• True Crime

    True Crime Wednesday: Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Child Trafficking Scam

    As a parent, it’s an unimaginable scenario. You send your children out to play in the front yard of your rural home in the country, and they are never seen again. Because you are poor with no money and limited resources, no one seems to care that your children are missing.

    In fact, a social worker is sent to tell you that you’ve been a neglectful parent, and your parental rights are being stripped away. Your children will go to a much better home, a home with rich parents who will give them a better life.

    This is only one of the ways the Tennessee Children’s Home Society procured thousands of young children, many of them blonde haired and blue eyed, and then “sold” them to wealthy families for thousands of dollars. It’s hard to believe, but this early child trafficking ring operated out of what was supposed to be a charitable organization and headed by a woman named Georgia Tann.

    Georgia Tann

    Tann was born in 1891, the daughter of a Mississippi district court judge. One of his responsibilities was dealing with homeless children who were the wards of the state. When she became an adult, Tann worked as a field agent for the Mississippi Children’s-Home Finding Society in Jackson, and soon overstepped her boundaries by placing poor children in adoptive homes without first getting the consent of the birth parents. After being sued by one of the parents, Tann decided to take her scheme and try it elsewhere, eventually landing in Memphis, Tenn.

    There, she set up the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and began carefully networking with local politicians, law enforcement officers, doctors and nurses to basically steal infants and children from poor families and unwed mothers in hospitals. She would give them a cut of the adoption fees to keep them quiet. One of her most ardant co-conspirators was a female judge named Camille Kelley, who presided over the juvenile court in Shelby County, Tenn. for 30 years. Kelley had a spy in the welfare department who would pass along the names of family applying for assistance to Kelley. Then someone would be dispatched to take the children from the home under the guise of “neglect and you can’t care for them anyway.”

    Tennessee Children’s Home Society.

    Mothers would go to the hospital to give birth and be told their babies were stillborn. They weren’t. And not all the children who were stolen were adopted. At one point the home had an outbreak of dysentery and between 40 and 50 babies died in the year 1945 alone. If babies were too “weak” or stolen children had cognitive or physical impairment, Tann would simply make sure one of her employees made the children “disappear.” Some were buried on the property of the home and about 20 children were buried in an unmarked plot of land within the Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.

    Records show she charged adoptive families desperate for a child up to $1,000 per child, a lot of money for the 1940s. With interstate adoptions, she charged up to $5,000. She had a team of “nurses” who would transport the babies on airplanes to their adoptive families. Many celebrities such as Joan Crawford and Lana Turner adopted babies from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and pro wrestler Ric Flair claims he was one of her victims as well. Children who were born into Southern Baptist families suddenly became Jewish on official paperwork and then adopted to wealthy Jewish families.

    Tann even toured the country lecturing on the subject of adoption, claiming that she could ensure that “poor children” could be remade into a “higher type” by placing them with well-bred families. She would place sickening ads in newspapers, featuring photos of children up for adoption, with captions like “They’d Like to Be Your Christmas Gift.” She also created a baby catalog to send to prospective adoptive parents.

    Ads Georgia Tann placed in a local newspaper.

    Years later, victims reported they had simply been playing in their front yards when Tann’s sleek black sedan pulled up and she got out, picked up the children, and simply put them in her car. They never saw their birth parents again. Tann ran the society for 21 years and made more than $1 million dollars from the taking and selling of children who were not supposed to be up for adoption.

    It wasn’t until 1950 that a local attorney, at the request of a newly-elected governor, began an in-depth investigation into the Children’s Home Society and Tann. It took him more than a year to compile his 240-page report, in which he was horrified by what he uncovered. In September of 1950, the governor held a press conference where he revealed what Tann had been doing for two decades. Unfortunately, no one was ever prosecuted for their role in the child trafficking. Tann, who had been battling uterine cancer, died just a few days after the press conference.  Judge Camille Kelley resigned in November 1950.

    It’s estimated more than 5,000 were stolen by Georgia Tann. Some of have been reunited with their families, but for many others, they will be unable to find answers on where they came from.

  • freelance writing,  Lifestyle

    Writing Rituals

    Cleaning is something I feel compelled to do after a big deadline.

