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An Inside Look at Farewell PFC POLK

Posted on January 26, 2016 By In Encouragement , Writing With no comments

Book II from IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE is here!

Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare opens in 1945 with a troubling nightmare on Charles Polk, Jr.’s 9th birthday.

There was that dream again. Buddy sat up in his bed and looked around the room for more pictures like those still fresh on his mind. Black and gray images depicting deep emotions of sorrow, pain, shock and desperation. People he knew: crying, moaning, screaming. There were strangers among them: motionless, speechless, sad. And the hundreds of black flowers on a bed of stars, stripes, and brass buttons made him feel trapped, isolated, helpless, and afraid.

My new novel picks up the story of Charlie and Mable Polk, 35 years after the end of Book I, IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE: Faith Conquers Fear. The flame of love as depicted in the first book was long gone by the time Charles, Jr. hit his senior year in high school.

Aging does more to a married couple than just alter physical appearance. Beyond the visible wrinkles…bulging waistlines, graying hair, and sagging skin are internal changes evidenced by altered personalities, irascible dispositions, and negative attitudes. Romantic closeness and intimacy are replaced by enmity, strife, and distance.

As their love faded, Charlie Jr.’s romantic star was rising, with not just one but three girls longing for his undivided affection. There was Bobbie Jean Beeler, the nurse.

She could have kicked herself for saying something so foolish. “I am so sorry. I should never have said that. It’s just that…I’m crazy about you. See what you do to me? You make me act all stupid. I’m so into you that, even when I’m with Cliff, I pretend it’s you. Look, I’ve said enough, more than enough.”

Roxanne Smitherman, a student from New Bern, NC, nearly captured his heart, until he found out something about her that instantly cooled their relationship. I’m not going to give away what happened but here’s a clue.

About a quarter way through the movie, Roxanne took Buddy’s hand and held it tightly. He was pleased with what he perceived as a demonstration of affection. But at the halfway point, Mrs. Smitherman grabbed his other hand, and as the tension built in the Hitchcock thriller, the hand squeezing intensified.

Then there was Sally Duffy, a pretty waitress from West Point, Virginia that swept him off his feet. The feeling was mutual, well, sort of.

Sally’s icy stare melted. She had that dear-in-the-headlights look. Stunned, motionless, silent. Tears began to stream down her cheeks and then slowly she walked toward him, threw her arms around him and hugged him with all her might. Finally, she allowed her eyes to meet his and then she kissed him, softly at first and then passionately. After a moment, that Buddy believed was pure bliss, she pushed him away. “I’ve got to go,” she said, unable to stop crying. And then she walked away and never looked back.

So, what do you do when you get jilted? I don’t know about you, but Charles answered that question by joining the Marines. He enlisted on the Buddy Program, which meant that he and his best friend from high school, Donnie Turner, went through Boot Camp together.

Donnie glanced at Buddy to see how he was holding up under the pressure, which resulted in an angry drill instructor yelling within an inch of Donnie’s face. “Did I tell you to turn your head?”

“No, sir,” yelled Donnie.

“Will it happen again?”

“No, sir.”

“Was it a stupid thing to do?”

“Yes, sir.”

“So, you’re stupid.”

“No, sir.”

“You’re not stupid?”

“Yes, sir.”

“When I get finished with you, you’re gonna be a genius. Ain’t that right?”

“Yes, sir.” ”

What are you gonna be?”

“A genius, sir.”

“Right now, what are you?”

“Stupid, sir.”

“I can’t hear you.”

“Stupid, sir,” yelled Donnie, louder than before.

Just wanted you to know that there’s more to this story than just tears. It is a very emotional story but there’s plenty of humor interspersed through the narrative.

Two days before his 20th birthday, Charles (aka Buddy) was accidentally killed by his best friend, or at least, according the official Marine Corps report.   But is that what really happened? Does a best friend try to get his pal fired from his job, force himself on his girlfriend, and then lie about the circumstances of his death? Sally didn’t think so and with good reason. Don’t want to give that away either.

Charles Polk

PFC Charles F. Polk

There’s no greater pain for a parent than the loss of a child. The tragedy catapulted his mother into deep depression and caused her to lose the spiritual strength upon which her family had always relied. Her faith failed and she feared she would never get it back.

How do you put your life back together after losing your greatest earthly treasure? Therein lies the reason for the story because there is life after the death of a loved one. You can and you will experience joy and happiness again. Mable Polk’s faith did return with a little help from an unlikely source.

