Wednesday, October 31, 2012

19 years ago today, it was a dark and spooky afternoon . . .

Photo of Buttrick Hall, Agnes Scott College from:
For the most part, I think Halloween is just a big retail marketing scam.  “Hey!  Let’s all go out and buy a bunch of cheap, tacky, plastic junk that will give children nightmares and decorate our houses with it!”  Sheer Made-in-China madness.

But because it’s October 31, I will share a little “ghost story” that actually happened to me.  I was a student at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA from 1990-1994.  There are legends of several ghosts all over campus.  Too numerous to count, the sightings and experiences of students through the ages have been verbally passed down. 

The Dana Fine Arts Building is allegedly a paranormal hot-spot.  When Drama students are having practice in the theater sometimes at night, there is a person who appears in the balcony and watches the practice, then vanishes.  But the other “Dana Ghost” inhabits the ground floor, specifically the Ceramics Studio.  The story goes that a woman with very long hair was running the big clay mixer one night in the 1970’s.  Her hair got caught in the clay mixer, and you know the rest.

Being young, unbelieving in such nonsense, and unafraid of anything in general, I went to the Ceramics Studio to work on a project at about 10pm one night.  I was definitely the only person occupying the ground floor, and I heard some shuffling and walking from the area beyond and around the clay mixer.  I said hello a few times, and no one answered.  I didn’t stay long.

Another time, I was occupying a carrel in the lonely, quiet fifth floor of the library.  It worked great for take-home tests or really buckling down at exam-time.  The stacks had motion-sensor lights.  It was dark unless someone walked in front of that aisle, then the light would trip on.  One particular night, I was verifiably 100% alone up there.  I heard footsteps and dragging on the institutional tile floor.  The lights in the stacks lit up, one by one, getting closer to me.  I said hello, but no one answered.  The steps and dragging continued, and the lights tripped on consecutively.  I packed up pretty fast and made my way to the elevator.  Along the same path as the noise and the lights, I fled toward the button with the down arrow, and no one – no one – was there.  Strange.  Weird.  I have no explanation.

But on Halloween, 1993, my friend Martha and I had a hilariously haunting experience in her dorm room.  We ordered a pizza and turned on TBS to watch “This House Possessed,” the cheesiest B movie ever (even cheesier than the pizza).  The Amityville knock-off house loved the heroine so much, that it would not allow her to leave.  It killed everyone who came in, until her famous rock star beau came to the rescue at the end.   When the movie was over, I tried to leave Martha’s room.  The doorknob was stuck, and we were trapped.  “I can’t get out,” I told her.  She dismissed me, saying that was funny, but she had to write a research paper in German.  “No . . . I really can’t get out!”  After trying the doorknob for herself, she saw it was no joke.

Public Safety came and tried to get us out, but they had to call someone from Physical Plant who lived an hour away.  At the end of a two-hour ordeal, we were released as he removed the doorknob completely.  To this day, we always remind each other of the hilarious coincidence.  Actually, I don’t believe in coincidences per se, but I do think it was hilarious. 

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Football in the South: When We All Become One Team

Here in the South, we take our college football very seriously.  Actually, that’s an understatement.  Some compare it to a religion.  We get all fired up about our teams, posting on Facebook and trash-talking at the water cooler.  “Love thy neighbor” and Southern Hospitality suddenly take on a diminished meaning when conversing with a fan of the week’s opponent.

But when a player goes down on the field and doesn’t get back up right away, everyone tends to come together.  All that other stuff is put aside for the time being.

On Saturday, South Carolina Gamecock #21 Marcus Lattimore took a nasty hit from one Tennessee Volunteer.  The video has been played everywhere . . . too many times.  Watching that orange Vol helmet knock Marcus’ leg in a direction which it ought not to go is more than lots of folks can bear.  It’s more than I can bear. 

According to Coach Steve Spurrier, Marcus Lattimore is probably the most popular player the Gamecocks have ever had.  This young man is someone you have to love, unless you are jealous of him.  Here is his bio.  He’s squeaky clean – no drugs, no criminal record, no scuffles, no pregnant girlfriend . . . nothing.  He loves God, and he loves his mama.  Holding the USC records for touchdowns and rushing touchdowns, he was headed for the NFL next year . . . before this past Saturday.  He runs like the wind, and the only way to stop him is to injure him.  Even then, sometimes he keeps going.  But not on Saturday.

