Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Miss Birdie in the Graveyard -- Born Again

Now I was wondering would you come along this evening, busy as you've been. Time just gets away from us, now don't it? Come on in and git you a chair whilst I finish putting up this ginger cake. It's getting right cool out out there, ain't it?

Why, yes, I'd be glad of a ride up to the graveyard this year.  I druther walk like I usually do but seems like I can't hardly go today. The wet weather we had back of this has brung on my arthuritis like one thing.  

Do I have some more stories for you about the folks buried up there? Oh, honey, that place is plumb full of stories and we ain't to the end of them by a far piece. Just let me get my coat on . . .

My, but this vehicle of yours does Cadillac right along. Turns this rough old road smooth as silk. And here we are and the sun still a double hand span from setting. Time a-plenty to set out my bits of cake and have a word with the Quiet Ones.

I'll begin with Cletus and Luther and my angels whilst you walk about  -- I know how you like to make pictures and that cold snap has purely turned the maple into a blaze of glory, now ain't it?  Puttin' on that last bit of fancy dress afore the bare bones of winter.
Have you a good look around and see if any of these graves sets you to wondering. Like I said, they's stories to tell for every one of them . . .

She watched as the old woman moved slowly from grave to grave, stopping at each to take a bit of ginger cake from the oak split basket on her arm and lay it on the stone. Soul cake, some traditions called it, a sop for the dead. But these offerings were more homely, inspired, not by fear or some special reverence, but by affection. The little figure whispering above each grave was simply doing for her departed neighbors what she would do for the living, sharing food and, perhaps, a little gossip. 

At one recent marker though, Birdie simply shook her head, chuckled, and moved on, leaving no cake.

There's a story there, I bet.  I'll ask her.

The shadows were lengthening as Miss Birdie neared the upper edge of the old graveyard where the markers were  older and mostly untended: some evidently homemade, some no more that a large rock in the tall grass.

Well now, did you get you some pictures? I'm ready to set a spell. This bench the church folks put up last year is right welcome. Let's have us some of this good cake while I catch my breath.

How come I not to leave cake at that new headstone down there? Honey, they ain't no one buried there. Oh, there's a name and dates all right but  . . . well this was the story I heard.
It happened back a few months. Rawly Snelson and a bunch of his buddies was hoorahing around. They had told their wives that they was fox hunting and they had brought along some dogs to let loose -- this ridge the graveyard's on is a fine place to hear the hounds chase a fox. That sweet music echoes all around up here.

Nah, they don't kill the varmint. The fox always gets away when he's had enough of the  chase. The men do it purely for the sound of the dogs baying and they kin tell one from another by their sound. But the reason Rawly and his buddies loved to fox hunt so good was that they could build a fire and set around it and drink beer and cuss and pass around a jar of white liquor. Every one of them has a wife who is dead set against drinking and cussing and Rawly's wife hadn't spoke to him in days on account of she wanted to go visit her family in Mills River and Rawly kept putting her off.

So, honey, this was the boys' night out and they was making the most of it, down there on that little flat spot outside the graveyard -- right near where you parked your vehicle.

The way I heard it was that they was all of them right far gone when they took to daring one another to go and walk amongst the gravestones without no flashlight. Grown men, would you credit it! So after a lot of elbowin' and bold talk, Rawly ups and says 'I'll do 'er. Ain't no ghost gone mess with me.'

And off he goes without a flashlight nor even a match for they made him turn out his pockets and leave his lighter and matches behind too. 

It was black dark for the moon had already set and Rawly had to most feel his way up the path to the graveyard. But time he topped the rise, he could just make out the gravestones, kindly glowing pale against the dark, and he set in to make his way through them like he had vowed to do.  

He was past the first few rows where all them Cantrells is buried but all of a sudden something come swooping down just brushing by his head and not making the least sound. 

'Ooooh!' cries Rawly, who is having second thoughts now. He  turns to go back to the campfire, figgering he'll get to the edge of the grave yard and stay out of sight of the others till enough time has passed that he can claim to have got to the far side and back. 

And then he sees something. He can just barely make it out, dark as the night is, but it is white, near bout man-size and fluttering in the wind just a few feet off the ground. It ain't got nare head but one arm lifts and waves, like it was calling to him.

"Oh, Lord!" cries Rawly and commences to run.

But now he is bumfuzzled and in a hurry and he trips over a quartz rock -- that one yonder for the Bedford baby, its poor folks  both passed away from the Spanish Influenza not long after it died and no one ever thought to give the baby a better stone. 

Where was I? Oh, yes, he trips over the stone and takes a tumble right into Miz Clara Clemmons new dug grave -- she was to be buried the day after next and the fellers digging it hadn't finished the tidying up.

