Gardening, Books, and a Wedding

According to the Roman philosopher Cicero, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Food for the body as well as the brain, I guess. In this last month of official summer, I have both.

garden and library

Two of my three hills of cucumbers continue to produce enough to share with neighbors and family. One of my vines has improvised a makeshift trellis by attaching its tendrils to an adjacent shrub. Country garden meets city landscaping, I suppose.

cuke vine

My miniature bell pepper, a variety called Snackabelle Red, is also flourishing. If I could be patient enough to leave it on the vine, maybe the peppers would turn red (or so the name and a picture on the tag imply).

plant tag

Worried a little about an insect invasion of some sort, I’m opting to go ahead and harvest once the pepper seems to have quit growing and still looks healthy. One of these is perfect in a salad for two.


Let’s turn from the garden to the library. My rising tenth-grade granddaughter was assigned Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for summer reading. I vaguely remembered the story of Heathcliff and Catherine, so wanting to discuss the novel with her, I checked it out of the library along with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. (Why read one classic when you can read two?)


Being an English major nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed both. To be sure, the language is not exactly modern American English and the descriptions often run a bit long, but what stories! I’m continuing with Dickens, having now checked out A Tale of Two Cities.

This August I also re-read Longbourn, a novel given to me one Christmas several years ago by my middle daughter, who knows I’m a Jane Austen fan. This novel portrays the fictional lives of the servants at Longbourn, the home of the Bennett family in Pride and Prejudice.


Now I want to re-read Pride and Prejudice to get another dose of English country life at the turn of the nineteenth century. This Austen novel about the business of the Bennett daughters finding suitable husbands is my all-time favorite classic. I especially love the first line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Hilarious!

A garden, a library, and for me, this August, a wedding. Daughter #3 said “I do” in Beech Mountain on August 15.

Like Mrs. Bennett at the end of Pride and Prejudice, I can now exclaim: “Three daughters married!…God has been very good to us!”







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A Walk Down Memory Lane

We left the car at the Battle Park lot off Falls Road, close to the site of the now removed Confederate Statue. Rather than take our usual eastward walk deeper into the park, though, this time my husband and I decided to try something new. We crossed Falls Road and hit the section of the Rocky Mount Trail that leads to Sunset Park.

walkway beside bridge

All photos taken by my walking companion, Al Pridgen

It was Sunday morning, and in pre-COVID times, we would have been on the road beside this walkway, driving to our downtown church. Instead, a closed sanctuary gave us the opportunity to appreciate Nature and reminisce about old Rocky Mount.

When thinking about the history of Rocky Mount, where better to begin than with the second-oldest cotton mill in the state, repurposed and quite photogenic across Falls Road?

mill village view

According to historians, the Tar River, visible for a good portion of this walk, is so named because it was used as a major route for tar-laden barges navigating its waters. I’ve often thought the dark waters of the Tar River also help explain its name.

tar river

These beautiful cypress trees are between the renovated mill houses and the River Falls subdivision. At this section of the trail, it was hard to believe we were in the city limits.

old cedars

I love how the trail can be easily accessed by the residents of the restored mill houses.

access to mill village

After a mile or so, my husband and I reached Sunset Park, the end of this portion of the Rocky Mount Trail.

sunset park

One of my favorite features of the park has always been the merry-go-round, but I’d never noticed the murals depicting historic Rocky Mount scenes painted along the bottom of the canopy. Absolutely beautiful!

When were these added? Who painted them? Anybody remember Coplon’s downtown? I don’t, but judging by the cars in this scene, this store may have been before my days of shopping in downtown Rocky Mount.


My husband was happy to see what he remembers as the pool house. He recalls lining up here with his quarter to pay for two hours of swimming at the “city pool.” Growing up on Meadowbrook Road right outside the city limits (at the time), he enjoyed the pool more often than I did. Out in Edgecombe County halfway between Rocky Mount and Pinetops, I went only when I spent the night with my cousins who lived on Sycamore Street.

old pool house

I don’t know why it has taken me years to walk this part of the Rocky Mount Trail. It was beautiful and, at times, a stroll down memory lane.


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A July Yard

“Summer arrived in Narrow Creek, and my word, it was hot!” This is the first sentence of Chapter 9 in my debut novel Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder, but Narrow Creek could be Rocky Mount right now. My word, it’s hot here in eastern North Carolina.


