One-Shot & Me

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Becky & Jenny at the One-Shot Cabin

When I was six, my Great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John published her first book, The Secrets Of Hidden Creek.

She was 58.

After Wednesday’s post, you can probably understand why this knowledge is more than a bit comforting to me.

That said, Aunt Wylly wrote for years before publishing her first book. As a journalist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, she had to constantly meet deadlines and she was paid to write long before she graduated from the University of Georgia where 47 boxes of her writings are archived in the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

She went on to publish eight books, two of which were nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Writers of America award.

My cousin, McKenzie posted a comment on Facebook yesterday where she talked about how she and her young son were reading one of Aunt Wylly’s books at bedtime and how it gave him more insight into who his Grandmother Becky was as a girl, as well as his Great-great-grandmother Wylly.

Aunt Wylly loved using real children as characters in her books so McKenzie’s son is enjoying reading about his grandmother as the teenager she was in 1966 when The Secrets of Hidden Creek was published. Much of the story’s setting and characters are clearly modeled after the real thing. First books often pull in parts of the author’s life and my unfinished novel is no different.

If you’ve followed my blog for long it probably won’t surprise you to learn that there is a character in my book who is modeled in some ways after my aunt and you might also understand why seeing McKenzie’s message on Facebook felt like a little cosmic push especially since I’ve  been so unproductive lately.

Aunt Wylly would probably appreciate my thinking she was sending me a message given her interest in ghosts when she was alive.

The hammock in the first picture figures into the story that McKenzie is reading with her son. It was used on the book jacket in 1966 as you can see from the image below. In addition to Becky and Jenny, their brother, Chuck is in the illustration with them.

Wylly Folk St John

I have some lovely memories of time spent at the cabin with Aunt Wylly and later on with my cousins. And while my daughter doesn’t really remember it, she once had a chance to wrestle for the hammock like her cousins did as characters in Aunt Wylly’s book.

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Miranda & Elizabeth at the One-Shot Cabin 1993

This oft fought for spot had to be replaced more than a few times over the years as the humidity of hot Georgia summers and squirmy children did their damage. One of my favorite memories of Aunt Wylly’s lakeside hideaway, it was always snug like a little cocoon, making a perfect nest to read a book and drift off to sleep. Comforting and safe, it was a place I where could let my guard down during a dangerous time in my life and just be for a while with normal kid worries and daring daydreams.

The seed of storytelling for me may not have been planted at the One-Shot cabin, but it was most certainly nurtured there … in a hammock, on a porch, overlooking a lake, with a secret hidden deep under the water.

Big thanks to McKenzie for helping me aerate my roots a bit. 

Christmas 1942 – Somewhere In England

152nd Station Hospital -1942

I found this tiny program in some of my great-aunt Wylly’s things when I went to see my cousin, McKenzie last summer. I had a whirlwind trip where I scanned photos and documents for most the time I was there. It was a quick overnight visit with me quietly scanning through the night while the rest of the house snoozed. Aunt Wylly was my writer aunt that I’ve mentioned before and sweet to me like a dear old grandma. She was McKenzie’s great-grandma and after McKenzie’s mother died suddenly a few years ago, she’s been the one to keep the family history safe.

Going through things quickly, I learned a lot about my family I hadn’t known. This Christmas menu and program from 70 years ago was tucked in a box, no doubt saved by Aunt Wylly who left a serious paper trail. I knew my Uncle Tom had been in the army, practically everyone called him Sarge when I was growing up so it would have been hard to miss, but I did not know that he’d been in England during WWII. Finding this little treasure from 70 years ago left me with loads of questions with no answers. I gleaned a bit online, but I’m hoping a older relative or adult child of someone who might have served with my uncle will see this post and get touch with me.

Thanks to the internet I was able to learn where the 152nd Station Hospital was located, and found that my uncle was in Bristol, about a 14o miles from where I live now. Frenchay Hospital was much smaller before the Americans arrived in 1942 and they added more buildings to make a medical complex that is still in use today.

