Saturday, December 04, 2010

Thinking about Christmas

I'm in a creative frame of mind today. I confess, I haven't been in one for some time now. Last night, I didn't sleep well. As I was tossing and turning, I kept thinking about the annual Christmas note I'll soon pen.

Here's what I've come up with. First, I plan to write the traditional one page family update. Second, I plan to do a spoof on the first note and write a family update, but instead of talking about everyone in the family, I plan to write about only my son...with a couple of sentences about his sister and his mother and father.

I'm also turning a piece around in my my mind that will incorporate "Walking Man." This is a guy who I've observed walking here and there over the past five or so years. He dresses in a white button up the fron shirt, and slacks. He wears worn brown Rockports. He walks miles upon miles in summer or winter. In winter, he wears a thin windbreaker over his classic attire. His hair is long and disheveled with an unruly mustache framing his upper lip. Despite his constant walking, Walking Man is a bit pudgy. I spent my summer trying to become my own version of Walking Man, but my body broke daon a bit and then I had to actually go to work. Who is this guy? Is he a superman?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I'm still here...

...just not very motivated to write anything. School is pressing this year. Lots of new initiatives and much much much much more paperwork. My raise again this year (0%) didn't really cover the inflation of our expenses (college up 10+%).

I'm supposed to be happy to have a job. I'm beginning to think I'd be happier without one.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I think I may be getting old.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hate Lives Here

"In Lockstep With
Putting America
into Bankruptcy."

You can find this delightful sign just north of the Westlake traffic light near Smith Mountain Lake.

Congressman Periello defeated long-time Republican incumbent Virgil Goode two years ago by a very narrow margin. Periello didn't even have to open his mouth before people started hating him.

I'm saddened that people in our society view President Obama as operating a "Regime," as if he's some sort of Castro-like dictator. These are, indeed, depressing times for that reason.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Modern Turtle

Tinker Cliffs

I visited Tinker Cliffs today and saw incredible scenery, as well as a turtle, deer, turkeys, and a young bear.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Barrels and Tires

Barrels and Tires

ZORB® globe riding is the latest and greatest adventure activity to come out of New Zealand. Yes, that's right – New Zealand - the innovative little country at the bottom of the world (next to the penguins) that brought you Bungy Jumping, Hobbits, and a range of other crazy things to do while on vacation!!”

So begins the Zorb interactive internet web page. A Zorb looks to be a giant clear globe in which humans strap into and roll down a track. My wonderful niece recently experienced Zorbing first-hand. I can honestly say that taking a trip in a Zorb looks to be quite exciting. You enter the one-story tall plastic ball through a small tunnel-like opening on one side and strap yourself into the seating chamber. Then it’s off you go down the bowling alley gutter in a hilly field. But Zorbing is nothing new, really.

Many moons ago, the neighborhood provided me with unique ways to pass the days. One such time consuming activity was tire rolling. Some mysterious neighborhood force would summon all the neighborhood kids to the empty field between the Grosso’s house and the Garst farmhouse on a seemingly random day. The field sloped quite nicely, a perfect place to launch old tires. The idea was to start a tire rolling down the hill and see how far you could make it roll before it toppled over. Tire drag races were common. Two tires guided by expert child “slappers.” Slapping was a special technique developed by the best of the tire guiders. As the tire rolls to the bottom, the slapper would run beside it and slap the top of it if it deviated from true course. Slapping off center gently steered the tire right or left.

Brave children would sometimes climb inside a tractor tire and race down the hill hoping to avoid old man willow and mailbox row at the bottom. Fitting inside a tire was a bit unnerving. Someone held the tire upright and you climbed in straddling the tire. Then you lifted your feet inside the inner loop of the tire and compacted yourself into a ball shape. When ready (or not) the pushers began the launch. With Bobsled-like effort the pushers gave the tire a boost on its journey. I’ll never forget the feeling of seeing the world turn upside-down repeatedly. The trip took no more than a few seconds and it ended with a stop by safety volunteers, a slam into the tree or mailboxes, or a crash on the track.

During very special sessions on the hill, the barrels would appear as if by magic. You see, back then, everyone burned their trash in a metal barrel in their backyard every few days. When a can rusted out, it would need to be replaced. So it was vital to have a few extras lying around. Old metal chemical barrels made excellent fire pits and human transportation machines.

Riding down the hill in a barrel took some nerve. The ride was always extremely loud, especially when the barrel runners banged on the barrel with sticks as it rolled down to meet old man willow. All the barrel passenger had to do was climb in, brace against the side, and get someone to give the barrel a rolling start. With luck the trip was straight and true. More often, the barrel would careen and veer violently from side to side until the contents were spilled onto the hillside.

I’ll most likely never visit New Zealand or Pigeon Forge to ride a Zorb, but the neighborhood always seemed to provide thrills.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Pickled Green Tomatoes

Pickled Green Tomatoes

Visiting with my mother has changed over the past ten years. During that stretch, I watched her mental powers steadily decline. These days, I visit her at her house two or three times a week in the afternoons. We usually chat for a couple of hours then I head back home. My younger sister stays with her full time, which I’m sure is quite a drag sometimes.

My mother especially has trouble with knowing the present. Days of the week, years, ages, relations and friends outside her immediate children are all difficult for her to remember. When my father died this past January, she lived in a state of denial for several months. Back then, she would stare at the picture shrine dedicated to my pop set up across the room from her recliner and wonder aloud where he was. She figured he was outside tinkering in the yard and would be in soon. When I’d tell her that he’d passed away in January, she would begin crying-grieving a profound loss. This scene played out on almost a daily basis for months. Her grief was drawn-forth as if it was the first day after his passing every day.

