Sunday, March 18, 2018

Review of Tormentil Hall by Katherine Wolfe

Tormentil Hall: The Eighth Penny Weaver Mystery by Judy Hogan. $15. March 2018. Paperback, ISBN-13: 978-19775235709, 212 pages. Hoganvillaea Books. To order, $18 (tax and postage added) PO Box 253, Moncure, NC. 27559

By Katherine Wolfe, Goldsboro writer.

I must confess I liked Sands of Gower so much that I was worried I might not like Tormentil Hall as well. How wrong I was!. From the first page, I knew my second visit to Gower would be equal to or better than the first. (It takes more than one date to get to know someone or more than one visit to know a place.) 

As Penny introduces her friends Sammie and Derek to Wales, the reader is reacquainted with the Gower Peninsula, its villages, its mountain, its history, and why Penny goes there to write poetry and think about her life. The story begins as a peaceful holiday vacation for Penny's friends, but conflict quickly develops and a murder occurs which keeps the reader engaged until the end. 

In solving the murder, Penny and Sammie travel to the village of Pwll-du and Swansea where they interact with everyday people: the librarian, the post office owner, a retired barrister, B&B owners and guests, and the police department. As they unravel the mystery, the reader learns much about the human race and its prejudices as well as its ability to love, heal, and rise after being knocked down. 

When I finished the book, I felt like I had traveled with Penny and Sammie. I liked the walks along the cliffs, eating digestive biscuits, sitting around a table with the people of Gower, drinking milky coffee with meat pies, Welsh cakes, or a ploughman's lunch of cheese, bread, and pickles. 

Note: if you order two of the Penny Weaver Mysteries, it’s only $25, including tax and postage. Learn more at

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Susan Cotten A Flower of the Heart

My phalaenopsis in early spring


Flowers of the Heart Twenty-Four March 11, 2018

For Susan Cotten

I still miss Susan. She lived next door to the
post office. She was nearly unflappable.
She listened, she teased us. She had grown
up in Moncure and knew all the old-timers,
but newcomers were welcome, too. She 
teased her husband about his chickens 
and at first refused to eat their eggs,
but she came around. She was a Republican
and teased me about being a Democrat.
We laughed. When I was told by a hospital
neurologist, after some tests, that I shouldn’t
drive, I thought I’d better set up a mailbox
here, but Susan said she’d bring me my
mail and she did. When I got a different
diagnosis and went back to driving, I could
visit Susan again. I wrote about her in our
electric co-op’s magazine and how she
lived by the Golden Rule, which is not
always a behavior guide to Christians. In 
my experience, it’s rare. Susan did all
the work a postmaster does, but she didn’t
have the title. She served us well and
beyond expectations for three years, and
then they advertised for her job, and Robin,
who qualified, became, not our postmaster,
but one step higher in postal rank than Susan. 
Robin struggled to make us happy. We missed
Susan so much. Susan was sad and wouldn’t
talk to anyone at first. She missed us, and 
we missed her. When she got a job in 
personnel at Walmart, she found a new 
niche where she could treat everyone as she 
would like to be treated. The Christmas
after she found her new job, she brought
me gifts: kitchen towels, pot-holders,
dishcloths. When I use them, I think of 
her. Another Christmas she brought me
a warm blanket to put over my legs in a 
cold house. Some friends stay even when 
you don’t see them often. When we do meet,
we exchange tight hugs. I still miss her.
A rare spirit, alive and loving, among us.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Robin Beane A Flower of the Heart

Sensation Cosmos on my dining table.

