Autumn in the Mountains

dsc_2541Fall is a great time of year–and not just because my birthday (pardon the pun)  falls on one of the first days of autumn.

While those fallen leaves are a nuisance for people who have trees in their yard–worse still, when the leaves come from neighbors’ trees–and have to rake them, there’s no question of the beauty of their colors. And nowhere is that more apparent than in the mountains of North Carolina.

But “Autumn in the Mountains” has a second meaning in North Carolina. One that’s special for me and a number of other people. It’s a retreat for Christian novelists.

novelist-retreat-2016

I just got home a couple of days ago, and I’m still glowing. We had great speakers and teachers; Steven James blew everyone away, as he always does. We had the chance to talk personally with some of our favorite authors–like DiAnn Mills. We also watched a great new movie, Heaven Bound that was co-written, co-produced, and co-starring our favorite funny faculty member, Torry Martin. That movie hasn’t even been released yet.

Colorful autumn leaves.

And we began each session with uplifting worship. Whether through music led by Janet Roller or a devotional by Debbie Presnell, we couldn’t help feeling we’d spent time with the Lord.

More autumn leaves.

And let me not fail to mention the wonderful fellowship among the conferees themselves. Although we had a lot of new ones this year, this is always a great place to reconnect with friends from all over the country. One thing non-Christians might find hard to believe is the way Christian authors support one another, even though in theory we’re competitors.

Those folks were among the most colorful of those autumn leaves.

Oh, and the food was pretty good, too, even though my gall bladder, which comes out this week, kept me from going whole-hog the way I usually do at these conferences.

Because this conference is limited to fifty attendees, it’s a very intimate time. Unlike its “big sister,” the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, in May, everything except meals takes place in Mountain Laurel, a small hotel with meeting rooms and a cozy auditorium. I can’t exaggerate what this conference has done to rejuvenate my enthusiasm for writing.

But you know what?

I couldn’t ignore the other kind of Autumn in the Mountains while I was there. The kind with all types of literal colorful leaves. I took several walks in the Prayer Garden and on the Nature Trail, where the fallen leaves were so thick it was hard to tell exactly where the trail was at times.

dsc_2382     dsc_2380     dsc_2384

Autumn is one of God’s most special creations. Especially in the mountains of North Carolina.

What about you? Do you like fall or is the approach of colder weather unappealing? Or does raking those leaves detract from your enjoyment of their beauty? How about leaving (leafing?) a comment?

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Advertisements

Memories of my Maternal Grandparents

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may be surprised at the subject of today’s post. Especially if you recall that I don’t remember a lot of things from my childhood. My theory about forgotten memories is that the encephalitis that almost killed me at age fifteen probably did a number on the part of the brain that housed memories prior to my near-fatal illness.

But for some reason–totally unknown–I’ve been having random thoughts the past few days about my maternal grandparents. And memories I’m certain haven’t come to mind in years.

My mother was a Williford. She grew up in a tiny town in North Carolina, Aulander, the only daughter of Bob and Virgie. Miss Virgie was a home maker, the most common thing for a woman to be in those days. She also wrote poetry, however, some of which was published in the local newspaper.

Captain Bob–I’ll probably never know why people referred to him that way–worked at a brick mill for a number of years. I believe he retired because of an on-the-job injury that affected the use of one hand.

The Williford family lived in what to a small child seemed like a pretty good sized house with a wrap-around front porch and a huge magnolia tree out front that was perfect for throwing darts and pocket knives at. The living room had a space heater that–at times–seemed to take up half the room. But it was the only heat in the house.

I sometimes had to sleep in an upstairs bedroom. On a good night, I got to use the one directly over the living room, which had a vent in the floor that let heat rise from the room below–until time came to cut it off for the night.

The refrigerator was on the screened in back porch. I couldn’t tell you what else was there, but it was a lengthy porch that was parallel to the kitchen on one side and the bathroom on the other. But, like the rest of the house, it seemed pretty old.

The kitchen had a wood stove. We ate in the dining room, which was adjacent to the kitchen. I have vague memories of fried chicken that was wonderful, corn bread I wasn’t especially fond of, and chocolate cake I could never get enough of. Strangely enough, one of my dining room memories is of a cloth being laid over the table after the mid-day meal to keep the flies off the food rather than the leftovers being refrigerated.