So hot my three squash plants gave up the ghost. I picked a total of two mature squash before the leaves turned brown and the plants shriveled. I’ve gone to Plan B, though, replacing a vegetable with a flower. So far, my zinnias seem undaunted by the hot, dry weather.


I love zinnias. They’re old-fashioned flowers that remind me of my Grandma Hinton. I’m sure she always grew hers from seed, whereas I shop Lowe’s or Allen’s Nursery for already blooming plants.

My brick back porch gets the afternoon sun, which creates desert-heat conditions for flowers. I’ve learned over the years what holds up in this location during the high temps of July and August.

Portulaca is a favorite. Sometimes called the sun rose, this flower blooms only with daylight. The brighter the day, the brighter the bloom. I have two matching urns of portulaca right outside my kitchen door. From inside the house (where it’s air-conditioned), I enjoy watching the plant unfold its flowers each sunny morning.


Begonias also survive the extreme heat on my porch, and like the portulaca, can handle a weekend without water if I’m away and it doesn’t rain. I just have to make sure I buy the variety that likes full rather than partial sun. I’ve mixed in some deer antlers, a bird house (uninhabited) and an old bird nest to add some variety to this baker’s rack of begonias.

baker's rack

I’m a big fan of the hearty begonia and usually plant a pink variety to circle the large forsythia bush in my front yard. This year, however, I decided to gamble with vinca, another heat and drought tolerant flower. So far, so good. The bright pink cheers me up during these coronavirus days, and so far, the deer and rabbits haven’t shown any interest in having a vinca course for dinner.

circle flowers

The cute little bunny in my yard, I learned, prefers the tender new leaves of a flowering quince my daughter gave me last year. I’ve got it caged now, but it’s been a little like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. It doesn’t look so bad in this picture, but believe me, it was considerably bushier before Baby Bunny pruned it.

the cage

Yes, I’m talking about you, you sneaky rabbit. I thought you were cute until you went on the attack.

guilty bunny

“Brilliant zinnias, marigolds, and petunias caught my eye along with Miss Josie’s flourishing vegetable garden,” Dee Ann says later in Chapter 9. I don’t have any marigolds this year, my petunias died a month ago, and three hills of struggling cucumber plants and three cherry tomato plants hardly constitute a garden.

But Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder is fiction. I don’t think I’m faring too badly with a real yard being baked by a hot July sun.

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Speaking Out for the Silent Majority

I have never “felt the Bern.” But neither do I own a “Make America Great Again” hat. In other words, I’m not far left or far right. I’m a moderate, one who seeks the middle ground. And I suspect there are a lot of Americans just like me.

crab shcack flag

We’re what’s been labeled the Silent Majority. We’re not the ones shouting at our friends on Facebook when they express strong liberal or extreme conservative political opinions we don’t agree with. It’s not worth the argument. These folks will not change their minds, and often, they’re just spoiling for a fight. We choose not to take the bait.

Instead, we scroll past and look for the happy posts, the ones about family and vacations and what’s growing in the yard.

Which is not to say we don’t care. We love our country and wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. Come Election Day, many of us will vote, usually choosing someone we consider not the perfect candidate but the best option.

Saturday, we’ll celebrate the Fourth of July, probably without official fireworks this coronavirus year but still with plenty of pride. We’re patriots; we’re just not so loud about it.

pinwheel flags


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A Life of Service

Maybe it was having lunch with a former colleague. Or maybe it was the “white privilege” comment hurled at me after a recent post when I dared express concern about a daughter’s iffy wedding plans. Whatever the cause, I’ve been thinking about my years of teaching English in the North Carolina community college system.

clock on desk

Don’t be misled by the dates on the retirement clock above. I worked full-time at Nash Community College for twenty years, but I also taught part-time for several years prior to finally obtaining a full-time position.

Part-time teaching meant part-time pay that covered only the time spent in class. No compensation for the hours involved in grading essays and preparing lessons. Oh, and part-time meant no health insurance and no time or money accrued towards  retirement.

Hardly a “white privilege” situation. But I enjoyed my job for the most part, even when it was only part-time, and seeing my former colleague, I remembered all the wonderful people I once worked with.

