From the Publisher’s Desk – County offers great ‘pick’ of music

By Keith Whitson

There were a lot of things going on Saturday to take “note” of. Unicoi County took the stage as star attraction for musicians and music lovers. With an event being held in Unicoi, Erwin and Flag Pond, the weather contributed harmony to the trio.

The Town of Unicoi had a very successful showing for its Fiddlers and Fiddleheads. The event, held at Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens, the home of Mayor Johnny Lynch and wife Pat, has one of the best host settings in Unicoi County.

After crossing the covered bridge entrance, guests wind around into view of the festivities. A pond, peacocks, nostalgic, rustic buildings and lush fields surrounded by the mountains provides the perfect stage for the event.

Bands performed in the pavilion, on the porch and gathered with friends under the shade of a tree, throughout the day. Attendees could also stroll along an assortment of vendors and enjoy crafts and delicious food options as well. An antique car show brought many classics together for enthusiasts to explore.

Stopping back in Erwin, a new event offered a chance for musicians and those with interest to check out the East Tennessee Guitar and Music Show at the National Guard Armory. A large turnout throughout the day almost guarantees this to become another annual Unicoi County event.

From the inside to the outside, dealers and private collectors had their goods set up for show and for sale.

The offering ranged from amplifiers, parts and  memorabilia to a multitude of guitars. Instruments were available in every price range from a few hundred dollars to one model with a price tag of over $130,000. You had to ask the dealer for the price, because the attached tag only had the word “Expensive.”

That particular guitar is from the 1930s and shows plenty of use and wear. I don’t know much about guitars, but I do know that there are qualities which musicians can pick up on. This makes some stand out above the others and apparent usage is a good indicator of that.

There were vendors from Georgia, South Carolina, Kingsport and even an Erwin enthusiast who brought some of his guitars out for show and ended up selling a few.

The Kingsport vendor makes electric guitars from start to finish. The process takes months but results in a beautiful, pristine sounding instrument.

You could catch attendees trying out the instruments while strolling along the displays. A stage was set up outside where bands to perform throughout the day. There were musician workshops, food vendors and door prizes as well.

Those involved with the show, coordinated by the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, said they were very surprised and pleased with the turnout and response.

Flag Pond also had a first Saturday with the Upper East Tennessee Fiddler’s Convention held on the grounds and gym of the former Flag Pond Elementary School.

Over 75 bands competed throughout the day as judges kept narrowing the best down to their top choices.

Awards were as unique as the entertainment and went to such categories as fiddlingest fiddlers, top banjo pickers, hottest string bands, finest singers and dancingest dancers.

There were some cash prizes as high as $350, but the unusual awards were surely some that would be remembered forever. The prizes included a plump laying hen, a peck of fine potatoes, a bushel of apples, a pair of galluses, a bottle of cod liver oil, a box of salted crackers and various other items of days gone by.

The plump laying hen was featured to the right of the stage. Sitting in her cage, atop a stand, she seemed to enjoy the music. At one point she “set” her approval and showed her worth by laying an egg.

Unicoi County has much to offer and we are just getting started. This Saturday will be the Second Annual Great Outdoors Festival in downtown Erwin. Next Saturday it is back to Flag Pond with the Annual Ramp Festival. Unicoi holds the stage on Saturday, May 20, with the Wayne Scott Strawberry Festival.

Everything in Unicoi County ties into great music, great food, good times good people and lots of wonderful memories. I look forward to seeing you  out enjoying them.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – Preservation draws interest, investment

By Connie Denney

“Old buildings are unique treasures crafted by the generations before us…and they serve as an architectural record of our community history and life as it once was. You only have to cast your eyes on a building to feel the presence of the past. It is important that we take steps to preserve that history and the memories of so many who have passed through its doors.”

The words above appear on a Web site and are important to us because they are applied to the Elm Street School building. (Brad Hicks wrote in the April 12 issue of this newspaper, about restoration of the former school building, 600 Elm Ave., to house condominiums.) The Web site is, where you may see floor plans and read about the building’s history. (If you have items or stories related to the school or other local history you are willing to share for display in the building, send an email to

One reason this project is important to Lee Naylor, CEO of Historic Restoration Contractors, is that in many ways Erwin reminds him of his own childhood days growing up in a small Georgia town. “The community as a whole has a good feel. It is truly a hidden treasure tucked in a valley somewhere between Asheville and Johnson City. I hope that as the Town of Erwin grows in its revitalization efforts careful consideration is given to preserving the small town atmosphere, as I feel that this is one of its biggest attributes.”

The location itself he sees as a plus.  Noting a “national average commute time approaching 30 minutes,” he feels Erwin could draw from the surrounding areas.

Naylor, who now lives in Athens, Georgia, started his own business after graduating college in 2003. In 2007 he founded Historic Restoration Contractors, “as the majority of our projects shifted from new construction to historic preservation and re-creation….

I have had the privilege to be a part of the restoration and preservation efforts for many historic properties throughout middle and north Georgia. Period re-construction has become the focus of our business. Most of our projects have original construction dates ranging from the early 1800s-1930s. I have fallen in love with my trade and can’t ever see myself doing anything different.”

He’s excited about the work here, his first multi-family adaptive reuse project, explaining “I have been looking for the right project to take on and I feel that the school is definitely worth preserving.”  More than just the architectural significance, though, he draws attention to capturing “the feeling and spirit that emanates from these old buildings. My approach differs from others where old buildings are paired with trendy finishes that lack reference to the building history and context.”

Preservation over profit is an attitude Lee has found among some investors.  “On this project I chose to work with the McDonough family,” Lee said, adding that Joe is in his early 30s and familiar with Erwin as an Appalachian Trail hiker and outdoor and whitewater enthusiast.  He and his father, David, were “…eager to add a project like this to their portfolio.”

An out-of-town developer preserving an endangered historic Erwin building, real estate investors wanting to be a part because they know the community through good outdoors experiences–how cool is that!

Library Happenings – May brings flowers, thoughts of Summer Reading

By Angie Georgeff

We have had our April showers, so now we’re looking forward to May flowers and festivals. This will be an especially busy and exciting month for all of our staff, because we’re gearing up for our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults. These programs will begin on June 5 and revolve around the theme “Build a Better World.” The aspect on which the majority of our programs will focus is how to build a better community, so we are encouraging people of all ages to participate.

Because our beautiful and historic building has limited space available, programs for children will be divided into multiple age groups. Each will be scheduled for a different time. Teens will form a single group. As in recent years, the goal of the adult program will be to accumulate as many entries as possible for the grand prize drawing. Once again, that prize will be a white rocking chair, which is already on display in our lobby. Be sure to look for it the next time you come in. In addition, there will be two special events for adults.

The highlight of each week will be our Family Fun Day events. All age groups are invited to come together and participate in these diverse activities. Check this column or our Unicoi County Public Library Kids and Teens Facebook page each week for information about that week’s activity. We will kick off with NHECM (Natural History Educational Company of the Midsouth) on June 8. They will bring wildlife up close so we can see how animals form an integral part of our community and our world. Our Family Fun Day events will be held at venues outside the library, so we can take Summer Reading into the community.

