Monday, July 20, 2015

Her child's pain is over, my friend begins the long journey of grief

I attended a funeral today. The service was for my dear friend's 50 year-old daughter. Although we have been friends for two decades, and I've heard much about her family, I didn't meet her daughter until a few weeks ago.

At the time, she was under Hospice care and living with her mother who was 24/7 caregiver. Although Penny was taking morphine for pain, still she had suggested to her mother that they begin having a friend over for a light meal once a week. I was the first friend invited. Sadly, as it turned out, I was also the last friend to come over for a meal with Penny and her mother.

But I will cherish that evening. The food was good and I always love being in my friend's house, but that night I really enjoyed getting to know Penny, the strongest and most determined person I have met in a long, long time. She had been fighting cancer for seven or eight years, working and raising two children. She also cared for her husband who is disabled until she could do no more. That was when her mother brought her home to live out the time she had left. 

What I learned about Penny that evening is that she had no qualms about talking about her illness and right away she made me comfortable. We discussed what she had been through in a matter of fact way with no emotion from her. She had endured some of the most embarrassing moments and periods of indignities, but she took it well.  She had a wry sense of humor and I am sure she kept the nurses on their toes when she was in the hospital. She had been dealing with this so long that she could tell them what she needed and when she needed it. Her doctor had told her she had a few months to live and she said she told him she would see him next year. That was the kind of attitude Penny had about living. 

She said she had the best Mom in the world and when I asked what growing up with her talented Mother was like, Penny said she was just an ordinary mom, who kept house, took care of the kids and was always there for them. "She didn't get into painting and all the other things she does now until after we were out of the house."

Seeing the struggle Penny had over the past few months and the heart-wrenching pain of a mother watching her child die, has affected me in many ways. How do you do that day after day, month after month? How do you sit with her and do something so mundane as play chess and then put her to bed and  try to make her comfortable with the morphine required to stop the "sawing pain in her legs?" 

How do you have any semblance of a normal life when your child is lying in the next room and any moment could be her last? You don't. But you have to find a way to live with it and continue to take care of her the very best you can. My friend said something I will never forget. She said she had stopped thinking "what can I do?" She stopped thinking of the sadness and pain and turned her mind to appreciating the joy of every moment they had left together. She tried to make each day as good as possible and to let herself think of how good it was to still have her there.

How do you ever rest when all night you wait for her movements that mean she needs more chemicals to block her senses. My dear friend cared for her husband until he passed away, and then her father who was diagnosed with cancer and died soon after with her lying on his bed beside him. Now her child is gone. Today at the funeral, which was such a loving and lovely service, it hit me so hard I could not talk to my grieving friend without breaking down. Within two years she lost three loved ones she had devoted herself to caring for. 

Within four years, I lost my husband and three siblings. All that pain came rushing back to me when I looked at her sad face as she walked down the aisle carrying her daughter's urn cradled in her arms as if it were a baby. Yes, it was her baby girl and the last time she would ever hold her. 

I pray for peace for my friend and all her family. They are loving people who will be there for each other. One day all this pain will lessen and one day she can smile and feel normal again, but it is a long journey and I hope that in some way I can be there and help her along the way

Another post you might want to read. It is the most popular post on this blog.

Festival is a bit of nostalgia for me

We have photos from Festival on the Square where our writers group had a booth recently. Visit here if you want to see the pictures. 

Barry and I started attending the Festival on the Square in 1995 when we first moved to Clay County, NC, the smallest county in the state. Tents are set up all over the courthouse square with as many different kinds of crafts and visual arts as you could imagine. Soon my family members came up on the Festival weekend and we carried folding chairs down to sit in front of the gazebo where local musicians of all ages entertained for two days free to the public.

We fell in love with a family group, the Shook Family. The mother and father sang and played mountain music along with their three boys. Over the decades we watched those boys grow up and eventually the singing family scattered and those boys were raising families of their own. I miss them. Young men singing together brought back memories of my four brothers, The Council Brothers Quartet, a popular group in south Georgia back in the forties and fifties. But that story is for another blog post. 

