I never know what my wife is doing in her art studio. Occasionally I hear some clunks and rattles, but basically she paints in silent seclusion.
Frequently, she emerges to share her progress on a painting. Studies it for a while and then scampers back upstairs to her studio.
Today, she brought me an early Valentine’s gift with special meaning. The painting is from a scene at Orkney Springs, Virginia.
In past articles, I have shared my love for this historic spot. In the 19th century, it was a resort for the wealthy in search of the healing powers of the mineral springs. They stayed at the Grand Hotel, a strikingly amazing structure still in existence today. It’s one of those places off the beaten path that causes you to wonder, “How the heck did that get here.”
In the mid 1960s, Orkney Springs hosted symphony workshops. That’s when I discovered it. Offered my first opportunity to study trombone under a professional classically trained musician.
I later learned that my grandparents grew up nearby. You can read about there experiences in and around Orkney in my book, In the Valley of Hope: Faith Conquers Fear.
But what made Orkney memorable was what happened there in October 1970.
It had rained that day, and it was miserably cold. When you’re young and in love, who cares.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see the trail and the multi-colored leaves along our path. The weather added to the ambiance by adding a gray tint to the landscape.
We walked hand in hand, both of us trying to summon the nerve to express our feelings. Much to my surprise (and relief), Janet said it first.
“I love you,” she said.
Three incredibly powerful words that changed my life.
That was 46 years ago. So her painting is the best Valentine’s gift ever. It depicts a time, place, and event that remains indelibly etched upon my heart. Arguably, the best day of my life.
What can I do to reciprocate? I’ve got 10 days to figure it out.
My last novel, Hope of Cherry Blossom Lane, was dedicated to her. But that was January.
One thing for certain, I won’t attempt a painting. The good Lord didn’t bless me with that talent. Even my stickmen are unrecognizable.
May you be blessed with such wonderful memories.
Two milestones this month. 45 years ago, June 19 to be exact, Janet and I were married. And this month also marks the 50th year since graduating from Strasburg High School.
As anyone my age will tell you, time passes quickly. I’ll rephrase that. Time passes too quickly. One day, you’re worrying about tripping on the graduation stage or your knees popping when you kneel at your wedding. And then suddenly, your hair is gray (if you’re lucky enough to still have it) and you’re the oldest living creature on your block.
It was September, 1970 when we met. Just out of the Navy, I came home hoping to find gainful civilian employment. I had already been given a part-time gig as the choir director at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Strasburg, Virginia.
Opened the door and, borrowing a title from a Beatles’ hit, I Saw Her Standing There. On the stairs, to be exact. Who was this beautiful stranger with the most amazing smile I had ever seen? I had only been away from home for four years and Strasburg was one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody. But I didn’t recognize her, although I had seen her before.
Turn back the hands of time to 1966, the year I graduated from Strasburg High School. In those days, I was a shy kid with low self esteem, no girlfriend and no prospects. But I did have one thing going for me. Faith and belief in the power of prayer. Consequently, every day I prayed for the Lord to reveal the one for me.
Those prayers became fervent and continued right on through the Navy Band years. Often times, as I prayed, I could see the image of a girl I had never seen or met, that is, until that September day in 1970. Which is why, the first words out of my mouth were, “Haven’t I seen you someplace before?” Yeah, I know. Oldest line in the book, right? However, this wasn’t a line. I meant it.
That night, we went to Pizza Hut. Soon after, on a chilly fall day, we drove to a magical place in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia called Orkney Springs. I had attended symphony workshops there while in high school. As we walked beneath the breathtakingly beautiful trees of Autumn, it is there that we gained the courage to say the words already written upon our hearts.
Through the years, we occasionally observed old couples walking hand in hand and hoped that someday that would be us. Thank God, we have arrived at someday.
Fast forward to last night. Turned off the TV and we talked. That’s all. Just the two of us. Best friends for 45 years. God’s gift that keeps on giving.
Barbra Streisand (also Gladys Knight) had a hit song from the movie of the same name called, The Way We Were. I am so thankful that my song is not just about the past but about the present. THE WAY WE ARE.