Between the fright and the white liquor, Rawly passes out there at the bottom of that six foot hole and it ain't till nigh daybreak that he come to.

Why didn't his friends come looking for him? Well, I never could get the truth of that. Either they was too drunk themselves or too skeered or, and this is how they told it, they thought he'd played a trick on them and walked home. so when their dogs begun to straggle back and the jar of white was empty, they all began to think that home and bed was where they'd like to be too. And off they went.

So just at first light, Rawly begins to stir. The hard clay he's laying on is none too pleasing and his head is aching and his mouth feels like something crawled in it and died.  And he lays there and it comes to him that maybe it's him has died. He is afraid to open his eyes but he reaches out and feels the cold, slick clay walls to either side of him.

"Oh, Lord!" cries Rawly. "I'm too young to die in such a foolish way. Lord, save a sinner! I swear, if you'll but give me another chance, I'll be a better man. I'll cut out the drinkin' and cussin', Lord. I'll go to church with Nelly every Sunday and Wednesday too, Lord! Yes, and revivals -- whatever that good woman asks of me, I'll do 'er."

Rawly still has his eyes squinched shut, kindly waiting to get some answer from the Lord but nothing is happening.  Finally he says, "And, Lord, I'll even move to Mills River like Nelly wants and go to work for her daddy like she's been after me to do ever since we was wed. (Even though that old man is mean as a snake,)" he says quiet-like so the Lord won't hear. "I promise, Lord, I'll be a new man."

All of a sudden he feels cold water pouring over his face and the shock of it makes him open his eyes. He looks up to see blue sky and what he takes for an angel, dazzling in the light of the rising sun, standing there on the edge of the grave with a watering can in its hand.

"Get up out of there, Rawly Snelson," the angel says. 

And praising the Lord, Rawly clambers out of the grave and goes to fall on his knees before the angel till he see it ain't no angel but one of the Dotson girls standing there.

"I reckon it's a good thing I decided to come along early to water the azaleas on Mommy's grave," said she. "No telling how long you'd have laid there making all kinds of promises."

Rawly is blinking in the sunlight and wondering if those promises count since it's only Ceely Dotson and not an angel after all. He rubs his chin with one hand and looks around, trying to understand what has happened. Next to the hole he spent the night in is a pile of dirt with a long handled shovel stuck in it. A dirty white shirt droops from the handle. 

Ceely Dotson looks him up and down. "Rawly Snelson, you got that second chance you asked for. I'm happy for you and I can't wait to tell Nellie and all the folks at church that you are a new man. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, ain't that the truth!"


And, honey, Rawly is.  Least far as I know. Him and Nellie up sticks and moved not a week later. But she paid for that marker to be set up near the grave where Rawly's old life ended. Hand me my stick and you can read for yourself what it says as we pass by.

As they made their way  through the shadows back to the waiting jeep, they paused at the marker. The polished black headstone bore a simple inscription :

Rawly Snelson - 1991 - 2017 - ?
Born Again and Gone to Mills River.

Monday, October 30, 2017

And There Was Snow -- or Maybe Snee

It began yesterday afternoon -- flakes at first and then tiny pellets drifting down on a backdrop of autumn color.

I'll have to break it to the kittehs that fresh catnip season is over.

And yes, I did the First Snow Barefoot Walk -- even though I'm not sure it counts a snow, per se.

Temps are supposed to be in the sixties tomorrow, rising to the seventies by the end of the week. 

The two below are from this morning.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


". . . A breathing in of all experience, all apprehension of beauty, all love."  

Mary Stewart in her novel STORMY PETREL.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Singin' the Runny Nose, Sore Throat, Coughin' Blues

The cold that has been running through our family has taken up residence in my head. It's the first cold I've had in years and it feels like a slap in the face. Not just because of the low grade misery but because I've had to bow out on reading my story at Tryon Arts and Crafts School on Halloween night.

Sure, I might be okay to read by then -- but I might not. And as a substitute reader would need time to prepare, I had to inform the folks at Tryon that I wouldn't be with them.

I was told they plan to videotape the event and will have a link on their website after Halloween. And I may just go on and post the story on my blog  . . .

Meanwhile, I'll take what comfort hot tea with rum and lemon and honey can bring me. Maybe I can just sleep through the worst of it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Few of My Favorite Things -- A (Mostly) Virtual Collection

From a Facebook group called The Golden Age of Illustration

As I've mentioned before, I am trying very hard to cut down on the amount of stuff in my life -- books, clothes, craft supplies, trinkets -- all those things I will never read, wear, use, or care about again. Progress is slow and our book shelves are still full -- though there are no longer books under the bed or on the stairs to my workroom. But my closet actually has some gaps here and there and things are less crowded in my workroom. 