Most of the groups at the festival sold cassette tapes of their music. We always bought them because we wanted to continue to hear those songs,  those voices, so we played them in our cars. My brothers carried home many cassettes from these mountains. Barry had fallen in love with good blue grass music and I often came home to find him on the deck with fiddle and banjo music flowing through the open doors. 

We also came to love another more eclectic group of musicians and singers, Butternut Creek and Friends, a group from Blairsville, GA. Steve Harvey, English professor at Young Harris College plays guitar, banjo and sometimes, the ukulele. He also lends his soft husky voice to harmonies with Jennifer Cordier who plays autoharp. Her husband plays percussion and flute with the band and when we first met them, a young blond woman was part of the group. She sang the most haunting melodies. We were so disappointed when she left the group, but over the years, Butternut Creek and Friends have evolved and made some changes in personnel but never lost that special sound. You will find samples of their newest albums on their website. 

Now my brothers are gone and we don't gather in front of the gazebo anymore to hear the singers. Our Netwest booth was not too far from where we used to sit, but none of my old favorite groups sang this year. Seems there were fewer people sitting in the shade and listening.

But I was happy to see that my favorite blogger, Tipper Pressley was there with her lovely twins,  the Pressley Girls who have grown up before my eyes. They took center stage while their mom and uncle played guitar and bass behind them. I was touched when Katie spoke of her musical family and how growing up with all the adults coming over to practice their music together inspired the girls to want to play and sing. The girls say when they were put to bed while the grownups played music downstairs, the two of them would lie down on the floor near the door so they could hear the singing. Tipper often came up to find them sound asleep on the floor.

Katie recognized her granddad who was sitting out front on a bench. Pap has not been well for a good while, but he was present to hear his family singing on stage. In the past he would have been up there lending his tenor voice to his son Paul's for some great country music.

The Pressley Girls

The festival holds a good bit of nostalgia for me, so it is best to be working in the writers' booth talking to visitors instead of thinking of what once was.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Last Tango in Halifax on Netflix has captured my interest

My sister, June, loved to read books set in England and she wanted to visit the UK before she left this earth. She and a couple of my brothers did go on a tour of England and she absolutely adored everything about that country.
I have not been enthusiastic about traveling outside the United States until now when I am not likely to do it because of distance, health issues and lack of funds. But I thoroughly enjoyed the few trips I’ve made to Canada and especially the one to Nova Scotia.

This week I began a trip on Netflix with the Last Tango in Halifax. This Halifax is not in Nova Scotia where I spent a couple of nights. This Halifax is in England. What an interesting series this is about an older widowed couple who found each other for the second time, late in life, fell in love and married in spite of the rather messy lives of their daughters who keep enmeshing the older couple into their relationships and marital problems. This is one of the series you will find on public Television, about the only TV worth watching lately.

I admit I have trouble understanding all the dialogue because of the heavy accents, but I can re-play anything I don’t get the first time. Besides the older couple, both of whom I just love, the landscape of the area is beautiful. I think much of it was shot in Yorkshire in northern England, a place that is very green with rolling hills. 

In the beginning, I thought the setting was Nova Scotia and was confused by the heavy English accents of the characters. Nova Scotia was settled by Irish and Scots for the most part, and the Gaelic accent still hangs on in families, but I learned when I was there on Cape Breton Island the natives are losing that accent and that language. 

These British films on PBS have intrigued me and given me reason to think I might like to travel to England, to see some of this lovely countryside and meet these people who seem much more civil than most of what we see in the United States these days. 

If you have traveled outside the US, what was your favorite place?  If you have not traveled outside the good old USA, what country would you most like to visit?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Let's go to the Festival on the Square

Lake Chatuge and the mountains that surround it.
This coming weekend, we will set up a booth at the Festival on the Square in Hayesville, NC where thousands of people will pass through and see fine crafts and outstanding original art by men and women from all over the south. This festival has grown tremendously since I first attended in 1995. I can't walk around the square where all the tents and booths are set up without taking home something. One year it was raining and I was not feeling well, but I did go to the festival and bought a barbecue plate to take home. 