And although a few of them drove me crazy, I enjoyed most of the students I taught. I still bump into many of them around town. I’ve been retired now almost seven years, but not a month goes by that I don’t have someone in the line at the grocery store or in an office somewhere ask me, “Didn’t you teach at Nash Community College?”

news staff

Me on the far right with my technical writing class who wrote a newsletter as a project

You may have heard this advice to authors: Write what you know. Since I was once a community college instructor, it was easy for me to give my protagonist in my debut novel Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder the same occupation. Here’s a scene from the book that could’ve been lifted from my life:

“That night after Heather had gone to sleep and while Joe was watching an old episode of Dragnet, I read the eighteen writing samples I’d gathered from Jermaine’s class. Some were from recent 1979 high school graduates who were enrolled in the college-transfer program. At the technical college, they could finish their first two years of general college courses while living at home. This saved them a lot of money, along with the tech’s tuition being considerably less than it was at a four-year school. 

Several middle-aged students had written about how they’d lost their jobs when the fertilizer plant outside of town had closed. I felt sorry for these displaced workers in their forties or fifties who’d labored there for twenty-five or more years but had no retirement benefits and now needed to retrain.

Two Vietnam veterans wrote about coming to school using their GI benefits to advance in their jobs. Neither wrote anything about his war experience, but both stated they’d served in “Nam” back in the late sixties. I remembered Veronica telling me about her Vietnam vet husband when I got my first curly perm at the Kut and Kurl and wondered if these students knew him.

In the middle of the stack, I found Jermaine’s paper. He began by saying that he was eighteen years old and lived with his parents. He hoped to be the first in his family to graduate from college, setting a good example for his two younger sisters. His father was a guard on the night shift at the correctional center out on the bypass, and his mother worked in the cafeteria at Narrow Creek High School. Jermaine wrote that he hoped to be a science teacher one day at that same school.

And then there was this: ….”

I’m leaving you with a cliff-hanger. You’ll just have to read Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder to find out what “this” is.

Although I saw only an occasional Vietnam vet near the end of my career, the displaced workers and the first generation college students were constants. I like to think that over my thirty-plus years of part-time and full-time teaching at four community colleges in eastern North Carolina, I helped people achieve their educational and occupational goals.

To be sure, teaching English in the community college was not a life of white privilege. It was a life of service.

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The Coronavirus Culture

I’ve bought products before where the words on the packaging were all written in a foreign language….when I was in a foreign country. Not in the Food Lion in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I’m guessing hojas dobles de is Spanish for two-ply?

Toilet paper hecho (made) in Mexico is a sign of the times, part of the coronavirus culture, often called our new normal.

toilet paper

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking Mexican toilet paper. I was glad to see it when the option could have been none at all. It was just another reminder that the world as I once knew it has shifted. No Charmin, no Cottonelle, no Angel Soft (my personal favorite). Only “Vogue.”

Another example of how life has changed came in the mail. I got a personal, handwritten letter. How rare is that? I didn’t recognize the name on the return address but eagerly tore into the envelope thinking someone somewhere had something so important to tell me they’d taken the time to pen a letter, put a stamp on it, and mail it.

It was a letter from a Jehovah’s Witness. It seems that due to COVID 19, this denomination is now sending letters rather than making their well-known door-to-door visits.

I actually read the letter, even the enclosed pamphlet. The Jehovah’s Witnesses got my attention via mail whereas I must admit I probably would have pretended not to be home had they come to my house.


Judging from other mail I’ve received, the coronavirus can now be part of a political candidate’s platform–as in what the candidate is doing to help battle the scourge. Interesting that the other usual issues such as the economy, crime, and taxes are at least temporarily put on the back burner.

COVID-19 has infected fundraising, too. How many times recently have I been asked to round up my grocery total for some vague cause concerning the coronavirus? And look at this letter (still unopened) my husband and I received from our alma mater the other day. I guess I need to read the letter to see how in the world East Carolina University plans to respond to the “COVID-19 PANDEMIC.”

Pirate Plea

Lord, give me strength and grace as I deal with my new normal. Especially help me to remember to wear my mask, which dangles from my rear-view mirror like a pair of fuzzy dice.



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Wedding Bell Blues

Dear Governor Cooper:

Months ago, pre-coronavirus, my youngest daughter and her fiancé picked August 15, 2020, as their wedding date.

paula and franklin

As parents of the bride, my husband and I paid several thousand dollars in deposits. We secured a venue, wedding planner, band, photographer, florist, shuttle, and two caterers. My daughter has her wedding gown, and her six bridesmaids have their pale pink chiffon dresses.

What we don’t have, Governor, is your permission to invite more than 35 people to the reception. True, wedding ceremonies are exempt from size restrictions and can hold an unlimited number of people but, here’s the kicker, wedding receptions are not exempt and fall under the 10 people indoor, 25 people outdoor gathering restriction.