She’s gradually come to accept that her husband of 62 years has passed away from her. She told me the other day that it seems like he’s been gone for such a long, long time. I agreed with her and we both became teary-eyed.

Through her mental haze, there are moments of supreme clarity-memories of times long ago. She can’t attach dates to most events, but her recall of the way things used to be remains clear.
Earlier this week, we were sitting chatting like we always do-talking about gardens and canning. “Are you and Jackie canning any tomatoes this year?”

“Not yet, but I suspect we will.” I’ve answered this question many times this summer.

“My ma used to can all kinds of food for us.” She went on to tell me about how her mom and dad used to put up vegetables from the massive garden so that they’d be able to be fed through the harsh Upstate New York winter. Beans, tomatoes, squash, and pickles were all quite popular. She went on to tell me that her family especially enjoyed pickled green tomatoes.

I had never heard of such pickles before, so I asked her for details. Basically, you take green tomatoes, slice them wedges, and pickle them according to the secret family recipe. I asked her if she still had the recipe, and she said she had it around somewhere.

I learned that my grandfather would go to the store and buy gallons or even barrels of vinegar to use in pickling. Once the pickles were made, everyone always wanted some at dinner. She said that their food was generally boring and repetitive, but the green tomato pickles really livened up meals and were hands down the family favorite.

Sometimes we talk about her early schooling and teaching career. Most recently, she told me her father’s connection with the local public school and how it affected her. Her father was on the board of the local public school system. One of his jobs was to drive out every morning and pick up the teacher and bring her to school. This daily run allowed my mother to hitch a ride to the public school and her sister to get dropped off at the local Catholic school (I believe). Teachers weren’t paid much back then, but they never had to provide their own transportation to my grandfather’s school.

My mother has been thinking a lot about her own mother lately. One of her stories was quite remarkable. I was telling my mother about all the catnip I just picked and how it could be used to make a tea that would help get rid of headaches and help you sleep. My mother nodded her head and began telling me about how her mother used to make all kinds of teas for all kinds of conditions and ailments. She said that her mom was always giving them nasty tasting teas to cure their colds and wounds. They all dreaded the teas.

It seems that my grandmother was known as the local medicine lady as well. Before she had children, she had been a school teacher in the area, so everyone had grown to know her and trust her. Plus, she could read and write. If someone was complaining of one ailment or another, they would invariably be told to “…just go see Dorrie Devins. She’ll fix ya up.” My mom said that the locals all called her “Dorrie.” It was their way of saying her proper name, “Dora.” They’d come by the house and ask her for advice about whatever condition they had, and Dorrie would consult her medicine book. This was a book that was handwritten and passed down from generation to generation. My mother says that she has no idea what happened to the book, but she imagines the family just left it behind when they sold the farmhouse since all of them had such horrible memories of those teas.

Many people would come by the farmhouse to get Dorrie to help them with their taxes. With the passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913, suddenly poor, illiterate farmers were faced with filling out tax forms. Since Dorrie was so smart and could read, they would ask her to straighten out their taxes. My mom said she always left the room, because these farmers would be in the dining room with all of the personal business papers spread out. The people were always grateful that Dorrie had made it all right.

Several times during her retelling of the story, my mother would get quite emotional and begin to cry. She repeated over and over how her mother would help anyone who came by and “…never charged anyone a cent.” Her mother was the kindest person she ever knew.

So between my grandfather single-handedly making public school education work and my grandmother healing the sick and tending to others’ businesses, I had two incredible grandparents.

Friday, July 02, 2010

1952 Vincent by Del McCoury

Del covered this Richard Thompson classic back in 2002. I'm just now hearing it.

A Walk Along Peters Creek Road 6_29_10

I had to drop my son's car off at our Pete's place, Plaza Auto, so that he could get some new tires before he heads off to The Marines this weekend. I decided that I'd walk home.

Burlington Elementary School. This school is still in service. I believe it was built in the late 1930's.

I stopped on the bridge overlooking I-581 and snapped this photo.

A look at the Northside High School entrance. Southview Elementary was closed long ago. It was given to the police department and they remodeled it to use as their emergency response command center. They left the building about three years ago and it's been vacant ever since. The regional morgue purchased the property from the county this spring. I haven't heard if they will demolish the building or renovate it to house dead people. I suspect they'll demolish. [pssst...asbestos....]

Another look at the grand profile of Southview. This mid 1930's building, red brick complete with a slate roof , is a beautiful. Look at the shield on the front left side of the building. That was my fourth grade classroom. There used to be a huge white pine that towered over the building. on the left side outside our window. I used to days dreaming of escaping the classroom by climbing down with my girlfriend, Karen Sarver, in tow. We used to hold hands sometimes. Her hands were always moist. She kissed me on the cheek once. It was on carnival night of our fifth grade year. We broke up right after that. Way too much pressure.

Hazy Monday 6_28_10

Monday was a hazy hot day with temperatures destined to head for the upper 90's. I went out as usual at 7am to my favorite spot on the AT south of Rt 311 near Catawba, VA.

Clear Friday 7_2_10

Friday July 2, 2010 was an exceptionally clear day with almost record low temperatures. I started my little hike at 7 am and made directly for my favorite outcropping on the AT south of Rt 311 in Roanoke County, VA. I'm especially pleased withe the hole in the rock shots.