Overheard by Chuck Thurston

hamburger and fries
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As I walked back to my McDonald’s booth with two cups of coffee this morning, I passed by a table where four men – all probably within the 20 to 40 age range – were sitting. I heard this snatch of conversation from one of them; “All of my family are dying and we don’t have a Pastor.”

I did not hear any of the conversation leading up to this expression and I didn’t hear a response after. There was no laughter or unusual reaction around the table. The statement was delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, with no particular word inflection that I could detect.

I told my wife of my experience as I delivered our coffees, and we both speculated on its possible meaning. We realized there could be several, depending on the context of the dialogue that preceded the sentence, and the emphasis placed on various words within the sentence itself.

Consider these two variations:
All of my family are dying and we don’t have a Pastor!”
“All of my family are dying and we don’t have a Pastor.

The first could be construed as a cynical slap against faith as a comfort to the dying; the second might be a rueful acknowledgement that the speaker and his family have no source of religious solace at this sad time. My wife pointed out that we don’t even know whether we are hearing the speaker’s own viewpoint, or he is speculating on that of the dying. Who, exactly, is the cynic or the aggrieved, as the case may be? And, of course, this simple sentence can have many other meanings than the two given above. We talked about how this brief experience might have the makings of a short story – perhaps a key element in a novel.

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. The earth’s atmosphere is composed of 78% Nitrogen, 21% Oxygen, 2% of a lot of other gases – and 100% full of ideas. They are in the air. They are all around you – in a supermarket checkout line, at a garage mechanic’s desk, in the seat next to you in a passenger jet – in a fast-food restaurant. Keep your ear to the breezes.

Vermont Idyll by Chuck Thurston

The town square in Newfane, Vermont
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When I went to graduate school, I threw my wife into the breech at home. I had gotten my undergrad degree the hard way – night classes for six years. Would she keep the home fires burning while I went away, applied my GI Bill and worked as a graduate instructor to get my Masters? She would, and did.

When it was done, we were both whipped and decided that a fall vacation was in order. We left the kids with my mother – no hardship there, since she indulged them far more than we did – packed up our old Dodge Dart and headed for a rendezvous with autumn in Vermont.

Not much tops car problems for vacation misery, but if you pull your own vehicle spitting and sputtering – and eventually dying – into a little town, try to pick Newfane, Vermont in September. Nothing in our experience had prepared us for this. We luckily found a good Yankee mechanic who looked at, and listened to, our old Dart and told us he could have it fixed in a couple of hours. The little town was ours to explore.

We happened to hit Newfane during a Fall Festival, and we strolled toward a conglomeration of tents and booths around a small square. There was not a point on the compass that didn’t present a scene of exquisite beauty, as we turned to look at our surroundings from the middle of this square. It was a beautiful day. Puffy clouds dotted a deep blue sky and the hardwoods were in full color. We wandered around the various exhibits and into a church on one side of the square. There was going to be a harvest supper that very evening! We were handed a menu; Oh boy! It almost seemed to us that Newfane itself had conspired to embrace us and keep us close.

Then reality. We got the message that our car was fixed. The cost was reasonable, but unplanned, and we were on a tight budget. We had reservations at a B&B in Montpelier that evening, and couldn’t afford to swallow that expense, for an evening in Newfane, although I am sure we must have been tempted. It was back then, on the road.

We have never been back, but that town, that day – that glorious day – has never been far from our memories. May it always be so.

The Artist Unwinds by Chuck Thurston

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Sinclair Lewis’s character, George Babbitt, doesn’t have much use for the arts: “…art and literature are left to a lot of shabby bums living in attics and feeding on booze and spaghetti…”

Babbitt has a smidgeon of accuracy. The creation of art is largely a solitary task. The creators don’t ordinarily invite others to sit and watch them at their work, and many have the reputation of being reclusive and ornery. Those types must certainly be the exception, though. When the ones I am familiar with are done with a piece, it is hard to shut them up.

Winemakers consider winemaking an art. Visit a winery mid-week when visiting tasters are in short supply. If you are lucky, you will catch the winemaker himself or herself doing the pouring – and if you are doubly lucky, you will be the only ones in the tasting room. You probably won’t even have to ask any questions before you start getting answers. The cabin that my wife and I built is near ground zero in North Carolina’s wine country, and we are winery junkies. We have hit just about every one and are first name acquaintances of many winemakers. Catching them during a slack time of day guarantees an education in grape types, growing conditions, climate problems, soil types, etc., etc. It is almost as if this effusion was stored up while they were cultivating, pruning, harvesting and putting up their wines.

And now you’re at the wine bar, tasting their creation and they can’t hold it in any longer.

winemaker

This past weekend we went to the Sculpture Festival in Lenoir, North Carolina. As we strolled along admiring the works that lined the paths through the beautifully landscaped park, we frequently paused to take a longer look at some work. In a flash, the artist would be at our side – eager to explain the construction, technique or symbolism that went into the creation. There were three grandchildren with us. They would obviously not have been potential buyers for any of the pieces, but that didn’t stop the artists from engaging with them. It was a delightful experience.

Many of these works represented uncounted hours of solitary labor. I could envision mallets, chisels and other tools applied throughout the day and into a lonely night in a cluttered workshop. I could see the artist stepping back now and then to study the last stroke. Stone is an unforgiving medium. Had a mistake been made? Was a correction possible? – or – perhaps – this last little effort was the grand finale! It would be ready for the anticipated exhibition! And now all of the emotion and passion that went into it could be shared. And our little group has stopped in front of it; and we are admiring it. Ahhh.

