The Literary Corner: Renegade Writer’s Guild

Published 11:56 pm Friday, May 12, 2023

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By Julie Terry Cartner

She’d sit in the kitchen in her morning spot, perched on the wooden stool at the corner of the island, coffee cup on one side, cigarette on the other, releasing their pungent scents into the air. Gentle breezes would waft through the starched white curtains, encircling the smoke and pulling it outside, and birdsong would filter in through the windows. Like every day, alongside her breakfast were pencil and paper, sometimes delicate floral stationery, sometimes a nautical themed pad, sometimes just a lined legal pad, but regardless of which, written on the top line was Dear Bill, Polly, Anne, or Julie. She switched it out daily, handwriting letters to whichever children were not living at home.

As a child at camp, I got a letter every day, ensuring that my name would be announced at mail call. Only gone for five days, and less than 20 miles from home, daily letters were not necessary in reality, but to my childhood self, they were essential. Mom never let me down.

Fast forward several years, and I made the decision to move seven hundred miles away from home to attend college. In the days before cell phones and computers, snail mail, as we call it today, was the primary means of communication. My dorm had one pay phone at the end of the hall, but long-distance calls were expensive; thus, Dad’s rules stated I was only allowed to call, collect, on Sundays, the day the rates were reduced, unless there were an emergency.

Like many college kids, I was torn between loving my independence and missing my family and home terribly. I relied on my mom’s letters to keep me connected. And she came through, every week. I would go to my mailbox knowing there would be a letter from Mom, and often, on another day, she’d send cookies, a book, or some other small gift, just a small way of letting me know she was thinking about me, and I was loved.

I’d devour the letters, learning all the news. When I, the youngest of four, went to college, my siblings and I lived in four different states, and my parents were in a fifth. I’m sure Mom repeated information in each of our letters, but she still took the time to write to each of us individually. In mine I was sure to hear about the antics of my siblings, the family dog, my parents gardening activities, and news of my high school, friends, sports, and teachers. I’d reply, filling her in on my classes and grades, projects and exams, sports, friends, and jobs. I didn’t, however, always respond immediately.

Dad wrote to me maybe four times in my college years. On those days, he could probably hear my scream of excitement.  If there were any way possible, I’d sit down right then to reply. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t respond to my mom’s letters; I did, just not with the alacrity that I did my dad’s. I’d always start my reply to Dad with, “Thank you for the letter.” I have my doubts I ever thanked Mom for hers.

I could quote Thomas Paine and say, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value.” Because Mom wrote weekly, because I had no doubt I’d get a letter from her, I esteemed her letters too lightly. I under-appreciated them. Whereas Dad’s rare letters received the thrill that Mom’s didn’t. The dearness, or sparsity, of Dad’s letters gave them far greater value.

As an adult, a mom to my own children, and now parent-less, there are many, oh so many, things that I’d like a do-over. Mom’s letters were dear. The fact that she gave up hours every week to write, to let us know we were loved, that we were missed, that we were valued, can’t be underestimated. They were priceless. Dad’s were great, and I loved them, but knowing I could depend on Mom’s often carried me through the week.

Too late, but no less sincerely, thank you Mom. Thank you for your constancy. Thank you for the letters, every single one. Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.

Heritage Garden

By Denise Bell

     Finally, spring is here, and those of us who love to get out in the garden are digging in! I love the longer growing season here. It is my second year in North Carolina, so my gardens are a work in progress. I guess that is the nature of gardening; there is always something to putter with.

As I begin this season, my tender roots are beginning to spread out and take hold here. They were deeply established in Michigan as I lived there for over 60 years. I left bits of my roots behind, my daughter and her family. My grandchildren are offshoots of my roots and are becoming rooted in their own way.

I brought many of my plants here with me from Michigan. Some of them have been moving with me around Michigan for over 40 years. Like an old photograph, when I look at them, I am reminded of times past and the stories of good times, laughter, and those I have lost but still love so dearly.

My mom was a wonderful gardener. The home where I grew up was a new 1950’s Detroit suburb in a brand-new development where all the blue-collar workers in automotive were buying homes to grow their families. Mom and Dad started the yard from bare land. Dad tended to the lawn, and Mom worked her magic in the garden. Through the years it developed into something magical. It was like a visit to a formal garden and was loved by all others in the neighborhood. When people remember her, there is always a comment about how wonderful her gardens were.

Clematis climbed her front porch and added shade as we swung on the glider on the hot, lazy summer afternoons. Dahlias of multiple varieties lined the garage. She and Dad would pull them all out in the fall, dip them in paraffin and pack them in sand to save them from the Michigan winters. Lavender garden lined the long driveway, Japanese irises along one, daylilies along another. Chrysanthemums lined the front porch.

After Mom passed, my Dad was moving to South Carolina and I knew before he left that I would want to have some of her plants for my garden. This was when I began my Heritage gardening nearly thirty years ago. From home to home, I travelled with her plants and put them in my own gardens. I have shared them with my daughter’s and niece. My sister has a Grandma Garden.

My heritage gardens here have Mom’s irises and day lilies. From my first home I have marigolds which I have propagated from seeds for over forty years. I have lilac bushes, forsythia, and bleeding hearts. My new home here has given me beautiful azaleas, crepe myrtle, camelia and magnolia to add to my heritage garden family.

