4 Books Read in May 2022

I read a somewhat odd combination of books last month. I’m sharing my thoughts about them in today’s blog post.


The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

This historical novel is based on the story of a real family. In light of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, I think this was the perfect time for me to read it.

a novel of Ukraine
The Last Green Valley, by Mark Sullivan

With the backdrop of the history of the Holodomor (“The Horror”) of 1932-33 during which Joseph Stalin starved to death more than four million Ukrainians, the book demonstrates a deep-seated anger between Russia and Ukraine. After World War II, Stalin sent millions to work camps (including many to Siberia) and they were never heard from again. This history puts this year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine in perspective. No wonder Ukrainians would rather die than live under Putin’s thumb! They’ve tasted freedom, and they aren’t going back!

During World War II, Ukrainians were caught between Stalin and Hitler. That is where The Last Green Valley begins with the Martel family.

The Martels are of German ancestry and they live in Ukraine in the early- to mid-1940s. They’ve survived Stalin’s attempt to starve them. Now, World War II rages on and the Martels are between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Do they take their chances with Stalin’s Russian Army or do they trust Hitler’s troops to guide them safely out of Ukraine? They choose the Germans and there begins the family’s horrendous trek across Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland.

This book is a novel of the human spirit, faith in God and in our fellow human beings. It is also a book of man’s inhumanity to man. In the end, it is also a story of the dream called America.

The book’s “Afterword” will refresh your memory about Ukrainian-Russian history.

You might recall that I read Mark Sullivan’s novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, in December 2019 and blogged about it on January 13, 2020: The Other Books I Read in December 2019. I tried listening to The Last Green Valley last May and wrote about that experience in my May 14, 2021 blog post, 3 Books I Tried to Listen To in May. I found reading it to be a much better experience than trying to listen to it on CD. It’s great to have options.


Finding Me: A Memoir, by Viola Davis

I rarely read a memoir, but I was drawn to Finding Me: A Memoir, by actor Viola Davis. I’ve admired her acting talents since seeing the movie, “The Help,” or perhaps before on TV, but I had no idea how bad her childhood was until I read her new book.

Finding Me, by Viola Davis

Ms. Davis grew up in a poor, abuse-filled home in a predominantly white town in Rhode Island. Her father regularly beat her mother and the children were unable to shut out the noise of those beatings. There were rats in the house they rented and extensive times when there was no electricity of hot water. She writes about how hard it is for a poor child to compete in school when they have no way to stay clean and they’re always hungry. These are things I’ve never faced in my entire life. I’m incredibly blessed.

A few key teachers, mentors, the Upward Bound program, and her first taste of theater pulled Ms. Davis out of that deadend environment and enabled her to see where her talents lay. And we are all now reaping the benefits of her incredible journey.

She writes about the racism she experienced in Rhode Island and New York City. She was accepted at Juilliard in New York City, where they tried to train all acting students to be white actors. There was only other other Black person in her class at Juilliard and only 30 Black students in the entire student body of 856 (all disciplines.)

The students at Juilliard were forbidden to perform anything but opera, ballet, and the European classics.  They were told singing Gospel music, playing jazz, participating in tap or modern dance, etc. would “ruin your instrument.”

Ms. Davis writes about a life-changing and life-affirming experience she had after her second year at Juilliard when she was awarded a scholarship to travel to The Gambia with a group led by Chuck Davis, an African dance choreographer out of the North Carolina School of the Arts.

She continued two more years at Juilliard and graduated from that prestigious fine arts school, but her heart and soul were opened by the beautiful innate talent she saw and heard in The Gambia, and it was really through that experience that she found herself.

In later life, her father got himself under control and Ms. Davis was able to have a loving relationship with him and her mother that she had been denied as a child.


The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A Narrative History of Rowan County, North Carolina, By James S. Brawley

I was delighted to be able to check out a copy of this book from the Cabarrus County Public Library. It contains many tidbits of information that will enrich the historical novel I’m writing.

The Rowan Story, 1753-1953: A Narrative History of Rowan County, North Carolina, By James S. Brawley

The novel I’m writing now actually comes before the one I wrote first. Now, Book One is Book Two, since the one I’m working on now needs to be Book One. I got so involved in imagining the backstory for the first one I wrote, I decided that backstory needed to be a book of its own. Will either book ever be published? That remains to be seen, but I enjoy the process of writing and doing the research.