    Writers sometimes talk about writing rituals. While I can’t say I have that many besides grinding away at deadlines, I do have a few post-deadline rituals I thought I’d share.

    Since April of this year, I’ve been editing two monthly magazines. Both go to the printer around the same time, causing a whole lot of frenzy on my part about the third week of each month. Once I’ve finished wrapping up all the editing, writing captions, copywriting I’m responsible for, and proofreading Pdfs, I often look up and notice my house looks like a bomb went off inside of it. There’s dog hair everywhere, Post-It notes with scribbled notes lying around, along with pens, copies of previous issues of the magazine I use for reference, and piles of dirty laundry.

    While I try to delegate some of these tasks to other members of the family, such as making or ordering dinner, vacuuming, washing clothes, we’ve all been working pretty hard since school started remotely for my teens in August. Add in a husband who has been working from home upstairs since mid-March, and there’d bound to be chaos.

    Last week was hard. I had a lot of work to do and had trouble sleeping for three nights in a row. This weekend, once the final proofs for the magazines were approved, I began what I call my post-deadline ritual. I vacuumed. I mopped. I ordered all linens changed from family members. I made a half-hearted attempt to clean my bathroom. I did piles of laundry. I then decided I had way too many clothes in my closet that I was no longer wearing so I purged those. Today, after I schedule this post, I’m headed to the grocery store with my list in hand.

    I also cleaned out my e-mail inbox. Right after an issue goes to print I like to file all e-mails related to it, comb through my inbox for story ideas for the next issue (yes, planning immediately begins) and I request invoices from any writers who still need to send them so everyone can get paid.

    When I worked on my weekly planner for this week, I wrote down “research, write and record a new podcast episode.” But as I sit here halfway through Monday, knowing I have travel plans later in the week, putting out a new episode doesn’t seem feasible. I took last week off from recording because of my magazine deadline. I think I’m better off taking my time on the next couple of scripts (there are some great ones planned) and then getting back on schedule next week. It’s the gracious thing to do for my mind and body since I have a few other freelance projects I’m also working on. The good news is that “Missing in the Carolinas” has officially surpassed 6,000 downloads. I received a lovely e-mail from a family member whose siblings were profiled in Episode 11. I never expected that my little podcast would reach listeners all over the country, but it has and I couldn’t be more proud. That’s why I don’t want to rush the production process unless I have to.

    I’m curious if any other writers out there have post-deadline rituals. Do you order dinner in? Go out? Purge your closets? Clean your house? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with this strong urge to get things back in order once a whirlwind of a deadline has passed.

  • True Crime

    True Crime Wednesday: Lesley Eugene Warren

    He was incredibly young and he had the face to match. But underneath his youthful demeanor lay  the heart of a killer.

    Lesley Eugene Warren murdered four women in three different states before finally being apprehended in July 1990. Although this all took place in my home state of North Carolina, I somehow had never heard of the man until recently. His case was the basis for an episode of the Investigation Discovery series titled “Handsome Devils” in 2014.

    Warren was born in Candler, N.C. and grew up in an abusive household. He only attended high school for a few months before dropping out. He eventually earned his GED, enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed in Fort Drum in New York State in 1987. Through a fellow soldier, he became acquainted with a 20-year-old young woman named Patsy Vineyard. Her husband reported her missing on May 21, 1987 after he returned home from being out of town and couldn’t find her. Vineyard’s body was later found in Lake Ontario near her home in Sackett’s Harbor, N.Y. She had been strangled to death. Warren was one of 150 soldiers who were questioned in her disappearance, but was not charged at the time of her death.

    Warren was dishonorably discharged from the Army, returning back to North Carolina and becoming a truck driver. In August 1989, the body of Velma Faye Gray from Travelers Rest, S.C. was found in Lake Bowen not far from her home. It appeared she had wrecked her car earlier that evening before she went missing.

    Jayme Denise Hurley was 39 years old when she went missing from her home in Asheville, N.C. on May 25, 1990. She had met Warren in the early 1980s when he was sent to the local Juvenile Education Center in Swannanoa. According to co-workers. Hurley grew to care about Warren over the years, considering him a bright young man and bringing him books she thought he would enjoy reading. She encouraged him to keep in touch with her even after she left the center in 1988.

