Driving Through the Wild, Wild West

Leaving Mississippi last Monday, I turned my little car west and drove across miles and miles of flat Texas land, thinking of my father and our trips south to see him each summer, before his death in April 1999. While Dale Berry’s final resting place is in our family plot somewhere up a holler at the top of a Jackson County, West Virginia, mountain, those Texas tumbleweeds I passed will be forever synonymous with the man he was.

It seemed appropriate to stop in Mesquite, Texas, for the night. After all, we used to light up the limbs of a tree by the same name, grilling many a burger and steak for family cookouts. My grown children may not remember, but nothing much beats the flavor of mesquite, when it comes to wood smoke and meat.

I got on the road quite early Tuesday morning, planning to reach Cochiti Reservation by nightfall. Twelve hours later I did, and found myself in the home of a local artist who graciously let me have the run of it for my visit. I felt like I was in a Native American art gallery, and it was exquisite.

Wednesday morning began with a big breakfast of huevos rancheros, which took me back to those authentic Mexican meals we used to eat in Texas. (And which my mother, herself the daughter of a chef and having been raised in the Southwest, often cooked for us.) Then was I in for a real treat: Lee Maynard chauffeured me to the top of mesas and all over the Jemez Mountains, turning into a tour guide as he pointed out such local sights as Cochiti Dam, the artisan town of Santa Fe, Bandelier National Park, Valles Caldera, formed by an ancient, mega volcanic eruption, and Los Alamos, not far from where the Manhattan Project was developed. And where we ate the best sushi ever.

Before I met Lee several years ago at the Annual West Virginia Writer’s Conference, he was more of a myth than a man. Once we became acquainted, it was easy to see that he was down to earth and really no different than most Appalachians. So I was happy to have him as my tour guide, and we enjoyed bouncing story ideas off each other. If there is anything a writer loves, it’s having another writer to talk literary shop with. He regaled me with accounts about the area’s colorful history and even deadpanned for the camera, striking a similar pose to one I took while holding my first book.

That wasn’t as good as it got, either. The New Mexico sunsets I captured with my iPhone were absolutely, hands down, among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. A Facebook friend wrote, telling me that the locals say, “the sky is on fire.” And so it was – every single night. If you’ve never been there, you really don’t know what you’re missing. (You can still make this year’s event, which lasts through Oct. 9.)

I didn’t plan to stay in Cochiti as long as I did, but after learning that the largest balloon festival in the world was slated to begin in a few days, I hung around. I hit the road at 4 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, making it to the fairgrounds just in time for the 7 a.m. mass ascension. Where 550 balloons took to flight, providing a view of the sky unlike any other.

My trusty little iPhone captured some great photos, but I only wish I’d known about the Canon booth before my morning began. The company will loan you any number of its high-powered 35mm cameras, for free, and all you need is an SD card, which lets you take away as professional a photo as you’re capable of shooting.

Hot air balloons have a longstanding legacy in my life: I read Around the World in Eighty Days as a child, rode in one as a passenger in 1988 as a green news reporter, and again a year later, at the Mountaineer Balloon Festival, and then finally, in 2002, I got married in one. In Las Vegas. So for decades, I have dreamed of seeing the Albuquerque International Balloon Feista. It was all I ever thought it would be. And more. I snapped photos of colorful silks covering the ground, of balloons in various phases of inflation, and of people watching the giant spheres as they magically floated up, up, and away. (For many more photos, check out my Facebook page and group.)

And next time I go – after experiencing this year’s festivities, how could there not be a next time? – I will be shooting with a 35mm.

Although this journey has come to its end, my last day on the road was simply amazing. I hope you’ll join me next time, as I travel from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monterey, California. And to all points in-between.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

Destination South: My Long and Winding Literary Trek

I’m on a long and windy literary tour, which, thanks to Hurricane Hermine, has already featured one unexpected detour. While not taking Route 66, which is what I once planned to do, years ago, I am stopping to smell the roses where I can, meeting and writing about people who inspire me along the way. Yes, this is another trip altogether. An entirely different journey.

