Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Treasures in Old Letters


I will never forget the time my sister found a box of Mother's old letters.  They were in a slightly worn box tucked under a stack of old quilt scraps.  Inside, cloaked beneath a sheet of embossed tissue paper, were letters dating back to the early '30's.  Some were addressed to my mother before she married, others came after.  

My Mother
I pulled out a fat envelope postmarked June 30, 1932.  There were twenty handwritten pages from her classmate and good friend, Belle.  School was out for the summer.  The letter began May 30th and wasn't finished until a full month had passed.  It's obvious this young lady had a very busy summer.  She wrote, "I've been hoeing cotton all day today and I'm so tired I can hardly wiggle.  My back hurts so bad... but we do have fun hoeing cotton.  I'd rather be hoeing than to be at the house."

Belle's labor continued with no wrap-up of her letter.  "I have been hoeing this evening and almost got snake bit.  It sure did scare me but I killed it... it was a great big snake.  A copperhead.  I guess it would have killed me if it would have bit me." 

The next portion of her letter reflected sadness and disappointment.  She said she was unable to attend school that fall.  Because of that she feared her countless hopes and dreams would be lost.  Nonetheless, deep within she didn't give up entirely.  Deep within her soul, she clung to a strand of hope.  She also spoke of missing the camaraderie of her classmates.

The letter reflected a laborious way of life in contrast to jobs for the average young woman of today.  Times were tough back then during the Great Depression (1929-30)

Often farmers were the ones who survived in the south.  They lived off the land.  At least they could grow small crops to sell with enough food set aside to last the family though the winter.  It usually held them until early spring crops came in.

In a later paragraph, Belle's mood became positive.  She expressed her thanks and appreciation to my mother for being her close trusted friend.  She was confident that my mother would always guard their teenage secrets.

My Mother and siblings

I wonder about Belle's outcome in life.  I do recall my mother speaking of her.  Knowing the determination and resilience my ancestors had during hard times I believe Belle never gave up.  I think she clung to hope and faith, just as my mother's family did.  That's all these unwavering families had.  They passed their attribute on to the next generation.  The world has changed drastically since then.  I hope and pray this courage and buoyancy is reaching our young generation.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Brunch With Jeannie McPhail, Storyteller/ Author

It was a relaxing, enjoyable morning when author/ storyteller, Jeannie McPhail and I met for brunch.  We chose one of our favorite restaurants that prepares delicious blueberry muffins and those yummy lips smacking pancakes.  We had worked on meeting since back last year and finally it happened.  I would have sat for hours, but both of us had other commitments later that day.

Jeannie shared her exciting news that she recently published a new book.  I was thrilled when she presented me with a copy for enjoyment and possible review in the NC Storytelling Guild newsletter, Journal of Tar Heel Tellers.  We have published earlier reviews of two or her book publications.  Go to Jeannie's website: www.jamcphail.com

I plan to write a review for this new publication, Trinity Tales of Tresia, later this year.  This title is part 1 of a trilogy from Rowe Publishing.

Following is a review I wrote of one of her earlier publication:  

I Will Not Fear: a Chosen Life By J.A. McPhail
Rowe Publishing; Price $12.95,
plus shipping and handling

I Will Not Fear: a Chosen Life is a beautiful story of inspiration and faith.  It gave me a striking glimpse into the life of a loving and caring family, whose love grew even deeper when the daughter was diagnosed with lymphoma.  I held a warm spot in my heart as I read about their love for life and for one another, their Christian faith and how their chosen paths touched countless people around them.  Stacie’s mother, Jeanne McPhail, tells the story.
In June 1976 Stacie Jeanne McPhail came into this world.  The newborn’s first cry brought forth an immediate applause from hospital delivery room staff.  Applause continued to follow her throughout the rest of her life.
As the only child of Jeanne Ann and Dennis McPhail, nurture, love, faith and companionship was never lacking in Stacie’s life.  A doting family, neighbors, friends, church members, the community and people from the music world surrounded her. 
Singing became one of Stacie’s great loves, with Southern gospel music her favorite.  Her father, Dennis, taught music in high school and often sang in choirs and concerts.  A favorite family activity was to travel by tour bus with concert groups her dad was a part of. 
Stacie received a music scholarship to attend college and after graduation she accepted a teaching job and moved from her home in Kansas to North Carolina.  Later her parents moved to the old ‘North State’ to be closer to her.  In 2003 the McPhails (Dennis, Jeanne and Stacie) formed their own Southern Gospel trio, The Macs.  Stacie continued to teach, but spent weekends on the road and on stage.  
During her busy summer of 2011, she noticed a lump on her neck.  The family was packing for a camping trip when the doctor called with the results.  Stacie “handled it with such grace,” according to her mother.  “We spent the next three days camping.”
The family met one of the biggest challenges “ever faced in our lives.  We still believed God had a plan.”  There were many trips to Duke Medical Center for treatments and Stacie’s parents accompanied her.  She wanted them by her side. 
Hospital nurses were amazed as they observed the family spend hours together in conversation, reading aloud from the Bible, listening to CD’s and listening to gospel and other faith fulfilling music.  After eight months PET results reported no lymphoma, but that was short lived.  It soon reappeared.
Near the end of the book Jeanne writes, “We realize that because Stacie was single and we had our own family singing ministry, we had more time with her in 36 years than a lot of parents have in a lifetime.”
Through positive faith Stacie and her parents acquired their strength from God.  He was their staying power.  They “did not fear.” 
After I finished this captivating life story, tossed with laughter, sadness, and lighter moments, I clearly see Jeanne’s story of Stacie’s life as an unrestrained beacon of faith that will touch all who read it.
Reviewed by Sylvia Payne - http://www.storytraditions.com

