Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ghost from a blizzard past

I sit in the quiet of a magnificent building in Asheville that dates back to the zenith of the 1920s. The creaks I hear could be related to some ghosts that others say they have seen or heard here, but I doubt it. I have had no such supernatural experiences here. Yet.

It does, however, take me back to a time in Asheville that I most definitely saw a ghost. It was early March 1993. Nineteen inches of snow dumped on Asheville during a storm the national media dubbed as ‘The Storm of the Century.’ It heavily affected the entire eastern part of the country. Power was out throughout the Asheville area and the city literally shut down for about a week. We may live in the mountains, but we do not have the machinery to keep streets cleared when it snows 4-5”, much less more than a foot.

At the time, we lived in the historic district, known as Montford, a neighborhood on the edge of downtown, dating back to the Victorian era and filled with shabby homes that had not been cared for in years.  Most were occupied by creative folks who needed cheap rent. Those homes are no longer bargain deals, and most have been renovated to the grandeur of their beginnings. People looking for rental deals these days look elsewhere in Asheville.

Back to 1993. We were lucky. We didn’t lose power, but we did lose cable and were more than bored. The snow had stopped and we’d run out of milk, kerosene and that most valuable of all necessities in a snow storm - beer. Having been able to find convenience stores to replenish our goods, it was time to pay a visit to a friend who lived about 12 blocks from us.

We traipsed there fairly easily but did not stay too long. We had to make it back home before dark. Snow had begun to fall once more and the wind had kicked back into high gear. We bundled up yet again and began the journey home, but not so easily this time. It felt to me like the winds were topping out at 100 mph, but it was probably closer to 40. I just know that it was difficult to walk and those of us out, were fighting to push one foot down in the snow, followed by the next foot, and keeping every inch of skin covered by some sort of material. My husband’s mustache froze. It was that cold.

About a block and a half from our apartment, we were grumbling through our scarves, realizing we had waited just a tad too long at our friend’s house and were hoping to get home by our own two feet and not blown around the corner by the whipping winds.

I looked to see how much further we had to go and noticed a woman about 20 feet away from me coming down the steps of one of the old homes. She was clothed in a dark green coat that stopped just above her black, high-heeled boots that were laced up and tied neatly in a bow just above her ankles. A black hat sat atop her pinned up hair and her hands were stuffed in a black muff. She appeared to be a character straight from the Victorian ages itself. She walked effortlessly. Key word here - effortlessly. We were struggling against the winds, but she seemed to not pay it a bit of attention. She walked down those steps, straight out to the middle of the street, turned to her left and walked lightly on top of a foot of snow as if she were gliding. Indeed, when we checked, there were no footsteps belonging to a pair of high heeled boots. Only the tracks of hiking boots or tennis shoes - the chosen footwear of that storm - were to be found. She went down the street for about 30 feet, made a right turn and walked down a set of steps that led to nowhere. Yes, we checked that out also.

Now before you think my brain had frozen, or I’d enjoyed one too many Coronas (my beer of choice at the time, and long before Asheville had much of any other kind of beer to offer, except Budweiser), I looked at my husband who had stopped in his tracks. His mouth was agape and looking as if - pardon the cliché - he’d just seen a ghost. It was not, nor do I expect it will be, the only ghost I come in contact with in Asheville.

I do love a good ghost story, don't you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's a painful picture: Retail corporate slavery alive and fully in action

The battered economy and my on-going faulty eyeball issues have definitely had me munching on my share of humble pie this year. This time last year, I thought that by now I'd be the proud owner of a slightly used, but brand new to me cornea and madly typing out stories, marketing spins, or whatever else I had been doing before my vision in my left eye began to slowly darken.

Nope. Not yet. Instead, I've been dealing with sky-rocketing glaucoma, blurry vision, headaches and little ability to spend quality time on my computer. Couldn't handle the monitor glare, rendering me unable to keep my consulting gigs regular and up-to-date, and my checking account looking bleak. With my saved up surgery year funds almost depleted, I recently sought out a lousy paying part-time job at a large retail department store that I shall now refer to as 'Jack's.'

Guaranteed low wages to help somewhat cover my ever rising NC Blue Cross Blue Shield premiums. (I dared to use the policy this year, and therefore am being punished with an above average premium 'cost adjustment,' in my opinion. I don't care what *they* say.) Just enough hours to keep you coming back in, settling into the shuffle of a “Jack's Retail Robotron.”

The shuffle sets in at about the fifth hour of any shift that places you doing anything in the store other than ringing up the goods, collecting the cash and reminding the exuberant shopper just how much money they had saved that day by shopping at Jack's. When you’re behind the cash register, you’re at least standing in one spot, even if you do have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom or to get a drink of water. Jack’s is colossal and I truly believe the linoleum floor has not a stitch of padding underneath. The shock absorbing shoes didn't relieve my aching feet, nor did the Dr. Scholl's insets I added for super extra cushiony comfort.

These types of jobs are simply corporate forms of slave labor, in my opinion. My body physically hurt all over. All I wanted to do was get home, soak in a tub full of Epsom salts then fall out for the night hoping my body would be less painful the next day. At first, I thought I was the only robotron who felt wounded. After all my energy has been zapped far more than I care to admit with surgeries and expensive eye drops with not so lovely side affects.

However, I was not alone. As I became an expected and welcomed part of the daily grind, others shared their own pains of Jack's torture. They confessed to also feeling that on some nights it was a matter of finding a personal Zen spot and putting one foot in front of the other to get through the shift. It didn't take a lot of brainpower to hang up clothes or fold and refold clothes that inattentive adults, teenagers, parents and spoiled children had slung down in dressing rooms or shoved off shelves.

The majority of the employees are decent people, just trying to eke out a living and they take pride in performing their jobs to the best of their abilities. They possess much more monetary value than they are given. But Jack's is not about recognizing their loyal employees. Too bad. No surprise that turnover is so steep.  

