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

Posts tagged ‘The Old Paths’

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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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.

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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.

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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: 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.

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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: 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!

The Old Paths: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

**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. Part I of this story can be accessed on another of my blog posts at this link: 

https://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/storing-up-stokes-memories-bob-carroll/

Me and Bob Carroll

Me with Bob Carroll at his 101st birthday party!

It has been nearly 80 years since the 1929 stock market crash that helped send this country reeling toward the pit of the Great Depression. Since then, we’ve heard talk of recessions and economic downturns, but the “D” word has been avoided. I’ve often wondered what would necessitate the use of it.

Some economists say a depression is a decline in the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of more than 10 percent. For example, from 1929-1933, the GDP fell almost 33 percent. There was a bit of a recovery in the mid-‘30’s before another decline—this time only 18.2 percent—in the late ‘30’s. Since then, there has been nothing even close to that. Remember the big recession from 1973-75? The GDP only fell 4.9 percent during that period. Quite a difference from the Great Depression, huh?

The bad news is that the GDP fell 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 alone, after having already fallen lesser amounts in the earlier part of 2008. Many economists predict a further decline in the first half of 2009. It seems we are creeping closer to that dreaded “D” word.

Talking to Stokes County residents who lived through the Great Depression has been eye-opening for me. Most of them agree that the biggest difference between that generation and the present one is the fact that the majority of them knew how to be self-sufficient. As a whole, we have lost that capability.

I’ve heard old-timers talk about being forced to shoot songbirds for food. Rabbits and squirrels were diet staples. Bob Carroll, age 101, told me about eating “possum,” which he stills remembers as a rather distasteful, unpleasant experience. Truth is, if I were left alone without my male relatives who know how to hunt and fish, I would probably starve. I guess I could trap an opossum if need be–they sure show up on my porch often enough to try to eat my cat food–but shooting a bird might be a fiasco for me.

I’ve grown my own garden before, buying my seeds at local stores. What would I do if those seeds were not available? I so desire to learn how to save my own seeds. The predominance of hybrid seeds scares me. We have been lulled into a trap that convinces us to buy new seeds each year, since hybrid seeds don’t reproduce themselves.

Carroll told me of men in the ‘30’s who would hustle all day to sell apples for a nickel, just to put food on their families’ tables. Do we still have that same work ethic—we who have become inured to sitting at desks or working at lucrative factory jobs? Men of Carroll’s generation were willing to walk barefoot from King to Charlotte to be first in line for a rumored job.

That nickel they sold an apple for would buy enough beans to keep them alive for a day. Would that work for Americans who are used to eating sumptuous meals at restaurants nearly daily, or who, even if eating at home, have grown accustomed to marinated chicken breasts, broiled steaks or at least frozen pizza?

Carroll says Depression-era families went back to the farms—“not to make a living but to live.” Where are we going back to? The family farm is, as a rule, a thing of the past. My daddy has my grandpa’s farm. Since I live next door, I suppose Daddy would let me help him grow enough food for my large family, if need be. But most people don’t have land to go back to.

Unemployment for us has come to mean checks from the government to help us along, as we put in a couple of applications per week. The unemployed father of seven in the Great Depression era had no such checks. If you were unemployed, you had to scramble to eat. This made for a tougher people, in my opinion.

“I’m very pessimistic about the future,” Carroll commented on the state of the nation, adding that the high prices of commodities and growing unemployment worry him. He says that the difference between now and then is that a dollar went farther in the ‘30’s.

Carroll still remembers the hope that came when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought in the “New Deal” in 1932. He credits FDR’s ideas with being the key to the economic turnaround. Crop control measures allotted only so much tobacco, cotton and peanuts to growers. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) brought community work; Carroll cites the example of WPA workers adding to the courthouse in Danbury. He remembers the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) building the bathhouse at Hanging Rock State Park.

Today’s situation is somewhat similar in the sense that we have a new President with new ideas—reminiscent of FDR and his New Deal. “Obama’s touched on it,” Carroll speaks optimistically of the new President’s plans. He believes that already our Commander-in-Chief has made progress by limiting the sumptuous incomes of some: “He’s kinda on the right track. I’m extremely interested in the political situation in this country.”

As to the common perception that people tend to fall back on religion when times get hard, Carroll believes that is true “to some extent but not so much as you might think.” He philosophizes: “I’ve thought so much about it. When you are hungry, would you rather someone say they’ll pray for you or give you a bowl of beans?”

Going even further back in memory, Carroll remembers how Americans united during World War I. Although there weren’t the widespread rations as in World War II, still the country rallied to conserve. The government suggested that people observe three types of days each week—wheatless, meatless and sweetless.

By law, if a family wanted to buy 100 pounds of flour, they had to buy 100 pounds of cornmeal—an equal ratio of both, for conservation purposes. Carroll admits, “I never have liked cornbread much since I had to eat it so much back then,” yet he still did his part to support his country’s efforts to get back on the right track.