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Our Backyard

From my dining room window on a recent Saturday morning, I watched titmice, chickadees and cardinals flitting back and forth between our two bird feeders in the backyard. Suddenly a titmouse flew toward the window, landing on a lower limb of our Japanese maple tree just a few yards away. He was holding a seed in his beak. He glanced swiftly this way and that, searching for the perfect spot to break open his treasure. 

Before he could complete his task, my attention was drawn to a second titmouse that landed in the very top of the tree. He too, was carrying a seed. “Oh what a perfect photo,” I thought. But I didn’t dare move. We were exactly eye level with only a window and six feet of distance separating us. I guess he wasn’t comfortable with me watching, though I stood still. He swiftly made a dive and was swallowed up by the tree leaves and branches.

Photo: Titmouse holding sunflower seed.  Taken a couple years ago.

I was about to turn away when a movement caught my eye. Sitting where the second titmouse had been, sat a striking handsome bird. My brain was working fast; too fast to recall specific thoughts. It was searching through my memory bank. “What bird is this?” I didn’t recognize it.

My mind quickly reviewed similar birds I’d found in my North Carolina bird book. This handsome fella had a trim black beak. Just above the beak and across the top of his head was a brownish to dark gray color. A similar color covered his back and the top side of his wings. Beneath the throat and down the breast was a bright white that blended into a gorgeous soft pastel yellow. Maybe it’s just the way the light hit him. What I saw through the window was beautiful to my eyes. From a distance I wouldn’t have noticed. Perhaps the reflections of light was ideal on such a gray, overcast day.

Suddenly I had it. “Yes! That’s it.” I grabbed my book and quickly flipped through the richly colored photos. The bird had vanished from the tree now, but there it was in the book. There on the page sat an eastern phoebe. Very similar to the one I had just seen. 

Next, I ran a quick google search and there it was again; a lovely eastern phoebe was identified in many photographs, several taken by National Geographic photographers. According to one resource, this bird displays a soft yellow breast during the fall of the year.

Cold weather is just around the corner. This is one of many reasons I love our Japanese maple tree just beyond my dining room window. I can enjoy nature from the warmth of home if I pay close attention.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brevard Festival 2013

My husband and I spent a recent weekend in the North Carolina Mountains, at Brevard. We were there for the Brevard Storytelling Festival and were a part of the volunteer team.  Angela Lloyd and Bobby Norfolk were the featured tellers. Our three regional tellers were Alan Hoal, Dorothy Kirk and Donna Marie Todd who represented the NC Storytelling Guild. NC storyteller Gwenda LedBetter served as MC. What a grand festival!
Angela, left      Bobby, above                                                                                                                                             
The Transylvania County Library hosted the festival and served as co-sponsor. For the seventh year, the NC Storytelling Guild teamed up to co-sponsor with them. It’s a joy for our organization to work with their Friends of the Library and library staff.

There was an eclectic mixture of stories from the five storytellers. I traveled back into history with comic, Bobby Norfolk and visited mystical places as Angela Lloyd wove her whimsical stories. Donna Marie Todd held me in stitches as I learned ‘how not’ to prepare food in a concession stand during a high school football game. I identified with Dorothy Kirk as she told how she discovered her true voice. Closing out the final session, Alan Hoal carried me back to my teen movie-going days with his hilarious and sometimes frightening experience at a triple feature horror movie.     
Donna  Marie, above                                                                           Dorothy, above                    
We are like family and rarely see one another, other than at storytelling gatherings. As is the usual custom, Guild members and storytellers spent the weekend at a local hotel. This was an opportunity to have a “reunion of sorts,” to visit, have fun, strengthen our friendships, and to catch up and learn from one another. 