To push my corporate serfdom theory further, the managers set daily credit and email goals. One youthful, mid-management climber even talked a young, pregnant employee making minimum wage pay to open an account with a 25 percent interest charge, just so he could reach that day's credit goal. And, why? So he and the other overseers could collect their end of year bonuses. What did the hourly employee get for their labor, besides a measly paycheck that never quite covered weekly expenses? Nothing. Just more prodding and being pushed over and over to possess the 'yes you can' attitude when it came to signing up more Jack's credit card holders.

I was thankful for the next to nothing wages that reminded me of my teenage jobs. I even heard the words “no shame in having legit work” come out of my mouth, telling my son, 'times are hard; sometimes you do just have to take any lawful job you can find,' on and on and on. But I'm even more thankful to no longer be in the retail shuffle since I've had another eye surgery.

To my friends still working there ... I wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope you can take advantage of getting just up to, but no more than, 40 hours (company policy – no over time pay allowed) while the season is upon us. January will be here soon and the hours will drop off and you’ll be lucky if you get eleven hours of work each week. I hope you're able to save up some of the extra money, but I know that will be most difficult. But above all else ... I wish you could tell those Jack's pit bosses to take those nightly credit goals and shove them where the sun don't shine.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas tree stuffed with ornaments made by tiny hands that have totally outgrown mine

I sit here in the quiet of our small living room, enjoying the colored glow from the not-so-large tree purchased from a friend whose family has been growing Christmas trees for generations in these mountains. Ours is not one that would be featured in Better Homes & Garden. It is much more superior. It is stuffed with ornaments I will cherish forever, made by tiny hands that have now totally outgrown mine. One day I will pass along that favorite glittered bread dough star. My eyes will overflow with tears of joy and sadness that a mother embraces. My little boy no longer needs that chair to help him place the Christmas star. I only pray he will always need me.
(This is a rewrite from one of my 2009 facebook posts. Still working on getting this year's tree done. The little boy who no longer needs that chair? He's a teenager with a broken ankle and needs help staying steady on his crutches.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Forbidden glimpse of Santa Clause at the Christmas tree was really just one of God's children trying to keep warm

It was this kind of frigid cold when we moved to Western North Carolina in 1985 from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lived in Waynesville in a most beautiful 2-story, 5-br farmhouse that was almost 100 years old. The upstairs was literally blocked off during the winter time. The owner, Ms. Beulah, had moved there in a horse drawn covered wagon when she was 13-years-old from a very, very remote area of Haywood County that is still mostly occupied by old-timers with surnames that go back for generations in those parts. We had a kerosene heater set up in the kitchen, cabinet doors slung wide open to keep the pipes from freezing. At some point, I walked in and saw a mouse sitting in front of it.

Of course this was long before the advent of cell phones with instant cameras, so I have only my memory to keep it real. But, that's enough for me. He was sitting on his hind legs and in the beautiful, soft glow of the kerosene light, it looked to me like he had his little front paws up, warming them just like anyone else who stands near an open fire when dealing with cold weather. Of course, I could be making that part up just because I like the image it makes. But I don't think so. Anyways .... he ran as soon as I got close enough to get a good look at him. Back to his mouse house, hidden somewhere far enough inside one of those cabinets that I certainly never saw him again. I did go grab my 35 mm camera just in case I caught him sitting fireside once again, but he never let me. Now that I think back, I sort of felt like I caught a forbidden glimpse of Santa Clause at the Christmas tree or something.

But no, it was just one God's children trying to keep warm.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Did Asheville close schools because of the roads? Or, is there more to that decision?

Well, here we go again. Schools in Asheville have canceled today. Yet, I look outside and see just a dusting of snow and clear roads. Now, granted, there are areas that did get a few inches overnight and the roads had frozen. Icy roads are not easy for anyone to drive on, much less school buses. But, I still think there could have been at least a late start. The majority of students could have made it to school by 10:30 this morning. And for those who could not, then they could have been excused and given notes they missed.

I guess there is some reason for concern, however. Although there have been no issues recently with school bus drivers, Asheville City Transit drivers have had some bad accidents lately.... running over a lady which resulted in her losing her legs, hitting an elderly gentleman who died due to his injuries and some dude driving drunk. The City needs to be sued for those instances, in my opinion. They did settle with the woman who had to have her legs cut off. She was awarded $80,000. Not very much if you ask me. What kind of life is she going to have (don't remember her age) and is $80,000 really going to be all that she needs? And remember, her attorney got a third of that settlement, leaving her with much less.

But, back to the school buses. Asheville and Buncombe County are just not prepared for any type of bad weather. And I don't understand why. We live in the mountains, people. It snows. Some years more than others, but it does snow and we know there are roads that have issues and need more attention than others. Why haven't we spent the money to keep our roads clear? Perhaps if our City Council and County Commissioners had not given so many tax breaks to outside developers over the years to tear down our mountains, we could have bought a few more plows. What a concept, eh? Choosing our children over the developers. Won't happen. Not in Asheville, anyway.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Remembering the first in Asheville to lose their life to AIDS

I've been avoiding putting today's thoughts down on paper because if I go too far, it'll throw me back over an edge I climbed back from years ago. A place I never want to visit again. Dennis immediately became my best friend in Asheville soon after we moved here in 1985. And he's the first person I ever heard call Asheville, Ashevegas. He was a bartender at the old O.Henry's in downtown Asheville when just about everything around it was boarded up. My husband had introduced me to the place as the 'closest thing Asheville has to a New Orleans bar.' He was right. It became our neighborhood pub and was close to the newspaper where he worked. It was a bar full of characters, including a young reporter for Channel 4, and other interesting types. Real freaks of Asheville, including us.

Dennis came down with HIV in the early '90s and although he accepted that *positive* status and stigma , he never wanted to think about what it would be like when the time would come that he might have to experience full blown AIDS. He couldn't; so he didn't. He turned to drugs and alcohol.

Dennis blew his brains out about 13 years ago because he'd rather die by his own hand than wither away with AIDS and have to have his lover of umpteen years change his dirty diaper. They lived in Tennessee at the time. It hurt a lot of us bad. To the core bad. It was a selfish act to go that way, particularly since he left no note and he could've gotten some help. He wasn't at death's door yet. I cried for months and numbed myself with far too much alcohol, particularly when his ex and I would get together, at the cabin where they had lived. I couldn't deal with that place. Every time I'd go out on the front porch, I'd start looking for little pieces of brain matter or some other part of Dennis that might have been left behind.

