Stacked in a dark corner of my garden, supporting the Buddha, are three flat stones. One of them is a gravestone. My father and I took it from a country church graveyard, about a mile away from the little white frame house he’d been born in some seventy-five years ago. He and my aunt called the place Leatherwood. It’s not on a map and I’ve never seen a sign for it. It’s where the Minter’s come from.
My father had lived most of his life in Martinsville. The tragic death of his father made him an orphan. He left the country and lived with his uncle in the small mill town. He had been six years old. My father wasn’t a “talker” and never spoke of his childhood.
One late fall afternoon, we were having a drink together. After a wonderful silence, he said, “I want to show you where our people are buried.” The quest to reconnect and forgive began.
The next day we stood in front of his father’s grave. The sixteen by twenty-four inch marble gravestone was weathered and parts of it where blueish-green from lichen. We couldn’t read the epitaph.
When I moved the black crayon back and forth across the surface of the paper, the worn edges of carved letters introduced themselves to us. Putting the crayon in my pocket, we read the inscription.
Show him, O Lord, Thy mercy.
For a few minutes, neither spoke. Being a talker, I had to say something. “What a crappy thing to put on someone’s headstone. That’s horrible.”
My father remained silent. He continued to stare at the epitaph. He turned and began walking back to my car, the frozen grass and brown leaves crunching under his feet. All I could hear on the drive back to his house was the car’s engine and the tires on the road. Then he said, “His brothers were self- righteous. Judgmental too it seems. That marker is a shame. No one deserves that.”
Midway through Once Upon a Time in the West, a thought came to me. That inscription had stayed in my brain, the arrogance, the attitude. “Let’s get rid of it and put up a new one.”
“Can we do that?”
“No one’s taking care of that graveyard. Who’s going by? Is there anyone left from his family?”
“Hell yeah, let’s do it. I’ll write a new epitaph.”
The only monument company I could find that could match the marble, style and dimensions of the original gravestone was in Rock Hill, SC. My father produced the new epitaph, and we ordered the new stone. It was a cold, late February afternoon when we returned to the church.
Clarence, my father’s good friend, could make and fix anything. He was with us. Removing the old stone was harder than we thought. After much hard work and sweat, the new stone was in place. The three of us admired the new, bright white gravestone and its crisp new inscription. Then Clarence broke the silence, “February 28, 1936. Well, don’t that beat all.”
“How’s that?” asked my father.
“Y’all know what today is don’t ya?”
No one said a word.
Clarence said, “February 28th .”
He sowed with a strong hand.
I see my little ghosts every now and then. They appear and vanish as I walk through our house, the house we’ve lived in for twenty-four years. There, in the corner of the dining room that was time out. Then the five-year old sneaks out of time out as I watch him reflected in the foyer mirror.
I see my little ghosts being pulled across the hardwood floors as they sit giggling on the old comforter. Walking past the bathroom at the end of the hall, I see the blond-haired girl dropping a wriggling kitten into the bathtub as my son takes his bath. “She needs a bath.”
When our house became quiet, being in it by myself fueled my melancholy. My imagination, of which I am so proud and grateful, became a curse. Memories are unearthed like greedy miners searching for diamonds.
My ghosts followed me on evening walks on the streets of our neighborhood. A perfect Dorothy clicking her ruby slippers and James Bond leaving me for a buddy on Halloween. The three of us piled on a sled, sliding down the longest steep street in the cold, still night. While missing my children’s childhoods, was I missing my own?
Then, a miracle happened. My little ghosts became friends, visitors to lighten a stressful day, to heal an injury. I guess my imagination decided to give me a break or become a friend. Now, I remember reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Harry Potter to them before bed. I remember the tiny little girl splashing in the large washtub on a hot summer day. Her laughing puts a smile on my face. Or maybe, just maybe, my little ghosts are blessings reminding me of how lucky I’ve been.
- Owen R. Minter
Finding an old photograph, I wonder.
I’m guessing college days, early nineteen fifties. Looking into these eyes, what’s he thinking
about? He’s in his twenties, getting ready to graduate. It’s springtime in southern Virginia and the campus
is in the early stages of bloom after a long cold winter. Green shoots are popping out on black limbs and
grass is viridian, having changed from the dull, lake mud green of bitter February.
Is he thinking about the Art History paper he doesn’t want to write for Dr. Thompson, or the party
planned at the nearby lake? The party that will have the jazz combo set up on the back of his fraternity
brother’s flat bed. The jazz combo, the jazz music, he doesn’t even like. Even though, the female singer
can sing, a strong alto.
Is he thinking about working his uncle’s farms in Leatherwood again this summer? That high
school did offer him the football coaching job. No, that would mean teaching. He didn’t want to teach.
Football, it was always satisfying to show those private school guys from Richmond what being hit was
really like. They’d laughed at his 225 lb., five-foot six frame. They soon stopped.
