Monday, October 31, 2022

Miss Birdie Everlasting

The little house was all but empty now. Odds and ends had been distributed to friends—Elizabeth had been speechless when Dor’thy had handed her Birdie’s journals—a collection of composition books dating back to the Forties. “She said you was to have them.” And under Dor’thy’s supervision, Calven and Travis (Bernice’s boy) had worked hard to remove and rehome the furniture and appliances —two beds, two dressers, a wood stove, the television set, and the plastic upholstered sofa. Birdie’s worn recliner sat forlorn in the middle of the living room, listing slightly to the right.

As Elizabeth looked at it, the lump in her throat grew and tears began to spill down her face.

Git you a cheer, Lizzie Beth.

She gasped and whirled around, looking for the person who’d sounded so like Birdie that she expected to see her hobbling toward her recliner.

“Who is it?” Her voice was shaky and even as she spoke, she began a circuit of the few rooms of the house. “Who’s there?”

A soft chuckle sounded in her ears. “Lizzie Beth, hit’s me—Birdie. Course I ain’t what you might call here—not so’s you can see me. But, honey, I ain’t going nowheres. I’ll be talking to you right along.

And so she had, thought Elizabeth, as once more she made her way up the steep road to the graveyard. Her voice was clearest, perhaps, when Elizabeth was reading the journals—Don’t pay no attention to my spelling, honey. I reckon though you can make out my meaning. Or Just you skip past all that sorrowful talk when my babies died. I didn’t know then what I know now.

Only this morning the familiar voice had spoken, just before Elizabeth opened her eyes. Reckon you’ll be making a spice cake today. Course we can visit any time, but I kindly like to see the old ways carrying on.

Elizabeth shifted the basket on her arm. “Here I am, Birdie, with the spice cake.”

The low chuckle answered her. I knowed you’d bring it.

“Miss Birdie,” Elizabeth whispered, “tell me about . . . what was it like? Dying, I mean.”

When the call came from Dor’thy, Elizabeth had half expected it. “Well, Lizzie Beth, our Miss Birdie’s passed. I was in the kitchen fixing us some lunch when I heard her call out. “You?” she said, and when I got to her, she was already gone. But what I want you to know is, there was a look on her face you wouldn’t hardly believe. I don’t know how to tell it except that it was a look of the purest happiness.”

“Dor’thy said you looked happy, Miss Birdie . . .”

Honey, it was the quarest thing. I was laying there in that old recliner, wishing I didn’t hurt all over, wishing I could still get out and about, and thinking about all the ones that had gone before. And then, all at once, hit was like my heart exploded and little golden specks like dust in the sunlight was coming out of it and it was like I was watching them specks and at the same time I was one of them specks. And then I saw someone in the doorway. Or it was a whole bunch of someones—Luther, Granny Beck, Cletus, Belvy, all my angel babies—a great throng that was coming toward me and wrapping my tired old body in love like a great feather bed. Now, understand—I didn’t see all them folks—no more than you can see me—but they was realer than life and they was welcoming me to . . . well, wherever it is that I am--the place I been traveling to all along.

“Birdie—your journals, they. . . they-”

Lizzie Beth, I give them to you on account of how you love all them old stories. I ain’t told you half of them yet and there’s more wrote down in them copybooks. You just listen out for me as you read, and I’ll be talking to you right along..

The spice cake had been distributed among the graves and the last bit had been set on the stone that served Luther and Birdie—Birdsong Gentry- 1922-2022--Gone home.   Crisping leaves covered the raw earth on Birdie’s side. I ain’t there, Honey, but you know that. All us Quiet Ones, we're in the wind and the rain and the trees . . . we're everywhere . . .

As Elizabeth turned to make her way down the road, a sudden breeze brought down more leaves, lifting the fallen ones in a whirlwind of red and gold and brown. They swirled about her, and there were joyous singing and dancing shapes in the circling leaves that rose up above her head and then, as quickly as they had come, subsided. Elizabeth stood wondering--dazzled and deeply comforted.

