BOONE, N.C. (Dec. 9, 2019) – I’m not sure if I’ve introduced you yet to Scout and Jem—no, not the sister and brother in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, but our aptly-named, three-year-old kittens.
Kittens, huh? That’s right. Kittens. Not Cats, like those strange felines in the long-running Broadway musical that’s coming to movie theaters this Christmas. We have two normal kittens. Well, kind of.
We brought them home from the animal shelter in September 2016 as two- and three-month-old poopsters, and they’ve been integral parts of the family ever since. Scout, in particular, demands attention because, like her fictional namesake, she’s always into something. She is a tortoiseshell Manx who tries her best to lead her big brother Jem, a laid-back orange tabby, astray.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Dec. 1, 2019) – “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
I didn’t plan for this book to be a devotional, but that seems to be what it’s becoming—in these pages falling after the growing season, anyway, when flowers are as dead as the leaves in our driveway. I also didn’t expect to be quoting Saul of Tarsus on the first Sunday of Advent, as I do today in the Bible verse above. I’ve never really been a fan.
Why not? Well, let’s not get into that right now, okay? Maybe in early April toward the end of Lent and before the Masters golf tournament when we’re all in better moods, I’ll spill the beans. Discussing Saul’s views on certain controversial subjects would be more tolerable later than now at the outset of the Yuletide Season.
I mean, we just got through that big family get-together at Thanksgiving without strangling old Uncle Paulie for his usual judgmental, misogynistic and homophobic remarks, so why risk ruining other holiday revelries? Fussing and fighting over stuff is out of place this time of year. We should promote faith, hope and love.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Nov. 27, 2019) – This past Sunday evening, I ran the sound for my favorite religious service of the whole year, hands down—Morganton’s community Thanksgiving service.
Ran the sound. That means I pushed some buttons to turn on and turn off—unmute and mute, in sound guy lingo—several microphones around the chancel of the First United Methodist Church, specifically, at the pulpit, above the choir, and at the grand piano on the floor in front of the lectern. What I did was nothing special. The service started at 5 p.m. and lasted about an hour, not counting the reception afterwards.
As I’ve said in the past, First Methodist is a special church to Timberley and me. It’s her home church, where she and I were married 37 years ago today. That Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m., our families and friends gathered to hear us exchange our vows in that beautiful gray-stone church, the closest thing to an old-style cathedral in Morganton. I’ve been a member since 1982; Timberley, since she was a child.
For the first few years we were married, Timberley and I regularly attended church there before moving to Brunswick County on the North Carolina coast. We returned to First Methodist about 10 years ago when we started spending more time in Morganton, though our permanent residence remains in Boone. Over the years, we visited many other churches but never found another congregation quite as special.
BOONE, N.C. (Nov. 20, 2019) – The Godfather is getting love and respect again—the movie, not the man, nor, for that matter, the best ’70s pizza parlor chain in the whole world, for my money, anyway.
Godfather’s thick, mozzarella-laden wedges of my preferred Canadian bacon and mushroom pizza pies were probably what started me down my own personal rocky road to perdition, my own private primrose path to plumpness. In those tight booths of red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, I came of gastronomical age. I learned that anchovies aren’t vegetables and that ice-cold beer in a frosted mug pairs well with brick-oven pizza.
Now I have to sit at tables, not in booths. I order medium-sized, vegetarian pizzas with thin cauliflower crusts. And I drink water—with lemon, maybe. I’ve also come to truly appreciate the Godfather trilogy.
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.