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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Education of Dixie Dupree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, November 10, 2016

November SOTK

November SOTK 
by Tanner (housecat-in-chief)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyhow, that is my SOTK report for now.


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Dead Shall Rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Childhood Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I probably remember a lot more stuff, too.

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