Here I am! Bet you thought I dropped off the face of the earth, didn’t you? I wouldn’t blame you if you did. The truth is it’s been a crazy summer, with a lot of different things going on. First and foremost is the big book release, which you can learn more about by clicking the link below. It’s been a real learning curve navigating putting a book out into the world. If you think the process is all done when the book hits the shelves, well, you would be wrong! 🙂 It turns out that’s when the real work begins with book signings, events, promotion, and advertising. Then while doing all that, I’ve also been hard at work on the next project, because we have to think ahead you know! I’ve been working on it for over a year, and just last month I finally got a rough draft turned into my agent. Now I sit in the doldrums of waiting for her notes, of which I’m sure she’ll have plenty, given that this is quite a rough first draft. But the waiting has given me a little time to slow down and start brushing off this old history blog! I’ve missed it to tell you the truth, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with all of you in the weeks ahead. I thought I’d kick things off by continuing my historical poem covering various wars in US History. Remember that?! (For a refresher, click here). And since I’ve been dabbling with an old Civil War manuscript while I wait for notes on my other project (so many projects, so little time) I thought it would be fun to dive right into Part III – the Civil War. Which happens to be the final part. But fear not -there are seven segments that I will be posting in weeks to come. I hope you enjoy them all, as well as all the other posts I have planned for the rest of the year! Can’t wait, and hope to hear from all of you soon!
It’s no secret that getting into the Air Corps, during the First World War or any other conflict, is quite a feat. As we’ve all learned from Top Gun, combat pilots are often considered the elite of the elite, and before they can even sit in the cockpit of a fighter plane, there’s all kinds of hoop jumping (or flight looping) for a spot in the prestigious ranks. And unfortunately, especially during the First World War, those hoops increase exponentially for black people. But that didn’t stop Eugene Jacques Bullard – who beat all the odds, and heaps of racism, to become the first Black American fighter pilot in history. And unlike many of his flying contemporaries, Bullard would live to tell the tale.
Eugene Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1895, descended from ancestors born into the evils of slavery in the deep south. And while the Civil War may have put an end to slavery in name, it didn’t dislodge the racism at all. As a young child, Bullard witnessed a horrific lynching attempt against his father after a work dispute gone wrong. While his father survived the attack, the episode still deeply traumatized young Eugene, and he soon became enamored with his father’s stories of France – a place where people were a bit more accepting of all races and backgrounds.
Those stories are what ultimately drove Eugene Bullard overseas in the early 1910s. Determined to escape racial discrimination, he traveled to Norfolk, Virginia, where he stowed away on a steamer ship bound for Scotland. From there, he eventually made his way to London, where he joined an African-American troupe of slap stick performers called the Freedmen Pickaninnies.
Did any of you play Super Mario 3 on Nintendo when you were a kid? You know, the one with the raccoon tail that made Mario fly (makes zero sense, but we loved it) and you had to move through all the different worlds to get to the end. My favorite world was giant world. Everything blown up to incredible, gargantuan sizes, with giant Goombas, giant mushrooms, and giant tunnels. Giant enemies pressing in from all sides. All while poor little regular-sized Mario had to fly and fight his way through the chaos.
It made me wish I could find my own version of Giant World here in the three dimensional land, and as it turns out – I did. That’s right, I found a corner of the world where very normal things are blown up to very abnormal sizes, things like forks, belt buckles, and rocking chairs. And I found them at the best place for encountering such quirky little road side attractions.
So, here for you is a tour of some of the giant treasures hidden all across America on the Old Mother Road. The “giant world” of Route 66, which felt fitting, since the road still feels like it’s larger than life. And hey, at least you don’t need a raccoon tail to work your way through it.
SEASHELLS BY THE SEASHORE
I was just a little girl when my toes sunk into the sand
Of the balmy, pretty beach deep in the Southland
I fell in love with the ocean blue, and the big open sky
The billowy clouds and thunderstorms that often blew on by
But it was all the seashells that really captured my heart
Scattered over the sand and beach, covering every part
Tumbling in the waves and buried deep in the sea
Ripe for the plucking, those seashells really called out to me
Seashells dumping onto shore with every incoming tide
Shells clinking and clacking in the waves, rolling on a surf ride
More seashells on one beach than I could ever want or hold
I was just a child then so they seemed to me like gold
Shapes of pure perfection, colors like the sand
Twisty shells, clam shells, oyster shells that all fit perfectly in my hand
When I held them to my ear I could hear the ocean’s call
Even long after I got home and winter did befall
As the snow and ice set in, I stare out the window and dream
Of that long ago visit to Florida, where the ocean waters gleam
Where seashells of every shape and size rest upon the shore
Where the ocean horizons and palm trees stretch on forever more
“I’ll return and visit someday,” I always said in my heart
“No matter how many years go by, we won’t forever be apart.”
And now, so many years later, I’m returning to Florida land
I’m returning to play in the waves, and search for shells in the sand
I’m sure I’ll have a wonderful time, really, how could I not?