    Just a few months after Hurley went missing, a young college student named Katherine Johnson, who was visiting her home in High Point, N.C. went missing after attending a party in July 1990.

    Each of the missing and murdered women had ties in some way to Lesley Eugene Warren. Investigators were already zeroing in on Warren as a suspect in Hurley’s disappearance when Johnson went missing. They eventually captured him in High Point, N.C. and questioned him about the two missing North Carolina women. Hurley’s body was eventually found in a shallow grave near Asheville. Johnson’s body was found in the trunk of her car in a parking garage in High Point. Warren was later tied to the deaths of Vineyard and Gray—both crimes appeared to be motives of opportunity. Vineyard was with Warren at a bar the night she was murdered and Gray had wrecked her car around the time Warren drove by the scene of the accident in his tractor trailer. Hurley had been a friend and mentor to Warren from his teenage years, and Johnson had met Warren at a party right before her murder.

    Lesley Eugene Warren was sentenced to death in North Carolina for the murders of Jayme Denise Hurley and Katherine Johnson and is currently on death row.

    Further Reading:

    https://greensboro.com/confessed-killer-made-others-care/article_245b3b80-25a3-5bd8-a715-c8dd5a759922.html

    https://greensboro.com/news/serial-killer-connected-to-high-point-slaying-subject-of-documentary/article_c63ff176-224d-11e4-a7a5-0017a43b2370.html

    https://greensboro.com/killers-lawyers-say-slaying-wasnt-planned/article_aa0f4717-d33f-5107-8088-337becada14b.html

    https://apnews.com/d551e72feb568f721f6f956c5e32eb8e

    https://www.goupstate.com/article/NC/19900721/News/605195321/SJ

  • True Crime

    True Crime Wednesday: The Unsolved Murder of Virginia Olson in North Carolina

    Virginia Olson

    The University of North Carolina at Asheville will always have a special place in my heart, because it was at that small college that I came into my own as a journalist. The small class sizes afforded me the ability to work closely with other students and talented professors who wanted me to succeed. For three years I worked on the campus newspaper, The Blue Banner, honing my reporting skills, interviewing students and administrators, working late nights at the office with only my jumbled notes and a miniature coffee pot to keep me company. I eventually became the features editor and then the news editor, assigning stories to reporters and perfecting my copy editing and computer software skills.

    UNC-Asheville, courtesy of ExploreAsheville.com

    But I have a confession to make. During that entire time I worked for the campus newspaper, and took courses in the mass communication and women’s studies departments, I had no idea that the specter of an unsolved murder of a female student from the 1970s loomed over the university. I only recently discovered this as I was researching missing persons cases for my podcast.

    From The Blue Banner archives

    Her name was Virginia “Ginger” Olson, and she was a 19-year-old dramatics major at the college. She was described as quiet, and friendly. On Sunday, April 15, 1973, she left her room at the Craig Dormitory to spend time studying just off campus. She walked through the Asheville-Biltmore Botanical Gardens (now known as The Botanical Gardens at Asheville) and up a hill to a spot where you could see both the gardens and a view of the campus.

    The Botanical Gardens at Asheville, Courtesy of Flickr

    The chancellor’s home, called the UNC-Asheville Pisgah House, now sits on that location.

    The Pisgah House

    None of Olson’s classmates were alarmed when she didn’t return to campus for lunch. Not everyone ate in the dining hall on the weekends. They only learned something terrible had happened to Olson when investigators arrived on campus later that evening. That afternoon, two local high school students discovered Olson’s body. Her t-shirt had been ripped to shreds and used to bind her hands and feet. The rest of her clothes lay scattered nearby. She had died by stab wounds to the heart and neck from a pocket knife that was still there. Olson was also sexually assaulted.

    Unfortunately, she died around the same time that the Watergate scandal broke so that story overshadowed any headlines Olson’s murder may have received. It sounds like a cold case squad in Asheville still has evidence in their archives (including Olson’s clothing) so there is still a chance the murder could be solved. The only real information I could get about this case came from articles published in the last few years from The Blue Banner staff (they did an excellent job of reporting the story!) I read in one of the articles that there were persistent rumors that a local patient from the nearby psychiatric facility Highland Hospital was responsible for the murder, but the alleged suspect was also the child of a prominent Asheville family and there may have been a cover-up. I couldn’t find any solid evidence to back that up, though.

