BOONE, N.C. (Nov. 12, 2019) – We got our first measurable snow this morning in Boone. When we left our Rutherwood house around 7:30 a.m., icy granules had just started bouncing off the Gray Goose. By the time we reached the Boone city limits a few minutes later, honest-to-goodness snow was falling.
We’d left home about an hour early because for the first time in years we didn’t have a four-wheel-drive vehicle to plow through the snowy roads around Boone. The Gray Goose is front-wheel drive, with no snow tires or chains—which weren’t needed here this morning, though one should always be prepared.
We arrived on campus earlier than usual so that we wouldn’t have to trudge up the hill to the Education Building in the 1-4 inches of snow that had been forecast. Where do we park? It doesn’t matter. Parking anywhere at ASU requires an uphill trek to wherever you might go. We just didn’t want to do it in too much snow.
BOONE, N.C. (Nov. 4, 2019) – Sometimes we have to come down off the mountain, at least for a day or two, to get back in touch with what’s truly important.
For this chapter, I’ve looked up so much I didn’t know about roses—about rosehips, Knock Outs and yellow hybrids named Dolly Parton, and now heirlooms—that my Google newsfeed is now filled with articles about roses and their cultivation from some sources that may or may not be reliable. I’m being exposed to all kinds of information, wanted or not, good or bad. Ultimately I have to judge for myself.
We have no roses here at the Rutherwood house, not unless you count what we think is a wild sweetbriar tangled up in the big rhododendron next to our basement door. All of our cultivated roses—like Dolly and the Knock Outs—grow in our front and back yards in Morganton. Actually, the latter variety thrives, ironically, in the demilitarized zone next to our new neighbors up the street. Dear ol’ Dolly is all on us, thankfully.
That’s also the case with the gorgeous purple rose I’ve mentioned before, the anonymous heirloom that is leading the pack in the running for our home and garden’s MVP title—the Most Valuable Plant at our house off the mountain, at least. The dahlias are perennial favorites, but they’ve gotten stiff competition this year from Dolly and, especially, from that fragrant purple rose. It’s our Purple Rose of Rural King.
BOONE, N.C. (Oct. 27, 2019) – It’s Sunday, but we didn’t go to church this morning—well, not in the old-fashioned way we usually do. We didn’t have time. So we went to new-fangled, high-tech church.
It has been a busy weekend, one of happy reunions, hopeful awareness-raising events and wistful visits to places both old and new for a group of sisters who four decades ago—sorry, girls—shared four years together that marked the bittersweet end of youth and the sunny start of unadulterated adulthood.
In that regard, some things do improve with age—like the wine and bourbon whiskey Boomers drink. At this point in our lives, our memories taste richer or sweeter than they probably were, while the future looks partly cloudy to mostly sunny at best. So we try to revisit those days past that weren’t entirely carefree by any means, but were as of yet unburdened by the accumulated worry of adult experience and responsibility—our days of glory, our days of grace.
No, that wasn’t the last word of Charles Foster Kane. Or of William Randolph Hearst, the father of fake news. By the way, I’m using that particular term, fake news, because it’s more common than yellow journalism, what it was called when Hearst, the billionaire newspaper mogul, was printing lies to make or break others’ fortunes so long ago.
We have to wonder if any seeds of truth remain now in our own dusky time of lies and corruption.
Rosehips are the last hurrah of one particularly beautiful rosebush in our yard on Morehead Street—the orange, seed-bearing fruit of a purple heirloom rose that started blooming in mid-April and kept putting out one gorgeous lavender blossom after another until late September, according to my photographic record of it.
BOONE, N.C. (Oct. 18, 2019) – We’re still a couple of weeks from All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1, when the warm orange glow of Halloween jack-o’-lanterns gives way to the white mourning of chrysanthemums. For some adults, the observances have become our autumn version of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday—a loud night of tricks, treats, costumes and sinful revelry, followed by a quiet day of saintly reverie. Sinners and saints. But I’m getting ahead of myself again, a worrisome state for short-timers like me.
Well? I am 60, right? So unless I live to be 122, I’m officially over the hill for however much longer this ride lasts. As everyone but Sisyphus says upon reaching middle age, it’s all downhill from here. (For readers unfamiliar with Greek mythology, Sisyphus is a wicked king who “was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down when it nears the top, repeating this action for eternity,” according to Wikipedia.)
But I figure I’ve gotten my money’s worth many times over. I’ve already said once or twice that life is all about making connections, haven’t I? And we make these links between all of the nouns in our lives—all of the people, places, things and ideas we encounter on our journeys—as well as between all of the verbs, whether active, passive or state of being, that affect us and effect the big and small decisions we make all along the way. That was how I wrote my novel Night Lights—by connecting everything.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Oct. 6, 2019) – I was hoping to see chrysanthemums on the altar at church this morning, it being World Communion Sunday. I wanted an easy connection to this chapter. But no such luck—just some candles, a cross, white linens, gluten-free bread and grape juice.
