Snapshots

I guess you just had to be there.

I’ve searched for weeks for something worthwhile to write about, but everything that comes to me is cliché. Or I’ve written about it one too many times.

Write what you know, “they” say.

What do I know? I know I’m weary. The school year has been great. My students have been awesome, but my mental faculties are zapped. My emotions are zapped. I’m depleted. So my focus isn’t what it should be. That’s okay, given the circumstances.

I’ve spent lots of time at my parents’ house. But I didn’t grow up there. The house once belonged to my aunt and uncle, and my grandfather lived there before he passed away. This is the first and only house my parents ever owned, and they were proud to call it their own. “My” childhood home was a rental house on the edge of the city limits.

I knew that old house, that tiny little, mildew-ridden house. I could stand in the hallway and see every room. The kitchen especially. I remember the green table cloth on the table. Green. My mom always decorated the kitchen in green. I don’t remember what I had done. All I know is that a switch was involved and that I was short enough to run under the table while standing up straight. Being short has its advantages.

I remember the black telephone hanging on the wall in the hall and the party line. I had some pretty cool conversations with an anonymous voice who said he was a vampire. I think his real name was Terry. All I know is if I picked up the phone and he was on there, our chance meeting turned into a mysterious conversation. Not that I believed any of it, but Dark Shadows was a popular show at the time, and my mom and I were really into it. I guess I was already writing books in my head at the time. I mean, how often does one have an interview with a vampire? I thought it was uber cool. Too bad we never met.

Before my parents bought their house and moved out of the rental, “my” house was grand central station of the neighborhood. I had a front porch with a swing and a basketball goal in the back and a beautiful redbud tree with limbs low enough for climbing.

I was a manipulative child, certainly not the demure individual I am now. But then again I was the only girl in the neighborhood, and it was every man for himself. And being the only girl on the street, there were times I had to man up for survival’s sake. Once I tied my neighbor to my beautiful redbud and refused to let him go until he paid for his crime. I don’t remember what he did to tick me off, but I’m sure he deserved the punishment. If he hadn’t convinced me he was having heart troubles, I would’ve made him stay there all night.

I am not a liar. In fact, if you ask me anything, I’ll tell you straight up to your face the truth. But back in the day, my front porch was home to some pretty profitable poker games. Again, the only girl, I learned to bluff—and held my smile when I raked in the loose change. We didn’t play for big bucks, but that’s not to say we kids weren’t privy to some secret info. I won’t say where, but it was a known fact that in my neighborhood, high-stake poker games were a pretty common occurrence. We used to ride our bikes by the place and count the cars out front, daring one another to knock on the door.

No one was stupid enough to take the chance. But dares were just part of growing up on my street.

My own kids never stepped foot in  the rental house I grew up in. They never would have understood. We couldn’t turn the wall heaters on at night for fear the water that ran off the iced windows might drip into them and short them out. Lack of insulation. We relied on quilts, plural. Piled high. We didn’t have showers; we had tubs, but we learned how to adapt with a hand-held sprayer. Nope, my kids would have never understood.

They grew up in a cozy little neighborhood, just down the road from our current home. Quaint, small, but comfortable–and safe.

Granny and Pa watched my babies like hawks. The worst thing that ever happened to Josh was a bicycle stunt gone wrong. He flipped it, literally, and did a 360 without any major injuries. Michael, my tough guy, made Pa play ball, made Pa, in his 70s, slide into home plate, again without any major injuries.

I can’t believe my parents let get me get away with the things I did as a kid on my street—namely, jumping out of tree houses just to prove I wasn’t scared. And I never broke a bone. Never sprained an ankle. Never cried. I ventured through fields, fearless of snakes, and I waded through ponds, never knowing how deep. And I never learned how to swim. And I rode my bike down country rodes and picnicked by myself in the loft of an old deserted barn just for the adventure of it. I didn’t mind being alone. I still don’t. It gives me time to think.