    Either way, this is a sad story all around and I hope that one day, justice can be served for Virginia Olson. In 2013 a university groundskeeper and professor worked to erect a memorial garden in her honor, complete with three plaques and three benches. It’s a fitting tribute, and a way to soften the blow of what Olson’s last moments in a quiet and tranquil study spot must have been like.  

  • Lifestyle

    This Time Last Year

    From the August 2020 issue of Lake Norman CURRENTS.

    This time last year I was returning from a vacation in Florida, about a month into working this job, scheduling meetings, helping my daughter pack for a weeklong sleepaway camp and making a list of which school supplies I should pick up at what store. There were also a few afternoons I snuck away to our neighborhood pool for a little relaxation.

    It’s now the Summer of 2020 and I spent the week anxiously awaiting news of what the beginning of the school year will look for my kids. I was nervous for both myself and for them, as I have a rising freshman and junior. Seeing the sadness on their faces as they’ve missed the end-of-year celebrations, spring sports seasons and their friends since mid-March has been heartbreaking. I haven’t shopped for school supplies and camp was cancelled this year, and the pandemic has prevented so many teens from getting the summer jobs they’d had high hopes for.

    This time last year looked a lot different for them. My daughter was anxiously awaiting her road test to obtain her driver’s license and driving around town so she could finish her required hours. She and her brother met three times a week in the early morning with their cross country team to practice. They could walk to our pool whenever they wanted, or meet friends to shoot hoops at the nearby public basketball court.

    Thanks to COVID-19, this summer has looked a lot different for our kids. They are no longer groaning about shopping for back to school supplies, knowing they will start the school year off with remote schedule that keeps them home at least until Labor Day. They are hearing news of more and more people receiving positive COVID tests, and worrying if they forget to leave the house without a mask or hand sanitizer. They are sad because so many neighborhood pools have opted to remain closed for the summer, because they aren’t large enough to adhere to the social distancing guidelines. They long for the days when the basketball hoops were still up in the neighborhood park, and they wonder why they ever complained about not wanting to go outside in the heat. They’d give anything now to be outside in the heat with their friends without fear.

    This time last year I was living with the everyday normal stressors most adults deal with day by day. I had no idea of what was to come. But as we work through the very first pandemic most of us have ever lived through, I believe we will come out stronger. Our kids will be more resilient. They will appreciate the things they used to take for granted. For some, it could be a defining moment of their lives, if they choose to make it one.

    This time next year will look a lot different. I hope.

  • Lifestyle

    The Not-So-Secret Life of Pets

    Sonic and Ruby

    I don’t like to think about what my life would be like without my pets.

    I’ve had a dog for as long as I can remember, and most of them have been pretty small. I guess as a petite person myself I’m hesitant to get a pet that could potentially be taller than me while standing on hind legs. My husband and I started out with a small chihuahua I brought into the marriage, and while I’m sure Daniel was hesitant about Odie at first (we all know the bad rap chis can get) he eventually grew to love that boy. When Odie passed away after a long life in 2010, we swore up and down we would take a break from having a pet. We were too heartbroken and tried to convince ourselves that we would be able to take more last-minute trips, etc. without the responsibility of finding a dog sitter, etc.

    Two months later, I went to a local dog rescue for an article I was reporting on. I guess you can tell where this story is going . . . the first “person” to greet me was a wire-haired black terrier mix. There was something in his eyes that drew me to him immediately and I felt bad for him sitting in a crate out in the August heat. Within a few days, we filled out an application and had our home and yard inspected by the rescue. Sonic came home with us and our kids (who were 7 and 4 at the time) were thrilled to have another dog in the house.

    That dog has become my faithful companion. We joke that he’s like a sheepdog and herds me from room to room. He will sleep underneath my desk while I’m working, and when he feels like it’s time for me to get up, he will “herd” me to the couch, where he immediately curls up beside me. In the mornings, he herds us to the food bowls. He herds us to the side door when he’s ready to take a walk. We have no idea how old he is now, just that he was pretty young when we got him. It’s hard for me to see him start to walk a little slower and take longer naps, but we are grateful that he came to join our family.