. . .

Later that evening, dishes done and Phillip dozing, an open book on his chest, Elizabeth reached for a journal. That’s a good ‘un, Honey. Bout midway through there’s the tale of Pink Smathers and his one-eyed mule.

Elizabeth smiled and began to read . . .

NOTE: We'll hear more of these journals and Miss Birdie. Miss Birdie abides.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Sneak Preview

Friday was Halloween costume day at school and Josie was a Witch Kitty. She and her mama made a song which she sang for me. 

Witch, kitty, witch kitty, witch kitty cat.
Which kitty, which kitty, which kitty is that?

I told her I'd like to borrow the furry ears and she told me that I could get some at Target or Publix. She also suggested that I might like to get a dress and tights like hers . . .

In other news--I continue to be pain free without more pills . . .


Friday, October 28, 2022

Please, Make It Stop

 For several days now I've been dealing with a muscle spasm in my back--not too bad during the day but utterly hellish at night. I've had these spasms now and again for years--usually as a result of standing in the kitchen to prepare a big holiday meal--or from sitting at the sewing machine or quilting frame too long. Or, drat it, from bending over to work on a watercolor.

Usually if I take a strong pain pill and go to bed, I wake up the next morning with the spasm resolved. But this one hasn't gone away so, in desperation (and because I was out of pain meds) I got an emergency appointment in Mars Hill.

The doctor (another kid) made some suggestions--PT, topical pain relief--and kindly wrote a script for more pain meds. For years I've managed this back condition with caution and very few pills -- the fact that my last prescription in April was for 10 pills and I've only just now run out convinced him that I didn't seem to be an addict.

After picking up the pills (and getting a flu shot,) I made a quick pass through the grocery store and now I'm home, sitting with a heating pad and a mug of hot tea while John makes dinner. I really want this to clear up--I haven't had an untroubled night's sleep in almost a week.

Of course, this is nothing to the troubles of many others--my friend Sandy is especially in my thoughts. She's been dealing with terrible back issues for over a year now.

Which kinda puts things in perspective.


UPDATE: As of Friday morning. I took one pill at 3 pm yesterday and the pain went away. I had a very good night's sleep and woke with no pain. Have taken no more pills but they are there if I need them. Hoorah!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Josie, the Stay At Home Scholar

I had a cold on Saturday and Sunday and Mommy and I had to miss Grumpy's birthday dinner. On Monday my nose was still runny, so I got to spend the day with Meema. It was nice because there was lots of time to do stuff. We had pancakes, of course and Meema even hid 2 chocolate chips like buried treasure in each of my pancakes. Then we read my new Ranger Rick Jr. magazine and THEN I got to work on my new workbook.

I am doing math like a big kid. There is addition and even subtraction. I went through the WHOLE BOOK and did it all. It is the kind of book where you use a special marker and if you make a mistake--like sometimes I make my 3s and 5s backwards, I can just say 'Backwards!' and erase it and do it the right way.

When I got to the end, we went and played in the room and read some books but then I wanted to do more workbook. So I went through and erased EVEYTHING and started over. Only this time I started at the end and went straight through to the beginning.

Grumpy was AMAZED at how good I did.  

Meema said that if I ate all my lunch, I could have a piece of Grumpy's birthday cake and some ice cream. But she said I might not like the cake because it was very dark and not very sweet. Of course I will like it, I told her. I already had some of what Daddy brought home Saturday night. And I did like it. I LOVE chocolate.

You can see how dark the cake is.


I think I will go to school on Tuesday and to ballet too. But it was nice to have a day off.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Thai-ish Pumpkin Soup

Marked free of pumpkin spice. A creamy, delicious soup that I served with rosemary focaccia and a salad of kale and spinach and chard, topped with pear, roasted pecans, dried cherries, blue cheese, and a light vinaigrette. 

