This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

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The Old Paths: The Thrill of the Scare

**This was originally published on Thursday, October 31, 2013, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

“Where is my golden arm?”ghost stories

Just hearing those classic ghost-story words around a late-night campfire always made the hair rise up on my arms. I wouldn’t go to the bathroom alone on the way to bed, and I would lie awake in the darkness for a bit longer than normal, just expecting to see the dead man looking for his golden arm.

Oh, you did that, too, huh?

And how ‘bout the one where the couple picks up the hitchhiker who mysteriously disappears from the backseat or the one where you’re working a jigsaw puzzle late at night and when you get done, you realize it’s the very picture of your room with a man’s face staring in through the window behind you?

Versions of these and other stories have long been part of the old paths of campfires and sleepovers. And if you were lucky back in the day, your friends’ parents would let all of you pajama party kids stay up late to watch “Shock Theater.” You’d all scramble into your sleeping bags in the living room floor after that creepy show—feeling cold chill bumps upon cold chill bumps, scared to talk above a whisper.shock theater

Everything seemed magnified in that atmosphere of fear. What might have been the family dog banging his tail on his doghouse suddenly becomes the ghost of Great-Aunt Marge rap-rap-rapping on the door to take revenge on the family. The leaking bathroom faucet down the hall becomes blood dripping from the ceiling.

Yet you giggle and shiver simultaneously, knowing that you’ll tell the same stories at the next sleepover or on the next camping trip. How can something so spooky be so fun?

I don’t get it. Why do we LIKE to be scared? It is obviously part of human nature, because children (and adults) have told ghost stories throughout history. There is something in the human psyche that finds such fear “delicious.”

Why else did we all rush right out to see “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” years ago? And then we watched sequel after sequel of these and other cult classics. Scary movies are big business. Hollywood ain’t dumb.halloween movie 1978

When I taught high school, my 11th-grade American Literature students might drowse through the Puritan poets or Longfellow. But let me start teaching Edgar Allan Poe, and those kids were on the edges of their seats. Not one student ever told me they had had enough of Poe.

Yet his writings were macabre, dark, depressing. Someone is bricked up to die in the cellar. A tell-tale heart beats underground. A raven is rapping at your chamber door “once upon a midnight dreary.”

Yet we cry, “Give me more, give me more!” Sometimes I would like to reply, “Nevermore! Nevermore!” (Kudos to those who get the Poe reference.)poe book

I know I am in the minuscule minority, but I don’t like for my children to tell ghost stories or watch scary things on TV. They still inevitably do when the cousins get together. “Scared?” you may ask. Goodness, no. My hubster laughs at my irrational fear of mice because he considers me a woman who is pretty much fearless and would fight a roomful of literal demons.

But I believe that what we fill our minds with becomes a part of us. To make a Sunday School reference, the Bible tells us to think on things that are lovely, pure, honest, praiseworthy. It also says that however a man thinks in his heart, so will he become.

Whether or not you subscribe to the Good Book, you must admit that even logic tells us that whatever we feed ourselves is what we become. Junk food will eventually beget a junky body. I tend to believe that theory holds true for things that go deeper than the physical.think-on-these-things--brain

A Purdue University professor, Glenn Sparks, did extensive research on how scary movies affect us physiologically. He found that palms sweat, heartbeats increase as much as 15 beats per minute, muscles tense up, skin temperature drops several degrees and blood pressure spikes. Sparks says that although we tell ourselves what we’re seeing is not real, our brain hasn’t adapted to technology and still reacts as though what we see is factual.

Shouldn’t we be conditioned to seek things to give us pleasure rather than what elicits these unpleasant side effects of fright? Being thrilled AND scared is paradoxical, isn’t it?

Media researchers have found that indulging in this type of media actually makes the viewer feel more hostile, view life in a more hostile way and be haunted by the images that have entered their brains to make a memory—whether real or not.brain--horror movies

Joanne Cantor, PhD, director of the Center for Communication Research at University of Wisconsin, Madison, is acclaimed as an expert in this subject. She has found in surveys of her students that almost 60 percent of them admit that scary things they watched before age 14 had created disturbances for them, both while sleeping and awake, to this present day. She notes hundreds of students who have told her they became afraid of clowns or battled horrible images running obsessively through their minds for years after watching frightening movies.

Her thought is that the brain possibly stores the movie images as memories in the amygdala—the storehouse of memories which generates emotions based on them. If this is true, the same emotional problems that can be caused by memories of actual trauma from childhood can also be caused by memories of fake violent, frightening images in movies since the brain may not be able to differentiate between reality and the big screen.

That makes me question how many adults are struggling through life with depression or anxiety and panic attacks or horrible nightmares and sleepless nights because their brain stored up the scary movie images as real. These people wonder what’s wrong with them and wonder how to get to the root of the darkness in their lives……never thinking to question the horror movies and scary images they filled themselves with once upon a time……

I know, I know—I’m a spoil sport on Halloween, aren’t I? Go ahead and see the latest horror movie without me; at least you’ll save money by not having to buy me a ticket. Keep the machete; I’m running through fields of daisies. And the only man with a golden arm that I’ll acknowledge is whoever wins the Cy Young Award next baseball season.

To each his own, I suppose. However, just know that if I come to your campfire gathering, I’m gonna sing “Kumbaya” or something. Here’s hoping you’ll join in!

whatsoever things

The Old Paths: Olympic Musings

 This was originally a newspaper column—published in The Stokes News on Thu., Feb. 15, 2018, while the 2018 Winter Olympics were going on. Since the newspaper website has been notorious in the past for destroying links to published articles, I archive the columns I write on my blog, so as to ensure they are preserved for posterity.

Winter Games 2018When ole Ben Franklin said, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise,” he clearly lived in a pre-Olympics era. How could I possibly have gone to bed early when Shaun White’s snowboarding didn’t even come on TV until after 11 p.m.? I had waited for this moment since White’s disappointing fourth-place finish in Sochi, and I’m supposed to go to bed with the chickens?

I think not, Mr. Franklin.

So there I sat typing this column at 1 a.m. on Tue., Feb. 13, having just watched Shaun do an eye-popping 98.50 halfpipe snowboarding run in the mere qualifying rounds. I marveled, “What on earth will the former Flying Tomato (he’s not so into that moniker anymore) bring us in the actual medal rounds?” I knew I would be watching, regardless of Mr. Franklin’s admonitions to avoid late nights.

775096147MB00313_Snowboard_Hey, it’s only once every four years. Shaun White will be 35 when the Winter Games go to Beijing in 2022—positively ancient in this new snowboarding world of 17-year-olds. I’m thinking carpe diem applies right now.

Yes, I seize the day during every Olympics, both winter and summer. Those stellar athletes go for the gusto by competing at the Games, and I go for the gusto by staying up late to watch them. It’s the least I can do.

