Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2018 All rights reserved

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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.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Maggie and the Eclipse

"Me and My Mommy View the Eclipse"
by Maggie, a geriatric border collie

Some of you who've read this blog for a long time will remember I used to post when I was younger. If so, you remember that I decided to be a kennel dog whan I was about a year old even though my mommy had bought me to be a house dog. A couple of months ago, after a decade of being a kennel dog, I made a career change and became a house dog again. A few months ago, I had to have surgery on my ear, so I got used to being in the house while I recuperated.

I don't stay in the house all the time. I make Mommy take me outside. She has to use a golf-cart because she can't walk good so I walk beside it. She keeps me on a leash because she knows I might slip away if she wasn't watching. Anyhow, Mommy said were going to see an eclipse. I wasn't sure what one was, but it involved going outside. Once we were out, Mommy looked at the sky but she said there were too many clouds.

She said the eclipse might be behind these clouds.

 I looked around but I didn't see anything.

I did see some blue sky toward Smith Mountain, but she said that the sun wasn't over that way.

She said the eclipse was taking place behind these clouds, so we were missing it. I still couldn't figure out what it was.

Before long, Chloe saw us looking at the sky and decided to join us. 

I like Chloe better than the house cats because she doesn't mess with me the way certain house cats do. She doesn't try to take my toys like Alfreda does or smack me like Arlo does or—Oh, I guess I'm getting off-track. Anyhow, Chloe and I sat down to wait for whatever Mommy was waiting for.

Waiting for the eclipse was boring, so we took a little nap. 

After we'd napped for a while, I asked Chloe what an eclipse was supposed to be, and she said it was when the moon blocked out the sun, but the sun still shone around the edges. "It looks like the end of my tail," Chloe said, and held up her tail to show me. 

I thanked Chloe for her explanation. "You're welcome," she said. "Always glad to help out a good dog."

Back up in the sky, not much was happening. Mommy said she could see a little sliver of sun every once in a while, but I didn't see anything.

Chloe had some cat-work to do so she left, but I had to stay with Mommy. Finally Mommy got tired of waiting too.

I don't see why she couldn't have just looked at Chloe's tail. It would have saved a lot of time.

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Unquiet Grave

Many folks in southwestern Virginia and West Virginia know the story of Zona Heaster Shue, whose ghost appeared to her mother and told how her husband Trout had killed her. A sign in Greenbrier County, WV, summarizes what happened.

Plus numerous online sites give information about this bizarre murder trial, such as Little Bits of History Along U.S. Roadways, Appalachian History, and Prairie Ghosts to list a few. 

With so much documentation of what happened, what more is there to tell of Zona's sad story? Turns out, there's quite a bit. In her latest novel, The Unquiet Grave, Sharyn McCrumb reveals more about the story and the people who were involved.

While The Unquiet Grave is a novel, thanks to McCrumb's meticulous historical research, it  reads like non-fiction. McCrumb conveys the story through two viewpoints: Zona's mother (Mary Jane Heaster) tells her side as a first person narrator, and a third person limited narrator tells the story of James P. D. Gardner, an African-American lawyer and one of Trout Shue's defense attorneys.

The story alternates between Gardner's story in 1930 Larkin, West Virginia, and Mrs. Heaster's  account of Zona and her ill-fated marriage in Greenbrier County three decades earlier. Confined to an insane asylum because of his suicide attempt, Gardner tells the story of his most memorable case to one of the doctors, who thinks having Gardner talk about his experiences will help him recover. At the time of Zona's death, Gardner was a young man working in the law office of a former pro-Union slaveowner. Until the murder trial in 1898, he had done mostly routine work.

Mrs. Heaster's story about her only daughter portrays Zona as a young woman who is too pretty for her own good and who does what she pleases. When Zona is impregnated by a local ne'er-do-well she doesn't want to marry even if he wanted to marry her, Mrs.Heaster makes arrangements for the baby to be given to an older couple back in the mountains. Free of the obligation to raising a child, Zona goes to Richlands to visit her cousins. There she meets a handsome young blacksmith, new in town, and they are instantly smitten with each other. In a few weeks they marry. Mrs. Heaster is suspicious of Trout Shue from the first time she meets him.

A few months after her wedding, Zona is dead—supposedly from a broken neck suffered in a fall down the steps—and her mother is suspicious because of Trout's odd behavior at the funeral. A month later, Mrs. Heaster reports to the county prosecutor that her daughter appeared to her as a ghost and told her how Shue had murdered her. Zona's body is exhumed and examined, and it turns out that her broken neck was not from the fall after all. Shue is arrested for his wife's murder.

Shue's defense attorney assigns his young assistant, Mr. Gardner, with the job of preparing a defense. While Gardner has a long legal career, Trout Shue's trial is the case that stands out the most—and the case he discusses with the young Dr. Boozer at the asylum. After all, it's the only known murder case where a ghost provided incriminating evidence.

I won't give away anything else that happens in this book, except to note there are some interesting twists and turns. Read more about this new book here.

The title, The Unquiet Grave, is apt. Both Gardner and Zona are connected by "unquiet" graves. Zora tells the story of her death after she's been buried for a month; while still alive, Gardner is "buried" in an insane asylum until he tells his story.

The Unquiet Grave is Sharyn MCrumb at her best—meticulous research, interesting characters, and a compelling story! I read the review copy in two days (and nights)—it was so good I didn't want to put it down.

The Unquiet Grave debuts on September 10, 2017, in Greenbrier county, WV. A list of other places and times she'll be promoting this book are here.

While The Unquiet Grave won't be available until September, you can pre-order a copy from Amazon.
Note: I mentioned this book in a previous blog-post:  "The Greenbrier Ghost."

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Golf Cart Trail Ride

Twenty-five years ago, I used to ride wooded trails on my horse, but those days are gone. I no longer have a horse, and health probems prevent me from walking, much less horseback riding. But this afternoon, I went on a trail ride—via golf-cart.

The part of the old Sutherland Plantation we bought in 2016 has a few trails that my husband has kept clear. Here's the start of one:

It leads downhill to the creek . . . 

. . . and it's below the last house built on the property.

Today was in the 80s, but the woods were surprisingly cool.

We passed ferns and downed trees.

Some of the trees were pretty good-sized.

We also passed where previous owners had dumped appliances, etc.

At the bottom, we came to the creek, which eventually flows into Bull Run, a cove on Smith Mountain Lake. 

Soon the hayfield came into view.

This tree was between the trail and creek. It almost looks like a paw-paw, but the leaves are much bigger.

Finally we came to the bridge, which leads to the fields and an old house. Given the conditin of the bridge, we didn't drive across.

From the bridge, we could see the old William Milton Sutherland house. Will served in the Confederate army. In the 1900 census, he was the closest neighbor to my great-grandfather, Henry Silas Smith.

The field in front of the house, which is a clapboarded-over double-pen log cabin, looks bluish. That's because the hay-fields were limed today. 

Near the bridge, two trees intertwined and looked like a sculpture.

The trail starting back up:

Just past this stand of trees is a busy road:

The trail ride was much too short, but it was nice while it lasted.

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