The email I received from my friend said he was going stir-crazy during this pandemic, he’d read every John Grisham, and knowing my nose is usually inside a book, could I recommend one to help him pull through.
I got to thinking about the ‘stir-crazy’ expression and where it comes from. I found that ‘stir’ originated in 19th century London and is slang for ‘prison.’ At some point, ‘crazy’ was added to describe someone who’s been in prison so long they’re beginning to experience mental problems.
But I digress. My friend asked about books.
That’s been a lifelong problem of mine: flitting from one thing to another, accomplishing little. I always wanted to learn to fly airplanes, so I saved money for lessons. Going to Russia was also something I wanted to do. Shortly after my first few flying lessons, I got the opportunity to make that trip. Next thing I knew I was on a boat going up the Volga River. No money left for flying lessons.
At one point, I wanted to be a history teacher, so I started college with that objective in mind. But after a while I realized it was more fun to play George Jones records on the radio. I can’t fly airplanes or teach history, but I know the lyrics to most of George’s songs.
But I digress again. My friend asked about books.
Books and walking have been two constants in my life. So long as I have books to read and can regularly feel the Lake Junaluska walking trail under my number 12s, I’m happy. Pandemic or no.
This is not a book review column, though. I’m not qualified to do that. This is simply a recommendation to a friend, a book I think will also be of great interest to readers of News & Neighbor.
And The Crows Took Their Eyes is written by Vicki Lane, a Florida native who has lived in Madison County, NC since 1975. Her book is a riveting work of historical fiction based on what became known as the Shelton Laurel massacre, which occurred in the Shelton Laurel community of Madison County during the Civil War.
Sentiments in East Tennessee and Western North Carolina were bitterly divided during the war. Salt was a scarce but much-needed commodity. (For instance, it provided the only way to preserve meat.) In 1863, an armed band of Union sympathizers raided a salt storage facility in Marshall. In retaliation, Confederate soldiers rounded up 13 men and boys suspected of participating in, or having knowledge of, the raid. Under the pretext of marching them to Greeneville, Tennessee, for trial, the prisoners, ranging in age from 13 to 64, were lined up and shot by a firing squad.
The massacre was widely reported in newspapers and enraged even Confederate leaders like North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance. Charles Frazier researched the massacre while writing his bestseller COLD MOUNTAIN, and paralleled some of the events, including the firing squad scene, in his book.
Vicki Lane tells the story through the eyes of five people, four historical, one fictional. She gives each character their own unique voice using the language and idioms of the day. I recognized some of the expressions; some I didn’t. My grandfather Hogan frequently used an expression, “plague take it,” as in, “That plague-take-it dog won’t hunt.” I suppose he and the character in Lane’s book used it to express exasperation, but I’d never seen the phrase in print before.
As I told my friend, this book will pick you up and set you down in the 1860s. Vicki Lane’s research is nothing short of amazing and she has produced a work that, I believe, will make an indelible impression on every reader.
“Bet you can’t read just one chapter,” I wagered him. And I bet you can’t either.
After 57 years in the radio industry, Dave Hogan is enjoying his retirement in North Carolina. He’d love for you to say ‘howdy’ to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.