Editor’s Update: New Design, New Essay

Today I am pleased to introduce the new Essays on Childhood site format. It’s more writer-reader friendly than our original site, with lots of white space and the extra links greyed out or hidden. It is a much better format and visual experience, and showcases our writers’ work well.

In addition to the new site design, we will be slowly moving all of the full essay texts over to this site from Esse Diem. In the past, this site has served as a preview and link for the complete essays that were posted here; soon you will be able to read all of the work on one site, in one place, unmixed with the ramblings of a personal blog.

Our first writer to appear via the new approach to Essays on Childhood is the wonderful Susan Byrum Rountree. She is the author of Nags Headers, a regional history set on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and In Mother Words, an essay collection. She blogs at writemuch.blogspot.com from her home in Raleigh. This is her second publication by Essays on Childhood. Her first essay, Pick a Little Talk a Little, appeared May 1, 2012.

Her essay, The Roost, turns over and over a great mystery from her childhood — the invasion of her hometown by millions of birds. The flocks of birds penetrated her subconscious mind, and years later began to swirl and form the shape of another plague on the community, one whose impact would far outlast the degradation the birds left behind.

Susan and I worked back and forth on drafts of this essay for several months. She knew what she wanted to write about, but she also knew that the connections she needed to make would be difficult and even painful. I wrote her this line in an e-mail this morning:

“When something powerful is right there, it can be very difficult to keep pushing to let it all the way out. It’s just scary to do, and you did it.”

I hope you will read Susan’s essay, and share with me the respect and appreciation that comes when you can feel how hard someone worked to tell the truth, not just the factual truth, but the known heart of a situation and a story.

Meet the Writers | Essays on Childhood 2013

It is with great pleasure that I introduce the first class of all-repeat writers for EOC! Each has written an essay for the project before; Anne Barnhill has the unique status of writing for her third year.

Thank you for reading, and for helping to promote these fine writers. If you appreciate what we are doing, I hope you’ll share the project with your network. We plan to publish a book next year. Just discovering EOC? Catch up with the project by listening to Elizabeth Gaucher’s interview with Beth Vorhees last year for WV Public Radio.

Brent Aikman

Brent Aikman

Brent Aikman

Brent Aikman was born, raised, and now resides in Charleston, West Virginia; he lives happily with his wife and 2 dogs.  He attended Marietta College in Ohio and received a bachelor’s degree in English and then went on to complete his Masters in Business Administration at the University of Phoenix in Scottsdale, Arizona.  He enjoys all things outdoors, especially camping with his wife and riding his motorcycle.

Brent’s essay will examine his love of motorcycles — how he fell in love with them when he was young, and how they have facilitated adventure in his life.

Read Brent’s 2012 essay, “Outside.”

Anne Clinard Barnhill

Anne Clinard Barnhill

Anne Clinard Barnhill grew up in West Virginia and graduated from Alderson-Broaddus College in Philippi.  Her debut novel, At the Mercy of the Queen, was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2012. Her second novel, Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter, is forthcoming in 2014. She is working on a third and as-yet-untitled novel, set in West Virginia.

She is also author of At Home in the Land of Oz: Autism, My Sister and Me, a memoir about growing up in West Virginia in a time before anyone had heard the word ’autism.’ What You Long For is a short story collection published in 2009 that also contains stories set in the mountains.  Books are available from Amazon, www.jkp.comwww.mainstreetrag.com or, if you’d like a signed copy, from the author directly at acbarnhill@yahoo.com. Her first chapbook of poetry, Coal, Babyis available from Finishing Line Press.

Anne’s essay, tentatively titled “Under the Stars,” is inspired by her early experiences camping in West Virginia.

Read Anne’s 2011 essay, “Winter Solstice,” and her 2012 essay, “Melungeons and Mystery.”

Elizabeth Gaucher

Elizabeth Gaucher

Elizabeth Gaucher

Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia; she now makes her home in Middlebury, Vermont. She graduated with honors in History from Davidson College and is a degree candidate for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from West Virginia Wesleyan College.

Elizabeth serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Childhood and Religion, a peer-reviewed online journal.  Her essay, “Rebranding a Life: Spirituality and Chronic Illness,” was accepted for a collection,  A Spiritual Life:  Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, & Preachers (2011).  Her collaborative writing project Essays on Childhoodwas featured on West Virginia Public Radio.

Her short stories, “They Hold Down the Dead” and “Acts” are forthcoming in publications edited by Eric Douglas and Michael Knost, respectively. (She will probably pester you to read them.)

Her essay, “Small Things in My Hand,” is about rabbits. Maybe. It might be about something else, but it has rabbits in it.

Read her 2010 essay, “STOMP! go the doors.”

Margaret Ward McClain

Margaret Ward McClain

Margaret Ward McClain

Margaret was born in the miasmal swamp of Charleston, South Carolina.  She spent her childhood dividing time between the Holy City and Greenville, SC, the red dirt capital of the Upcountry, where she was raised and attended school.  She earned a B.A. in English from Davidson College and a J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law.  She says, “I’ve always been torn between wanting to save the world and wanting to write about it.”  Today she is a recovering lawyer residing in Chapel Hill with her wonderful husband and family.  She is mom to a 16-year-old son, two grown stepdaughters and three very spoiled dogs.

The working title of Margaret’s essay is “The Alligator.”

Read her 2011 essay, “The Simons House.”