    Six years ago, we started talking about getting a puppy to join the family, and because I had secretly always wanted a dachshund, I convinced my daughter to get one for her birthday. We found an adorable long-haired puppy we named Ruby and brought her home in 2014. As you can imagine, Sonic was a bit grumpy with that new arrival, but they eventually worked things out. Now I have two dogs that lie under my desk and have learned just how persistent dachshunds can be when they want food (which is 24/7 by the way). Their two personalities keep us pretty amused, because they both are completely different. She follows my husband around and will sass at him if she doesn’t get her way, something she never does with me. She howls when my daughter plays the piano. She also can be in a dead sleep and hear the refrigerator drawer that holds the cheese open and be in the kitchen in seconds. We keep saying we’re going to enter her in the Downtown Mooresville’s Weiner Dog Race (held each year in October), but I don’t know that we will ever follow through on that promise.

    Pets are such a fun and memorable part of our lives. I only wished they could be with us longer.

  • podcasts,  True Crime

    True Crime Wednesday: Intriguing Podcast Episodes to Check Out

    It’s no secret that I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts. A lot. I’ve shared recommendations for some of my favorites in here and here. Today as I was on my walk, listening to yet another podcast, I thought it might be fun to share some of the most intriguing episodes I’ve come across lately. Here are some you should check out if you haven’t already:

    Unsolved Murders

    Hazel & Nancy Frome Pt. 1 and 2

    Hazel and Nancy Frome

    Description of the episode:

    In April 1938, the nation was shocked by the news that Hazel Frome and her daughter, Nancy—two innocent, beautiful Bay Area socialites—turned up dead in a ditch outside of El Paso. Even more shocking, there were signs that the women had been tortured before their deaths.

    Listen here:

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/unsolved-murders-true-crime-stories/id1122804248?i=1000474323554

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/unsolved-murders-true-crime-stories/id1122804248?i=1000475060520

    More information on this story:

    https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/unsolved-crimes/

    The Vanished

    Episode: Jason Dies

    Jason Dies

    Description of the episode:

    In June of 1991, 20-year-old Jason Dies returned from Operation Desert Storm when the USS Horne docked in San Diego, California.  He was now on leave and had a month to report to a new duty station in Pensacola, Florida.  Jason never showed up and was classified as an unauthorized absentee and later a deserter.  Before Jason disappeared, he mailed some packages to his family back in Louisiana.  He phoned them and asked them not to open the packages.  The mystery of what was in the packages and what happened to Jason loomed over his family for years.  What had he sent them?  Military secrets?  Was there some kind of conspiracy?  When Jason’s younger cousin grew up, she embarked on a journey to find him.  She opened the packages and started pressing for answers.  

    Listen here:

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-vanished-podcast/id1081124929?i=1000477989934

    Radio Rental

    Prepare to be spooked with this podcast created by Payne Lindsey that shares real-life stories told by anonymous people with a twist—an employee at a video rental store (voiced by actor Rainn Wilson) sets the stage. The ones that have stuck with me so far are Episodes 2 and 4 of the first season. I couldn’t stop thinking about “The Doppelganger” and “Laura of the Woods.”

    Listen here:

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-rental/id1483289230?i=1000455640579

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/radio-rental/id1483289230?i=1000456600641

    The Minds of Madness

    Episode 78: The Whitaker Family

    The Whitaker Family

    This story has s stayed with me since I first heard about it several years ago. It makes you wonder if a person really can be born without a conscience and explores the power of forgiveness.

    Description of the episode:

    December 2003 was a special time for Kent and Tricia Whitaker. Their sons had returned home from University for the holidays, and they were happy to have the whole family back together again. Little did the Whitakers know it would be the last fond memory the family of four would share.

    Listen here:

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-78-the-whitaker-family/id1191274361?i=1000477231458

    Dateline NBC: The Charleston Affair

    In this Dateline classic, a wealthy Charleston banker and his wife are locked in a bitter divorce. One week before their divorce hearing, authorities find an ex-con in town who confesses he had been hired to kill someone in their family. Who was the mastermind behind the hit? Keith Morrison reports. Originally aired on NBC on September 19, 2014.