He could join the merchant marines. He and Pete had talked about it. Both had only seen the
ocean one time. Perhaps he could sail around the world like James Fenimore Cooper and later write
stories of the sea or the American frontier. The army wouldn’t take him. Four F. Did he know the
merchant marine recruitment officer would tell him to come back tomorrow morning and when he did,
they were closed?
Looking into these eyes, the world is ahead of him. A world as vast and rich as the Bach Mass in
B Minor or as beautiful and sad as a Hank Williams lyric. He won’t write the Art History paper. He’s
thinking about the party.
- Owen R. Minter
I really loved this! This was such a great version of a modern day Merlin story. So original, & a great time! Siblings, Ethan & his sister Jynx, are spending their Christmas break w/estranged uncle Socrates. They’re not looking forward to it. They don’t know who he really is either. He currently lives as an artist in Virginia. There is no internet/any TVs, etc. The house also seems alive! Lights turning on & off, & fires lighting themselves-all when needed. I loved that house lol Ethan is looking out over a maze in the back yard when he suddenly hears a strange voice saying to seek the light to reveal the shrouded treasure-for the sake of the trust. He gets the local caretakers son, Amos, to help him. He recently met him, & the kid is like a genius lol They also get occasional help from Jynx. They have to solve riddles & ciphers to locate whatever it is that will lead them to the shrouded treasure. They’re not the only ones looking for it. There are blood thirsty pirates of yore, & a fairy witch-who has a riddle-loving goblin, & a fire spitting salamander at her disposal. If the treasure falls into the wrong hands, the fate of the whole world is at stake. This was full of so much suspense, & tension that I read the last 52% in 1 sitting yesterday. Couldn’t stop! There’s even a lot of Sherlock Holmes love in here. The siblings have a dull life back at home-their parents care more about things/appearances than anything. Their time w/their uncle was anything but dull. They got to really be themselves-discover themselves. & Amos got to finally belong. He doesn’t have any friends, & the dynamic b/n these kids was so heartwarming, & I loved seeing it develop. I wish the kids could stay w/Socrates. Socrates was so great. Such a well written character I loved. I also adored Mrs. Gooch (housekeeper/cook), Fergus(the butler), & even scary Scafell (the groundskeeper). Also amazing, were the animals - Badger, Puck, & Admiral Benbow. The house itself, the staff, & animals all made this even more cozy & such an amazing atmosphere/setting. Highly recommend. So much adventure, time travel, pirates, magic, magical creatures, & just amazingness! Can’t wait for the next one! (From Good Reads: http://bit.ly/bellesmg)
“First time novelist Owen Minter has delivered a surprisingly captivating story in The Shrouded Sword, a book which delivers suspense and intrigue throughout an action-packed tale that features three young people not yet jaded by life, Merlin the Wizard and a house that is like no other. Minter clearly has been influenced by the Harry Potter series, but his story is entirely fresh and original and some of his characters evoke the innocence and wonder of those who lit up the old Disney films — films made before the manipulation of special effects replaced epic story telling. This book soars and the reader finds himself wanting to be transplanted into the story the adventure these young people share. It is a wow! It belongs on everyone’s must read list.”
Literary Lion of St. George Island
A wooded hollow ran between two streets in the small, southern mill town. A dying creek struggled to trickle through the bottom of the hollow. When the water had been flowing, it cut a deep gouge through the wooded bottom land, its banks reaching ten feet high in some places. In the summer, crawdads under smooth stones hid from small hands, and lightning bugs dotted the dark twilight. The boy loved this world. He couldn’t hear the trains, cars, or the nearby factory whistles.
His favorite time in the hollow was late fall and winter. He loved the musty smell of the fallen leaves layering the paths he’d worked so hard to cut the previous summer. The man next door was burning his leaves, sending the cleansing incense over him. He could see his breath in the evening, and the bullies that hid during the summer didn’t care for the woods when the temperature dropped.
One late November day, it began snowing at noon. The snow fell in dense white clouds until later that night, a foot and half of the pure white powder coated the woods and the creek. The boy descended into the freezing hollow, the crunch of his rubber galoshes the only sound. Hundreds of stars shone but were dimmed by the blue-white light of the sliver of moon. The boy stopped at the bottom of the hollow and looked around at the glowing blue and silver moonscape. High above him on Church Street, the Episcopal Church’s bells began to ring eleven. He didn’t move. He felt the silence and the bells and knew this was the most beautiful music he had ever heard.
The Shrouded Sword is a fantastic read! Author Owen Minter takes us on a journey where siblings are dreading their Christmas Break because they are staying with their uncle who is a recluse in Deadmoor, Virginia and they have been told that there is no internet or cell service, so their usual means of entertaining themselves will be unavailable for the time being. The siblings have no way of knowing the magical adventure that awaits them.
Ethan and Jynx Moseby are free to roam through the majestic mansion with the exception of the Solar Room. That is the only place that is off-limits. To their delight, they soon discover the mansion is alive and are embarking on the journey of a lifetime with one of the local kids that has always been fascinated with Socrates Maupin and his home.
This is a wonderful read that anyone who loves magic, mystery and decoding ciphers will fall in love with.