Susan Byrum Rountree

Susan Byrum Rountree

Susan Byrum Rountree

Susan Byrum Rountree highjacked the storyteller’s stool in kindergarten and has been telling stories ever since. Words have always held a sense of magic for her, and she has spent more than 35 years bending them this way and that to see what stories she can squeeze out. She is the author of Nags Headers, a regional history set on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and In Mother Words, a collection of essays about family life. Born and raised in Scotland Neck, N.C., a tiny town in the Tar Heel State’s northeastern corner, she studied journalism at UNC Chapel Hill and has written for a number of national and regional newspapers and magazines. She is now Director of Communications for St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, in Raleigh, N.C. The mother of two grown children who have found themselves writing in their careers though they swore to her they would never become writers themselves, Susan these days bends words this way and that on her blog, Write Much.

Her essay will reflect on millions of birds that roosted in her town in the early 1970s. They were just birds. Or were they?

Read her 2012 essay, “Pick a Little Talk a Little.”

Essays on Childhood: Pick a Little Talk a Little by Susan Byrum Rountree

Susan Byrum Rountree has been telling stories ever since she understood the power of the Show & Tell stool in kindergarten. Words have always held a sense of magic for her, and she parlayed that magic into a 35-year career of bending them this way and that. She is the author of Nags Headers, a regional history set on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and In Mother Words, a collection of essays about family life. Born and raised in Scotland Neck, N.C., a tiny town in the Tar Heel State’s northeastern corner, she studied journalism at UNC Chapel Hill. She is now Director of Communications for St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, in Raleigh. The mother of two grown children and two very precocious granddogs, she has written for a number of national and regional newspapers and magazines. These days she blogs about the magic of daily life on her blog, Write Much.

Pick a Little Talk a Little | by Susan Byrum Rountree

My father was an amateur magician. With a sleight of hand, he used to pull coins from the ears of grandchildren, use his nimble fingers to shuffle a deck of cards into a magic trick. He could separate inseparable rings.

He was a busy man when I was growing up. One of only three doctors in my hometown, he was up and out early, and though he most always was home for supper, often in the middle of it, the phone would ring, or people would show up at the back door, and he was gone again. My mother, brother, sister and I shared him all those years, waiting at home as he delivered babies (12 in 24 hours once), treated hearts — both broken and diseased — mended bones and emotions, nurtured families as they took root, grew old, died.

Susan on her mother’s lap

I’m child #3, so my alone time with Daddy was limited when I was little. I remember him teaching me to bait a proper hook with a blood worm while the waves of the Atlantic lapped at my feet. A walk in the woods one day (with my brother and sister), I think because my brother was working on a merit badge. A day he came home from work to sew up a tiny injured rabbit my sister found in the yard. And a day he pitched the softball to me in the back yard so I wouldn’t embarrass myself during recess. (It didn’t work.)

But one of the many things Daddy shared with me in those times when he was home was a love for banjo music. We watched the Arthur Smith Show and Hee Haw and Porter Wagoner, Daddy tapping his size 13 wing tips against the ottoman as I clapped along.

Daddy loved Earl Scruggs. Somehow back then I felt like Earl and Lester Flatt were neighbors, they came so often into our family room. I’d watch as their fingers flew, coaxing sweet music out of those strings, and it was pure joy.

Daddy had a banjo, too, and every now and then he and I would sneak away into the living room while my siblings were bent over homework, and I would sit beside him on the dressed up sofa — my feet not yet touching the floor — and he would play for me. I’d watch as those same magical fingers that shuffled the cards and stitched up that rabbit plucked the stiff wire strings until Bill Bailey filled up the whole room. Joy again, to have Daddy all to myself, for him to be singing just to me.

My kindergarten class performed a play when I was five. It had something to do with Valentine’s Day, and I played the role of “a girl.” In the picture, I stand next to a boy wearing a cowboy hat and a sly grin as big as the waxing moon. I don’t remember a thing about the play except one of the boys played Pinocchio, and that I wore a pink dress my grandmother had made and white cotton gloves. I hated that I had to stand next to the boy with the grin, who sang the theme song to the “Beverly Hillbillies” because he told our teacher Earl Scruggs was his cousin.

Susan’s kindergarten class

When I learned that Earl, the sweet man who used to visit with us often and played his five-fingered magic had died, I remembered that boy, and my Daddy playing for me, and how much banjo music meant to me once upon a time.

Wouldn’t you know that the brother of that boy is a Facebook acquaintance? So the news hound in me couldn’t resist asking if the story was true.

Not true, exactly, he wrote to me. But his uncle played in a band with the father of Bluegrass when Earl and Lester Flatt performed live for the radio. And wouldn’t you know? He and his sly brother, along about the time of our kindergarten play, sometimes sat on the stage with Earl and Lester when they performed. If I imagined them as neighbors, to be sure to a five-year-old, sitting on stage with the performers meant you were kin.

I’ve thought a lot about my banjo memories since then and have even played a little Foggy Mountain Breakdown as I worked. Though I thought my father’s banjo long gone to history, come to find out that my brother has been keeping it safe for awhile, and two years ago gave it back to Daddy, all cleaned up and ready for picking again.

“Get him to play you a song,” my brother told me.

Well, I just believe I will.

What would this world be like, if every single one of us took the time to coax our gifts out and into the world —  like the unassuming Earl, or Daddy with his magic for healing, with medicine or music? Small gestures can become great magic, when shuffled with the right hands.

You can read more about the 2012 Essays on Childhood writers here.