Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Road Home

Sometime after I left, this holler was named Sassafras Lane. 

I was sure I'd left my problems behind in that life sucking red clay.

But that red stain-everything clay burrows deep and no amount of time or distance gets it out. 

May 18, 1988

Mars Hill, NC

Mildred Puryear Shelton accepted her degree in Early Childhood Education at Mars Hill College, now Mars Hill University. 

June 1988 (last day of school)
Haywood County, NC

Our kids got off the bus on the last day of school in 1988 and found their home on wheels, again. Their daddy had spent the day helping the movers get the trailer ready to go while I worked inside securing our belongings.

for the ride back to the dealer's lot where our trailer would sit until we found a place to put it. 

 and took a right turn and the truck pulling our trailer went left.
 This is not a scene out of the ordinary because we often moved looking for a place where the
 our trailer behind, and set up camp in the Coleman Boundary area of the Pisgah Mountains in Buncombe County NC.

July 28, 1988
Madison County NC

The News Record, Madison County's Newspaper publishes notice:

The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust in Chapel Hill funded family literacy projects in NC and KY. 

Parents who never finished high school and their 3 or 4 year-old children will go to school together. Madison County Schools and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (AB Tech)  provide resources. An early childhood specialist and an assistant will teach the preschoolers and AB Tech will provide an adult education specialist to work with the adults.

* For the history of The National Center for Families Learning and its President and Founder, Sharon Darling, see          Grit, Grace, & Gratitude: A 30-Year Journey

Late August 1988
Madison County

Mildred Shelton accepted the position of Project Director of Madison County's Kenan Family Literacy Project. She will soon be known as "Mountain Mama."

Allegra Aylward is selected as the Adult Education Specialist.

Pat Edwards will be the assistant in the early childhood classroom.

August 1988
Walnut Creek Apartments
Marshall, NC

With less than a week before the first day of school for Madison County students, I moved into public housing with my four kids, Mike, Misty, Megan, and RL. 

Our apartment is on the end, far right.

All these roads are about to converge.

Mildred, Pat, and Allegra started traveling the bends and curves of Madison County leaving pamphlets in doors.

I found the pamphlet they left in my door and sat on the top step to our apartment and read it, over and over.

Are you a parent or grandparent of a 3 or 4-year-old and do you want to learn to read or get your GED?

    But what does having a 3 or 4 year-old have to do with  getting a GED?

National Center for Families Learning celebrates 30 years of success. Visit to learn more and view videos of many success stories of the last 30 years. Search for a family literacy program.

Official GED Website for information on how and where to begin.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Lessons from the "Little Engine that Could" by Watty Piper

The Little Engine that Could

Mildred Puryear Shelton, or Mountain Mama, read this book to every class in the Family Literacy Program.

"Just try."  That's all she asked.

*Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®

After lunch, parents joined their children in the early childhood classroom for PACT time. This was the first I'd heard of planning playtime. I figured it was so the kids could be in charge while parents watch them play.

It took some time for me to understand that RL, my 3 year-old was learning how to set goals and plan how he was going to reach those goals. He was ready and willing to chug up that mountain.

Me? Not so much. I went through the motions, but it took some time before I began to understand.

But first, I had to think I could. Small successes along the way started my wheels turning and eventually I could look back and see my progress. I saw how doing this thing over and over, led to changes in me and in my life. Progress was slow and steady, and obstacles increasingly harder, but I made progress like the Little Engine.

It took time, but I climbed the hill, met goals, and gained perspective - all of which prepared me for the next 30 years.


It Can Be Done

RL goes by Rocky now. He is a Licensed General Contractor. He uses the skills he learned in Mrs. Shelton's early childhood classroom to build new homes and complete complex and lengthy home renovation projects.

He builds onto existing structures. He builds on strengths, much the way family literacy programs build on the strengths of families.

It's no wonder that his company's motto is, It can be done. Rock Solid Construction LLC

All these years later, I still hear Mildred saying, "Yes you can." He hears her too. I'm sure of it.



      Rocky's son Mason graduating
      from pre-school.

Families Learning - click here to watch videos and hear stories of families who participated in family literacy programs across the country.
The National Center for Families Learning has defined (PACT) Time® as parent-child interactions, including bringing children and parents together to work, play, read, and learn. Such interactions can take place in the classroom, at home, or in the community and can lead to positive language, literacy, emotional, and cognitive development of children (Jacobs, 2004). 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Why I Write

I write to learn.

I write to gain insight and new perspectives.

I write for forgiveness and to let go.

I write to understand and not blame anyone from my past.

I write about growing up afraid and ashamed. 

I write about not knowing what many people took for granted.
I write to explain why I didn't know.
I write to find answers.

When I had children, I believed that as long as they didn’t know our family history, they wouldn’t repeat it. I would keep the family secrets and make sure my kids didn't wind up on drugs or in prison.

Over time I learned that we need to know our family history. It's part of our story. It's part of us.

I write to claim my story and share it with my children and grandchildren. I want them to have a record, something they might turn to when they face their darkest moments. They can draw courage and make better choices when they see how their ancestors lived, their successes and failures. 

I write for others who may be walking a similar path of not knowing what many people take for granted.

I write for parents who are overwhelmed and worried about their children's futures. I write for anyone who may not know they are the first and most important teacher in the lives of their children.

I write because I want my children to know that they made me strong. I found courage because of Mike, Misty, Megan, and Rocky (RL). They taught me to put one foot in front of the other and never, ever, give up.

I write to tell you that believing in yourself is half the battle.

I write to tell you that what might have felt cowardly and shameful, may turn out to be the very moment you faced your worst fears. One day you can drag it into the light of day, look at it from a distance, and see all the good that came from it. Maybe even generations down the road. 

