Tag Archives: inspiration

My Long Journey to Andra Watkins

 

Written in gratitude to Anne Becker and in memory of Ruth Wilkinson, whose invisible hand has nudged together another generation of kindred spirits under the roof of her home-sweet-home in the tiny town of Belhaven, NC.

The river takes, the river gives. Which is exactly how the Wilkinsons, who lived at 367 East Water Street in Belhaven when the road was known as Front Street, long before their house became an inn, ended up with a collection of Blue Willow plates. Ruth Wilkinson, the family matriarch, arrived at the collection one plate at a time as they washed up on the shore of the Pungo, a bounty claimed by some Victorian-era hurricane, decades before hurricanes had names. Floatsam or jetsam, who knew? Who cared? The river practically delivered them to the Wilkinson’s doorstep.

The plates, I’m told, have graced the Wilkinson’s Thanksgiving dinner table, accommodating family recipes inspired by Ruth, for four generations. I know this from Anne Becker — Ruth’s great-granddaughter, author of the “Wilkinson Plates.

Although she now lives in Washington State, which might as well be a different country if not for social media, Anne’s connection to the river is strong. Eastern Carolina calls her home just about every year.

Aside from owning the same house in different lifetimes, my connection to the Wilkinsons starts with Anne’s Aunt Becky. Becky and her husband showed up at the inn one sunny afternoon. They were taking a drive down Memory Lane and wanted a look around the old homestead. They didn’t have much time; they wanted to get back to their home in southern Virginia before dark. Becky promised to return, and she did — always unexpected — gifting me with her memories, a copy of the “Wilkinson Plates,” and finally, before she died, connecting me with Anne. The river takes, the river gives.

While researching another book inspired by her Belhaven family, Anne spent a few days with us last summer, sleeping in the bedroom once occupied by her Aunt Iris. We became fast friends, bonding over our early political careers, writing, reading, gardening, baking, old houses and the spirits among us.

A few months ago, Anne surprised me with a package that contained a beautiful cowl she knitted while channeling the cold Pungo River breezes, and two novels written by author Andra Watkins. Without giving away any secrets, Anne knew I would love Andra’s novels, based on our shared fascination with Theodosia Burr Alston, Vice President Aaron Burr’s less-infamous daughter, whose death remains a North Carolina legend, as unsettled as the fate of the Lost Colony.

I had just started reading Andra’s second book when out of the blue, I received an email from Andra Watkins herself.  Anne Becker had suggested she contact me about hosting an author’s night at our bed and breakfast.

At first, I was like – What? We can’t afford to host a New York Times best-selling author! I almost responded, politely of course, without opening her proposal. But I loved Andra’s books, so I couldn’t resist.  I opened the document, and my concerns amplified — What? We can’t accommodate 100 people! But then I thought about the flotsam-or-jetsam Wilkinson plates and how that one book connected me to Anne, and how one book connected Anne to Andra, and Andra to me. The river takes, the river gives. It’s my turn to keep it flowing.

Sponsored by Between Water & Main Bed & Breakfast, Andra Watkins will be coming to Belhaven’s Wilkinson Center, 144 W. Main St., Sun., Feb. 11, 2018, 3-4 p.m., to present “I Walked 444 Miles to Make a Memory,” a hilarious, motivational program about her New York Times best-selling memoir “Not Without My Father.” Book sales and signing to follow. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by calling 252-943-0367.

 

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In Defense of Dylan

 

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There’s nothing I can say about Bob Dylan that hasn’t already been said.  Analyzed, categorized, finalized or advertised. I’ve defended the man for most of my life against the accusation: “He can’t sing.” Whether you agree or disagree is not important. Whether you agree or not that he deserves a Nobel Prize (adding another weighty honor to his collection that includes a trifecta of Grammy, Oscar, Pulitzer) is not important.  What matters is that it is important to me.

It’s personal.

I’ve been listening to Dylan since 1971. I was 11, collecting UNICEF money for children starving in war-torn Bangladesh.  A Beatles fan like everyone else, I continued to favor George Harrison’s music after the Fab Four split.  So when he organized The Concert for Bangladesh – an event that set the precedent for rock charity – I could not wait to listen to the album, which I’m sure cost me a lot of babysitting money. And there was Bob Dylan, buried on Side E, singing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. I was instantly hooked, inspired by the poetry, the imagery and the simplicity of the ballad. I went back to discover nearly a decade of Bob Dylan’s music that I had missed, simply because I was born too late.

