Monday, March 31, 2008


Probably taken in early spring of 1921, the photo below shows my grandmother holding my dad, and unless someone uncovers an earlier photo, I believe this is the first image we have of Papa. I suspect the photo was taken outside their home in Matney, NC, but I'll have to get that fact verified. Daddy was born in December, and I'd guess he's about 4-5 months old here. I've cropped the original to zero in a bit closer on their faces. I don't have any photos of Grandma as a young woman.

Some 87 years later, I took this last photo of Daddy on Christmas Day, 2007 in Grandma's living room. Her house is just up the hill from where I think the first photo was taken. We had just eaten Christmas dinner at Grandma's, and I caught Papa with his napkin in his hand.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


I've always known when the time came, I wanted to help prepare my parents for burial and shovel the dirt back over them as they returned to the Earth. I know this idea might seem quite odd to many people--- I totally understand how it could be.

But, historically, in our family, through many generations, women on both sides of my lineage have been called upon to dress the deceased and prepare them for internment. In that way, it comes pretty naturally to me to participate in burying loved ones.

Also, my dad and I buried animals, i.e., pets, critters from the wild, together quite a few times when I was young. He always took gentle care of the creatures he was returning to the Earth, and more than one time, I've seen a tear roll down his cheek as he began the process.

Additionally, here on The Farm, I've buried many, many of our farm animals, and I am always honored to do that. Our side woods, affectionately dubbed "Sherwood Forest" when Samuel was into Robin Hood, is the sacred resting ground for at least 30-40 animals, everyone from old Tornado and Gunner, the dogs Sam and I had when we were married to Kate and Botas, our old farm cats who passed on most recently. I go to the treehouse out in Sherwood Forest from time to time to meditate, and I sense real peace and love there...It is indeed sacred space.

So, when Daddy died, Myra and I began to gather photos to display in the funeral parlor, I had a grouse and crow feather which we placed in his jacket pocket, and we also sent him to the spirit world with a figurine of his bird dog in one side pocket and a wooden carved squirrel in another. Shortly before Myra and I closed the casket, Samuel, Eliza, Mom, Myra, and I snipped a piece of our hair to place between the feathers....It's a Native American tradition of mourning to cut one's hair, as well as a reminder to the spirit as it journeys that those of us who remain incarnate will always be with it. Myra also placed a cross-stitch piece she had made him by his side.

After the funeral service at his grave, Myra, the children, and I stayed, and as soon as I saw the shovels, I picked one up and began the process of covering my dad with the earth. Samuel participated, as well, and Myra and Eliza assisted along the way. It felt quite familiar to be working in the dirt. At peace in my heart, embraced by the mountains, cleansed by the chilly breeze, I felt very much in touch with Papa as I worked. He would have been proud; he would have understood why I was there, I know.

The dirt from his grave is still on my shoes....I don't plan on cleaning it off. I'm just going to let the grass and rain puddles be my cleansers.

Friday, March 28, 2008


I realize what I'm about to write might startle some folks, but I've always known I wanted to actively participate in burying my parents. Additionally, I've contemplated what I wanted for them to take along into the world of spirit, into the Heavens. So, when the time came to say good-bye to Papa, my sister, Samuel, and Eliza and I included a few things that he would want to take along as he journeys into light and eternal love.

In his suit pocket, we placed a grouse and crow feather along with a snip of our hair. Mom allowed us to include a piece of her hair as well. In Native American tradition, women cut their hair short at the loss of a loved one and many times buried the locks with the deceased as a sign of eternal companionship.

Since Papa was an avid grouse and crow hunter in his younger days, it is most appropriate that those feathers travel with him in the spirit realm. Daddy always talked about the intelligence of those two birds; his respect for them were enormous, even if the crows did eat the corn kernals he planted and the grouse got away from him more than not.

In one of his suit pockets, Papa carries a small figurine of an English setter, his favorite dog in all the world. I've spent hours with him as he trained his beloved Bowse and Jane to do exactly what he needed them to do as he hunted for doves and grouse. In the other, he carries a carved wooden squirrel. Part of his morning ritual for the past couple of decades has been to throw some peanuts out on the back porch to the squirrels he had virtually tamed. As word spread in the animal kingdom around the neighborhood, crows and ravens became morning visitors as well. I would suppose Papa spent quite a chunk of change on food for his friends. He always worried that the neighbor's cats were going to catch one of them.

Myra, my sister, placed a cross-stitch piece she made for Daddy in the casket. I don't remember exactly what it said, but it honored him as a great father.

