and cut corners constantly to pay for my education. I just didn't dare spend much money. I was awful tight with my money then, and for most of my life it seems now." (p. 103)

Olive goes on to teach school in Grayson County, work at Radford College, become director of guidance at Mount Vernon High School, and have many interesting experiences in Idaho, Illinois, Florida, and—finally—back in Elk Creek. Scottie Prichard is to be commended for capturing her mother's voice and personality so clearly. The multitude of pictures —such as a photo of Olive and Edith enjoying a childhood tea party—are an added plus.

If you love Appalachian culture and history, recollections of the old-timey days, and true stories about remarkable women, odds are good you'll love this book as much as I did.

Since the book was self-published, bookstores aren't likely to have copies on their shelves. Even only has copies for sale from resellers. If you'd like to buy a copy, contact Scottie Prichard directly at


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Monday, April 14, 2014

CATastrophe Insurance

by Tanner the Kitty

Not long ago, I got another card that looks like me. This time it wasn't from my lawyer. It was from my CATastrophe insurance agent about my new condo.

I don't know what insurance is, but I think you have to have it if you own a condo.


Naturally, I read it right away. This is what the first page looks like.

 It is a little blurred, but it says this: 2014 Amendments to Original Policy. Renter's Rights:

1. For multi-hole tower
  • clean, safe, pretty
  • all for you
  • if shared with other cats, you have rights to top level
2. Toys
  • your toys will be replaced if stolen, lost, or removed by a cat
  • your toys may/should be cleaned or replaced as necessary by a human
Here is the second page. I think you can read it OK (except for the agent's signature):

I didn't know I had an original policy. But I do have a toy that is damaged. It is a toy rat that used to belong to Chloe. I pulled the tail off it because I like to carry the tail around separate. Nobody has replaced it yet.

And my art got knocked off when Jim-Bob and I had a little scuffle. It used to hang from a ceiling hook, but now it hangs from the ficus. I don't think it makes as good a statement here.

Somebody needs to put it back. It is now too close to my cat windchime that is also damaged because I pulled one of the little dangly kitties off it last year. 

As for having rights to the top level, that is not a problem with Dylan because he likes the second floor. But it is a big problem with Jim-bob when he comes in from his cat-work day shift in the pasture. Jim-Bob thinks because he is a working cat that he can just take over. See?

I try to trick him into thinking there is something outside that he needs to see, but that doesn't work.

He just stays put like he is king of the condo. Asking him to leave does no good.

He has no respect for me at all. Sometimes he sticks his tongue out at me.

Or he gives me the paw!

Sometimes we get into smack-fights. That was how my art got knocked down.

My agent needs to come investigate and maybe evict Jim-Bob from my condo before a CATastrophe happens..


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Wytheville Library Trip

I haven't accepted many author appearances this year because of my limited mobility, but on Saturday, I headed to Wytheville to be one of the Wytheville Library's "Authors on Monroe."

I figured I could make the trip without much trouble, because I wouldn't have to walk much and I'd be sitting down during both the driving as well as appearing part. Because of lane closures on I-81, I took Rt. 11 to Christiansburg and got onto Interstate there, so I had no problems with traffic.

The library was easy to find. Luckily, I was able to park close.

Just inside was a display showcasing some of the guest authors' books. I propped up my Ferradiddledumday poster for a photo op.

Some of the authors—such as Rhonda Caudill, Pam Newberry, Brenda C. Musick, and Dan Delby had arrived at 10. 

Scottie Pritchard and I were scheduled for noon. Brenda and Dan stayed for the afternoon, too. Other than us authors, very few folks were in the library. It was a beautiful day outside and some big events—such as an Easter egg hunt—were happening in town. So we authors made the most of it by sharing our writing experiences and doing readings. Using my Ida B. Peevish voice, I read from Peevish Advice.

Dan Delby, a writer-illustrator of comic books, read a short story about an energy-sucking vampire aboard a space ship.  

Brenda Musick read a selection from her Appalachian novel, One-Eyed Tom: The Trials of an Appalachian Family.

Scottie Prichard read from Under a Blue Bowl, her mother's memoir.

Some of us did a book swap. A big fan of Appalachian lit, I came away with two Appalachian memoirs and an Appalachian novel.

I was tired when I started for home and my legs were starting to swell, but I had no real problems. I stayed on I-81 north all the way to Salem, where I got off on 311 and took the back roads to 220. I'm glad I wasn't heading south! Just past Christiansburg, I saw a major traffic back-up in the southbound lanes that went on for miles. My camera was on the seat beside me, so I picked it up and snapped several pictures.

When I got off at the Salem exit, traffic was still backed up and barely moving. In fact, vehicles were backed up onto Rt. 311 waiting to get on Interstate. I'm glad I was heading the opposite way.

While I arrived home tired and achy, at least I hadn't been stuck in traffic for hours. And I'd had a good time at the Wytheville library.

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