When he went down, you could see the look on Marcus’ face.  He was probably thinking what everyone else was thinking.  The end of an NFL career before it even begins? 

Trainers rushed to his side, teammates flooded the field to stand near him.  And . . . many of the Tennessee players did the same.  What a show of class and compassion by those Vols who joined their opponents on the field.  Color of jerseys and helmets was disregarded for that moment in time.  Everyone watching became one team.  One team was hoping, praying for the best for this one young man.  One team was watching the anguish on his face, feeling the same anguish he felt.

For every one of the million tears that flowed in that stadium, there were a million more in front of tv sets.  Shoot, I opened up the newspaper on Sunday morning, and my eyes started leaking again.  But here’s the thing:  people weren’t just weeping.  They were praying.  Tens of thousands of people, for a conservative estimate, were praying.  It wasn’t just South Carolina fans, either.  Tennessee fans, Georgia fans, Florida fans, and – yes! – even Clemson fans.  Now that right there just warms my heart.

So what started out as reports of two broken bones and four torn ligaments had become, by Sunday night, a hyperextended knee and a few injured ligaments.  The news arrived with a very positive-sounding statement from Coach Spurrier that Lattimore would be able to play football again.  Is it any wonder, considering the number of people who were praying?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear an even better report later this week.  Maybe it isn’t even as bad as the report on Sunday said it was.  Lattimore told the Ol’ Ball Coach that he would be back.  I know in my heart that he’s right, and it may be sooner than people think.  Miracles happen every day for people who believe God is able.  This exceptional young man has his head and heart in the right place.
#21 will run again.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Wending My Way Through the Internet and Avoiding Krakens

Have you ever been driving somewhere and suddenly turned off of your track on purpose?

As writer, I frequently find myself going "down the rabbit hole," as a friend put it last week.  At the time she said it, I was researching for a new short story.  I got on YouTube (fatal mistake) looking for videos of sharks beaching themselves.  As I kept getting distracted by the exciting titles of other videos that turned out to be *nothing,* I clicked my way right into an hour of "kraken sightings."

I had to laugh at myself.  Ultimately, I'm sure a kraken will show up in one of my stories as a result.

But today was different!  As I was driving around on the internet highway, I saw a great big souvenir shop with the words "FAMILY HISTORY!" in neon lights.  I jerked the car onto the next exit ramp intentionally.  Want to ride with me?  Here's how it happened:

1.  I was checking a link on a government website, because it was included in an article I wrote in January.  When you write articles for the internet, it's a really good idea to update them and make sure your links are still good from time to time.  But instead of this one being about National Hot Tea Month, the page was now some announcement related to hydroelectricity.  Instead of simply updating the link and moving on, I listened to that voice in my head that said, "Oooh!  Something shiny!  Pull over; pull over!"

2.  I thought of my great-grandfather, an engineer, who built the first hydroelectric plant in North America (Canada, specifically), or so I thought.  But right there in black and white, it said that Thomas Edison had built the first such plant in the world, and it was in Appleton, WI around 1880.  That is definitely in North America, too.  And it's definitely 40 years or more before my great-grandfather's project.  All right, I said to myself.  Gotta get my facts straight.  Right now.  Al Gore did not invent the internet, and my great-grandfather didn't build the first hydroelectricity plant in North America.

2.  I Googled my great-grandfather.  I clicked on an article on file in a SC library where a historian had synopsized letters between my great-grandfather and a couple of his brothers.  I learned that one of my grandfather's first cousins was institutionalized in various Sanitariums.  I learned that while my great-grandfather and family lived in Charlotte, the farm house back in SC was rented to a man who had to be turned out.  Reason?  96 broken window panes.  I'm guessing that the man was shooting up the house.  That's just the "fun" stuff.

3.  I decided I needed to send this link, by email, to my cousins.  Their grandfather was quoted in the article, too.

Now I was faced with a decision, though . . . continue meandering and proceed to, or get back to work?  Work, it was.  (Here's the part where I impress myself.) I actually clicked back through every stop I had made along the way, and without getting lost.  What's more, I accomplished my business at each stop.  And, here at the end of the work day, I have actually posted a new article online and managed to get some work done, despite rabbit hole diving!  No kraken sightings today.