I wish I knew more about his life and his time in England during the war. My husband, John was less than three months old when Uncle Tom sat down to the Christmas dinner you see on the program below. Given the shortage of food and rationing going on in England at that time, Uncle Tom’s Christmas dinner was likely much better than what the English were having that year.

Christmas Menu 1942 152nd Station Hospital

Since I’m talking about food and family, I thought I’d share a bit of our Christmas day with you.

Christmas 2012

Our Christmas dinner, the American version … no roast potatoes, sprouts or parsnips. I like them, but I wanted a more familiar taste of Christmas and John was fine skipping them this year. He cooked the turkey and made the gravy, I made the rest from handed down family recipes. We did have the English version of pigs in a blanket which were wrapped in bacon versus biscuit dough.

Christmas 2012

That pink mass before you is a cranberry congealed salad. It stuck a bit in my jello mold so it’s not very pretty, but it was tasty. This traditional Christmas salad has been the subject of a great deal of ridicule from John. I get that congealed isn’t a very appetizing name for it, and that it tends to look like something that has already been eaten once, but it reminds me of my step-mom, Cullene and it’s very special to me. John thinks it is very similar to what they call a blancmange (sounds like bla-monge) which does sound a bit more grand. He had a decent sized portion with his dinner so I think he may be getting used to it.

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Here’s a shot of John waiting patiently for our present opening to begin. I’ll be back with another post on gift-giving as I received something very special from him.

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Since we’re talking about food in this post, here’s a shot of me with one of the carrots I took on our walk to the pub for our traditional Christmas drink. The couple that own our village pub offer everyone in the village a free drink on Christmas day if they come in on regular basis. I was carrying carrots hoping we might come across a moorland pony or two, but we stayed in the lanes on our walk making it less muddy and we bypassed the moor and the ponies. I did get lucky though as you can see below.

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This sweet horse was having a Christmas walk and had the benefit of the carrots in my pocket. Murphy munched them down pretty quickly and we went on to the pub.

Thomas Franklin St John

Thomas Franklin St John

I’ll leave you with this photo of my great-uncle Tom taken in uniform. I don’t share any of his DNA as he’s my uncle through marriage, but it’s kind of nice to feel a connection through both our military (Army) ties and our Christmas dinners in England.

If you’re visiting older relatives this Christmas … ask them about their life or you may be sorry later when they’re gone. 

When Memory Fails You

The Ghost Next Door by Wylly Folk St John. Illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman

I’ve read Kyran Pittman’s work for longer than I can remember beginning with her first blog, Notes to Self. I think I found her around 2006 when I discovered there was a community of folks doing something called ‘blogging.’ Her talented husband, Patrick created a logo for me back in 2007 which helped me track time through old emails, but I’d be hard put to come up with an exact date.

All this chatter about memory, dates, and Kyran Pittman is due to a comment I left on her  website, Planting Dandelions a few days ago.

It turns out that in addition to our expat identities as women who married and moved for a love met online, we both collect owls.

Owls you say … stifling a small yawn perhaps.

I’ve loved owls from childhood when I read a book written by my Aunt Wylly called The Ghost Next Door. Kyran recently wrote about her owl collection and asked if any of her readers had collections as well. I left a comment sharing a brief bit about how my aunt was responsible for the start of my owl collection and how her book had influenced my choice of collectables when she’d asked me around age eleven if I had a favorite animal I might like to collect.

Everything I said was true except my memory of the book cover which is ironic when you consider that it’s been sitting on a bookshelf in every place I’ve lived over the last 40 years  except for those that occurred during my transient time in the military.

In my comment I said there was an owl on the cover with love in its eyes, but as it turns out the book cover I was recalling was not mine above, but the one below, a reprint from much later and one I’ve only seen online.   

See what I mean … there’s the ghost child Miranda holding the owl with love in its eyes.

Kyran left a followup comment to mine asking where she might see the book cover and it was then I remembered that my first edition copy had the owl on the title page and not the cover.