Farewell PFC Polk: The End of a Nightmare is based on a true story. I should know. I was there.

Although I was 7-years-old when he died, my family kept his memory alive and used his life as the standard to which I should aspire. This book is also dedicated to my grandparents, Mable and Charlie Polk, who suffered the unfathomable pain of losing a child. Their climb from the pit of despair taught me that life isn’t always fair and tragedies don’t always have happy endings. But where there is faith there is always hope.

This book is not about a popular subject but it is something that all of us either have dealt with or will face in the future. This is not a counseling book or a how-to guide on how to survive after the death of a loved one. It’s just a story of what can be…when we have faith.


You can get your copy of Farewell PFC POLK in print or eBook formats from most of your favorite online retailers.

Click below to BUY NOW!

Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare


Or… take a big peek before you buy. Download the first two chapters for FREE.


If you like the book then I would really appreciate a review at Amazon.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post. Have an awesome day.


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The Valley of Hope

Posted on January 25, 2016 By In Encouragement , Historical Background With no comments

What inspired a series on the Valley of Hope?  What is it?  Where is it?  Why is it important?

To be clear, the Valley of Hope is a real place but the concept is a state of mind.  The place is the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  It was where early settlers came, many of them immigrants, with hopes and dreams for a better life in a new land.

The Shenandoah Valley of VirginiaI grew up in that beautiful Valley with its rich farmland and breathtaking landscape.  The opening words to America the Beautiful capture the pristine beauty of the countryside.:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

As a child I took it for granted, didn’t seem all that special.  In fact, it was a boring place to live, or so I thought.

Except for a brief stop in Middletown, most of my growing up was in Strasburg.  Mom and dad lived in several different houses there but the place I have always claimed as home was on Capon Street.  That’s where my grandparents lived and the central location for my fondest memories.

Can’t tell you why, maybe it was all the personal tragedies, but as high school graduation drew near I couldn’t wait to get out of there.  My father died when I was eleven, mom remarried and soon after suffered a debilitating stroke, and I was a fat kid who was often picked on.  Can’t believe I just told you that.  Just needed a new start.

Music was my ticket out and off I went, leaving the Valley of dreams to chase my dream.

Trombonist in the Navy Band, radio personality, Southern Baptist pastor, published author, and a wonderful wife and family is what followed.  So, I’m confident that physically leaving the Valley was the right decision.  However, there’s a part of me that remained, like an anchor, firmly holding me in place, keeping me from drifting aimlessly away from my roots.

My heart still lives there, in the Valley of Hope.  Never left.  The seeds for my future were planted there.  They just bore fruit elsewhere.

So, the Valley of Hope is a real place where life happens, good and bad.  Seeds of hope are planted there that blossom into something beautiful and better which is what I want to happen with my books.

No matter how difficult the trials in your life, it is my fervent desire that you will discover hope and inspiration IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE.

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What You Never Knew About Your Family

Posted on October 16, 2015 By In Historical Background , Nostalgia With no comments

My granddaughter often jokes about my advanced age. “Did they have electricity when you were a little boy?” “Were you frightened by the dinosaurs?”

Once in a while I try to tell her about what it was like when I was her age, which by the way, is not so antiquated as she might think. We even had TV, albeit 3 channels with rabbit ears.

I was her age once and surrounded by adults who attempted to fill me in on their past, but just like her, I wasn’t the least bit interested in those ramblings about Aunt So and So and Uncle What’s His Name.

None of that genealogy stuff really meant anything to me until about a year ago.  Come to think of it, I don’t have a clue as to what triggered my interest. Suddenly, I wanted to know more about those people from my past and began to try to piece together what little I remembered about them and the stories they shared.

There were clues in the attic. Old family photos and even some old love letters written by my grandparents.

So, I Googled their names. Nothing on Mable or Charlie Polk, my grandparents. And then, one of those bothersome ads popped up telling me that I could trace my roots and discover my past. Of course, it was going to cost me. So I took the plunge and went to work at

Soon I found documents revealing boatloads of info about my past. Death certificates, birth records, census records, travel manifests, military records, newspaper articles….and a nifty tool for helping me to construct my family tree. As a side note, I have now found 6,204 family members. I’ve traced them back to the Vikings and the Huns. That explains Uncle Willard.

Seriously, let me show you what can be learned from one boring document.

My grandmother, Mable Polk, had a bunch of sisters and a brother. I recalled very little about her siblings. Her sister, Pearl, did snuff. Her brother, Walter, introduced me to my first foot-long hotdog in Winchester. Her sister, Ella, lived in Baltimore where we occasionally visited which is where I discovered tamales sold by a street vendor.

