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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

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The Old Paths: Is Your Heat Running?

**This was originally published on Thursday, October 25, 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 may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

heat--freeze before turning onSometimes you feel as lonely as a salmon in Belews Lake. You think you’re the only one who feels the way you do. You wonder if perhaps you are an oddball—a square peg trying to fit into a round-holed world.

Then something happens to prove you are not alone. Yes, you may be in the minority, but rejoice—there are others like you!

For example, I once thought I must be really weird to always reach past the first few slices of bread in the bag to get some middle pieces for my sandwich. When I confessed my idiosyncrasy on Facebook, numbers of folks chimed in excitedly that they did the same thing and had thought they were the only ones.

In my relatively new mode of admitting potentially embarrassing things (I don’t care as much what people think as I get older), I decided a couple of weeks ago to confess another oddity of my existence. I told my friends on Facebook that I find it challenging to see how long I can wait to turn on my heat in the autumn. (Mind you, I typed that post with hands that felt like ice on a colder-than-normal October morning!)heat--waiting to use it

I like to tell myself that it’s because I am thrifty, but I wonder if it doesn’t go deeper than that. Perhaps it is indeed the challenge of the ordeal which makes me freeze for a while before turning that dial from AC to heat. (Disclaimer: I do not torture my children with the cold. They use a portable quartz infrared heater and stay cozy.)

I imagine that some of you are nodding right now or grinning as you think, “So it’s not just me!” No, I found out from Facebook comments that we are part of a large company.

My hubster—a thrifty, somewhat oddball soul like me—was the first to chime in. He said, “Let’s see if we can make it until November.”

Before long, a friend agreed, “We are covered to our eyeballs but no heat till November.” My cousin’s wife said she was determined not to turn on her heat just yet. A friend much farther north commented that she picks a specific time to turn on her heat and tries to stick to it. It might mean wearing socks to bed or throwing on another blanket, but doggone it, we’re going to hold out!

Three different friends told me it was “the principle of the thing,” leaving me to ponder just what the principle is. I have some ideas. Bear with me as I psychoanalyze you heat-postponers.

For some of us, like Angela, it’s a matter of conserving fossil fuels—a worthy principle indeed. If we all held out a little longer turning on the heat (or AC in the spring), we would save huge amounts of the fossil fuels we don’t want to use up.

Another principle also involves conservation—of our money! Don’t you love the lower power bills that come in spring and fall? There were times in my past that money was so tight it might mean buying fewer groceries if we ran the heat any more than was absolutely necessary. Even now with better financial conditions, my decision to once more be a stay-at-home mom means we must be very thrifty.

My daddy clings to yet another principle—that it’s a matter of building toughness of character. This is the man who would, in fun, make me bear him tickling my foot when I was a kid—telling me to set my mind that I could take it, that it would make me tough. It worked, and I’m grateful. Try tickling my foot; I won’t budge.

You say, “How silly.” No, not really. Such principles in seemingly “silly” things carry over into more important things. That “I can take it” stamina that Daddy helped build into my character propelled me through the births of my last three children with no medicine at all—a healthier situation for all involved.

It has helped me be able to go for 18 years (this coming December) without taking a pain reliever—yes, not even one Tylenol or Advil. This has to be good for my liver and overall health. America has become such a nation of convenience that we self-medicate at the merest hint of pain.

Daddy preaches that we have become a country of spoiled people who “can’t take it anymore.” He tells me how people on the old paths used to function just fine without AC. Now we virtually melt without it. It’s a matter of how we condition ourselves.

Some of my Facebook friends agree. A pastor friend of mine commented that she hasn’t used the heat yet either and tells her family that their bodies just need to make the adjustment to cold weather. My pal Jill believes the first cold spell “hits you the most, like a jolt, then your body starts adjusting.”

Conservation of fossil fuels, money savings, character training—have I named the principle that describes why YOU don’t run the heat until the last minute? (Yes, I know there are many of you like Tonya who says she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable in her own home or Chris who declares she isn’t interested in freezing to death! But bear with me as I address my minority group.)

I believe there is another principle at work here—the need to prove our toughness, not to be bested by the elements. This rationale is similar to my daddy’s principle of building character but is perhaps rooted more in pride. Yes, it was possibly my stubborn pride which made me suffer in a house where the thermostat has registered as low as 54 degrees several mornings recently.