Spotlight Book

John Sandford’s “Golden Prey” finds Lucas Davenport a long way from Minnesota. His first case as a U.S. Marshal has taken him to Biloxi, Mississippi. When I first became acquainted with Biloxi in 1969, it was a charming little beach town. U.S. Highway 90 ran alongside the sun-spangled Gulf of Mexico. On the north side of the highway were small motels, stately homes and live oaks dripping Spanish moss. On the south side were the sand, the water and Ship Island.

Since then, Hurricanes Camille and Katrina have washed away much of Biloxi’s historic charm. Just as casinos have replaced the motels and columned homes, new opportunities for profit have filled the void. Every habitat has predators and scavengers:  not all of Biloxi’s are alligators. Lucas Davenport has gone there to investigate a theft of cash from a drug cartel that leaves five bodies in its wake. With the thieves and the cartel equally ruthless and audacious, Lucas finds himself caught between a pair of mortal belligerents.

Movie Night – ‘Lego Batman Movie’ funny, quick witted

By Bradley Griffith

After the surprising success of “The Lego Movie” the powers that be were quick to greenlight “The Lego Batman Movie.”  The animated sequel enjoyed success at the box office, but not even close to the returns of the original.

Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is a solitary figure.  Even though he enjoys the admiration of the entire population of Gotham, and loves every second of it, he lives his life in solitude in his enormous mansion and bat cave.  His only company is that of his long-time butler and confidant, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).  Batman purposefully chooses this lifestyle because, after his parents were murdered, he is afraid of being a part of a family again.  He is afraid of losing someone he loves.

Batman is called to a nuclear plant in Gotham as the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his henchmen attempt to explode the nuclear reactor and destroy Gotham.  As usual, Batman manages to defeat the Joker, but not before a strange confrontation.  Batman refuses to admit that the Joker is his archenemy.   The Joker’s feelings are hurt as he silently weeps because Batman won’t tell him that he hates him.  The Joker escapes in tears while Batman defuses the bomb.

Later, Batman attends a gala as Bruce Wayne for newly appointed Commissioner of Police Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson).  Bruce instantly falls in love with Barbara at first sight.  Until she explains her plan to befriend Batman and have him work alongside the Gotham Police Department.  Batman relishes his role as the Dark Knight, the solitary and mysterious vigilante seeking justice, and has no intention of sharing the spotlight with the police.

The Joker crashes the gala with all of his cohorts so that he can…surrender.  The Joker is summarily banished to the Phantom Zone.  Batman correctly senses the Joker is up to no good and sets out to discover and foil his plot.

“The Lego Batman Movie” is funny and quick-witted in the same way as the original movie.  The writing is excellent.  It would take several viewings of the movie to catch all the jokes, quips, and one-liners, many of which would only be understood by adults.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that I liked the movie more than my eight-year-old daughter.

The movie is goofy and silly, though not quite as much as the original.  The humor is a little more aimed at adults, though it’s clearly not a movie that everyone will enjoy.  Still, it’s a movie appropriate for the entire family without fear of covering your little one’s eyes or ears.

The introduction of young Dick Grayson, aka Robin, (Michael Cera) into the movie was a great idea.  At the gala Bruce Wayne is befriended by the young boy.  Dick is an outcast at the local orphanage and wants more than anything to be loved and be part of a family.  Dick gets Bruce Wayne to unwittingly agree to adopt him.  It adds the humor of Batman as a reluctant father and also an element of family to the movie.

“The Lego Batman Movie” is not a movie that causes you to think deep thoughts or have moments of introspection about your own life. In fact, it’s better if you don’t think at all while you’re watching the movie.  Just sit back and enjoy it for what it is, mindless entertainment featuring a comical caped-crusader and a completely insecure Joker.

Grade: B+

Rated PG for rude humor and some action.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Swept in the moment and stream

By Keith Whitson

“Do you have a Plan B,” I asked my cousin Jessica Guinn a few days before her wedding, when the weather reports were all predicting rain. It turns out there was no Plan B but there was a wedding Saturday. Jessica is my cousin but she has always referred to me as Uncle Keith. Her mother and I are months apart in age and grew up together.

Jessica and her fiance´ Adam Byrd decided to get married at the Lower Spivey Falls. It is a beautiful setting, with a level field featuring the waterfalls as a backdrop and the creek flowing along the side. Every detail was planned out except what would happen if it rained.

The field was staged with a beautiful arch, decorated in flowers by her grandmother. Hay bales with quilts on them served as seating as well as log stumps adorned with cushions, created by Adam’s grandmother, for the family to have front row seating. Adam is an outdoorsman and knows his way with an axe and chainsaw. The gorgeous, tiered cake had a fondant hatchet stuck in the side.

After the wedding vows, guests were to enjoy a basket with chicken croissants, chips, pasta salad and waffle cones filled with fruit and topping.

This was the initial plan. The weather was sunny and nice in Erwin as I headed out for the wedding. The closer to the location I got, the worse the weather looked, with no sun in sight. Final setup was underway when I arrived. After a series of “Oh look, it’s the sun,” followed by “Oh no, it’s looking rainy” and repeat of said statements, the wedding began.

I don’t do well at weddings. Someone always cries and then I tear up. I watched Jessica enter wearing a beautiful cream gown with a small train and I smiled. Then, I look at Adam as he sees her and he starts crying. Immediately I am touched and feel a few tears form in my eyes. Then Jessica has to go and wipe tears through most of the wedding. I can’t take it. I was in Jessica’s mother’s wedding, Karen Guinn, as a groomsmen. She cried most of the time and so I started fighting it back while standing in front of everyone.

Jessica and Adam’s service was beautiful. The ring bearer briefly stole the spotlight from the bride. It was her nephew, Harlan, who is almost 6 months old. He was decked out in a vest and tie. His dad, Jessica’s brother, Brandon, carried him up holding a small bird’s nest with the ring secured inside to keep curious little fingers from swallowing the jewelry. Jessica saw she couldn’t get the rings undone while he held the nest tightly, so she took it all, got the rings and was left with a nest in her other hand.

Anyway, the wedding went wonderfully. No rain. As the couple were having photos made and the guests were enjoying their picnic baskets, some sprinkles started. The minister made the statement to Jessica’s mother, Karen, “I prayed for no rain during the wedding. You were supposed to pray for no rain during the reception.” But, rain it did.

I had taken as many umbrellas as I had and everyone was grabbing for an umbrella, while a tent was being erected over the cake, where many also took shelter.

Most have heard the expression “WWJD,” for “What would Jesus do?”. For me it also means “What wouldn’t Jessica do?.” The answer is very little. Jessica and Adam kept posing for photos. They carried umbrellas to spots around the property and the photographer carried one as well. When I thought they were through, I was greatly mistaken. Jessica went carrying and dragging her dress and train through the mud, through the woods and at one point into the creek. I watched them come back to land and out to another rock in the creek for photos. At one point she was completely standing in the creek with her gown flowing downstream. I must say she was owning the moment.

The cake was cut and the rain stopped briefly before starting up again. Who needs a typical, boring wedding? Jessica’s is certainly one they will remember for many years to come. Her dress and photos are proof. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd and eventually not a dry stitch of clothing on the wedding party and guests.

I came away with my fingers shriveled, a chill outside and a warm feeling inside. Welcome to the family Adam. I would like to say this isn’t typical for this bunch, but like the weather it is unpredictable.