You see, it’s little memories like that upon which you can build your research.  So, my grandmother, the youngest, was born in 1897. Luckily, there was a census conducted in 1900.

Oh, and by the way, I don’t expect that my family info will be interesting to you. My intent here is to show you what can be dug up (pardon the expression) about YOUR family.

1900 Census

First thing I notice is that Ella is missing. Further research indicates that by 1900 she was already married and living elsewhere. Second,  Moses Shown was 9 years older than his wife, Mary. There’s 3-year-old Mable at the bottom of the list. Oh, yeah. Forgot about Aunt Less and Aunt Carrie. Vaguely recall them from my childhood, but there they are and now there is more substance to my faint recall.

Some other gems uncovered in that census:  Moses was the only one in that family who couldn’t read or write and they all spoke English. What’s that? Why would the census be concerned with Americans speaking English? Thought that was just an issue for now. We really are a nation of immigrants.

All the aforementioned folks can be found IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE.

I’ll bet there are some really interesting people in your past. Why don’t you enrich your life’s experience by paying them a visit as a time traveler? Who knows, you might become so inspired by your discoveries that you’ll write a book.

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Truth in Fiction

Posted on October 15, 2015 By In Historical Background , Writing With no comments

Someone asked me recently, “How much is fiction and how much is truth?” Great question which I’ll attempt to answer by revealing some of my research.

It is also important to define the genre, Historical Fiction:  Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past

That definition is a very broad stroke and leaves considerable room for sub-genres like romance, mystery, etc.  Personally, I am drawn to Historical Fiction because I’m old.  Just kidding. I like the genre because it creates mood, feeling, and color.

When writing IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE, I had a very specific geographic region and time period in mind that related to historical characters. The places referenced are very real and for the most part still exist. Most of the dates are accurate although there are some that are speculative and based on my best guestimate. For example: Charlie’s 1918 WWI draft registration is spot on because I found the original registration document. He registered at the Shenandoah County Courthouse in Woodstock, VA.

WWI Draft Registration p.1

WWI Draft Registration p.1

charlie draft p2

WWI Draft Registration p.2

Many of the Wissler family events are linked to accurate dates based on stories uncovered in Woodstock, Virginia’s Shenandoah Herald.  From November 11, 1891, I found the following article concerning the purchase of Strathmore.

Frank Wissler Purchases Strathmore

Frank Wissler Purchases Strathmore

Check out all the valuable info revealed in an account of John Wissler, Jr’s wedding from June 24, 1910.

John Wissler, Jr. Wedding

John Wissler, Jr. Wedding

In one scene in the story, when Charlie’s father, Bill, is belittling him, he references his deceased child, John. That idea was based on a Herald article from June 23, 1905.

Death of Bill Polk's son

Death of Bill Polk’s son

Although I had done considerable ancestry research on my family, I was unaware of my Great, Great, Grandmother Teeny Shown.  Well, actually I had uncovered her name, but did not know that she was called Teeny or that she was somewhat famous.  Until discovering the following article, from February 13, 1909, I only knew that her name was Christina.

Teeny Shown

Teeny Shown

Golden historical nuggets are found by asking lots of questions.  That “who, what, where, when, why, and how” that was drummed into me by a high school English teacher, keeps me busy. Example: What about travel in the Shenandoah Valley of 1910? How would it differ from travel just 10 years later? Surely automobiles began to enter the picture but when and how many and what kind? Horses, horse drawn wagons, horse drawn buggies, mule and buggy, oh yeah, and miles and miles of walking.  Back then, walking was not for exercise, it was a necessary form of transportation.  But wait. The IN mode of transportation was by train.  Check out the following train schedule from 1910 and notice how it linked the towns of the Valley.

Valley Train Schedule

Valley Train Schedule

For me, Historical Fiction is a work in progress. There’s the initial research and then continual research until I hit those coveted words, “The End.”

So, in answer to the original interrogative, “How much is truth and how much is fiction?” Truth is the anchor and used as accurately as possible and fiction is where creative imagination breathes life, emotion, and interest into the story. 50/50? Uh, maybe. Whatever a good story requires.

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A Magical Place Called Orkney

Posted on October 13, 2015 By In Historical Background With no comments

If you travel to Mt. Jackson, VA, which provides much of the setting for IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE, then hang a left (if traveling north) onto Highway 263, you will ultimately arrive in the community of Orkney Springs.  Just keep driving until the road runs out.  Takes just 20 minutes and, I promise, you’re in for quite a surprise.

