Tuesday, September 30, 2014

oh yeah, i wrote a book

i got so wrapped up in all the things these past two weeks that i forgot to properly celebrate the fact that the huge adventure i promise myself in my birthday post (read it here) actually happened. my first book went live last sunday and i kind of just want to hold it, and pet it, and name it george.

except it's an ebook and i can't hold it. and there's a girl on the cover, so i'm sure i'd have to go with georgina.

but you get what i'm chuckin' at. book one dropped this month just like i said it would. it's free over at Barnes & Noble and hopefully, Amazon will price match that soon. enjoy the freeness. i love free books.

as hannibal liked to say, i love it when a plan comes together.

a-team, y'all....a-team.

...happy happy happy...

missing: her garden is gone

joy's house is about two miles away from mine and i think if i were to count up the times i've driven by it, twice a day, to and from work, it'd be in the hundreds now.

i loved her garden. in may it was bursting and overflowing with green and color and i saw her out there a few times. bent at the waist, digging, pulling and tending...her long blond hair in a ponytail.

she went missing on september 7 and for a few days, she was all over the news. here one day, shopping with her husband at a local garage sale...gone that night without a trace. keys left behind. purse on the counter.

our newspaper covered the story a few days into it, but really, our hometown is out of the coverage area so after the initial reports and a few updates, there hasn't been much to say.

i saw a few "missing" posters around town hung up in shop windows. eventually, they turned into advisories for fisherman, kayakers and hikers to be on the lookout when they used the shenandoah river. the sheriff never came out and said it, but it's slowly gone from search to recovery.

but nobody mentions joyce much in the news now because a college student in charlottesville went missing around the same time and they caught then man and now they're linking him to another murder of a college student a few years back. it's bigger news, i suppose, than the mysterious end to the quiet life of a 51-year old mother and garden lover.

and now, her garden is gone.

i drove by this weekend and it's been taken down and raked. nothing is left in her tiny plot of plants.

gone, too, are the missing posters and the river advisories.

must be that the smaller, sad news is harder for us to take.  harder for us to hang on to. nothing for us to grasp when the news cycle comes back 'round with the latest catastrophes and car crashes and workplace shootings.

i still drive by joyce's house every day, to and from work, and i think about her.

i catch glimpses of the river behind her house and i can't help but think of where the authorities assume she ended up.

i wish her story wasn't so easy to forget.

more than anything, though, i wish joyce was still around to tend to her cold-weather vegetables.

Monday, September 1, 2014

this is a story about tom the cat

It's pretty rare that I receive feedback from readers when I write most stories. Oh, people still call and rail at reporters and write to the editor, but I just don't write those types of stories. Not necessarily on purpose (but maybe so, just a little bit), but when you're the general assignment reporter who covers two of the most peaceful, idyllic towns on the eastern seaboard, you don't do a lot of stories that generate a lot of notice.

But this story....oh, have mercy.

I came to work today and had five voicemails waiting for me. I've had three messages since then, too. (These are huge numbers for me, people!)  Everyone wants a copy of the book. Everyone wants to support John Barr.

I'm hoping once you read the story from Saturday's paper, you'll understand why.

Photo by Michael Reilly, DNR. 8/30/14
BRIDGEWATER — A lifelong composer and musician, Bridgewater resident John Barr did what he’s always done — combining a number of elements to create a beautiful composition.

Except this time, instead of notes and chords, Barr blended words and pictures into a tale of famed Bridgewater feline, Tom the Cat.

In “Tom the Cat of Oakdale Park,” Barr, 75, captured the story of a feral cat living in one of Bridgewater’s parks and the many friends Tom made between 2008 and 2011.

“My wife, Ann, and I would walk the park every night and we would see this cat all the time, so we started feeding it,” Barr said. “Well, eventually, Tom would follow us on our walks like a dog. He’d wait for us every night. This went on for a few years.”

Tom — the Barrs gave him his name — ingratiated himself to a number of nearby homeowners. Soon many people in the area were feeding the cat, whose age and origin remain a mystery.
Folks also began leaving bedding out so he would have a warm place to sleep in the winter.

According to Barr, Tom even lived with a widow for about a year after her husband died.

“Every night, Tom would go to their front door and wait for Mr. Stark so they could go on their evening walks,” he said.  “After Mr. Stark passed away, Tom sort of adopted his widow Le [Lelia] and would stay indoors with her to keep her company.”

Mrs. Stark eventually moved and Tom was in need of a new home.

Anna Barr, whom everyone knew as Ann, suggested that she and her husband adopt the cat.
The decision came just after she had received a lung cancer diagnosis.

“As Ann’s health deteriorated and she got more and more sick, keeping Tom at home with our other cat Tigger wasn’t working out,” John Barr said. “I eventually found some friends in Augusta County who owned a farm and they agreed to take him in.”

Barr said that was probably the last piece of good news his wife got that year. She passed away on Jan. 29, 2012, just as Tom the Cat was making himself comfortable in his new home, barn and all.

While months and now years have passed, Barr never forgot about the long hours he and his wife spent walking with that orange tabby cat. He remembers telling his wife at one point that they ought to turn their stories with Tom into a children’s book.

Ann Barr was a longtime elementary school teacher who worked with children who had difficulty with reading.

“She always said that she loved children, but she especially loved the naughty ones and the ones who had the most trouble,” her husband recalled.

In a discussion with his son, Johnny, this past year, father and son agreed to go on the journey together of writing and illustrating a children’s book in Ann’s honor.

“My son’s a fantastic artist and majored in art when he went to school here at Bridgewater College,” said John Barr, who taught music and music theory for 34 years at the college. “He agreed to illustrate the book and I set to writing it with the help and encouragement of a couple of Ann’s friends.”

One of those friends was Bly Brown, branch manager at the North River Library in Bridgewater.
“Ann was a natural storyteller and I’d heard about Tom the Cat many times in my visits with the Barrs,” Brown said.

As John Barr wrote drafts of Tom’s story, Brown would edit and offer advice on story structure and pacing in children’s literature.

This summer, Barr delivered his finished product to a local print shop and the book “Tom the Cat of Oakdale Park” was published this month.

Brown thinks Ann would approve of the effort her husband undertook to tell the story they shared together.

“I almost want to tear up thinking about her,” Brown said, her voice breaking. “Ann would be so elated. She would have been John’s biggest cheerleader and would have wanted it done for their two grandsons. I know Ann’s been there with him the whole time saying ‘you can do this, my darling.’”

To Brown, the book is almost as much about the couple’s love for each other and their community as it is about a cat.

“It’s a simple book with a simple story, but the vision behind it is about a couple with a rich legacy of education and love for everyone around them.”

“Tom the Cat of Oakdale Park” is available at North River Library for checkout.  Brown keeps a couple of copies handy, as well, in case anyone wants to buy a $20 copy.

For Barr, though, it wasn’t about making it to the top of a bestseller list. It was about honoring his late wife.

“I’ve enjoyed this project. It’s a memory for me and one way to keep our life together alive,” Barr said. “We thought we would have had more time together, but I can’t complain about 46 wonderful years. You have to take what you can get and make the best of it.”

And as for Tom, he’s still living in Augusta County with two feline friends, Maxwell and Mariah, to keep him company.

“I think life turned out pretty good for ol’ Tom,” Barr said.