My Little Backwoods Corner

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with my hometown.

Casar is hardly a town at all, with less than a thousand people, most of which live outside the “city limits”.  The residents of the county I live in have always had a love and hate relationship with my hometown too. We’re the rednecks, the white trash, the hicks… And thirty years ago, if you asked the man who used to pastor the church my extended family have always attended, he’d tell you that Casar was filled with a bunch of devil worshipers, drug addicts, and sinners. Forget the fact that there’s a Methodist or a Baptist church on almost every road.

I always dreamed of “getting out”, like many young people do when they grow up in small, rural towns.

I wanted to grow up, travel the world, go to school, and you know, LIVE. My eyes were always seeking the horizon, wondering what interesting lives and adventures waited around the bend, or over the mountains. One of my favorite musings as a kid and young teen was filling a bag with essentials, grabbing my bike, and just picking a direction to see what I could find.

This was before the internet. There was only what could be seen on the television or read in books. I was a big fan of the Discovery channel, nature documentaries, forensic file shows, NOVA specials, and history shows. I used to read the encyclopedia and dictionary, picking a random entry and following references, terminology, and chance through the twenty-six letters of the alphabet.

I was in love with Japan (thanks James Clavell). I wanted to see Ireland. I wanted, in turn, to be an actress, a model, a paleontologist, a writer…anything that would let me travel the world, see exotic places, do amazing things that couldn’t be done in my little, backwoods, forgotten corner of the South.

I never felt like I belonged here – and honestly, I didn’t want to. I wanted to do so many things, go so many places, be so many different things. Most of it I never did and still haven’t.

You see, leaving Casar turned out to be harder than I thought it would be.

For one, when I was eighteen, I was afraid to go to college. I didn’t want to live on campus with a bunch of strangers, in a city or a state I’d never been. I didn’t want to leave my aikido school and start somewhere else. I could’ve gone to a local university, but with the exception of the community colleges, none were affordable. I didn’t know anyone or anything outside my town, my county.

But more than that, I didn’t want to leave my family behind.

I graduated in 2005. When I was in 9th grade, the Trade Towers and Pentagon were hit. I was in Drama class when we got the news and my teacher turned on the television. Our class watched while it all went down (literally). These were the years that school shootings started happening – Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, and later the shooting at Fort Bragg. The world seemed like such a dangerous, dark place.

We always had a saying in my family – that if you mess with one of us, you messed with all of us. We were taught to always have each other’s back. To always back each other up. The idea of leaving that kind of support behind – to go out on my own with no backup was scary. I didn’t want to be hours away from home.

I was an insecure kid – naïve and wet behind the ears – what did I know about taking care of myself?

So I stayed home, tried to go to the local community college, but it didn’t work out at the time. So I went to work, and I got in and out of stupid relationships. You know, normal stuff.

But what does all this have to do with anything, right? Why am I giving you a rundown on my life history? You, a probable stranger on the internet.

Well, the truth is that the last couple of years have really made me think about my own life. I’ve had to make the choice to stay at home with my son, instead of working. I’ve been using that time to go back to school. I’m finally finishing up a two-year degree and there’s another one I want to get – one that, coupled with some new hobbies of mine, could turn into an at-home business (more on that later).

My life isn’t turning out remotely how I dreamed it would when I was a kid or teenager, but the lessons I’ve learned since then have made me who I am. They’ve turned me into a strong, capable woman, who makes plans and then does her damnedest to see them through.

I still have a love-hate relationship with my hometown; most of who I am and what I believe in differs from the status-quo in Casar. But my family is here and the life I want to build will continue to develop here.

Maybe one day I will leave, head towards the horizon, and discover wonderous things.

For now, I’m content to seek out wondrous things where I am. In my own backyard. In this little, backwoods, forgotten corner of the South.

View of my backyard – October 2021

Ashes – a poem

I am not content
with crumbs from your table
with bones bereft of meat.
I want more than gristle,

ashes in my mouth.

Your arms cannot hold the heat
from a single candle.
How then can they hold me?
Your eyes look outward, yet
You do not see me anymore

I am not content
with crumbs from your table,
with cold hands and dying embers.
I want the touch of lips,
instead of ashes, on my skin.

Copyright © J.S. White

Probably Not the Blog You’re Looking For…

When I first started the blog, I had an idea of what I wanted it to be – something quaint, simple, and thoughtful. Something that didn’t rely on lists of Do and Do-Not’s, 10 Best Techniques of whatever. I wanted something personal and friendly, almost like a conversation with someone in your local coffee shop. Or a meet-up with a friend. Something that, at the very least, was consistent.