As you drive along 263, you’ll see a lot of farmland, and cows, and hay.  You get the picture. But then, right there in the middle of what you have decided is nowhere…there stands this impressive grand hotel.  Then you wonder, “How the heck did that get there?”

Orkney Springs Hotel

Orkney Springs Hotel

The Grand Hotel at Orkney is said to be Virginia’s largest wooden structure.  Couldn’t prove it by me but there is definitely a lot of wood. Been around since 1873 and was, once upon a time, a very popular resort, where society’s elite gathered to take advantage of the alleged healing powers of the springs.

I first discovered it in 1964, thanks to my high school band director, who thought it an excellent place for me to advance my musical education.  It was the second year for the Shenandoah Music Festival.

Back then, some of the world’s finest classically trained musicians came to Orkney for a workshop and whatever else happens when musicians get together.

Again in 1965, I returned for lessons from a trombonist with the National Symphony out of DC.  An exciting time, for sure.

I recall sitting in the lobby of the Grand Hotel while watching one of the musicians compose a symphonic piece.  Later, at the annual concert, his stunning work debuted.

Across the road from the Grand Hotel stands a gazebo by a pond, where a French Horn quartet gathered to play in the afternoon.  No audience…they were just there for themselves, but that magnificent sound filled the countryside.

The symphony rehearsed in the upstairs ballroom.  I stood on the wraparound porch, peered through the open windows, and observed professionals at work.  It was an eye opening experience for a kid from a small town, enough to inspire me to pursue a musical career.

In the winter of 1966 I was accepted into the Navy Band.  4 years later, I left the band to pursue a career in radio.

Orkney at night

Orkney at night

Upon coming home I met a beautiful girl named Janet and we started dating.  On a chilly and gray day in the Fall of 1970, I took her to Orkney, and once again there was music, but of a different kind.  No musicians. Just the sound of a gentle breeze rustling through colorful autumn leaves and the hearts of two people beating as one.  In that awesomely romantic setting, Janet and I realized that we were falling in love.  That was 45 years ago, we’re still together, and the music is still playing.

In 1979, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia purchased the old resort to be used as a retreat.  I’m happy to see that the music festival is still alive and well, an annual event, that has featured some pretty impressive talent over the years.

Folks used to believe that there were healing powers in the springs of Orkney.  Can’t tell you for sure if that is true or not.  But it will always have a special place in my heart.

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The Need for Creativity

Posted on October 9, 2015 By In Writing With no comments
Be Creative

Be Creative

Are you a creative person? For you, the world is a blank canvas, in need of your touch to make it a more beautiful or more meaningful place.  In fact, you aren’t really happy unless you are doing something that provides an outlet for your creative imagination.

My quality of life is measured by my freedom to create.  Creativity is as much a part of me as breathing or the rhythm of my heartbeat.

I live in a household where creativity abounds.  My wife is an artist and I am a writer.  Admittedly, my literary pursuits are more self-contained while her creative endeavors often end up on my honey-do list. Case in point, yesterday I was moving light fixtures and painting the ceiling blue, paving the way for her to fashion a mural of clouds.

When we moved into our home three years ago, I was quite satisfied with the way things were.  But to her, everything is a blank canvas, especially the backyard, where there was nothing but grass. Now, that small plot of real estate is blossoming into Monet’s garden, or at least her version of it.

For those who didn’t get the creativity gene, well, they likely think that we are weird or mentally challenged. Do normal people get up at 5 or 6 in the morning to record their imagination on a laptop or lay awake at night thinking up new twists and turns for a plot or character?

Creative people are miserable in 9 to 5 jobs that require doing the same thing the same way every day. That said, most creative people are usually financially challenged and require one of those brick and mortar jobs for survival.  More recently, to supplement my retirement, I tried my hand at customer service.  I marveled at those who said they loved their job. Listening to complaints all day and disseminating one-sided company policies was neither fun nor fulfilling, at least for me.

By the way, customer service is the only real job I ever had. I have been fortunate to earn a living doing what I loved, starting as a musician and then over 40 years as a radio personality. Even those endeavors provided numerous stressful situations.  Creative minds often butt heads.

What you and I enjoy in life (and some of the things we don’t) were imagineered by creative individuals.  Favorite TV shows, movies, songs, performers, etc.  Certainly creativity abounds in all art forms…and benefits us in many ways.  That car you drive to work was designed by a person of creativity, as was your home, your clothing, and furniture.  Even your favorite meal is the result of somebody’s creative imagination.