We can invite the intended 160 guests to the ceremony itself, but only 35 (wedding party, included, I might add) are eligible to stay for the reception. That’s not going to work, Governor.

We’re booked at a place called the Overlook Barn on Beech Mountain, NC. The plan is (was?) to have the ceremony outdoors and then move into the barn for the reception.

overlook barn

The place is huge, Governor. Just look at the picture. At 6,500 square feet, the Overlook Barn (the big one on the right) can accommodate 250 seated guests for dinner. We’d be willing to settle for half that.

Yes, we can compromise. Give the Overlook Barn 50 percent capacity, as restaurants are currently allowed under Phase 2. We’d spread out with our catered meal, just as patrons did at this seafood restaurant where I ate lunch last weekend.

crab shack

We don’t want to join the list of people rescheduling weddings, having to wait months, possibly another year, for the same venue. And even if our deposits are refundable, I’d hate to ask for money back from florists, caterers, photographers, and musicians, small business people who are suffering devastating financial losses during what should be their peak season.

Anya Hinkle of Tellico Moved to Asheville for Bluegrass, but Found ...

I know my Facebook friends who are constantly reminding me to wear my mask, keep my social distance, wash my hands, etc. are probably thinking I’m selfish to worry about a possibly botched wedding when people have died from COVID-19.

I’m not making light of that, Governor, believe me. But I’m willing to trust that folks will use their own judgment about coming to my daughter’s wedding. No doubt, we won’t see a great-aunt who’s had cancer recently. It’s possible grandparents can’t attend. With your permission, though, we’ll give them a choice.

The Declaration of Independence sets forth “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as examples of “unalienable rights” given by the Creator to all people and which governments are created to protect.

Ah, the pursuit of happiness. My daughter would be extremely happy to have something like the wedding she first planned. So would her mother.


Patsy Pridgen, Mother of the Bride

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Keep on the Sunny Side

Corruption at city hall. Police brutality. Looting. The coronavirus. Whether local, national, or international, there’s a lot of bad news out there. It would be easy to spend all day moaning about what’s wrong with the world.

But I’m choosing not to. At least for today, I’m focusing on the sunny side of life. After all, it’s summer, the sunniest season of all, right?

Here in my hometown of Rocky Mount, the state audit of the city government has finally been completed and released. One of the most scathing discoveries is that a councilman has received “free” utilities to the tune of more than $47,000.  Rather than admit he’s bilked the City and resign, he’s dug in his heels, denying the truth of the state auditor’s report and instead claiming he’s a victim of racism.

What?? I know. Crazy. Crazy enough that many reasonable, utility-paying citizens don’t want to live within the city limits anymore and be subjected to such shenanigans. There’s talk about moving.

I could leave this corruption behind myself. But I love my Rocky Mount home. I love my neighbors, my neighborhood, and my five-minute drive to Harris Teeter.

And I love my mature yard with this special tree that my young grandsons enjoy climbing.

up a tree

A weekend trip to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, helped me stay on the sunny side of life. Gone was the Covid-19 flashing message I saw a few weeks ago telling me to quarantine myself for 14 days if I was just arriving. Instead, I was greeted by “Welcome back, summer residents and guests.”

And the rhododendron, the mountain’s version of the azalea, was in bloom.


What’s a happier sight than a boy and a dog posing in a mountain backyard?

boy with dog

North Carolina is a “variety vacationland,” to quote an old state marketing slogan, and from the mountains to the coast, I’ve been finding the good in life. For example, look at all the shibumis on the beach at Emerald Isle.

Never heard of a shibumi? Here’s the story. Two brothers and a best friend grew up visiting Emerald Isle. The one drawback to their otherwise wonderful beach trips, they’ve said, was having to deal with flimsy beach umbrellas and heavy tents. So now as young adults, they’ve invented the shibumi. American entrepreneurship in action!

They’re selling a lot of these pricey but oh so worth it beach shades all over the United States. I think it’s safe to say Emerald Isle, the beach that inspired them, is definitely a strong market.

shabumi city

“Well, there’s a dark and a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and a sunny side too.
But if you meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view.
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life.”

I often remind myself of these lyrics from “Keep on the Sunny Side” by the country singers the White family. You might recall the song from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?