You’re probably thinking ‘ so what ‘ unless you write or read memoir and know how important it is that your memories are accurate. Kyran will know exactly what I’m talking about as her book, Planting Dandelions is a memoir and is as she says ‘ … about becoming a family, while still belonging to myself. ‘

I write a lot about family and sometimes I can check in with them to see if our memories match knowing that while some of our experiences may mirror each other, how they affect us and what we remember, may vary a great deal.

Writing memoir is tricky. There are some things you can never forget as much as you might wish you could, while other memories shift just as my cover story did leaving me with an uneasy feeling about future stories. You can bet I’ll be tighter on fact checking in the future.

My brother-in-law, Leon is a writer, editor, and blogger and he has a cute disclaimer at the top of his blog that reads: ” Warning: The following contains opinions and ideas. Some memories may be accurate. ” I loved the ‘ may be accurate ‘ when I read it thinking how clever his warning was, but after my little mixup I wonder now if perhaps he was being more serious than cute.

There are things about The Ghost Next Door and my aunt that never get confused and I’ve written about her impact on my life and inadvertently my daughter Miranda’s in other posts on my blog. You can find them if you use the search space. (I’ve left you a clue below)

Aunt Wylly’s books were always mysteries filled with the kind of delicious clues a curious girl needs growing up, particularly when her home life is such that she needs a more pleasant distraction. Her books made me think and it does not surprise me that the still unfinished novel I began during NaNoWriMo has evolved into a mystery with a fantasy twist. As much as memoir appeals to me, I do like the freedom of making things up as I go when sorting out the plot lines in my novel.

Gifts From Wylly Folk St John

Gifts From Wylly Folk St John

I’ll leave you with the image above of two owl gifts that my aunt gave me when I was a girl. Both sit on a bookshelf in the studio space where I do most of my writing. The book is written in French, a language I never learned, and I’ve had it since it arrived in a birthday package on my 14th birthday.

I kept it all these years because it was a gift from Aunt Wylly never knowing that 34 years later I would marry a man in another country who would speak French and be able to read it aloud to me.

There are loads of memories that connect me to my aunt, some of which I may remember differently from time to time, but all tender and all connected to love.

Margaret Harper, Wylly Folk St John, holding Pam Jones, & Elizabeth Harper

Margaret Harper, Wylly Folk St John, holding Pam Jones, & Elizabeth Harper

This photo was taken at my aunt’s home in Social Circle about the time I made my owl preference known. I couldn’t know then how much influence she would have on my life or how she would affect my writing years later.

Looking at her smiling in these last two images, I can’t help but notice there’s a bit of an owlish look to her and I’m surprised I never saw it before.

Thomas St John with Wylly Folk St John

Bookend Love – Walton & Wylly

Wylly and Walton were brother and sister, they were also my great-aunt and my maternal grandfather. Wylly, christened William Michael, was two years older than her brother Walton. Linked by more than blood they shared a love of books and the written word. Wylly grew up to be a writer and journalist and Walton owned a book business, selling rare books and civil war reprints.

I have copies of the books my aunt wrote and the gifts she gave me over the years, but I have nothing except a few photographs of my grandfather who died when I was two. That changed the other day when my cousin, McKenzie surprised me by sending a set of bookends my grandfather, Walton made for his sister, Wylly.

They arrived in a small box that had a familiar smell even before I had it opened.

You may remember this post where I wrote about gifts from Aunt Wylly over the years and how much my sister Margaret and I loved the smell when we would open our presents at birthdays and Christmas. Seeing the package of mothballs and thinking about why McKenzie had gone to the trouble to put some into my package made me smile.

Here are the bookends my grandfather made for his sister, Wylly Folk St. John. It feels right that they should be tucked in tight around the books she wrote. I’m not sure how old he was when he built them for her, but I have a feeling it may have been a task for one of his boy scout merit badges. I’ve placed them in a slightly different way than they were intended, but I can see them more clearly from where I sit and write.