On several occasions in the past our writing group, the NC Writers' Network West, set up a booth and many local writers and poets brought their books to sign for visitors. I furnish the tent, table and chairs but I can't take all that down town and put it up alone. This year, Joan Gage, poet and blogger and her man, Rob, will do the heavy lifting. Another writer, Deanna Klingel, will help set up and she will be in the booth all weekend. Karen Holmes, outstanding poet from Atlanta will be at the table on Saturday afternoon along with Carole Thompson who wrote a beautiful poetry book, Enough. 

The anthology, Echoes Across the Blue Ridge, will be on sale. This book contains stories, poems, essays by authors from all over our region. I am proud to have a story in this book which also contains poetry by two poet laureates and is dedicated to Byron Herbert Reece, a highly regarded mountain poet who lived in the early part of the twentieth century. 

I hope that visitors to the festival will take time to visit the shops and businesses around the square. If you like crafts of all kinds, we have Busy Hands which sells work done by many local crafts people. Be sure to drop in at the local ice cream soda fountain next door to Tiger's Department store. 

I learned today that the CCCRA, a community group that is striving to save and update our historic courthouse, is having a trash to treasures sale right across the street from the square - where the Phillips and Lloyd Bookstore used to be.
I'm taking some of my "stuff" down to be sold.

Molly and Me is a fun place to roam around and look for special items once used but ready for a new home. And don 't forget to drop in at Joe's Coffee House and Wine Shop. They will be open this weekend. Sit outside on the covered porch area or inside with your friends. 

Music rings out from the Gazebo all weekend - cloggers, fiddlers, and one of my favorite groups, The Pressley Girls, will be on hand to sing their mountain harmonies.

Whatever you do, if you come to Hayesville this weekend, 11-12 of July, come by the booth to speak to me and our other writing friends. I'll be there Saturday morning and Sunday. Our Clay County Historical and Arts Council is sponsoring this festival. Many thanks to all the volunteers who work so hard to make this festival a big success every year. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Flag Corrupted?

One of the best blog posts I've read on the subject of the Confederate Flag issue is by NCMountainwoman. 

I have not known exactly how I felt about this hot button issue. The flag did not cause the killings at the church. But I see now that the flag I grew up believing was a symbol of bravery and courage of my ancestors who served in the Confederacy has indeed become a symbol of something entirely different and my great great grandfathers, John Monroe and John Cecil, would not be proud to carry the flag as a symbol of what it means today. 

In her post, NCMountainwoman's research tells us how other flags that once stood for good have been corrupted into symbols of hatred. Read her post and the comments that follow. Did you know that the Confederacy was first to enlist the Draft? Perhaps my two Johns were drafted into service. I know they had no slaves and would not likely fight for slave owners. They were hard working farmers. John Cecil was captured while fishing for the troops off the coast of Florida. John Monroe was a farrier in the service. His job was to keep shoes on the horses, I suppose. He served for three years right up to the time Robert E. Lee surrendered. 

I wish I could ask both of these men about their thoughts on this subject. I can't imagine either of them wanted to go to war and leave their families for three years. While John Cecil Council was in prison at Shipp Island, his wife, Fanny and a black woman, Judy, who was raised by the white family, farmed their land in north Florida and raised her children. 

But, just like we honor our military who fought in Vietnam, in a war with egregious tales of suffering on both sides, we appreciate our southern soldiers' sacrifice and courage in the spirit of fighting for their country, and in 1862 the Confederacy was their country. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


I am not going to write about the racial issue and the killing of innocent people in a church, but I received this post by William Everett. He writes about forgiveness. That is an important word that seems to be lost in our world today.

If this link doesn't work for you just search for   
What do you think about forgiveness? Are you quick to forgive or does it take a long time to come to grips with the action or the person who needs forgiveness?
Could you forgive someone who took the life of a loved one? 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Genealogy and Our Health

In recent weeks, I've gone back to researching family history online. In 1998, I published a family history book based on my father's family. Now I am looking at my mother's side, the Robisons, Jones and Coopers.

John Monroe Robison, seated, and his children, probably taken between 1900 and 1910

Genealogy research becomes a huge puzzle as I look for little pieces that connect people I know are my family to those with the same names or similar names. Besides census records, which are easy to see online now, I looked for  military records, pension papers, etc.