                          Thai-ish Pumpkin Soup

I can pumpkin

1 can coconut milk

1-3 c broth

Olive oil

1 onion

3 ribs celery

6 cloves garlic

Ginger root

1 Tb red curry paste (Be careful here--this stuff is hot.) 

Lemon, juice of

Sea salt

Basil/sour cream for garnish


Chop celery, onion, and garlic and saute till soft. Squeeze in

 some ginger juice. Add curry paste and cook 1 minute. Add pumpkin and coconut milk and broth to the consistency desired. Simmer and add lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve and garnish with basil chiffonade and sour cream.



Monday, October 24, 2022


Since at least two of you have been waiting with bated breath, here are the answers to yesterday's puzzler.

A Korean from the hill country, known as Highland Park.

Park being a common Korean name, like Kim and Moon.

And the complicated one:

As soon as Mick Jagger finished singing the words "They can't say we never tried," former astronaut and senator John Glenn began screaming, More 'Angie', not only asking for an encore but a repeat performance of the same song. Next to him sat former Bono spouse Cher, who thought she had seen a ghost on stage (just Keith Richards) and screamed out as if in a cartoon, "EEK!" And so she never heard John say to her with a wink, "It never hurts to ask".

There are so many brands of Scotch with Glen in the name that poor John Glenn gets called into use fairly often for John's gifts. Or the quirky pianist Glen Gould. I didn't know the song 'Angie', but the advantage of group solving is that someone did.  

So far, we have Glenmorangie--a favorite of John's. But what's with the Bono spouse? I was thinking of the one-name Bono but it turned out to be Sonny. So, Cher says Eek. And the last word is ask. Yielding, (drum roll), Sherry Cask--the particular variety of this Glenmorangie.

I, too, gave John a bottle of Glenmorangie. My clue was different. It involved Angela Merkle in a valley (glen) dealing out discipline to an ecstatic Boris Johnson and B.J. shouting out, "More, Angie!"

Yes, this is our idea of fun.


Sunday, October 23, 2022

Birthday Puzzles


 Yikes! I put off posting for Sunday till I was already awash in bubbly and chocolate cake. Today is John's 80th birthday (OMG) and we celebrated last night rather thoroughly.

So this will have to do for a post. As always, the gifts were accompanied by puzzles. It's somewhat easier since, for John, the gifts are always Scotch. And we try to guess the brand and sometimes the particular iteration of that label.

It's a group endeavor, solving these puzzles. Usually they are pretty brief-- A Korean from the hills, who goes by the name ___ ____.

Justin had one that was not so brief. I'll give it to you now and provide answers tomorrow. It's pretty involved.

As soon as Mick Jagger finished singing the words "They can't say we never tried," former astronaut and senator John ____ began screaming, ____  ____, not only asking for an encore but a repeat performance of the same song. Next to him sat former Bono spouse ____, who thought she had seen a ghost on stage (just Keith Richards) and screamed out as if in  cartoon, "___!" Ans so she never heard John say to her with a wink, "It never hurts to ____."

Answer and unraveling tomorrow.

Friday, October 21, 2022

It's Never Been More Important

From Congress, NC Supreme Court, State Representative, County Board of Commissioners, Board of Education-- there are no 'little' races. 

The Right has its collective eye on all of them. 

So much is at stake--stuff like Medicare and Social Security (the Right would like to get rid of both), abortion access, aid for Ukraine, tax fairness rather than tax cuts for the wealthy, (this is what's undone Liz Truss, Britain's short-lived Conservative Prime Minister)--even democracy itself, as many candidates of the Right continue to push the Big Lie that the 2020 election was compromised.

I was surprised to see that the candidates for judgeships were identified as R or D. In the past they weren't labeled, presumably for the appearance of non-partisanship. Of course, the current Supreme Court has put an end to that pleasant fiction.

Even school boards have become politicized as the right seeks to intimidate and silence teachers while pushing an agenda of 'patriotic' propaganda.

I felt good voting early.  As one friend put it, I'd rather vote for the party that wants to give fourth-graders free lunches rather than the one that would force a pregnant fourth grader to give birth.