A Refreshing Knapp – Hometown news adds sense of pride

By Ray Knapp

Mayberry will be left in the dust!

Don’t you love it when the front page of your hometown newspaper offers good news – great news in fact? For instance, “Local teacher, Michael Scott is the 2017 Champion of “Peters Hollow Egg Fight.” (A contest on a farm over near Elizabethton that’s been going on each Easter for a couple of centuries to determine who has the hardest hard-boiled egg.) Just think, Scott brought home that coveted trophy right back to Erwin this year – making the whole county proud. Then the announcement of Fiddlers & Fiddleheads Festival of April 29th also made front page news. Another headline: “Limestone Cove residents make case for cell tower. Sadly they still can’t get out on cell phones. Perhaps they are better off not having that service as texting while driving causes more accidents than drunk driving. Hmm, wonder if Judge Shults will take that into consideration and go easy on the few people out in Limestone Cove that imbibe then get behind the wheel the next time one is brought into his court?

The front page top headline is a worry though; “Program offers Erwin direction” – as for me, I like things pretty much the way they are. Then after reading the article about local officials thinking “outside the box” by bringing in local broadband, and offering high speed Internet to some customers, I’m relieved; things are not changing much. Personally, as slow as I read, slow speed Internet service is too fast for me.

There is so much national and international news of violence; wars; suffering refugees; gang violence; senseless murders of people being shot or purposely ran over by cars and trucks, that reading the headlines of last week’s Erwin Record was a down-right relief, not to mention other articles in the paper of Easter Egg hunts for children, and the Christian’s “Witness Walk” – carrying a cross down main street in a show of faith. It’s a wonder the ACLU didn’t jump right on that with some kind of trumped-up lawsuit to take away the feeling of freedom of religion, and brotherly love.

Of course our local newspaper is miles ahead of the one in Carter County, Missouri, where I graduated from high school. Each little village and hamlet had a reporter that gave a blow by blow account of most everyone that did anything that week. For instance, Iva Wilds, the reporter from my hometown of Grandin, would report: “Jim Smith and wife, Nancy, motored to the Piggly Wiggly in Poplar Bluff Friday where potatoes were on sale for $4.00 per bushel.” Later in life Iva even reported on me: “Ray Knapp and family came all the way from Memphis, Tennessee, where he is stationed in the U.S. Navy, to visit his mother, Fay Knapp, this past weekend.” The Erwin Record couldn’t print stuff like that, as anymore; people would sue, calling it an invasion of privacy. Never mind that anyone owning a cell phone doesn’t have privacy; the government or police can pin point where you’ve been any day of the week … with the exception of people from Limestone Cove.

If it’s positive, people like to see their name in the newspaper. I recall when my wife, Frances and I ran the only store in Flag Pond for a year. People would sit at a folding table near the coffee pot and thumb through the Johnson City Press; it being a daily paper they would go to the names of people in the obituaries to see if there was a funeral they needed to attend, then they would turn to the police report to see if anyone from there had gotten into trouble. On occasion someone would get their name in that paper for doing something besides getting in trouble, or dying off. I was going to say Frances and I made that paper, but I believe it was in The Erwin Record, where Frances had a couple of post cards made of Flag Pond and we sold out of all that were printed. That was a first for getting our names in the paper. I like to sneak local people’s names into my column; you may be next.

Library Happenings – Virtual Archive now offers all county maps

By Angie Georgeff

Last week I received a welcome announcement from the Tennessee Archives Listserv. The Tennessee Virtual Archive collection now has historical maps of all ninety-five Tennessee counties. They are available online at The Virtual Archive also contains maps of some of the “lost” counties of Tennessee, in addition to photographs, documents and other treasures.

New items are added to the digital collection each month, so it will continue to grow. Before Tennessee’s Virtual Archive came into existence, access to these resources required a trip to Nashville. Now they’re at the tips of your fingers.

The map that represents Unicoi County shows rural delivery routes in the county during the 1930s. That may not sound too exciting until you realize that it shows the location of every house in the county, along with schools, churches, stores, roads, railroads and other landmarks. It even references the names of some of the landowners.

Four rural free delivery routes served Unicoi County. Two circuits originated from the Erwin post office, one from Unicoi and another from Flag Pond. At three points, the Flag Pond route crossed the state line into Madison County, N.C.

Metadata for two other Unicoi County maps has been recorded in the Virtual Archive. The maps themselves have not yet been digitized, but you may order a reproduction from the State Archives if you know it is something you want. At least you’re aware that they are available and will be coming soon to a computer near you.

There are other gems of Unicoi County history reposing in the Tennessee State Archives that are now also available through the Tennessee Virtual Archive. My favorites are James Tinker’s antebellum store accounts. On January 12, 1859, Tinker shopped in Jonesboro [sic] and purchased coffee, sugar, rice, Epsom salts, a long handle shovel, a wool shawl, a wide variety of fabrics and notions and two boxes of Cook’s pills, a popular mercurial panacea.

In addition to the practical cambrics and calicos, the fabrics included luxurious but somber tones of alpaca, merino and velvet. The bill for the goods he purchased totaled $18.60, but Tinker sold the merchant 333 pounds of pork, 1 ushels of corn and 3 bushels of corn meal for $22.23. I imagine that Tinker was satisfied with his day’s trading.

Computer Genealogy

If you are interested in history or genealogy, the Tennessee Virtual Archive is only one of many assets available online. Those resources will be the subject of our next computer class, which will be held Thursday, April 27, at 6 p.m. Since space is limited, please call the library at 743-6533, for reservations or further information.

Movie Night – True story of Desmond Doss good rental

By Bradley Griffith

Yet another Oscar-nominated movie based upon a true story is now available for home rental.  “Hacksaw Ridge” signaled the return of Mel Gibson to Hollywood, only this time as a director rather than an actor.  It wasn’t the best movie of the year, but it wasn’t the worst either.

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) was a simple country boy from Virginia when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor to bring about U.S. involvement in World War II.  Despite the wishes of his father, both Desmond and his brother enlist in the Army.  Both boys want to serve their country, but in different ways.

Rather than picking up a rifle and killing every enemy soldier in sight, Desmond is a pacifist, a conscientious objector.  He refuses to even pick up a rifle, much less fire it at another human being.  Desmond finds his calling in being an Army medic.  While others are taking lives, he intends to save them.

Desmond expected to be confronted by the enemy on the battlefield.  What he didn’t expect was the opposition he received from the Army and his fellow soldiers.  His commanding officer at boot camp tries to have him drummed out of the military on a psychiatric discharge. His fellow soldiers think him a coward for refusing to use a gun, and treat him accordingly.  Through it all, Desmond maintained his stance that he will not touch a gun, but is willing to sacrifice his life to save his fellow injured soldiers.

Desmond gets his chance to prove to everyone what kind of man he is when his unit is shipped out to Okinawa.  Some of the fiercest battles of the war were fought on this island near Japan.  The American troops needed to take a spot on the battlefield known as Hacksaw Ridge.  Many times they had tried, and many times they had failed.  It’s on this stage that Desmond Doss showed his true colors, saving the lives of 75 soldiers under intense enemy fire.

I’m torn in my opinions and feelings about “Hacksaw Ridge.”  The movie depicts the amazing true story behind the movie that demands nothing less that your respect and admiration.  Yet the actors and filmmakers many times failed miserably in bringing the story to the silver screen.

