I am from Red Dirt

Last evening I was introduced to a poem – “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. We were offered a template and encouraged to write and share our own version.

I wrote a few things last night but the thoughts have lingered on into today. So, I took some time to rewrite – to add – to polish – to reminisce. It’s funny how emotional it feels…how personal. I added pictures, because they made me smile…because they also represent where I am from.

Last night I so appreciated how well I felt I got to know those who shared. It gave a new appreciation for people and their past. For what makes them the unique person they are today. I hope this affords you an opportunity to get to know me better.

Here’s my version:

I am from Red Dirt and mud between your toes;
From Avon and Coal Mines.

I am from the home above the store,
And the rolling pastures of the dairy farm.

Tabor Homestead

I am from the lilac, the crocus and the dogwood;
From Bluestone and the dam.

I am from laughter around the table;
From determination and drive.

I am from strength and independence.
I am from Emily McKenzie.

gayle & grandma

I am from tradition and innovation;
From October Beans and Snoopy Christmas paper.

I am from summer Church Camp
And Church anytime the doors open.

I am from a field of corn, beans, taters, maters and more.
I am from do it yourself and fix it- don’t throw it away.

I am 6th generation from Scotland.
I am from gravy and biscuits, sweet tea and chocolate pound cake.

I am from adventure, faith and stability.
I am from Don and Libby.


I am from red bellied tractors and summers of canning.
I’m from do you need it or just want it?

I am from the shadow of the Church;
I am from trains and pick-up trucks.

I am from stories of thrown biscuits, fall fishin’ trips;
And stories of Uncle Arthur’s ultimate sacrifice in WWII.

Wright Mountain, Rock, WV

Wright Mountain, Rock, WV

I am from Rock and beans strung under the cedar.
I am from lemonade on the fourth of July;

I am from singing hymns on road trips;
And carnations on Mother’s Day.

I am from the treehouse in the backyard.
I am from Moredock, Margaret and Elizabeth.

I am hunting dogs ‘ruined’ into great pets.
I am a Camel, Viking and a Buffalo.

I am endless games of baseball, army and tag.
I am loggerheads and Legos.

I am Dianna, Swit and Aunt Gayle.
I am the past. I am the future.

I am just me!

This exercise was made even more poignant because I had just returned from a weekend trip where I visited many of the places and people I am from.

I believe it’s true the quote by Wendell Berry “If you don’t know where you’re from, you’ll have a hard time saying where you’re going.” This exercise was a great way to touch base with your past and perhaps cause you think on your future.

I’d love to hear your versions of Where You’re From….feel free to share them in the comments.

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Each of us has two families in our lives. The one in which we are born and the one we choose. Today, I am thankful for both those families.

I am so appreciative of the family into which I was born. I have learned so many things from them (from silly songs to how to change the oil in a car) .

I am also thankful for my family I have chosen (or the ones I have been chosen to be a part of). It is an amazing feeling to receive unconditional love from people who have no blood obligation to do so!

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Who Knows only his own Generation remains always a child

No doubt you have heard the saying, ‘you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been’. I do believe that statement is true. I recently discovered the quote that is located in the Norlin Library at the University of Colorado, “Who Knows only his own Generation remains always a child.” This leads me to the topic of today’s post – My Grandmother.

Grandma and Me December 1999

No doubt there are others who could possibly tell the story better or more fully but this is my story and my perspective. My grandma was Emily McKenzie. She was a Wright before she married and she grew up on Wright Mountain in West Virginia. She was born to a farming family in December of 1906. I don’t know but I imagine it was cold the day she entered this world.

She married in 1927 at the age of 26 a man who was more than twice her age (he was 54). Although I questioned her so many times about her life and why, I never received an answer. She had three daughters, the youngest of which is my mother and four step sons (the oldest of which was four years older than she). I know there was always strife and hurt on both sides of the step-child relationship.

My Grandparents and their three daughters

I don’t know much about my grandfather except that he was a man of his time. He forbade my grandmother to drive. However she was always very proud of the fact that she found a way to have a young man in the community allow her to drive the coal truck to retrieve the coal the family needed. Eventually my grandfather found out and gave in to her desire to drive.

In June of 1943 my grandfather died. My mom’s oldest sister was 14 and my mom was 11. My grandma was alone with three young children, a general store and a mortgage. In case you are not a student of history, in 1943 there was a war going on. The USA was in the middle of World War II. Grandma managed to raise her children, run the store AND pay off that mortgage. She never remarried.


Grandma with her three girls

I fall in the middle of the nine grandchildren. I believe I had a special relationship with her (I have no doubt they all feel the same). I spent my summers with her where she taught me how to build a fire in the cook stove, to put my laundry powder in the washer to dissolve BEFORE putting in the clothes, how to find four leaf clovers and the game of Chinese checkers.

One of the most important life lessons she taught me came over Chinese checkers. You see, grandma played to win! Sure she would help, she’d occasionally offer advice, but she NEVER lost just so I could win. I had to earn the win. The game was still fun. We played often. My skill level grew and eventually I could occasionally win a game. It was a great life lesson that I didn’t have to always win to have fun; that if I wanted to win I needed to develop my skills; and that just being cute and funny didn’t make me a winner.

My grandmother also taught me how to be a salesman. During my childhood my grandma sold AVON. I spent many days with her as she would call on her customers. We’d arrive in their home and she would talk with them about their lives (really listening). She explained her products, what was new or on special, then she would ask what they wished to order. It was a classic sales technique. Listen, explain and ask for the sale.

I learned from my grandma to be generous. My grandma lived on a very limited income. Many times on our sales visits, because it was summer, they would offer her vegetables from their garden. Grandma was always appreciative for the gifts but at the next stop she would share with those customers. I never once saw her keep all of whatever she was given for herself.

My grandma died March 8th 1999 2000 at the age of 93. Although she was slower and not as able to do what she once could, she was still living alone and able to care for herself (with a little help from her family). Her mind was clear although maybe not as quick as it once was.

No doubt you know after reading this that I miss her…I have no doubt she is watching over me…I hope she’s proud.


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Train Memories

My mom sent me this video

Along with the following note: I grew up about 1/10 mile from the train, the passenger trains stopped there and we rode to Bluefield and back. There are many good memories of the trains, especially during World War II then the troops would wave and throw out addresses hoping to get a letter for some one. When the passenger train went with green flags that meant a troop train would come soon. We lived close enought to see the trains and knew what different flags meant. There were very long coal trains and some times they would block the crossing for a good while, waiting to get into the Bluefield yard

Gayle again – I remember my grandma’s being right by the railroad tracks. As kids we’d often run to watch the trains. My dad worked for N & W ( Norfolk & Western) later Norfolk Southern after a merger. Dad worked for the railroad 30 years and he seemed to never lose his fascination with trains. I remember when I was in High School or College, there was a steam excursion train that came through town. My dad was the only one left in the yard that had worked on steam engines. I ‘worked’ with him that night (which means I followed him around and watched the train).

The sound of a train whistle still takes me back to my grandma’s house and I never pass a train with out sneaking a peak at the type of cars and the kind of engine.

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Good Night, MaryEllen

As you know, I am a fan of Twitter. I love that little social media outlet. I am often amazed at the large message that can be transmitted in 140 characters of less. My favorite from this past weekend (Thanksgiving weekend) simply said “Families are Complicated”.

It is a simple statement of fact families are complicated. The thing about family complication is the multi layers of complications. There is the ever present complication brought on by the mere fact that families are made up of human beings. Humans just have difficulty with interaction. Maybe this is caused by ego. Maybe the underlying issue is self-esteem or lack thereof. Maybe it is more primal and relates to dominance. My guess is that the combination is the real culprit.

The thing about families is that no two are alike. The dynamics are unpredictable. The older I get the more I realize there are no ‘Walton Families’ and yet we all have a little piece of ‘Walton’ in us. For me, my family may not lay claim to “Walton Mountain’ but I can lay claim to ‘Wright Mountain’ in the hills of West Virginia. It is the place where we laid my grandmother to rest a few years ago. Right next to her parents and their parents, etc. While I may live far a field from that life and that place, I know it holds my roots.

Families are complicated. They do not always seem worth the trouble or the time to make them work. However, they are our past and they are our future; both of which are really just a whole lot of ‘right nows’ strung together. We may have all grown up and moved away, but still in our hearts we’re yelling ‘good night, MaryEllen’ and ‘good night, Jim Bob’ down the hall. We’re just doing it via e-mail or unlimited cellular minutes.


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Are you half full or half empty?

I realized today that I have not posted a blog here since February! It’s July! So I am going to try to be better…I said try. Maybe I can do short snippets.

I am a half-empty kind of person. I do not know if it nature or nurture that makes me this way. I suspect it may be nurture. I have notice for many years that no matter what happens in your life, if you mention it to my sister, her circumstances are worse. Last weekend I realized this trait was some thing my sister & mom share. I think I had given my mom a pass for many years because; well she has very real disabilities.

I am fortunate that for the past 12 years, I have been influenced strongly by my “other half” also known as “better half”. She is a glass three-quarters full kinda girl! It’s a pie in the sky, head in the clouds kind of world in which she lives. Everyone is kind and good. Everything will work out for the best. Everybody loves me. The birds sing. The weather is wonderful. You get the picture.

Still, my innate nature is to see a half empty glass. I try to be positive. Really, I do! I swear! Pie in the sky would be nice (although better if it were chocolate cake). There are people who are kind and good, I just never seem to meet them. It will all work out; probably about the time, you die. Everyone does love me, at least until they get what they want. Birds do sing, but they also shit on your porch (or head, so do not look up). The weather is wonderful, but wait 30 minutes and it will change. I suspect you see how this goes.

Anyway, we leave for California in 9 days. I have been negative about this trip for about 6 months (or more). I was promised I would NEVER have to do this again, but I’m going. It was my choice to go (trying to be a nice guy – HA!).

I am trying to change my attitude. I am really! Right now, I think it’s 10 day…10 stinkin’ days of hell…than I can come back home. It’s not the perfect attitude; but it’s a large improvement from the bitching and moaning of last week. I am not going to promise to write daily but I may be depending on you, those brave enough to read this blog, to help me make it through the next 19 days.

More later……

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