Flowers of the Heart Twenty-Three  March 4, 2018

For Robin Beane

She’s a worker. Running a small post office
and two carrier routes has challenges thick
on the ground, but Robin has a tough spirit.
She holds it together even when her back 
hurts or her teeth are killing her. Her first
job, when she took over, was winning us
over. We all loved Susan, whom she replaced.
Small post offices in rural North Carolina
are like general stores used to be. We love
to chat with our postmaster. We want to be
known, maybe even spoiled. Robin set out
to spoil us. Susan had lollipops for children.
Robin went farther. She put out candy for
adults, too. She was always glad to see us,
wished us a good day when we left. When
I got a box of books, she’d heft it onto
her shoulder and carry it to my truck. The
tradition of the mail must go through holds 
here. She came in even on icy mornings.
The old building had its limitations, but
Robin worked to get things fixed: heating,
cooling, painting, steps (when a mail truck
backed into them). When you live alone, as
I do, and many others here, it’s cheering
to be welcomed, as if you’re important,
even treasured. It isn’t only me. I see
everyone who comes in regularly, enter
with the confidence that they’ll be
treated kindly, attentively. When Robin’s
back went out, we had subs. We were
relieved and joyful when Robin returned.
Her newest innovation is a thousand-piece
jigsaw puzzle laid out on the end of the
counter. She said it was for people who
had to wait. There is rarely a line in the
Moncure post office. I’ve been in offices
where there was always a line of a dozen
people waiting, and the person on the 
window was surly. Not in Moncure. We
have high standards, and so does Robin.
To my surprise, people are filling in
the jigsaw. They’ve got the corners
and sides, and are now working on the 
middle. We meet our neighbors there,
too, and say hello even when we don’t
know their names. People have been
given a jump when their battery died.
I had to wait for a tow truck once. 
Robin came out to check on me. I’ve
asked men when they were at the 
counter to carry a heavy box of books
to my truck, to save Robin’s back. Such
neighborliness is rare now in our
country, but it’s alive and well in

Robin’s post office.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Rhonda Whitley A Flower of Heart

Okra in my garden after the Hurricane Irene in 2011


Flowers of the Heart Twenty-Two February 25, 2018

For Rhonda Whitley

What a mixture Rhonda is. She did make me angry
in the early period. She found me bossy and was
very sarcastic about this. But when I fell on the
road, she was here to make sure I was all right. She
ended up liking and forgiving me. She has 
worked tirelessly for our coal ash group. As
treasurer, she co-chaired the fund-rising committee
with Sheila. We’ve had plate sales–fried fish, 
hot dogs–and gospel sings. Some failed, but she 
took those in stride. The most recent two had 
to be canceled. First, they couldn’t find enough 
help, and the Lions Club fish sale was the same day 
as our planned chili supper. Now she usually calls
to celebrate some success we have in getting in
donations. Not long ago, one of our members 
gave $1000. Sometimes, to share frustrtions, 
but I’m no longer the one she’s angry at. She moved
here from Wisconsin, and only after settling in
with her horse and her dogs, did she learn of our
coal ash problem. Her response was to go to
work. She volunteered to be treasurer, which
turned out to be a lot more complex than she 
realized. Lots of rules for non-profits handling money.
We have to get our financial information to our
parent organization, which gives us, as a chapter,
our non-profit status. When she was so angry, I
backed off, let her go her own way instead of
offering advice. Probably other people have
resented my bossiness, but she let me know. 
She says now that I “pushed her buttons.” Back 
then I said,”Would you like to be the chair?”
“Oh, no!” So now she keeps an eye on my
health; wants reports. When I told her I thought
some of my episodes were from stress, she said,
“Oh, no, not possible.” She was an ear, nose,
and throat doctor. A traffic accident forced her
to retire young, but she likes to help people when 
they’re sick or must go to the emergency room.
When I succeed in pulling in more donations,
she praises me and even boasts of me to others.
I say, “I laid it on pretty thick” It was true. I told
my friends the coal ash dumping was demoralizing 
us. She herself has been suffering back problems
and seeing a doctor–-as infrequently as possible.
She continues to do all she can, even in pain.  She 
was having a fight with her electric company,
which is also the one sending us coal ash. She 
told them they were a terrible company, preying
on innocent people. They were threatening to
turn off her power. I suggested she not call them
names right now. She was waiting outside her 
house, with her back hurting, in the rain, to 
confront them and take photos, which she planned
to publicize. I urged her not to do that alone, but
call her neighbors and our coal ash lawyer, who
might have ideas. I said she could come here, if
they cut the power and sleep on my couch. She 
said no. Anyway she was ready to cope with a
power outage, and she wanted to catch them in 
the act. She did call the lawyer, who wasn’t in, 
and the neighbors, who came over. The truck 
never did come. The next morning the lawyer 
returned her call and gave her a number for 
the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
The woman who took the call successfully 
intervened and extcnded the deadline so she 
could resolve the issue wieth her electric 
company. I have to smile. She has a hard head, 