This is the principle that comes into play when we turn the issue into a contest. Angela has a friend in Colorado who takes part in a delay-of-heat contest called “Freeze Your Buns OFF.” Holly tells how she and her boyfriend would have a competition “to see who could go the longest without turning on the heat.” (Once she won because she went to his house and turned on the heat. Talk about fierce competition!)

Whatever the reason, many of us in Stokes County have been uncomfortable here in mid-October as autumn hit us with the first cold temperatures of the season. And although warmer weather may resurface, don’t be fooled into thinking it will last.

Either bring out the flannel sheets, fuzzy socks and fleece hoodies and grit your teeth a little longer or turn that heat on! It’s a long time ‘til spring. . .

heat--resist

Paying Homage to Local Black Heroes

**This was originally published on Thursday, February 24, 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.**

John L. Hairston--young

Mr. John L. Hairston, local black hero

Recently I read a quote by the actor Morgan Freeman that made me stop and think. He stated: “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” In theory, I agree with his statement. In reality, I do not.

In an ideal world, there would be no Black History Month. I, like Freeman, aspire to that type of world. However, we live in an imperfect world which makes Black History Month necessary if we are to learn of the historical accomplishments of a prominent minority in this country.

Another famous quotation by a distinguished black American is also indicative of the ideal world I dream of. Carter G. Woodson, an African-American scholar who founded the Journal of Negro History and is called “The Father of Black History,” said: “We should emphasize not Negro History, but the Negro in history. What we need is not a history of selected races or nations, but the history of the world void of national bias, race hate and religious prejudice.”

A world free from prejudice and racism? THAT’S where I want to live. Unfortunately, that address is still unknown. And thus, we must have a Black History Month.

What a great time this is to remind ourselves that American history isn’t just one hue. How wonderful it is to learn of great accomplishments by men and women of color—deeds and names that often are not in the textbooks. Black History Month has helped me to decorate my Wall of Heroes in multi-colors.

And sometimes those heroes are right here in our own backyard.

George Washington Carver—love him. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—wow. Harriet Tubman—crazy about her. John L. Hairston—heart him. Rev. Greg Hairston—I tip my hat.

Oh. What? You don’t remember reading about the last two in your History 101 class? Well, that’s probably because they are homegrown heroes for us here in Walnut Cove, NC. They are featured in a book that gained national acclaim, The Hairstons, by Henry Wiencek, who, by the way, came from Boston to do a program at the Walnut Cove Colored School back on Sunday, March 13, 2011.

Henry Wiencek

Henry Wiencek, author of The Hairstons

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It examines the lineage of the Hairstons—now a huge clan all across the U.S. whose point of origin as a dynastic family is Stokes County, NC. The story is spellbinding; the book, well-written; and the information, priceless. Wiencek has no ties to the story—he is not black and he is not from the South. He just found the story a riveting one that needed telling.

The Hairstons book

A phenomenal book about the Hairston clan

If you don’t have time to read the entire book, I suggest reading at least Chapter 13—”The Liberation of Walnut Cove.” I have lived in and around Walnut Cove all of my life but was stunned that I had no knowledge of what happened in 1968, per Wiencek’s account.

Did you know there was a protest march in Walnut Cove in the midst of the ’60’s desegregation troubles? Did you realize there was a scaled-down version of a sit-in (stand-in) at Vernon’s Grill (now The Milk Bar) on Main Street, Walnut Cove? Before MLK Day 2011, I began reading Chapter 13 aloud to my children because I felt they needed to know what struggles were faced right here in their hometown. I had planned to read only a small segment of it, but they were so engrossed that they begged me to read the entire chapter. I gladly obliged.

When reluctant Stokes County was ordered to hop onto the forward train of desegregation, the decision was made to close the all-black London High School. The black community rose up to protest, turning out en masse at a public meeting with the school board. There their beloved and longtime London High principal, John L. Hairston, delivered a stirring speech. He urged the school board not to close the school but to integrate it.

His impassioned pleas, quite out of character for this soft-spoken man, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.

Rather than concede defeat, the student council of London High chose to protest the decision. Greg Hairston, a senior at the school, and other student government leaders such as John L.’s daughter Mona, led a march down Main Street, Walnut Cove, amidst heckling and jeers from white bystanders.

As the group approached Vernon’s Grill, student leader Vincent Withers declared that he was thirsty and was going into the still-segregated restaurant to get a soda. Despite efforts to stop him, Withers entered after local deputies informed the owner that there was nothing legally they could do to prevent a black man from entering the front of the establishment rather than going to the back door per longstanding tradition. Withers entered, ordered and drank a soda before quietly exiting.