There’s no doubt about the heroism of the real Desmond Doss and his fellow soldiers.  It’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like to fight the Japanese army on Okinawa.  It’s impossible to fathom what it was like with no gun and no way to defend yourself as bullets take the lives of soldiers all around you with explosions constantly erupting in your face.  What Desmond Doss did was nothing short of miraculous.  The true story behind the movie is fascinating.

Then there’s the movie itself.  Whether you like Andrew Garfield as an actor or not, his portrayal of Desmond Doss was not his best performance.  I could hardly bear to listen to his almost condescending southern accent.  The accent he used for most of the movie is not a reflection of the way most southerners speak.  His poor accent colored the entire movie with a broad stroke of inauthenticity.

The portion of the movie at basic training did not have the appearance of truth.  The whole process of the big bad drill sergeant (Vince Vaughn) seemed like a caricature of real basic training.  Yet the battle scenes on Hacksaw Ridge were hectic, scary, brutal, and completely believable.  Gibson showed the chaos of war and did so with no holds barred.  Those scenes were incredible to watch.

“Hacksaw Ridge” is difficult to grade because my thoughts sharply diverge about the movie. There’s the courage to stand up for what you believe countered by the apparent craziness of entering war with no weapon.  The very poor accent of Andrew Garfield versus the heroism of his character on the battlefield. The almost cartoonish basic training versus the gritty battle scenes.  In the end, the true story of Desmond Doss makes it a movie worth watching.

Grade: B

Rated R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Can’t we just all wear name tags?

By Keith Whitson

“I’m sorry, but tell me your name again.” I do it to myself every time I meet someone new. Someone can tell me their name and five minutes later I am trying to recall what they said.

Yet, I rarely forget a face. Many times I have recognized the face of someone I don’t know but realize I have seen them before somewhere. I think I think my brain is very observant of details but is lacking on a proper filing and storage system.

Names of people I know just leave me for no reason. It is then that I have to do the alphabet technique. You know, “A for Angie, B for Betty, C for Christine, D for Debbie, E for Edith……” I start to panic when I get toward the end of the alphabet and still have no name for the face. It is, however,  one of the best feelings when it works and the name comes to mind. It is like  the pressure valve releases and a great peace overcomes me.

This is the same reason I have trouble with connecting to a family tree. Many times for those who died before I was born, there are no photos, no stories and no descriptions of their work or interests.

It’s like reading the ingredients to a box of cereal, I can barely pronounce the words and have no clue what they are. Yet, put it all together and you have cereal which tastes good. Somewhere in my family line Snap, Crackle and Pop came together and eventually all the mixing led to me, a bowl of Fruit Loops.

As if I wasn’t having enough trouble with names and people and branches to my family tree, now I am getting emails to alert me of more relatives. Who knew that Marilyn was my first cousin, twice removed? It turns out the same relationship is found with Phillip, Bart, James, Patsy Lee, Donald, Mildred, Ivan, Jennifer from Canada, and many more whom I daily become aware of. All of these have different last names and none of them Whitson.

There is also Kristi from Texas who sent me her telephone number and would like to know more about me. People are coming out of the woodwork and it turns out somewhere our cereal boxes must have tipped over and mixed the contents.

I am talking about my DNA and, no, it wasn’t discovered at a crime scene. I sent off for a kit that would help me find my early ancestry. I know most of my immediate ancestors, and get confused on linkage to most of my deceased ancestors, but I wanted to go back even farther than that. Where did my earliest roots come from?

I got my kit in the mail, complete with instructions, vials and swabs. I figured it was best to get the samples first thing in the morning. I was to wash my hands thoroughly, open one swab and work it around inside my mouth on the left cheek for an alloted time. Then I dropped it in the first vial and tightly closed it. I repeated the procedure for the right cheek. When finished, I sent the samples off for testing.

I was notified when they received them. Technicians inspected my sample to make sure it was intact.

The DNA was extracted from my cells in the vial and amplified. In other words, they made copies of my DNA in order to make sure they have enough of it to analyze. My amount was sufficient to proceed.

My DNA was placed on a custom-made DNA genotyping chip and heated to a high temperature so the DNA could attach itself to the chip (hybridization).

A computer read the hybridized chips, producing the DNA data.

The DNA data went through a rigorous review to ensure it met the quality standards.

The company I used boasts 88 million users, 2.6 billion profiles, 7 billion historical records and 35 million family trees. Comparing my DNA to such a large data base has linked me to the world. My DNA has also shown me where my original ancestry came from. How they spread and mixed and matched and eventually resulted in Keith, here in East Tennessee, is a mystery to me.

It turns out I have three main influences. The least being Northern and Western European at 3.6 percent. I am 5.4 percent Finnish background, and 91 percent British and Irish.

Relatives are reaching out daily. I hope they don’t expect me to remember their names.

Adam’s Apples – Sometimes sports not in game plan for all

By James Mack Adams

During my early high school years, my goal was to earn a position on at least one of the varsity sports teams. As I remember, that was the desire of many of the guys in my small school. Earning a sports letter to wear on my school sweater or jacket was a dream. It was an unfulfilled dream.

I did try. I gave it my best and had the aches and bruises to prove it. But it was not to be. I was too underweight for football, too short for basketball, and too uncoordinated for baseball. Those were the extent of the sports offerings at Norton (VA) High School when I attended.

Adding to my frustration was the fact my dad had played football for Norton and was named all-district center in 1926. That year, Norton scheduled a post-season game with Dobyns-Bennett High School. That was the same year Kingsport Central High School changed its name to Dobyns-Bennett.

DB’s quarterback and kicker in 1926 was a senior by the name of Bobby Dodd. Yes, you are correct. It was THE Bobby Dodd who went on to play college football for Tennessee and later become the legendary coach at Georgia Tech. To say that Dobyns-Bennett “cleaned Norton’s clock” would be a gross understatement. My dad told me the final score was brutal and embarrassing for him and his Norton teammates.

When I became a sophomore, I decided to take my life in my own hands and go out for the football team. At the time, I was 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighed 118 pounds. Coach Sam Lawson suggested I daily drink a chocolate milkshake with two raw eggs. I tried it. You could find me at the soda fountain at Passmore’s Pharmacy most every evening after practice. It didn’t work.  Oh, how I would like to have the same problem now.    

Norton ran a now-outdated offense called the single wing. It was strictly a power offense.“Four yards and a cloud of dust,” as we once described the Ohio State offense during the days of Coach Woody Hayes. The backfield consisted of a fullback, tailback, wingback, and blocking back. There was no quarterback under center. The ball was centered directly to one of the running backs.

When the team scrimmaged in preparation for the next game, Coach Sam usually put me in as defensive linebacker. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically a live blocking dummy. I was a sacrificial lamb and I got slaughtered on most every play

In the single wing offense, the blocking back usually led the play. Our blocking back was a muscular guy named Doc Lyons. Doc was missing about three front teeth as I recall. Football helmets were not then equipped with face masks. One of the end positions on the offensive line was manned by Lonnie Quillen. Lonnie was 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed in at 250 pounds. His nickname was “Bigun.” On some plays, Lonnie would pull out from his line position and lead the ball carrier. I knew that on every play either Doc or Lonnie was going to make my 118-pound body suffer.