but such a passionate heart.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Harold Taylor A Flower of the Heart

Coal Ash Mountains. We have these now in our community


Flowers of the Heart Twenty-One  February 18, 2018

For Harold Taylor

Harold was the first person in Moncure to welcome me.
I had searched for a small house and land I could afford,
and the only one was here, and he was a neighbor. I had
learned this community was fighting against a low-level
nuclear dump, and I decided to buy the house and join
the fight. I went to the next meeting, which was held
next door in the Celestial Mason Lodge. He welcomed
me. They’d fought for ten years, and their numbers
had dwindled, but he and Mary MacDowell were still
fighting, and I helped. Mary told us that CP&L also
planned to store more nuclear waste at Shearon Harris
in their pools. That became the next battle once the dump
was given up. The trains carrying the waste came
through Moncure. Harold got me to work for Margaret
Pollard at the election in 2000. She was on the board
when we pushed to have the commissioners write to the
Attorney General to stop the waste trains coming
through Moncure. Margaret was wavering. Harold pressed
her on the phone. I spoke at the meeting and told how
our fire department had no idea what to do if a train
wrecked in Moncure. Our resolution passed. Then
we worked on air pollution, again with North Carolina 
WARN to stop it. At first we hit a lot of resistance
in the community, but eventually we got through
when some North Carolina State students and their
professor came to Moncure to speak to the new
community group, Southeast Chatham Citizens
Advisory Council. A large community audience,
including several commissioner and sheriff 
candidates, came to the meeting, and the statistics
were staggering. Our plant put in the air more
formaldehyde than any similar plant in the country.
People who lived near this Sierra Pine plant
were having more breathing illnesses than usual. 
Our commissioners sent for the Department of
Air Quality to solve this. We also had help from 
two experts on air quality: George Lucier and
Jane Gallagher. I remember the Sierra Pine Vice 
President told me that formaldehyde dissipates
in the air so was not a problem. I began to learn
how corporate polluters defended themselves.
Harold and I attended SCCAC meetings, but
were given no real power. There were always
these fights against pollution. Over the years
Harold and I didn’t always agree, but as my
neighbor he often helped me, and once he
told me I was a leading citizen. He has been
in his quiet way from the beginning. The
black community listened to him. He pulled 
my truck out of a ditch once, and to this day
he will help me if I ask. Sometimes he simply
mows along the front on or on the land i own
between my house and the lodge. After a 
car accident in 2015, when a speeding car
rammed me from behind, my old truck
took the jolt better than I did. I got a ride
home with Chloe next door and called
Harold to help me retrieve the truck.
I had refused the rescue squad. He said,
Judy, you’d better go in and have it checked 
out. I did. I was fine, but it was wise to find 
out. The other driver’s insurance paid the 
hospital bill. Sometimes, as now, when we
fight the coal ash dumping, life in our 
community is not easy, and we get 
discouraged, but I know Harold is there, 
with a clear mind and a good heart.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Joanie McLean A Flower of the Heart

