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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Teaching history through a good story

Once in awhile I read a book that speaks to me not only of entertainment but also of human nature. Wheezer and the Painted Frog by Kitty Sutton made me ponder many issues.

Sutton has told the story of the Trail of Tears through the eyes of a 13-year-old Cherokee girl and a dog. She wove a mystery, a dog story and a piece of American history into an excellent read.
What a great idea for a Christmas gift! The book is available in print and ebook formats.
My full review of Wheezer and the Painted Frog can be found at http://www.examiner.com/books-in-kansas-city/wheezer-and-the-painted-frog-review.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fish Need Not Fear Me


Bennett Spring, Lebanon, MO
“Shall we take the fly-tying class?”

“We don’t have a clue what we’re doing,” my husband Everett commented. So the next morning we arrived to learn something new.
It was a tough decision to pass up the beautiful fall morning and the natural wonders of Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon, Missouri. However it’s the perfect place to learn fly-tying because it is famed for its excellent trout fishing. Missouri’s third largest spring pumps 100 million gallons of fresh cold water into the Niangua River every day. The Niangua flows through the park. The state stocks the river with trout. The fishermen come.

Where do I begin?
In the classroom in front of each chair, the fly-tying rig, feathers and yarn awaited us. I didn’t even know where to begin.
While we waited for class, we met the other students and the group tossed around wise-cracks about our fly-tying talent – or lack thereof. Jim Rogers, our hands-on instructor and concessionaire of the park, set out to show us the “how to” and promised we’d all have a fly to take home by the time the class ended.

“Sure looks easy when he does it,” one of the students observed.
“It just takes practice,” Jim assured us. “Watch while I show you step-by-step.”

It did look easy. His nimble fingers wrapped fishing line, yarn and feathers around the hook, turning it into something that would tantalize a fish.
“Now it’s your turn,” Jim said. “Just take it slow.”

Not only did I have a problem with which way and when to wrap what where, but when I made a decision my fingers didn’t want to go where I wanted them to go.
“It’s going to be a long learning curve,” I noted to no one in particular. With yarn falling helter-skelter through the fishing line I wrapped around it, I knew this sad-looking thing wouldn’t attract the hungriest fish.

“Let’s unwrap it and start over,” Jim suggested as he tried unsuccessfully to hide a smile.
“I’m all thumbs,” I admitted.

“Here, wrap the yarn around the shank of the hook and I’ll hold it while you wrap the fishing line from the other end,” he offered. I heard my husband’s laughter.
“Ignore him,” Jim said. “He’s making a really ugly fat fly.” I laughed and looked; sure enough, it didn’t look much better than mine.

Mine
Everett's

With a lot of help and laughter we finished our flies. Jim laughed and made comments about each one as he boxed them up. With every comment, he interlaced a tidbit of information about fly-fishing. At the end of the class, he offered to teach us fly-casting. That’s another story…

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Phone Call

“Is this Pat McGrath Avery?”

“Yes, it is,” I answered his opening question. Turkey time had passed and, replete from too much food, we lounged around the house. My husband, son, two grandsons and I interspersed an episode of The Big Bang Theory with conversation. I had thought about not answering my phone.

“I just wanted to tell you I’m going to read the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors,” he said. “I bought it several years ago when the guys were all here – at Celebration City (in Branson, MO). When was that, by the way?”

“2007,” I answered.

“That long? Well, I opened the book and found your phone number in the front. I wanted to tell you… I’m 93 and I don’t get out much anymore,” he continued. “I use a walker and watch a lot of TV but I thought you’d want to know I’m reading your book again.”

“Thank you for telling me. Are you a veteran?”

“WWII, ma’am. I was in WWII,” he paused. “I’m sorry to pull you away from your family but I thought you’d want to know. It’s a great story.”

“Do you have a story about your service?” I asked.

“Yes, but I don’t want to pull you away from your family today.”

“No problem. Will you tell me your story sometime?” I encouraged him.

“Yes, but for now, I want to read your book again. I thought you’d like to know.”

“Thank you so much. Will you give me your name and may I call you back sometime?”

“Sure.” His pleasure at connecting with me came through his voice. I thanked him for his call and for his service.

He gave me his name and I will ask to hear his story about his WWII service.

More than that, he gave me a Thanksgiving gift that touched my heart and brought me a renewed sense of gratitude. He simply wanted me to know that he appreciated the story that Joyce and I told in the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors.

What writer can ask for more?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

WWII Veteran Has a Story to Tell

John Bax's death earlier this week is another reminder that we are fast losing our WWII generation. As a writer, I feel a responsibility to keep their stories alive. Many veterans are feeling this need and revisiting the horrors of those years.

Robert "Rudy" Rudolph has a story to tell. Rudy is a WWII ex-prisoner of war who spent a couple years of his life in combat and as a prisoner of the Nazis.

I met with him Thursday. He's a man filled with stories, a sense of humor and a love of life. Aside from his weekly meeting with his fellow ex-POWs he likes to visit a local casino and try his luck at Keno.

Rudy served in the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Division. He spent 105 days in a foxhole on the beach at Anzio (Italy). He was part of the invasion of Southern France and at Reipertswiller where he was captured on January 20, 1945. While many books have recorded the historical events, only a few have captured the day-to-day life the individual soldier faced.

His detailed descriptions of life in a foxhole, meeting the enemy face-to-face and living in fear makes me cringe. His is a story that will bring the European war up close and personal.

Joyce Faulkner and I are helping getting his book ready for publication. Look for it in 2012.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

In Memory of John Bax

The world is a little duller today but heaven is brighter. John Bax, nature cinematographer, passed away today. The world will miss his creative gifts. Those of us who knew him will miss his charm, humility, love for nature and willingness to share his time and talent.

