Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Appalachian Dreams

Posted by M.L. Falconer on 9:41 PM

     There are several writers whose work has inspired me; several people who have influenced and encouraged my writing. However, there are only a select few who I can credit for creating me, creating this love of writing within me. I honored Ray Bradbury last week. This week, I honor Mr. Joseph, my sixth grade teacher. 

      In the summer of 1982, Mr. Joseph took myself and two other students on a cross country road trip. The trip included a hike that spanned the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia portions of the Appalachian Trail.

            Mr. Joseph is a rabid fan of Mark Twain’s stories of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. A writer himself, Mr. Joseph would read to his class chapters from his own book each day just before class let out. It was a story of adventure that rivaled that of Mr. Twain. The students loved it. I loved it.

     Shortly after our trip I kept a journal outlining, to the best of my memory, events and things we saw. That journal has become a short story titled Appalachian Dreams. By pressing the boundaries of creative non-fiction, I have attempted to capture in Appalachian Dreams that “Tom Finn” spirit and style that Mr. Joseph loved so much. I do so to emphasize his heart’s desire to be a character in a Twain novel, and his boyish aspirations to experience such adventure. I also use this Twain "voice" as a tribute to Mr. Joseph whose influence has made a monumental impact on my life. He’s one of the reasons I fell in love with writing and storytelling, giving me my very first taste of it. No, none of the real characters are from the south, none of us really talk this way, although, in the essence of the man that Mr. Joseph is, not to write about our adventures on the “Trail” in that spirit would seem against all that the trip stood for. I do not use the device as an insult to anyone’s education or intelligence; it’s simply flavor, in honor of the stories that Mr. Joseph loves. I have always seen Mr. Joseph as Huck Finn leading us on an amazing adventure to find a lost treasure buried somewhere in the Maryland/Virginia/Pennsylvania landscape.

This wasn’t just a cross country trip. It was a Mark Twain adventure, and for a brief slice of life, we were all characters in this incredible story. 

The following is a short excerpt from Appalachian Dreams: 

That Maryland mornin in ’82 was crisp and chilly. We’d arrived by vehicle the night before. It’d taken the better part of a week to get there. The lushness of the area was amazin. I’d never seen so many trees in my young life. Nostalgia was so thick you could smell the gunpowder of muskets and the smoke of cannon fire and Civil War history was alive in the design of the New England style buildins. Somewhere in your mind you could faintly hear the bugle call of “charge” of union forces echoing over the meadow. There was a sense of fall in the air giving me a feelin of giddiness I hadn’t felt since I kissed Jenny Lee Avery behind the old mill that last Summer.

After near two hours of preparin and packin, we were ready to move out. Lookin off inta the brush just beyond a sign signifyin the entrance to the trail, I felt a bit of a faithless pit in my stomach. The trail was a haunting thing. I reckon it had to do with ghosts of the Civil War and such. Still, there wouldn’t be much nostalgic treasure to find in all that as far as I could tell, though Mr. Joseph saw things different. He knew there was treasure on that trail and we set out to find it.

            Brian took out his rabbits foot an gave it a good rub then put it back in his pocket.

            “Wudd’ya do that for” I asked

             “It’s good luck, ya know?”

            “Can I try?”

            “Naw. Anyone touch it now an it’d rub off my luck.” He said.

            “That’s just a wives tale. It don’t really work.”

            “One time I was walking down the track over by Saw Creek Mill…” Brian explained, “…and my foot become stuck. The Loggin Express was ten minutes early that day. I couldn’t get loose and the express was barrin down on me. I thought fer sure I was done for, so I took out my rabbits foot and began ta rub it. The conductor must’a seen me cause all a sudden I could hear the breaks scrape’n an straight away sparks come a shootin out the wheels. By some miracle the conductor managed to stop the thing some five foot from me.”

            “If it wasn’t for that rabbits foot you’da been squished!” I shouted.

            “Ain’t that the truth.” He said.