I might have been described as obsessed. I started taking guitar lessons – a budding folk singer in my own mind. I read Rolling Stone magazine, seeking out any reference no matter how insignificant about Dylan. I read Dylan’s own prose, Tarantula, and Anthony Scaduto’s An Intimate Biography.  I wrote my 8th grade term paper about Bob Dylan: his life, his music, his impact on society. I quoted him like some people quote movie lines. He inspired me to make music my hobby, write poetry, become politically active, major in Political Science and writing and build a career in public affairs. He was the mentor I would never meet, but who was always there for me, growing, changing and maturing with the times.

I was fortunate to see Bob Dylan perform for the first time at Madison Square Garden in New York City during his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975 and most recently at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, 2016. I was able to share that occasion with my middle son, Alex, another Dylan fan who had some catching up to do, but ultimately surpassed me in his knowledge of Dylan’s later works.

The day Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, I was ecstatic. The news propelled me out of a bad mood.  I felt vindicated. Yet, 45 years later, I found myself defending the man to anyone who questioned his right to win.

Read Dylan’s lyrics as poetry. Listen to A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Masters of War, Shelter from the Storm, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll in Dylan’s own voice, delivering his songs like no one else can, complete with gravel, grit, spit and strum. In my mind, no one else does them justice. Whether insightful (Blowing in the Wind), inspirational (The Times They Are A-Changing), harsh (It’s Alright, Ma), spiritual (Not Dark Yet), or loving (Forever Young), it’s raw Dylan.

It’s personal.

I’m sure I’ll be defending Dylan until I die, and when that day comes, someone will respect my wishes and play a recording of Dylan singing the five-and-a-half-minute version of Mr. Tambourine Man. With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, I’ll be following still.

 

A New Meaning to Pounding the Pavement

Picture_47 I wrote about this last year, and he’s doing it again. This time, Adam O’Neal has cast a wider net, walking from Belhaven, NC, to Washington, DC, to raise awareness and protect rural healthcare not just in Beaufort County but across the country: THEWALKNCTODC.com

His first step was a journey that, like the old folk song, would take him 500 miles away from home. When Adam O’Neal, the mayor of the small – no tiny – town of Belhaven, NC, told me that he was going to walk to Washington, DC, to keep his town’s rural hospital from closing its door, I didn’t think it was possible. On Monday, he will have fulfilled his promise, walking 273 miles to the nation’s capitol to support the people who elected him and then some – all the people within an 80 mile radius of the Pungo District Rural Hospital that closed its doors in July. His walk has been for the senior citizens and rural poor of eastern Carolina living in Beaufort and Hyde counties. At least one person has died an untimely death at 48 years old due to this closure. Adam O’Neal does not want this to happen a second time on his watch. Adam’s trek is like a Buddhist walking meditation – mindfulness in action. Every step – lift, kick, drop – is a mantra, or prayer, for every child playing sports, every fisherman or farmer at work, every pregnant woman worried about her unborn child, every ailing senior citizen, every person who deserves better healthcare. Without a local hospital, people living in two rural counties in NC will be denied access to the miracles of modern medicine. Every step Adam takes is a triumph for his mindfulness, and he has been rewarded with kindness from strangers he encountered along the way. He said the walk was grueling.  Through blisters and rain, his trek took him through back roads and beautiful countryside to highways where fast-moving trucks splattered him with mud. He met with locals and governors, media and mayors to further the cause for critical access hospitals. He formed unlikely alliances with leaders from the NAACP and so-called “radicals” – all united by a common cause in what he describes as a “new style” for getting things done. He has fewer than 60 miles left to go. He has asked for donations for the cause as well as prayers to keep blisters off his feet.  MSNBC, ABC, the WSJ, Al Jazeera and many other media outlets have covered Adam’s journey. Residents of Beaufort and Hyde counties will be taking busses to greet him when he arrives in Washington, likely dead on his feet, but alive with passion. Each measured step has been an inspiration for the average citizen who thinks they can’t make a difference. Think again. Everyone has a journey. Where will your next step take you?