Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Miscellany of Mental Meanderings in May

I really really try to be positive. There is so much gloom, despair, and misery everywhere you look. I am not a PollyAnna. Far from it actually. I know all too well there are dark, evil, despicable people in the world. I have known my fair share of them to be sure. I have worked most of my life in jobs that have brought me in direct contact with the public. Anyone who has cashiered, clerked, worked collections, customer service, or at a call center will more than likely concur. I like to think that there is a balance to life, equal light to dark, but I know that is a very simplistic view. More apt would be varying shades of gray, and ever evolving and melding shades at that, because people are not simple. We are a complex, complicated, mercurial species. The two words that I feel are used most erroneously in relation to the behavior of people are always and never

I recently read several Facebook status updates referencing people with rainbow and unicorn outlooks on life, and I can see how in general my facebook activity may seem to reflect a Unicorn Rainbow persona, but that is so not me. I have my demons, my darkside as it were. I tend to be pragmatic, and more suspicious of the motivations of others than you might think. I have been lied to, deceived, let down, used, abused, and berated enough over the 54 or so years that I have conscious memory of that most of the glitter has worn off of the filter I see the world through. 

My husband and I recently had an interesting end of life conversation. We are opposites in this area. I want no heroic measures, no life support, no experimental treatments. Comfort level of drugs, honor my organ donor status, cremation or green burial. No chemicals or long drawn out funerals. He wants to not be unplugged or turned off. His reasoning is interesting, though. He feels that his consciousness will have lots of time for out of body travel that way. Living wills and end of life directives are definitely on the to-do list for us.

#yesallwomen and #notallmen are really dominating Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr this week. My own personal history, much of which is not public knowledge, ( and you thought I told everything??? Oh My Goodness! ) greatly impacts my ability to be able to engage in this particular maelstrom. I will refer to the first paragraph here, and remind you that each person, each situation, each event has a maze of cause and effect. We will never know all, or be able to view an event after the fact objectively. 

Remember The Four Agreements!

I try really hard to be as non-political as I can when I am on social media, but sometimes it is really difficult. Part of the reason I am reluctant to engage in online political discourse is that I am very much a situational voter, and have beliefs that run the gamut of accepted ideologies. There are causes that I believe in, don't think there are not. I just choose to not argue about things in a forum where it takes at times only one or two comments for things to really get ugly, and minds are seldom changed. 

The cat we call Four has three kittens, and is sheltering them in a place that I can see from the window in the laundry area at the back of the house. I really enjoyed doing the laundry today! 

An eight word poem:









Friday, May 23, 2014

Coming Across

This website and this website both deal with a book by don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements. 

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don't take anything personally
  • Don't make assumptions
  • Always do your best
Sounds simple, at first.

Try it. Just for an hour, when you are in the company of other living breathing fallible warts and all people. Not an easy thing to do, because we are all too human in our actions and reactions. I am reminded of this today because I felt really insulted by something that was said to me while I was working yesterday evening.

I am working as a cashier in a convenience store in the town of Lebanon, Virginia. Lebanon is where I drive to when I write of "going to town" or "going to the store". I was out of work from October of 2010 until March of this year, about 3 1/2 years. I am thankful, grateful, elated, blessed to have a source of income. I am not working a steady 40 hours a week, but my bank account, my need for human interaction, and my health are all benefitting from my trip across the mountain four days a week. 

I blogged very recently about not being middle-class and not being average. The interaction at work yesterday included being referred to as poor several times by a customer. That bothered me. How can you stand in a place of business and say to the person waiting on you that you consider them poor? That you pity them "having to work in a convenience store"? Do you know me personally? She did not. Does she know where I bank, or how much property I own, or what expenses or debts I may be burdened with at this time? Perhaps I am recently retired with a full pension and am working because I am bored because my children are grown and the nest is empty. Perhaps I am a professional who has taken on a second job to finance a trip to Europe when I go on sabbatical next year. What if I were finishing up a doctorate in Sociology or Economics and had taken the job to have a real life experience to illustrate an important position argument?



I turned to The Four Agreements.