It seems to me that I have spent much of my life acquiring -- more fabric, more books, another Crabtree and Evelyn mug, more blue and white porcelain,  another piece of stuff.  I found a list I'd made at one point in our early married life when evidently I felt we needed a sherry decanter. Never mind that we neither one have ever drunk sherry with any regularity -- I use it in cooking but that's all. And somehow  we have staggered through fifty some years without a decanter. Amazing.

Now I'm reversing the acquisition process and finding fewer and fewer things I really want, thank goodness. 

Still, every now and then I see something on the Internet ( I know better than to go into thrift stores or galleries or flea markets anymore) that really appeals to me and I save the picture to my photos folder. (I know Pinterest exists for this very purpose but this is my personal version. And I don't need one more black hole to get sucked into.)

I save things that pique my imagination like the amazing image above -- the rivers and river basins of the US. Or the image below -- an autumn scene by artist Egon Schiel . . . 

Every once in a while though, I succumb . . . I ordered this charming print below from UK artist Danielle Barlow. (You can find her on Facebook or on Etsy.) I may manage to give it as a Christmas present. Or I may not.

The Gypsy Van though, that will have to remain an unfulfilled dream . . . 

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Ultimate Chocolate Cake

I'm not really a fan of cake -- except my grandmother's pound cake. Every year I make the same chocolate layer cake with raspberry jam between the layers for John's birthday and am always kinda disappointed in it. Too blah, too ... cakey.

So this year (John's birthday is today but we had a birthday celebration on Saturday so Ethan could join us,) I went on line to find a cake that was really dark and really moist. And we were all pretty much in agreement -- this is the Ultimate Chocolate Cake.  Almost black, not too sweet, and definitely for adults. (The Genius Kitchen, from whence the original recipe came, calls it Deep Dark Chocolate Cake. I made a few changes.)

2 cups granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used more- almost a cup)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk (I used plain yoghurt)
1 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 0r 3 teaspoons Tunisian Five Spice (my addition -- see below.)


1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Grease and flour one 13x 9 inch baking pan OR two 9 inch pans. (I also line the bottom of the pan with a piece of waxed paper cut to fit and then greased.)

3. In a large bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and Tunisian Five Spice.

4. Add eggs, buttermilk (or yoghurt,) coffee, oil, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of electric mixer for 2 minutes. Batter will be thin. (Really, really thin -- I wondered if I'd made a mistake but it was fine.)

5. Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake till toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (30 -35 minutes for 2 round pans; 35-40 for 1 rectangular pan.)

6. Cool 10 minutes. If using two round pans, remove from pans and cool on wire racks before frosting.

This is an amped-up version of my usual chocolate frosting)

1 stick butter, softened
4 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups confectioners sugar
3 tablespoons dark rum (or maybe more -- whatever it takes to get to a nice spreadable consistency.)

I put a generous amount of raspberry jam between the layers. Citrus marmalade would be good too. Or currant jelly or lingonberry or cherry . . . whatever tickles your fancy.

Tunisian Five Spice is my favorite for all sorts of things -- apple pie, tea, hummus, and this cake. There's more info on it HERE.  You could substitute a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and pepper -- but you'd miss out on the Grains of Paradise . . .

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Apparitionist

The Apparitionist-National Ghost Story Competition 

To embrace and honor the heritage of storytelling in Western North Carolina, Tryon Arts & Crafts School (TACS) is initiating this exciting National Ghost Story Competition. Winning stories will be read to an audience on Halloween evening, October 31st, 2017, 7 PM, at TACS, 373 Harmon Field Road, Tryon, NC.

Back in July I saw this announcement in a newsletter for writers and realized that a story I had written several years ago to read to my fellow campers at Wildacres Writing Workshop might be just the thing.  

The guidelines said that the story should include a ghost, spirit, paranormal activity, mysterious circumstance, or a folklore tale that could be perceived as a ghost story.  It also said that the winning stories would be selected by Jack Sholder, director of  Nightmare on Elm Street II (and many other horror films) who should know from scary.

Done. I had just the thing. I spent some time polishing it then sent it in. 

Lo and behold, on Tuesday I got a call saying that my story had won first place!  So I'll be heading to Tryon on Halloween to read "The Bargain" to an audience.  

As a matter of fact, on this blog post HERE, you can see when I first began the story, some seven years ago. 

I believe that the story in its entirety will eventually be posted on the Tryon Arts and Crafts School site -- probably after Halloween. I'll let you know when that happens.

So glad I finally finished it!.