Walnut Cove changed forever that day.

Although segregation had been illegal since 1964, the movie theater, laundromat and town restaurant had never been integrated. But after that warm March day in 1968, desegregation slowly became the mode in the Cove. Soon, blacks didn’t have to sit in the balcony to watch movies anymore, and they could wash clothes at the laundromat.

I am privileged to have known two of these modern-day heroes. John L. Hairston, now deceased, was my principal for three years at London and visited my home a few times when my mother, a reading teacher at the school, had the faculty over for get-togethers. He and his precious wife, Ruth (my fifth-grade teacher), also stopped by with a gift when my baby brother was born. He was a man of such class and character that I get misty-eyed thinking of him. I can see his gentle eyes now and hear his kind, well-modulated voice.
(Here is a link to a news story about Mr. John L. Hairston’s legacy:

https://www.wxii12.com/article/local-pioneer-to-be-honored-for-role-in-school-integration-this-weekend/22700105 )

John L Hairston--old

Mr. John L. Hairston in later years

Greg Hairston is now the pastor of Rising Star Baptist Church in the London community of Walnut Cove. I have been privileged to be in prayer meetings and church services with him. I never fail to be moved each year when I see him walk yet again down Main Street, Walnut Cove, during the MLK March.

Greg Hairston

Rev. Greg Hairston today

These are those who may never be written up in a history text for school children, but they have a place on the unwritten honor roll of black heroes. There are others who won’t even get a mention in a book like Wiencek’s—the Frank Daltons who coached integrated baseball teams when that wasn’t the popular way in Walnut Cove, the Malcolm Dixons who ran basketball camps to offer local children of all races opportunities to be active in worthwhile activities and escape the vicious cycle of drug abuse and poverty in this area, the David Hairstons who work tirelessly to make sure predominantly black communities are included in Walnut Cove and that the children have playgrounds and resources.

Today I pay homage to these unsung heroes who have labored to escape the old paths of racial discrimination and forge new highways for the brotherhood of mankind. And I will continue to agree with the immortal words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

David Hairston 2.jpg

David Hairston standing in the Walnut Tree neighborhood of Walnut Cove which he helped become annexed in the town through a long, hard fight

malcolm dixon

Malcolm Dixon working a table for Project Uth 360 Degrees, a nonprofit he established in Walnut Cove for local youth

DSCN5553

Me (the blogger) with Frank Dalton who helped integrate Stokes County sports teams and who turned 91 this month (Aug. 2018)

Here is a link to a site which has a video about Mr. John L. Hairston and events to honor his legacy: https://theliliesproject.org/events/2018/4/13/celebrating-courage-50th-anniversary-of-march-from-london-to-vernons-grill

The Old Paths: Revival rising

**This was originally published on Thursday, April 28, 2016, 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.**

revival rising--endtime revivalAlthough it is obvious from my columns that I am a Christian, I try to stay away from too much discussion of religion in my writings for secular publications. I was advised to do so years ago when I was editor of The Stokes News, and I obeyed…..with only the occasional mention of “the Good Book” or “the Man upstairs” (couched in those generic terms to spare me any scolding from the higher-ups). I typically write about family, our Southern dialects, county events, nature.

Yes, I noticed that even big-city secular newspapers often have a regular religious columnist or a “Religion” section. The Washington Post even has a religion reporter. Nonetheless, I kept on writing columns that would not rankle the likes of my former publishers at Heartland Publications, being the good little girl that I am.

But today I am stepping outside the bounds of “good-little-girlism.”

Recently, there was something in the realm of religion going on across this country that is most definitely newsworthy. In fact, it is so newsworthy that secular newspapers were picking up the scoop. For instance, I read an account of these events in The Logan Banner, a newspaper owned by the same company that owns The Stokes News.

The event? Revival breaking out amongst youth in WV and KY schools. No, I’m not getting this confused with the movies “Woodlawn” and “Facing the Giants.” This isn’t a movie I’m talking about; it’s real life.revival rising--woodlawn

Teenagers were preaching in the halls of their high schools. Kids were repenting in the school gym during lunch period. Youth were congregating on football fields at night to pray.