Before you know it, the calendar will read 2020, and God willing, I’ll be burning the midnight oil again to watch the Summer Games from Tokyo. (What an archaic phrase! As a child of the electric-lighting age, I have never once burned lamp oil to give me late-night light.)

figure skating 2018I trust you dear readers also enjoyed the Winter Games. Do any of you get as nervous as I do during figure skating? As my daughter Chelsea says, figure skating is the winter equivalent of the gymnastics balance beam competition in the Summer Games. We hold our breath with every triple axel, clench our teeth with the couple’s competition lifts, experience rapid heartbeat during a quad lutz.

Yet we continue to put ourselves through this exquisite torture with every Winter Games. Our stomach muscles tighten when adorable little Red Gerard comes up on his last run down the snowboard slope after having blown his first two chances. They only unclench when he has a clean run, wowing us with his explosion from last place to first.

We suddenly are fluent in slopestyle snowboarding terms. “Hey, he just did a switch backside 1260!” “Do you think he’ll do a double cork off the quarterpipe takeoff?” “Surely not! But he might throw in a backside triple cork 1440 on that last jump.”

We probably haven’t used those terms since 2014, and we won’t use them again until 2022, but right now we feel very accomplished when we toss them around. By 2020, the terms will change, adapting to the Summer Games. we won’t remember what Shaun White’s signature halfpipe move is called (the Double McTwist 1260), but we’ll be comfortable talking about a double layout half during the gymnastics floor exercise or a Khorkina on the vault.vault olympics

You can tell I focus on the more popular events such as snowboarding and figure skating. But I live with a hubster and a son who both are fascinated with the Olympic event of curling. The only curling I care about is what my stylist Molly does to my hair when I have a big event coming up.

The curling my fellows watch looks to me like people using a broom to sweep some rocks over the ice to some circles. I’d rather watch the second hand go around my clock, but hey, different strokes for different folks.

Those sweeping strokes of curling were actually part of the first-ever Winter Games in 1924, although that sport didn’t become official Olympics fare until 1998. My Scottish ancestors very probably played this game of curling on the old paths. I read that a good Scottish wife of yore might even display her husband’s brass curling stone handle on the family’s mantel.

curlingI reckon I would be a better wife if I would just sit down with my husband to watch this curling he is so enamored of. But can I help it if I’d rather watch speed skaters zooming around the track? I loved speed skating long before Apolo Ohno came along, although he did indeed heighten my interest.

Do you feel the tension (I sure do!) as a speed skating race nears the final lap and you wonder if one tiny brush of one skate against another will send an aspiring gold medallist flying across the ice as the others race to the finish line? Do you ever wonder why we subject ourselves to such pressure night after night as the games unfold and the medals are claimed?

Then I shake myself and realize that the pressure I feel on my comfy couch as I munch Cajun-flavored trail mix in front my big Roku TV in my cozy home is minuscule compared to what the athletes themselves must be feeling. My mind reels with the wonder of how these Olympians have packed up their normal lives in packages to be opened later in exchange for years of enduring rigorous training for the hope of one shining moment.

And only one will get the gold. The silver and bronze—prestigious though they are—fade into the background on that podium as the national anthem of the gold medallist begins to play. And for that one shining moment indeed, he/she who stands highest knows that he/she is at the pinnacle of the planet—the acknowledged best in the world…..if only until the next competition.

So we watch and we cheer and we groan and we gasp as we live vicariously through she who lands the triple lutz on the ice…..through he who remains upright after a quadruple cork on the halfpipe……and yes, even through those who sweep that rock into that middle circle in that sport which has no association with what my hot-rollers do to my hair.

And if we have to stay up past midnight to watch it all? Well, so be it! We’ll sleep when the Games are done. Take that, Ben Franklin!

early-to-bed-and-early-to-rise-makes-a-man-healthy-wealthy-and-wise-benjamin-franklin-283012Staying-Up-too-Late-Olympics

Forever and Ever, Amen

**This was originally published on Thursday, April 7, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

I’m catching my breath after a whirlwind weekend. Besides the typical weekend routine of church activities and ball practices for multiple kids, my sister, brother and I threw a 50th anniversary party for my parents. It was worth every ounce of energy expended.forever and ever--young couple

A golden anniversary is a once-in-a-lifetime event. It should be celebrated and remembered. Fewer and fewer couples make it to that milestone in this day and age, and thus I spent much of the weekend pondering what makes a happy marriage.

I’m not talking about what makes a marriage last, because I’ve seen some miserable marriages that lasted several decades. I’m talking about what makes a marriage happy.

On Friday, I went to Ingles grocery store to buy the cake for my parents’ surprise party. I was rushing to get into line at my niece’s register, but an elderly couple made it there just before I did. Although I was in a supreme hurry, it turned out to be a blessing that I was behind this charming couple.

I heard the lady comment that she and her husband would celebrate 68 years of marriage this year. I stared unabashedly at her. “Did you say 68 years?” I interrupted in my never-met-a-stranger way.

She smiled a dimpled smile and said yes. I told her she didn’t look nearly old enough to have been married that long. She proudly told me, “I’ll be 87 my birthday.” My eyes bugged out as I told her truthfully that she looked about 15 years younger than that.

Then came an even bigger shocker. She told me they only dated for two weeks before getting married.

Huh?!

Don’t we tell our children they better get to know someone well before they make that vow? Don’t we teach them that marriage is a decision that must be well-thought out? How can you think out such a thing in two weeks?

This sparkling-eyed lady became even more animated as she told how she had met “Mr. Right.” She said that as soon as he walked into her office all those years ago, she thought he was the best-looking thing she had ever seen. They fell for each other on the spot, dated two weeks, tied the knot and aren’t far from 70 years together.

“When you see a good thing, you better grab it while you can,” she grinned like a mischievous little girl. Meanwhile, her tall husband, who also looked much younger than his years, stood to the side smiling tolerantly yet affectionately. He teased her a little, and you could tell those love fires were still burning.forever and ever--old couple

Here is a marriage, like that of my parents, which has survived an amazing number of years, not with the bitter silence and withdrawn emotional state of many marriages, but with laughter and love. Too many times I’ve heard older couples say they don’t see a need for a 50th anniversary party because there’s nothing to celebrate. That pretty much tells you the sad state of their marriage.

Obviously, the secret to a happy marriage is not necessarily a long courtship with well-thought out plans.

I’ve heard that children whose parents have a happy marriage have a better chance of having the same thing. Statistics in the last decade have not proven this to be true. My brother and I were both the product of a happy home but ended up divorced. I take my share of the blame for the breakup of my marriage and will grieve over it, to a degree, for the rest of my life.