Our pastor reminded us that Christians around the globe began observing World Communion Sunday last night, first in China where followers of Jesus had to meet in secret to avoid arrest. I bet those folks had some chrysanthemums on their altars, because that’s where the “golden flower” came from.
The chrysanthemum is symbolic in China. According to FTD.com, the flower represents vitality, long life and good luck in Chinese homes, as it possesses cleansing properties. Also, on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month—Monday, Oct. 7, 2019—the Double Ninth or Chrysanthemum Festival is celebrated.
As I write this passage on Sunday evening, it’s almost 8 o’clock on Monday morning in Beijing, China, where people are preparing to observe the traditional festival by visiting the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects, by eating chrysanthemum cakes, and by drinking chrysanthemum wine. They will also go for long walks and, if possible, climb a mountain. All are symbolic acts, like communion.
BOONE, N.C. (Oct. 2, 2019) – As autumn leaves begin changing from green to gold and pompon-like chrysanthemums bloom everywhere, old friends and acquaintances gather around unnaturally lined and numbered viridian fields to reminisce about times past.
In other words, it’s October—you know, homecoming time. So go pick up some red or yellow mums on sale outside the nearest Food Lion and a big yellow-and-red carton of fried chicken at the Bojangles on this side of town, and then head on over to the tailgate party outside the football stadium. The old gang will all be there.
To many of us social creatures, that’s what October represents—homecoming. And, in turn, our idea of homecoming has taken on a particular meaning that revolves around high school and college reunions at the biggest attraction those educational institutions can muster—a football game, either under Friday night lights at high schools or slanted rays of the yellow Saturday afternoon sun on college campuses.
I purposely used the word muster in that last sentence because football is, after all, our most militaristic sport, with its offenses, defenses, bombs and blitzes. So what does that make us spectators? Are we like the Washington socialites who assumed the Civil War would last only one afternoon and spent it picnicking on a Manassas, Va., hillside overlooking a stream called Bull Run? Alas, I digress.
I can proudly say I never heard Grandpa utter those three dreaded syllables. But I behaved at his house so that I wouldn’t hear his mother of all curses. I’d heard all the stories, and I had been warned, mainly that if I ever did hear those words, to take cover.
Lester Clark wasn’t someone you wanted to anger, not unless you were ready to fight. Some of those stories involved him getting rowdy and ending up in the county jail. He and one of my uncles worked together and spent most lunch hours fighting. Each other. For fun. And they liked each other.
I’m not sure how Lester and Uncle Glen handled fellows they didn’t like. But my point is that Grandpa knew how to fight and wasn’t afraid to put someone in their place. I also don’t know who won most of those lunchtime brawls—Grandpa didn’t say—but I wouldn’t have bet against him. He was one tough cookie.
BOONE, N.C. (Sept. 25, 2019) – The question has always been: Does the Truth really matter? Not just now. Not just for the past three years. The Truth is eternal. But, with a nod to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay A Few Good Men, do we want the Truth? And can we handle it?
That military connection—if you’ve seen that particular Tom Cruise legal thriller—is apt here. With Michaelmas, the Feast of the Archangels, only four days away, I’ve been thinking about four older men, all unrelated to me, whose lives and messages guided my own path. I remember all four as angels.
Without going into angelologies of various religions, Michaelmas celebrates the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. The holy day, which falls just after the autumnal equinox, also marks the end of the growing season and, in some countries, serves as a day when accounts are settled.
The aster is the flower of Michaelmas, with one variety even called the Michaelmas daisy. The star-shaped wildflower blooms in September as harvests come to an end. In some regions, another similar wildflower thrives with goldenrod in fall fields and ditches. It is the white doll’s daisy or false aster.
BOONE, N.C. (Sept. 18, 2019) – A couple of months ago when I asked Timberley what flowers bloom in the fall at our houses, she listed the aster as one of several. What do asters look like? I asked. Her description didn’t ring any bells, so I looked up the tiny flower on Wikipedia—the greatest information resource on Earth, despite what English teachers say—but I still couldn’t recall seeing an aster in either yard, on or off the mountain.
According to Wikipedia, the aster’s name comes from the Greek word for star, in reference to the small bluish blossom’s star-like shape. The aster makes our world a more productive and beautiful place, as it is food for butterfly and moth larvae. The aster is a hardy plant that can grow almost anywhere.
Now I see asters everywhere I look—in the yard, along the creek, by the driveway, in the pastures and ditches along the highway between our house and town. They’re everywhere. And they are so beautiful—so small, so easy to overlook, but so, so beautiful.
Some people are like that.
Over the next couple of weeks I plan to write about six individuals who have been stars in my life but never did anything flashy enough to merit their own Wikipedia articles. You could probably guess who they might be—two grandfathers, a former co-worker, an old boss, a namesake and an old soldier, all of whom were my heroes even though I never told them so.