Spider lilies, or Naked Ladies, among the bamboo grasses

Flowers of the Heart Twenty February 11, 2018

For Joanie McLean

Joanie is fragile some way, but tough
underneath. She came to me for help
with her poetry. She has worked at it 
steadily for years–maybe ten years now.
She took my Proust class and was very
conscientious about reading and studying
the material each week. She has been
in many poetry groups, and last fall joined
my class on Monday night, which I do by
Skype. She has brought me kindling
off and on, and dried grasses in a vase.
She has changed her life in major ways,
left a more conservative back story, and
lives at a wetlands farm where she slides
as close to the natural world as she can
get, fearless where coyotes and other
prey-seeking creatures roam at night.
Then she takes them into poems, pushing
at that mysterious edge few of us dare
to encounter, between realities–animal
and spiritual. I find her cheerful and
accepting of human foibles, clear-eyed 
when many people stagger as if blind-
folded. I asked her to comment on my 
new poetry book, and she said what
I would have wanted her to say if I’d
known what it was. I didn’t know I 
was facing my death there, but she did.
If you’ve ever been afraid to die, read
Judy Hogan’s "Those Eternally Linked 
Lives." Here, in 30 deft poems, we are
carried along with Hogan as she 
encounters loss, aging, and illness. 
But she comes through it all with 
such grace and humility, we are left 
breathless with delight and hope. 
Hogan clearly believes in poetry as 
revelation: “The human spirit has 
been here before. We know how
 to die if we have to.” That was the
corner I turned, but I didn’t see it
until she named it. That’s what true
poets do. Like a will-o’-the-wisp,     
she’s there, then gone, but something
evocative tells me she’ll be back,
maybe when I least expect it.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Pete MacDowell A Flower of the Heart

Snow goose image borrowed from the Cornell website on birds. See those black wingtips? I saw them on the Haw in the early 90s.


Flowers of the Heart Nineteen  February 4, 2018

For Pete MacDowell

I knew Mary first. She worked for Chatham 
County back in 1998, when we were still fighting 
the low level nuclear dump. She brought Pete 
to a party I had here, but it was when he took 
my poetry class that I got to know him better. 
About that time, in 2014, I published my 
love song This River: An Epic Love Poem.
He was very enthusiastic and bought it for his
friends, one of whom was a Taoist, and wrote:
“This epic poem is a page turner. Think Romeo and 
Juliet in the US and Russia in their 50s talking 
through a translator. If you love the interior dialog 
of Jane Austen, intense feelings searching for 
clues from the other, with all that hope and 
fear, this is it. But it is also a deep meditation on 
our nature as a human species  and our fundamental 
relationship with other species. The two rivers,
at one level at least, are the Haw and the Volga. 
Judy did most of her writing from the banks of 
the Haw. Her feel for nature is transformative. 
She has a deep Taoist understanding of  our
link with nature.” Those words sang in my heart.
Not long after that, Pete retired from being a 
strategist with North Carolina WARN, and
they moved to Alexandria, Virginia, to be near
their daughter and grandchild. Pete returned
to the poetry class, which we then did by 
Skype. He led the way. Skype worked most
of the time, and we kept going, and pulled
in a few more poets: Katherine, Tracey, Joanie,
Clare. Pete wrote new poems every week, 
lampooning Trump and other politicians’
reckless behavior in a democracy. He also
described the geese and ducks which came
to the pond behind his ground-floor apartment,
and his grandson’s antics. Sometimes he sang
of other loners he met in his neighborhood.
Once his mind had ranged wide, plotting
strategy that would teach Duke Energy 
better manners. He’d always send me notes
of praise when I’d write caustic letters
to the editor. This year my newest poetry
book emerged. Pete waxed enthusiastic
 again. “Judy, I am absolutely loving 
Those Eternally Linked Lives. Please
send me three more. Thanks so much
for your guidance in poetry and life.”
Out of my love and the suffering
which accompanied it, I somehow
spoke to Pete and others, too. A
writer lives for such words. They
reassure and heal. They carve themselves
deep in the mind. So many risks, not
to mention agonies of doubt have their

confirmation: you did the right thing.