I Really Do Like Music!

I wrote this early Monday morning. I “let the cookies cool” as Ron Houchin says about first drafts, and went in for edits this afternoon. When it felt good enough to pass on, Melvin read it for his approval. This one passed, barely. I might be willing to recount an evening with airplane bottles of rum stuffed in my shirt to prepare for a concert, but the hub gets last look and sign-off on what goes into print. Essays and memoirs…fiction, too. 

Preparing the post I decided to add videos from YouTube, but only if they were clear representations of the scenes I described from memory. They magically popped up on the second key word, and, in the case of that Jewish boy from Long Island, he was exactly as I remembered. Exactly.

I really do love music!

You will rarely see me at one of our local outdoor music events. I have never been to the Blue Ridge Music Center, except for a quick run-through with my friend Martha on a sunny afternoon Parkway drive.

You probably won’t see me at the indoor music events, either. Maybe a Camerata or the Symphony, but not the mountain roots music so prevalent in town. It’s just not a draw for me. It isn’t connected to anything I know.

And yet, I really do love music! Singing around the house is the norm. Lyrics embed in my mind and I’m compelled to vocalize. Always harmony. Especially strong with twangy, country duets like Love Can Build a Bridge by the Judds, or anything from the Eagles or Doobie Brothers. The draw for me is the memory it provokes. I like music that takes me on a ride back in time.

Walking through a store the other day, I caught the tune playing on the stereo in the background. I had to force myself from diving into the harmony with Billy Joel singing Piano Man. “And they sit at the bar and put bread in my jar, and say man, what are you doing here?” But, I wouldn’t pay money to see Billy Joel in concert. The 2018 Billy Joel is not what I want running through my memory. Still a dynamic performer, yet not the Billy Joel I remember performing “Always a Woman to Me” on Saturday Night Live, some smoky night in 1979.

I watched from my spot on the carpet at Mary and Steve’s apartment in Westerville, Ohio. Our group met there weekly as the last stop of the evening, the place to gather with a date, after a date, or as the first venture out for the day. We watched Saturday Night Live together, our whole crew snugged into a sofa and two chairs, with the others resting their backs in between. Drinks were fresh, mostly sweet things like Tia Maria, or Baileys, or Drambuie. Nightcaps. Matches were lit and ashtrays settled in communal spots. No one was asked to step outside and smoke. Actually, not sharing was considered rude.

The focus was on the television. Laughing at Belushi and Ackroyd. Since I went by Barbara in those days, there was always the residual Baba Wawa joke after Gilda Radner did her anchorwoman skit. Then Billy Joel sat at the piano. He wore white. He had those big eyes and that strong voice, and all of us girls wished we could be the one he met backstage after the performance. Christy Brinkley got that gig.

There were the times I flashed my Marshall University Journalism press pass and got back stage at the Dick Clark traveling Bandstand. Got in, got an interview, promised to send a copy, never did.

The most memorable of that era took place at the Memorial Field House in Huntington, WV. Probably around 1966. My friend Jane and me were “chaperoned” by two black guys we knew from Marshall. It was the visceral experience of a lifetime. Two white girls in a sea of dark, learning what integration felt like.

But, it was “cool”, because everyone was there for the same reason. James Brown, with Ike and Tina Turner.  Yes, James Brown and his Band of Renown, on stage with Ike and Tina, in front of a crowd of maybe 1,000 fans. Remember, it was the mid-sixties, and a gathering that size made up of mostly African-Americans was not a common occurrence in Huntington, West Virginia. That’s why Jane and I wanted to be there. So we could say we were there. So I could write this story fifty years later.

We stood on folding chairs and watched James Brown sing, “Please, please, baby please don’t go.” He collapsed, men ran out with the shimmering cape to scoop him off stage, only to see him throw aside the cape and do that signature strut back to the center microphone. The building reverberated and the crowd roared. Slim pints of gin and whiskey were passed along the rows without a thought of the dangers in communal drinking. Take a drink, pass it on. We’re all friends here. To prepare for the evening, Jane and I refilled minis bottles and stuffed them in our bra. The rum was warm but it was 150 proof, and we were set in case a stray Coke was available.

Then came skinny Ike on guitar, with that lower-than-low bass voice. Next to him beautiful Tina swirling in an orbit of fringe while her arms churned, “Rolling, rolling, rolling on the river.” The backup singers with thighs like cheerleaders and voices full of growl and three-part solidarity.