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Weed Out Wednesday by Chuck Thurston

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stuff
Throw Back Thursday (TBT) has gained some traction. Each week on that day we can expect to see our Facebook family and friends post old photos that bring back (mostly) fond memories. I propose a new weekly ritual. How about “Weed Out Wednesday” (WOW)? Sell, donate, trash, recycle, give away some item(s) you have no emotional attachment to, and haven’t used in decades. Start with your closet. Check your cellar; scan your attic. How about that shed in the back yard? What’s happening in your condo or apartment common storage space? Aha! Knew it! Stuff you didn’t even know you had! Get rid of it! WOW yourself!

One little caveat. When we moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania many years ago, we had a lot of winter paraphernalia that we thought might be useful. Eventually we unloaded sleds, cross-country skis and ski boots and other items of no further utility. For one reason or another, I kept a pair of galoshes. They hung out in a far corner of a coat closet for many years. Then, last winter, we had a wet, sloppy snowfall. It didn’t last long, but while the trees were still prettily decorated, I grabbed my camera, looked in the closet, and spied these old rubber boots. They fit right over my street shoes, and out in the winter wonderland I sloshed!

galoshes

Oblivious by Chuck Thurston

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Every day all of us walk past things that are startling in their beauty – and, as often as not, we are totally oblivious. Heidi and I go to the Kannapolis “Y” 3-4 days a week, to try and hedge against our maturing years. Heidi has this week off, so I went by myself this morning. As I left the building, I turned to my left and saw this bed of zinnias, and was struck by it. We had to get groceries today, but when I got home, I told Heidi that before we visited the supermarket, I had to get my camera and go back to the Y. When she asked me why, I described my experience. “I have been telling you about those flowers for weeks,” she said.

Wild Life

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Charlotte skyline through trees

I like to play the Dr. Charles Sifford golf course in Charlotte. It was developed as a whites-only course back in the 30’s, but it’s every hacker for himself or herself now. It is only a few blocks away from Charlotte center city, and the skyline can be viewed from a few spots on the course.

Last Wednesday, I got the urge to play, but my usual partner was out of town, so I soloed, as I sometimes do. The course is undergoing some major improvements, and there were temporary greens, scalped out of portions of the fairway near the holes. They weren’t worth putting out on, but the driving and fairway shots were all good, and the course work promised good play ahead. It was hot and getting hotter, though. I had only planned to play nine holes and as I drove my cart up to the ninth hole tee box, I saw something I had never seen on a golf course – a coyote.

coyote

He was trotting across the ninth hole fairway in no particular hurry. He even paused a couple of times to look over his shoulder at me. I kept on driving toward him and he eventually reached the woods and disappeared.

Coyotes have made the local news quite frequently in recent weeks. They have apparently reached pest status in the suburban areas of South Charlotte and residents there are concerned about their pets. But here – within sight of Charlotte high-rises and a bare couple of hundred yards from the I-77 interstate? Where do they make their dens? At night do they come out, trot around the empty course and howl at the moon from elevated greens as the flags ripple in the soft evening air?

Sending a Child to Camp by Heidi Thurston

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2005 camp -  you are kidding

Sarah packed for camp. Grandpa is aghast!

Sending a child to camp can be quite a traumatic experience, especially if it is for the first time. Never mind what the youngster might be experiencing in the line of doubt and apprehension; it is we, the parents, I am concerned about.

Once the camp fee is sent in, however, most of any father’s responsibility is over and done with; and now mother’s time has come. Oh, didn’t anyone tell you about marking and labeling everything – let alone purchasing all those odd items that are required but will, most likely, never be used?

Well, let me give you a count down of what must be packed into a suitcase in an easy way that makes it possible, at the end of camp, for the child to re-pack each item along with assorted rocks, pinecones and other collectible souvenirs they simply can’t part with:

Twelve shorts and shirts…a set for each day since you won’t want the camp director to think you don’t care whether or not your child dresses in clean clothes.

Eleven sets of underwear with instructions to change every day.

Ten pairs of socks, which may all come back unused along with your child’s very own set of athlete’s foot.

Nine sheets of paper for writing home …for more money.

Eight envelopes; stamped and addressed by all means, or you may never know whether or not the child is missing you.

Seven items for cleaning…deodorant (well for the older ones), comb, soap, shampoo, cream rinse, toothpaste and a toothbrush (you just KNOW they will brush twice a day and after each meal, right?).

Six night type articles: sleeping bag, pajamas, pillow and pillowcase, and top and bottom sheets that will all return in unrecognizable conditions.

Five swim things, including two bathing suits in case one should get lost (camps do not allow skinny dipping) and coordinated swim-caps so they can tell who is drowning.

Four odd items such as a flashlight and by all means include extra batteries (it gets very scary going to the port-a-john in the middle of the night), a plastic cup and a pocket knife (so you give them one without a blade (it has been done before).

Three pairs of shoes including old, old sneakers that you really would rather throw out – most likely they may never return.

Two bath towels and a washcloth (which most likely will never be used); and finally……

One great big kiss and hug – after which you drop them off and run to your car so they don’t see your tears.