  1. Be impeccable with your word Had I in some way represented myself as needing or expecting the appellation of "poor"? Being impeccable with your word goes beyond the verbal. We write, we swear oaths, we sign contracts, we communicate in many non-verbal ways "our word".
  2. Don't take anything personally Okay, that one was easy. Too easy. I felt insulted. I took personally what may or may not have meant to be an insult. If it were meant as a slur, the problem was in her perception, her reality, not mine. Had she been in or was she currently in a personal situation that instigated the perception that cashiering in a convenience store was a less than honorable way of earning a paycheck?
  3. Don't make assumptions I made the assumption that the words I took personally were intended to insult me. wow. A freight train of assumtptions there, Ellen. Good going. Go you!
  4. Always do your best I did not do my best. I was not impeccable in my word to myself, for I have covenanted with myself to strive to live more in line with the simply worded yet oh so complex philosophy put forth in The Four Agreements. I took another's words, tone, attitude, and appearance personally. I made assumptions. 
Coming across is how one person is perceived, and received in an interaction. When there is more than one person present, the process of coming across multiplies in direct relation to the number of people present.

Something to remember.

Keeping it real on a Friday afternoon.

I wish for all who read this to be a blessing and to be blessed in the blessing.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Those Gunshots I Heard Took Lives, Part 1 : The Raid

We were in bed on a Monday night. 

We were almost asleep when I heard what I naively thought was firecrackers. I sat up in bed and looked out the windows towards our neighbors' property to the east. 

"I wonder what Dan is up to now? Lighting firecrackers at ten o'clock at night?"

My husband pushed me back down in the bed and told me what I was hearing were gunshots, not firecrackers. Thus began one of the more surreal episodes of my life.

We lived within easy eye/ear/gunshot distance of the home that was raided that night.

Paul Harvey used to have a segment he called "The Rest of the Story" on his radio show. I am going to give you my version of the rest of the story about the shooting that occurred that night, and the events of the following days and weeks.

{It has been 13 months since I wrote the above words. That is how difficult January 12. 1987 is for me to write about.}

Moe, my husband, was dressing as quickly as he could but before he could button his shirt there was a knock at the back door. He admonished me to stay in the bedroom, which I gladly did. I heard the door open, a few muffled words exchanged, then he returned and asked for my car keys. I handed them to him, asking who was at the door and where was he going. He said it was Carol (Dan's wife) and he would be back when as soon as possible. I could hear her on the phone, but not what she was saying. They left, and within minutes the sirens started.

The phone rang, over and over. Moe called, said he was at the 76 Truckstop and that he would be home as soon as possible. Freddie called and wanted to know what was going on, he heard chatter mentioning our neighbors by name on the scanner. Sheila called and wanted to speak to Moe. Freddie came home, and told me they were blocking the road  (we lived on Midway Road) at the intersection of Midway and 25th. Another friend called and said they were apparently going door to door and asking people to evacuate. The authorities did not knock on our door that night, nor were we interviewed or questioned for weeks following the raid.

After what seemed like hours but was probably no more than 30 minutes, Moe returned home. He had drank a cup of coffee at the truckstop, then driven home by a route that approached the house coming from the west instead of east, thus missing the roadblocks - one was at 25th and Midway, the other just above our driveway at Christensen and Midway.

Moe cautioned me to stay on the west side of the house, should a stray bullet come through a wall or window. 
There were shadowy figures of men in black ski masks, bullet proof vests and carrying semi-automatic weapons moving around in the area between our house and the home to our east where Dan and Carol Hunt lived with her son Skipper. 
Emergency vehicles came and left their driveway, there were police vehicles - Fort Pierce City, St. Lucie County and later FHP everywhere. 
There were helicopters with searchlights circling overhead, there were sporadic bursts of static from a bullhorn followed by "Dan Hunt. Please come out. This is the police, Dan Hunt, please come out."

At one point Moe went out the front door and was approached by a man in the riot gear described above. He asked Moe his name, and if there was anyone else in the house. Moe replied in the affirmative and it was suggested we go elsewhere for the night. Moe said, no, this is our home and unless we are ordered to leave we would prefer to stay. That was the extent of our direct interaction with any authorities.