Up until 2003, I thought Reuben was a sandwich with sauerkraut. And then came Ruben Studdard on American Idol. “Ruben! Ruben!” At the time, I was working two fulltime jobs and didn’t have time for television but the talk about the Alabama contestant was unavoidable.
Yes. It’s true. I missed Season #1 and a singer who is now one of my all time favorite singers. Kelly Clarkson is amazing.
In fact, my life didn’t normalize until Season #4, which was my first opportunity to tune into the biggest TV ratings hit of all time. At least I was there to see the artist who become the most successful of all the Idol contestants. Did you catch the words Carrie Underwood whispered last night at the conclusion of her solo performance? I ran the recording back a few frames just to make sure I was right. “Praise the Lord.” Thank you, Carrie. Well said.
Just as a side note and probably nothing that the critics have ever bothered or wanted to point out. (Not politically correct) How many of these talented kids learned to sing or developed their talents singing in church?
So, I was a late bloomer and didn’t get on the American Idol train until the 4th Season. Missed some amazing talent. Lets here it for reruns.
In Season #5, an Alabama singer was again making a bid for the top spot. “Soul Patrol” and Taylor Hicks.
Favorite season? Oddly enough, Season #10. That’s the year that my wife and I adopted Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. “Baby lock the doors and turn the lights down low.” Still pulling for them to have a successful career and to stay true to themselves.
Ever since I have been a fan. There was only one time when I was ready to jump ship. Niki Manag and Mariah Carey. Need I say more?
Critics said, as recently as yesterday, that Idol died when Simon Cowell left. Well, it never died for me. In my mind, American Idol wasn’t about Simon, Randy, Paula, or Kara. I remained loyal to the show because of the amazing young talent and their heartwarming stories.
For anybody whoever doubted the level of talent exhibited on Idol, we were treated to a tasteful sampling of it last night. There were definitely some “wow” moments. Thanks for an incredible show.
In the end, Idol was a popularity contest which means that the best talent doesn’t always win. But, as we learned, you didn’t have to win the crown to have a successful career.
As an old DJ, I’m proud that one of ours was the show’s host. Great job, Ryan. I’ll reserve my thoughts on Brian Dunkleman. Even my spellchecker is struggling with that name.
And despite what the critics and Simon Cowell had to say on the matter, the best REAL judges were Harry, Keith, and Jennifer.
There you go. My two cents worth about a television program for the history books.
What’s in your family’s past that you have never been able to explain? I would be willing to bet that there is, at least, one mystery that you would like to solve.
So, hop in your Marty McFly (Back to the Future) DeLorean Time Machine, albeit an easy chair and laptop, and get to work. Why you may become so excited about your revelations that you’ll be motivated to write a book. Worked for me. In fact, my detective work led to two novels.
Discovery is so cool, especially when you have a vested interest. One seemingly meaningless document took me to a place I knew nothing about and revealed a segment of Charlie Polk’s life of which I only had minuscule information. The place – West Point, Virginia. For the life of me, I don’t know how or why that piece of paper survived for 63 years. Found it in an old box of photos that belonged to my grandmother. Clues. Just like a mystery novel.
Last night, a friend asked me to help her learn more about her family. But she had no idea where or how to start her search. The simple answer, start with what you know.
Case in point. I knew, based on conversations with my grandmother, that Charles Polk, Jr. worked at hard labor, building Virginia roads after he graduated from high school. I also knew or had been told, that he left his class ring in a restroom at a service station during that time. That’s it. Nothing more.
Then I found a 1953 Reimbursement Voucher, which clarified my grandmother’s claims and added more vital layers of information.
Oh, my gosh. Check out those meal prices. About three bucks per day. Hotel rates? $2.50 per day.
What about lodging at the West Point Hotel? Googled the heck out of it and came up with nada. But there is a West Point, Virginia and that’s when I came across a web page featuring town history and a photograph of the hotel that was torn down years ago.
In a previous article, I talked about another valuable piece of info uncovered on the document. His job for the Virginia Highway Department was not nearly so exciting as advertised by his mother. Instead of road builder, he was a car counter. That was before computers when counting was handled manually. Hashmarks on a clipboard.