I moved this particular book to the side so you could see a bookend next to one of my favorite books my aunt wrote called, ‘The Ghost Next Door.’ It’s the book I took my daughter Miranda’s name from to honor my aunt. Her parents named her William Michael even though she surprised them when she was born by being a girl. Everyone called her Willie growing up which she later changed to Wylly and I never heard her complain about her unusual name. She was like a dear grandmother to me, but I couldn’t bring myself to give my daughter a boy’s name and Miranda seemed like both a perfect fit for baby girl and a sweet way to honor my connection to my great-aunt.

I like how the initials ‘WF’ could be Walton or Willie ‘Wylly’ Folk. The style of the initials makes me think of the Art deco period in the 1920s. My grandfather was born in 1910 and would have been in his teen years as the style was becoming popular. I don’t remember ever hearing stories about him being handy with tools or doing any woodcarving as an adult so I think I may be right in assuming these were made by a young Walton.

The University of Georgia has all of my aunt’s letters, manuscripts, and personal correspondence in its rare books and special collections library and I’m hoping a bit of research the next time I’m home will give me more details about the history of the bookends.

Lacking the real story, the writer in me has already created several versions of when and how my grandfather made them which will have to do until I can discover more. I feel sure both my aunt and grandfather would be pleased to know how valued and well-loved they still are and I’m terribly grateful to my cousin McKenzie for giving them to me. They’ve had a special place on her bookshelf for many years and it’s a sweet gift of family connection that she has shared with me by passing them on.

Facebook, A Virtual Social Circle

Wylly Folk St John House (date unknown)

Some of you may remember from earlier posts that my great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John was a children’s book author who enjoyed a good bit of success with the mysteries she wrote primarily during the 60s and 70s. I’ve mentioned how she also wrote for years for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution and how she gave the very best presents on birthdays and at Christmas, but I don’t think I’ve shared much about the house she lived in with her husband, my uncle Tom.

I believe my sister Margaret sent me this old photo of their home. I’m not sure when it was taken, but it looked much better than this when I was growing up. I have some very clear memories of their home in Social Circle. With a name as inviting as one suggesting a gathering of friends, I sometimes wonder if it was the name that drew her to the small town or its proximity to Atlanta where she worked part-time for the newspaper.

Pictures of this house take me back and I can almost hear the rustle of her clothing as she moved though its rooms and the unique sound of her voice calling to me to join her in the kitchen. Lyrical with an edginess that’s difficult to explain, her southern born Savannah raised roots were very apparent, but didn’t dominant her accent as much as the rise and fall of her speech patterns. Writing this now, I wonder if there’s a recording somewhere of her speaking.

My cousin Jenny sent me a friend suggestion on Facebook this morning for the woman who is living in Aunt Wylly’s old house now with her husband. Say what you will about Facebook and privacy issues, but being able to meet the people even if only virtually through the internet is a gift with surprise deliveries like the one I received this morning.

Jenny said they’ve done a wonderful job restoring the house and have some great stories about the process. It shouldn’t be hard to guess who I’ll be sending a message to when I have a minute. You know I’m keen to hear stories in general, but to learn more about things they may have discovered in the renovation process, I can’t even begin to tell you how excited that makes me!

Jenny is the blond child in the photo below. She and her sister Becky were flower girls at my mother and father’s wedding on a December day during the last few weeks of 1959. We haven’t seen each other for years due to geographic distance and opportunity and our communication has been limited to sporadic letters and Christmas cards until recently when we renewed our contact through Facebook earlier this year.

Becky & Jenny - Flower Girls - 1959

Writing this post, I thought about how Facebook is a sort of virtual social circle and while not the Social Circle that Aunt Wylly called home; Jenny’s link and friend suggestion have created an opportunity for me to meet someone I might never have met otherwise.

What do you think about social networking sites like Facebook, do you love or hate them and have they brought you any new friends or reunited you with old ones you didn’t expect to ever see again?