It was an electric night and it’s where I go when I hear Private Dancer or What’s Love Got to Do With it. It would never cross my mind to go see her in concert today. I agree, she is still amazing, rocking those heels and swinging that hair, but  I don’t want to replace my 1966 Ike and Tina memory.


Showing my age?

Concerts just aren’t for me anymore. I’ve become impatient about the traffic, crowd, and noise. I’ve seen Bowie at Wolf Trap, and danced through the early 70’s with Bachman, Turner Overdrive, Three Dog Night, and Fleetwood Mac. So, I’m good. I’m sure I’m not alone, but sometimes feel that way in a community hard-wired for the “get up, get out, and listen to the mountain music,” crowd.

So, to my friends in town…don’t think that I am shunning your efforts to bring vitality to Alleghany County. They just aren’t my thing. I’m focused on the alternative. I’ll do my part to promote art and community culture by focusing on our writers, helping them develop the art and craft of the written word, and offering a performance venue at the Horizon Bistro. Local talent, regional names, and national bestsellers. That’s what gets me up and out!

I’ll keep my treasure chest of musical memories and let the written words in my stories be the lyrics, while I hum along in harmony.






Second Honeymoon Brings More Than Memories

When we visited Aruba on our honeymoon in 1993, I had only a hint of where our lives would lead. I knew I had finally chosen wisely, and now had my last and best husband. The years have confirmed this to be true.  I have been his navigator on road trips, first mate to his captain, and the one who held the stick when he measured out our new home site. All exciting adventures. Maybe not holding the stick, but definitely building a new house!

Island Time – Aruba, February, 2018

Over the years Melvin has always been supportive when it comes to my writing…my desire to work with writers, play with writers, and surround myself with writerly folk. He understands my passion for Alleghany Writers and the development of a literary community in our county. Even on our second honeymoon last February, he was happy to follow as I pursued the island writers of Aruba.

The following essay tells the story of what I found, who I found, and the impact of the experience. It was printed on the Op/Ed page of the Alleghany News, May 2.

Experiencing the Power of the Arts

When Melvin and I decided to spend our 2nd honeymoon in Aruba I became determined to connect with  local writers while I was there. My initial goal was to find Dan Putkowski, an American ex-pat novelist who writes about the island with an unvarnished view. But contact information was slim. He had no social media presence. Dead end.  His book, The Blue Flag, was fascinating and I knew I had to visit the setting, San Nicholas. I wanted to drive down the streets for a better look at the buildings and establishments he described. If I couldn’t find the author I could at least absorb the atmosphere that served as the backdrop for his stories, see how close the real thing was to what I imagined while reading.

When we arrived at the condo I pick up a local lifestyle magazine from the coffee table. Immediately my initial goal of finding a famous author was replaced with the desire to meet Maria Silva, the “PR Diva” of Aruba. The magazine pages told the story of her Poetry Nights and described how these literary events provide entertainment while fostering positive change on the island. The article celebrated ten years of “Poetry Night on Aruba,” and the success of “Poetry is an Island,” Aruba’s first poetry festival, held in August, 2017. I realized this was my opportunity to connect with the island writers, and to meet a woman who shared my mission.

We made the initial connection through Facebook and arranged to meet at Flor de Oriente, a recently remodeled rum shop tucked away in a neighborhood of Oranjestad, just past the rim of where cruise ship tourists drift. The distinctive block buildings nod to their Dutch heritage, colored in a deeper version of the usual Caribbean pastels.The outdoor bar area sits at the end of an open-air market space.

I wait for Maria and watch vendors wind down for the afternoon. My eye catches on a figure still full of energy, sorting through a rack of shirts and dresses. He is Nelson Gonzalez, contemporary artist and founder of the Art Rap Foundation. 

Nelson markets a unique line of hand crafted accessories and works to organize community art projects around the island.  He has represented Aruba in educational collaborations with countries like Cuba and Venezuela, and tells me of how the writing, music, and visual arts work together, opening doors for young artists, and building bridges through cultural arts. Does he know Maria Silva? Of course he does!

When Maria arrives, I find her to be a beautiful and charismatic woman, passionate about promoting the local writers and artists of the island. Venezuelan by birth, but firmly rooted in Aruba, Maria is the owner of Vibrations PR, and an organizer of local events. We sat outside in the always-present Aruban breeze and talked about all the ways writers add to the cultural development of a community.

“The intention of Poetry Night has always been to promote creative self-expression through the spoken word,” Maria explains. “When the event outgrew its first location it became a pop-up event. It moved from backyards, to vacant lots, to abandoned theaters, gaining followers every month.”

“Not just adults,” says Maria, “but kids and teens, too. As the audience grew, the usually conforming and predictable regulars evolved, and began to share a mix of rebellious and vulnerable thoughts with the audience.”

To celebrate their ten-year milestone, Vibration PR and BASHA Foundation joined forces to present Aruba’s first poetry festival, “Poetry is an Island” on August 27, 2017. While poetry was the main attraction, the event included a pop-up street fair, music, limbo dancers, and interactive games.

The festival was a definite success and audience members have already marked their calendars for August 2018. Maria Silva’s goal was to support and develop appreciation of the written word. The goal was reached, and more. The audience enjoyed quality entertainment, and the individuality of each artist in the community was acknowledged.

The value writers add to the community is universal, but it took a trip of 1700 miles to see an example of how local writers can enhance the cultural mix and add a certain dynamic to the community.

As Alleghany Writers wraps up our 3-days of poetry workshops with Ron Houchin I am even more convinced that Alleghany’s new interest in creative writing can move us toward a richer and more diverse community.

I watched Ron interact with students after the workshops, and overheard conversations during our workshop lunches and breaks. There was talk of history and famous poems, and how it’s possible to inhabit the poet’s frame of mind while reading. There were other conversations about how darkness can come to light and truth can be told through the words of poems and short stories. There was some pretty heady stuff happening in our small town of Sparta, North Carolina. I suddenly felt like Maria on that first Poetry Night in Aruba ten years ago. Full of possibilities.




On the Orangedale Road….

This story developed from journal notes taken during our recent trip to Canada, and time with our friends on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I’ve written several stories from this travel journal. On the Orangedale Road appeared in the Alleghany News November 8, 2017.


We turn down the Orangedale road. It’s the same sign. No real show of wear. But it’s only been five years. How much could change in that short period of time?

The curves. I remember those curves. Dodging the potholes. Making a game of it. Seeing how fast the old Silverado could go. The April night when snowflakes big as salad plates slid like wet meringue down the windshield as I crept across a one-car bridge with no side rails. This time Melvin drives, and I work hard to cram in as many memories as possible. I want to capture precious bits for future savoring. A little squirrel gathering nuts to relish in hibernation.

Around the last corner, bordering the property line we used to call ours, there is a For Sale sign.  I gasp. The road opens to a clearing at the water’s edge. The current owners have taken out the patches of scrub that blocked the full view of the lake from the house. They’ve etched a gravel path and created a boat ramp. The entrance to the inlet has been dredged. There is a mooring ball bobbing in the distance.

Taken on the day we closed on the property. It was definitely a “fixer upper!” We tore down walls inside and reconfigured the floor plan. Old siding came off, a new porch and deck went on. It went from a 3-bedroom ranch with an indoor pool and in-law suite to a 4-bedroom with a large master suite, spa bath, and new kitchen.

Melvin and I suffer pangs of jealousy. We wanted to do those things. They were on our to-do list. But in the end, we knew this was not our forever home. It was our adventure house, so we renovated, landscaped, and decorated, having lots of fun in the process.

We are hailed from the front porch of our former home and invited up. They are Carl and Teresa, a carpenter and a teacher from the Nunavut Territory, north of the Arctic Circle. Our adventure house has become their forever home. Besides the work at the shoreline there’s a new workshop partially constructed, and Carl has started to blaze a trail 80 acres back to a small lake on the property’s edge.

They are developing the land to fit their needs and enriching its contribution to the scenery along the Orangedale-Iona Road, a heritage road, (meaning dirt and gravel) which is the local route along the Bras d’Or Lakes shoreline.

Taken from the air soon after we took possession of the property.

It’s a road thick with maples, spruce, and white birch. Add a sprinkling of neat, little houses. I remembered that there was one particular bridge across a wide creek that always had someone fishing off the side, and dogs would bark at your passing car for the length of their property line. It was the unique character of this scenic road that first attracted us to the location.


We felt that same attraction on our first drive up Shawtown Road in Alleghany County, North Carolina. We had seen so many pieces of property. Some were obviously not right for us, and others were just not the perfect fit we were hoping for, but as the car wound up Shawtown we felt a spark. When we made the turn onto the worn-in tire tracks leading back from the road, we came over a little rise to a flat stretch of hayfield rimmed with evergreen, farmland in the short distance, mountains in the long distance. And there it was, the spot where we would build our forever home. Just as Carl and Teresa saw Cape Breton as the place to set down their roots, we knew this piece of Alleghany County was the land we wanted to shape into our senior nesting place.