After giving my situation much thought, I concluded I could probably better serve the team, and myself, in some other capacity. I asked Coach Sam if I could turn in my pads and become one of the team’s equipment managers. He agreed and I did just that.  I became the team’s specialist in treating muscle pulls and strains.    

Not to be deterred from my dream of being a star high school athlete, I tried out for the basketball team. That also didn’t go well. As I wrote previously, it was a small school and several football players also played on the basketball team. In those days, the seasons didn’t overlap. As you might suspect, “Bigun” Quillen played center.  I don’t remember Doc playing basketball. He just liked to hit people.

Unsuccessful in athletics, I decided to try the marching band. That did work out for me. I finally found my niche.  At the start of my junior year, my family moved to Kingsport and I enrolled in Dobyns-Bennett. I tried out for and was accepted into the DB marching band as a member of the color guard. Three years later, I was lucky enough to become part of the ETSU band, first as a color guard and then as manager and music librarian.

So, I didn’t make it as an athlete. I didn’t receive my once-coveted athletic letter, but perhaps things turned out for the better in the long run.  I received school letters in band in both high school and college. Somehow, I managed to do that without learning a single note of music.  That’s another story.    

There was another unexpected perk to my not making it in sports.  It was my involvement with the ETSU band that allowed me to first meet and hang out with the lady who now shares my life. Some may want to call it fate.  I call it luck.

Library Happenings – Connecting dates helps with remembering

By Angie Georgeff

I’ve always liked history, but I never enjoyed having to learn dates when I was going to school. Of course, it helped when a date coincided with one that I already remembered. My father, for example, was born on April 2, 1917, so I have absolutely no trouble recalling the date Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany in World War I. That coincidence was fodder for teasing when Daddy was young, but since his entire family swore he actually was born before midnight, it could have been even worse. Nobody wants to be an April Fools’ baby!

My brother Rob was born on April 19, so he shared a birthday with our great-grandmother and with the start of the American Revolutionary War. From the Massachusetts territory that is now Maine down the Atlantic Seaboard to Georgia, Britain’s colonies in North America had been seething with discontent for years. The pot finally boiled over on April 19, 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and there was no going back. For the sake of convenience, Patriots’ Day is celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine on the third Monday in April, but the anniversary is still April 19.

Since I started to personalize history by researching my own family’s role in it, I have better appreciated details such as dates. An inventory in a will book that happens to list all the possessions left by one of my ancestors is now my idea of a goldmine. I really want to know how many “beds and furniture,” pots and pans, cows and calves, pigs, plows, poultry, barrels of flour and skeins of wool they owned. And how I wish I knew whether the trumpet listed among my great-great-grandmother’s effects was a musical instrument or a hearing aid! Either way, it would speak volumes.

Computer Genealogy

If you are intrigued by the infinite possibilities of your family’s history, come to the library on Thursday, April 27 for our next computer genealogy workshop. The class will begin at 6  p.m. and last for about 90 minutes.  You’ll learn about some of the free resources that are available on the Internet and get to practice search strategies. Please call 743-6533, to register, since space is limited.

Spotlight Book

Lisa Scottoline’s “One Perfect Lie” centers on Chris Brennan, a man with impeccable credentials who is applying for a job teaching and coaching at Central Valley High School. He is good-looking, clean-cut and personable. He also is a complete fraud, and readers learn this right off the bat. By page two we know that he is a killer and by page four we are told he is a man on a mission, with a strict deadline.  So begins a countdown to Tuesday.

Movie Night – ‘Zookeeper’s Wife’ offers unique perspective

By Bradley Griffith

Movies (and books) about World War II are almost always intriguing and interesting. The war was the ultimate battle to destroy true evil. Because World War II was such a pivotal point in the history of the planet there have been many movies made about this particular war. “The Zookeeper’s Wife” is based on a true story and has a slightly different perspective than most World War II films.

The movie opens in the summer of 1939 in Warsaw, Poland. The Nazis are making advances from the west and the Russians are coming from the east. Poland is in the middle of the collision between these two massive armies who both want to claim Poland for their own, regardless of the wishes of the Polish people.

In the midst of a war-torn continent and surrounded by violence on all sides, in Warsaw there is a small family and group of workers who operate the Warsaw Zoo. Dr. Jan Sabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina Sabinski (Jessica Chastain) are the keepers of the zoo.  Antonina has a special ability to connect with and calm the animals, especially the female elephant at the Zoo. During the 1930s the Warsaw Zoo was one of the biggest and best in all of Europe.

On September 1, 1939 Nazi airplanes begin bombarding Warsaw, including the Zoo.  Most of the enclosures are destroyed, several animals are killed, and many others roam freely through the Zoo and the streets of Warsaw.  Soon the Nazis storm Warsaw and claim it for their own. They force all Jews that they don’t murder from their homes and place them all in the ghetto with very little food or fuel to keep warm in the winter.

Despite the fact that Hitler’s head zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl), makes almost daily visits to the Zoo and despite the fact that German troops occupy the Zoo from early in the morning until midnight every day, Jan and Antonina begin to rescue Jews from the ghetto.  They hide them at the Zoo until they can be taken to safety.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” tells a powerful story.  Words alone cannot describe the horrors that the Jewish people of Europe faced.  But the movie shows that there were good people willing to fight back in any way they could.  Amid so much misery, there was hope. While the atrocities were being committed on a daily basis, the focus of the movie is not the evil that med do, but the good that just a few good people can do, saving over 300 people from certain death.

Much of the movie focuses on Jessica Chastain as Antonina Sabinski.  Chastain is a great actor and she is once again fantastic. As Antonina, she lived in fear nearly every second of every day, yet she was strong and defiant.  Also exceptional in his role was Daniel Bruhl as the deceptively evil Lutz Heck.  He masked his true intentions with kindness until his true nature revealed itself.  He was the ultimate villain for this movie.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” puts a bit of different spin on the usual World War II film by using the Warsaw Zoo and the animals as a backdrop for the terrors of the war and the resistance.  The addition of the Zoo to the tale about the war made it original enough to distinguish it from many other similar movies. The most amazing thing is that the movie is based on a true story and that the Warsaw Zoo is still open today.

In reality, as in the movie, Antonina and Jan risked not only their own lives, but the life of their child to rescue Jews from the horrors being inflicted upon them by the Nazis. One small mistake could have cost them all their lives. They did it because it was the right thing to do, even the face of such great evil. For this alone, “The Zookeeper’s Wife” deserves acclaim.

Grade: A-

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, disturbing images, violence, brief sexuality, nudity, and smoking.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Life’s big screen offers thrilling moments

By Keith Whitson

Canadian counselor Lucy MacDonald said “The initial bond is the shared experience.”

I think great experiences are made even better when shared with friends. Have you ever been out by yourself and seen something that you would have loved to share with another? It doesn’t do it justice to try and describe the event to someone later.

Shared experiences are ones you can reflect back on for years and relive with those you experienced the moment with. I recently got to be part of a great shared moment along with 11 others from the area.

Jan Hendren Bradley and her sister Luann Hendren have been friends of mine for years. I can reflect on shared moments which have been made even more special by experiencing them with those two.