On the other hand, my good friend up in Sandy Ridge came from a broken home yet has been married happily for 30 years; so has his sister. Kurt Warner, who was one of my favorite pro football players, tells of growing up in a broken home with many trials and tribulations, yet his own marriage has endured happily for many years—a real testimony for a professional athlete.

happy marriage recipeI knew a couple in Mt. Airy who were blissfully married for well over 50 years when the husband died. The wife, usually a stoic woman, fell apart, wondering aloud how she was going to live without him because they had been so close. Yet two of their three children ended up divorced. This proves yet again that growing up with happily-married parents does not ensure marital bliss for someone, and vice-versa.

Although the precious lady I met in Ingles talked about her husband’s stunning good looks 68 years ago on the old paths, we all know that physical appearance fades. The most stunning woman will eventually wrinkle and go gray. Even Botox and Miss Clairol can’t completely fix the ravages of old age. The hottest man around will see his looks decline as his hair thins or falls out and his love handles develop love handles.

So physical appearance obviously isn’t the secret to a happy marriage.

Of course I believe a reliance on the Lord is a key, but I’ve seen many a Christian stick it out “for the sake of the children” while being absolutely miserable for the long haul.

Some of you are thinking, “People just need to be committed and keep their word!” I agree, but remember—the subject of this column is not what makes a marriage last, although I believe that is supremely important. It’s what makes a marriage man that makes u laughhappy.

Laughter surely plays a key. My daddy was telling us at Sunday dinner about the April Fool’s joke he played on my mama this year. He said he was cracking up the whole time she was falling for it, and she said that when he reminded her what day it was, they both just fell apart laughing. A couple who can laugh together like that after half a century has found a secret.

I’m convinced that finding someone you laugh often with is a treasure.

Kindness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, loyalty, humility—all of these are keys to a happy marriage. I’m obviously no expert, but I want to be. No one wants a failed marriage.

To that adorable couple whose names I don’t even know, to my parents and all others who are making marriage work well—I tip my hat to you. Keep laughing and keep loving…..forever and ever…..Amen.

**I am posting this old column to my blog on May 24, 2017—a little over six years since I ran into that charming couple at the grocery store. For all of these years, I have wondered who they were. Today I found out. As I was looking for an obituary for a friend’s grandmother, I “happened” upon one for a sweet-looking lady named Laura Jane “Janie” Mills Willis. Her face struck me as one I had seen before, so I read the obituary of this supposed stranger. Turns out she wasn’t a stranger after all! She was my “mystery woman” of the serendipitous grocery store encounter! I am rejoicing to have found her at last, but I am sad that she is gone now. Janie died peacefully at her home at the age of 93. Her beloved husband died in 2014—three years after he stood smiling lovingly at her in the Ingles checkout line. They achieved that 70-year mark for marriage. Although they are now gone on to be with the Lord, their love story will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life. Meeting them that long-ago day was truly a divine encounter.** 

http://www.forbisanddick.com/obituaries/Laura-Jane-Willis/#!/Obituary

Laura-Jane-Willis-1495462763

Laura Jane “Janie” Mills Willis

The Old Paths: It’s Snowing in Pinnacle!

**This was originally published on Thursday, July 14, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

southerners-and-snowIt’s snowing in Pinnacle. Those were magic words when I attended South Stokes High School. Even now I get a childlike, anticipatory feeling when I think about that phrase. Funny how some things become so etched in your psyche that years later they can still unconsciously elicit a certain response from you—like passing through the Mall and smelling a particular cologne which makes you suddenly remember your 11th grade summer romance and the boy who wore that scent. Or hearing a certain song on the radio that transports you back to junior high days when that song was in vogue.

“It’s snowing in Pinnacle” does that to me—brings back a feeling of being at South Stokes High School, laboring through the post-holiday January doldrums, seeing the school year stretch endlessly on with no break in sight—Easter vacation merely a dim mirage on the monotonous horizon.

Then suddenly the bell rings, you head for the lockers and someone whispers as you pass by, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.” The involuntary response is immediate—a rush of adrenaline, increased heart rate, goofy smile to the lips, a new spring in the step. You want to dive into the collective pool of eager anticipation, so as you undo your combination lock, you turn to the member of your homeroom just next to you. “Did you hear it’s snowing in Pinnacle?”

Pretty soon the buzz is swarming through the crowded halls. You go to your next class, and the poor befuddled teacher wonders where the sudden hyperactivity came from. Everyone is joking and laughing, just waiting for the intercom to click on and the principal to say that school will soon be letting out. It was a given—snow in Pinnacle, early dismissal.

snow-school-cancellation-ncSometimes people started the “snow in Pinnacle” rumor just to be funny, which wasn’t funny at all. Don’t mess with a bunch of bored high school students who have just completed two glorious weeks of Christmas vacation at home—sleeping late, watching TV and snacking on holiday goodies. Don’t tell them it’s snowing in Pinnacle unless you know for sure that winter weather is definitely in the area. You know what happened to the boy who cried wolf.

I distinctly remember the letdown on the occasions when we realized, “It’s not snowing in Pinnacle after all. You won’t be able to get out of that biology test in fourth period. You are stuck here for the long haul.”

But more often than not, the “snow in Pinnacle” rumor was true, and it was only a matter of time before the county office made that longed-for decision to close the schools for the rest of the day. As the Scarecrow says in The Wizard of Oz, “What joy, what rapture!”

You see, when snow was sighted in the northwest portion of Stokes County—namely Pinnacle—it didn’t matter if it was 70 degrees in Pine Hall or sunny in Walnut Cove. The powers that be had to make a decision based on the safety of each and every student, so the well-being of the Pinnacle students had to be considered even if the weather was clear in Germanton. There were times I went home early with nary a flake of snow where I lived in the far southeast corner of Stokes. I envied those lucky Pinnacle people who were probably sledding down their driveways, but I was still glad to be out of school nonetheless.

(When I write a column like this, I imagine the wrath of school officials who will say that I am encouraging children to dislike school. On the contrary, I personally loved school—so much so that I went on to teach it. But come on, people, admit it. Early dismissal for a weather-related purpose, as long as everyone stays safe on the roads, is an exciting thing for kids. Bear with me, and pretend you are 10 years old again!)

snow-keep-calm

For years, I’ve randomly gone up to fellow South Stokes alumni, especially in the heat of summer, and said, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.” Almost always I get a laugh and a comment that they, too, remember those magical words.

I’ve wondered for a long time just how far back this “snow in Pinnacle” thing goes. So, this past summer, I decided to take matters into my own hands by conducting an informal poll at Lion’s Park in Walnut Cove. I found people as far back as Class of ’72 who remembered the comment. I located some as young as Class of ’95 who chuckled along with me in remembrance. This distinctly South Stokes phenomenon spans many years.

I wonder if the North Stokes people had a similar phenomenon. And do the West Stokes folks have any such tradition? Is “It’s snowing in Pinnacle” still a relevant statement in the county schools today? When winter weather creeps in from Surry County to Pinnacle, I figure we still have to close all of the county schools, regardless of tropical weather in Sandy Ridge.