Tom Selleck Or My Great-Great-Great Grandfather

HWC Folk and His Famiily, ca 1876

At a glance, most Americans or those familiar with American television and film stars might think the older man in this photo was actor Tom Selleck all dressed up for his next movie role. I saw the likeness the first time I came across this photograph of my great-great-great-grandfather, Henry William Capers Folk with his family.

The younger boys on the right and left sides of the photo became physicians like their father, HWC Folk, the Tom Selleck look-alike. The boy to the right of his mother, grew up to be my great-great grandfather, William Nicholas Hemeter Folk who is also the adult male you see in the image below. Standing at his knee is my great-grandfather, William Obed Folk.

Mahala Clementine & William Nicholas Hermeter Folk With Their Children, Mikellah & William Obed, ca 1899

Willam Obed, grew up to marry Annie Claire Mattox, my great-grandmother pictured below. I still have a few gifts she gave me when I was a little girl and some of my earliest memories are being small enough to walk under her heavy oak (I think) table in a darkish dining room.

I wish I had known her when she was a young woman or could find more stories about her now. She looks so sure of herself in the image below. I think she looks like she’s smiling with her eyes even though her mouth is set in a straight line. She’s got a sassy look about her that I like.

I do know that she had an interesting history prior to meeting and marrying my great-grandfather and it was very unusual for the time. She had a first marriage that was annulled according to my mother’s research although I had always heard she was divorced. For the daughter of a Primitive Baptist Minister and a woman born in 1879, I’m sure either would have caused a bit of a scandal.

Annie Claire Mattox

Annie Claire and William Obed had three children, one being my great-aunt, who was christened William Michael Folk, a name which evolved into Wylly Folk with the addition of St. John after her marriage. The baby below with ” Willy Mike ” as they called her, is my grandfather, Walton Obed Folk.

Walton, Wylly & Minnie (Her Doll)

Walton as a baby with older sister, Willy Mike.

Here you see my grandfather, Walton with my great-aunt Wylly and their baby brother, my great-uncle Johnny. ( Photo was hand colored by my sister Margaret )

My great-grandfather, William Folk with his boys, Johnny and Walton around 1928.

My grandfather Walton grew up to marry Elizabeth Procter shown in the photo from the 40s above.

Their only child was my mother, Elizabeth Judith who was born in 1940 and is shown here with her father, Walton.

She married my father, Gene Harper in December of 1959.

Gene & Judy Harper With Daughter, Elizabeth - 1960

Nine months later I was born. That’s me, Elizabeth Elwyn Harper when I was about 12 weeks old. You can find out interesting things when you spend time searching through your family history.

I had always thought I was the fourth Elizabeth in a row in my family, but it turns out my great-grandmother Bess Proctor was not an Elizabeth after all, but a Bessie making me only the third Elizabeth and not the fourth as I have always said when telling stories about my family history.

What about you, have you ever discovered some bit of family history that you’d thought was true that actually was different from what you’d always believed?

 

What You Don’t See

As open I have been in revealing my new space over the last few days, there is a still a lot that you don’t see. Carolyn commented that my post yesterday was one of my most intimate and she was right. The books we choose say a great deal about who we are or sometimes, who we wish to be.

Patrice shared in a comment how she was one of the friends I invited to come see if there were any books that she wanted when I was trying to cull them before my move from America. Along with books on art and decorating, she took away some of my self-help books. I have read quite a few over the years as I tried to deal with the repercussions of a traumatic early life, but as Mariellen mentioned with her nod to my Jon Kabat-Zinn still on the shelf, you can see I kept a few that were more helpful than others. Some of those that remain have become ongoing resources for me on the path to reclaiming myself.

John will probably blanch several shades of red or white (funny how I make him sound like a wine) when he reads this post as his first instinct is to revisit his belief that Americans spend excessive amounts of time and money on therapy and engage in far too much self-help speak. Even with all of the conversations we’ve had about this topic, he still shows an innate sense of compassion and understanding when it comes to people and my needs in particular.