Gardening nurtures my soul and is very much a reflection of who I am. I am grateful my family heritage has traveled my life journey with me.

Where We Are

By Gaye Hoots

I was sitting with my feet up, watching the sailboats play, when I received a call telling me Faye had another fall. She broke three toes and was confused, and the ER kept her for most of the day before releasing her to go home. The next morning I returned to Advance, encountering four deer on our drive and having a safe trip with light traffic but construction much of the way.

When I got to Faye’s, she was in bed with three broken toes from her last fall. She was confused and sometimes saw and responded to things no one else saw. Yet completely clear at times. My biggest concern was that her blood pressure was extremely high but would lower with medication, requiring constant monitoring. This kept Nick, Kendra, and me busy with help from Annie, Brad, and Kenny.

My family visited us, and I got to have breakfast with Vann before he resumed his Navy training. Another highlight was attending Jaden’s induction into the National Honor Society at Davie High School. Seeing my great-granddaughter inducted brought flashbacks of my induction when I was her age. I also attended a JV soccer game she played in, supported by her mom and dad’s family.

We took Faye to Novant at Mocksville, but her PA, who coordinated all her healthcare specialists, tests, and medications, was not available. She saw a new PA named Jessica. As a nurse, I was impressed with how quickly she grasped the magnitude of Faye’s history and medications. She had reviewed her records and the lab results from a previous hospital visit and let Faye and Nick know the diagnosis was Multiple System Atrophy. Our uncle had this diagnosis, although there is no proven genetic connection.

My grandkids rode the train to Salisbury, where Nick picked them up for an overnight visit. Both girls pointed their magic wands at Faye and attempted to heal her with magic. She tried hard to respond to their attempts. The meal and visit Lorene Markland provided a distraction, and a visit from Kathy Cornatzer helped too.

Monday, as I was preparing to go to Tom Browder to have a new crown installed, Faye’s blood pressure continued to climb, and her confusion increased. Nick and Kendra took her to the local hospital, where they repeated labs, admitted her, and did an MRI.

Tom Browder and his assistant had saved a tooth that had decayed into the root. The temporary crown worked well. and the new one looks great. They worked hard to keep it.

Faye’s family and Kendra stayed with her during the day. and at 8:30, I relieved him for night duty. She was restless and confused and sleepless until 11:30, then fell asleep. At 3:00, the blood pressure remained normal, but the IV had dislodged and wet the bed; by 4:00, she was sleeping again. The fast food and lack of sleep affected me, but I had an eye appointment with Brian Baker, who does a thorough workup. This year’s results were the same, but I will need glasses before I renew my license.

I came home and napped until Nick came back for Faye’s meds. Each time she is hospitalized, they do a thorough review of her meds, but they also try to start PT to get her on her feet to walk before deciding that only in-bed or chair exercises are safe; Nick had invested much time into scheduling an appointment with her neurologist, but they are insisting on an earlier workup which they can plan with a neurologist who has never seen her before. This is repeated with each ER visit, but it was necessary to determine there was not an active bleed. It was a minor stroke, but her care and meds will remain the same. It is a revolving door for her and Nick.

I plan to cover tonight, and she will probably return home tomorrow. I am praying for her and all those with medical issues, including my brother, who checks on her by phone and is in declining health.

Mary’s Quilt

By Marie Craig

     My father’s mother, Mary, lived a long life, from 1872 to 1963.  She and my grandfather lived 100 miles from us, but there were several visits with her each year.  At one of these visits, she gave me a quilt.  Mary told me that she made it when she was about 15 years old, almost the same age I was then.  I probably didn’t understand the full value of the gift at that time, but I have increased my appreciation through the years.

     They lived on a farm in Alleghany County, North Carolina.  Farmers never had much petty cash, so I try to think about how she would have been able to buy the supplies as a teenager to produce this quilt.  It is 63 by 72 inches.  Most of the colors are brown and dark blue.  The backing is a plaid of gray/brown.  The squares are about 8 inches wide with sashes between the squares 1.75 inches wide.  The posts are dark bright red.  Each square has diagonal, parallel, strips of varying widths.  There are prints, plaids, and solid colors.  The quilting is fairly long stitches of black thread in parallel arcs like a rainbow.

     I look at the individual patterns of fabric and wonder if her dad had once worn that shirt that she salvaged.  Perhaps in a few years I could extract DNA from the pieces that had been worn by members of the family.  What a treat that would be.

     It is, of course, all handmade.  Even if sewing machines were sold near them, they wouldn’t have been able to afford one.  The cotton batting is thin — it wouldn’t have been much help on a very cold night in that cabin.  I feel the thickness and realize that she didn’t have enough batting to go all the way to the edge.  The quilting on the back is very uniform, so she probably made it all by herself.

     The border is 3 inches wide, made of dark blue cloth with white random polka dots every half inch.  I imagine she bought that at the store along with the backing.

     I wish I had asked her more about the quilt.  How long did it take?  Did you use it when you got married?  Did you use barter — maybe a few chickens — to buy the fabric.  Did you have a frame to hold it taut?

     I hope I said Thank You.  I hope she knew and still knows that I appreciate her sharing such a labor of love.  It’s getting a little worn in spots, but so am I.  Thanks, Mary, for giving me this quilt and all your encouragement and help through the years.