Finally, I had to stop going to visit. For my own health - mental and physical. We'd still talk on the phone quite often and eventually he moved also. I don't booze it and bawl anymore, but I do think of Dennis quite often. Sometimes with a tear. Other times, with a smile. Always with a 'I wish you were here to see this.' I no longer can say whether it was a selfish act or not, though I tend to fall on that side when I see how his suicide has forever affected his partner. But other times I realize it was his life. His death. His choice to make at the time.

I also remember a lot of other people who went before Dennis, and after. I remember the time when one of the first infected who came home to Asheville to die was mourned at O.Henry's. His name was Charlie. Tommy was the first person in Asheville to die of AIDS. I didn't have the honor of knowing him, but his name was always mentioned at anyone's wake and funeral who succumbed afterwards. I have a friend who has a list. She quit counting at 181.

Thank goodness not everyone took the same path as my friend Dennis. But, many did die because there was no cure nor medicine to prolong their life at the time. It's a whole new world today and no one should ever have to die of this horrible disease again.

There is a Candlelight Memorial Vigil tonight, Dec., 1, 7-9 pm on the lower promenade of Pack Place, in Asheville. If you can find the time, please come and show your support for the fight to kill AIDS, or just to remember a loved one no longer with you. Whatever the reason. And, if you can't make the event, please give a moment of silence to think about the more than 25 million people who have died worldwide due to AIDS.

For more info:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Really? I have to go shopping while my eyeball is still healing and irritated?

Really? I have to go shopping while my eyeball is still healing and irritated? Ok. I'm very thankful and honored the boys just HAVE TO HAVE two of my Holiday recipes. One of them really is worth making me get out. It's a recipe for a sweet potato casserole that has lots of pecans, crushed cornflakes, and brown sugar. Although the sweet potatoes and pecans are quite good for you, all of the butter, sugar and brown sugar wipe out the healthy part. Or, maybe they balance each other. Who knows? Who cares? It's just downright devilicious. The other dish is one that I'm sure is on everyone's table at this time of year, macaroni and cheese. However this one is the dee-luxe version that includes sour cream and cottage cheese. Another fattening, but oh so tasty, worth the calories, etc. kind of fare. And to be honest, the guys have volunteered to help with the cooking and clean-up.

But ... I'm wishing, yet once again, that my name were Samantha and I held magical powers, and could twitch my nose and skip the grocery lines.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"In a few years" is going to come way too soon

Zach being on crutches has handicapped the entire household. He really helps out quite a bit around here. Chores that became his: kitchen trash duty; getting the recycling ready for pick-up, then bringing the empty containers back inside; making sure the street trash container makes it to the curb and then returns to its hidden home behind the bushes; mowing the yard; getting the leaves mulched at this time of year; turning down my boiling over water in the kitchen when I have walked away and started doing something else; checking the pressure in my tires; and more. In other words, the little bugger is very much a part of what makes the Hyorth household work each day.

I realize now how I've just gotten used to him doing what he's supposed to do. Sure, he has to be reminded sometimes, but don't we all? It's also a huge, in-the-face, get ready message to mom that her not so little boy/young man will be leaving home in a few years. And, I'm just not ready for that day. Never thought I'd hear myself say that out loud. I'm proud of my independent streak and I've often downright bragged about leaving home at 18 and never having had to return and move back in. Looking back, I left home way too soon and for all the wrong reasons, but that's a tale for another time.

What I realize today, is that maybe instead of reminding with the mother tone that says "Zach ....", perhaps I need to remember just how much he does help. Remind him that his taking care of certain chores has given him a sense of responsibility that has earned our trust. I also need to hug him more often. "In a few years" is going to come way too soon, I suspect.

Gotta go ... I hear the water boiling.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beginning of my adoption story, in play format

This is an evolving process and I'm looking for feedback on the beginning. I've written it several different ways and I'm stuck. Would love to hear some feedback. Good, bad, don't care, whatever. Criticism does not bother me.


1.1.Lights up on Tracy center of stage, almost backlit.

Tracy: My story begins with her story. But she never wanted me to know about all that.

Lights down on Tracy

1.2.  Lights up on young Judy standing on box. Lights only on her.

Judy: It won’t fit.

Voice: (not on stage) Of course it will fit.

Judy: No, it won’t.

Voice: You’re being silly, dear. I just did the measurements a couple of weeks ago. It will be fine.

Judy. No, it won’t. I’ve gained some weight. ….  I am pregnant.

Lights out on Judy.

1.3 Lights up on two nurses, sitting at single, stark desk

Nurse 1: Well, we got another one coming here real soon.

Nurse 2: Where from?

Nurse 1: Big Spring.

Nurse 2: Where in the world is that?

Nurse 1: Somewhere out west ‘a Abilene. Another po-dunk in the middle of nowhere.

Nurse 2: When is she gettin’ here?

Nurse 1: Last week of July. Her family’s supposed to bring her. But I’ll check the bus schedule just the same.

Lights out on Nurses.

1.4  Lights back up on Tracy, sparse set, desk, laptop, floor-length lamp

Tracy: My first bus ride into the big city. How exciting. Not. It was a lonely, sad trip. Judy didn’t say much. Mostly she just read the romance novel (insert novel of the time here) she’d brought along to read. I think she touched me at least once or twice, maybe three times at the most. I felt her hand tap her tummy. I also felt fed and nourished. But I didn’t feel much of the ‘love thing.’ This would be my first – and last bus ride taken with my biological mother."

I know. Not much there right now, but that's why I'm stuck and wouldn't mind some honest feedback. I've told this story a million times. Wish I'd had a tape recorder. But I'm going the play route first, at least for now, and I'm not all that experienced writing plays even though I'e acted in many, many shows. It's not the same. So, lay it on me, will ya? Thanks, ya'll

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Daddy we named him Zachary John." "Everything's done?"

Zach's 16 birthday was yesterday. It was not so sweet, but it is one he will remember for the rest of his life. He broke his ankle this week and that has colored everything around his birthday. He did get the phone he wanted, and he got the universal gift that I think teenagers of every generation enjoy - cash. Overall, he's taking it pretty well, much better than what I thought he would. But, that just shows how much he has matured in the last year.

As I watch him to continue to grow and mature, I cannot help but notice small things about him that make me wonder, "Where in the world did that come from?" "Is that like me, or is that like his Dad?" "Or from some other blood relative?"

Well, it's easy enough to ask Alphie about his past. He was surrounded by all of his blood relatives. For me ... Zach is my first blood. I can't help but wonder what from my unknown background may pop out. Not thinking anything sinister, necessarily. (Although I have been told I had true outlaw blood relatives, I think I'm the one more likely to test those waters. Just kidding. Sort of.) No, it's just simple things that I may never know when they rear up. It's a very strange feeling and difficult to describe to those (which means most people) who have no idea what it's like to not know your relatives' history.

But back to Zach's birth. He had great timing. We had just published our bi-weekly magazine, so there was no weekend work ahead of us. We'd worried he might come on deadline weekend, and that would not have been such a great thing, especially for Alphie. But, no, Zach waited, showed his patience even while in womb. It had just turned midnight on the 22nd of October and we were watching a rerun of Law & Order. I was laid out on our 60's wrap around couch like a beached whale, uncomfortable no matter what position I tried.

Suddenly, I felt it. The gush of water that makes you wonder if you just pe'ed all over yourself before you realize that the time has come. The dam broke and the water came flooding, and flooding, and flooding down. Seventeen hours later, our boy had arrived.

As soon as I had fed myself and given myself time to marvel holding my first blood relative in my arms, I called my dad in Texas to let him know his grandson was here and that we had named him Zachary John. John being my dad's first name. A lot hard of hearing, my dad never really liked talking on the phone too much, but this was one phone call he wanted to take without his wife translating for him.

"Daddy, we named him Zachary John."

"Everything's done?" my dad replied, proving he had not understood a word I said.

"Yes, Daddy, everything's done? And it's all good."

"Well good, I'm happy."

Zach is going by John these days, says it makes him feel closer to his grandfather who left this earth four years ago. Zach believes he's still able to talk with his grandfather, particularly in his dreams. I so hope it is true. And as long as we believe, then it shall be.

The older John would be very proud of the younger John. Happy Birthday, Zach ... um I mean John. I love you more than you will probably ever know.

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's safer indoors than out on the road with all those bad drivers

I should be grocery shopping right this moment. I said I'd go just as soon as I put in a load of laundry. Well, the laundry is spinning and I have yet to walk out into the world to go and get some food in this house.

I hate grocery shopping. Again. I hate grocery shopping. I'm sure I'm not alone. I've never heard of anyone jumping up and down with joy, shouting "I love to go grocery shopping." Ok, so there might be some who like it, or think it's not that bad, but I'll bet a nickle that I'm part of the majority on this issue.

However, I push hating this particular chore to ... no, past the limits. I'm still not grocery shopping, am I? Nope, I decided I'd write about it instead. Really, really needed to update my blog so that's what I'm doing. I also don't like the time. It's 5 pm here in Asheville and the rush hour madness will last at least until 5:30. I know. Thirty minutes of rush hour traffic. Big deal. But it's getting worse. Others have learned our secret and are invading, thus creating longer traffic commutes here. Anyways, it's safer indoors than out on the road with all those bad drivers right now.

Ok, so 5:30 it shall be. I swear. Really. Hmmm ... what to do for the next 20 minutes? I know. I'm going to catch up on Twitter. Later, taters. Reminds me. Better put sweet potatoes on the shopping list.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Genius may have it's limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped

I've been missing my blogging mojo here recently. But, I'll be back. Sometimes I think we need to stop and just listen to whatever it is the universe is telling us. And, right now, my universe is telling me to slow down a bit, rest up for whatever really big is waiting for me around the corner. I can feel it. I'm going to one walk down the hall one day and run smack dab into something huge I'm supposed to be doing. It's going to take a lot of energy and is going to be incredibly exciting. I'll be rested, ready, willing and able.

As Elbert Hubbard once wrote: "Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped. I don't really know why I'm attracted to that quote right now, but there has to be a reason. I choose to think it has to with my "getting ready" mode so that I won't be handicapped with the stupidity mojo. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I was given a drag show for a baby shower ... time to show the teen

I'm thinking it might just be time to dust off and pull out the old VHS player - yes, we still have one - and show the teen the tape of the drag show baby shower I was given by the owners and customers of O.Henry's in downtown Asheville 16 years ago about this time of year. I was one month away from delivery and the owner approached me about wanting to do something for the new little Hyorth to be. He wanted to put on a drag show.

Yes, a drag show. It were not a show full of the glamour girls in today's world of female impersonators, wearing sometimes fake and sometimes not fake jewelry, but always lovely, sparkly gowns and make-up that takes hours to get just right. No, the 'stars' at the Hyorth baby shower were crusty, older, passionate, hearts of gold who donned XXXL one tone dresses in either bright or neutral colors, depending upon availability or personality. There was no attempt at making the wigs look real. They were god knows how many years old and probably even passed around from one performer to another that very same evening.

To be fair, there were some other performers also, and they were a hoot. But it's the ug ... uh hum - not so beautiful drag queens I want to show the kid for a good laugh.

O.Henry's is the oldest gay bar in North Carolina. They were also one of the few pubs open in downtown Asheville when we first moved here. "Closest thing to a New Orleans bar Asheville has," is how my husband introduced me to the place. He worked at the newspaper two blocks away and knew it would be my/our kind of place. Full of characters with never-ending quips and totally interesting stories to tell. And sometimes retell. That was in 1985.

Once we owned our own business downtown, O.Henry's became one of our neighborhood pubs. It being a gay bar didn't matter. They didn't care we were heterosexuals; we didn't care they were homosexuals. We all were looking for the same thing: a few laughs, a cold beer, some interesting conversation and people who were happy to see you when you walked through the door.

Those 'queens' started Zach's college fund. Oh, yeah ... they're good people. Maybe I'll get the VHS revamped and post it on facebook ... Happy Birthday, Zach!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A look back at the YMI and a shout out to a young man on a mission

I met a young black man on twitter named Timmy Smith. Found him through his twitter handle @SocialLifeAvl. He and I have become friends outside of the twitter community. In fact, Timmy has developed face-to-face personal relationships with many of his twitter friends. Timmy says whatever he feels like saying. He holds nothing back. His blog is called Social Life Times, and you can link to it here:

Timmy is on a mission. He was born in Asheville and he loves his community - all of it. Black, white, brown, red, whatever. He wants the races to come together, to make friends and better understand one another's culture. He wants everyone to start talking to each other. He believes there's a lot for us to learn. So a few months ago, he started having conversations on twitter called Drinks & Dialogue, hashtagged #dd. When I learned about them, they were taking place on Sunday evenings at 8 pm, via twitter only.

Since then, Timmy has gradually grown his dialogue from an online community to monthly meetings at various Asheville venues to taking it to the airwaves with such topics as "Why is Asheville Segregated?" It is my opinion, and that of many in Asheville, that Timmy is on to something big. He's leading the way and opening the doors for a much more understanding Asheville.

His conversations sent me back to my Out 'n About archives in hunt of a story we published 13 years ago about the history of the YMI, so here it is. I'm glad Timmy has started these discussions and he and I both enjoy looking back at some Asheville's black history. Timmy, I am oh so proud of you!

The mission of the YMI Cultural Center is to celebrate African American culture & diversity in the community. -

A look back at the YMI – Out ‘n About, Feb. 21, 1997

By Alphie Hyorth

It’s a cold mid-February afternoon. Just over 100 years ago. Seventy representatives of Asheville’s Black community are at a meeting to organize the Young Men’s Institute. They discuss progress in work on the building. The lights aren’t connected yet so the meeting has to take place before sundown; it happens at 4 p.m. They set a time for another meeting of the following week to announce the names of officers and standing committees.

Both the building and the original concept of the YMI have survived to this day through what one might safely call a turbulent history. Today’s YMI Cultural Center is a coalition of African-American churches, civic groups and individuals. The building houses a museum, meeting rooms and offices. A multi-million dollar renovation project, utilizing grants and funds raised locally, was complete in the 1980s and earned statewide recognition for its excellence.

George Washington Vanderbilt would have been proud. It was Vanderbilt who put up the $32,000 for land purchase and construction back in 1892. He funneled some of the artisans from Biltmore House (still under construction at the time) to the YMI work site at the corner of Eagle and Market streets. Richard Sharp Smith, who headed up the architecture department at Biltmore House, drew the plans for the YMI building. Smith’s legacy is in the several buildings he designed downtown that went on to define Asheville’s cityscape for generations to come.

Vanderbilt formed the Young Men’s Institute at the urging of Edward Stephens and “to furnish a much needed society for the advancement of the colored men of Asheville and vicinity,” as Fenton H. Harris wrote in his 1937 Short History and Report of the Young Men’s Institute Inc.

That kind of public-spirited generosity reflected Vanderbilt’s belief that those of his immensely wealthy class must be altruistic. Up to a point anyway. Through two trustees Vanderbilt retained ownership of the building and took back whatever money came in from dues and rent to pay off what he had laid out to get it built. To further cover his investment, “All of the colored men working for the Estate were required to carry memberships with the institute and the dues for the same being taken out of their pay envelopes at the office,” Harris wrote.

The original plan, again, according to Harris, was that once Vanderbilt had been paid back for his generosity ($32,000) he would turn over the building to the community. But things did not quite work out according to plan. As construction on Biltmore House drew to an end in 1895-96, many of the Institute’s members lost their jobs and the Institute lost a ready source of income when those members could no longer afford to pay their dues. This helps to explain a story in the Feb. 13, 1896 edition of the Asheville Daily Citizen which began: “If all the colored men of Asheville showed as much appreciation of the generosity of George Vanderbilt as was shown by the ministers of their race at the Young Men’s Institute last night, then the reports would have been much more satisfactory.”

The occasion was a gathering to celebrate the third anniversary of the YMI and the reports were financial statements which were not good. Between December 1894 and Jan. 1896 the operation lost some $1,200. So Vanderbilt, who was expecting to get back the money he’d spent on the building, was actually putting more and more in as he agreed to cover shortfalls on the budget. On the other hand, the YMI continued to be a great success among the members of the community it was meant to serve. The YMI grew into what we would now call a Community Center. It was a meeting place where civic organizations had social events. It had its own kindergarten, a band and well attended Sunday afternoon performances by local singers.

To his credit, Vanderbilt continued to offer financial support until 1906 when he “decided that the Institution should be self-maintaining,” according to another newspaper story dated June 12, 1906. Vanderbilt announced he wanted to sell the building and he told the community leaders who operated the YMI that he would sell it to them for $10,000, based on a statement by W.J. Trent who ran the YMI from 1900-1911. (A newspaper report states Vanderbilt was asking $12,000 and later lowered the price to $10,000.)

Trent said Vanderbilt gave the group six months to raise the cash after which time he was going to put the building on the open market for $15,000. Time ran out on the offer May 31, 1906 and Trent wrote that the group had raised only $2,500 in contributions. At that point a group of African-American businessmen, professionals, working men and clergy who had joined together to save the institute, borrowed the other $6,500 and bought the building. They paid back the loan making payments of $1,000 a year at a six percent interest.

Over the next several decades, the YMI became the “center of social cultural, civic, commercial and religious life for Black Appalachians.” Its ground floor had space for a drug store, a lunch counter, a funeral parlor and the offices of Dr. James Byron, one of Asheville’s first African-American doctors. It housed the South Market Street branch of the YMCA. Congregations without church buildings worshipped there and the Sunday afternoon song services continued. Nationally known entertainers performed there and the city’s black public library operated at the YMI from 1926 until it was closed in 1966, two years after the Asheville-Buncombe Library System was desegregated. The YMI was recognized as the center from which a black commercial district grew on Eagle and Market streets.

The Institute fell on hard times again beginning in the 1960s and gradual deterioration forced its closing in 1976. It was again rescued by another group of local churches, residents, property owners and merchants who worked to put the property on the National Register of Historic places in 1977. In 1980, a non-profit group calling itself the YMI Cultural Center bought the property for $19,000 and began a $2 million renovation. Through diligent fund raising and with help of several grants the project was completed in 1988.

Dance and enjoy whatever times I'm pondering

Seems like yesterday. That was forever ago.

I go back and forth between those two sentiments. Sometimes, I'll think about an event and it is as clear to me as if it was yesterday. I can summon up the same feelings I had at that time, and as long as I don't look in the mirror I can just about imagine myself in that place and time. But reality always hits. It is certainly not yesterday. Other times, I'm shocked as to what someone tells me about a moment they remember about a discussion we had or something we did together because I have no idea. It's as if they're telling me a brand new story, one that I've never heard, much less was a willing and happy participant.

I'm curious as to why some points in our life seem closer to us than others. Is it the emotional value? Were we attached to something then that we just don't want to give up? Are we lacking something today? Is there an issue still unresolved? Was it a happier time? Or any other number of reasons unknown? Or does it even matter why? A lot of people say "Get over it, why dwell on the past, move forward," and on and on and on. They seem happy - almost adamant - to remind that it might as well have been in a past life, and you'd best be thinking about today before it too becomes one of those long ago memories.

I don't disagree with living in the moment. Makes the moment much more alive. Then you move on to the next moment and enjoy it. But, I don't think there's anything wrong with thinking about those "seems like yesterday" occasions as long as we don't get stuck back there. Then we probably do need a visit to the loony bin, but that's not what I'm talking about here. In the big scheme of things, over millions and millions of years, those yesterday times really aren't that far back. They can also help us keep people who may no longer be a part of our 'today's world' close not only in memory, but in heart.

So the next time someone points out that my sweet, or even not so sweet memory is old-time boogie, I'm going to pull out my ipod, (hook it up to its speakers so they can join in with me), and dance as if I were still able to move all those body parts as easily and wacky as I did 'way back when.' Because if I don't dance and enjoy whatever times I'm pondering, then I really have lost my chance to seize the joy of the moment at hand.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Someone kidnapped Asheville's cool summer breezes this year

No. No. No. There's a chill blowing through my bedroom window. My bedroom window will get shut tonight and probably for a few more nights while we experience the remnants of Hurricane Earl that only waved his hand at the East Coast as he cruised on by. The window will be back open in a few days.

While the cooler weather is a pleasant change, it represents what's soon to come next: THE DREADED WINTER. Let me say that again: THE DREADED WINTER. Do you get the point that I don't like winter here in the mountains of WNC? Particularly if we have one like last year that resulted in kids having to attend school almost two weeks into their summer vacations. (Winter is when I am jealous of our Floridian half-timers. I want one of them to take me back to Florida with them for the winter. Or even better, veer out of their way and drop me off at my niece's house just outside of Dallas.)

I know. Fall is a grand 'ole time of year and there is no better place to live than in Appalachia during the annual changing of the leaves. But we didn't get to really enjoy our summer this year. Someone kidnapped Asheville's cool summer breezes that make you feel like frolicking down by the river, fishing for who cares what. Replaced them with hot, humid daze and outdoor warnings for those unlucky enough to have asthma or any type of breathing issues. Closed indoors with air conditioners running full blast. Yuck! Really, that's all I can think to say about this year's summer. Just yuck.

So I'll look on the bright side of having to shut my window tonight. Perhaps when our last bit of summer returns in a week or so, it will be our ransomed and returned Asheville summer. Back at home at where the cool Carolina blue belongs. At least for a few more weeks. Then I'll be ready for the chill of fall and the bonfires we light to toast its arrival. And the horde of tourists that comes with the falling leaves, but the tourists will be left for another blog, another day.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Asheville Cougar JV football team begins their season tonight. And, so do I.

Ok, so it's not the Friday Night Lights, but it's pretty darn good. At least for the Hyorth's. Zach plays his first ever JV Cougar football game tonight. I'm not even sure who they're playing. Maybe Tuscola. Are they big rivals? I have no idea. Since he went to a charter school through 8th grade, he didn't have a chance to learn "real" football. Where the coaches yell at you and make you fall down and give them 10 push-ups if your mouth is running while they're talking. Zach did play a couple of years with the city league. Not to 'dis them or anything, because it's all volunteer and hearts are in the right places. But real football, it ain't.

He got his jersey last night. #72. Playing something on defense. Maybe even some offense. Not sure about that either; he's mostly been talking football with his dad. But I'll know more after tonight. He's a big kid and wants to learn the game, so it appears the coaches are prepping him for better days ahead with perhaps a promise at a Varsity slot. The big time. The real Friday Night Lights.

I'm probably crazy for not worrying about him getting his lights knocked out or some other body part getting badly damaged, but this Texas girl just can't go there. It's his rite of passage into manhood. I went to two different schools in Texas where football was king. (Where in Texas is football not the main attraction?) Both teams were called the Lions. Both wore maroon and white uniforms. Both were state championship contenders. That teenage girl who could not wait for Friday night football is now a proud mom of a young football player chasing his dream. I'm popping back into play also. Not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.

Go Cougars!! Go #72!! JV. Game time is 7 pm at AHS Football Stadium.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

An open thank you letter to Evergreen Charter middle school teachers

It’s just keeps getting better for Zach. I don’t think any of you will disagree how hard Alphie and I will fight for Zach to get what he needs, but you all are due a big thank you also. Thank you for listening to us when we told you he wasn’t ready to move on to 9th grade yet, that he needed to repeat 8th grade at Evergreen so he could get it right. You didn’t agree with us, but you listened. And, once we all agreed on his new arrangement, you never stopped listening and that has – and continues – to pay off.

Zach was put in high school remedial reading because of what his records showed about his past difficulties. We agreed and thought a year polishing up his comprehension skills would be good for him. Yesterday, we learned he scored high enough on his reading lextile scores that he would be placed in English 1. His English foundations teacher said it was a waste of his time to make him stay in the remedial class. Zach actually would have scored higher had he been able to take the test in one day. For various reasons, he had to take it over two days, a Friday and a Tuesday. Even we were surprised to learn he is reading at grade level.

The assistant principal also noted how she watched him at freshman orientation and was impressed with his social skills. I also watched that day, and sadly, noticed how most of the Evergreen students were huddled in a very small part of the high school cafeteria, afraid to talk with anyone except other Evergreen students. Zach talked with the other ‘Evergreeners,’ and then moved on to other students to say hello, not at all afraid of being thought of as different.

Perhaps it’s because Zach has always been different. Perhaps it’s because he has parents who are different. Perhaps it’s because he learned at Evergreen he should just be himself. A big part is due to the fact that he showed up for JV football practice at the end of July, knowing no one, going in with the desire and discipline to be an athlete. He already felt comfortable with new students/friends before the first day of school ever happened.

This is all to say: Thank you. We are proud to be parents of an Evergreen graduate, proud to have been part of a school that listens to parents even when the teachers at first think the parents might be wrong. I think we all know Zach showed us that just because you are behind at one point in your life, that doesn’t mean you will always be behind. I think Zach has taught each of us more than we ever thought he could. We think that trend will continue. Oh, and by the way, he has decided he wants to be called John (his middle name) for now.

P.S. Sorry, Karen, he’s still in pre-algebra but that’s just what he gets for having two writers as parents.

Love to all of you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pritchard Park in Asheville ... sure not like it was in 1996

Pritchard Park in downtown Asheville is no doubt a very popular space, visited by locals and tourists alike. It’s hustling, bustling, happening. That certainly wasn’t always the case. It took time for the changes to come, but they did. Except for the fact that no business has opened near the new Asheville Transit Hub to attract the bus riders for them do some quick shopping or eating, I think 99.9% of the changes are positive. This story tells what the park once was and how the changes began.

Hanging’ at Pritchard Park … what happens next? …. April 1996, Out ‘n About Magazine

By Tracy D. Hyorth

It’s about half past one on a Tuesday afternoon. Lunch is either over or almost over for most downtown office workers. The ‘suits’ you still see are staying across the street from Pritchard Park. Not one will come into the park for at least the next two hours.

The buses have already come and gone at the top of the hour. So the park is not quite so full. Maybe 20 people. Some there to catch the next bus home after work or shopping. Some headed to work. Some wonder in off the street looking for a place to relax. They sit and chat. Smoke a cigarette or two. Mothers warn their children to stay nearby. A little boy chases pigeons cross the grass. Today’s preacher offers his sermon to anyone who is interested and several who aren’t but can’t avoid his booming voice.

One of the downtown ‘tin can’ men is sitting on a bench, nodding off for a quick snooze in the sun. His full-flavored cigarette dangles from his fingers, nearly an inch of ashes about to fall. A friend sits down, says hello and wakes him just in time.

Two men and a woman huddle across the street, looking at someone in the park. The woman, wearing a brown vinyl coat was just around the corner on Battery Park Avenue, approaching people once they had gotten out of their and car and paid off the parking meter. “Excuse me, you have spare change?” she asked. A business owner who is used to seeing the lady on the street gives her a short answer, “No.”

The men yell at someone in the park. A woman waves back and hollers for them to cross over. Once there, she proceeds to tell them a story about something that just happened to a guy they all know.

“Yeah, the cops just came and told ol’ Billy to get outta here. He was passed out on the bench. They came and we woke him up, said, ‘Hey, look who’s in front of you.’ Finally he woke up. He saw them in his face and about shit all over himself. They made him leave.” They all laugh.

An unshaven man, looking probably years older than he really is, smelling like he’s not been near a bath in at least five days, is walking around picking up half-smoked cigarettes; he examines one that is a good three-fourths still intact but it looks a little wet. He twirls it between his fingers, lingering over his options. Finally, he decides to keep it along with the rest of his booty and continues roaming around, eyes focused on the ground.

Under the covered shelter, two girls wait on a bench. One sees an old friend who comes over to talk to her.

“Hey, how you doin’,” he says. “I thought that was you over here.”

“You got any money?” she replies. “You owe me $50.”

“I know. No, I ain’t got no money. But you know I’ll get back to you. I’ll take care of you.”

“I know,” she answers. They lapse into silence. “I saw you the other day. At the magistrate’s office.”

“What?” he answers, and steps a foot away from her. “You saw me at the magistrate’s office? No way.” Finally, he gives in. “Yeah it was me. I was up there a few weeks ago. I got busted for a drunk and disorderly. When you saw me, was I yellin’ at the cops and shit? I was pissed off.”

Another man approaches the second girl. “They call me Monte Hall, let’s make a deal. I’m gonna sit right down here next to you,” he tells the unresponsive woman. “You got pretty blue eyes.” He holds out a key chain. “One dollar. One American dollar, that’s all.” She knows him and moves over on the bench to allow him room to sit.

It’s almost the top of the hour now. More people have come into the park, about 40 in all. The races are about equally mixed. The majority are bus riders who will leave.

Pritchard Park.

An eye sore?

An interesting place to people watch?

The center of downtown?

A place to avoid?

A place to enjoy?

All of the above?

None of the above?

There really isn’t a clear answer. It seems everyone has their own opinion about Pritchard Park, the triangle of green space in downtown Asheville bordered by Patton Ave., College and Haywood Streets.

Right now, it’s the mass transit hub, the point where bus routes in the Asheville Transit Authority bus system come together. But the city has already made the decision to change that. According to Julia Cogburn, of the Asheville Planning and Development Department, a study conducted by an outside consulting firm concluded that Pritchard Park is not large enough to serve transit customers properly. The consultants felt that since not all the buses come in at the same time that riders had to wait too long for their next bus. The Authority needs a bigger space, the study concluded.

When the move will actually take place and how it will look is yet to be decided. The plan was to shift the transfer station to Aston Street (between Asheland and Coxe Avenues) in the summer of 1995. That’s still the preferred location but the move obviously didn’t materialize and now the anticipated date is the end of 1996.

In the meantime, businesses near the area and bus riders wonder when and if the change will take place and whether it should happen at all.

Ask the bus riders, and you get a definite No.

“I don’t want it to move. I do shopping when I come downtown. It’s convenient. The new transfer will be out of the way. There are not really any businesses near the new site. It will be an inconvenience and probably add more time to my having to wait for buses, said one woman named Rita, who didn’t want to use her full name. “They weren’t thinking about us when they made this decision.”

Business owners around the park aren’t quite so united in their opinions.

Scott Kramer, owner of Kits N Caboodles, across the street from the shelter definitely wants to see the move happen, and soon. He says he doesn’t have any particular problem with the bus transfer station being there, or the people who ride the bus. It’s the “other” element that bothers him – panhandlers and drunks who frequent the park on an hourly basis on any given day.

Kramer says that just about every morning when he gets into his shop around 10:30, he can look out and see people drunk and passed out on the benches. No one who spends any time around the park will disagree with Kramer about that.

John Shubash, owner of Sandwich Express, also across the street from the park, agrees it needs to be cleaned up. But he wonders if the city thinks that by moving the transfer the “other element” problem will go away. If they do, he thinks that is a rather naïve and elitist point of view. “If they just clean up the park and don’t address the social issues, there won’t be any differences, except we’ll have a Kleen-ex park.”

He also wonders about how his business will be affected. One the one hand, he would like to see more green space and more events in the park, but he doesn’t know how he will replace revenue he’ll lose when bus riders are gone. He figures that about 20 percent of his business comes from people who buy a sandwich to eat while they’re waiting for their bus.

“Will the move be positive, or negative? Who knows? … All I know is that once the bus riders are gone, if the city doesn’t do something to augment the loss of existing customers, my business will be hurt.” Shubash said he has never been asked for his opinion by city officials or people doing studies. Cogburn said that businesses in the area were contacted, although she couldn’t say which ones.

When it comes to pushing for “New Pritchard Park” the Asheville Downtown Association is way out in front. The group is made up of merchants and downtown workers who actively seek change and growth in the downtown area. The group has submitted new park designs for the city to consider after the buses have been moved.

Alex Gourlay, a First Union Bank employee and current president of the downtown association thinks that moving the transfer station will allow the city to turn the park into an area that can be enjoyed by downtown workers on their lunch breaks and by tourists at other times. “I don’t know of anybody who thinks the bus shelter is pretty. We need a really nice green space (at Pritchard Park) that is inviting to everyone."

When asked about how businesses now frequented by bus riders will be affected by the move, Gourlay said he thinks new businesses will open near the new transfer station to accommodate riders. So far, no one knows of any such plans.

And so far, the park remains the same.


If you want to read more about continued development on the old Pritchard Park, here's a link to a story in the Mountain Xpress, 1998:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ahh .... the excitement of the first day at the big high school

I think we're just a bit shell-shocked. Like we can't believe that this day came. That Zach is finally a freshman in high school. He has paid dearly to get here, but we're not looking back. Going forward with the proof he can do anything he sets his mind to doing. He's in for some big changes this new school year. First one being that he's going from a public/charter school of K-8th grade with a total of about 325 students to an 84-year-old public high school with a student body close to 1000, if not just a tad bit over. Asheville High is also big on 'Cougar Pride.' Don't get me wrong, there is definite emphasis on academics, but a charter school it ain't.

Yesterday was orientation for the freshmen. Parents were to join in at around 11:30 am in the cafeteria. I arrived too soon. For once in my life, I had to be on time. I thought the principal or teachers wanted to talk to us. I should have known better. Zach didn't have enough time to reorient himself with his previous schoolmates - the 'Evergreeners' as they are called. Sorry, Zach. I should have realilzed you needed more time to socialize. Please forgive me, it's my first day back at high school also. And, I went to such a small high school, that most everyone knew each other even before they got to school. Usually through church, the swimming pool, lake or some other place we'd all been tossed together.

When I walked in yesterday, Zach was talking with new schoolmates, which was way cool to see. After all, isn't part of the idea of growing up and going to high school is to expand your social horizons? The Evergreeners were huddled over in the right side of the huge cafeteria. Another thing these Evergreeners have to get used to. Charter schools don't usually have the luxury of cafeterias and Evergreen is no exception. Parents commit to making sure their child has a lunch box meal, whether that be home made or pre-packaged. The kids get used to recyclying their lunch boxes from year to year and sharing that tired ole' apple for that same ole' orange. They bring dishes from home, take them back home to wash and reuse, to wash and reuse, etc.

The Evergreeners asked Zach how he already knew some of the freshmen from other schools. He explained he'd been going to football practice for almost four weeks, he was already getting to know students in all the grades. He's already part of a team, a very important team at this school. They represent the city of Asheville in football, and while they do not possess the 'Friday Night Lights' ferver of my old Texas high schools, there is a definite 'Cougar Pride.' 

There is a lot the Evergreeners will have to get used to besides having a cafeteria where you can buy your lunch: football games (and other athletic events) to attend, arts, ceramics, culinary classes, dance, theatre, metals, drafting and so much more. (I'm actually a bit jealous of all the choices they have.) All those classes that help you figure out who you are, who you aren't, who you hope to be. The world is wide open with possibilities and dreams for these Evergreeners turned high school freshman at the big school.

The Evergreeners bring an attitude of acceptance, teamwork, closeness, an appreciation of caring for the earth and the importance of giving back to the community. They don't even mind hugging one another in public, just for the sake of hugging, or because their friend needed some support.

Like Zach, I hope they never forget where they have come from, are never afraid of hugging a friend. But, I also hope they realize that this is their year to let the butterfly within themselves reach for the tops of everything.

Oh, and I hope I can get used to not seeing my son so often. He's finally working on getting his own life now, making his own way, like he's supposed to. Like I said ... I think we're all just a bit shell-shocked.