If we are entering similar days again, we may be called upon to do our part, whatever that may be. I hope you’ll join me, even if it means sacrifice. Just as great events bind us in unity, so do hard times often knit us together.

I read an email this week that said, “Due to recent budget cuts and the rising cost of electricity, gas and oil, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.” Although it was meant to be humorous, it was based on what many perceive to be true. Don’t fall for it; there IS light at the end of the tunnel. Keep your head up until you get there, and I’ll try to do the same. Give me your hand, and let’s walk it out together.

**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.

The Old Paths: Walnut Cove’s Communist Training Camp

(First published in 2007 as “Walnut Cove past leads through shady territory” in The Stokes News under the name of “Leslie Bray Evans”)

Me with a small portion of Mrs. Binkley's daffodils which still bloom on the property.

Me with a small portion of Mrs. Binkley’s daffodils which still bloom on the property.

One of the “old paths” in the Cove leads through some pretty shady territory. I never promised you all sunshiny paths, did I?! Did you know there was a Communist training school in Walnut Cove in the 1940’s and ’50’s?

In the late ’30’s, William and Eleanore Hoagland Binkley purchased around 50 acres of land off Pine Hall Road. Mr. Binkley, affectionately known as “Bink” to his wife, was a lawyer from Lewisville who occasionally substituted at Pine Hall School. Mrs. Binkley, a very proper lady educated at Strasbourg University in Russia,* hailed from the Chicago area. It was speculated that this childless couple came to Walnut Cove because its rural location was an excellent hiding place for their agenda–to promote Russian-style Communism in the U.S., in hopes of a complete takeover.

The Binkleys lived for approximately four years in first a tent and later a slab building while improving their property. When J.D. Bray (my grandfather) moved his family next door in ’44, the Binkleys were well-established, living in a cozy log cabin and later in a comfortable modern home. Mrs. Binkley worked at Pellcare Nursing Home in Walkertown and would honk the horn of her vehicle–in later years, a yellow ’57 Chevy–as she neared her property each afternoon. Neighbors whispered that this was a signal to let her husband know it was she and not a stranger.

According to a decades-old article from a Greensboro newspaper, which detailed an FBI investigation of the alleged Communist complex, the Binkleys were conducting Communist training seminars at their farm, with perhaps 10-20 people in attendance at each session. My uncle Sam Bray vows to this day that Mrs. Binkley once introduced him to a young man who later became a much admired leader in the national spotlight. “The Little Red Schoolhouse,” as the training school was called, included singing, as heard by the Bray family as they worked in the fields nearby.

According to Mrs. Binkley’s father, who occasionally visited, the training agenda even included how to kill someone with a simple lead pencil. After he leaked information to neighbors about the the Binkleys’ Communist ties, Mr. Hoagland was never again seen, thus leading to unfounded gossip that he was “conveniently disposed of.” Bink himself was often gone to Tennessee for months at a time; locals speculated that he was a Union organizer, working for the AFL-CIO.

My husband in the bamboo forest planted by the Binkleys.

My husband in the bamboo forest planted by the Binkleys.

People of different races visited the Binkleys, and supposedly Bink held meetings at a Walnut Cove church in a failed attempt to organize area minorities. It was a common Communist practice in the mid-1900’s to reach out to oppressed minorities in an effort to recruit new members.

My daddy, Tom Bray, remembers a book that stood on the Binkley bookshelf–Why Russia Won’t Attack This Year. A picture of the Russian Revolution emblem–the hammer and the sickle–hung nearby. Once Bink was helping dig a grave in the Forest Chapel United Methodist Church graveyard when an area funeral home director drove up and loudly asked, “Where’s that ole Communist who lives around here?” Neighborhood men pointed down into the grave where Bink stood, shoveling dirt.

Grandpa Bray was eventually enlisted by the FBI as an informant, logging license plate numbers of visitors to the Binkley farm. It was usually after dark when FBI agents would quietly arrive at the Bray farm, parking at a nearby tobacco barn. Grandpa Bray would walk up to meet them and sit inside their car to give them information he had collected. A family friend who worked as a secretary for the FBI’s Washington, DC office, confided that she once stumbled across the file of an FBI operative with the name “J.D. Bray” on it!

I would love to know when and why the Binkleys planted bamboo in the mid-1900's.

I would love to know when and why the Binkleys planted bamboo in the mid-1900’s.

The Binkleys were ahead of their time in many ways. They advertised their shrub farm in The Progressive Farmer magazine. The exact name has been forgotten, but it was reminiscent of “Tulip Poplar Farm.” The Binkleys recycled, reusing everything they could–long before “going green” was hip. Mrs. Binkley warned people that white bread was a carcinogen–long before health enthusiasts popularized that claim.