Their late father, Joe Hendren, was an influential figure with Erwin’s business and development, just as his father before him. His daughters have carried on that tradition. One such effort is keeping the local  Capitol Cinema I & ll alive and thriving.

How fortunate we are to have such an entertainment venue in the middle of our town. It provides an experience unique to the area with a  large screen,state-of-the-art equipment and the most reasonable prices around.

Recently I was invited to a brunch at the theater, followed by a showing of “Beauty and the Beast.” It doesn’t get any better than that, especially when shared with friends. We gathered at 10 a.m. for a spread of sausage balls, country ham biscuits, pinwheels, shrimp, cheeses, pickles, fruit and several dessert treats.

I already knew most of the other 11 who showed up but soon made friends with those I didn’t know. We mingled and ate and ate some more. We were then given a bag of popcorn and found our seat in the theater for our private showing.

Even previews are fun when watched with friends and in an environment where we can loudly express “Oh that looks good” and “We should see that.”

I never saw the 1991 animated version of “Beauty and the Beast,” so I had no idea of the storyline. Disney always gives us a unique experience and it was no exception with this film, which we saw in 3-D.

Set in France, a young woman, Belle, is imprisoned in an enchanted castle by the fearsome Beast. The Beast is actually a prince who was cursed by a sorceress for his callousness. She is also pursued by Gaston, who wants her hand in marriage, leading to a confrontation with the Beast.

The movie was a great lesson on not judging people too quickly or based upon their outer appearance. Take time to get to know them inside and who they really are. We can all benefit from that example and often don’t know what friendships we are missing out on because we make unwarranted assumptions.

As I watch the chances for Belle and the Beast become more hopeless, I start to worry that this could be a sad ending. Would Disney do this to me? I became more concerned when I heard Jan behind me, calling out “Kiss him, kiss him.” The kiss was to be a saving moment for the Beast. If Jan had doubt and was trying to encourage the outcome of the film, maybe we were in for sadness. I, too, wanted to start yelling out “Kiss him, kiss him.”

I will not give away the ending for those who, like me, had no clue of the storyline. I do encourage you to see the movie. “Beauty and the Beast” still has a few more showings in Erwin.

After the movie we all gathered in the lobby to talk about the film, our favorite parts and the fun we had shared. I appreciate great friends and good times.

We are blessed to have a close-knit community.  Wherever you go in Unicoi County you need to allow extra time. Whether it is the grocery store or out to eat, chances are you will run into some friends or neighbors. You don’t get that experience in bigger cities. Take time to appreciate those moments. They are what bonds us as a community.

Just as in the movies, we get previews in life but watching the plot of our lives develop can be both scary and exciting. I wish everyone many beautiful scenes, adventures and a happy ending. Remember those 3-D glasses will often make situations seem like they are coming right at us. They usually don’t reach us in reality.

A Denney for Your Thoughts – She’s back home, willing to serve

By Connie Denney

A Unicoi County High School graduate, Rachelle Hyder-Shurtz is back on campus as Culinary Arts instructor.  But that’s not all she’s got cooking.

With travels and experiences galore, the Unicoi County native wants to give back to the community she has always considered “one of the most beautiful places.”  Having been appointed in January to fill the unexpired term of the late Sue Jean Wilson on the Erwin Board of Aldermen, she has a means of doing just that!

Filling in the details a bit, Rachelle recalls taking dancing lessons from Range School of Dance for over 10 years and playing softball and basketball, on the Y, Little League and high school teams, along with a couple of years of golf in high school.  A full softball scholarship at Tennessee Wesleyan College (now University) led to a degree in business administration.

Her formal education also includes Culinary School at Sullivan University, Louisville, Kentucky, where she earned associate degrees in baking and pastry and professional catering. “Cooking, specifically baking and pastry, has always been what I wanted to do,” Rachelle explains. “I used to sit on my Mamaw’s kitchen counter and pat out fried pies, bake pies and help her make biscuits for my Papaw.”

Her parents, Ricky and Robin Hyder, were “incredibly supportive” as they allowed her to travel during her college years, when she went to Italy for a month’s international business internship.  During culinary school she had the opportunity to go to the 2008 Beijing Olympics to bake for the USA House and High Performance Center.

After school it was on to Vail, Colorado, and some cool assignments.  She became the pastry chef at The Arrabelle at Vail Square, with more travel taking her to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  While working for Four Seasons Vail, she went to Costa Rica for a month.

“More importantly,” she says, “while working at the Four Seasons, I fell in love with my husband, Jay Shurtz.”  They were married here in her parents’ backyard, then went back to Vail. The teaching opportunity here came upon the previous teacher’s retirement.  Rachelle had visited the class and “loved helping the students.”

“It has definitely been an adventure getting back to Erwin!”  Rachelle explains that while they were moving she found out she was pregnant with Willa Rose Grace.  While they love hiking, biking, fishing and being outdoors, there’s not been a lot of time for that since they’ve been back.

She has become involved with RISE (Rejuvenate, Invest, Support and Energize), a local group that shares her passion for getting more involved in the community. The upcoming Outdoor Festival, an example of events they support, “brings attention to the beautiful area that we live in. We have hike in, hike out availability to the Appalachian Trail, mountain biking, rafting and fishing.  We need to promote those things!”

An added thought about Unicoi County:  “I have lived and visited many places, but have never experienced a community of people that support each other the way ours does….”

From her Grandmother’s kitchen counter to teaching others, from a love of community to having a vote on the town’s governing board, there’s reason to anticipate good things to come.  It will be interesting to see what Rachelle brings to the table!

Library Happenings – Patterson considers ‘The Black Book’ his best

By Angie Georgeff

Anyone who regularly visits the library has surely concluded that James Patterson is a popular and prolific author of books for adults and children. I certainly know it. When I visit the website of the company from which we buy most of our books, I find fifty-four pages of entries listed under the name “Patterson, James.” More than 1,100 of those products are by the James Patterson that most of you have in mind.

At first, most of his novels generate hardcover, audiobook and Playaway editions. Those are followed by trade paperback and eventually mass market paperback editions, but still that is a lot of novels. These days the vast majority are written with the help of co-authors.

I catalog at least one book by James Patterson every month of the year. I have added as many as four during a single calendar month. Consequently, I seldom pay much attention to them.  I connect our standing order copy to the bibliographic record in the OWL (Organization of Watauga Libraries) catalog and pass it on to Kristy for processing. Last week, however, I picked up Patterson’s latest novel, “The Black Book,” which he co-wrote with David Ellis, and a blurb on the back cover caught my eye.

It was a brief quote from the author. He started by listing the four books that top the roll of his favorite literary children. “With each,” he said, “I had a good feeling when the writing was finished.” He then went on to say he considers “The Black Book” to be the best work he has done in twenty years. James Patterson has produced a lot of books in the past twenty years, so that is saying something!

Spotlight Book

The title refers to a “little black book” belonging to the madam of a top drawer Chicago brothel.  When police raid the establishment, they embarrass – and arrest – some of the most powerful men in the city. Even the mayor, who recently tried to cut police pensions but suddenly is willing to negotiate, is taken into custody. You can just imagine the scandal.

There is no shortage of evidence, but the madam does not use a computer to keep records and her black book is nowhere to be found. With so much on the line, police, politicians and everyone whose name is in the book are scrambling to claim the prize. And someone is willing to kill for it.