Although I’m sure this youth revival was actually birthed through prayer long before the initial sparks flashed, one of the first catalysts for this fiery outbreak was a young man named Skyler Miller, a two-time leukemia survivor who decided to preach in the halls of West Virginia’s Logan High School on March 24, 2016.

The Logan Banner reported: “‘I had been praying for a long time that Jesus would send me into the hall to preach the gospel because I wanted to be fearless and bold for him just like the disciples and apostle Paul,’ Miller said. ‘About 20 minutes before I did it, he told me, ‘Today is the day, Skyler. Go be a light and let the broken know who I am.’”

Rather than mocking him, students began to sit down in the hall to listen to Miller. By the next day, Good Friday, he was preaching in the school gym on his lunch break.

Less than a month later, just a bit south at Mingo Central High School, the school’s prayer club announced that a revival service would be held in the school auditorium. By the next day, word got around that the auditorium would not hold the expected crowd, so the event was moved to the school’s football field.

It’s a really good thing they moved it because the Williamson Daily News reported that nearly 3,000 people showed up. (And folks, this is in a town as small as my hometown of Walnut Cove—population 1,400!) Pictures from the event went viral on the Internet—teenagers with their hands raised, tears pouring, on their knees, being baptized in an inflatable swimming pool in the end zone. I saw pictures of weeping, praying students at several schools in the WV/KY border regions—not just high schools, but also elementary and middle schools.

It was indeed reminiscent of the scene in the 2006 movie “Facing the Giants” where students are in prayer huddles on the football field, as well as the scene in the recent Sean Astin movie “Woodlawn” where students are praying in the school gym. The latter is, in fact, based on the true story of the revival that swept through Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, AL, in the mid-1970’s.revival rising--facing the giants

Why am I so interested in this revival phenomenon? Because in 1996, I dreamed of a great revival in the area of Southeastern Middle School in Walnut Cove, NC. It was the first of many dreams of a revival starting in Walnut Cove, a town I hated at the time. I was taken by surprise by these dreams and fought for a while against what I knew to be true—that I would not be able to escape my hometown and needed to stay in order to pray for the coming revival.

In October 2000, I attended a Christian youth conference in Charlotte, NC. I had been studying the great 1906 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles and was desperate to find a rare old book by Frank Bartleman, an eyewitness of that revival. Suddenly, I was approached by an older lady whom I did not know. She handed me that very book and said, “I got this for myself, but God told me to give it to you. You’re going to need it.” Talk about astounded!

I never saw that lady again.revival rising--azusa street

Fast forward through 14 years of praying, hungering, thirsting for this revival in the town that I no longer detested but had fallen head over heels in love with. We arrive at late 2014 with me at a prayer meeting at the church I pastor, The Well. Enter another woman unknown to me. Since she came with a visiting friend from a church in Clemmons, NC, I assumed she was trustworthy.

After a time of prayer, I suddenly felt from God to go to this mystery lady and ask her to pray over me about Walnut Cove. I hesitated but finally yielded. Imagine my shock when she told me she had been waiting for me to come to her, and then laid her hands on my head and began to speak of Azusa Street and a revival coming to Walnut Cove. She spoke of things she could not have known in the natural.

But it is what she said next that hit me even harder: “This revival will be focused on youth.”

I had known that, to a degree, ever since that incredible Charlotte youth conference in 2000. This is why I organize annual youth rallies in Walnut Cove at Lions Park or in London Elementary School Gym. This is why I host youth Bible schools all summer long…..because I believe what swept through these small coal-mining towns of West Virginia and Kentucky is going to sweep through Walnut Cove as well.

Our youth are hungry for something more than traditional religion. They want a current move of God. They’ve searched long enough in drugs, alcohol, promiscuity. They want something real and lasting.

Yes, I’ll go back to writing about springtime and children and the old paths. But I just figured that if the Washington Post, The Logan Banner, the Williamson Daily News and others can touch on religion occasionally, so can I.

I feel revival rising…..revival rising--generation rising

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

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Laura Jane “Janie” Mills Willis

The Old Paths: One Day When the Glory Comes

**This was originally published on Thursday, January 22, 2015, 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.**

selma_posterAlthough my busy schedule doesn’t often allow moviegoing, I am a sucker for a cheap matinee. On rare occasions, I’ll choose to see the same movie again, but it has to be a doozy. I set a personal record with Facing the Giants and Pride and Prejudice—six times apiece in the theater. But normally I wait for the DVD.

Not so with Selma.