What does any of this have to do with Rowan County? In Book One, Sarah and her brother and their father leave the mountains of Virginia and travel down The Great Wagon Road. A stopover in Salisbury in Rowan County turns into the family settling down there. Book Two finds Sarah living in The Waxhaws settlement in Lancaster County, South Carolina.


Slow Dancing with a Stranger: Lost and Found in the Age of Alzheimer’s, by Meryl Comer

This is probably the saddest book I’ve ever read. At its publication in 2014, the author’s husband had had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease for nearly 20 years. He was diagnosed at the age of 58 and had been a physician and medical researcher at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.

Slow Dancing with a Stranger, by Meryl Comer

The author is an advocate for more research into Alzheimer’s Disease and is pushing for more studies of people before they show signs of the disease. Her hope is that such studies will help researchers to discern how to diagnose the illness earlier – while the patient can still have a good quality of life.

She writes in detail how the disease not only destroyed her husband’s life and stole his personality, his ability to control bodily functions, his ability to talk or communicate in any way, his ability to swallow except for droppers of water, etc. She also details the care she provided 24/7 and the caregivers she hired to assist her. The toll it took on her was incalculable.

I’m glad I read it. When I started reading it, I thought it would be a book I’d recommend to my family members who are dealing with the early stages of the disease in their mother. By the time I finished the book, I thought their reading it would only be profoundly depressing at this early stage in their journey.

An online search revealed that the author’s husband died in 2020.

Since my last blog post

I took a week off from writing my blog last week. Since my last blog post of May 23, there was yet another mass shooting in a school in the United States. This one was in Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. In addition to two teachers, 19 precious children were massacred.

We have to find the courage to stop the madness in the United States of America. Until the National Rifle Association and its clones/wannabes stop financing political campaigns, nothing will change. Until elected officials on Capitol Hill and in the state legislatures develop backbones, nothing will change. Their “thoughts and prayers” ring hollow.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read or write. I received a complimentary copy of the hot-off-the-presses 3rd edition of LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens. I look forward to reading this edition and seeing the changes Ms. Givens made from an earlier edition I read.

Find time to relax and enjoy a hobby.

This afternoon I’ll watch/listen to the fourth in a series of four free webinars about writing a book proposal offered by Chad R. Allen. The three sessions so far have been very helpful.

Remember the people of Ukraine and the people of Uvalde, Texas.

Janet

#OnThisDay: 251st Anniversary of 1771 Gunpowder Plot

When the first week of May rolls around every year, I’m reminded of a bold, dangerous, and exciting event in our local history in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. It dates back to the early days of the American Revolution. In fact, it predates the American Declaration of Independence by five years. Most Americans have never heard of it.

Gunpowder Shipment

As the Regulator Movement reached the boiling point in Alamance County, North Carolina in April 1771, word came to the Rocky River Community in present-day Cabarrus County (but then part of Mecklenburg County) that a shipment of gunpowder was on its way from Charleston, South Carolina to General Waddell in Salisbury (in Rowan County.)

Knowing that the gunpowder was destined to be used to put down the Regulator Movement in counties north of Mecklenburg, eight or nine youths and young men from the Rocky River Presbyterian congregation put their heads together and designed a plan to make sure the gunpowder never reached General Waddell.

While making plans in secret to intercept the gunpowder shipment, the young men took cover from a late April 1771 thunderstorm in the springhouse on the Andrew Logan farm near where Reedy Creek now passes under Lower Rocky River Road.

Photo credit: Jonas Kaiser on unsplash.com

Not all sources agree on the names or even the number of conspirators, but it is believed they were as follows, based on the sworn testimony of James Ashmore: James White, Jr.; John White, Jr.; William White; Robert (Bob) Caruthers (who was married to a sister of James White, Jr.); Robert Davis; Benjamin Cochran; William White (cousin of the other Whites and son of the “Widow White”); James Ashmore; and Joshua Hadley, a half-brother of James Ashmore.