I don’t read thrillers, so I would make a very poor judge, but I am curious. Is “The Black Book” really as good as Patterson thinks it is? More importantly, do we need to order an extra copy?  The reviews I have read so far are quite good, but please let me know what you think!

Movie Night – ‘Masterminds’ neither great nor terrible

By Bradley Griffith

The comedy genre has been in decline for many years.  A truly great comedy only comes along every five to ten years.  “Masterminds” is now available for rental but, while it’s not a bad movie, it doesn’t even approach greatness.

Back in 1997 David Ghantt (Zach Galifianakis) drove an armored car for Loomis Fargo.  His partner was Kelly Campbell (Kristen Wiig).  Even though David was engaged to be married, he was secretly in love with Kelly.  David’s unrevealed passion took a major blow when Kelly quit her job at Loomis Fargo and started working at Hardees. David continued with his life of boredom and monotony.

In the meantime, Kelly’s friend Steve Chambers (Owen Wilson) concocted a harebrained scheme to rob Loomis Fargo.  For his plan to work he needed not only an inside man, but a fall guy too.  Steve talks Kelly into manipulating David into being part of the robbery.  The plan is simple in its absurdity, David will stay after hours at work on Friday night, unlock the vault, pile all of the money in a van, and drive away.

While the robbery doesn’t go exactly as planned, due in large part to David locking himself in the back of the van, he still leaves Loomis Fargo with over $17 million in cash. Only a total idiot would have agreed to David’s part in the escape plan.  David dons a disguise, shoves around $20,000 in his underwear, and boards a plane to Mexico.  The plan called for Kelly to join him in Mexico after the heat died down with their share of the money.

While David was hiding out in Mexico under an assumed name with fake identification, Steve was living in the lap of luxury leaving a trail that any law enforcement official could follow.  He bought an enormous house with a swimming pool, new cars, news clothes, and even new braces for his teeth.  How long would it be before David realized he had been dou“Masterminds” is completely ridiculous and absurd, and that’s exactly what makes it funny.  The bumbling adventures of Zach Galifianakis and company provide for good entertainment and a few scenes that make you laugh until you cry.  You’ll find yourself wondering how such an inept bunch of criminals ever managed to steal so much money.

The movie went completely off the rails somewhere around the time that David is evading the Mexican Federales and a hit man played by Jason Sudeikis at the same time.  The movie had hit a good stride and the story was working well with the actors, and then it crashed and burned. The pace of the movie slowed down and the story reached levels of absurdity that were no longer funny.  The rest of the movie was passable, but nothing special.

The most interesting thing about “Masterminds” is that it is based on a true story.  A real man named David Ghantt who was an employee of Loomis Fargo robbed the company of over $17 million with the help of a real woman named Kelly Campbell and a real man named Steve Chambers.  How much of the movie was an accurate portrayal is not known, but it’s amazing that they were able to pull off the heist if even half of the movie is accurate.  Even more amazing is that almost $2 million was never found.

A comedy needs certain minimum requirements.  It must have great acting, a great script, great comedic timing, and great chemistry between the actors.  “Masterminds” certainly had very good actors in Zach Galifiankis, Kristen Wiig, and Owen Wilson and decent chemistry between Galifianakis and Wiig.   The script was good until it derailed in the second half of the movie.  It was neither great nor terrible, but was only okay.

Grade: B-

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, some language, and violence.

Library Happenings – Arrival of new materials now being cataloged

By Angie Georgeff

Good news!  We have new materials arriving just in time for the spring pollen, so if you are stuck indoors, you can at least be entertained.  We recently received another book order, which is being cataloged and processed, and placed an order for DVDs, which should arrive soon. Along with new novels by the usual suspects, we have chosen books by authors with whom you may not be so familiar.

George Saunders’s historical fiction/ghost story “Lincoln in the Bardo” sent me to Google to find the definition of bardo. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is a transitional state of existence between death and rebirth.  For Westerners, it suggests a kind of limbo where spirits may linger after death until they decide to move on.  The novel is set in 1862, on the night when President Abraham Lincoln visits the Washington, DC cemetery where his eleven-year-old son Willie has just that day been interred.

While the cemetery appears to be deserted, it is filled with spirits that are reluctant to move on.  Disturbed by his father’s visit, Willie Lincoln’s spirit is among them, and the others seek to persuade him to complete his journey to the Other Side.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Kathleen Rooney’s “Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk” celebrates life.  Inspired by the life of Macy’s advertising executive and poet Margaret Fishback, Rooney takes Lillian on a walk through her beloved New York City. It is New Year’s Eve 1984 but style-conscious octogenarian Lillian is warm in the mink coat she bought herself in 1942.  She intends to dine at Delmonico’s as she does every New Year’s Eve and then walk through the city to attend a party hosted by a young photographer whom she met in the park.  Along the way, she encounters a motley succession of her fellow New Yorkers and recounts the story of her artistic life and remarkable career.

“A Piece of the World,” by Christina Baker Kline, the bestselling author of “Orphan Train,” considers the circumscribed life of Christina Olson.  Despite–or perhaps because of–the limitations imposed on her by a debilitating disease and the demands of her family, Olson inspired Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting “Christina’s World.”  In the foreground, a woman wearing a pink dress has been crawling through an amber meadow toward an isolated farmhouse situated at the top of a gentle slope.  Her head is raised and she is gazing toward the weathered house.  We do not see her face and therefore cannot read her thoughts.  And so we speculate.

In 1939, Wyeth was introduced to the middle-aged Christina Olson by his future wife while he was summering near the Olson farm in Cushing, Maine.  In later years, Wyeth set up his studio in the house Christina shared with her younger brother, and in 1948, Wyeth painted “Christina’s World.”  Kline’s book imagines what that world was really like and how the renown of the painting affected Christina.

Movie Night – ‘Hidden Figures’ example of right person for job

By Bradley Griffith

The 1960s were perhaps the most exciting time in the history of space exploration.  The race to best the Soviet Union in every category, including the race to space, was paramount in the minds of nearly every American.  “Hidden Figures” is about the unknown story of a few black women who were integral in helping the United States achieve space flight.

The year is 1961 and the movie begins with three friends and coworkers with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere on their way to work.  Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are on their way to Langley Research Center in Virginia where they work for NASA.  A police officer approaches them with an attitude typical for the time until he discovers that they work for NASA.  He’s so concerned about the Soviet threat to our country that he gives the ladies a police escort to work.

Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are part of a group of black women who work in a segregated area known as West Area Computers.  They have separate bathrooms, water fountains, and a room where only black women work.  Dorothy is the acting supervisor and hands out assignments to the women on a daily basis.  Katherine is a mathematician.  She’s not just an average, run-of-the-mill mathematician, but a genius in her field.  Mary has the intellect and desire, but not the education, to be an engineer.

Things begin to change for Katherine when she is assigned to the Space Task Force on a permanent basis.  Katherine is to work as a computer for Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), the head of the Space Task Force.  Katherine is hampered in her job because, among other things, the only bathroom in the entire research center that she can use is over two miles away at the West Computing Group.

Katherine is also prohibited from meetings and not privy to certain information that is necessary to her job.  She’s kept out of these meetings because she is a black woman.  In fact, all of the women from the West Computing Group are constantly discriminated against and underestimated because of the color of their skin and their gender.  Fortunately, Al Harrison comes to realize that they will only be able to launch a man into space and bring him back with Katherine’s help.