My three-year-old grandson looks as though he already sees the “dark and troubled side of life” as he gazes out on the Atlantic Ocean. But since he’s wearing Christmas pajamas while eating watermelon, I like to think he too is choosing the bright and sunny side.

eating watermelon


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School’s Out for the Summer

Can you hear me cheering? Today, Friday, May 15, is the last day of the 2019-2020 academic year for Rocky Mount Academy. Which means, drum roll here, Grandma Patsy’s School for a Displaced Third Grader is over!

Working with grandson Charlie, I’ve had an up close and personal look at third grade over the last seven weeks, at least in a private school. And I’m here to tell you, the curriculum is not for the faint of heart.

Did you have this many books in third grade? I’m pretty sure I didn’t.

Tons of Books

Back in the Dark Ages (1963-64, to be exact), Miss Annie Mears issued all of her public school third graders a reading book, a math book, and…that’s all I remember.

Did we do grammar, social studies, and science in third grade? I recall learning the multiplication tables and how to spell what I thought was a really hard word, “vacation.” Did we start cursive? Or was that fourth grade?

Examples of Handwriting Styles | Handwriting styles, Cursive ...

Like me, Charlie has learned his multiplication tables in third grade. And he has mastered a list of spelling words each week. Cursive is being taught, which I’ve heard isn’t happening in most public schools anymore.

But he’s also had some major grammar, science, and social studies lessons. Concepts like the difference between “its” and “it’s,” types of clouds, and branches of the government. Things that a lot of adults don’t know. (I was a little rusty on the clouds myself.)

There were times when he was a bit overwhelmed. For example, he insisted that his simple, across-the-board answer of “Works” for the “What” question in this chart was sufficient. And yes, he had the legislative and judicial branches mixed up, but at least he put the President in the White House!

Days like this I didn’t know whether to laugh or tear my hair out!

Charlie's answers

The biggest difference between Charlie’s third grade experience and mine is the use of technology. Boys and girls, I know it’s hard to believe, but there were no computers for third graders back in 1963, and zoom meant to fly in a speedy manner.

Of course, until seven weeks ago, there was no Zoom classroom experience for today’s third graders either.


In my opinion, Zoom didn’t come close to replacing the brick and mortar experience of school, but it did provide some sort of connection to teachers and classmates who, in happier times, were a big part of my third grader’s world.

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Bustin’ Out

I went to the beach this past weekend, and I’m here to tell you, spring is not the only thing bustin’ out all over. It wasn’t a Fourth of July crowd, but there were plenty of folks soaking up some sun and trying to have some fun.


I know, I know. I’m supposed to be on the coronavirus lockdown. I admit my beach house is not my primary residence. The address there is not the one on my driver’s license. But a contractor my husband and I hired back in the fall is finally making repairs to our house caused by Hurricane Florence what, 18 months ago. We felt we needed to go check on the new windows that have been installed and the painting that’s been done.

And I admit I wanted a change of scenery. I wanted to see the ocean. I wanted to eat some seafood. So we temporarily scrapped quarantine.

We weren’t on the coast by ourselves.

Right or wrong and days ahead of our North Carolina governor, evidently quite a few of us have decided to use our own common sense to get out and do at least some of the things we used to enjoy. I guess the desire for our old life outweighs our fear of the virus.

I wasn’t on a wild spring break like the college kids caught on the news back in March. And the beach I saw wasn’t packed like some I’ve seen reports of in Florida and Texas.

To re-emphasize, I wasn’t in the middle of any kind of crowd. And neither were these folks in the above picture I took of the Emerald Isle Beach on Sunday afternoon. People looked pretty spaced out to me.

On Saturday, my husband and I rode a dozen miles down the coast to Salter Path to get a shrimp burger at the legendary Big Oak. The small parking lot was jammed, but everyone in line pretty much observed the social 6-foot distance. Some people had masks; most did not. The line moved like clockwork.  Maybe I’m living in denial, but as I waited for my food, I felt more in danger of getting a sunburn than the coronavirus.

Big Oak

Just like at home, some businesses are thriving while others aren’t. Restaurants that have always done take-out, like the Big Oak, I would guess haven’t missed a beat. Others aren’t so fortunate. The doors were locked and the lights off at the eatery below.

NC Open

What I call the “Unwelcome Sign” flashes at the bottom of the bridge that takes me from Emerald Isle back to the mainland. “STAY HOME” all ye who have dared to enter! That’s the official line; many of the merchants no doubt feel differently (see above OPEN NC sign).

Unwelcome sign

Right or wrong, whether for essential business or pure pleasure, the bumper to bumper traffic on Sunday afternoon showed a lot of us have chosen not to stay home.


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