Back to School

It is that time. . . .  Back to school for teachers and for students. Officially, I start Monday. Unofficially, I’ve been working on school stuff all summer long. I’ve spent a few days working with my yearbook staff making plans for this year’s book. I’ve been reading, and reading, and reading, and researching. Now, I have to put it all together. I have immersed myself in teaching literature, not reading, not literacy, but LITERATURE. I completed the Advanced Placement Literature and Composition Institute this summer.

I’m not ready.

I’m getting the butterflies in the stomach.

I’m asking myself, “What the heck do you think you’re doing going back to secondary education at your age? You should be retiring!”

Well, the answer to the question is that I really, really enjoy my job. I love the little school where I teach. I am comfortable there even though I get nervous at the beginning of the school year. It’s the introvert in me. But come August 15, the first day with students, I will be ready, and I will put on my “learned extrovert” shirt, and get out there and put myself out there.

So, what did I read this summer? Well there was the required summer reading:

Jane Yolen’s Mapping the Bones, the story of twins Chaim and Gittle who try to escape a ghetto in Poland with the Polish resistance but end up captured. They attract the attention of one of Mengele’s doctors when Gittle contracts typhoid

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, the story of a little girl who is placed in foster care and who steals books as seen through the eyes of Death.

Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, the story of her family’s participation in the resistance movement to save Jewish lives and her imprisonment in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

There is a theme there, can’t you tell? The upper school is going to Washington in September, and one of the places they will tour is the Holocaust Museum. I want my students to be fully away of what they will experience when they enter that place. I know, there are other places of equal importance throughout that city, but for me, this place is especially hallowed ground.

I’ve also re-read Wuthering Heights and The Picture of Dorian Gray. I had forgotten how creepy Dorian Gray could be! I had also forgotten about some of the darker themes in that book.

And I’ve done a ton of professional reading, 180 Days, A Novel Approach, Whole Novels for the Whole Class, Write Beside Them, among others.

For fun, I’ve read several Regency romances—formula stories, really, but light, easy to read and finish in a day or two. I’ve also been reading Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder series. Kate is the Chief of Police in Painter’s Mill, Ohio, which has a fairly large Amish population. It’s one thing to be the first female Chief of Police in this small rural town, but she is formerly Amish herself. It is her knowledge of the Amish ways that helps her solve the crimes that come her way. These books are seriously researched. They will keep you turning the page until the very end.

Tomorrow afternoon, I meet students and some parents to give out textbooks. School is starting.

Family writing

There’s a First Time for Everything

On Monday, my mother called me to ask if I wanted to ride down to Bennett’s Point with her. She wanted to check on the place down there and cut the grass. She hadn’t been in a month or so and wasn’t sure my brother had been recently. After I rearranged some plans for Wednesday, I told her I’d go. As usual, I packed the necessities, including my camera gear. My gear IS a necessity!

We arrived at our destination only to discover that water was standing in the front yard and the back  yard. There would be no grass-cutting Tuesday afternoon!

We did go “sightseeing” Wednesday afternoon. We took Highway 17 toward Beaufort, drove through town on Carteret Street, crossed the drawbridge to Lady Island, circled around through Port Royal and headed back toward “home.” The camera was in the back seat the whole time.

This may be the first time I made the trip to Bennett’s Point without taking the camera out of the bag. There are NO pictures of the trip.

There are memories.

My mother is 83 years old. She is still in excellent health. SHE did the driving!

We talked. We remembered Daddy, who passed away three years ago this coming August.

We “solved” the problems of the world.

These latter things are not unusual. Because we lived way out in the sticks, I did not have a clutch of friends my age to hang out with. It was just me, my sister (who is eleven months my junior), and my brother (five years younger), and my parents and my granddaddy on my father’s side. Daddy worked out of town on construction sites for the M. B. Kahn construction company out of Columbia, so we spent our time with him on Saturdays and Sundays. Saturdays were “farm” days—working with him in the garden or the hay field. Gosh, I’ve hauled enough square hay bales to fill several barns! On Sunday, after church, we played, usually riding the horses all over Richland and Newberry Counties where Daddy owned land. Those rides often took us past the Counts place, and we would have to stop and visit with Mr. Pid, Ernest, and Willie Counts. Mr. Pid was elderly, and it delighted him for Floyd and his young’uns to ride up to see him. But Mama was more than a parent; she was also our friend and our confidante.  I never understood those girls I met in college who proclaimed loudly (usually after long, heated phone calls on the pay phone in the dorm hallway) that they hated their mother. Seriously?