I learned how to be tough. I never cried when I wrecked my bike or got hit in the face with a baseball or forgot to let go of a firecracker before it when off. When it came time to choose up teams for baseball, basketball, football, whatever the sport, I waited to be picked–sometimes until the very end, depending on who was captain. The truth is I figured I was just as good as they were. Either they picked me for their team, or they didn’t.

I never whined. I never complained. If chosen, I went out there and did my best. I laughed when a new kid begged me to take my turn at bat. Ground rule. Got a sucky player? One of the better guys could take her–yeah it was usually a her–turn at bat.

I could take my own turn at bat, thank you. And if they didn’t want me, I didn’t tear up. I’d rather have someone tell me straight up how it is than to lie or pander to me. I still feel that way. Don’t like me? Don’t like my talents? I’m outta there. No hard feelings. Goodbye. Don’t expect me to beg.

When I was a kid, I roamed the neighborhood. I spent a lot of time  sitting on the porce steps of an old man’s house. Everyone called him Grandpa, but I never knew his real name. I just remember him playing a tune on his French harp, stomping his feet and stopping to sing a verse or two. “Oh, Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” And my favorite—“If you want a good man, you gotta treat him right.” I probably still have Grandpa’s voice on cassette tape somewhere. I grew up and moved before he passed. Probably a good thing because if I had known, I’m sure his death would have broken me.

Grandpa gave me my first dog, Lassie. Original name, huh? She looked a lot like a collie, and she was so smart. It was as if we could communicate telepathically. I didn’t even have to say the words. Lassie and I were so close that I could subtly give a command with my eyes and she did whatever I asked—sit, catch a ball, jump through a hula hoop, whatever. My parents begged me to give her up. They promised to buy me another dog. I wasn’t sure why. I loved THIS dog, and nothing could stop me from keeping her. Good choice. I think that was the only time in my life I ever stood my ground with my parents.

The Kennel Ration Dog Competition came to town one year and held a contest in the old strip mall across from the high school. Lassie won third place. I was never so proud. I still have the trophy in my case. I sure loved that dog. She was my best friend, my confidant, my everything. I had already gone to college when she developed cancer, and the vet had to put her down. No hope. I lost my best friend.

So there you have it, a blog that’s nothing more than a hodgepodge of memories, snapshots from a spunky little girl who grew into a disillusioned adult.

My parents’ bought and paid for home, the one I inherited, holds few memories for me but dozens for my children. But, every time I’m there alone, I have to admit, I feel a little strange. I hear things. Tonight I had shut off all the lights in the house and was feeling my way from the back bedroom to the front door. That’s when I heard the screen door shut. No one was there.

And the lighthouse music box turned on by itself the first time we started moving things out.

Once, while I was alone, I ventured up into the attic—defying my fear of heights, just to see what was up there. And while I was exploring, I heard footsteps walking around down below. No one was there.

I do not believe in ghosts, but I do believe there are things our minds don’t understand. I certainly don’t understand what I heard.  I actually sat down on a stool up there in the attic and had a rational conversation with myself.

“Do you hear that?”

“Yes. I definitely hear footsteps.”

I waited. I listened. They continued.

I wasn’t imagining things.

I assumed it was Kenny. I waited for him to yell at me to find out where I was. But no one ever checked on me. I finally climbed down the ladder. No one was there.

Go figure. I have no answers. I just have an imagination and my memories. And sometimes that’s all a writer needs.

Monday Mentor: Kathy Harris

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

Jeremiah 29:11

For the last several weeks my Christian journey has been teaching me more about faith. I’m the type of person who feels awkward in new situations. I like to know where I’m going. I like to plan ahead. But God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t want us to depend on ourselves. He wants us to rely on Him.

Writer and blogger Kathy Harris can relate. Kathy’s blog Divine Detour features interviews with people who have experienced their own “divine detour.” Although we may think we knows what’s best for us, God always has the quintessential plan for our lives.

Please tell us a little bit about your background.

I’ve wanted to “be a writer” since I was a young child, and that dream followed me through high school and college. I’ve always loved words and linguistics. The college I attended, Southern Illinois University, didn’t offer a creative writing program, so I majored in communications and minored in English. My specialty was actually advertising, so I learned some about marketing in college as well.

 How did your journey land you in the entertainment industry?

 I sang semi-professional Southern Gospel music during high school and college. Our group was made up of two of my cousins, my best friend, her sister and me. We sang mostly on the weekends, traveling in a three-state area. My love for music continued to grow to the extent that I began searching for a career opportunity in the field. About a year after I graduated from college, God led me to a position in Nashville.

 What can you tell us about your latest projects?

Early this year I completed my women’s fiction manuscript, The Road to Mercy. My agent is currently shopping it, along with two subsequent books I have planned. I’m currently revising the second book. All three books have a music business setting, because that’s what I know. But the stories are completely unrelated and tackle a variety of women’s issues and inspirational themes. I especially love to write about the power of prayer and finding faith and forgiveness in the midst of difficult times.

What is the best advice you can give to a writer just getting started?

Have patience. God’s timing is always perfect. And, enjoy every step of the journey.

What advice can you give to writers who are interested in working in the entertainment industry as a publicist?

First of all, I highly recommend attending a college that offers music industry courses, such as Belmont University or Middle Tennessee State University. A huge chunk of music industry jobs are held by grads from those schools, many now executives in their fields.

Start by getting your foot in the door. Write artist bios. Submit freelance articles for music publications and websites. Volunteer to do publicity for a music-related charity—there’s always a need for that kind of thing, and it will give you the opportunity to network and to showcase your talent. Start slowly and develop contacts. A publicist’s job is as much about networking as writing.

 What writing skills are important in your vocation?

I’ve had the privilege of working in many aspects of the music industry, beginning at the reception desk years ago. I used letter writing skills back then—and still do. The ability to write a good letter is quickly becoming a lost art, but it’s a valuable skill.

My current job is more about marketing than publicity, but through the years I have relied on my journalism training to write press releases, newsletters, tour book text, and web copy. People might be surprised how many publicists don’t know how to write a press release. It’s a marketable skill. In fact, some writers make a good living freelancing press releases and artist bios.

 A publicist needs people skills, too. I am inherently a shy person, so that didn’t come easily for me. If you excel at meeting people and putting them at ease, you are way ahead of the game.

 Why do you write?

Because I can’t NOT write! I’ve heard so many writers say the same thing. We’re all hopeless at giving it up I think. 

How do you find joy in your creative journey?

There’s nothing more fulfilling than connecting with people. I love it when something I write makes a connection with someone.

 And I really try to enjoy every step of the journey. That includes learning the craft of writing, meeting published and unpublished writers—and helping other writers. It’s been my experience that most people who work in Christian fiction and most people who work in country music have one thing in common—a genuine desire to give others a hand up. It’s all about “passing it on.”

Have you ever had a divine detour?

Thanks for asking.  You can logon to my website, www.DivineDetour.com, for a more complete answer, but the music industry is my biggest divine detour in life. And it has been a wonderfully blessed one. But, I’m happy that I am now writing again too.

Please answer the question I didn’t ask but that you wish I did.Hmmm. That’s an interesting question. I suppose I’d have to mention my dogs.  Actually, I chose my penname, Kate Shiloh, through my love of the Shiloh Shepherd breed. Right now, my husband and I have two Shilohs, a male and a female.

Finally, please leave us with your favorite Bible verse, inspiration quote or song lyric. Tell us what it means to you.

There are many Bible verses that speak to me personally, but one of my favorites is Luke 12:31.

 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

I wrote about it in my devotional that was included in Tyndale’s One Year LifeVerse compilation. As a young Christian when I first moved to Nashville after college, I didn’t understand how much we are to fully rely on God. He is sufficient for ALL of our needs. One of the first people I met in the music business lived his life with that kind of all-encompassing faith, and his life provided an incredible witness to me. The interesting thing is that he probably never knew he had that impact on my life.

Please be sure to check out Kathy’s blog Divine Detour.

www.DivineDetour.com