    Listen here:

    https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-charleston-affair/id1464919521?i=1000477540643

    Check them out and let me know what you think!

  • Lifestyle

    Tips for Making the Most Out of Your Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

    This article originally appeared in the June issue of LIMITLESS Magazine.

    We’ve all done it—racked up a glorious array of produce at our local farmers market and grocery store and then watched as our avocados rotted on a windowsill or our raspberries or strawberries developed a yucky mold before we could enjoy their fresh sweetness.

    With the month of June designated as “Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month,” what better time to get a refresher on the best way to store your colorful goodies, build a more enticing salad and learn how to add more fruits and veggies into your eating plan?

    Store your fresh food properly

    Know the best way to store your food.Root vegetables (such as potatoes, carrots and turnips) are best stored in a cool, dry place. They will last up to a month if stored properly. Store your foods in complete wholeness, otherwise you will break apart the cells and they won’t last as long. Avoid placing fruits or veggies in airtight bags as this will speed up decay. Keep fruits and vegetables with the right “partners.” Some forms of produce give off high levels of ethylene gas, which is a ripening agent. High-ethylene producers include apricots, apples, avocados, cantaloupe, peaches, plums, pears and tomatoes, among others. It’s best to not store these fruits and vegetables with anything that is “ethylene sensitive,” such as unripened bananas, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, green beans, kale, raspberries and watermelon. Greens in particular are very sensitive to ethylene gas.

    Make a heart-healthy salad

    Let’s be honest, sometimes salads can get a bit . . . boring. But they are a good way to add extra fruits and vegetables into our diet, and there are some pretty creative “salad in a jar” tutorials floating around out there. (Just remember to always put the dressing on the bottom of the jar to avoid making the rest of your salad a soggy mess when it’s time to eat). Help your salad pack a punch by starting with a healthy fiber, such as quinoa or brown rice. Next, top with leafy greens such as kale, spinach, romaine or arugula. Layer in other chopped vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers. Find a nice, lean protein (think chicken, goat cheese, chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, etc.) and then top with a healthy fat. Healthy fats include salad dressings made from olive oil, nuts, or seeds (no more than ¼ cup of nuts or seeds because they are higher in calories and fat).

    Sneak in more fruits and veggies

    According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, only 1 out of 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables. With the USDA recommending five to nine servings of these items daily, it can seem a daunting task. Incorporating a few smart swaps can help you meet those daily guidelines. Instead of rice, try using any number of riced vegetables out on the market as a base for stir-fry or as a side dish. You can purchase packages of cauliflower and broccoli already riced, both in the fresh and frozen sections of the store. Similarly, use vegetables noodles in place of pasta, such as ribbons of fresh zucchini or carrots. Instead of mayonnaise for a sandwich, mash up an avocado, add in some salt and lemon juice, and use this spread as a healthy replacement. Fold fresh or frozen berries into oatmeal or yogurt and chop up veggies to add into an omelet or a frittata. You can also use fresh fruits and vegetables in smoothies with plain non-fat Greek yogurt for a protein-packed treat.

    Summertime is a great time of year to try new types of foods, visit local farms to pick berries and get creative with meal planning. Making sure you store your foods correctly will help you make the most out of your finds.

    Sidebar:

    What’s in season right now?

    Here are a just a few of the fruits and vegetables you’ll find available in the summer:

    • Apricots
    • Beets
    • Bell Peppers
    • Blueberries
    • Butter Lettuce
    • Corn
    • Cucumbers
    • Eggplant
    • Honeydew Melons
    • Lima Beans
    • Squash
    • Strawberries
    • Tomatoes
    • Watermelon
    • Zucchini

    Source: Produce for Better Health Foundation

  • Creative Writing,  Lifestyle

    Classic Memories

    My first car looked a lot like this one.

    You never forget your first car. I know I will always remember mine—and for several reasons. First, I look back at that time in my life and realize I had no clue how much cars and insurance cost and how blessed I was to even have one on the day I turned 16. I didn’t work and save up money so that I could purchase my own car, I expected my parents (who both worked hard but did not have the funds to purchase their only child a brand-new car) to provide me with one.