The Binkleys were always kind to the Brays. Mrs. Binkley once cared for my daddy when he had a backset of the measles. When Bink saw Daddy shooting down at the creek one day, he called him “a regular Nimrod.” My cousin Tana and I would play dress-up and walk down to visit Mrs. Binkley, who would welcome us as if we were the grandest of ladies and suggest we all have a tea party!

Whichever family got the mail first from the top of the long driveway would put the other’s mail in a notch in a huge oak tree still standing in the Bray yard. How the Bray beagles would growl when Bink walked up to check for mail! Even after years of seeing him daily, those dogs never befriended Bink, so he carried a stick to fend them off.

This old tree--under which my family still holds cookouts and covered dish dinners--is the very one the Binkleys and Brays used to put their mail in the mid-1900's.

This old tree–under which my family still holds cookouts and covered dish dinners–is the very one the Binkleys and Brays used for their mail delivery in the mid-1900’s. The notch has now closed up and is very high on the tree trunk.

The Binkleys were, however, very fond of animals. They had trick goats, rabbits, red hogs, tame squirrels, geese, etc. Their dozens of cats ate out of the owners’ plates and were free to come and go into the house via cat holes that would slam loudly as the Bray dogs chased them! The Binkleys did not allow hunting on their property but did occasionally kill a goat to eat. The graves of two particular pet goats, Billy and Nancy, are still visible on their property. Neighbors called Bink “The Rabbit Man.” It was rumored that he put secret messages into the ears of his rabbits then shipped them all over the country.

More plantings from the Binkleys in the mid-20th century.

More plantings from the Binkleys in the mid-20th century.

When Duke Power began buying land in the ’60’s, they bought out the Binkleys. Before they moved out of the county, the Binkleys told Daddy to feel free to take whatever they left behind, including papers that detailed their beliefs. Duke Power used the Binkley home to house workers while building their steam station, but in the early ’80’s, the Binkley complex was bulldozed to the ground–destroying all evidence of a Communist training school that once existed down a shadowy old path in the Cove….**

*Strasbourg University is located in France, so perhaps the family’s memories of Mrs. Binkley’s education are faulty. I assume she attended the University in France and perhaps did some traveling in Russia during that time.

DSCN4715

Mrs. Binkley’s periwinkle now covers acres of ground on her old property.

**Editor’s Note: Today the Binkley property still adjoins the Bray farm, which is now owned by my parents. It still belongs to Duke Energy but is leased by my daddy for recreational purposes. The property is especially beautiful in springtime when Mrs. Binkley’s daffodils still bloom–the old-timey ones that give off such a fragrant perfume. Some even have double blooms. The periwinkle she planted perhaps more than 70 years ago has spread to cover the woodland ground with its delicate bluish-purple flowers. My family takes walks down there to see the beauty of the blooms each spring.

My children especially love the bamboo forest. Yes, it’s true–a small forest of bamboo, towering high into the sky, grows there where the Binkleys planted it long, long ago. Magnolia trees still flourish, along with the pampas grass the couple planted in the mid-1900s. The old animal graveyard is invisible to my eyes, but my daddy can still locate it. The beautiful cabins and outbuildings are gone, but both Daddy and Mama can take you to where the steps to them were located.

Who knows what plots to take over the United States were hatched on this very property?

Who knows what plots to take over the United States were hatched on this very property?

I am haunted to this day by the tragic loss of the painstakingly-built structures on the Binkley property. Duke Power made the heartless decision to raze it all to ground level for no reason that I can see, except to clear themselves from any liability. When they first bulldozed it, I assumed they were going to use the land for something. Yet 40 years later, it lies unused by that company–just as uninhabited as it was when the Binkleys took their last look at their little haven deep in the woods–a waste of what was once beautiful.

I long to find someone who can tell me more about this mysterious couple who were tried in a court of law for their Communist sympathies and activity. Google will take you to the documents from the court proceedings. (Type in “Junius Scales,” “Communist” and “Binkley,” and the records should show up.) But not much else exists to verify that William and Eleanore Binkley ever existed. My family and I, however, can assure you that they did.

***Here is an article detailing Mrs. Binkley’s death in Florida in 1991. This makes her sound like a hero. I figure that I would’ve liked her ideals a lot—aside from the Communist stuff.

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1755&dat=19910417&id=TTgeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Pb8EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6688%2C1474107&hl=en

***Here is a short article about the Communist training camp held on the Binkley farm. It is in the bottom lefthand corner and is about a Mr. Scales.

http://fultonhistory.com/Newspapers%2023/Jamestown%20NY%20Post%20Journal/Jamestown%20NY%20Post%20Journal%201955/Jamestown%20NY%20Post%20Journal%201955%20-%201206.pdf

Daffodils spread for acres on the old Binkley property.

Daffodils spread for acres on the old Binkley property.

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