Well, here we are – halfway through my first real year of blogging – and I would consider this blog neither quaint nor consistent.

Rambling? Yes.
Simple? Probably.
Thoughtful? I like to think so.

The truth is, I had something of a chance of heart at the beginning of August, after celebrating First Harvest. I don’t want my blog to be just another author’s blog out there, giving out tips for writing scenes, or developing characters. There are far better and more qualified writers with blogs out there for that. I’m not that person. I don’t have a four-year degree in English or Creative Writing. I don’t have a dozen published novels or e-books out there for you to check out. And I may never have them and that’s okay.

I write because it makes me happy when I do. I write because I try to connect with people, places, and things that interest me, and writing helps me process and internalize those things.

There was a large gap in my usual posting because my concept of what I wanted this blog to be had changed and I was unsure how to move forward. Now, I have a better idea. It’s my hope that updates will be more consistent (there’s that word again) moving forward. There will be some difference in content, but the style of writing similar to previous posts.

There will be thoughts on seasonal things and nature, something I’m getting increasingly close to and aware of these days. There will be posts of poems and short fiction still, just as before, but there will be more personal non-fiction as well. Less emphasis on writing nuts and bolts, technique, but hopefully more actual writing.

If you’ve followed me this far, I hope you will remain. If you plan to leave after this, that’s fine…I understand.

Here’s to a new start and a better blogging journey…

Return – a poem

This is the first year I decided to celebrate First Harvest, or what is known in some circles (mostly pagan), as Lughnasadh, Lughsana, Lammas, or sometimes simply “First Harvest”. It gave me a sense of peace and connection that I haven’t felt in a little while.

I wrote this a few days later. It’s rough, not remotely polished, but that’s okay. I hope you, my lovely readers, will find it resonates with you as well.

I long for the green,
for the wild and unseen.
I long to stretch my hand forth
to touch the unending sky.

The mountains speak
in low, mumbling tones but my ears,
like so many others,
have grown deaf to its song.

We are perished and dying,
our souls starving,
our spirits bleeding.
“Return,” the land cries.

“Return and you will be fed,
Return and your souls will heal,
Your hearts will once again hear our song,
and you will be free again.”

Copyright © J.S. White

The Garden Fairy – a tale of magic and friendship

Grandmother was a kind old woman who lived in a small house near the woods. She lived in the house all alone for her husband had died many years ago. She found joy in all the small things of life, but tending her garden was her favorite thing to do to pass the time.

Now Grandmother’s garden was not like other gardens tended by other old women. In fact, it was very special. It was special because living within it, among the many flowers and aromatic plants, was a fairy. The fairy’s name was Lily.

Grandmother did not realize it, but Lily helped her plants grow tall and beautiful every spring and summer. Every day, the little fairy would fly unseen between the dancing flowers, lush leaves, and sheltering bushes, sprinkling magic on them to make them grow.

The reason Grandmother never saw Lily was because when the old woman would go out in the mornings and the evenings to water the plants and weed the flower beds, Lily would fly high above her head and land on the top of her wide-brimmed hat. When Grandmother tended to her plants, she would often talk to herself. Not only did she talk to keep herself company, but she also talked to make the plants feel at home.

Lily liked to listen to Grandmother talk because she thought Grandmother told the best stories.

Now, in the fall and winter, when the plants in the garden would wither and sleep, when no flowers ever grew and Grandmother seldom went outside, Lily would sneak inside the old woman’s small house. She would watch her hard at work at cleaning house, or mending clothes, or cooking.

On the coldest nights, when the wind would blow from the north, Grandmother would shiver in her bed, and Lily would come out from whatever hiding place she’d found that day. Sprinkling magic, she would make sure the old woman’s fire would burn long into the night. Then, because it was often late and she was tired from hiding all day, Lily would make her bed in the old woman’s long, silver hair, and sleep until the early hours of the morning.

This went on for a long time. But as time passed, Grandmother grew older and frailer still until she was no longer able to work in the garden at all. Each day when she was finished with her chores inside the house, which began to take longer and longer, Grandmother would sit on a little bench just outside the door of her home. She continued to talk to the plants and continued to tell her stories. And Lily continued to sprinkle magic on the garden and to listen to Grandmother’s stories.