I found an application for a pension by my great grandfather, John Monroe Robison. I read all the forms connected with this request. He was 78 years  old and evidently had to have two doctors examine him and give their opinions about his health.
He applied in 1906. Two doctors said he was feeble, weak and had a mitral valve problem as well as a hernia.  A witness stated that John could not do physical work. John stated he depended on an unmarried daughter to care for him. 

The papers required him to tell his military history during the Civil War. This man served in the Confederate Infantry for three years. I found his war records in Leon County, Florida where he was discharged. On this form he says he enlisted in Bainbridge, Georgia in 1862. He came home in 1865 and continued to farm his acreage in south Georgia. But he was denied his pension because he owned land and had paid taxes on it each year. 

In 1908, he applied again. He had given his land to his children. He could no longer farm and could not pay the taxes. He contributed only $25 a  year to his  upkeep. His doctors said he was feeble, weak and had a large hernia in his right side. He also had congestive heart failure.

This was the part that caught my interest. Congestive Heart Failure. My mother had CHF, my sister had CHF, my brother has CHF. Two other brothers died suddenly from heart attacks. My mother's mother died from a sudden heart attack. Now I learn that my great grandfather had congestive heart failure. 

Will I be like my father who died from pneumonia at the age of 88? Or do I have  the  genes of my mother's family? Will I ultimately deal with heart issues that cripple and cause suffering?

Finding this  health information in my great grandfather's records intrigues me. Now I want to know more about those people I never met but who passed down their genes to  me.
That information is not as easy to find online. I will continue to search for the story of their lives, but I will be acutely interested in their health and  how they died. 

So far, my cardiologist gives me good reports on my heart health. I get checkups every year, but I'm always a little worried each time I take a stress test or even an EKG. 

We  can't change our genetic makeup, but I want to know what I might expect so I can do my best to take proper care of myself. John Robison lived in a time before the many advances in heart care. Still, he lived a  long life for the time. In today's world, with today's medical care, he might have lived much longer. My brother, who has been diagnosed with CHF, now has a pace maker and walks a mile every day. He is in his mid-eighties and says  he is doing well.

From what I can tell by reading those forms, John Robison was denied a pension again in 1908. He died in 1910. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Growing Generational Divide - Do you notice it?

Silas House, author, says what I have been saying for a long time. Read his article in the NY Times

What do you think about our generational divide? Do you notice what Silas House says in his article? What can we do about it?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Some of my favorite places and favorite people I visit often

Today I am sharing some things that I find interesting or think others will like. On my sidebar I have a long list of blogs and websites that I read almost every week. I subscribe to some like Eye on the Edge. One of my favorite bloggers is DJan who, like me, writes on two personal blogs. This lady is 70 plus, which makes no difference except that she has just retired from 25 years of skydiving. She lives in the beautiful north western part of our country where she hikes regularly and lives a good life. I was drawn to her at first because, like me, she has suffered some life tragedies, but has persevered and did not let things stop her from living.

I admit it. I am drawn to women who overcome tough times to live a life of their choosing. DJan lost both of her children. I lost my husband, my parents, and four of my siblings. I know what grief is about, but I also know from talking to mothers who have lost sons and daughters that the loss of a child is extremely hard to overcome. Read the newspaper article about DJan and her record making jump.

DJan is an excellent writer who touches her readers with her honesty and open thoughts on the screen. She writes once a week on Sunday mornings. I look forward to each one.

I discovered a website by a Western NC writer of children's books and stories, Judy Pierce, who uses a white squirrel as her main character. Ozette, the squirrel, lives in Farlandia with friends. Pierces's tales for children are written the way I remember stories when I was small. She has a page on  her website of nothing but photos of the rare white squirrel. Children love her books about Ozette. Judy's website is absolutely beautiful like an old fashioned story book.

A lovely French woman writes a blog Recollections of a Vagabonde, that takes me to many places, teaches me about cities and countries I've not visited with her professional photographs as well as her intelligent language. This blog is a feast for the eyes. She has been a world traveler since she was quite young and now she and her husband travel when they find a good deal, she says. She has lived in Georgia since the 1960s, but goes home to Paris as often as possible.