Thinkin more clearly on it today, I can’t say I believe his story was the straight truth. Regardless, I spent a good portion of the rest of the trip thinkin of some way ta get that rabbits foot in ta my own pocket. One thing my life has always been short on is luck. I reckon that foot would’a fixed me up right.

Excerpt from
Appalachian Dreams
By M.L. Falconer

Mr. Joseph is still alive and kicking. He continues to embark on multi-mile hikes, cross country bike trips and other amazing adventures with his wife and kids. You can find his work, Family on the Mountain at Amazon.com.


Love the voice on this M.L.!! Awesome story!! Love the pics too!

Fantastic story Mel. I love the pictures too.
It's such blessing when people from our past inadvertently add that spark that alters our lives without ever realizing it until years later. Thanks for sharing!!

Thanks girls! I'm glad you enjoyed it. If you notice, I did end up with that rabbits foot. lol. I'm the one with the green had and Elton John spectacles. The little red thing dangling from my belt is my trusty good luck charm in question. ;)

Loni: you are absolutely right. I did some searching to find Mr. Joseph only a few years back. Being in contact with him again after 30+ years is definitely a blessing. One I should count more often. ;)

I love this for so many reasons!

I’ve always said my three favorite characters of all time were Robin Hood, King Arthur and Huckleberry Finn. As I kid, I wanted to hop on that raft and ride down the river. I find the whole bonding experience of childhood something magical. There aren’t many books out there for girls that resonated with me, but as an adult, I loved Dan Simmon’s SUMMER OF NIGHT and Robert R. McCammon’s A BOY’S LIFE.

This type of story reminds me of those books that transport you back to when something as trivial as a rabbit’s foot could decide the fate of the world. Or at least the outcome of an adventure among friends.

This looks like such a treasure, M.L.! Bravo to you for resurrecting the magic of that trip, the teacher who inspired you and the adventures you had on the journey. I love the photos!

Is this finished and available now?

Hi Mae,

I'm definitely hooked on those kinds of stories and characters too. My roommate told me that this post, along with the pictures, reminded him of Stand By Me. Those kids were off to see a dead body that was hit by a train. I hadn't connected the similarities until now. Another story that takes me there is The Sandlot. Some really great boyhood bonding in that one. Of course, Mr. Joseph's book was about that kind of adventure too, however my memory of it is vague at best.

I second your notion about small things deciding the fate of a child's world. I picked up that Rabbit's foot in the Mark Twain Cave gift shop in Hannibal, Missouri and it did become a source of imagination for me the rest of the trip. On a side note, we got to see the actual white-wash fence and the home of the inspiration for Becky Thatcher. We also took a short tour of the infamous cave where Injun Joe died.

It's ironic that you mention Dan Simmons. One of my college instructors once told me that my writing reminded him of Dan Simmons and Cormac McCarthy. I obviously took that as an incredible compliment, though I hadn't read either one of them. His comment made me curious. I've since read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and loved it. I still have not read Dan Simmons though.

Thank you for your wonderful words on the piece and your enthusiasm for it. your enthusiasm sparks that emotion within me too. The story is mostly a collection of memories in notebooks at present, though I do have four pages of it typed up for a past class project. that's where the excerpt comes from. I would be glad to email you the last typed page and a half if you would like. Say the word and I'll send it. It's got the makings of a juicy adventure in it. ;)

Some day I'm going to make it to Hannibal. On my bucket list. Lucky you having been there and seen so much that factored into Mark Twain's tales. I forgot about The Stand. That was another one I loved, and Stephen King's It. I'll have to check out The Sandlot. I haven't read The Road though I'm familiar with it.

Dan Simmons is amazing writer so, yes, take that as a high compliment!! Summer of Night was purely magical, the sequel only so-so. Simmons also wrote my favorite book of all time "The Terror," a monstrously long fictional account about Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage. Part thriller, part horror novel, part history with a whole lot of other threads woven in. I'm in complete awe of that book. Amazing!

You should do something with your notes. Sounds like it could be a fun, nostaligic book. Please send! maeclair(at)maeclair(dot)com

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