The birds and natural world will miss a true friend.

I'm writing his story but today I'll pause awhile. I'll do as I often do when I need inspiration. I'll watch one of his films and marvel at his special gift.

"John taught me so much. He was my inspiration and mentor," photographer Seth Patterson said.

"John has a sixth sense for finding birds, more than anybody I've ever seen," said Tony Mercieca, photographer and John's friend of many years.

"I'm the one who carried his tripod," Larry Lof, executive director of the Gorgas Science Foundation laughed when I asked if he accompanied John to El Cielo.

Photographers Steve Sinclair and Lee Zieger shared similar memories of John. It seems like just yesterday that we stood by his hospital bed and laughed at the stories of good times.

In his 86 years, John experienced poverty, hunger, Nazi occupation, new countries and a career as an international cinematographer. He searched for beauty in nature and when he found it, he shared it with the world. Born in Belgium, he immigrated to Canada. A Canadian citizen, he has been a permanent resident of the US for more than twenty years.

To Alice and his family, I offer my condolences and promise to finish John's story as soon as possible. Emergence: The Story of Nature Cinematographer John Bax will be a celebration of his life.

John, you will be missed but never forgotten. I hope there are beautiful hummingbirds in heaven.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fond Memories of Veterans Week

Another Veterans Week has come and gone in Branson but the friends we make and memories we share live on throughout the year.

Roy Lee, a WWII veteran who entered the Merchant Marines at the age of 13, and the Navy at 14, comes with his wife, Linda, and sister-in-law, Judy, every year. Amidst stories of the Aleutian Islands and dinners of gumbo or red beans and rice, the good times flow. After the war, Roy performed with the Louisiana Hayride and hung out with Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and many others. His vivid memory gives us a picture of the music scene when many great performers were starting out.

Joe Bryant and the members of the Harry S Truman chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association welcomed many of their fellow veterans for their well-attended mini-reunion. Denzil Batson, author of Korea: We Called It War, attended the reunion. He spent several days signing his book at my booth and at the Veterans Museum. I missed Ralph Schrader, Billy Joe Harris and the Sunchon Tunnel survivors this year.

Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors is always the book (of ours) that attracts the most attention. The survivors have endeared themselves in the hearts of their fellow veterans.

Speaking of endearing, Eddie Beesley always takes Branson by storm. Whether he's jammin' at the Day Room, belting out a song, showing off his new Ibot chair, carrying the sword for the Marine Birthday Ball, or just charming folks he meets, Eddie's smile draws people like flies to a picnic. As always, Connie is his number one fan.

Marlyce Stockinger hosted another wonderful Marine Birthday Ball. Her son-in-law, a veteran, drove ten hours to escort her to the ball. Marlyce was a happy camper! November 12, she started a new adventure - she adopted a little white ball of fluff - Zoee, a bichon puppy. She's taking the first step of a long love affair. Check out Zoee's FB page, According to Zoee.

Chuck and Mary Schantag hosted their Military Gala. I'm sorry I missed it this year. Chip and Sandy Milner, who have taken the Day Room to the heights of popularity, received a well-deserved award. Congratulations to both of you.

I loved seeing old friends and making new ones. Betty Carroll brought 92-year-old June Schwantes, a WWII veteran, who served on a hospital ship in the Pacific, to the Women Veterans Mini-reunion, the parade and the Tony Orlando Show. What an honor to meet June!

An unexpected highlight capped off the week. Harvey Bayless and George Boyd, WWII Tuskegee Airmen, attended the Tony Orlando Show where Tony showed the preview to the new George Lucas film, Red Tails. This story of the Tuskegee Airmen is scheduled for theater release in January 2012.

I hadn't seen Harvey and his wife Mamie for a couple of years. They were close friends to Jim and Florence Kuhn. Florence and her fellow band members are featured in my book, The Sharon Rogers Band: Laughed Together, Cried Together, Crashed & Almost Died Together. Harvey, Mamie and I enjoyed sharing a few moments of our memories of the Kuhns.

George Boyd spoke at our Veterans Week event in 2007 and attended the launch of the Sunchon Tunnel Massacre Survivors. I feel honored to know George and Harvey. They gave so much to their country in a time when they constantly had to prove themselves. Today amidst the well-deserved recognition they receive, they both take pride in their accomplishments yet remain humble and friendly.

Branson is an awesome place to spend Veterans Week!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Veterans Week in Branson

Veterans Week is in full swing. I love displaying my books at Veterans Village. As people walk through, they stop and share their stories. Today I met a man who was one of the Chosin Few in Korea and a woman whose dad served in the Aleutian Islands during WWII. She was searching for a veteran who served there at the same time. I connected her with Roy Lee.

Roy enlisted when he was fourteen. I love to listen to his stories because his recall of events is superb.

Several people asked about the Sunchon The survivors didn't make it this year but Eddie will be back in town tomorrow. One gentleman turned out to be a close friend of Florence Kuhn, a member of the Sharon Rogers band.

All in all, a good day. I look forward to tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Coming soon! Branson Veterans Week

As we drove from Texas, my thoughts turned to the upcoming Veterans Week in Branson. Veterans come from all across the country every year and many have become good friends.

In addition to the service they performed for our country, veterans seem to carry a common trait. Once you've gained their friendship, you retain it for life. I've listened to, and written their stories. I've laughed and cried at both the antics and the heartbreak. Most of all, I've learned that veterans have complexities formed by their military experience. Many never leave it behind them.

All students should broaden their knowledge of American and world history by hearing or reading about the experiences from the soldiers, sailors, pilots and crew members who lived them. They offer us an up-close and personal view.

I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I will have my book booth at the Veterans Village again this year.

The photos are from the Veterans Day Parade.

Check the event schedule at www.bransonveterans.com for information.