Photo credit: Mick Haupt on unsplash.com

One source credits Joshua Hadley with producing a New Testament on which each one swore that if anyone should ever divulge their plot that a ball might be shot through his heart and his soul sent to the lowest hell. Furthermore, they swore that if one of them ever revealed the names of the participants, he might die where no one should see him and that he should be denied a Christian burial.

Meanwhile…

Three munitions wagons from Charleston arrived in Charlotte but, upon learning that the gunpowder was destined to be used to put down the Regulators in Alamance and Rowan counties, the teamsters refused to take the munitions any further. It is said that Militia Colonel Moses Alexander had difficulty securing volunteers to take the wagons on to Salisbury.

An informant took word to the conspirators at Rocky River that the wagons were in Charlotte and they would stop for the night at the muster grounds near the present-day intersection of US-29 and Poplar Tent Road in Concord. (Since US-29 essentially follows the route of The Great Wagon Road, that’s the route the wagons would have taken to Salisbury.)

Thursday, May 2, 1771

The conspirators met at the home of James White, Sr. They blackened their faces to disguise themselves and set out for the muster grounds. They cut across the county and sometime on the night of May 2, 1771, converged on Phifer’s old muster grounds.

Can’t you just image those teenage boys and young men nervously waiting from a vantage point near the muster grounds? Can’t you imagine their hearts pounding as they ran down the hill and approached the wagons?

It is thought that James White, Jr. was the ringleader. The signal was given! The band of patriots surprised the guards! One of the teamsters was James Caruthers. He recognized his brother, Bob, as one of the attackers. In a low voice he said, “You’ll rue this, Bob.”

“Hold your tongue, Jim,” came his brother’s reply.

The conspirators moved the guards and teamsters to safety. They emptied the wagons and put the gunpowder and blankets in a pile. A train of powder was laid. James White, Jr., fired his pistol into the train.

Photo credit: Cee on unsplash.com

The resulting explosion was heard nine miles away in the vicinity of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. Some people thought it was thunder, while others mistook it for an earthquake.

Photo credit: Andy Watkins on unsplash.com

It is said that James White, Jr. carried a scar for the rest of his life where a flying stave from one of the gunpowder barrels hit him above his eye and cut to the bone before he could run from the explosion.

Photo credit: Christopher Burns on unsplash.com

The conspirators got home the best way they could in the wee hours of Friday, May 3, cleaned themselves up, and said nothing of their overnight adventure.

The Consequences

The Battle of Alamance took place on May 16, 1771, and the Regulator Movement in North Carolina was effectively put down by the royal government. Gov. William Tryon proclaimed on May 17 that he would pardon the rebels if they would turn themselves in by May 21. Bad weather and other circumstances prompted Tryon to postpone the deadline.

Some of the Regulators were put on trial on May 30. The trial was expected to last three weeks. No doubt, news of all this was moving up and down the Great Wagon Road and the conspirators from Rocky River were anxiously awaiting the outcome.

Photo credit: Jon Toney on unsplash.com

Giving in to exhaustion, at one point some of the gunpowder conspirators set out for Hillsborough to take the governor up on his offer of pardon. Before they reached their destination, they were warned that it was a trick and were told the Governor Tryon intended to hang them. Some returned to the canebrakes of Reedy Creek, while others fled to Georgia and Virginia.

June 11, 1771

Governor Tryon proclaimed that he knew some of the rebels in the colony wanted to turn themselves in, so he extended the deadline by which they could do so to July 10, except for “all the Outlaws, the Prisoners, all those concerned in blowing up General Waddell’s Ammunition in Mecklenburg County” and sixteen named Regulators.

The Governor sensed that he was losing control of North Carolina. He wanted the young men who destroyed his gunpowder brought to justice, but he didn’t know who they were.

In mid- to late-June, the Regulators’ trial came to a close. Twelve Regulators were tried and found guilty of high treason. Six were hanged while the other six waited for the King to decide their fate.

Photo credit: Alireza Jalilian on unsplash.com

Perhaps word of the Regulator trial results reached Rocky River, or maybe James Ashmore and Joshua Hadley simply feared that one of the other conspirators would disclose their identities. For whatever reason, Ashmore and Hadley went independently to tell Colonel Moses Alexander (who lived on a plantation at the present-day site of Charlotte Motor Speedway) what they knew.