And, what about the For Sale sign on the Cape Breton property? We didn’t ask. Maybe Carl is selling the acres just off the left side of the house. This land has the highest points, the widest views, and water access, which makes it very desirable. It’s only a guess. Could be that Carl plans to market the land to folks above the Arctic Circle. That would make sense. For people who live with a scant five months of temperate weather, Cape Breton’s warm summers, shouldered by mild spring and fall transitions, make the island look like the Canadian version of the Bahamas!

A Tribute to Anne

California, early 1940’s.

Remembering my mother,

Anne Draffkorn Rains,

on the day of her birth.

She was quite something,

and I mean that statement in all possible ways.




As I begin to write My Life In Horsepower, it’s appropriate to include a story from Mother’s automotive history. This memoir recently appeared in the Alleghany News, Sparta, North Carolina.

The Story of Big Blue

She was long and lean, and ran like the wind. Mother loved her. Daddy loved her too. She was a 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom.

Photo taken in October, 1988. Mother wanted to hand Big Blue over to me, but had to visit my house in Philadelphia to be sure the garage was suitable before she gave me the keys.

Daddy ordered the Chrysler the year I got married. He bought fleet cars from the dealer in Huntington, West Virginia, and told the owner he wanted something special for my mother. It was meant to soothe her mood in advance of my impending nuptials. Neither parent approved of my marriage for many valid reasons, one of them being I was only nineteen. Mother was distraught. Daddy was resigned, but both knew they couldn’t change my mind. To give her something to smile about, he ordered the car. Navy blue, black interior, black vinyl top. He called her, “Big Blue.”

I should note here that when my parents met in the 30’s, Daddy owned a little roadster convertible with a rumble seat. I’m not sure if it made him more attractive to her, but it sure didn’t hurt. It was a common bond. Mother loved the status and freedom that an automobile provided. Daddy just liked to drive.

Mother loved all material things, but especially cars. As a child of the Depression, owning a car was more than mere transportation. Many of her favorite stories included a car as one of the regular characters. “Pauline, Joe, and I took the Buick for a run up to the cabin.” Most old photos taken at outings included a vehicle somewhere in the scene. And so it became with Mother and Big Blue.

Blue took her through snowstorms that kept other cars marooned, and through rain storms that had other cars fishtailing off the pavement. She also transported visiting relatives to the funeral when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack. Such was the partnership between my mother and that car, even at the age of 76, she felt the confidence to drive solo from Huntington to Columbus, Ohio, for regular visits after Laura and I moved.

Their partnership went on for years, but as much as Mother loved the car, she was also realistic. Blue was 18 years old now, and she decided only one of the pair could have chronic creaks, mysterious leaks, and trouble revving up in the morning.

She went back to the same Chrysler dealership, found the son of the owner who sold the car to Daddy, and drove away in a new Dodge Diplomat with all the bells and whistles. And Blue? She stayed at the dealership in storage as part of the deal…for free…for three years. Mother was a good negotiator.

Blue’s next home was with me, where she stayed until 2003. I took her on sales calls and country drives. After Melvin and I married, Blue went to car shows and rallys. She had a custom car cover and was always in a garage. I promised Mother I wouldn’t sell Blue while she was alive. I kept my promise. There was, however, no promise on who would be the next owner.

In the end, after 36 years of service to our family, I handed over to keys to three young men who talked about speakers in the trunk and flames along the sides. They said it was going to be, “one phat ride.” At that moment I heard the ashes in Mother’s urn puff, and felt Daddy do a twirl in his Indiana grave. I was reminded again of all the ways an automobile becomes more than just transportation, and how the love affair with automobiles continues because there will always be someone who loves the status and freedom, and someone who just loves to drive.

The Gift of Defining Moments

When Melvin and I moved from Atlanta to Alleghany County, my plan was to retire from work and spend my time writing. Melvin had shifted into retirement mode the day he said goodbye to Kirk-Rudy in 2007. He ditched the suits, stocked up on Carhartts, and started car-building and ham radio projects. By the time we moved to Alleghany, he was a full time retiree. I was a harder sell on the idea of “just writing” in my retirement. I kept seeing things to do, ways I could contribute to the community.

