It was July or August of 1999, best I remember, and the Swain County Commissioners at that time were meeting in a cramped boardroom in the Administration Building. I’m not sure if anyone from a newspaper other than The Smoky Mountain Times covered these meetings, but we had published the first issue of our upstart newspaper in June of that year. As its only reporter at that time, I was finally getting around to one of Swain’s meetings.

I was a little out of sorts as I wandered in unannounced. I found an empty chair against the wall that was so close you could have touched the commissioners. They all greeted me as I told them who I was and what I was there for.

It’s not my proudest accolade, but I spent a significant portion of my childhood in a pageant dress. 

The doctors told my parents they were infertile, so when they surprisingly had two little girls after 13 years of marriage, they were ecstatic to say the least. My mom was an only child and lived a rather sheltered childhood. My grandmother suffered from mental health issues, so my grandfather did the best he could to offer my mom opportunities, but he was protective of his daughter and also quite frugal, so her participation in extracurricular activities was minimal.

Since it is, after all, the Haywood County School Board, I can only hope they’ve learned a lesson.

Last week it was announced that a settlement has been agreed upon in the lawsuit filed by Waynesville attorney Mark Melrose against the school board for the way it closed Central Elementary School. The settlement mandated that neither party discuss the particulars, but here’s part of the 57-word statement that was released:

The school board “does not admit it violated the law or its own policies, but agrees it would have been preferable if circumstances had permitted to have provided more advanced public notice of its intention to vote on January 11, 2016, to study the possible closure of Central Elementary School.”

As near as I can tell, the readers of this newspaper are pretty evenly divided on whether I should continue writing columns about President Donald Trump. I get emails, letters, Facebook messages and comments from readers I bump into at church or in the grocery store who assure me that I am contributing something meaningful to our democracy and urge me on, as a member of the much-maligned free press doing my best to speak truth to power. At the very least, those of us in the media who are willing to take on Trump are providing some measure of relief or catharsis to those who feel threatened, disgusted or alienated by the president.

He’s a respected member of the community, a physician, and we ran into each other unexpectedly. 

“I really have to say I like your opinion pieces. I think we’re on different sides as far as politics, but I like what you say about civil discourse and talking to each other. Besides, for me, politics is way down here,” he said, holding his hand down close to his knee, palm downward. “There are so many other more important things in life.”

My favorite time of day is quiet time. Every morning before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, before I turn on my laptop or check social media on my phone, I spend at least 30 to 45 minutes in stillness with my thoughts, with God, with the whispers of the universe. It’s become a daily ritual for me, and one that’s a lifeline. 

My quiet time began in earnest when my mom passed away last August. After saying good-bye to her, I realized the only way to truly grieve was to be alone. While I appreciated and still do appreciate encouragement from friends and advice from those who’ve had the same experience, true healing began once I embraced solitude. Only then were the memories clear, my new reality processed and the tears raw.

There has never been a president like Donald Trump. There has never been a campaign like the campaign that Trump waged to win the election. And there has never been a first month of a new administration like the first month of the Trump administration.

His detractors — and I am one of them — need to stop saying, “This is not normal.” Of course it is not normal. It was never supposed to be normal. The appeal of Trump was built upon that precipice. The American people were fed up with “normal” as it pertains to American politics, so to use that particular phrase as a rallying cry of the resistance is to miss the point entirely.

We reported last week that Haywood County Tax Collector Mike Matthews may have been showing favoritism to some local Republican leaders who were behind in their taxes. As it turns out, we were likely too narrow in that assessment. It seems Matthews may very well just not be enforcing strong and even-handed collection measures for a lot of people, not just GOP leaders.

Matthews’ job performance has been questioned since he won the tax collector election in 2014. He couldn’t get bonded, had no experience in the field, and had his own record of nonpayment of taxes. County officials who depend on those taxes were worried and immediately took steps to try and help Matthews succeed. And taxpayers who pay on time had to be worried that there taxes might have to be raised.

By Stephen Wall • Guest Columnist

On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb exploded 1,500 feet over Hiroshima. Only 1.5 percent of the 60-plus pounds of uranium 235 actually underwent nuclear fission, but the blast was the equivalent of 15 thousand tons of TNT. About 70,000 people, mostly civilians, were incinerated almost instantaneously, and another 70,000 died in the following months. 

Currently the U.S. and Russia each have about 1,700 nuclear warheads on actual ready-to-launch status, aimed at each other’s homeland. A typical Russian missile carries six warheads, each with about 10 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb. So each of several hundred deployed Russian missiles has the destructive force of 60 Hiroshima bombs. Every American needs to think about what those numbers mean to them and their families.

I was in the Disney bubble for seven days straight, so it was rather depressing driving home with the daily grind looming up ahead. A blogger friend of mine coined this discombobulating experience “re-entry.” I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself. An amazing vacation, a weekend music festival, a holiday vacation from work. “Re-entry” is when you leave that happy façade of a world and return to reality.

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