And so to all of you current Stokes County students, may your snow days be just enough to give you a needed break every now and then (but not so many as to tack on extra days in June), may your travels home after weather-related early dismissals be safe, and may you always feel those butterflies in your stomach the way I did when I heard the whisper, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.”

happiness-snowflakes-tongue

Free Country, Ain’t It?

**This was originally published on Thursday, June 16, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

free-country-2

When someone tells me something I can’t do, I am sometimes tempted to spout off that familiar line many of us have used before: “Free country, ain’t it?!” (And yes, you have to use improper grammar to give it that defiant tone.)

Well, there were days back in 2011 that I wanted to shout out that defiant line.

You see, one of my heroes had been arrested. She wasn’t dealing drugs. She wasn’t driving while impaired or embezzling money. In fact, she’s one of the most God-fearing people I know.

Her crime? She had been compassionately and skillfully helping women in North Carolina have their babies at home. She had been by their side to support them, give them excellent medical attention, help them have their babies in an environment that was the only setting used for thousands of years—their own home.

“What’s so wrong with that?” you may ask. “Grandma had all of her kids at home.” Yes, your grandparents (and maybe some of my older readers!) probably delivered their babies in the comfort of their own beds. Thank God we still live in a free enough country that women are allowed to have their babies anywhere they like without fear of prosecution.

baby-feet

But North Carolina has a dilemma. Homebirth is legal, but having a midwife (one who operates independently without physician supervision) on hand to assist is illegal—not for the mother but for the midwife. Had my midwife friend been assisting with a homebirth in Virginia, it would have been legal for her. Such midwifery is also legal in Tennessee and South Carolina (our other bordering states). Yet North Carolina legislators have thus far refused to legalize this practice which is legal in 28 other states.

Let me clarify that Certified Nurse Midwives are allowed to attend homebirths in North Carolina IF they have a medical doctor willing to act as backup (sometimes a tough thing to find), but Certified Professional Midwives—who are also highly trained and usually very experienced—are not allowed to deliver babies at home.

I just don’t get it.

Before you jump on the bandwagon of saying all births need to be in the hospital for the safety of the mother and the child, I suggest you study the statistical evidence for midwifery in the U.S. Then get back to me.

When I am deciding on an issue, I study the statistical evidence, but I also like to talk to those who have been there, done that. Personal testimony is valid and crucial. So when it comes to the issue of having babies at home, let’s find someone who has been on both sides of the fence.

Hmmm, whom can we find? Oh. Okay. ME.

Yep, I’m coming out of the closet. I have had three children in the hospital and two at home in the very bed my parents bought for me when I was five years old.

Am I against hospital births? Absolutely not. I had some great experiences at the hospital—terrific nurses, a doctor I absolutely adored and relatively good care. I even loved the hospital food. So I’m not against hospital births.

I am, however, for the freedom to choose my birth experience.

freedom-sign

As I alluded to earlier, I could pick up roots and move a few miles up the road to Stuart, VA, and have that freedom. But since 1983, homebirth midwifery by CPM’s has been illegal in North Carolina.

I chose my midwife as my pregnancy/delivery/postpartum healthcare provider in 1997. She was a Certified Professional Midwife with extensive education in the field she had felt called to enter. Her experience was massive, her resume impressive.

I heard glowing reports of her skills, although I am sure there were some patients who had bad experiences with her. Lest we think such negative occurrences are limited to midwifery, let us remember that malpractice suits against hospitals and OB-GYNs are big business these days. Nobody who assists with the birth of a baby is going to be immune from what sometimes happens in this fallen world—occasional tragedy—OR what we all face as fallible humans—someone who doesn’t like us or what we do.

But I had nothing but the best experiences with my midwife. She was there in my bedroom when sweet Abigail was born in 1998, and she made it in the nick of time when Malachi made an abrupt appearance in 2004. However, it was not just the actual delivery in which she specialized.

I got prenatal care such as I never got from a standard physician’s practice. Month after month, I made trip after trip to her office where she examined me extensively each time—carefully monitoring my uterine growth, blood pressure, sugar, protein and all of the other factors that must be considered in pregnancy. When she questioned the placement of the placenta, she even sent me for a sonogram.

She made a home visit several weeks before my due date to examine the birth setting and make sure everything was in order, such as me having a birth kit readily available. When labor began, she was Johnny-on-the-spot and never left my side.

As much as I loved my OB-GYN, I labored alone for the majority of my time with my first three children. The doctor came in a time or two for a brief check before finally staying as long as necessary when the nurses said I was ready for delivery. I totally understand that in a hospital, nurses and doctors have many other patients and cannot be attached to a pregnant woman’s side. I am not complaining. But that is one of the perks of midwifery—a steady, comforting presence that is constant, which tends to make for a less stressful delivery.midwifes-hands

Had I been a high-risk case, my midwife would have been sensible and recommended that I deliver in a hospital. Midwifes are not stupid. They do not want babies or mothers to die. In the rare case of an unforeseen complication during labor, the midwife will call for medical transport to a hospital. Statistics prove that the typical midwife’s baby/mother loss record is lower than, or comparable to, that of the average OB-GYN.

Legislation has been introduced in Raleigh several times to legalize midwifery, but thus far, no cigar. The 2011 arrest of my midwife prompted friends of midwifery—including some OB-GYNs, thank God—to speak up once again in favor of this ageless method of birthing babies.

At the time of the 2011 arrest, I empathized with my midwife’s patients who were on the verge of delivery. My Abigail—expected on March 29, 1998—was already four days overdue when my midwife was arrested on April 2 of that year. My panic was not something a pregnant woman needs to experience. Thankfully, my midwife was released on April 4, in time for Abigail’s birth two days later.

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Abigail is 18 now, and little Malachi recently turned 12. As I taught him about midwifery today, he was astounded to learn that general midwifery is illegal in our state when so many other states have legalized it and are seeing great success with it. He looked down at a picture of the beautiful and caring midwife who helped me give birth to him and then at a picture of me holding him in my bed just minutes after his birth. When he looked up at me after that, his eyes were full of fiery determination.

“Mom,” he said very solemnly, “when I grow up, if midwifery is still illegal here, I WILL take it to court and change the law.” I pray things turn around before then, but if not, I do not put it past my amazing son to find a way to successfully reverse this unfair law.

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I worry that physicians who oppose legalizing midwifery are primarily looking at their personal financial picture or feeling that nasty spirit of control which can overtake any of us in any profession. If they argue that it is a case of safety, I will gladly put the statistics for OB-GYN practices and midwives side-by-side and say, “Case closed.”