I started my Selma sequence with the hubster in early January 2015, then took four of my five kids to see it on the Friday before MLK Day to prepare them for that, and finally went with the fifth kid for the thrill of seeing it on MLK Day in a full theater. When my teary-eyed teenage son left the theater, he said, “Mama, everyone in America needs to watch that movie.”

I agree. If you could somehow edit out LBJ’s frequent cursing, you could even make it required watching for school children each January.

Selma is a movie that will make you think about preconceived notions—something we all need to do. So often we are locked into our iron stereotypes that first began to enchain us in our younger, more formative years. But typically, stereotypes are based on falsehoods whose fabric is actually more like gossamer-thin spiderwebs than the iron chains we perceive. They look scary, they are uncomfortable to deal with, but in the light of truth, they can easily be brushed aside. Selma indeed brushes aside some of those stereotypes.

The ultimate white racist would say “all black people are alike” and vice-versa for the black racist. It’s simply not true. Are we so simpleminded that we can’t see how ridiculous such thinking is? Where there was the young black man wanting to use violence against the militant whites in Selma, there was the somewhat older black man saying violence would accomplish nothing. Where there was the one black student leader practically idolizing Dr. King, there was another such black student criticizing the esteemed leader. All black people are alike? I think not.

Where there were vicious white people in the movie who used weapons to brutally attack the black protesters, there were other white people who watched the TV coverage of the violence and wept at the injustice. Where there were ignorant white people who taunted the nonviolent black marchers with heckling, middle fingers and overuse of that detestable “n” word, there were many other enlightened white people who thronged to Selma to march with Dr. King. All white people are alike? I think not.

People are people—some good, some bad and a whole lot in-between. Color of skin is meaningless in the reckoning of human hearts.selma-movie

As a white woman, I’ve often heard Dr. King degraded by white people who point to his alleged indiscretions. In the movie, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King a “moral degenerate.” And no, the Civil Rights leader is not painted as a saint in Selma; his wife Coretta calls him out on the issue of other women, and he does not deny it.

So does this mean we don’t listen to a thing he says because he was a flawed human being in some ways? Oh, and you’re not? And I’m not? He who is without sin stand up and lead the way for us. Oh, wait—that wouldn’t work, would it? We would be without leadership. We certainly exalt the Founding Fathers despite some of their indiscretions. We don’t throw out the Declaration of Independence because its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, may or may not have fathered children by a slave woman.

I feel a disturbance in the Force, as Obi-Wan Kenobi said in Star Wars. The Ferguson events from a few years ago and similar ones since then seem to be fueling the fire for racial issues to once again take the forefront 50 years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. If you are one of the ostriches with your head in the sand who keeps saying, “Oh, there’s no racial injustice anymore. That’s past. Things are all better”—I would ask you respectfully to come back to reality.selma_poster-2

One thing we can do is to open up lines of communication and dispel ignorance through education and hands-on interaction. Dr. King once said: “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

I read a news story of a black man who encountered the Ku Klux Klan. Rather than direct hatred toward them, he decided that if the white people in the KKK could just get to know him, they would like him and thus change their worldview. He went out of his way to befriend some of the members, and it worked. Some of them eventually left the KKK after getting to know the black man. They admitted to the news reporter that their generations-old ignorance of black people had bred distrust in them and that the distrust had led to hatred.

Tools like the movie Selma, Black History Month each February, community-wide events like the STOKES STOKED Youth Rally I organize in my hometown of Walnut Cove, N.C., every August (where it isn’t just the few token black people at a white-themed church service or a few token white people at a black-themed service but rather a true mixture of different worship styles)—these are opportunities to open up meaningful dialogue and dispel ignorant stereotypes.racists-blood-the-same

It’s easy when you’re in the majority to purposely ignore and downplay the cries of the minority. From that vantage point, it’s convenient to point to the laws for equality that look good on the books. But when you’re a minority—whether black, Hispanic or perhaps a female in a male-dominated profession—it’s easy to see that there many legal loopholes that allow discrimination to still seep through.

Despite the fact that history has always been thus—even Jesus’ people, the Jews, have long been an oppressed minority—we cannot let up in this war for equality, understanding and consequently, LOVE. May those who fight for such justice become the true majority—a moral majority who believe that the war CAN be won.

As the theme song from Selma says:

“Now we right the wrongs in history

No one can win the war individually

It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy. . .

When the war is won, when it’s all said and done

We’ll cry glory, oh glory!”

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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!)

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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.”

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