Mama is still my friend and my confidante. She is my rock.

So, even though I did not get any pictures of this trip, no physical record of the road trip, I have the memories. Perhaps we’ll get another chance to go back together, just the two of us, and do more sightseeing and rambling to see what this glorious state of South Carolina is all about. And maybe there will be a second trip with no photographs. That’s okay. There are memories. There are precious times.

There will be no regrets.

Family Word of the Year

The Third Quarter Has Begun

I realized I have not written since June.  So much has happened since my last post, namely I am leaving my part-time teaching position to take  full-time teaching job in a local private school beginning in two weeks.

This is the year of living daringly, of taking chances, of stepping into new possibilities.

Moving back into secondary education is definitely something I had not expected to do, though the possibility has always been there. And now that I think about it, I am ready to take this dare.  It will certainly be a challenge with six preps, including two things I’ve never done before professionally: teaching World History and advising the school yearbook/Desktop Publishing class.  I said the head of school (aka headmaster) suckered me into the latter assignment.  But seriously, I would not have accepted it if I had not wanted to give it a try.

Going from teaching four days a week to five, teaching for four weeks with a month off between mods, will certainly take some getting used to!  I will have to figure out ways to keep up with my creative pursuits and my photography in different ways.  I will also have to figure out new ways to work in practice time at the piano.  Jack’s wedding will be here before you know it!

I hadn’t given the word of the year much thought in the last couple of months, but somehow, I think the dare was working in the background. I realize that I have been out of the secondary classroom for six years.  I will have to re-evaluate what I have been doing for the last few years at Remington.  I will have to re-learn how to relate to teenagers and preteens (I will have that one class of squirrelly seventh graders! In a way, I am looking forward to teaching those middle-schoolers!) And I will have to give myself the pep talk almost daily that I can teach World History.  (It’s just another form of ELA, right?  Reading, thinking critically, analyzing, synthesizing. . . . )

And so, a new school year begins. . . . .

Besides, this new teaching job gives me an excuse to shop the school supplies and office supplies and find really neat stuff to use!

Family Photo Projects

Words on Wednesday

I struggle with “branding.” I struggle with naming things. I took the easy way out when I had a photography business. I just used my first and middle given names, partly as tributes to my two grandmothers for whom I am named. Mama and Daddy gave me my grandmothers’ middle names.

Then I had to name my blog. And I thought and thought. I ended up with Telling Stories because I believe that our stories need to be told—the good ones, the bad ones, the funny ones, the embarrassing ones, and even the tragic ones. We have to tell our stories.

I use words and images.

Whether it’s because I am in the last year of my fiftieth decade (next year I will be sixty), or whether it’s because people I always believed would be around forever are passing away, or what, I am thinking about stories. Every so often I purchase one month of to dig more into my family’s history. I have discovered through the stories my parents have told me, and my grandparents, that I have great-great-great-great-etc.-grandparents and –uncles who fought in the American Revolution, the War between the States (aka the War of Northern Aggression), and every war through the Vietnam war. My father is a World War II veteran who was drafted near the end of the war and trained to serve in the Pacific theater. However, a week before he graduated boot camp the Japanese surrenders, and his ordered changed. He was sent to serve in occupation Germany with the peace-keeping forces. My mother’s younger brothers were drafted during the Vietnam era, but neither of them went to Vietnam. Uncle Lee served in Spain.

While I was poking around in Sunday night, I found the family tree that my first cousin is putting together. I asked if I could access her tree, and she graciously invited me in. She had uploaded the most wonderful picture of my maternal grandmother.

Gramma Wessinger when she was really young!

Grandma, Georgia Olivia Helmley Wessinger, was born in Rincon, Georgia, the thirteenth of thirteen children. She had nephews older than she was! (Can you imagine that in happening in 2017?) She learned to make tatting when she was six years old from the school teacher who boarded with her family. Grandma tatted until she could not longer see the fine thread and knots she made with her shuttle. Her work was gorgeous! Absolutely beautiful! When I was growing up, my sister, and later my brother, and I would spend a week with Gramma and Granddaddy. During those summer weeks, I don’t think I ever saw her wear anything but cotton print shirtwaist dresses, even when she went out to work in the garden in the mornings. And she never wore blue jeans! My other grandmother wore long pants and pedal pushers when she worked out in the yard, just like my mama. But never Granma!

So, who is that pretty young lady in the picture? That is my grandmother when she was single, living in Rincon, in the 1920’s. One of the stories told about her is that she drove the car for her pastor because both he and his wife were elderly. One day, he wanted to take his brothers and sisters to Tybee Beach in Savannah. His nephew had driven his aunts and uncles to visit their brother. When it came time to go to Tybee, the pastor, as was his habit, asked Georgia to drive one of the cars as there were too many to fit in one vehicle. Well, Frank Wessinger was one put-out young man. He fussed about his uncle inviting “that old girl” to drive!

In January 1930, Georgia Olivia Helmley became Mrs. James Franklin Wessinger. Frank married “that old girl,” and they lived happily for almost fifty-one years. Granddaddy passed away in January 1981, a few days before their fifty-first anniversary. Those fifty years were not without sadness. They lost their second child, a boy named Henry, who had been born with hydrocephalus. Granddaddy was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1979. He was in remission when he died.

I wish now that I knew more stories about the young Georgia.

This is why it is so important to tell the stories. I hope that you will discover the stories of your family. You might find an unexpected flapper in your family!


The Curse Has Ended—Thankful Thursday

I am an Atlanta Braves fan. I love Braves baseball, and I don’t mind that they finished near the bottom this year. “There’s always next year!”

Now I am also a Chicago Cubs fan. You see, I know one of their relief pitchers, Carl Edwards, Jr. He was the pitcher on the Dixie Youth baseball team that CJ pitched for when those boys were in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. He was special then; he’s special now!

Chicago Cubs' Carl Edwards celebrates after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3.

This is NOT my picture, though I wish it were! That joy you see in his face? That’s the joy I saw when I watched him pitch as a youngster. I just finished reading an article about CJ. He wants to use some of his major league salary to buy tickets for the Dixie Youth baseball teams to come to a professional game and to stand with him on the field during pre-game. He wants to build a Dixie Youth complex here in Prosperity for the little boys in the community. This young man is something special. Let’s go, Cubs!

Besides celebrating the Cubs’ World Series win, I have so much for which to be thankful:

  • John continues to recuperate and heal from those nasty kidney stones last week.
  • Aaron has a wonderful fiancée who is so family-oriented; she is, in part, responsible for restoring Aaron to his family.
  • My family gathered Tuesday night for an impromptu fish fry/Beaufort stew supper. Two of Mama’s neighbors came as well. Ms. Eleanor and Mr. Jack are like family. Mr. Jack’s wife passed away just a couple of weeks ago from Alheimer’s disease; Ms. Eleanor’s husband has been gone three years or so. You might think it was a sad affair Tuesday, but it was joy filled and so much fun!
  • My niece, my brother’s child, Georgia, may be a “beauty queen,” but Georgia has a generous heart. Last night, she hosted a Sonic night to raise money to find a cure for JM on behalf of a little girl whom she met during the summer. Elle has this auto-immune disease, for which there is no cure. Her white blood cells are attacking her body. Georgie, dressed in typical teen-age style last night—blue jeans, t-shirt, and her Miss Elite Teen sash—greeted customers with her beautiful smile.

This practice of making “gratitude lists” gets easier over time because the more I think about the gifts I have been given daily, the more I see them.

Family ReFrame

Given as an Inheritance

Yesterday, I went to the drug store in Peak to receive a copy of the deed of distribution for my “inheritance” from Daddy and to sign some of the final papers for Mama to settle Daddy’s estate. It was in many ways a sad day for me.

I thought about the nearly 29 acres that I inherited. We called that tract of land the red field and the white oak. I grew up in those fields. As a child, I spent many weekends or late afternoons with Daddy while he plowed and planted and harvested those fields. With my sister and brother, we helped Daddy load and haul those 75 pound square bales of golden and scratchy hay that would feed the cows and horses for the winter. When I was older, I took Mama’s place on the combine, tying those heavy and equally scratchy bags of golden oats and pushing them down the chute so someone could drive behind and pick them up. Later, Daddy would take them to the mill to grind and mix with the corn and supplements he would buy from the feed-and-seed store to feed the hogs, cows, and horses throughout the year. As I child, when I was too little to work in the fields, I would play along the edges of the field, picking the blue bachelor buttons that grew wild along the edges of the field or making Maypop animals for my farm or zoo. When I could drive, I would take mason jars of ice water to Daddy.