My first child born in a hospital suffered respiratory distress and complications, due to negligence on the part of the OB-GYN (not my regular one who was on vacation), which resulted in long hospitalization and unnecessary expenditures. My second child—hospital-born—very nearly went through the same traumatic experience. My third child—again, birthed in a hospital—would have had a surgery performed on him accidentally had I not caught the error.

My point is that bad things can happen no matter where you give birth. I do not understand these women I have read about who knowingly chose homebirth, and then when something went wrong for them, blamed the midwife and began lobbying against homebirths. Should I lobby against all hospital births and say all OB-GYN’s should not deliver babies just because things went wrong with my hospital births? How ludicrous.

Since Eve, women on the old paths have been bearing their babies in the comforts of their own homes. Yes, there were losses, but midwifery healthcare has improved by leaps and bounds since those times. Why not let women have the birth experience that they choose—whether it be in a hospital or at home with a dedicated midwife by their side?

Free country, ain’t it?

Or is it?

To read more, check out:

Parents Ask State to Legalize Midwives

The Old Paths: Late Summer’s Lament

**This was originally published on Thursday, September 4, 2014, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

summer-wiped-out-by-waveIt was the red leaves in late August that got me. All around, the landscape screams, “SUMMER!” but there is something in the atmosphere that whispers, “Fall.” The green leaves that abound can’t quite screen out the occasional reds that are appearing. Golden flowers are flourishing on the roadside—a sure sign of summer’s last hurrah. In my yard, the sweet birdsong of spring and early summer has been replaced by the raucous cawing of crows.

I don’t like it.

Go ahead and tell me how much you love autumn. Try to convince me with the promise of community chicken stews and church Brunswick stews. Tempt me with the lure of vivid blue skies free of summer’s haze and a morning nip to the air. I’ll even agree that I love the fall foliage, football and hot spiced cider.

But I always miss summer once its swan song is sung.

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Perhaps it’s that touch of claustrophobia that sometimes threatens me. It makes my toes cringe to think of surrendering their flip-flop freedom to the confined spaces of boots and tennis shoes. My skin does not want to give up the bareness of shorts and sleeveless shirts for the smothering enclosure of thick jeans and heavy sweaters.

I guess I just don’t like to be confined in any way—not even in my house. Due to my career as a writer, I’m already chained indoors to my computer too much. At least in late spring and summer, I can occasionally retire to the lawn chair on my deck, the trees providing me with shade as summer’s breeze brings relief on all but the hottest d
ays.

Although autumn in the South still provides enough nice weather for outdoor activities, the barefoot early mornings on my deck will soon be a memory. The late nights of lying on the trampoline to stargaze with my little boy will be relegated to the old paths as autumn’s chill gradually sneaks in. I start to see myself searching for a coat to wear even to the mailbox, my warm breath making “smoke” in the frosty air.summer-over-charlie-brown

I suppose one facet of why I hate to say goodbye to summer is that I know autumn is just a brief fling with cooler but still-comfortable weather before the harsh winter cold sets in. It’s hard to enjoy the good magazines in the dental waiting room when you know you’ll soon be called to the back for your root canal. What awaits us often mars the joy of what currently surrounds us.

“But the autumn leaves are so pretty!” you say to me, thinking this will convince me to welcome fall with open arms. Why, yes. Yes, they are. But they last all of two weeks before they litter the ground with what will become winter’s compost pile—their vibrant reds, oranges, yellows subdued into one monotonous brown to be trampled underfoot.

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Then we stare at bare trees for months….and months….and months.

Spare me your speeches and “Lion King” songs about the circle of life. I learned that in Mrs. Mildred Cromer’s first-grade classroom. I get it—I really do….not that there’s anything I could do about it if I didn’t. The cyclic seasons are as muchme-in-snow a part of this life as the gravity that possibly sent an apple hurtling down to Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

I accept that, and I honor my Creator’s marvelous plan. And contrary
to what you may think after reading this column thus far, I DO appreciate the beauty of every season and am thankful for it. My Facebook friends especially know how I love snow; when they are tiring of it, I am hoping for yet another snowstorm.

I realize that sometimes things must change for us to appreciate what we had/have. Even I would tire of a constant spring or an endless summer. “Variety is the spice of life,” they say. Well, THEY are certainly correct.

So I roll with the punches of the ever-fluid calendar and know that I will more richly revel in the resurrection of nature in the spring BECAUSE I have been through the barren winter. I will savor summer’s warmth in June BECAUSE I remember the frigid cold of January. Bare feet in newly-plowed garden soil, green shoots springing up from the ground, new leaves unfurling on hitherto bare branches—these pleasures are more poignant because of their long absence.

summer-where-did-it-goBut for now, please humor me in my lament for the passage of summer. As long as the calendar says August, I can still imagine that I’ll finally make it up to Hanging Rock to swim, that I’ll take that tubing trip down the Dan River, that I’ll head to the beach once more to sunbathe. But as soon as I turn the page to September, I sense the finality of those unmet goals. Summer’s slow, lazy pace lulled me through June, July and August, fooling me into thinking I’d have time to relax and do summertime things once my busy schedule calmed down.

I fell for it again. And now it’s time to get out the school supplies and put away the bathing suit that I didn’t swim in a single time this summer. Let me revamp Jimmy Buffett’s song and say, “It’s my own dang fault.”

I’m making the transition from Seals and Crofts to Sinatra—from “summer breeze makes me feel fine” to “my fickle friend, the summer wind.” Summer, you have less than three weeks left, so I bid you adieu and hope to see you next June 21. I will console myself with hot chocolate, steaming chicken stew and warm hoodies, but remember, you still have my heart.

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The Old Paths: I Miss Mayberry

**This was originally published on Thursday, July 12, 2012, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column is updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog. I had blogged about this subject in July 2012, using some of the material from this column. However, much had been changed during the transition from the column to the blog, so I am now blogging the original newspaper column to preserve it for history’s sake.**

Andy in HeavenSummer always puts me in a nostalgic mood. (Yes, I know—I’m ALWAYS in a nostalgic mood but even moreso in summer.) I think it’s the fact that summer takes me back to the old paths of my childhood when days were longer, lazier and brighter somehow.

My childhood was the era of “The Andy Griffith Show,” long summer breaks from school, working hard but laughing a lot in the tobacco field, making homemade ice cream down in Grandpa Bray’s yard, listening to Uncle Sam pick the guitar while my daddy and his brothers sang “Uncle Pen” or “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog.”

It was Sunday afternoons under the shady old oaks while relatives sat in lawn chairs and talked about the weather, their ‘baccer, what all they had put up for the winter. It was swimming in the creek to stay cool on hot July days. It was  playing in the woods with the cousins ‘til Mama called us in.

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I’m the littlest girl, wading in the creek….long, long ago…..

Those days are long gone. Summer vacation ends earlier in August now, I haven’t touched a tobacco leaf in a lot of years, Pa Bray is dead and the extended family only gets together down at his old farm a couple of times a year. Nobody has time to sit in the yard on Sundays—too many ballgames or practices. Indoor air conditioning has long replaced creeks as the cooling method of choice, and there are too many crazy people in the world today to let your kids hang out in the woods all day.

There is really only one constant still left from my childhood days—The Andy Griffith Show. I can turn on the TV every day at 5:30 p.m. and see faces from my childhood—Ange, Barn, Thelma Lou, Aunt Bee, Opie. That show aired years before I was even born and probably has been on the air somewhere every year since.andy, barney, gomer.png

When I watch it, modern life ceases for me. I retreat to a black-and-white world where Barney advises me to “Nip it in the bud!”, Andy strums the guitar on the front porch, Opie shares his heart with “Paw” and Aunt Bee keeps them all well-fed.

But it isn’t all sunshine and flowers. Barney sometimes sneaks off to call Juanita down at the diner while poor Thelma Lou sits at home. Opie tells occasional lies and has to confess to Andy. Aunt Bee’s pickles taste like kerosene and sometimes she can’t seem to beat Clara Edwards at anything. Ernest T. Bass is ever chunking rocks through windows while Otis just keeps getting drunk.

Even the paradise of the fictional Mayberry has its occasional thorns—just like real life.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched old clips of Andy Griffith on YouTube and even posted a short one on my Facebook page. It was the familiar scene—Andy with his guitar on the porch with Barney by his side. Andy was singing “The Church in the Wildwood” with Barney adding the harmony.

The episode was called “Man in a Hurry.” The contrast was marked—Andy and Barney peacefully singing, Barney stretching lazily and saying, “Well, I think I’ll go home, take me a nap then head on over to Thelma Lou’s to watch some TV” (emphasis on the “T”), while the man in a hurry paced back and forth.

That same theme is often on my mind: how can we modern folks with cell phones, social networking, email, video games and more TV channels than you can shake a stick at slow down our lives to savor the simple things we recall from childhood?

…..Like catching lightning bugs and putting them in pop bottles instead of playing the Xbox. Sitting on the porch while the moon rises instead of watching “Criminal Minds.” Playing the piano for the family to gather ’round to sing instead of viewing the latest music videos on YouTube.

Truth be told, I’m too busy to do any of that.

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But “The Andy Griffith Show” reminds me that life was probably better when we had the time, or rather TOOK the time, to do these things. Andy was a busy sheriff on call 24/7, but he managed to take Opie down to the fishing hole. (Whether or not they whistled while they walked is undetermined!) Sometimes he and Helen Crump spread a blanket on the grass and enjoyed a picnic.

There was a sense of community that few of us still experience. Neighbors visited. Men gathered down at Floyd’s to talk. Goober and Gomer were never too busy down at the garage to lend a helping hand.

“Wake up, Leslie! It’s a fictional town on a TV show!” you may say.

Is it? I seem to remember living a similar life when I was a kid. We had a community club where the neighbors had Rook tournaments and potluck dinners. Mama invited ladies over to quilt. The Bray cousins and I would wander through pastures, climb cherry trees, swim in Belews Creek before the lake existed.

So maybe that’s why we still watch a show created in 1960—a show with no real relevance now in many ways, a show that belongs to the days of yesteryear…..because it reminds us of so much that was good and that we wish could be again. And because the true values of the human heart haven’t changed much at all since 1960—love for family and friends, a need to be part of something meaningful, a yearning for simplicity.

i miss mayberry chorus

Imagine my shock when I had been pondering these Mayberry-esque issues of life and then heard that Andy Griffith had passed away. It seemed unreal. How could Sheriff Taylor be gone? Shouldn’t Ange have lived to at least 120?

Before I knew it, I was unexpectedly bawling like a baby. I had had no idea Andy Griffith’s death could possibly make me cry.

But you know why I think it did? Not just because I loved Andy. But also because it seemed to be the end of an era. There had not been a minute of my life that Andy wasn’t figuratively sheriff of Mayberry.

Losing Barney, Aunt Bee and most recently Goober was sad, but losing Andy—the figurehead of the show—is much tougher. It somehow makes the Mayberry world he created retreat even farther into the shrouds of the past. It makes me feel more detached from childhood.

It’s been a long time since I really was a child, but “The Andy Griffith Show” makes me feel that young again. I’ll keep watching it as long as it’s in syndication. And I’ll remember…..and I’ll treasure it…..and I’ll keep wishing I could make my life that simple again.

I miss Mayberry.

andy and opie walking

The Old Paths: Lighting the fire for learning

**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News on April 18, 2013. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish in this blog all of my columns that once appeared in the newspaper.

fire for learningWhen I taught public school, I was often dismayed by the lack of interest I saw in many of my students. By the time they came to me in their final year or two of high school, they very often had lost the desire to really learn. They were more concerned with passing the test, getting the grade for the college transcript—whether or not they ever really learned a thing.

I am afraid it may be even worse now that EOGs/EOCs/ WHATEVERS have become the law of the land. My heart goes out to dedicated teachers who feel they must first teach for a test rather than light a fire for learning. Their hands are tied in many ways.

Could the push for performance be dousing the flame of learning and curiosity that is so inherent in children? Are the bright-eyed kindergarteners ending up as glazed-stare teenagers?test for the test

I believe children are naturally programmed to want to learn and explore. And when they come in contact with a teacher who encourages that, the flame for learning is fanned into a raging fire. I am more and more convinced that Stokes County overflows with such teachers, despite the necessity of focusing on tests more than in days of yore.

I saw this when I watched the news story that CBS did on the Civil War camp at London Elementary School. Yes, I got teary-eyed every time I watched it. I wanted to stand up and salute somebody or some flag or something!

Walnut Cove making national news—I thought I would pop with pride! But the best thing was that we made the news for something so wonderful, so worthy.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/nc-teacher-helps-fifth-graders-make-history/

When I covered the Civil War camp at London in my career at The Stokes News, I wanted to be a fifth grader again—to be in the class of Mr. Marshall or Mr. Boyles or whoever was lighting the fire to learn in these kids.

When you live it, you learn it. Reading about something is marvelous, but when you experience it, it comes to life in a way that touches your soul as mere words never can. You can read a romance book and mentally swoon, but when you fall in love yourself, you physically and emotionally swoon and are changed forever.tests--joke

When my kids were younger, we did The Prairie Primer—a curriculum based on the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. When we read about Ma churning butter, we churned some ourselves. It was one thing to read about Pa’s muzzleloading guns, but it was another thing altogether when my daddy showed us how his muzzleloader operated.

I pray that my children will never forget what we learned as we read those nine books aloud and did the hands-on activities suggested. Chances are, they won’t, because they experienced so much of it. Neither will the fifth graders who experience the Civil War camp at London.

Today, I attended the Stokes County Historical Society’s annual fourth-grade tour. I was amazed that all fourth-grade classes in the county didn’t take part; it should be mandatory. But I believe the ones who did came away with a greater understanding of what their forefathers went through and what made this county great.

I know that I did. I was fascinated by the stories of local history and the various implements used on the old paths as seen in the Stokes County Historical Museum. My love for history was fanned even more!history--love it

And as I stood at the Moratock Iron Furnace and sat inside  Davis Chapel, I remembered the many teachers who lit the fire for learning in me—especially those who made history come to life. (I am a firm believer that if we don’t study history, we are destined to repeat it.)

I thought of Mr. Ron Jessup whose charisma as he led us through our history lessons made me want to hang on to every word. He so inspired me that I creatively wrote a journal, speaking from the first-person perspective of a heartbroken girl whose favorite cousin had gone away to fight in the Civil War.

Mr. Jessup was so moved when he read my “journal” in our eighth-grade class that he immediately led me down the hall at Southeastern Stokes Junior High to Ms. Glenna Hicks’ ninth-grade history class. He had me read it to them, his face beaming with pride.

That was my introduction to Ms. Hicks—perhaps the greatest history teacher to walk the face of the Earth. When I had her the next year for part two of American History, I was in ecstasy every day for about 50 minutes.

She breathed history. You would’ve thought she was there for the proceedings that led to World War I. Surely she was on hand to witness WWII from the inner circles of nations. Her lectures held me on the edge of my seat as I furiously took notes on everything she said.

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She wasn’t teaching for a test. She was teaching what she knew, what she loved, what she wanted to light a fire in us to love—the oh-so-important history of our nation.

The fire that Ms. Hicks helped ignite in me burns yet. And I want to pass it on to my children. It still burns in other former students of hers, such as history teacher Graham Flynt at North Stokes. Think of how many young people Flynt has taught to love history as well. The fire spreads still.

As National Teacher Appreciation Week approaches in early May, take the time to tell such a teacher how much they meant to you. Thank your children’s teachers for their dedication. And let’s all continue to help spark a love for learning that will burn for a lifetime.

teachers--income, outcome

The Old Paths: Fight the Winter Blahs

**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News on February 28, 2008. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish in my blog all of my columns that once appeared in the newspaper. Although much of this info is dated by now, there are still universal truths to be gained by reading it.

winter blahsIf you’re like me, you’re starting to notice the days getting longer and some daffodils prematurely pushing up through February’s hard ground. I actually saw a bird taking a bath in my birdbath today and nearly freaked out; I’ve never seen one do that in the 14 years we’ve lived here! And when I parked behind London Elementary School a few evenings ago, I heard croaking down at the creek—do they call them “peepers” maybe? The sound made me long for spring which is indeed right around the corner. Signs everywhere are pointing to my favorite season!

But until then I’m still working my way through the winter blahs. I’ve found some great ways to beat them. “American Idol” came back on in January, and that sure has helped. (I agree with those of you who say there is to be no idol before God, so yes, the title of that show bothers me. However, my family and I enjoy hearing excellent singing and critiquing below-par singing!)

A friend of mine declared vehemently in the fall that he would NOT watch such a cheesy show as “American Idol,” but I’ve heard he’s on the couch every Tuesday and Wednesday night as he boos Simon or agrees with Paula and Randy. He even headed up a “Fantasy Idol” draft. I’m quite impressed with the labor he went to—cutting out pictures of the Top 24 and working out an elaborate point system. My fantasy football season may have gone sour, but so far, I’m at the top of the leader board in the “American Idol” league! (Eat your heart out, Stokes News employees who beat me at Fantasy Football!)

My favorite-ever "American Idol" David Cook was on the show in 2008 when this column was originally published.

My favorite-ever “American Idol” David Cook was on the show in 2008 when this column was originally published.

Another excellent way of beating the late winter blahs is to have friends and/or family TV sessions to watch ACC basketball. It’s not quite as much fun as the World Series or football season was in my den, but it’s much better than watching “The Weather Channel” 24/7. (Then again, maybe not. How I love that weather stuff!) Somehow I have failed in my job as a mother—the fruit of my labors having produced two Carolina fans. It makes for interesting times when the Duke or NC State fans in our family get riled up. It’s a pretty even split around here.

However, my favorite way to attack those winter blahs is to get out into the community and be active. I enjoyed seeing so many of you at the South Stokes basketball games. And I must confess I was always disappointed during the varsity games. That gym should’ve been packed out instead of half-empty!

“I don’t have anyone playing on the teams,” you may say. Neither did I. Neither did Margie Dunlap or Carol Wiles. Horace and Brenda Boles stayed long after their granddaughter finished playing. Don and Nancy Lester could be counted on to hang around way past the time their relative played. The point is that it was great fun to watch, whether or not you had anyone playing. The sense of community unity was heartening as all races, creeds and genders pulled together for the common goal—a Saura victory.

For many years, my kids and I missed very few ballgames at my alma mater, South Stokes High!

For many years, my kids and I missed very few ballgames at my alma mater, South Stokes High!

Remember the days of Kenny Dennard when there was standing room only in the gym? They tell me the whole town came out to watch on the old paths of the 1920’s and ’30’s when the likes of my grandmother, Reny Richardson Smith, led Walnut Cove High School to victory. Athletics has always been a great common denominator for the varied types of people who inhabit our town and county. I encourage you to come out to watch your local teams whether or not you have a vested interest. You’ll find someone you know there in the bleachers, you’ll see some kid playing that you recognize and you’ll find that the winter blahs are lost in the cries of “Defense!” or “Let’s go, Sauras!”

I found the same camaraderie in London Gym this winter. How encouraged I was to be forced to stand at the door one night last week because the bleachers were jam-packed full! All to watch eight- and nine-year-olds play. That’s the spirit!

Even the little kids' games are exciting at London Gym! And it's free until tournament time.

Even the little kids’ games are exciting at London Gym! And it’s free until tournament time.

These kids are the future of our town, our county, our world. Watching them learn to play as a team, to be gracious in victory or loss, to compete with as much determination as Alan Iverson or Tim Duncan—this warms the heart, chasing away winter’s chill. And I doubt Iverson or Duncan goes running into Grandma’s arms after the game or high-fives Grandpa to be congratulated on the lay-up that finally went in! I’d rather be in London Gym during tournament week than at an NBA arena.

And it's not just boys. Girls play, too!

And it’s not just boys. Girls play, too!

I sat in that gym a lot this winter, often contemplating its rich history. I thought of the marvelous teams London High School must have had back in the day. Not discounting those incredible teams I have heard tell of, I was nonetheless encouraged now to see children of all races playing together on that floor. What a different world our children are growing up in—not perfect by any means, but coming along slowly but surely in the area of race relations.

Yes, I still get a chill when I hear the part of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech that says, “I have a dream that one day. . .little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” Perhaps I am privileged enough to be able to see the dawning of that day, even on basketball courts in crowded gyms.

Children of different races play together at London Gym—something that would have been unheard of even 50 years ago.

Children of different races play together at London Gym—something that would have been unheard of even 50 years ago.

So how are your winter blahs now? Mine are rapidly disappearing in the warmth of what I’ve experienced this winter. Next year, take my advice and experience community unity with me. Support the children who will one day be your doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, accountants, etc. Basketball may be almost over, but early season baseball is just around the bend. Put on your earmuffs and scarves, grab the blanket and get out of the house. You’ll soon find that the winter blahs are old news and that spring has sprung once more.

Tournament season in the Walnut Cove Youth Basketball League starts this coming Saturday, February 27, 2016. Come watch these kids play; I promise you won’t be disappointed. We had a nail-biter there just last night!

Storing Up Stokes Memories: Bob Carroll

**This was originally published in a similar form in The Stokes News in 2009. When the publishers changed websites a few years back, all links to archived articles were tragically lost. I am attempting to republish some of my best stories from my time as editor of that paper.**

CarrollIf he wanted to, Robert “Bob” Carroll of King could just sit back and take it easy after having achieved centenarian status plus one—a milestone most people never reach. Instead he still gets up every day and focuses on what has been his chief interest and hobby for many years—history/genealogy. “I’m almost a fanatic,” he admits. “It kinda gives me incentive to live.”

That interest began when Carroll was still a very young man and studied about some Boyles relatives who fought in the Civil War. The genealogy/history bug bit him, and he has never regretted it. “If I were younger,” Carroll shakes his head ruefully, “there’s so much research I’d like to do.” He leans forward and confides conspiratorially, “I’ve got a sneaking suspicion we’re in royalty.”

Carroll spent many an hour in the local libraries, register of deeds offices, and what he calls “the gold mine”—Raleigh. He often rode to the state capital with Stokes County’s local legislator, Worth Gentry. While Gentry attended government meetings, Carroll researched all day long. “I was in seventh heaven,” he recalls.

Although he hasn’t been out for such research since he moved to Arbor Acres United Methodist Retirement Village in Winston-Salem when his wife passed away in 2000, Carroll has drawers full of folders which are stuffed with historical information. His desk is littered with worn census records he has pored over for decades. Those records were the source of Carroll’s book, Old, Odd and Other Stuff, which is a treasury of Stokes County history. The book and the multitudes of articles he wrote while working for The Danbury Reporter for 27 years as a weekly columnist detail many family histories.

This love of study goes back to the early 1900’s. Carroll, born on February 1, 1908, attended Mt. Olive School in King—a two-teacher school—through seventh grade. Since that was as far as he could go, he stayed in seventh grade for four years. Then King High School was established to provide further education, and Carroll went there for another four years, graduating at the age of 21. Of the 20 members of the King High School Class of 1929, only Carroll is left.

“I loved to go to school,” he still sounds enthused as he recalls his boyhood. “I’d walk a mile to borrow a newspaper to read.”

Finding time to study and read was quite a challenge for young Carroll. His life was not an easy one and was full of heartaches and disappointment. Although his family roots are in Stokes County, he was born in Winston (no Salem at that time), about three miles from where he lives now. His father was a revenue officer for the Fifth District. When Howard Taft was defeated in 1912 and Woodrow Wilson elected to the Presidency, the elder Carroll lost his job in the changing political climate.

In 1915, the Carrolls moved to King for work. In December of that year, the father of four young children—young Bob was the oldest at seven years old—developed appendicitis and then pneumonia and died suddenly. Carroll remembers the event vividly, “I was lost. I didn’t know what to do.”

His mother moved her young brood into a one-room log cabin on Carroll’s grandpa’s farm. The family hired themselves out to work for other farmers in the area. “I got so tired of picking peas,” Carroll recalls. They lived in poverty throughout his childhood.

Carroll states firmly, “One thing I learned—how important good neighbors are.” He has never forgotten the good people—none of them well-to-do either—who told them to come pick the extra apples or to glean the roasting ear patch. Some donated hand-me-down clothes for the young Carrolls. The family was given wood chips for heating and would sometimes have to carry them a mile or more.

Still, Carroll says he saw no long-term damage. His mother lived to be 104, one sister died at 97, and his youngest brother is still alive at 93.

Amidst those hard years of growing up, somehow Carroll found time for his schooling. He even got a student loan of $400 to attend Guilford College but still had to labor to pay his way—working as a janitor for the auditorium and men’s restrooms. Carroll’s goal? To become a newspaper reporter. He worked on the staff of the campus newspaper, The Guilfordian, but after two years at the college, was forced to leave. The Great Depression had struck.

“There was nothing to do,” Carroll assesses the job situation in that era. “I was so disappointed and so disgusted. I couldn’t find anything to do. I’d have taken a job digging ditches for 10 cents an hour.” He heard that Ford Motor Company would give jobs to the first 100 men who would walk to Charlotte, and figured if he could go barefoot, he could run and get there quickly. The rumor of jobs proved to be untrue.

For a while, Carroll hired out to work in tobacco. Finally, in 1934, he got a job in crop control, measuring tobacco land.

For the next 11 years, Carroll worked that job as well as three others, in a seasonal fashion. He raised tobacco himself, worked the tobacco market (a total of 30 years) and did income tax preparation. In 1955, he became a tax collector for Stokes County but was fired when “the political picture changed,” in a situation reminiscent of his father’s firing. Carroll then worked in the tax office of Forsyth County before coming back to King after 2½ years.

As a citizen and public servant of Stokes County, Carroll was a visionary. When he served on the board of education for four years and the county wanted to expand South Stokes High School, he voted against it. Carroll wanted a school in the Yadkin Township since 40 percent of the county’s population lived there. “I regret I didn’t push it,” he admits.

And Carroll is still a visionary. His passion for history—“I just feel like local history’s important”—keeps him writing articles to this day, some of which will be published in future editions of The Stokes News. “We can improve the present if we know the past,” he philosophizes. Future generations of Stokes County residents will owe debts to Bob Carroll that they can never repay. Family memories and Stokes County history have been preserved for posterity, thanks to this visionary who looked backward to see forward and who never let hardship keep him down.

**Note: Bob Carroll’s memories were so extensive that they cannot possibly be adequately presented in this brief article. More of his memories are highlighted in another blog post called “The Old Paths: The Light at the End of the Tunnel,” specifically his memories of the two World Wars and the Depression, as well as his thoughts on the future of this nation. This is the link: 

https://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/the-old-paths-the-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel/

**Robert “Bob” Carroll, passed from this life on Tuesday afternoon, Mar. 6, 2012, just a little over a month after he celebrated his 104th birthday. The cause of death is listed as complications of pneumonia.

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