I discovered Vagabonde when she published one of my poems on her blog and used lovely old paintings and picture post cards in the presentation. What serendipity - she came upon a copy of my poetry book, liked a poem and found it worked well for her blog. You can find her blog listed under Links for blogs and websites on my sidebar. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June 14 – Flag Day and my wedding anniversary

I photographed the pictures in my wedding book and there is a glare on each one. 

June 14 is Flag Day in America. 
Barry and I were married June 14, fifty-one years ago, in the First Methodist Church in Albany, Georgia. I could not possibly forget my anniversary because flags are always flying on that day.

I remember being so nervous and anxious that I cried all morning. I could not quit crying no matter what. The more I cried the more I feared that I would be bawling my eyes out as I walked down the aisle.

Finally someone gave me a tranquilizer that calmed my jitters so I could go on with the wedding. I loved my wedding dress with the layers of lace and the mantilla over my hair. Mother and I found it in Moultrie, Georgia. On a school teacher’s salary, I had little money to spend and wondered if I would find a pretty dress, but the perfect dress was waiting for me and it had a very reasonable price tag.

My sister, Gay, was my maid of honor and Barry’s brother, Richard, was his best man. The day is still a blur to me. But once we were in the car and on our way to Gatlinburg, TN where we spent the most marvelous week, I was the happiest bride on earth.

Isn't my sister beautiful? She is helping put on the blue garter I wore. Every bride had a picture posed this way in the sixties. 

When I remember how young we were and how unprepared for marriage, the ups and downs we would face, the stresses of making ends meet on two small salaries, learning to live with someone who had habits different from mine, and getting to know the families we were now a part of, I am so grateful that my parents never interfered or tried to give us advice. We worked out our problems on our own. His parents seemed to be very happy for us, and my family had fallen for Barry early on. Why not? No one could resist him.

My sister, Gay, me, Barry and Richard Beall. Were we really that young? 
To me marriage was a commitment for life. “For better or for worse, till death do we part.” No matter how upset I became, I knew we could compromise and work things out. I never let the thought of divorce enter our conversations or enter my thoughts. 

Communication is the key to solving most disagreements, I believe. When two people love each other and want their marriage to work, if they can speak in rational terms, an agreement can be found. Each one must be willing to give 100 percent. 

Barry has been gone from me for six years, but his spirit is here all the time, in this house. Someone asked me if having his pictures around me didn’t make me sad. No, they bring me pleasure. They bring back wonderful memories. Making memories that live on when loved ones are gone is part of being human. If a photo brings tears to my eyes, that is Okay. To cry is to show the love we have for one who is gone. We can’t be afraid to feel love, to feel grief and pain. To live is to know joy and sorrow. 

In the picture above, we are dressed to leave the wedding reception at the church and start our new life together. What a life we had! If only that young girl had known what I know now, but she had to learn on her own that life will not always be as perfect as it was that day. She survived losses she thought she couldn't endure and difficulties of various kinds, but in surviving she grew stronger. She knew happiness she had never imagined she would experience. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

What Came to me in Maureen's Writing Class

Maureen Ryan Griffin

Some of my poems, often the ones I like best, come to me in writing classes. A few years ago Maureen Ryan Griffin, author, poet and educator, taught a workshop at Writers Circle around the Table, my studio at my house. The theme of the class was food. We talked, read poems and wrote about food for three hours. What a great time we had. Maureen is such a delightful person and a great teacher. I had classes with her at John C. Campbell Folk School in years past and we have become friends over the years.

I've paid little attention to odes in my own writing, but Maureen asked us to write an ode to a favorite food.

I composed this in class so I didn't have much time to think about it. In my memory of what I used to enjoy and I don't get to eat anymore, I came up with fresh made butter. I buy butter in the grocery store, but it is nothing like homemade butter that my mother made. All the products we buy today have chemicals in them and they have artificial flavorings to fool us into liking them.
I miss the real thing and the memories of eating it came to me in this poem.

The title of the poem I began in the writing class is Ode to Real Butter. Of course over time I have revised and polished it. When the NC Poetry Society 2015 contest for light verse opened I decided to send this poem and see how it would be received. I didn't place, but received an Honorable Mention and the poem has been published in Pinesong an annual anthology of the NC Poetry Society which was founded in 1932. 