The first thing that jumps out at you from “Hidden Figures” is that this was an embarrassing time in our history.  These women were treated as second class citizens because they were women and because they were black.  The best line in the movie belongs to Katherine when she is told there is no protocol for a woman attending a meeting with officials from the Department of Defense.  She replies that there’s no protocol for sending a man into space, but they are doing it anyway.

The mathematical calculations that are necessary for space travel are amazingly complex.  If you thought you just point a rocket at the sky and shoot, think again.  Everything must be 100 percent perfect to effect space travel.  Even more complex are the calculations necessary to return a capsule to Earth after orbit.  The movie excels at illustrating the difficulties of space travel without bombarding you with numbers and formulas.

The movie takes place during the height of the Cold War.  The American and Soviets were doing everything in their power to outdo the other.  The race to space was one of many Cold War battlefronts.  It’s interesting to see the competition with the Soviet Union and the paranoia that gripped many Americans during this period of history.

“Hidden Figures” is a movie about discrimination and segregation.  It’s a shameful time in our history. But it’s also a movie whose true purpose is to bring everyone together, to unite the country.  “Hidden Figures” is the ultimate example of getting the right person for the job regardless of race or gender, and it’s an important lesson needs to be learned even today.

Grade: A-

Rated PG for thematic elements and some language.

From the Publisher’s Desk – Don’t venture beyond the pretty facade

By Keith Whitson

I love travel, but unfortunately I haven’t done as much in the last few years. Cruises are top on my list because once I get checked in and on board, I don’t have to worry about a thing except which activity I would like to do next and which food to gorge myself on next.

I have often gone on cruises alone and enjoy the time to myself or to even reach out and make new friends. I have also repeated some of the cruise destinations. In doing that, I don’t try to rush off at every port and see all there is to see. I just go to the places at each stop that I know I enjoy the most.

When getting off the ship at a destination port, tourists are generally faced with shop after shop of gifts to meet the needs of bringing back something to everyone back  home.  These shops are not a good representation of the location and many gifts may have not even been made there. Beyond this “Hollywood production set” of a misleading facade is where the true culture lies.

I like to go off the beaten paths, wander the back streets, find interesting people to talk to and see the true inner heartbeat of how people work and live there. I have even had invitations to relax by the pool at some tropical spots.

For some reason I never see danger. Maybe I am much too naive. However, all of that changed when I visited one particular country. The area beyond the tourist section was run down. The streets were filthy with trash stacked up in alleyways.  It was certainly not the image they wanted tourists to see.

Advertisements painted on facades held a glimpse of what was once a vibrant area. The extreme heat and the lack of upkeep had taken its toll on the signs. I could still barely make out the images through the curled and peeling paint shreds of sun bleached hues.

Desperate mothers were on the streets trying to sell eggs to make some money.  Tired, elderly men were sitting on door stoops making the best of another day identical to the hundreds prior. Dirty children were kicking a can down the sidewalk.

One back street led me to an elderly man who was waving a basket. He sat on a bucket, which was turned upside down, outside a dark doorway. It was apparent he had to work outside for better lighting. Still, his weary eyes squinted to focus on his handiwork. The man’s weathered face and hands were an open book to the harsh reality of his daily existence.

I stopped to ask if I could make his photo. He nodded in agreement. I positioned my viewfinder for the best angle to accent his character and pushed the shutter. Instantly he stopped his work, held out his hand and in broken English said “One dollar.” I was a bit stunned but still knew that $1 to him was probably like $100 or more to me. I gave him the money, smiled and walked on to the end of the street.

As I turned the corner, I glanced back once more to keep the visual image of the old man fresh in my mind. It was a mistake and something that to this day I regret.

We often take things for granted here and are so blessed that we don’t realize the harshness of other countries. I wasn’t aware that anyone was watching when I gave him the money but obviously they were.

I looked back to see several young boys rushing up to the old man, demanding the money. He tried to refuse but they roughed him up and I saw him begin to bleed. After useless pleading, he finally handed the dollar over. They took the basket of his skilled handiwork, which he had spent many hours making, and stomped it flat with their feet, completely destroying it.

I saw the boys look my way and I immediately proceeded along. My heart was racing with fear for me and grief for him.

As I walked on I was saddened by the poverty of the country. Maybe I would have been better off to have stayed within the picture perfect tourist area, only viewed what was presented to me and come away with a happy misconception. Yet, I had allowed myself the opportunity to see the reality.

It was pointless to try and see anymore of the back streets for fear of encountering more violence or witnessing more grief. Plus, it was getting close time for me to get back to the ship.

I thought if only I could help that elderly man. It was then as if a miracle happened. I passed a small shop where the owner was standing outside. He noticed my camera and offered to buy it at the equivalent of $1,500 U.S. dollars. It was far more than I had in it and I had been wanting to get a new one anyway. I could give the elderly man a portion. I agreed, but then he replied “April Fools,” which I, in turn, say to readers of this column.

This story is true up through where I gave the man a dollar. After that it is all false. I hope I fooled a few of you this year.

Hood’s Winks – ‘Govmint’ changes are often hardest

By Ralph Hood

As the great Will Rogers used to say—“Well, all I know is what I read in the papers.”

In the last week I read a newspaper story that just amazed me—or would have amazed me if I hadn’t seen our govmint in action heretofore. It seems that a law was enacted last year that prohibited Erwin’s NFS from using force to protect the company from evil folk. Hey, folks, we’re not talking about a coffee shop here; we’re talking about NFS, the company that provides nuclear fuel to our govmint. Surely NFS should have a right to protect that product from the bad guys.

Then, lo and behold, after they enacted that rule, they discovered the blunder. NFS was supposed to have the right to use such force. Somebody goofed!

Now remember, this was last year. I don’t know exactly when last year, but sometime last year. That’s a long time to ignore such a critical error.

Well, I thought, I bet they jumped on that goof up and changed it quickly!

Wrong! At the time I read the story last week, our esteemed govmint still hadn’t corrected the mistake!

Can you believe it? I can, because this is not the first such error. How many of you remember the public fussing loudly about the income tax “marriage penalty”? As I remember it, two married people paid more income tax than two single people who had the same income. We were thus penalizing married people and rewarding people who don’t marry.

People fussed and moaned and the govmint dithered and dawdled. I guess they finally fixed that problem, but I don’t remember when. Seems to me that we fussed about it for years.

OTOH, the govmint sometimes passes a law, then leaves it in force too long. For one example, in the U.S.A. we started using catalytic converters, by mandate, in 1975. We’re still using them today to lower the danger from exhaust systems.

Even if it was a good law in 1975, we have to wonder if that mandate is still the best way to clean up exhausts after all these years.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Just imagine that a brilliant auto engineer discovers a way to replace the catalytic converter with a new gadget that is cheaper and more efficient. Would his boss remind him that the law mandates the catalytic converter? Or would his boss decide to fight the legal battle for years, at great expense, in order to replace the catalytic converter with the new device?

The same story is true whenever we mandate a solution, instead of mandating results and leaving the solutions up to the competitive marketplace. The same is true when the govmint mandates anything that allows only one way to—as we used to say—skin a cat.