When I was a child, the road by the field was a “red dirt road,” to borrow from the Brooks and Dunn song. It was crooked and hilly and crossed a shallow creek at “Chick’s Place.” Rain would wash gullies and ruts, and we had to be careful when we drove the road after a big rain. It didn’t take much to slide into a ditch and get stuck!

Vernon and Shirley still live on their family land up the hill and around the curve from the White Oak field. Not far from them lived Willie and Ernest and their father Mr. Pidd. They were the characters of the area, well-known throughout the area. You didn’t even have to say their last name for people to know exactly who you were talking about! Mr. Pidd was “ancient” when I was a little girl. He sat on the front porch of the family home, a rickety old house with weathered wood siding and a rusted tin roof. I seriously doubt they ever put in indoor plumbing or had running water in that house. I know they had electricity because some neighbors gave them a refrigerator in the 1970’s. Until then, they probably used the old-fashioned ice box to keep their perishables. Chickens roamed their yard along with a few dogs and probably some cats. According to his sons, Mr. Pidd watched the road on Sunday afternoons for Floyd and his chaps to ride by on our horses. If he were outside on the porch, we would have to stop and visit. I can’t imagine living in the primitive conditions. Willie and Ernest wore denim overalls everywhere, even to church. They put on ties and dress shirts and jackets. They were known for driving their mule-drawn wagon everywhere, and were fixtures in the Little Mountain Reunion parades until the mules were too old. All three men are gone.

Receiving this land reminds me that so many of the men and women of Daddy’s generation are gone. Dr. Joe and Ms. Imogene are still with us. There is a new generation taking over in the community of Peak.

In the next few weeks, I want to take my camera and begin documenting this place where I grew up, to preserve as much of it as I can. I want to keep this as family land, to pass on to my sons the heritage. I need to tell them the stories of working in the fields, and pass on to them the idea of stewardship of the land that Daddy passed to me.


Changing of the Guard

When my boys were in fifth grade, I chaperoned their Washington, D.C. trips. ON each trip, one of the highlights was going to Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a solemn event each time, one that caused chills to run down my spine. Of course, those fifth graders had been well-prepared for the event. Their teachers had taught them to be respectful during these long minutes of watching the soldiers march slowly, solemnly, dignified before the tomb. It brought tears to my eyes each time I witnessed that ceremony.


(Photo credit:

On Monday, I witnessed another “changing of the guard.” It was not a formal ceremony; it was a quiet passing of “duty” from one person to the next. For years, the Peak Recreation Association has sponsored community barbeques on the Fourth of July and at Labor Day. Everyone is invited. Dr. Joe has done the welcome for so many years; I cannot recall a time when he did not.

Until July 4, 2016. Doctor Joe handed the duty to a younger man, the new president of the Peak Recreation Association. It was one of those solemn moments for me. The “old guard” is passing, and a new one is replacing it. In the past year, my father, Ms. Anne Shealy, and Mr. Lewis have all passed away. Daddy was eighty-eight years old; Mr. Lewis was eighty-one. Of the “old guard,” only Dr. Joe is left, and he, too, is in his eighties.


(One of the last photos I took of Daddy before he passed away in August 2015. This image was made in May in the community center at a family reunion.)

This old guard loved their community. Daddy was a life-long resident of the Peak community. In fact, the old school building where we gather for these meals, is the same building where Daddy started school—one of those old one-room school houses where multi-age classes were the norm rather than a fad. When the Peak School was closed, the building did not fall into disrepair but became the community center. These men, Mr. George, Mr. Cease, Mr. Neil, Daddy, Dr. Joe, Mr. Lewis—all of them took pride in their home, and the community center and recreation commission have thrived and flourished.

When Stanley stood up and gave the welcome, he paid tribute to that old guard. He also made sure that we knew that Peak is left in good hands with the “new guard: Stanley, Elaine, David, James, and others will continue to make sure that this little town and community will survive.

The Old Guard has passed their duties to the new.