Sometime around maybe 2 or 3 AM, there was another burst of gunfire and flashes of light and then billows of smoke from Dan and Carol's mobile home. The police had breached the stronghold, so to speak. 

Moe told me, over the course of the night, what Carol had said to him when he drove her out that night. According to him, this was her account of the events in her home that culminated in the death of her husband and two police officers:

They had finished their dinner, and were watching television in their great-room. Dan had built on extensively to their single-wide mobile home, and the great-room was not part of the original structure. Carol had a poodle, and her son Skipper had a rottweiler named Kilo. There was a knock, insistent banging, at the front door and Skipper called out that he would answer the door and put Kilo in his room. Dan and Carol heard loud voices, then a gunshot. Dan retrieved a weapon from a drawer in a table by his chair, told Carol they were being raided and to get out fast. She grabbed her purse, her poodle, and climbed over the 6 foot fence at the rear of their house and ran through the yard across to our house and knocked on the front door. She told Moe she thought the DEA had raided them, and that Skipper had been shot and she needed a ride up to the corner of Midway Road and US1. She called someone from our phone (I presume to arrange for someone to pick her up?) while Moe came to get my car keys. He took my car because his car was blocked in by mine. We agreed to wait to be asked before volunteering any information, and to tell the truth as we each knew it when questioned. 

At that time, I had no idea what my neighbors had been doing, or how much my husband knew.

I prepared for work, and went in at 6 AM ... the following days and weeks I will cover in Part 2 : After the Raid. 

* I am recounting this from my own memories, and using real names and dates where I can.

** Moe was my first husband, we were married from October 1986 until September 2001. He passed away in March 2002. He was 25 years older than me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

An Appalachian Tale : Beans and Taters, Taters and Beans

Earlier today, while browsing the internet, I read an article about pinto beans. Specifically, about pinto beans and their traditional front and center place on the dinner table in this region. As is wont to happen with me, a cascade of thoughts and memories started tumbling through my brain. 

We ate dried beans frequently, and by frequently I mean as many as four times a week, when I was growing up. I say dried beans because we did not just eat pinto beans. We ate October beans, Cranberry beans, and lastly Pinto Beans. We called them soup beans, or brown beans. We also ate navy(white) beans, Lima (butter) beans, split pea soup, baked beans, and kidney beans. But most of all and by far, we ate brown beans. The October and Cranberry beans were preferred because the soup/liquid was thicker the day they were cooked. This was important because we usually did not have leftovers.

Mom would task the children, Carol, Eddie, and me, with sorting the beans (we called it picking them) to separate any debris. They were then rinsed well, under cold running water, and left to soak overnight. Before she started working full time, Mom would cook the beans low and slow all day. She used a chunk of streaked lean to season them, and a bit of salt. Salt was added after the beans had cooked for a while, and the amount would depend on the saltiness of the streaked lean she used. Periodically throughout the day she would check the simmering pot of beans, adding more water as needed. There were times when she cooked the beans in a pressure cooker, but for the most part they were cooked in a big pot on the stove. It takes hours to cook beans correctly, a slow process of at least 6 hours. We tried a slow cooker, aka a CrockPot as well, but that left you with a watery broth with little flavor. I think the gradual adding of the water throughout the day gives the melding and blending of flavors time to develop better.

Daddy grew October beans in the garden, and Mom would can quarts of fresh October beans that were ready to reheat, adding your seasoning, when pressed for time. They were really tasty. We never bought canned Pinto beans from the store, like Luck's. We either cooked them from dried or fresh or used home canned beans. 

After I was grown and had my own kitchen, I experimented with added seasonings for beans. A splash of hot sauce and about a tablespoon of brown sugar added to a pot of beans near the end of cooking is my favorite addition. I also sometimes use a seasoning blend, like Lawry's seasoned salt, Jane's Krazy Mixed-up Salt, Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning, or Old Bay Seasoning. 

So, after you have your pot of brown beans what else are you going to eat? Decisions, decisions. Mom would often serve Kraut and Weiners. What? You don't know Kraut and Weiners? Easy. Get yourself an iron skillet, add a spoon of bacon drippings, and a package of weiners you have sliced into half inch rounds. Once they have started to puff up and get a little brown, add a bag of sauerkraut from the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Not canned sauerkraut, and not the type with caraway seeds in it. Just plain kraut. Cook until the liquid is almost all gone. No need to salt or pepper this. 

Another, and, in my mountain raised opinion, the best accompaniment to brown beans is fried potatoes. Taters. The food that I grew up on. Fried, baked, boiled, mashed, creamed - Oh how I love potatoes. Fried taters are so easy. Hot skillet, bacon grease and butter, sliced potatoes, turn often, cover at first to cook faster, salt and pepper to taste, let them brown, turn them easy so they don't all break apart, add sliced or diced onion at the end so they don't burn. 

Slaw. Coleslaw. Shredded cabbage, a bit of shredded carrot. Dressing? Get a pint jar with a lid. Fill it about 3/4 full of mayonnaise, add 2 tablespoons of white sugar, 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar, a good squirt of French's mustard, 1 teaspoon of celery seed, a shake of salt and three or four grinds of fresh pepper. Put the lid on the jar and shake it well. This is a multi-purpose dressing, good on slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, a dab for devilled egg filling. 

Meatloaf. When I make meatloaf, I use the leanest ground beef I can find. The most mess free way to make meatloaf is to add the ground meat (I only use beef) into a gallon size zip-lock freezer bag, add the other ingredients, close the top securely, knead it together with your hands, then turn it out into your baking dish. I take two eggs for about 3 pounds of beef, break them into a 2-cup measuring cup and use a fork to beat them enough to break the yolks. I then squirt in maybe 1/3 cup of catsup, add about the same amount of milk, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce, and a good healthy dollop of either Heinz 57, Chili Sauce or A-1 sauce. I mix this together and pour it in the bag with the meat. I then add minced onion, minced green bell pepper if I have any, and about 2/3 cup of oatmeal (uncooked), torn white bread or bread crumbs. The catsup and steak sauce should keep you from needing salt or pepper, but you can add some if you want. Bake at 350f for about an hour, top the last 15 minutes with a glaze of catsup and brown sugar if you want. Sometimes I make large patties of the meatloaf mixture and we have meatloaf patties. Easier for leftovers that way.

Bread. I prefer cornbread with beans, but plain sliced white bread will do in a pinch. I also like biscuits with beans, big fluffy drop biscuits. Cornbread is a personal choice, some use the boxes of Jiffy Mix, I like Martha White Buttermilk Cornbread mix. I like it baked in an iron skillet, I have one of those sectioned cast iron pans that makes individual little triangles, lots of crust that way!

Fresh green onions from the garden, or sliced Vidalia onion. Sliced tomatoes. Sweet pickle relish, green tomato relish or chow-chow. 

Beans and taters, taters and beans - My ideal menu is:

Brown Beans w/green tomato relish
Fried Potatoes w/onion
Sliced garden-fresh tomato
Green onion from the garden
Cornbread w/butter and honey
Iced Tea 
Pound Cake w/fruit 
Vanilla Ice Cream

Hungry yet????

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Monday Adieu

A clear glass dish
Holding Gemstones of Spring -
Deep Purple Blackberries
Magenta Raspberries
Royal Blue Blueberries
Burgundy Strawberries
Sprinkled with sugar, glistening like diamonds
Then slowly liquefying in the pink juices of the

Warm from the oven
Just baked butter cake
Simple is best,
Just a splash of vanilla at the end
Ice Cold metal bowl bearing
Cloud-like mounds
Just whipped cream
Barely sweetened
What better way
To bid adieu
To a Monday?
~Ellen Apple 05-19-2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

An Appalachian Tale: Family Reunion

Family reunion. The very words stir a stew of emotions in me, floods of memories that bubble just beneath the surface of my consciousness suddenly pop to the top and inundate my mind. I know that people from other regions - countries - cultures have regular gatherings of friends and relatives, but there is a special atmosphere that permeates a family reunion in the southern United States, and especially in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia. I am not sure how long the reunion tradition will survive - the children and grandchildren my generation are raising seem to derive less pleasure and gratification from the inundation of relatives and stories that begin with "Do you recall the time ...".