In a place where seashells are everywhere, like a big treasure pot?
I’ll see you soon, Florida beach, get ready for when I arrive
Because I can’t wait for the sun and shells, to feel so much more alive
As you might have guessed from this poem and post, I am headed off for a badly needed (and quite lengthy!) vacation to Florida next week to see my grandma and some other extended family. So the blog will be pretty quiet for awhile. I look forward to resuming posting and visiting all your amazing blogs when I return after Easter! You all be good until then! 🙂
If you want to follow along on my Florida and road trip adventures – follow me on Instagram and Twitter, handle @mbhenry1985
Photos by M.B. Henry – for more photography from all over the world, click here!
Looking for some spring reading? If you like WWII Historical Fiction and have an interest in D-Day, you might enjoy my debut novel which drops in a little over a month. Click here for more information!
As anyone who has been following this series knows – there are certainly a lot of charming stops on the fabulous old Mother Road. Despite its faded space on the map, the former Main Street of America still boasts ample antique small-town stops with faded brick buildings and cozy, pretty streets. Right alongside the bigger city dazzles like Chicago, Armarillo, and St. Louis. There are museums, restaurants, tourist attractions, and bright neon lights. Though it’s a blast from the past in many respects, the eastern half of Route 66 still takes you through a mostly civilized world – with nicely paved roads, traffic lights, and plenty of places to stop for gas and a bite to eat.
But somewhere in Oklahoma, things begin to change. Buildings and towns grow more sparse, and the towns you do encounter have a different vibe. The architecture gets more rugged. Tumbleweeds blow past some of the empty roads. Vast, unending fields and plains replace the big buildings and old souvenir shops. Pump stations, whether just for photos or to actually fill your car with gas, become harder and harder to come by. As do restaurants and touristy stops.
By the time you reach Arizona, Route 66 has officially gone from a road through modern civilization to a desolate, abandoned backroad in a forgotten part of America. The cracked, pot-holed asphalt boils under the hot, desert sun. Red rock formations and dry, thirsty mountains stretch on underneath a big blue sky with the occasional white clouds. Sun-burned cacti and bits of petrified wood dot the horizon. Sprawling National Parks and old Pueblo monuments replace cozy diners and old-fashioned cafes. In short, the western half of Route 66 is quite a different world.
And it’s in this most isolated part of the Mother Road that you really begin to encounter some interesting people and places. Like Ray’s in Arizona – a small roadside stop where the owner insists on feeding you chili dogs and showing you his astounding Hot Wheels collection (seriously… it’s astounding, and I had to at least find a way to mention it during this series).
Not far from there you will find the town of Oatman. An old mining town just off the winding, quite untamed (and somewhat treacherous) part of the old Route 66. The really old route 66 – the one from John Steinbeck’s “Okie” world of desperation instead of the movie “Cars.” Once you work your way around the dicey curves and narrow passes, you come around the mountain and there it is – the main street of Oatman. Which might not strike people as a particularly interesting town, until they see that the place is mostly run by…. (*checks notes*)… Burros.
Anybody here like cake? I love cake. My God. I used to be one of those people who bought single cakes from the bakery just because. But do I love cake enough to never go flying without it? Not really. You know who did love cake that much? Albert Ball – a quirky, wild, British WWI Air Ace who never went up to fly and fight without a piece of cake in his pocket.
Destined to become one of England’s top-scoring aces in the First World War, Albert Ball was born in Nottingham in 1896. He came from pretty decent stock. His father worked his way up in the world from humble plumber to Lord Mayor of Nottingham, and eventually even seeing knighthood. As for the boy Albert, he grew into a deeply religious young man, who enjoyed tinkering with mechanical trinkets around the house, learning his way around rifles, and eventually becoming a crack shot with his better-than-perfect vision. While he performed on an average scale in school, Ball excelled at all things mechanical, also managing to pick up quite a talent for the violin.
All-said, Albert Ball was a pretty decent chap who looked to have a bright future in engineering ahead of him – until August of 1914. The outbreak of war saw him, and hundreds of thousands of others, putting his career aspirations on hold and joining the service. For Ball, it was the Sherwood Foresters. All that rifle work as a youth paid off, and he quickly worked his way up to second lieutenant.
Let’s face it. You can’t get through the Christmas season without at least a mention of candy canes. Right around mid-November, stores all over the country stock their shelves with delightful cane-shaped goodies. And it doesn’t stop in the candy aisle. There are candy cane ornaments, candy cane clothes, candy cane garlands, candy cane window lights, and candy cane walkway lights. Especially in my old stomping grounds of So-Cal, people decorated the trunks of Palm Trees in a red and white peppermint twist of lights. Then there are the candy cane cookies, the candy cane Hershey kisses, the candy cane truffles, and even the candy cane cocktails (yummy, bottoms up).