The winter was a sad time for Grandmother. The flowers in the garden would wilt, the fragrant bushes and other plants lost their aroma and their leaves, and the harsh weather kept her inside for days at a time. One particularly blustery day, snow began to fall. Even Lily’s magic was not enough to keep the house comfortably warm, and cozy, and Grandmother soon became ill.

Unconcerned with staying hidden, Lily took care of the old woman as best as she could. As the snow melted and she was able to venture out into the woods, Lily brought back what food she could to Grandmother. Sometimes she had to fly very far and when she retuned her wings would ache and she would lay beside the old woman, curled up in her silver hair, and together they would sleep the day away.

At last, the sickness seemed to pass.

One day, after Lily returned from the woods, she found Grandmother out in the garden. The sunlight set the old woman’s silver hair gleaming and there was a peaceful smile on her face as Lily settled gently on her shoulder. The old woman’s gnarled hands were covered with soil and where she knelt on the ground, there was a small pile of weeds.

“This garden is special to me,” the old woman said. “My husband, when he was living, planted all these flowers when we wed. I was so happy and together we lived a good life. Now that he is gone, I thought I had only my flowers. Our children grew and moved far away, and they do not visit. For a long time, I was very lonely, but I understand now that I was never alone. You were here with me, little one.”

“Yes.” Lily said, clutching the woman’s silver hair. “Your garden is beautiful. I like living here and I like hearing your stories.”

“I am glad,” the woman said, reaching up and patting the fairy’s head with one gnarled finger, “and I am sorry that I will leave you just as my husband once left me. But you mustn’t be sad, little one. For wherever there are flowers, I am there as well…and if you listen closely enough, you will hear me. Telling you stories, as I always have.”

The two of them spent their time in garden after that. Grandmother would pull the weeds and Lily would sprinkle magic and they shared many stories with each other before the setting of the sun. When the time for sleeping came, Lily was too frightened to close her eyes and the old woman smiled.

“Do not be frightened. I am simply going to another garden elsewhere, dear child. There will be many flowers, more beautiful than you can ever imagine.”

“But I want to go with you.” Lily protested, clutching the woman’s hair. “I am small and quiet; I promise I won’t take up much room.”

As she had that morning as they worked side by side, Grandmother patted Lily gently on the head, and with her last words, said, “My child, there will always be room in my garden for you.”

So it was that the old woman passed away.

Grandmother’s children came and buried her among the bushes and flowers she had loved throughout her life and when they left, Lily was left alone. She could not bring herself to leave the small house by the woods where she had spent many happy moments with Grandmother in her garden.

The old house remained empty and soon came to ruin, but those that lived in the area told stories of a magnificent garden that never died. No matter what time of the year it was, or how hard the rain fell. No matter how cold the wind blew or how deep the snow became, the garden that held Grandmother’s resting place always remained covered in rich, fragrant flowers.

Some even said it was magic.

Copyright © J.S. White

Forgive Me If My Religion Shows

This post is different than others. Forgive me if my religion shows just a little…

I learned yesterday that a man I admired has been diagnosed with a rare, terminal, and incurable brain disease. I haven’t seen him for almost four years now, but I feel sense of loss and sadness as though I saw him yesterday.

He was the parish priest who confirmed me into the Catholic Church not a year before my son was born in 2016. I came to the RCC from a lifetime of being a very lazy Independent Baptist.

This man – this priest of twenty-seven years – is someone I thought of (and still think of in many ways) as a spiritual mentor.

He was a shining example to me of a strong man of faith, someone who held himself to high moral standards, who cared about others, who did what he could to extol them to virtue. He had a wry, almost sardonic, wit. He was soft-spoken during his homilies despite the fact that the things he pointed out to the congregation were sometimes hard to swallow – classic spiritual conviction without the pain of condemnation, or even condescension. I saw a picture of him taken recently and the degeneration was startling.

His message to the newest seminary students right before he left to be with his family were short, simple.

In times like these, it doesn’t matter what side we find ourselves on – liberal or conservative – faith matters. God has a plan for us all, even if we cannot see it. Whatever happens, we must keep the faith.

To that I would add only:

Whatever faith we profess to have, let us keep it close to our heart in these trying, uncertain times. Let us see it as the bracing strength it can be, instead of the divisive force for which it is so often used. I am thankful that he was the priest that Confirmed me into the Catholic Church, who gave me the Blessed Sacrament for the first time.

He will be sorely missed when he is gone.

Eternal rest grant him, O Lord, that he might dwell in Thy light forever…In nomine patri, et fili, et spiritus sancti. Amen. †