So, I found out that what my grandfather's father built was most likely the first hydroelectric plant in Canada, not North America.  (I probably could have just asked my dad, but then it would have been over with in 60 seconds or fewer.)  I learned more intriguing family history.  I made contact with some dear family members.  I proofed old articles and updated them.  I wrote and posted a new article on the internet, and am working on the next one already.  And now, friends, I have also blogged.  It's a good day in this writer's world.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


This past Friday, I set a timer and gave myself an hour to write a story.  It was an experiment.  I did it, and I wasn't displeased with the results.  I did spend a couple of hours yesterday revising it, though, and ended up undoing most of the revisions.  So it's very much like it was when I finished it on Friday.  The 23rd anniversary of Hurricane Hugo just passed, hence the subject matter.


THE FLASHLIGHT FLICKERED.  “No, no. God, please, not now.”  Tonya groaned.  The batteries were brand new, but the cheap plastic light was only working intermittently.  She shook it back to life, but for how long, she didn’t know.  Darkness had overtaken the little wooden house half an hour earlier when the electricity quit.  The wind had been whining since sundown, but now it howled through the cracks around the windows and doors.  Above, the small loft added just a year earlier made new cracks and thumps that the house had never made before.  It was a jackleg job, done with plywood by a cousin.  Tonya still couldn’t believe her grandfather had paid him over a thousand dollars.  It wasn’t much more than a rude attic space.

                “I told you we shoulda left, Grandaddy!”  she shouted.  Hard of hearing, her salt-haired grandfather only grimaced at her.  They’d been told by the people on television to go to the high school gym in the village.

                Earlier in the day, police officers had urged, “Seek shelter now.  When the wind starts, it will be too late.”

                Neighbors had implored, “Come with us, Louis.  This is a big storm.  It’s different.”

“Category five,” Tonya had nodded.

“Never left before.  Ain’t leaving now.” Grandaddy had barked with finality each time, and with a shotgun laid across his lap for punctuation.  All the well-meaning warning wielders made their way back down the oak-lined dirt road with heads shaking.  Grandaddy’s thin frame fit neatly in the rickety wooden chair with the rope seat.  Peeling red paint always stuck to his back when he stood up out of it.  But there he had waited, had stayed, all afternoon.  When the breeze kicked up late in the day, the five sagging porch steps creaked under Grandaddy’s weight as he retreated into the house.

Now drips and streams from the roof turned the oddly-shapen carpet remnant under their feet soggy.  Its cornflower hue looked black in the dark, soaked room.  Tonya raced to and fro with pots and bowls, trying to catch all the leaks until  it became futile.

Grandaddy waved his cane in the air.  “Cut that out and sit down!  It’ll dry out tomorrow,” he hollered.

But when Tonya turned to face him, what she saw through the window behind his head propelled her forward to clutch her grandfather’s arms with her slender, light brown hands.  “Get up!  Get up!  God, help me!  Get up, Gran-”  Even in the blackest night, the white froth on the wall of water rushing them glowed phosphorescent.  The old man moved in slow motion as he turned to look backward and then tried to push himself up.

Adrenals screaming, Tonya pulled her grandfather from his chair and dragged him up the steep, little stairs into the loft.  The surge slammed and rocked the house.  Black water filled the room beneath them as they scrambled all the way up.  The flashlight made one last flash from under the water, then died.

They inched to the wall to lean back.  They grasped each other’s hands, swaying gently with the house during the eye.  Grandaddy gave Tonya a pat on the arm.  Despite his stubbornness in staying, she still trusted his lifetime of knowledge.  At only nineteen, she hadn’t much choice.  A trace of starlight glowed from the windows downstairs.  She checked her grandfather's face for what might come.  His jaw had unclenched.  His eyelids were now halfway down, revealing exhaustion.  He looked at Tonya and answered her with a nod and a sigh.  But the sound of water gently lapping against the steps still gave Tonya a start every few seconds.  She would scramble over to peer down, fearful of the water’s further swelling.  It came no higher than the third step from the top. 

The back end would not be as bad as the first; that much she knew.  So when it began, she willed herself to relax.  The water began to recede downstairs, and she soon stopped looking.  The low roar of the wind lulled them both into a wakeful rest.

                In the first light, Tonya and her grandfather were awakened by distant shouts.  They heard their names and called back.  Then they began their careful descent into the muck-coated living room.