There exists a higher order of creativity that was ordained by the supreme Creator.  God’s creation is truly amazing as we live here IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that your (our) need to create is a gift from the Father of all creation?  May we use it wisely.

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The Wind Beneath My Wings

Posted on October 3, 2015 By In Writing With no comments

Who is the HERO in your life?  I’m not talking about heroes of the Hollywood or sports variety.  Let’s give thought to those who had the greatest influence on molding you into the person you are today.

Interestingly, if you look up the word, HERO, in your trusty dictionary, you may get a surprise.  Check this out from the Oxford Dictionary.

a priestess of Aphrodite at Sestos on the European shore of the Hellespont, whose lover Leander, a youth of Abydos on the opposite shore, swam the strait nightly to visit her. One stormy night he was drowned, and Hero in grief threw herself into the sea.

Wow. I didn’t know that.  HERO was the name of a mythical person and did nothing heroic.  She took her own life after the drowning of her lover.  Well, that bursts my bubble.  Let’s try again.  Next definition, please:

(1st century), Greek mathematician and inventor; known as Hero of Alexandria. He described a number of hydraulic, pneumatic, and other mechanical devices, including elementary applications of the power of steam

Struck out, again.  Oh, yeah.  A HERO is also a sandwich.  Once more, back to the dictionary:

a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities

Finally.  That’s what I was looking for.  However, forget the gender specific argument.

Me, Mable, & Inky

Me, Mable, & Inky

My primary motivation for writing IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE was to pay tribute to my HERO, in this case, HEROINE.  No, Charlie, is not the HERO in the story.  He is the protagonist.

 The character, Mable, is the HEROINE, and the individual who has had the greatest influence on my life.  My grandmother’s unshakable faith, kindness, generosity, sacrificial love, and moral integrity was my foundation.  She taught me more about right and wrong, life, and how to treat others than anyone.

 A passage of scripture, 1 Cor. 13:7,  comes to mind when thinking about the way she loved me.   It (love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

 In high school when I showed some musical promise she surprised me with a professional trombone that she paid for with money from an envelope in which she kept her “mad money.”  Mind you, she was poor.  It was like the story of the widow’s mite from the Bible, the gist of which is that…she gave all she had.  She loved me…sacrificially.

When I brought Janet home for the first time, my grandmother called me into the kitchen.  “She’s the one,” she said.  “Don’t let that one get away.”

I could go on an on about that great lady, and as I said,  IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE is a tribute to her.  The second book in the series is already in the works and tells the story of when her faith was put to its greatest test.

One more quote here, from the classic Bette Midler song, The Wind Beneath My Wings:

 Did you ever know that you’re my hero,
And everything I would like to be?

So, who is your hero?  Who is The Wind Beneath YOUR Wings?

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Where Do You Call Home

Posted on September 26, 2015 By In Historical Background With no comments

What’s that old saying, “Home is where the heart is?”  I attempted a little research on how many homes the average person lives in…in a lifetime.  Couldn’t find anything concrete.  Some suggested every five to seven years.  Others offered three to five in a lifetime.  So, I’ll go with…it’s just different for all of us.

For the record, I’ve lived in twenty-four homes in my lifetime.  That’s a different place just about every three years.  Most of those moves have been the result of job or career changes.  Oh, did I mention that I hate moving?

How many homes have you lived in over the years?  And…if more than one, which one of those is “where your heart is?”

The Polk House in Strasburg

The Polk House in Strasburg

In my book, IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE, Charlie and Mable made their first home together at Strathmore near Mt. Jackson, Virginia.  That was in 1919.  But, as I have said before, “life happens.”  Ultimately, Charlie Polk left the farming that he loved and, in the 1940s, he and Mable bought a home in Strasburg, Virginia.  It was the only home they ever owned.  Paid $500 for it on installments of $11 per month.  That’s where they lived until they both died in the 1980s.

It was there, at that rickety old house, where I would often spend the night when I was just a pup.  And then “life happened,” again.  Daddy died, mom suffered a stroke, and in the eighth grade, that house on Capon Street became my home.  Lived there until joining the Navy out of high school.

I love the place where I live now, in Calera, Alabama.  But, all things considered, my grandparent’s house in Strasburg, Virginia will always be the place I call home.  So, I suppose there is something to “home is where the heart is.”

How about you?  Where do you call home?

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