I had decided that after one last project, (the Working Writers Workshops in May) I would put aside the organized, multi-tasking event organizer side of life and opt for days nestled on the porch reading, writing, and getting lost in thought. Fortunately I was poised in that direction when March and April turned life upside down, and May brought a tsunami that would change the future.

In the last four months I’ve had some serious stomach issues, (ulcers) which brought about a personal reality check and refocus, which brought about my retirement from active involvement in community service projects, followed by a renewed dedication to my writing  and the support of our growing literary community. After nudges from my writer friends and mentors, there it was…a revival…a coming home to the things that bring joy into my life.

April, 1969. Detroit. Ages: 6-months, 21 years.

1972 Camden Park, Huntington, WV. Ages: 4 years, 25 years.

The new plan was just getting underway when I picked up the phone on a Wednesday night in mid-May and heard my daughter say, “The test came back. I have cancer.” It was one of those life-as-you-know-it will-never-be-the-same moments, right up there with the day she was born…a defining moment in the mother/daughter relationship.

Life now revolves around trips to Los Angeles for support, writing about the experience, and supporting local writers and community projects of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group.

In the spirit of mother/daughter relationships, here’s a memoir, Snoop. I will  be reading it at the upcoming Voices of Alleghany open mic night. Our usual meeting place is the Alleghany Library, but Miles Realty has offered to host our event in July due to a scheduling conflict at the Library space. Voices of Alleghany is open to the public and all are invited to  hear the writers and poets of our county read their work. Thursday, July 20, 7pm, Miles Realty, 555 S. Main St., Sparta.     Come to read, come to listen, come to support!


The minute I pulled opened the dresser drawer I knew someone had been snooping. Sweaters that were folded with the precision I learned from three high school summers of retail had been jostled from their right angle positions in an attempt to reach the blue pocket folder holding all my money and personal papers. There were only two other people in the house, one of them a four year old with neither the strength to pull the heavy drawer, nor the shrewdness to cover her tracks. The other person was my mother.

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The Wonderful “What If?”

When I started writing fiction I found it so exciting to take a real situation and ask the question, “What if?” The fact that I could take something that really happened, change the sequence of events, sprinkle in a few new characters…and poof…it’s a new story.

Different, unique, totally fictitious. That was the premise behind the short story I’ll Keep You Safe. 

In 1996, Melvin and I spent two weeks in Alaska with a 36 ft. sailboat as our home. We loaded our provisions and water, then sailed the Kenai Peninsula for the experience of a lifetime. It was late-summer with barely two hours of  darkness that wasn’t really dark. We anchored in coves of crystal blue water, picked up floating glacier chunks to fill our freezer, and ate fresh-caught salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Especially memorable was the four hour crawl through dense fog using only our instruments and charts. No visibility, just the latitude and longitude, and confidence that we knew our jobs and trusted each other to reach through the mass of white dampness and into the bright blue sky on the other side.

Then came the stretch of bad weather that forced us to tuck into a lagoon at the end of Taroka Arm. Three days of rain and a radio that was out of range for Coast Guard transmissions. Nothing to do but sleep, read, and watch the wildlife, mainly the parade of black bears that made regular trips along the shoreline looking for berries and fish.

Our anchorage at Taroka Arm. The white spot in the water is our boat.

That black dot on the shoreline is one of the black bears that paraded past our boat every day.

When Melvin decided to go ashore and hike to the top to get a photo of our location I stayed behind. Yes, he encountered a bear. Yes, there was a confrontation. But all passed with only a mild measure of drama.

So, my writer’s mind kicked in and asked, “What if?” The result is the story below. It was published in the 2011 edition of the Scratch Anthology.

I’ll Keep You Safe

He starts to slip—ten feet, now another five. He thinks of Janie. She begged him not to make this hike. Sharp edges of rock rip through his jeans, into his knees. Gravel digs into his hands as his fingers grip for something solid. He’s lean and strong but still can’t get his footing—every surface crumbles beneath him. A torrent of rock cascades from above. It bounces off his body, but shatters his equilibrium. He falls sideways, tumbling, plummeting down the steep incline.

Janie scoots her seat cushion across the deck to avoid the sun’s shadow on her notebook. She’s done her quarter-hour check, and has spotted Kip’s red jacket moving up the cliff. The shiny splash of red nylon in the distance lets her relax and focus on her writing. Grabbing for the binoculars, she pans the terrain one more time. Yep, there’s my man. I’m back to work. Satisfied that Kip is safe, she turns her attention to an accurate description of their remote location, determined to capture every observation on paper.  Continue Reading