Also, in the box of family memorabilia was a stack of letters from Charlie’s friends, most of them girls, and one who made her home in, you guessed it, West Point, Virginia. In one of her letters, she talks about working as a waitress at the West Point Hotel Diner, which is where their summer romance began.
Another group of letters from a gal named Roxanne from New Bern, NC during the USMC years. Google Maps to the rescue. New Bern is just 18.6 miles away from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, SC. Roxanne’s address was in her letter so; I looked it up on Zillow. House is still there. Beautiful pic. What the heck? Let’s try ancestry.com. Found a census record for Roxanne and discovered that she was only 14 years old and dating a Marine. What? Didn’t include the rest of what I found, but I traced Roxanne all the way to Arkansas, where she became a prominent socialite. Died a few years ago.
The preceding is just a sampling of the clues that helped me unravel some mysteries about my family’s past and helped me to become a time traveler. All of it from my living room chair in Alabama, Starting in the small town of Strasburg in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and then 17,000 miles away to Iwakuni, Japan. All the while, experiencing the way it was in 1953 to 1955.
I am happy to report that at no time in my time traveling did I encounter a bully named Biff.
Hop in your DeLorean and get to work. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.
You can read about my family mystery, Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare. And if you would be so kind and like the book, then leave a review.
Mable at age 19, two years before the romance began. Her mother was already concerned that she would end up on old maid.
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Charlie and Mable are shown here on their wedding day. The horse, Blackie, is also mentioned in the story.
Charlie and Mable Polk, 1919
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.
I 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.
Frequently, when making an online purchase or filling out a web form, I am required to give my birthdate. Then there is that menacing dropdown box listing all the years. Really? Keep scrolling down…and scrolling…and scrolling. There it is, 1947, near the bottom of the chart.
Wow. The 40’s. I’ve never considered myself a child of the 1940’s. Not even a child of the 50’s. Throw out the history book. Don’t need one. I was there.
My new novel, After the Storm, is set in the first half of the 1950’s, which has required considerable era related research. The exercise has helped bring to mind some of what I was exposed to in my earliest years.
My first grade class (1954) was one of the first to be introduced to the polio vaccine. We were taken by school bus to Winchester, VA where we all were inoculated for protection from a disease that had reached epidemic proportions among children. My brother, Gary, was one of the casualties at age five.
My first recollection of anything related to politics was a President named Eisenhower. Once, when visiting a friend in Middletown, VA…the President’s motorcade came through the town and I recall sitting on the front porch, sipping on a RC Cola, awaiting his arrival. My friend preferred warm sodas. They were more suited to loud belching, which I suppose is what we were doing as the entourage passed by. I know. Weird. Maybe that’s why I recall so little about the 50’s.
You think that was strange? Check this out. A popular kid’s show at the time was Winky Dink and You. Aired from ’53 to ’57. What I remember most about that show was the “magic drawing screen.” It was a sheet of plastic that attached to the TV screen on which you could draw with crayons. There would be pictures that appeared in the TV show that you could trace and then you were given assignments to add other elements, like eyes, or a nose, or leaves on a tree. By today’s high tech standards Winky Dink was pretty rinky dink, but it was one of my favorite toys. To be fair, Bill Gates had high praise for the program. It was the first ever interactive TV show.
I love the research capabilities of the internet. Although I faintly remember the show, I now know that I watched it on Saturday mornings on CBS at 10:30. And this is what it looked like:
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Davey Crockett Lunchbox
Yes, we had TV back then. Other popular kid shows included: Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, Davey Crocket, Lassie, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Annie Oakley, Howdy Doody, The Pinky Lee Show, and Soupy Sales.
Yep, loved them all. Even had my own Davey Crocket lunch box and coon skin cap.
So, for those of you who have nothing better to do, I’m going to take you back in time, back to my earliest years (simpler times) and the TV I watched when I was 6 and 7 years old. Meanwhile, have a great day IN THE VALLEY OF HOPE.
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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 ancestry.com.
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.
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.