If you feel as if you’ve had a deep enough look into my ‘ personal ‘ space then you might want to stop now and come back next week when I will be showing some pretty pictures of our recent trip to Wales, but if you want to hang around for a bit more ‘ Show & Tell ‘ I am quite happy to share more of the stories that go with the photographs I posted yesterday.

This shelf holds several things which work together for me. You can see the well read collection of some of my great aunt, Wylly Folk St. John’s books that she wrote for children. They are temporarily held in place by some of my old family cameras, but there are some extra special bookends coming in the mail that will add a new element to the story. The painting was a gift from two special people who I’ve talked about here. It always makes me think of them as well as reminding me of Savannah, Georgia where Aunt Wylly grew up with her brother Walton, who was my grandfather.

The typewriter is an old portable that sits next to a photograph of my Aunt Wylly, with her brothers Walton and Johnny, who worked as a cartoonist for Walt Disney. My grandfather co-owned a book business with my grandmother Elizabeth and a few of those books made their way here too. My sister Margaret gave me this photograph as a gift a few years ago and it remains very special to me.

One of my favorite pieces of art that I own is a sculpture by Atlanta artist, Debra Fritts whose work has changed a bit since I bought this piece at The Dogwood Festival in the early 90’s. When I bought it, she saw me deliberating before my purchase and said, ” You must be a mother? ” To which I said, ” Yes, I am, but that’s not why I’m drawn to this. It has to do with reclaiming a piece of myself.” Over the years it has come to represent different things to me, but I still feel a little heart twinge when I think about what my life was like back then versus now. It’s no accident that it shares a space with some of my books on writing.

Gene Stratton-Porter is an author I collected until a few years ago. Her most popular young adult novel was Freckles, but Girl of the Limberlost remains my favorite and the closest to my heart. The mother-daughter story resonates with my own story and my relationship with my missing mother. The irony is not lost on me that she gave me my first GSP book, Girl of the Limberlost as well as Her Father’s Daughter, handing it to me as she was putting me on a plane to him at fourteen.

In addition to one of my favorite photographs of my daughter during her teen years taken after she and some of her friends had been playing with face paint, you can see a special ornament that I wrote about here. In the book stack are some that are significant for a number of reasons, but the ones I remember most from childhood are the Lois Lenski books with my favorite being Judy’s Journey. My mother gave it me to read during a cross country road trip that accompanied one of our many moves during my childhood. By the time I was fourteen, I had been to ten different schools with four transfers during one school year. Written in 1947, Judy’s Journey was about a poor child who worked in farmers fields with her migrant family and while I never picked cotton to earn my next meal, there was much I identified with in the children’s lives that Lenski  portrayed in her stories.

This wooden box is made from a tree that was my father’s favorite which he called Socrates. When he died and the family home was sold, my step-mom had the tree cut down (it would have been taken down anyway) and had a box made for each of my father’s three daughters. The folding yardstick was his and there is a small picture of him as a teenage boy holding a hammer after finishing a sign for the mailbox for a 4-H project. Notice he is wearing the hat that you can see hanging here on our wall in Cornwall. The travel frame is waiting for a picture of me with Miranda and the other two small pictures are of my great-grandfather as a young man and as an older one eating homemade ice cream in the overalls he always wore.

I have quite a few books on writing on other shelves along with more of my favorite authors, but I’ll make this my last revealing photo for the day. Here you see a mix of books that I know some of you will recognize such as The Artist’s Way At Work and The Creative License along with How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci.

My really special books here are the ones that speak to the mother in me. My old copy of The Mother’s Almanac which I’ve had since my daughter was three months old and The Penny Whistle Party Planner were great resources for a number of years and were two books I just could not part with even though at 22 my daughter is far from needing anything I might find in them now. Finally, the little fish is one of the very first mother’s day gifts that my daughter picked out herself when she was very young so of course it had to come Cornwall. It makes me smile to remember her face when I opened it.