For me, there are different types of reunions, different times and occasions that bring people together for food, fellowship and familial bonding.

There are seasonal occasions - Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day.

There are commemorative occasions - weddings, births, specific birthdays, anniversaries, funerals.

There are planned reunions, bringing relatives from far and wide together, maybe once a year, every two years.

There are spontaneous reunions - all of a sudden you realize that 10 or 12 people you are related to are all in easy driving distance at the same time and you pick a location and, voila, reunion.

Both sides of my family, the Smiths and the Slades, were and to some extent still are, excellent at reunions. I am going to share a few memories of reunions from both sides, because they are both similar and different.

The Smith Reunions Remembered
My father was one of eight children, and three of his sisters lived out of town. He was also 17 years older than my mother, so my aunts and uncles had grandchildren that were my age. When children and grandchildren came home to visit from out of town in the summer, we would have a reunion at my grandparents house, later when they had passed we would usually gather at my Aunt Ger's house. 

Grandaddy Smith's birthday was the first week in August, and we had reunions several times around that time of the year to celebrate his birthday. I specifically recall having birthday parties/mini-reunions for him in Narrows a few times, after he had gone into the nursing home there following the death of Granny and his subsequent aging and failing health.

Earlier, before Granny Smith passed, we would all be at their house. This was especially convenient for my immediate family because we lived just one house down from Granny and Granddaddy. They had a really large yard, plenty of room for lawn chairs and picnic tables and impromptu games of tag or hide and seek. They also had a wonderfully landscaped yard, off of an impressively sized back porch. There was a cherry tree, underneath which was a swing. At least once I remember my Aunt Zelma cooking a giant pot of chicken chow mein for us to feast upon. I know we ate other food, a lot of it. Salads, burgers, hotdogs, chicken, cakes, pies ... but when you are young the food takes a backseat to the memories of people. Except the chicken chow mein, I always remember that!

Uncle JT and Aunt Connie lived on a farm and we had a few family get-togethers there. Uncle JT had a stocked fish pond, and we would catch and release fish and thought we were grand fishermen! It was there that we also made homemade ice cream with a hand cranked ice cream freezer - the best ice cream in the world, but exhausting to crank at the end of the process. 

Aunt Ger also lived within walking distance of our house, and I remember the family times at her house the best. She too had a large yard, and lots of outdoor sitting and eating spaces. One of my favorite pictures of Daddy is from a reunion we had there. Aunt Ger, along with Aunt Zelma, Aunt Susie and Uncle Norman all hosted indoor family gatherings at one time or another - fall/winter weather meals. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve - more formal eating but still love and laughter flowing right along with endless cups of coffee and glassed of iced tea.

We had cousins (the Vernons) who lived in Texas and when they came to visit it was usually in the Autumn, for the glorious fall leaves I imagine. The family time with them was more intimate, usually at Aunt Susie's. The conversations and eating would last late into the night, everyone hating to leave because it would be so long before we could see them again.

Our Smith reunion is now called the Cousins Reunion, and we will be gathering on July 12 in my hometown at a Methodist Church. I am going to try my darndest to be there. I think some of my relatives from Florida will be coming!

The Slade Reunions Remembered

My mother grew up with two brothers, but both of her parents came from large families and the reunions for the Slade branch of my family were well attended. Aunts and Uncles from both the Cundiff (MawMaw) and Slade (PawPaw) families would be in attendance. I recall one reunion in particular, I was in my early teens. There were many people there, and I am not sure they were all kin. 

[All of our reunions for both sides would have attendees who were not relatives, but close and dear friends that were like family. Mountain people are flexible like that. We take into our hearts, homes and families people and call them Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, Granny and never think twice about it.]