When the time came to close his casket, Myra and I left lipstick kisses on the top of his head and gently closed the lid. Later, after the service at this graveside, everyone left, and Samuel and I, along with the Townsend boys, Homer and Hubert, (how's that for some good mountain names), my cousins, Phil and Rob, shoveled the dirt on top of his coffin. Myra, my sister, and Eliza, assisted a bit too.

It gave me great peace to be able to bury my father. I've been with Daddy on more than one occasion when we buried a pet or an animal he found, and those experiences always were special ones that we shared together. I know he would be proud that all of us participated in returning him to the Earth.

I haven't cleaned the dirt from his grave off my shoes yet....I probably won't. It'll clean itself off with time.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


My father, Zebulon "Zeb" Vance Shook was born on December 1, 1920 in the Matney Community, just a couple of miles south of Banner Elk, NC. In time, his family would move back up the mountain to a small community named Balm, and from there, his parents and their growing brood of children would finally settle in Pigeon Roost, NC, at the family homeplace to care for my great grandparents.

We laughed quite a bit with the funeral home director as he chauffered us to the Shook Cemetary in Pigeon Roost. He was somewhat familiar with the area, but the shortcut to Papa's final resting place through Horsebottom into Pigeon Roost was new territory for him. The bottom line is that the Shooks are mountain folks. We come "up in the mountains," and we're stronger for it, I promise.

Daddy's family was not affluent by any means. This first photo had to be taken during the Depression. Missing are his three youngest siblings who were yet to be born. Papa, young teenage boy on the right, holds the baby at the time, my Uncle Bradley ( I think). I don't know the history of the photo, but the background sheds a bit of light on the land where Papa's family lived. I'm assuming the car belonged to my grandfather, who was the rural mail carrier and used it for his job, but I'll have to get that piece of info verified.

Prior to WWII, Daddy worked at a feed exchange store in Banner Elk, NC. After he returned from the war, he married my mother, and the two of them moved to Boone, NC, where Daddy finished his undergraduate and Master's degrees at Appalachian State Teachers College. The photo below is his college senior photo (I think).

Mom says she was stunned when Daddy announced his intention to study Library Science in graduate school. I suppose she had always thought he would choose a line of work that would allow him to be outside, in the natural world where he felt so at home. But, as a child, it was obvious to me early on that Papa loved being surrounded by books. I spent many mornings with him before school back in the "stacks" of the old library on campus. There, Papa would point out books he thought I would enjoy, as well as those he had intentionally purchased for their academic value.

Daddy eventually became the Acquisitions Librarian for Appalachian State Teachers College and witnessed the library's collections grow as the school became Appalachian State University. Under his guidance, he and his staff put together several valuable ethnic collections, and he started and oversaw the first Appalachian oral history project on campus. Papa always had a sense that where we were all from was a place richly steeped in tradition and wisdom, and he did his best to record interviews, catalog research, and organize collections for research on the area and Appalachia in general. He was proud to be from the mountains!

His own writings, "Letters to My Grandson" (and eventually to his grandchildren after Eliza's birth) record events in his life that he wanted his grandchildren to know. We read three of his stories as we celebrated his life down by his graveside. Those gathered laughed heartily, and a few there were the main characters in the plots we chose. It was indeed a wonderful way to have him there with us.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


On Saturday afternoon before my father died later that night, Grandma Ruth (age 106) awoke from a nap. My Aunt Audrey said Grandma opened her eyes, looked around, and lifted her hands to the sky, like a little child does when he/she wants to get picked up. Then Grandma broke into a big smile, arms lifted all the while, saying, "Look!... The angels of the Lord. They're a' comin'. They're here right now! Jesus is a' callin'!" Naturally, my aunt thought Grandma was seeing the angels coming for her, but now we know she was seeing them as they came for Daddy.

In the last week of his life, Papa began to sense things around him that, on the physical plane, didn't seem to make sense. One night, he asked Pansy, his caretaker, to "get that woman out of his room." When Pansy assured him there was no one with him, he replied that a woman most certainly had been in the room with him and he wasn't going with her.

When Pansy told me about Papa's visitation, I knew in reason he was close to passage. Another woman whom Pansy cared for had recently died in the room across the house from Daddy, and it made total sense to me that Miss Laura's spirit would come to visit him. I told Pansy at the time the "woman" was Miss Laura's spirit. What I didn't vocalize was that I knew she was coming to let Daddy know it was OK for him to join her. At that moment, he wasn't ready. Shortly thereafter, however, he crossed on over to the other side.

My father and I never talked along the lines of "spirits", but the night before Eliza was born, he woke Mom up to tell her that a little girl had come to stand beside his bed and hold his hand. Four hours or so later, Eliza was born.