After many goodbye’s Sunday morning, my husband and I spent time with two good friends. We had lunch near the hotel, followed by a leisurely walk around town on a beautiful sunny day. Colorful leaves twirled past as we wandered from shop to shop. By late afternoon a cool wind set our teeth to chattering which sent us in search of hot coffee and dessert. This tasty treat turned out to be our dinner, filled with laughter and fellowship. I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Alan, above                                                   Donna Marie, Sylvia and Lona, above

Hope to see you next year at the Brevard Festival.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oldest Town in Tennessee

I recently took a two-day "girl's" trip to Jonesborough Tennessee.  The weather couldn't have been more perfect. Temperatures were in the mid 80's accompanied by a lovely breeze.

It’s funny.  I’ve made many treks to this little historical town over the years.  Most trips take place during the National Storytelling Festival when the town is filled with hundreds of people, including well-known storytelling professionals who are invited to be featured tellers during the festival.  Many additional storytellers (and listeners) learn from the masters and enjoy a delightful three-day weekend filled with stories.

This trip was different.  It was a friend’s first visit to this lovely historical town.  We planned to enjoy a storyteller-in-residence concert and take in some of the essence of historical Jonesborough. 

It’s easy to become engrossed in the town’s history minus several thousand people gathered for a storytelling festival.  I didn’t need to worry about rushing off to one of many storytelling tents around town, afraid I would miss out on a good story or favorite storyteller.  Instead I concentrated solely on appreciating a few of Jonesborough’s own stories and significant architecture preserved from the past.   

We took in the 'storyteller-in-residence' concert with Liz Weir, a great storyteller from Ireland.  She was delightful, as I knew she would be.  It wasn’t her first trip here.  I enjoyed her a few years ago when she was featured during the National Storytelling Festival.   

We enjoyed a free music concert (held each Friday evening) on the square, in front of the old courthouse.  It was amazing the number of people who turned out to hear the music of Blue Mother Tupelo.  I can only imagine the crowds this concert must draw before summer vacation ends.  
Thanks to the kind ladies at the Visitor’s Center, we took a self-guided walking tour of historical buildings in the main part of town, followed by a personalized tour led by local storyteller, Jules, as she told us local stories from the past.  

I look  forward to returning next year.  I yearn to absorb another weekend of small town culture and history.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What Happened to Summer?

  Summer just began or so I thought.  There have been so many places to   go and things to do.  It seems only yesterday my husband and I         packed our car and headed off to Ocracoke Island.  A place we love to visit.  It’s   so relaxing.We thoroughly enjoyed the Ocrafolk Music and Storytelling  Festival, where one of our favorite storytellers, Donald Davis (right photo), held  a captive audience.   
 We walked along the clean uncrowded beach, hiked Hammock Hills

 and Springer’s Point nature trails, walked down the
 little ‘back in time" dirt streets (left  photo)

 visited shops and many other fun activities.  

  After returning home, we had just begun to catch 
  up when it was time to head to the NC Mountains 
  for Storytellers Wild Week at the Wildacres 
  Retreat Center in Little Switzerland, NC  

  It was an uplifting week, crammed full of    
  storytelling and learning sessions led by Michael 
  Reno Harrell. 

                                 (Michael, above photo)
There was great fun, camaraderie, learning and  laughter with my special storytelling  friends.                       
It's one of my favorite summer get-a-ways.

Most of  us couldn’t resist staying up ‘til midnight or later, sharing our deepest thoughts, ideas and stories with one another.  Despite the fact that rain poured from the sky during the entire week.

I was beginning to think the entire mountain had developed into a gigantic waterfall!   

The Wild Group (left photo) 

Tip: click on individual photos and you can enlarge them for viewing. 

With just four days back at home to regroup, wash clothes and repack, we were off again, driving to
Minnesota.  My husband’s cousins invited us to join them for a memorial service for their parents, followed by a wonderful reunion.  He hadn’t seen his cousins in 40 years!         (above photo: family gathering)

As you might imagine, since the past 40 years the family has multiplied many times over.  It was a warm and joyous reunion for him and even for me, though it was my first time to meet them.  I felt as if I knew a few of them from stories my husband has shared over the years.   

During the family gathering many stories were shared - fond memories of old friends, relatives, neighbors, grandparents, aunts and uncles, getting into trouble, grandparents’ favorite grandchildren and the old neighborhood that had mostly disappeared.  Ah, the good ‘ole days. 

Younger cousins and siblings shared stories as well.  And there was lots of quality time with the children from ages 15 down to toddlers and the cute 9-month-old baby.  There were 30 of us in all, spread out in three lovely cottages side by side. 

Some us visited nearby Two Harbors Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls.

There was time to relax on the deck, watching the fog roll in and out over Lake Superior (left photo above), listening to the foghorns echo into the night, enjoying campfires by the lake, eating yummy smores, listening to the water lapping against the rocks, admiring the glistening moon beaming across the water and 
seeing the eerie round reflection of ghostly light off to the side of the moon’s reflection.  Oooooo!  We never determined the source of that spine-chilling reflection of light.    

(right photo: Split Rock Lighthouse)

By the way, I returned home filled with love and story ideas.

(left photo:  It's so hard to say "Goodbye")