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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It’s the Little Things These Days

Stuck at home now for days on end, I’ve found time for the little things in life. Yep, one thing this coronavirus “shelter in place” deal has done for me is provide the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. In my case, the tea roses that are beginning to bloom at my house.


Strolling around the yard as I often do these fine spring days, I’ve noticed other first blooms. My traveling rose campion has lovely small, hot pink blossoms. I describe it as “traveling” because this prolific plant has skipped around my yard. Several years ago, I transplanted my initial rose campion to a bed in the backyard. The picture below is of one growing around the corner next to the driveway. A garden club friend told me the plant has little black seeds easily transported by the wind.

Rose campion is an old-timey flower. Mine is the offspring of one my grandmother had years and years ago. I love that I can look in my yard and see something from hers.

first bloom

With all the coronavirus downtime, a chore I’ve requested for a while has finally been done.

Two years ago, I enjoyed watching a mama bird go in and out of my hanging pink bird house. Last year, I thought maybe she’d return or I’d have another tenant, but I guess birds want new nests.

“Would you please remove the bottom of my bird house and clean out the nest so another feathered friend can move in?” I’d asked my husband. (On more than one occasion and maybe not quite so nicely.)

Along with my grandson, who loved the drilling part of this project, he picked a sunny afternoon to grant my request. My birdhouse was disassembled, cleaned out, and reassembled. I hope to see new activity soon.

charlie drillingbird house

The square bird nest they removed, which fit the square bottom of the bird house, is the stuff of “show and tell.”

bird nest

Usually when I have bananas that get soft, I pitch them. Or if I have a minute, take them outside to add to my mulch bed. Since I now have lots of minutes, this week I made banana bread. Did you know most banana bread recipes call for three very ripe bananas? I had to do a little googling to find one that called for the two I had. I don’t need the calories, but the bread has been a treat.

banana bread

I’ve been cleaning out closets (see last post) and came across a dress I made and wore when I was fifteen (1969, the year I learned to sew in ninth grade home economics). Hard to believe that was more than a half century ago!

What’s even harder to believe is my granddaughter wants to wear this dress. It fits her and she thinks it’s in style. The only problem is the dress spent decades in my parents’ attic and thus has some discoloration.

With time on my hands, I’ve been researching home remedies to remove brown spots from clothing. I used a concoction of lemon juice and salt to soak the affected areas and then dried the dress in the sun. This procedure has helped quite a bit, but the dress isn’t yet perfect. I plan to try cream of tartar and white vinegar next.

dress on rack

The yard, the kitchen, the laundry. It’s the little things that fill up my “shelter in place” coronavirus days.



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Cleaning and Cooking Corona-Style

I can’t go to church, the dentist, book club, the hairdresser, writers’ group, Talbots, or out to eat. Like a lot of other people stuck at home, I have a lot of time on my hands. So I’m cleaning and purging, and feeling very frugal about it.

Yesterday’s project was the closet in my office. This narrow space, filled with shelves, started as a place to keep important papers. You know, files full of old bank statements, insurance policies, retirement information. Somehow over the last 14 years, though, the closet became a catchall for gift wrap paper, various knickknacks, and random craft supplies for grandchildren.

It was so junky, I was afraid of losing some of those important papers in the piles of bows and empty shoe boxes (kids love these for various projects).

junky closet

It would go against my naturally frugal nature to throw away perfectly good bows and paper that can be used again, so I decided to pull out all the gift wrap stuff and find another location for it.

I boxed up my youngest daughter’s middle and high school trophies, which were in another downstairs closet, and relocated them to the attic. I put the gift wrap supplies in the freed-up space in that closet.

If it sounds like I just moved stuff from one location to another, well, yeah, I did. But I also threw away quite a few tissue rolls and egg cartons (more kid craft supplies) and some squashed bows and wrinkled paper. Here’s how the office closet looked after I finished.

clean closet

Wow, some bare space. The craft supplies are better organized in shoe boxes on the floor. It’s not perfect–I still need to work on the files–but I was rather proud of my morning project.

Also, while in the attic putting away the box of trophies, I found these lamps. I think they were my husband’s grandmother’s, at least the ones with the delicate green flowers. I’m saving them for my middle daughter, who’s soon to move into her renovated bungalow in Charlotte. Like me, she’s a fan of restoring and reusing.


Another area I’ve been cleaning out is the freezer. Finding no hamburger in the grocery stores on at least a couple of occasions now has sent me digging in the bottom of the refrigerator, where my freezer contains various dabs of leftovers. I have a waste not, want not nature, so I probably save food others would throw out.

Take this leftover frozen spaghetti sauce. Not much, but thawed, reheated, and dumped on some just-cooked pasta, it was last night’s dinner.

spaghetti sauce

I may have the Coronavirus Pandemic mixed up with the Great Depression. Every fall, my husband’s uncle brings us a huge bag of potatoes he buys on his annual trip to Maine. Usually by the spring, I throw away the last of the bag, potatoes that have grown a little soft and sprouted.

The other day, rather than face the germy grocery store, I found myself using a few of these potatoes. Peeled and cooked, they worked just fine in my Easter potato salad for two.


Still, even I admit these spuds are a little sad looking. I’ll put “small bag of white potatoes” on my list for the weekly grocery trip. I’m betting they’ll be easier to find than toilet paper.

Maybe I should recycle the old ones by planting them. I wonder how much yard space is needed to grow a patch of potatoes.

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Report Card from Grandma Patsy’s School for a Displaced Third Grader

Does banging out the same song over and over and over on the piano count for music class? It does in Grandma Patsy’s School for a Displaced Third Grader. I’m close to the point of anything goes.

music lesson

We’ve just finished our second full week of home schooling, this eight-year-old grandson and I. It’s been a roller coaster ride as I try to keep the attention of a boy who’d much rather be playing Fortnite than doing worksheets.

In a former life, I taught English in the community college. To adults. I was the mother of three girls who liked to read and usually did their homework without too much prompting. Teaching a third grade boy who prefers fishing and computer games has been, let us say, an adjustment.

I’m pulling out every trick I can think of. He enjoys striking a match to light a candle each morning before we start the day’s work. (Boys like fire, I’ve learned.) I dug up an old Beanie Baby for him to squeeze when he feels frustrated or finds his attention wandering (which happens like, every other minute). We ask Alexa to play songs, taking turns. I don’t know whether to be impressed or alarmed when he picks Black Sabbath.

And I let him put his head down, something I’m pretty sure isn’t allowed at school. I pick my battles. Besides, I feel like putting my head down too.

head down

Even though he’s not a big reader, I’ve learned he’s a decent speller. And he can whip through some math. While I was still poring over the textbook, he was already converting liters into milliliters (or is it the other way around?).

The day before we did centimeters and meters, and another day we worked with grams and kilograms. Just take me out and shoot me.third grade math

I do try to make learning interesting. A STEM (whatever that is) project involved going outside and collecting leaves. I picked a pretty morning, grabbed a sandwich bag, and we toured the yard. He plucked leaves for a while before I lost him to tree climbing. Oh well, I decided that counted for P.E.

charlie in the tree

Back inside, I did manage to get him to tape the leaves onto a sheet of paper as I quizzed him about the names of the different trees.

STEM project

Truth be told, he was more interested in pricking himself with the holly leaf than in learning the difference between the crape myrtle leaf and wax myrtle leaf.

Still, we’d gone outside and enjoyed nature. The dogwoods and azaleas aren’t affected by a virus that’s virtually shut down our country and thrown our children out of school. This year, their blooms seem especially pretty.


Charlie and I will make it somehow, some way.


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I Go Out Walking

As part of my new social-distancing, sheltering-at-home routine, I take a walk every afternoon. Getting outside helps me burn a few calories and, even more important, keeps me from going absolutely stir-crazy.

Most days, I walk around the neighborhood, greeting at a safe distance any fellow exiles who are also strolling. But on Sunday afternoon, I took a road trip to get in my walk on a piece of land in Edgecombe County. It’s roughly 250 acres of fields and woods that my husband has hunted since he was a boy. He served as my guide so I didn’t have to drop bread crumbs to find my way out.


my guide

We parked the jeep just beyond this dilapidated barn. I ventured inside, hoping to find one of those big old tobacco baskets like I remember from my granddaddy’s pack house (if you were ever involved in grading tobacco, you know what I’m talking about and understand the tobacco jargon I just used; if not, just keep reading).

No luck. Just a bunch of junk. As it’s falling down, though, this barn speaks to me of days gone by.

the barn

We walked past fields that will soon be planted. Right now they’ve been fertilized with chicken manure. I’m glad you can’t smell through the printed word. Let’s just say passing by was the least enjoyable part of my walk.


Soon we came to a path in the woods. Robert Frost popped in my head: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood….”

I know: there’s only one road and it’s not autumn. Still, there’s something about a road in the woods, isn’t there? You just have to follow it.

the path

And follow it we did. For almost four miles. We passed all kinds of cool nature stuff, like these fungi growing on a log. Notice the symmetry here in the two groupings of three. How did that happen?


Even prettier were these dogwood blossoms. I love a dogwood tree in the spring. Not only are its delicate white flowers a pretty sight, but there is also the legend that is of particular significance this time of the year.

The story goes that Jesus’ cross was made from the dogwood tree. As a result, God decided that the dogwood would from that time on never grow large enough to be used for a cross. Thus, the dogwood is a small tree that often grows beneath larger ones. Also, the flower of the dogwood has four petals, making the shape of the cross. Sometimes these petals are tinged with red, signifying the blood of Christ.

When you’re in the woods, you have time to remember stories like this.

dogwood blossoms

I’ve never been to the Great Dismal Swamp, that vast wetland in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, but I imagine it would look something like this swamp I passed during my walk in these Edgecombe County woods.

dismal swamp

Of course, no trip to the farm would be complete without checking out a tree stand used by my deer-hunting husband and his extended deer-hunting family. Once in a while, I do get a nice piece of venison from all that deer hunting.

tree stand

Out here in the peaceful woods and still-sleeping fields, the coronavirus seemed far, far away.

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