ODE TO REAL BUTTER                by Glenda Council Beall

No margarine or simulated spread
can match your taste, dissolving on my tongue,
spread over crisp hard rolls,
seeping into crannies of my English muffins,
melting into morning grits.

When I was a kid, you came like magic,
from milk fresh-squeezed from Jerseys,
skimmed cream, shaken in a quart jar.
Mother sang, come butter, come butter, come
butter come. Papa’s at the gate with a hot pancake.

Mother crooned, churned, and I knew
that soon the soft spread, washed
and salted, would appear in a crock,
would saturate hot biscuits on my plate.

Oh, Butter, you glow in melting glory
on my cornbread, softening my pancakes,
mixing with my sugar-free syrup.

I weep with longing for you, Butter.
You are a star. My taste buds adore you,
like a teenage girl adores that Bieber boy
with his browned - butter hair.

                -------from Pinesong, Awards 2015

I want to mention Pat Daharsh, a reader of this blog, who won first place in the Haiku contest and is published also in Pinesong. Pat has been winning competitions in national and international contests for years. Congratulations, Pat.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Keeping Old Towns Interesting

Sunday Morning Musings on Keeping Old Towns Interesting

I was a fan of Sunday Morning when North Carolinian Charles Kuralt moderated the show. I thought he was the best! But Charles Osgood has done well as his successor. I never miss it.

Today, May 31, was one of the best shows. By Design was the theme of the show and what a variety of stories on design. Savannah and Charleston were highlighted with stories about the differences and similarities of the design of these two cities. Coming from a town that destroyed many of the old buildings I knew growing up, I was delighted to hear that Charleston demands that new buildings be designed to fit with the historic architecture of the city. Of course there is controversy among those who want to build glass and metal business places and those who have the vision of the future of Charleston in mind.

We are still a fairly young country compared with most of the civilized countries of Europe. I love the look of their cities with their history told in the beauty of buildings, churches and cathedrals created hundreds, even thousands of years ago.

I saw recently an old building in my hometown, a place where I went to school when I was in fifth and sixth grade, had been left to fall into rack and ruin, and now it is too costly to restore to its original state. It will be bulldozed. That has been the norm in that town.

I support our citizens in Hayesville who volunteer to maintain our historic courthouse in the center of town on the square. The CCCRA works to acquire grants and raise funds in hope of one day making the building the centerpiece it once was and should be again. With funds the group hopes to make the upstairs, the original court room, into a community room. I feel our writing community and many other organizations will use that for events.

Downstairs the plan calls for retail stores and an information center for the area. I see this lovely old building drawing many people to this little town where people can learn about Cherokee history and life in the Appalachians as it was in the 19th century. 

We have a museum that tells these stories. It is located in the Old Jail building right off the square. An area that explains our Cherokee history has been created outside the museum. A walk down to the river takes the visitor to an Indian Mound.

On weekends during the summer, Hayesville, NC holds events with mountain music, food and handmade crafts. Next weekend we will have a huge group of antique cars surrounding the old courthouse as people come from far away to exhibit their special automobiles.

The Festival on the Square will fill the town on July 10, 11, 12. Our Netwest group will have a booth at this festival. The Clay County Progress published an article this week on what the future looks like for Hayesville.

Simple things could be done by store owners now to entice vacationers to come downtown during the week. I think something as simple as hanging baskets of ferns and flowers at the entrances of stores, shops and restaurants will make the casual visitor stop and see what is here. I know I am drawn to a town that looks cheerful and welcoming.

Quick Container Combo

 Big, big pots of brightly colored flowers at the doorway draw my eye to a shop. The sound of mountain music coming from inside catches the ear and the eye of a visitor. Clean tables and chairs outside a coffee shop or restaurant with a spot of color in the center begs me to stop in and check out the place. Joe’s Coffee House has created a welcoming atmosphere. Coffee with the Poets meets at Joe's.

Readers, what do you think? If you are a tourist and you drive into a mountain town, what would entice you to stop and walk around the square, check out the shops, stop and get an ice cream or have lunch?