It felt as hot and muggy in Morgantown, W.Va., (when I hit the road August 31) as it does now in southern Florida, where I arrived Saturday night. Having just returned from a 7 a.m. walk on the beach, I can tell you the air hangs heavy around me, as warm and wet as tepid bath water.

My first stop when leaving my beloved Almost Heaven was Coonskin Drive in Charleston, where my cousin and I made an exchange: her books, which she loaned me, for my pearl earrings, which I forgot at her place in July. My window was open as she reached inside to hand me a tiny package. “Since I wrapped them in tin foil, we don’t want anyone to think we’re doing a drug deal,” she said as we both laughed. (In southern West Virginia, drugs are no laughing matter. Just ask state officials, who sued big pharma for piping the deadly opioids into the state.)

My first week on the road included a five-year overdue stop in Raleigh, N.C., to see friends I met in 2005, who have since become family. There, I heard the most fascinating stories about 1940s North Carolina, when segregation was still a way of life, as a young black woman from the North tried to acclimate to the South, after moving there to live with her husband’s sharecropper family.

My next stopover was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to visit a friend whose husband is very ill. I landed just ahead of Hermine, which had, by then, been downgraded to a tropical storm. We watched as the rain and wind blew in, and pools of water rose high enough for neighbor children to frolic in. While there, I was again reminded how no one can advocate for your health and welfare better than a family member. And in today’s medical minefield, they must — or risk the consequences of wrong diagnoses and other serious mistakes.

Seeing a fisherman try to reel in a stingray, only to cut the line after a lengthy battle with the giant creature so it could escape, was the highlight of my time there. Next to seeing my dear friends and chatting over ice cream cones while walking along the beach.

After a small mishap involving melted coconut oil that leaked all over my toiletries (Does anyone remember my 2009 honey-in-my-suitcase incident?), and two broken nails – one on my foot, another on my hand – I left Myrtle Beach later than planned, arriving in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday afternoon. There, I stopped to see the DuBose Heyward House, which is on the National Historic Register. Heyward wrote Porgy, the novel that later inspired George Gershwin to create Porgy and Bess, the opera. (I have yet to see it, but it is definitely on my bucket list.)

I took another detour to drive through Botany Bay, a wildlife preserve which features live oak trees lined up along the lane leading to it, stationed like bowing butlers facing. I hadn’t eaten since morning, so I drove east a few more miles, stopping at the edge of the ocean at Edisto Beach. There, I had a meal at a little place where the décor was bright and cheery, and reminded me of my sister, Lisa, who would have turned 50 that day, but for the drugs that ravaged her world.

Because I didn’t make Savannah, Ga., until 7 p.m., I missed seeing Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home. Instead, I stepped through a triple-hung window and onto the balcony, fully enjoying my “room with a view,” as day turned to dusk. Thursday morning, I took a tour of the splendid old city, and did so in a pair of slacks, a loosely woven blouse over my tank top. By 10 a.m., I had shed the blouse. By noon, I shed my pants, after buying – and donning – a sundress. Still, the temperatures were sweltering, and I was reminded of the scene from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, where Vivi Abbott Walker and her friends try to cool off in a convertible one sweltering summer night.

Looking at the gardens from my room with a view in Savannah, Georgia.

I had so much fun walking around the shops and watching the people, and winding my way down (and then back up again, nimble as a billy goat with my new knees) some very steep stairs to River Street, that I barely made the last O’Connor house tour of the day. And that would have been a shame, for there I learned that Mary Flannery and I have in common a book that surely helped formed her into the writer she became, and possibly did me, as well. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which the tour guide said Flannery performed as live readings for her friends in her bathroom as a little girl. (I also love peacocks, although I’ve never raised them, as she did.) I could not leave without purchasing a copy of the book whose title made such an impact on me as a short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. It is sad that she died so young of lupus, but what an incredible wealth of written works she left behind.

Next time, please join me as I make my way to other points south, as this literary trek continues.

Flannery O’Connor childhood home

The bathroom where Mary Flannery entertained her friends as a little girl; “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” is in the background.

The mantle in Mary Flannery’s bedroom features family photos.

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.

My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Ms. Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”