Although the red and white peppermint canes are the undisputed king of Christmas candies, both in looks and taste, other companies have jumped in on the action. You can find candy canes flavored and colored like Sweet Tarts, Skittles, Sour Patch Kids, Jelly Belly, and Oreo cookies. There are rainbow-colored canes, Christmas-colored canes, and pastel-colored canes. Some truly bizarre flavors are creeping into the candy cane scene too. Flavors like bacon, Macaroni and Cheese, and even Kale. Yes… kale. I don’t know what would ruin my Christmas more than a kale cane, but here we are.
So, where did all the madness start? How did cane-shaped candies with a burst of peppermint come to take over the Christmas season? As I worked my way through this year’s first delicious candy cane, I decided to do a little digging. And I have to say, the research left me feeling a bit disappointed. Because the answer to where the candy cane came from is this – no one… really… knows.
What a forehead slap of a response, huh? I suppose I could just stop the article here and let you move on with your day (and your Christmas shopping). But that wouldn’t be very sporty now would it? Besides, there are some fun legends that have sprung up around the advent of the candy cane, and they are worth taking a look at.
Some random, barely-heard-of writer (Stephen King someone or other) once said – “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” It’s a very true quote, because reading the countless amazing books out there has had a profound impact on my own writing. In its way, reading has taught me more about writing than any course, conference, or writers group (but all of those are also more than worth a writer’s time). So you could say a lot of my reading is for professional reasons.
But I’ll be honest. The truth is I’m an utter and total bookworm. Full-on need a twelve-step-program addict. And it started long before I picked up a pen to write my own. I’ve been devouring books since I was a kid. They give me an escape from this troubled world, they provide insight into other worlds, and they are vehicles to launch my yawning and stretching imagination to new heights. When I was in school, I would wonder into the library, just to have the librarian say, “ah, you again. I have some stuff here you might enjoy.” At the bookstore, I could never leave empty-handed. Sometimes I even tricked my parents into buying me books that probably should have waited a year or two.
Maybe they saw through my devious little ways and maybe they didn’t. But either way, books feed me like little else can. It’s a passion that has turned into a livelihood, with my debut novel coming out in the spring (click here for more on that).
And it’s a passion I’ve decided I’m long overdue to share. Most notably during the pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of great blog posts about what everyone’s reading. And trust me – I love talking books. Even at pre-pandemic parties when I was most likely to hide in a corner somewhere, books got me talking like you wouldn’t believe. Especially history books.
But in my line a work, it bodes well to read everything. Anything I can get my hands on. I rampage my way through dozens of books a year. While I can’t remember all of them (who could?), there are always a handful that leave a profound mark on me. Books that teach me a significant truth, that pull at my heart strings, that stick with me through thick and thin. And every year, I make a top ten list of reads that I post on my social media accounts (handle @mbhenry1985, come say hello!) The thought hit me the other day, while I was compiling this list, that perhaps you guys might want to see it too! And this being a blog instead of something pithy like Instagram, I have a lot more room to really share my thoughts.
So, without any further ado, here are my top ten for 2021, in no particular order. Books that kept me inspired during a year of big changes all around me.
It’s that time of year again! If you’ve followed this blog awhile, you’re probably familiar with my fascination with the other worldly, especially when it comes to ghosts. It’s a theme I’ve explored often with some of Gettysburg’s most famous haunts (view them by clicking here, here, and here). And while the Civil War is a great place to go looking for ghosts, this year, I’m taking you down a different road (highway puns).
Of all our stops on Route 66, the Lincoln home was one of our favorites. It is wonderfully preserved, furnished just like it was then, right down to perfect re-creations of bed spreads and wallpapers. The doorway to the Lincoln home is a true doorway through time, as well as an entrance into the personal lives of two of America’s most famous figures.
And while there’s no better candidate for ghost stories than tragic Abraham Lincoln, he isn’t the one who haunts this place. At least not according to some former employees of the charming historical residence in Springfield, Illinois. People who tell of phantom taps on the shoulders while cleaning certain rooms. A chair that creaks and rocks despite no one sitting in it. And misty apparitions, not of a forlorn President, but of a stern and troubled Mary Todd.
Have you ever met someone from history that grabbed you by the shoulders and completely stole your attention? With one look at a faded photograph, you just knew you were in for a treat? That’s what happened when I first came face to face with Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr. An Arizona wild thing who blazed through the skies of Europe during his whirlwind of a flying career in World War I. Known for his shock of platinum blond hair, his lumbering build, and a somewhat foul temper, one he often took out on enemy aerial observation balloons. Earning him the nickname – “the Balloon Buster.”
I met Luke while researching for a novel I was writing at the time. I sat on my bed one evening, flipping through a very old book about WWI pilots, when the battered old pages slipped through my fingers. They landed with a flop right on Luke’s picture. I actually jolted when confronted with that stern gaze. A steely fire in the eyes, still sizzling even after a hundred years. It took me a few seconds to compose myself and check the name at the bottom of the photo – “Frank Luke, the Balloon Buster.”