Captain Bob also did some farming. In the backyard was a smokehouse, although I don’t recall seeing any meat hanging there. The backyard also had a small fenced in area. For dogs or children? I never knew. There were a number of stray cats around, but I never saw any dogs.

A long dirt lane ran beside the house from the main road all the way past whatever crops Captain Bob was growing. How many times did I walk that often muddy lane to the very end to watch him slop the hogs? Perhaps not an appealing thought to me as an adult, but it was fascinating as a child.

My mother had brothers. I can’t recall now how many. At last count, all but one of them had died. Captain Bob was a smoker, and I believe all of the boys did, too. All except for one. My mother never smoked. But the second-hand smoke she was exposed to during her growing up years led to emphysema and other heart-related illnesses.

And how could I ever forget Miss Minnie? She lived in a little shack on the Williford property and helped with the cooking and cleaning. She was undoubtedly considered a maid in the old fashioned sense of the word. A wonderful black lady the whole family loved and depended on.

By the time Miss Virgie and Captain Bob died, I was no longer very close to them. In fact, I was not taken to North Carolina for their funerals. Sometimes I regret that. Not so much missing the funerals, but the fact of not so much missing them.

That’s about all I remember, but I’m thankful that those things have come to mind. Sometimes my lack of memories about the past, the kind of things everyone else remembers in detail, almost makes me feel that I have no past. Too often my past begins with my encephalitis.

Thank You, Lord, for bringing these things to mind. And for reminding me that my present and my future are–like my past–in Your hands.

Do you have anything to say about memories in general, about your past, or about specific things you recall better than you do others? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Biltmore: America’s Largest House

IMG_20151023_090815762

 

IMG_20151023_093113375_HDR

 

IMG_20151023_105944519

IMG_20151023_110028380

NOTE: I’ve been having problems lately getting thumbnail pictures in WordPress to line up properly straight across the page. So please tolerate the stair-step effect of these four.)

I hadn’t visited the Biltmore Estate of George Vanderbilt since the latter 1960s, but since my wife and I were going to be at a novelist retreat in western North Carolina just twenty miles away and she’d heard so much about it–author Deeanne Gist, it’s all your fault!–we worked it into our schedule. In fact, we stayed an extra day to do it.

Our visit impressed, but didn’t thrill me. I doubt I could ever get used such opulence. Good thing, huh? I don’t expect to ever have to face that problem.

But, seriously, for someone like me who enjoys his 1200 square feet of mobile home space, Biltmore’s 178,926 square feet of floor space is a tad hard to comprehend–even after touring it.

I’m sure the Vanderbilts had lots of visitors. The house has enough bedrooms to house the least favorite in-laws where the family would never have to see them. Nothing was said about having to use  homing pigeons to communicate between different sections of the house. How did they manage it?

Mr. Vanderbilt’s library is impressive, but it contains only expensive-looking hardback books, a number of first editions, I feel certain. Am I jealous simply because I can only afford paperbacks–or Kindle downloads?

And my! I didn’t keep track, so I can’t claim for certainty that every room had at least one ornately decorated Christmas tree. A number of them did, though.

I was glad we could wander along the self-guided tour of the house at our own speed. But when we finished in ninety minutes, it was hard not to ask, “Is that all?” Not that there wasn’t a lot to see, but that much elegance tended to run together after the first couple of rooms. The servants’ quarters were more our speed.

By buying our tickets online a week before our visit, we got them for a mere $50 each. I realize that maintaining the house and grounds must cost a fortune, but still…that price should’ve covered at least one meal. And it should’ve entitled visitors to take pictures inside the house and not just outside. I used my phone for the pictures at the top of the page.

We weren’t there at the best time of year for the gardens, but we did see some beautiful mums and roses. The conservatory had a better assortment of houseplants than any commercial greenhouse I’ve been to in recent years.

Regardless of my lack of enthusiasm, I don’t regret our visit to Biltmore. As a friend pointed out, yes, the price is steep, but it’s something everyone should do at least once. My only regret is doing it twice in my lifetime. But to please my wife, I’m still glad we went–and got it over with. A guy has to be really nice to a woman who not only tolerates, but actually enjoys visiting guitar factories.

What do you think? Have you ever gone to see something that should’ve impressed you, but failed to? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger