I believe the words of Elie Wiesel, author and winner of Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, are important to remember in light of the events of this past week.
When we made the big transition two years ago to leave Pittsburgh and move to the mountains during the summer and Florida for the winters, lots of decisions had to be made about what we kept and what we tossed. The hardest task for me personally came when I had to address the file cabinets and boxes filled with two decades of published writings.
For more than two decades, I’ve written either columns or blog posts and the major portion of those are not available electronically. I moved most of my archives, but as I hefted box after box of yellowing newsprint, I decided they would not be moved again except to my circular file, which is emptied every week.
I hadn’t done much of anything with those things until this summer after a visit home to Michigan where I presented the journal of my great grandfather to audiences interested in the Civil War and Michigan’s role in it. The only thing I have left of this man is his written word and one photograph. I have even less left by his son–my grandfather–who died in 1956.
So I’m typing madly to electronically keep a portion of my “library” as I compile many of the pieces into one book, Eclectic Leanings, Musings from a Writer’s Soul, which I hope to publish by summer’s end. Whether anyone buys it or not, I will have preserved a major part of my thoughts, values, and philosophy for my daughter and anyone else who wants to remember me after I’m gone.
Here’s one piece that I unearthed that I find relevant today. We are in danger of taking gigantic steps backward in the movement to end bullying if we don’t stop the cycle being set by those with a Twitter account and a lack of impulse control.
Published in The High Springs Herald, January 2001
The biggest lie from childhood: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Hit me with a stick or throw a stone at me anytime rather than tell me that my face is ugly or my clothes are old or my mother wears army boots. Tell me those things, and I crumble.
Yet the insults and ridicule begin at a very young age whenever someone does something outside the norm of behavior. Where do we learn to insult one another for our differences? Does it come from somewhere deep inside our psyche, and is it so ingrained in our personalities that it begins with the acquisition of language?
Many times, we throw the slings and arrows of words to protect ourselves. They serve as a red herring for the soul, deflecting those slings and arrows from coming directly back at us. And so, we are taught the old adage about stick and stones in order to make ourselves tough and to let go of those insults. But how often do they really just roll off our backs? Those words pierce their way into our hearts and souls, leaving wounds. Some of us can heal those wounds over time; others never can.
The wounds which never heal become festering blisters of pain. And words serve, not as the sticks and stones of our childhood, but as the timber and boulders which threaten to come crashing down to smother us.
As I write this column, a young man of seventeen is hanging onto his life by a thread. One morning, he woke up and decided he no longer wanted to face the timber and boulders of his daily life at school because he was different. It doesn’t matter how he was different, but he was. And he was ostracized and ridiculed for it. He would hide it, deflect it, and strike back because of it. But finally, the struggle to do all of those things while still living the life of a teenager became too much, and he couldn’t face another day.
So he woke up that morning and decided he had had enough of his life. He swallowed four hundred Tylenol pills in an effort to end the pain and struggle. And for more than two weeks now he has lingered in and out of this world.
The repercussions sent out ripples, and the emotions come in waves of guilt. Other teenagers wondered if they could have done something for him while the adults wondered why they didn’t do something more. Hopefully, soon we will realize that we could have done nothing immediate to stop him from wanting to die. But maybe we can do something now to change the course of the future.
Still the insults continue as I go about my day as a teacher. The slingshots of words continue their banter across the classroom aisles, and I wonder how to stop it all. How do we stop years of learned behaviors where the standard for wit and attention resides on the yardstick of derision and ridicule?
We are a society founded on the tenets of individual freedom yet we have become something else in our struggle to protect the rights of a diverse people. We do not applaud the standard bearers or the trail blazers until they have made lots of cash from their achievement. Then we are ready to join the bandwagon as we erect statues to their heroism. This we do for the ones who can survive their differences. We put on pedestals those who are different only when they have achieved the status which we can appreciate in our little superficial souls.
As I struggle to put a positive light on a tragedy beyond human comprehension, I wonder how I can reach out to change this situation. How can we all finally figure out that words and language and actions have far more power than anything else? They have the power to kill and the power to heal.
Each morning when I rise I pray to be given the ability that day to say the right things. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. The conscious effort on the part of us all to recognize and accept the differences of others, and the willingness to praise individuality instead of mocking it can go a long way in the process of changing our attitudes. The sticks and stones of our childhood can then be turned into something constructive from which we can build a structure with a strong foundation, relishing the differences which make us whole.
Author Note – I wrote this column seventeen years ago. My student survived and is now happily living his life with a partner and enjoying success in his career. His attempt at ending his life motivated me to leave teaching to pursue my passion. The opinion I expressed seems quite timely now. Campaigns against bullying were being implemented in schools. And then a man was elected as the President of the United States who conducts himself in times of adversity as the Bully-in-Chief. We must be vigilant and fight it because if the highest office in our country condones name calling and personal insults, then our job on the ground must be to conduct ourselves with the utmost care and kindness toward others. I pray we don’t sink to the low level of the high office of power.
We’re in our second summer of living in the Smoky Mountains, and we still have so much to learn and explore. Yesterday, we took a day away from canning and cooking to chase waterfalls. And we ended with a short kayak paddle on Nantahala Lake.
First, we headed east on Highway 64 toward Highlands, North Carolina. This road becomes curvy narrow, and extremely busy once past Franklin. But it’s worth it. Three waterfalls are within ten miles of one another and can be seen from the highway.
Bridal Veil Falls
A road goes under this fall, but it is currently closed. However, there are pull off spots and we were still able to walk under the falls.
A paved path leads down to the falls as well as a great observation deck to see the falls in its entirety. Once down at the bottom, visitors can walk right under the seventy-five-foot foot falls.
We couldn’t figure out how to get to the bottom of these falls which are supposedly 250-feet. We could only pull off and view a portion of them, but still a beautiful sight.
Rufus Morgan Falls
We headed back toward our cabin via Wayah Bald Road and hiked almost a mile to the Rufus Morgan Falls. The path becomes wet and rocky after about a half a mile so I sat on a rock and meditated while Robert climbed to the top of the sixty-foot falls. Here are my meditative photos.
Our day ended with a refreshing swim in Nantahala Lake. Then we hopped in our kayaks and paddled around a bit before heading home. The next day trip will include a trip up to one of the highest peaks in the area, Wayah Bald at 5,300+ feet.
What to do when the garlic crop finally produces? Braid them, of course!
We’d been trying to grow garlic for several years, but Robert just hadn’t discovered the proper conditions or timing for them. These he put in the ground in North Carolina in the fall. By the time we returned in May, they were ready to be harvested.
They can be stored for six months or so under the proper conditions, but we still had far too many for our own usage, and I wasn’t sure where I had room to store them with the proper dryness and air required. Then I remembered something I’ve always been tempted to buy but the cost was always too prohibitive. The garlic braid is an attractive and great way to keep the garlic for months. Plus, I had enough garlic to make braids for my daughter and a couple of friends.
Here’s how we did it.
- Harvest garlic with leaves intact. Lay them in a cool and dry place–we used our porch and placed them on newspaper. We kept the fans on for several hours each day to make sure air was circulating.
- After approximately two weeks, the green on the leaves begins to brown. Robert chose the bulbs with the biggest bulbs for planting in the fall. The rest I prepared for braiding.
- Clean the bulbs. Remove any lingering dirt before you braid it. In some cases, you may be able to remove the dirt and other residue by brushing it away with your fingers. I used both my fingers and a slightly damp cloth. On some of the bulbs, I removed several layers of outer dry skin to get rid of dirt. Do not remove all the outer layers.
- Trim the garlic. There are usually long, scraggly roots attached to the bottom bulbs, so cut those to approximately ¼-inch. Also trim away any of the leaves that are scraggly looking.
- Soak the garlic stems. You want the bulbs’ leaves to be pliable so they’re easier to braid. There are two ways to do this, but most importantly, do not get the bulbs wet during this process. You only want the leaves damp enough to be flexible. I wrapped the leaves in wet towels and left for 20-30 minutes. I could have left them longer. Next time, I might try another method suggested in the directions I found online. Fill a bowl or sink with lukewarm water, and soak the garlic so just the leaves are submerged. Soak for 15-30 minutes until they are flexible.
- Select three largest bulbs and criss cross them. It is suggested that for the best braids, you use twelve bulbs. I used six in mine so I could make more. As you’re sorting the ones that you’ll use, set aside the three largest bulbs to serve as the start of the braid. Lay them on a flat surface with one bulb in the center, one to its left, and one to its right. The center bulb’s leaves should be pointed at you, while the other two’s leaves are crisscrossed over one another to form an X over the center bulb. It helps to secure the place where the bulbs overlap with a piece of twine. Make sure that the piece you use is long enough to knot over the bulbs with enough excess that you can secure additional bulbs that you place in the braid.
- Start adding bulbs. Place a fourth bulb over the existing bundle, so it matches up with the center bulb. Use the excess twine to secure the fourth bulb to the stack to make it easier when you start to braid. Next, take two more bulbs and align them with the two diagonal bulbs in a criss-cross fashion.
- Begin braiding. With all of the bulbs’ leaves lined up, it’s time to start the braid. Make sure that you’re grabbing the two sets of leaves for each section as you begin braiding. Take the two leaves from the right side and cross them under the middle leaves, so they become the centerpieces. Next, take the two leaves on the left and cross them under the middle leaves. Repeat using twine to secure as needed. I only used twine on the fourth bulb and then at the end.
- Add more bulbs. Once you’ve started the braid, you can add three bulbs. You should line the leaves up with the existing ends of the braids as you did with the second set, so one aligns with the left section, one aligns with the center, and one aligns with the right. Start braiding again for one or two passes, and repeat the process until you’ve added all of your bulbs. Or as I did, you can stop with six.
- Finish braiding and secure the entire garlic braid. After you’ve added all of the garlic, you should continue braiding the leaves until you get to the end. Use another piece of twine to tie off the end and secure the entire braid. I used the twine to help me hang the bulbs.
We returned from a week away from the cabin to find the garden overflowing with tomatoes! Last night, I made a gallon of sauce using only ingredients from our garden–except the olive oil! Basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, red and green peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Excellent meal.
You can access my garden pasta sauce in my book From Seed to Table. This week the book is on Kindle Countdown for $0.99. Download your copy by clicking here.
The Fall and Rise of Tyler Johnson – Based on the journals and actual events of a young man turned fugitive By Patrice Johnson Disclosure from P.C. Zick: I grew up in the same small town as …
Last year, our Smoky Mountain garden saw very little rain. The whole region suffered from a drought. But this spring and now into June, the rains have been frequent and steady. We left on our trip to Michigan hoping the rain would continue so our friend didn’t have to come over every other day to water. She came three times over a two-week period, but only to pick vegetables.
A few days before we returned, she hauled home a bag of beans, several green peppers and onions and a batch of peas. The day we arrived home, my husband went out and picked five plastic bags of vegetables, including a large bag of broccoli from plants that had already put forth heads. My well-heeled and prolific gardener husband had never seen such a thing.
Yesterday, our first full day home, I spent in the kitchen. I blanched and froze fourteen bags of beans and seven bags of broccoli. There’s still a bag of beans in the refrigerator waiting to be steamed for three bean salad (see my recipe below).
Last night, he began digging up the garlic. This is the first year that we really have a crop. We’re letting it dry out on the porch now and before it rains this afternoon, Bob is outside digging up the rest.
Here’s a warning to family and friends we’ll see this summer – expect plenty of bulbs for your summer and fall garlic needs. I’d love to braid them, but haven’t a clue how it’s done. Anyone out there who knows how to do it?
Here’s the process for blanching and freezing both the beans and the broccoli.
- Wash and break into two-inch pieces.
- Place in boiling water and blanch for three minutes.
- Remove and immediately and drop into ice water for three minutes.
- Remove from water and put into freezer containers.
- Rinse and remove stalks and leaves. Cut into serving size pieces.
- Place in one gallon of salt water (1 cup of salt) and let soak for thirty minutes. This will make sure all the bugs are gone before blanching.
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Place in boiling water and blanch for three to four minutes (depending on the size of the pieces).
- Remove and immediately and drop into ice water for three minutes.
- Remove from water and put into freezer containers.
From Seed to Table by P.C. Zick with Robert Zick
4 cups green beans, steamed for about 7 minutes
1 can black olives, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans
1/4 lb. Swiss cheese, cut into small chunks
onion, chopped (use amount to your taste – I used two small onions from the garden)
fresh dill, parsley or other herbs of your choice
1 red pepper, chopped (you can use green or banana peppers too)
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
2 TBSP olive oil
juice from one lemon
Mix together all the vegetables and herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the vegetables and herbs. Chill before serving. This salad is even better on the second and third days.
Summer in Michigan — just the thought of it brings a smile to my face. Both my husband and I hail from a small town in southeastern Michigan, and this summer we returned for a whirlwind of a trip that examined our past and our ancestry. Day after day brought new discoveries and old places into focus. By the last days of the journey, my mind swirled, and I yearned for the quiet necessary to examine and absorb all I saw and learned.
The sojourn to our home state contained many elements of serendipity when the Tecumseh District Library in Michigan contacted me about making a presentation on my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal. He enlisted in Adrian, Michigan, on April 20, 1861, just down the road from Tecumseh. I agreed and decided to approach other organizations and ask if they’d be interested in my presentation. Within weeks, I’d booked three over a ten-day period in June.
A month later, a friend of my husband’s contacted us and asked us to save the date for a weekend in June for his fiftieth high school reunion. The weekend fell right in the middle of my presentations. I then made a Facebook page for my classmates asking if anyone would like to get together during my visit home. Twenty-plus people said, “Yes.” I did the same thing with cousins and yet another reunion came together.
My memory was very much put to the test. Many of the folks we saw remained in the area or had parents still in the area. I left Stockbridge when I was eighteen. My husband moved away about the same time. Both of our mothers moved from the area in the 1980s. Except for Facebook, I’ve had very little contact with any of these folks in four decades. I brought name tags, but even then I made mistakes with names.
The kids I’d gone to school with had all gotten older! Of course, I wasn’t looking in the mirror when I made my discovery. Once I identified my former playmates–some of whom I knew from my first memories–I could see those former faces in the eyes and gestures of their current conditions. The years floated away as stories spilled from the fountains of our memories. We still carried a bond born of drinking the same water and attending the same schools. While growing up in a village of 1,200 people always seemed boring to me as a kid, I can see now how our childhoods were really very blessed with simplicity, discipline, and love.
The stories of their lives poured forth. Some brought smiles, and yet others brought tears. The divorces, diseases, and death mark us and bring forth a solid and courageous character that few could have imagined back in Mr. Johnston’s history class the day we drove him to distraction, and he lit a cigarette right in front of us in the classroom. When he’d realized what he’d done, he tossed the offending fag out the window. We all remembered that day, and amazingly, we all had the same exact memory of it.
One of my former classmates lost a son in the line of duty as a police officer several years ago. Just starting his career, the young man had been in a high-speed chase when he lost control of the vehicle. The pain on my friend’s face when he spoke of the horrific accident while in the line of duty moved me to tears, and we shared a moment of grief for what we both had lost.
We flipped through the pages of our senior yearbook, and I heard one of the women in our class had been murdered by her husband. Another had died from complications with diabetes. And yet another, sat alone in his apartment miles away, afraid to come out and join us because of what he deemed a life of failure.
It might have seemed that the evening was full of tears. Yet, it was not. We shared our stories, we sympathized, and then we laughed about the pranks, the teachers, the silliness, and the fashion of 1973. We parted with promises to meet again next year for our forty-fifth. It had been nineteen years since our last reunion, and I think we all felt the passage of time. When warmth remains after so many years, it’s worth embracing and repeating.
But the reunioning wasn’t yet over. We still had my husband Bob’s fiftieth to attend. And for me, this would be bittersweet. My brother Don, who committed suicide in 2008, was also a member of this class. These were the guys and gals I grew up admiring. They all remembered me as Don’s kid sister, Patti, a little tow-headed nuisance who followed them around whenever they came to our house. Here I was married to one of their own and one of Don’s best friends to boot. I was more emotional during this reunion than my own because it brought back the pain of losing my brother–long before his suicide.
Two of my cousins also graduated that year, and when I saw them standing together, I felt the first inkling of tears. Linda and Judy and Don–they were the family trio the year of their graduation. Their open house was combined and held at our house. During the banquet, roses were placed in a vase for all those who had departed. I teared up again when they read the name, “Don Camburn.” Then the final event was the singing “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow, the musical the class put on their senior year. It was the first musical ever performed at our high school, and Don had a starring role. When the class members stood to sing the song, I saw Don on the stage–all six-foot-six-inch of him–singing, and my eyes began to fill once again. But the rendition was slightly off beat and key. What a relief. It’s hard to cry when you are trying not to laugh.
Two weeks of memories of places and people I haven’t thought about in years. Now they are bombarding my brain. And the more I remember, the more I wonder about those who weren’t there.
Visits to grave sites and former homes, chats with family members and old friends, and rides on the backroads of Michigan showed me that I had nothing to fear from the past that sometimes has appeared as a monstrous apparition over the years. Time and distance have allowed me to soften the dark memories and embellish the good into myths that warm my heart.
We ended the trip with a birthday party for Bob’s mother. She turned ninety-five on Friday, and six of her seven children gathered at her nursing home to pay her tribute. She didn’t say much, but she smiled and gobbled down her cake with gusto.
She deserves it, as we all do. May I still enjoy my cake and eat it, too, at ninety-five.