Thursday, May 28, 2009

Meeting "Sassy Pat"

A little less than a year ago, I became acquainted with Pat Richards. While visiting in the Adirondacks, she had read an article about the Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat, and emailed to congratulate me on having been awarded a 2008 Poets and Writers grant to help fund it. We exchanged more emails and struck up a friendship as we talked about our respective writing projects. She was on the brink of debuting her memoir, "Sassy Pat Knitting" at Autumn Leaves Book Fair, hosted by "The Chronicle" in Glens Falls. I was unable to attend the book fair, and missed meeting Pat, but we continued to correspond. I learned that her book had been inspired by none other than her mother-in-law, Thurman native M. Frances Ingraham Richards, who, like Pat, was an avid knitter, and who disciplined herself to faithfully journal about her knitting. Pat offered to read from that journal at a meeting of the John Thurman Historical Society, and a plan was made for her to do that on June 2nd. That's this coming Tuesday! I'll finally get to meet my friend, and I know that all who attend will enjoy hearing bits of Frances' journal. I hope we'll get Pat to read from her own writing, "Sassy Pat Knitting," as well.

See you soon, Pat!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Joan Burnette Harrell - A light that continues to shine

Sometimes you meet someone and feel an immediate affinity. There's a warmth, a sparkle, a feeling of shared interests and values that slides that person into your circle of favorites as deftly as a shoehorn easing a heel into an oxford.

That's the way I felt the first time I met Joan Harrell, with her soft Georgia accent, telling stories about growing up dirt poor in rural Georgia. She told me about her mother, a World War I war bride from France who left her home country to live with her husband's kin on a Georgia hill farm where she was seen as an odd foreigner, unable to speak the language.

Joan was writing a memoir, telling of that brave French mother, of a hardworking farmer father, of struggling to survive in hard times. The book would continue with Joan's own life story--marriage at age fifteen and divorce after three children, of living alone and struggling to feed those three mouths. She told of falling in love again, but still with financial burdens impeding. Love found a way, and in 1950, Joe, the man of her dreams, came to her door and said simply, "Hello, Beautiful."

Their marriage was to last over fifty years and produce four more children. Happiness, heartbreak and hard times ensued, but Joan shone through it all. After her children were grown and settled and her husband had died, she searched for something new to help fill her life. She decided to dedicate herself to turning years of journals and dreaming about writing into the creation of a book.

That's how we met--at a writers' retreat, where she was polishing her fascinating tale. Her stories told of sitting on the back porch of the family farm, listening to her mother's stories about France, of her mother's yearning remark, "I wish I could build a bridge to France." That became the inspiration for Joan's title - "A Bridge to France."

At the end of the retreat, Joan said, "I'll be back next year, if the good Lord's willing." We all laughed.

We weren't laughing this spring when we learned that Joan had been diagnosed with an aggressive, terminal brain tumor. She chose to fill her final weeks, not with medical appointments, chemotherapy and radiation, but with short trips with her adult children, visits with friends and grand- and great-grandkids, laughing about old times and poring over family photo albums.

Three friends from the retreat volunteered to try to get the book into print before Joan died, so she could realize her lifelong dream of publication. Her daughters emailed us the manuscript and we edited and proofed and swapped ideas back and forth with huge help from the daughters. Before Joan died she was able to hold a formatted manuscript in her hands and hear the final two chapters read aloud by her children. She knew, finally, that her book would be finished. Perhaps more important, she knew that her children would share in her project and take it to completion.

This sad story has unparalleled beauty. I felt honored to have been a part of Joan's heroic journey, supported by her children. I was so touched by the care and love they showed her.

Joan was a beautiful light in this world for all her years, and in my life for just over two and a half years. In my mind I still hear her melodious voice relating tales, and I feel transported to that back porch. I laugh when I remember her bringing field peas to the St. George Island Writers' Retreat last fall, and my reluctance at having to admit that, Yankee that I am, I'd never tasted them and didn't know how to cook them. That was okay, I quickly understood. Joan had taken joy in picking and freezing them the previous summer and would gladly prepare them for the group. Mmmmmm. They were SO good. I loved sharing time, stories and field peas with her.

I think about her life, from which she exited so graciously. I think about her remark, "I'll be back next year, if the good Lord's willing." And I wonder about what her life has become. Is Joe there? Perhaps he'll say, once again, "Hello, Beautiful." It seems only fair.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thurman Townwide Sale - Recycling at Its Best

Today marked the start of the long-awaited Thurman Townwide Sale, an annual opportunity for Thurman folks to empty out attics, basements and barns, and for shoppers to find a lot of great deals on things they want or need. Many volunteers pulled together to make this event come together, and now the preparations are complete.

I had agreed to help out a sick friend at her yard sale, and at the last minute decided to set out a few of my own things as well. Hooray! Tonight there are half a dozen things that won't be cluttering up my barn any more, as well as one of my novels that is on it's way to someone's bookshelf. That feels great.

Better than that, though, is the fun of having shoppers come around, stopping to visit, exchange banter and share history. We had a really enjoyable day today, and I look forward to getting back out there again tomorrow and Sunday, and perhaps snapping a few pictures to help me remember the weekend. Maybe you can come, too. Check it out at We're just north and west of Lake George Village.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Keeping an Eye on the Star

In the midst of the small-town bustle that is life in our mountain town of Thurman, I sometimes have to stop, take a deep breath and reorient myself. The busy-ness can be all-consuming, and, like a hiker forging a path through woods and around lakes, swamps and mountains, I have to stop and let my eyes linger on the bright stars that define the route to the desired end point.

One of the gleaming beacons was has always been my interactions with other writers, that shared energy I get from reading with them, discussing (and/or commiserating with them about) plot problems, voice, point of view and so on. This past Thursday was a wonderful day to get my bearings, as I met with a small writers' group that has been congregating around the southern Adirondacks for the past few months. Thanks for helping to point the way, friends!

Another bright spot this summer will be the Adirondack Mountain Writers' Retreat that I host in late August, when Irene Sherlock will lead a small group of writers in a four-day workshop at Beaver Meadow Lodge. I love the retreats--the energy they generate and the renewed focus I feel. Today seemed an appropriate time to mention it here, as one retreat registration is now being auctioned off at The price is very attractive this morning - $145. One day and fifteen hours remain before the end of the auction. If you are interested, it looks as though placing the winning bid could save you a good deal of money, but you shouldn't delay much longer. See details of the retreat at my site,, and see auction details at:

This chilly Adirondack morning I wish all my writer friends the chance to think about that which will renew their focus, refresh their energy and send them back on the trail toward their respective goals. I'll be sitting quietly by the woodstove with my laptop, doing just that. And perhaps I'll write, too....