    Looking back, I realize that was pretty presumptuous of me. Instead, my stepfather purchased a used car for me in cash from one of his friends. It was a 1986 red Dodge Charger. At the time, it was seven years old, but age didn’t matter to me. It was sporty, flashy and gave me my own set of bragging rights. The handle on the driver’s side door was broken and I would have to jiggle it a certain way to open it. It was also a five-speed and I remember both the joy of learning how to change the gears and the fear of pulling up to a stop sign perched on a hill (I lived in the mountains of western North Carolina). Unbeknownst to my parents, my friends and I had plenty of adventures in that car, such as the time I got it stuck in a curvy, muddy ditch and a truck full of football players from our high school happened to drive by and lifted the car back onto the road on their own. Whoops.

    I didn’t take care of that car like I should have. I wish I would’ve, because I’m sure I would have had many more adventures. Instead, I drove with reckless abandon like the teenager I was, and almost a year after I got the Charger, I took another one of those mountain curves too fast and crashed the car into a rock wall in front of a church. Miraculously, I only had a scratch on my neck from my seat belt. The car, unfortunately, did not make it.

    I thought about that wreck when the time came for my own daughter to start driving. Even though she is about as cautious as they come, I know teenagers. Driving can be tricky business, and I know accidents happen. We discussed options with her and decided to let her take the car I had driven for years (a Honda Pilot) because, as we joke, that thing is a tank and about a solid as they come. She spent a year practicing driving this car, took her driving test in it, and I purchased a newer vehicle for myself. I’m grateful she understood that we wanted her to drive an older vehicle for at least a year, see how it held up and then see if we needed to find another car. The funny thing is, I dropped her off at school on her first day of Kindergarten in that car and she now drives it to high school. Talk about a dependable car.

  • Creative Writing,  podcasts,  True Crime

    How I Started a Podcast

    This article appears this month in the June 2020 issue of Lake Norman CURRENTS.

    It was while interviewing Davidson resident Stacey Simms about her Diabetes Connections podcast for CURRENTS several years ago that I first learned about podcasts. For anyone unfamiliar, a podcast is an episodic series of spoken word digital audio files that a user can download to a personal device for easy listening. There are now more than 800,000 active podcasts available worldwide, if that tells you anything about their popularity.

    When a friend started telling me about some true crime podcasts a few years ago, I started wading my way into the podcast waters. I loved studying the different formats, the choices of music and sound effects, and the way all the elements could come together to tell a compelling story.

    How hard would it be to create my own podcast?, I thought to myself more than once. In my spare time, I would jot ideas down in a notebook. What type of equipment would I need? What would the format be? How would I learn all the technical aspects of production? How would I find content? I even attended a specialized writing conference in Raleigh last summer, t “MurderCon,” so I could glean more ideas and network.

    Finding myself with extra time on my hands thanks to COVID-19’s shelter-at-home orders, I gave myself a deadline to finally get a podcast up and running. I honed in on a topic (missing people) and came up with a title, “Missing in the Carolinas.” I bartered services with a graphic artist friend of mine to create the cover art (she needed editing done for her online business).

    I began writing scripts. I bought a microphone and started playing around with GarageBand on my computer. I begged one of my teenagers for help. I bought stock music and created an introduction that could be used at the beginning of each episode. I tried recording the first episode, and quickly learned a read-through of each script is mandatory before hitting the record button. I also may have deleted the audio more than once when I was only trying to erase part of the recording. I researched the best media hosts for the podcast, because you have to buy a membership to one before you can get it to “feed” into places like Apple podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, etc. This was uncharted territory for me.

    It was much harder than I anticipated. But after producing the first few episodes, I realized it would be silly not interview guests if I could find them. After recording one interview via Zoom, I wasn’t entirely impressed with the audio quality and am now looking for other options.

    Although it’s been a slow process, I’m proud of the new skills I’ve taught myself—audio production, recording, interviewing, media hosting, creating an e-mail list, script writing—just to scratch the surface. So far, I’ve invested a small amount of money into this project and am not receiving compensation. It’s a complete passion project, but one that I hope will grow over time and generate more interest. And if it can be used to help solve a missing persons case, well, that would be worth the time invested. Wish me luck.