Thursday, October 20, 2022

Woodsmoke by Wayne Caldwell

This lovely little book was my companion for yesterday's reading room as I waited for Josie.  It was completely engrossing without a single false note. Posey's simple life and wisdom puts me in mind of some of the folks I met when we first moved here. I have always admired the lyrical quality of the Appalachian dialect and Caldwell captures it perfectly. The inclusion of the point of view of his moved-in neighbor is brilliant--the two voices make a beautiful whole. I recommend it highly, even to those who don't normally read poetry. 

Editorial review:

Woodsmoke is a poetry collection that renders the experience of living out life in a single, exquisite place―“in the shadow of the mountain my father said was mother to us all”―Mount Pisgah in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Wayne Caldwell, author of the novel Cataloochee, brings us the waning days of Posey Green, who cuts his own firewood, looks after himself, and tends to the land where his wife Birdie and her people are buried. Posey’s colloquial narrative poetry is presented as found verse, conjured from Posey’s internal musings―and these poems alternate with those of a new neighbor, a sympathetic female poet who observes Posey and his surroundings and creates a more formal poetic record of his days.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Reason and Faith and Elizabeth Goodweather and Me

In my first novel, Signs in the Blood, Elizabeth visits a church that practices snake-handling.

"Elizabth watched, spellbound, as the snakes were passed from one to another of those who felt the call to handle. She had read that believers were sometimes bitten and that, of these, some died, though many lived to handle again. The library book had quoted a handler from Kentucky: 'Some folks say the snakes is doped up or their fangs is pulled out but I'm here to tell you, buy, this thing is real.'

"This thing is real, she thought, seeing the snakes being handled casually, even roughly. These ordinary people, these farmers, factory hands, mothers and fathers were in a mystical state as genuine as that of any whirling Sudi, any meditating Zen monk awaiting satori, as any person of any faith seeking to attain oneness with God by abandoning reason and trusting to spirit. The danger was real, the snakes were real, and the faith was real. The handlers all seemed to be in a deep ecstasy, beyond disbelief, beyond, doubt, beyond fear."

Elizabeth finds herself being tempted by this show of faith, finds herself wishing she had such certainty. The sexy preacher, it must be said, is a part of the fascination. But in the end, Elizabeth "hesitated, balanced there on the razor's edge between reason and faith. Then, with a feeling of an indefinable loss, she slid back in her seat and looked down. "No," she thought, no, not for me."

It must have been this scene that the author of a recent email I received had in mind when she said that Elizabeth's struggle with her faith was so raw that she had to wonder if it mirrored my own. And if it did, she hoped that I wouldn't write off God because of the way some people behave in his name.

I love it when I've touched a reader so deeply that she responds. I wrote back, telling her that, yes, like Elizabeth I have chosen reason over faith--any faith--all the while realizing the immense comfort religious folk derive from their sincere belief. And the snake handling is far less off-putting than the unkindness, the cruelty, the hypocrisy that I see in far too many "religious" folks.

We are each on our own journey.


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Autumn's Patina


It gilds the mountains and brushes each leaf with a beautiful, if fleeting, tarnish.

Its ephemeral nature makes it all the more precious.

A simple trip to town has me thinking of the elven forests of gold.

Oh! the glory!

Here, there, and everywhere--oh! the glory!

Monday, October 17, 2022

Red Sky at Morning

The Sunday morning sky posted a warning--as did the weatherman--a freeze is on the way.

I've been moving tender plants in--though Justin will have to deal with the big ones--the Bay trees and a few others.

John and Justin have been working on the wood piles--we are currently well supplied. We no longer rely on wood but on our Monitor heaters--wood is a backup for power outages--and an indulgence on chilly evenings.

It's been a beautiful fall--I still have pictures of foliage to post. But I'm falling into that winter/cozy mode--thinking of soups and stews and reading by the fire. Maybe a little rum in my hot tea.

To everything there is a season.