I've been around many passages, both human and animal, and I know there are many inexplicable things that occur around the time a transition takes place. Knowing that Grandma saw the angels and Papa saw a friend in his room assures me he was well escorted into the world of spirit, and for that, I am very thankful.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


"Tanya, the good Lord sends us signs...He lets us know when he's a needin' someone to come be with him in Heaven. All we've got to do is look and listen. They let us know all's well, that the Lord waits fer all of us with love."

~Mrs. Bessie Mae Hicks, 79, to me on Friday after my dad's funeral on Tuesday.

My father was a man of the Earth and was always happiest when he was outdoors... hunting and fishing...gardening... playing with the kids in our neighborhood. He knew as much about life in the woods as any person I've ever known, and it's very understandable that as he approached his passage, signs came from nature to announce it to us.

Samuel called me on Thursday before Daddy died on Saturday to ask me about hawk energy. He had experienced two powerful encounters with hawks, both Red-tailed, in less than 48 hours. The first flew by him and perched in front of him in a tree in the middle of campus as he was on his way to class. Astounded, Samuel said the hawk never took his gaze away from him as he walked by. In fact, the hawk followed him as he went on, flying from tree to tree as Samuel passed by. The next morning at his house, when Samuel opened the blinds to let the morning light in, he said he was face to face with a huge hawk that was sitting in a tree right outside his bedroom window. Afraid it would fly away, Samuel stood still, and the two exchanged gazes for an extended period of time.

On Wednesday prior to Daddy's death, I was on the phone with Papa as I turned down the driveway to my house. In the distance, flying over the pine grove at the end of my side yard, I counted about 200 crows that were gathered in the trees. I've never seen that many crows gathered on the farm in the almost 30 years I've lived here. Their calls resonated through the car window such that Daddy heard them on the other end of the phone. He speculated the crows were after something else they considered a bother. I stopped the car and talked to him at length about what the crows were doing, and Papa was in awe that we were experiencing them together. It was an incredibly special moment, one which Daddy mentioned to me the next couple of days we talked. "Tanya, are the crows still 'a gatherin'?" he asked.

Knowing Papa and his connection nature, I firmly believe the hawks and crows came to let us know Papa would soon be "taking flight." I shared these stories with Mrs. Hicks, a wise, humble, hard-working mountain woman who's been a friend of the family for years, a woman who has 8 children, cleans houses to make a little money, still grows and cans all the food for her family, and lives without the conveniences many of us take for granted. In her sweet, soft voice, she said to me, "Yes, Tanya, those were the signs."

Thursday, March 20, 2008


As many of you already know, my father, Zeb Shook (Papa) entered the world of spirit early last Sunday morning, the morning of his 63rd anniversary to my mom. His passage was peaceful, very peaceful, and my mom and his brother, along with his beloved caretaker, were with him at the time. I had spoken to him about an hour earlier, and his last words to me were, "I love you, sweetheart." The strength and clarity in his voice were unlike I remember since he became ill over 30 years ago. It was my Daddy's real voice, the one I remember from childhood...the one that Parkinson's Disease had virtually erased over the years. I couldn't ask for a greater gift.

I write this from North Carolina, where my mom, sister, children and I are hanging together for a few days before we all go our separate ways. I have many, many good stories of these last few days to record, but I'll save them until my head clears and my body rests. It has been an amazing time...many love-packed moments.....many stories and moments of life in the mountains told and told again.

I repeat now the words my father always used as a blessing at our table...words that bring me close to him and his sweet, humble voice.....

I am thankful for this day and my many blessings......And I am grateful for the love of friends and family that sustain me every moment of every day.


Sunday, March 09, 2008


Buddha just doesn't get too uptight when events in the Universe rock his world. There's a lot to be said about that.

Consider the fact that he lost his arms a good while back... Shortly after the first snowfall, he got uprooted from the security of the compost bin to total exposure in the flower bed....He couldn't see 5' in front of him yesterday when the snow was falling its hardest...The cats frequently poop and pee around him....From time to time, the wind blows so hard in his neighborhood he can hardly remain standing. And, as evidenced by the corrosion and cracks in his chubby little body, he "ain't no spring chicken."

Doesn't seem to phase him at all...This is one happy guy....I'll rub his sweet belly for us all!


Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I love it when flowers bloom in winter...(I am surrounded by blossoms all of a sudden here at The Farm--begonias, geraniums, amaryllis, a white potted azalea.).....I love to take a break from working at the computer and pull out the camera........I love knowing that spring will arrive much sooner than later....

(PS: I'm open for any constructive criticism regarding the photos....As I say, I'm in a real learning curve now, and I love playing around with the shots.)