My sister and I were playing croquet with Uncle Henry Bowen's daughters, Betty and Barbara. I do not remember the pairing, but the one I was partnering with and I both got the giggles and were acting silly. Virginia Carol and the other sister got so mad at us, especially when we won the game. This was in the summer, and there were torrential rains accompanied by thunder and lightening as well. We played and talked and ate watermelon and sweets and hamburgers far past dusk. This particular reunion was held at the home of friends (could have been distant cousins - I am not sure. That is another wonderful thing about being from a mountain town or community, you have lots of distant relatives.)

Many of the Slade memories for me center around the farm, and it was sold and my grandparents moved to "town" when I was 12. The farmhouse had a big front porch, loaded with chairs, many of them rocking chairs, where one could sit and see forever it seemed. MawMaw was an excellent cook, and it seemed as though she fed half of the community on Sunday after church. The adults would eat in the dining room, and the children in the kitchen. There were large tables and ample seating in both rooms. She made delicious cakes, and the meat and vegetables both were always from their own bounty. But her breads - oh my! Cornbread, biscuits, yeast rolls - she was a master at breads.

Since my grandparents passed away in 1986, my brother Steve has taken the mantle of patriarch of the family and has been generous with his time, and home, to try to keep our family bond strong. We have had a few reunions at picnic shelters, but the times we gather at his home have been memory makers for sure. His son and daughter both value family, so I anticipate we will continue to stay in touch with those dear to our hearts, both near and far. 

I may not have always been the best and most attentive daughter/sister/cousin/aunt I could have been, but I promise you, I appreciate and treasure these people and these memories so very much. They are a big reason I am able to sit here and have good memories to share, and that is a gift beyond measure. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Not Middle-Class & Not Average

I read an article earlier on a news website, speaking of how fewer and fewer Americans are self-identifying as middle class. When I was coming up here in these mountains, my mother's family were for the most part rural people, farmers really. My grandfather supplemented his income by driving a produce delivery truck at one time, and in his later years he was a custodian at a high school and at times a school bus driver. He and my grandmother sold milk, buttermilk, eggs, and butter to people who lived "in town", town being the two Bluefields, Virginia and West Virginia. They worked long, hard hours, growing almost all of their own food and supplementing their income through the sale of livestock, sheep and piglets. They raised cows, chickens, hogs, and sheep. They grew oats and feed corn, had fruit trees, made molasses from cane they grew, harvested honey and berries,

My father was born in Bluefield, WV, but the family moved to Richlands, Va., my hometown when he was very young, I want to say 7. His father worked for N&W RR. He was the third of eight children and they were not rich, perhaps middle class but not rich. My grandmother kept house, supervised the collective gardening by the children, and was a seamstress. My grandfather was away from home a great deal, and the looking after of their milk cow and chickens were her responsibility as well.

Both families were hard-working, and achieved much through their labors and ethics. I am not ashamed to be from either branch of the family tree. We did not know we were not well off, we did not know we were statistically poor, below average, dipping close to the poverty line at times. Daddy worked as long as he could, then was on Social Security Disability. After my baby brother started school, Mom entered the work force, and did not retire until she was 68. We had food, clothing, and there was a family vehicle.

For the most part, though I claim 5 brothers and a sister, there were three children on the household growing up. We managed to have a happy childhood, and the "things" we did not have really did not affect us adversely, in fact I now believe the effect on our adult selves was very beneficial. On the one hand, we know how to make-do when circumstances are not ideal, but we also have an appreciation of the blessings and opportunities we encounter. 

I have also been reading a great deal online recently about the question, or issue, of privilege. Specifically, white privilege in present day America and the impact on the majority of Americans who do not come from a ethnic, cultural, social or economic background that benefits from white privilege. I am not sure that I was or am underprivileged, but I definitely do not feel I am or have been the recipient of white privilege.

I carry in my heart and soul a pride in who I am, and the people and place I am a product of. There has been adversity and hardship in my life, but I do believe two things :
  1. Adversity and hardship in some form or fashion is a part of being human, not a curse or judgement placed upon certain people.
  2. It is how we approach, contend with, and learn from our adversities and hardships that mark the difference between success and failure, not how many "things" we accumulate.
That is all for now, just trying to keep it real from my perspective.