If you ever wonder where you will find the courage to face the next day, or find the strength to take the next step, look back, it might just be behind you.

Story Matters  It's no secret. Take a look at these uplifting quotes on family stories. 

Do you have a family story that encourages you? have you shared it with your children? You can email me privately if you prefer here.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

September 12, 1988 Back to School

On September 12, 1988, I came out the front door of our apartment C22 (far right) with Michael, 10, Misty, 7, Megan, 5, and RL (Rocky) 3 years-old. We were on our way to catch the school bus.

If not for RL and Megan pulling me along and Misty skipping around us singing, "We're going to school. RL and Momma too," I don't think I would have made it to the bus stop.

The bus came, the kids from the apartments lined up and I picked up RL to show everyone, this little boy can't ride the bus by himself. 

RL and I sat in the seat behind the driver. Misty and Megan, sat across the aisle a few seats back and Michael, sat behind them. The bus started its slow climb up the hill and I looked out the window and thought how little things had changed in the 12 years since I'd dropped out of high school. I felt like a little girl with my toes curled under wishing I could disappear. The only difference was, my 4 kids were on the bus with me. Disappearing was no longer an option.

It wasn't their responsibility, but they saved me.
Smart Start of Brunswick County for information on parent and family resources for families of Brunswick County NC

Printable pdf of resources available to families with children

Saturday, July 13, 2019

A Reason Is Different than an Excuse

Site of Kenan Family Literacy Project
“What do you mean you’re not coming back?” I couldn't believe it when Mildred asked me that. 

Hadn't I just told her? 

Why can’t she see?  I don’t have a choice.


On the first day of school Mildred told us that attendance was important. She said that a reason to be absent was different that an excuse. "A reason is something you don't have control over. Excuses you do."

On the first day of school, I had a list of reasons I'd have to quit.
     When they see I'm not smart enough to get a GED.
     Before they figure out there's something wrong with me.
     When our trailer gets set up again.
     Before I push their daddy too far.

So many mornings I got on the bus with my kids thinking that day would be my last. I wanted to go back to what I knew. I'd reached my limit. Not only that, I was asking for trouble. Their daddy had made it clear. I had to quit. 

I dealt in emergencies. Mostly trying to avoid them. I was good at it and I knew I was pushing my luck. I felt it in my bones. I was running out of time.

How it irritated me when Mildred didn't seem to understand. I wanted her to agree with me. I needed her to agree with me.


"May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears." - Nelson Mandela


So while I was focused on more important things, like when to quit, RL was busy learning, making plans, and following through. 

It would be awhile before I did the same.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Why Did It Take So Long?

Sometimes I think back on decisions and choices I made in life and ask, What was wrong with me?

My internal dialogue goes something like this, If only I had----, How could I have not known----? Why did it take so long for me to make a change? 

I've worked hard over the years at applying knowledge and therapy to help answer these questions.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”                                   --Maya Angelou

Much of the time, my head knows and accepts that I did the best I knew how at the time, but old patterns of thinking emerge and I begin another cycle of turning those questions over in my mind.


My oldest son, Michael is 41 years-old. He called me several years ago and said he wanted to ask me something. First, he wanted me to know how much he respected me and how much he admired me for everything I did for him throughout his life. But he had one question.

"I remember the first time you kept the door locked and called for help. We were in the bedroom upstairs sitting on the floor under the window that faced the parking lot. Of all the things that had happened up to that point, why then? Why did it take so long?”           


I wanted to answer in a few sentences, summarize the internal changes he didn't see, that eventually led to the moment of change he witnessed.

But I couldn’t answer in a few words. It wasn’t an aha moment. 

It was a long letting go of a way of life, of giving up what I had always believed in, and finding hope again.

You see, I thought I had it all figured out. Actually, I was sure I had it all figured out. I was doing better than my mom. My kids had it better than I did growing up. Everything was going to work out.

After years of ups and downs, several events happened that shattered our world. I had to face reality. I had to ask myself how close I was willing to get to the point of no return.


A Long Battle with Myself

What’s wrong with you? Can’t you see?  Waiting, hoping, pretending isn’t helping. Tomorrow won’t be better. Do you hear me? There’s no one or no force outside yourself that will fix your life. It’s just you, miserable pathetic you. No magic waits around the corner, no happily ever after on the horizon, no one can do it for you. There’s only you.

Why Then?

So many things come into play. Therapy, the support of the teachers and friends in the family literacy program, and other people who, in one way or another, let me know I wasn’t alone.


His truck pulls in the parking lot, earlier than usual, but thankfully we are all inside. The doors are locked. Misty's on her way to open the door. I get to her in time and take everyone upstairs and sit them beneath the window facing the parking lot. We finally have a phone (I'm sure that affected the answer to, "Why then?") I plug it in upstairs and make the call. We're only minutes from the Sheriff's Department. I get under the blanket with the kids to wait. 

"Daddy's sorry. He won't hurt you, he promised." 

"Please let Daddy in." 

I wrap my arms around Misty just before she unlocked the door. She’s not sure if this happened on this particular night but, she remembers nights like this and many broken promises. We all do.

The deputy arrives. His car lights bounce around the room. I get on my knees and opened the window to listen.

“Go for a drive and give her time to cool off before you come back. You know how these women are.”


Anyone experiencing intimate partner violence, or know someone who is, are urged to call the 
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)

If you go online, keep in mind that your devices and your computer use can be monitored and search history is impossible to completely clear.

Featured Post

The Road Home

Sometime after I left, this holler was named Sassafras Lane.  I was sure I'd left my problems behind in that life sucking red clay....