Imagine their surprise when they ran into each other on Colonel Alexander’s front porch!

The two half-brothers jockeyed for position. James Ashmore eventually pushed his way into the house and told Col. Alexander that he was ready to talk.

June 22, 1771

James Ashmore was taken to Charlotte, where he gave a sworn deposition before Thomas Polk, a Mecklenburg County Justice of the Peace. That’s when things went from bad to worse for the conspirators.

Photo credit: Alessio Fiorentino

In his deposition, Ashmore told Polk how the conspirators had met at Andrew Logan’s old plantation after James McCaul advertised a sale or something to be held there. It was there that James White, Jr. asked Ashmore if he would be interested in helping to blow up the gunpowder shipment.

Ashmore said in his deposition that he was asked in the planning stages if he thought there was any harm in blowing up the gunpowder. He said he didn’t see any harm in it. He said the next morning between ten and eleven o’clock he stopped working on his plantation and went three-quarters of a mile to look for his horses.

Photo credit: Aurelien Faux on unsplash.com

Ashmore claimed it was there that he met six men on the road “who in appearance resembled Indians.” One was either recognized or identified himself as James White, Jr. White persuaded Ashmore to come back and join them after taking his horses home and recruiting his half-brother, Joshua Hadley.

They joined the men later about a half-mile from the Ashmore home. It was at that point in the deposition that Ashmore named six men with whom he and Hadley assembled.

Ashmore’s deposition goes on to describe the attack on the munitions wagons and how the conspirators had been sworn to secrecy.

In hiding

Once the names were revealed, the search for the men began in earnest. As stated earlier, some escaped to Georgia and Virginia. Others hid the canebrakes of Reedy Creek in the vicinity of the bridge on present-day Lower Rocky River Road where the women of Rocky River Presbyterian Church took them food and clothing.

Photo credit: Gorrin Bel on unsplash.com

When in need of something, one of the young men would pop up in a ravine and whistle. Nearby resident of around 40 years of age, William Spears, would acknowledge the fugitive by removing his hat. He would then walk off in the opposite direction so he would not be seen as aiding the conspirators.

Agnes Spears, William’s wife, would then take them food. For nearly one year the women of Rocky River Presbyterian Church fed and concealed the young men who took refuge along the banks of Reedy Creek. The authorities would never think to question the women because they couldn’t imagine that the women of the community had anything to do with the plot or its aftermath.

Photo credit:

The Rev. Hezekiah James Balch openly prayed for the safety of the young men from the pulpit of Rocky River Presbyterian Church.

The participants in the gunpowder plot were fugitives until independence was declared. After the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was issued on May 20, 1775, all Mecklenburg County citizens were considered to be in rebellion. After the Declaration, the conspirators were finally able to move about as freely as anyone else and prepare to fight in the coming Revolutionary War.

When May 2 and July 4 roll around every year, think about those brave young men from Rocky River who risked their lives to help gain our freedom in America.

Since my last blog post

Is it me, or are the weeks just flying by? I’m hard-pressed to remember what I’ve done since last Monday. I just know I’ve been busy. I visited a bookstore in downtown Concord, North Carolina on Friday. More on that in next week’s blog post. I’ve done some reading and quite a bit of brainstorming over the plot of my novel-in-progress. I work out many of the plot twists and some of the dialog while on my daily walks.

Yesterday we celebrated “May Meeting” at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. The tradition started as early as 1757. On the first Sunday in May, present members of the congregation, others associated with the church throughout its history, and other visitors from the community gather for worship, the Lord’s Supper, and Dinner in the Grove. It’s been a mainstay in my life since 1953.

We had perfect weather for Dinner in the Grove. Everyone brings food and spreads it out on a long four-foot-wide wire “table” that’s put up just for such occasions. It’s fun to try a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Some people bring special dishes they’re known for. There’s always good food and fellowship as we all eat together. After having an abbreviated version during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was exciting this year to get back to the way it used to be.

Until my next blog post

My blog post next Monday will be about some of the books I read in April.

I hope you have at least one good book to read and a hobby to enjoy.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet