A Thriller, Hatteras in WWI, and Appalachian Memories

I had more to say about the six books I read in August than reasonably fit into last week’s blog post, so today’s post is about the three I didn’t get to last week. I’m a bit put off by long blog posts, and I doubt I’m alone in that. Without further ado, I offer my thoughts about the other books I read in August.

Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

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Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck

If books have a demeanor, Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer is at one end of that spectrum, in many ways Here and Gone, by Haylen Beck is at the other end of that spectrum. While Ms. Berkheimer’s book was a relaxing read, Mr. Beck’s thriller grabbed me by the throat immediately and never let me relax.

I thought I’d done well to read Ms. Berkheimer’s memoir in three days, but I read Here and Gone in 48 hours.

Wow! What a book! I made the mistake of starting to read the book late one night. I read until my vision blurred to the point that I could literally read no more without getting some sleep.

Audra Kinney fled New York with her young son and daughter to avoid her children being taken away by Children’s Services. Her husband had tried to prove she was an unfit mother.

The book begins in Arizona where Audra thought things couldn’t get any worse when the Elder County Sheriff pulled her over and discovered a bag of marijuana in the trunk of her car. Audra and the reader could not imagine all that would transpire over the next four days. What a thriller!

By the way, I thought I had picked up a debut novel by Haylen Beck, but it turns out that is the pen name of Stuart Neville! You may recall that I wrote about one of Mr. Neville’s Northern Ireland thrillers, The Ghosts of Belfast in my January 3, 2017 blog post (What I read in December.)

According to the author bio on the back inside flap of the book jacket, Haylen Beck’s books are set in the United States whereas Stuart Neville’s books are set in Northern Ireland. That tells me there will be more Haylen Beck books in the future. I can’t wait!

Hatteras Light by Philip Gerard

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Hatteras Light: A Novel, by Philip Gerard

Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, took me to the beautiful Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina during the tense days of World War I when German U-boats and submarines trolled the Atlantic coast of the United States. This book was the August selection for the Rocky River Readers Book Club.

Hatteras Light follows the lives of the few residents of Hatteras Island in the early 1910s, particularly the people associated with the maintenance of the Hatteras Lighthouse and their efforts to rescue people in peril on the sea.

This was hard and lonely work. It took a special kind of person to acclimate to the demands of the job. The waters off Cape Hatteras are known worldwide as “the graveyard of the Atlantic” because the treacherous clashing of the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the warm Gulf Stream (from the Gulf of Mexico) cause constantly changing conditions that have resulted in the sinking of hundreds of ships.

The Germans had already torpedoed an oil tanker, the resulting blaze literally getting the attention of everyone on Hatteras Island. The US Navy was too busy protecting the more densely populated Mid-Atlantic coast to come to the aid of the keepers of the Hatteras Lighthouse who did double duty of going out to sea to try to rescue anyone in peril.

Tensions were coming to a head at a community meeting when Ham Fetterman said the following:

“ ‘ I have lived longer than ever I hoped or wanted,’ Fetterman said. ‘I have seen Yankees and pirates and bootleggers and a good deal worse. And now I’ve seen this, too. And I tell you:  this is different. This murderous lurking Teutonic bastard is hunting by the Light – our Light! He navigates by it, he ambushes by it, he kills by it…. With that Light, he is damn near invincible.’ ”

Fetterman was a true Hatterasman, meaning he was born and had lived on Hatteras Island all his life. He was someone others listened to because of his age and his experience as a Hatteras Islander.

Someone else in the meeting spoke up and suggested they rig up a false light like had been done at Nags Head years before. Then, Fetterman said their only choice was to turn off the Hatteras Lighthouse Light.

Did they? I suggest you read Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, to find out.

Running on Red Dog Road and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

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Running on Red Dog Road, by Drema Hall Berkheimer

I need to start jotting down where or how I hear about a book I want to read. I can’t recall how I learned about this one, but I’m glad I did. I found it at the public library and devoured it in three days. It is just 200 pages, but I’m a slow reader. Any time I read a book in three days, take it as a compliment.

The author grew up in West Virginia and writes humorously but lovingly and respectfully about her childhood there in the 1940s. Although I grew up in the piedmont (not the mountains) of North Carolina in the 1950s, I could identify with many of the things she wrote.

I never had a grandmother, though, and Ms. Berkheimer writes a lot about the grandmother who pretty much raised her while her mother was off in New York helping to build airplanes for the World War II effort.

Ms. Berkheimer and I grew up in a simpler time than the one we’re living in now. Home-canned produce from the garden, lightning bugs, playing Red Rover, church being the center of one’s social life, and many old sayings used in the book – all these rang true with me and brought to mind fond memories of my childhood.

I loved her memory of church fans:

“Paper fans always stood ready in the wooden rack on the back of each pew, along with the hymnals. Each fan was the size of a small paper plate and had a flat stick attached as a handle. Sometimes you got a fan with a picture of Jesus on one side and Scripture verses on the other, while another time your fan might advertise a bank or a furniture store.” ~ Drema Hall Berkheimer

The church where I grew up always had those same fans, but the back side advertised one of the two funeral homes in the county. Hence, they were always referred to as “funeral home fans” at Rocky River Presbyterian.

If you’re looking for a book that harkens back to rural and small town American life a few decades ago, this is the book for you.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

Total Solar Eclipse!

Last Monday, August 21, 2017, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I saw a total solar eclipse! My sister and I traveled several hours from our home to the mountains in southwestern North Carolina in order to see the eclipse in the band of totality.

Anticipating heavy traffic later in the morning, we left Canton, North Carolina (just west of Asheville) at 6:45 a.m. It was a scenic and pleasant hour’s drive to Bryson City, North Carolina where we had reservations on a steam train to Dillsboro at noon.

After a hearty breakfast at The Iron Skillet and a tour of the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum in Bryson City, and armed with NASA-approved solar eclipse viewing glasses, we boarded a train for the 75-minute ride to Dillsboro, North Carolina. Pulled by a diesel locomotive for the trip to Dillsboro, the train was pulled by a steam locomotive on the return trip to Bryson City that afternoon.

2-8-0 Class Steam Locomotive No. 1702

The 2-8-0 steam locomotive No. 1702 was built by The Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, Pennsylvania in August, 1942. Intended for military service in Europe during World War II, it was sent instead to Fort Bragg, North Carolina to perform domestic wartime service. According to the information on the back of my souvenir ticket, “The engine is one of two remaining in the U.S. 120 2-8-0 class oil burning engines built.”

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2-8-0 Steam Locomotive No. 1702, owned and operated by Great Smoky Mountains Railroad

After being owned by various railroad lines, in 1992 the locomotive was purchased by Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. It gave passenger service in western North Carolina until 2004 when mechanical problems took it out of service. Restoration work began in 2014 and today the steam engine is a thing of beauty in great working order.

During the two-and-a-half-hour layover in Dillsboro, we were able to sit and watch the progression of the eclipse.

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That’s me, watching the solar eclipse in Dillsboro, NC, August 21, 2017.

The people on the train and in Dillsboro were all in a jovial mood and excited about the experience. There were people there from many US states, India, and Japan. The ladies from Japan had traveled to China to see a total eclipse. They brought with them solar eclipse viewing fans. They reminded me of the cardboard fans on a wooden stick that we used in our church before the days of air-conditioning.

The fans from China had a strip across so one could hold the fan in front of the face and look at the eclipse through the strip. One of the women let me try it out. I thought it was more convenient and sturdy than the flimsy eclipse glasses we have in the US. Afraid my glasses would slip and expose my eyes, I found myself holding them in place.

Eclipse projected on the ground

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Image of sun just minutes before total eclipse as projected on paper through a telescope and binoculars

An engineer from Conyers, Georgia set up a telescope rigged with binoculars just a few feet from where we sat. It was fascinating to watch the progression of the eclipse, which started at 1:06 pm and ended at 4:00 pm, as his setup projected the image of the sun onto a piece of paper on the ground.

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Tiny solar crescents being project through a round disk with tiny round holes in it.

He had a round disk containing a myriad of tiny holes. Everywhere the eclipsed sun shone through the holes, we could see tiny crescents of light on the paper underneath. He also showed the women from Japan how to hold they hands palms down, crossways of each other at a 90-degree angle and somehow the tiny crescents of light appeared on the ground beneath his hands. I never got the hang of that.

Total Solar Eclipse!

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Photograph of total solar eclipse in Dillsboro, NC, August 21, 2017

When the partial eclipse transitioned into total eclipse at 2:35 pm, we could take off our viewing glasses and look at the sun unprotected for the minute and 50 seconds of totality. Nothing was visible of the sun during that time except its spectacular corona. I could see one star to the left of the sun. Everyone cheered and applauded when totality began and again when it ended. The birds started singing again as totality transitioned into partial eclipse.

The street lights came on during the twilight of total eclipse. If I had it to do again – which I don’t expect to – I would go to a place far away from any source of artificial light, and I would go the a place in the center of the total eclipse band. Even so, I have no regrets and feel fortunate to have had this opportunity. The last eclipse that could be seen in the Dillsboro area was July 20, 1506. The next one will be October 17, 2053. Since I’ll be 100 years old then, I don’t expect to see it.

When the eclipse was at about 50%, we could see what we thought to be a sunspot on the sun as we looked at the half-moon image on the paper under the telescope/binoculars setup. Unfortunately, the sunspot was too tiny to show up in the photograph I took.

Traffic!

It had taken less than an hour that morning to drive from Canton, North Carolina to Bryson City. After the steam train returned us to Bryson City after the eclipse, we enjoyed pizza at Nick and Nate’s Pizza across the street from the train station and headed back to Canton.

It wasn’t long before we caught up with bumper-to-bumper traffic. It took us three-and-a-half hours to drive back to Canton, so we were glad we’d taken time to eat supper in Bryson City.

A nice surprise

A nice surprise that morning in Bryson City was visiting O’Neil’s Shop on the Corner and finding a copy of my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, prominently displayed near the bookstore’s entrance.

One of the shop’s owners, Tom O’Neill, asked me to autograph it and the other copy on another shelf. I was thrilled to find my book still available there! (I wrote about my first experience meeting Tom and Cynthia O’Neill in my December 30, 2014 blog post, O’Neill’s Shop on the Corner)

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That’s me, proudly standing beside my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, on display at O’Neill’s Shop on the Corner, Bryson City, NC.

It was a really nice day. We’d had such a good experience all day, the long drive back to Canton wasn’t so bad. We regretted that we were missing the NOVA program about the eclipse on PBS that night, but it turned out that we got to see it later in the week after we returned home.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’ve almost finished reading Hatteras Light, by Philip Gerard, for tonight’s meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Photo credits:  Marie Morrison