Minter takes us through the complexities of an ever-changing maze, time hops, and challenging riddles while sprinkling in pirates, goblins and other fantastic mythical creatures that join us on this good versus evil odyssey.
You’ll be captivated as you navigate your way through the whimsey, wit and pure fun of the Shrouded Sword.
(From Spreading Joy)
Owen R. Minter. The Shrouded Sword. 2019.
Some of you may be staying at home with the young and the restless---tweens and teens. You may be struggling to find ways to grab their attention other than the ubiquitous screens. I see you. In fact, I know those challenges myself, and that’s why I want to recommend a book that will engage the younger members of your self-quarantined unit. The Shrouded Sword is Owen Minter’s first book. He grew up in Martinsville, and lives with his family in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Set in the fictional southwestern Virginia town of Deadmoor, this is the story of the adventures two young people, Ethan Mosely and his sister, Jynx, have when they spend their Christmas break with their eccentric uncle, Socrates Maupin. Their pompous, selfish parents usually park them with relatives for the holidays, but never have they been left at Maupin’s rundown mansion, Gramarye. Facing weeks with no Internet or TV, the children believe this will be the worst Christmas break they have ever experienced. But they soon learn that eliminating access to media has the unexpected effect of opening new experiences.
For one thing, Gramarye presents a veritable world itself. Only one place is off-limits, and that is Socrates’s hangout, called the Solar. Of course, as forbidden fruit, it has allure, especially for Ethan. But there are plenty of other intrigues within the walls of Gramarye to engage any young, curious explorer. The place is home to Mrs. Gooch, the housekeeper and maker of delicious cookies; Fergus Bugg, the butler; and the malevolent Scafell Crag, the groundskeeper. Then there are the mansion’s grounds which include a vast maze that figures prominently in the plot.
Ethan, his new friend from Deadmoor, Amos Sprunt, and Jynx have dangerous adventures in this story, and yet the peril is mitigated by the forces for good that seem to align to help them, including a raven named Admiral Benbow, and Gramarye itself. Minter’s story refers to other legends, adventure books, and mysteries to build a plot line. The story works on its own without full knowledge of all those references, but gains layers of meaning when the reader takes the time to learn about the Arthurian legends, pirate adventures like Treasure Island, or Edgar Allen Poe. In this, it is not unlike other books with which young people may be familiar---Tolkein’s work being just one example. Read aloud by an adult, those references can be pointed out to younger members of the family, too.
An adventuresome tween, his sister, a sidekick, riddles, a maze, pirates, time-travel----all of these add up to a book that will captivate the younger members of your quarantined family, and perhaps help the adults revive the tradition of the read-aloud. This is the first installment of a planned three-book series, and I’m looking forward to the next adventure already.
Diane S. Adkins is a retired Director of the Pittsylvania County Library System.
The topic of a recent podcast was the prevalence of moral and social issues in middle grade fantasy literature. The hosts complained that “in your face” morality and social issues had drained all the fun out of a once enjoyable genre. One can no longer escape into the story. Many condemn escapist stories. I considered the gold standard, Harry Potter.
J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece is fun. It is wonderfully escapist. It’s also profoundly moral and addresses social issues honestly. It’s not “in your face”. It’s perfect story telling. I agree with the hosts of the podcast. As writers, do we respect the reader’s intelligence? Are middle grade kids intellectually capable of discovering the moral of the story without it smacking them in the face? I know they are. I don’t see anything wrong with trusting them and letting them escape into another world. Who knows, they might become life long readers.
Is magic real? Are there actually wizards? Great musicians have the power to make us feel beauty. Feel joy. Forget our troubles. They conjure tones and colors and textures from wood, steel, air, finger tips, muscle, electricity, wires, soul. How do they do it? What’s the formula, recipe, diagram, how to book or rule? No scientist has the genuine explanation. They theorize this synapse, that nerve ending, that brain wave. They can’t put it in a bottle. It’s power.
As a guitar player, and not a particularly good one, I’m drawn to guitar players that do what I can’t. I’m drawn to expressive, lyrical, original, authentic, beautiful players who transport me to a better place. They do it seemingly effortlessly, blending in unity with the music around them. They create a fresh new world and share it with us mere mortals.
Jerry Garcia was that beautiful player. He didn’t play to show off with dexterity and flash. How would I know? I never met him. Just listen, it’s that simple. His music will explain it all. It’s as if his soul controlled levers and wires that ran through his body to his arms and out of his fingers to touch and strum the steel strings of his guitar. Bending, plucking, summoning the exquisite sound and releasing it into the air. Lyrical, real, intentional. Is magic real? Are there actually wizards? Yes.
Owen R. Minter was inspired to write The Shrouded Sword, a fantasy story filled with ancient magic and time travel, after creating a drawing based on Arthurian legend. The Shrouded Sword is the first book in the Gramarye Cycle series. When he’s not writing, Owen makes paintings with a leaf blower, reads, and enjoys coaching Special Olympics Athletics.
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