Monday, May 20, 2019


My creative inspiration came from a man I never met, my Uncle John. I only knew him through stories Pop told me about him and faded old photographs.  Whenever Pop talked about his older brother, I could see the pride in his eyes and hear the reverence in his voice. It was obvious to me that my dad loved his brother and idealized him.

John aspired to be a civil engineer and, like all three of the McNeal brothers had an aptitude for math. I think John had a special connection with Pop. He didn’t write many letters, but in one of them written while he was away in college, he asked about “Jimmy” (my dad), and told his parents to encourage his younger brother with his math. They certainly did that.

John was a bit of a rebel. He rode an Indian motorcycle around the United States and canada when he worked for a traveling opera show out of New York City. He sent home plenty of pictures, but not much in the way of letters. I wish he had done more writing, but that was not his way.

He loved music and played the mandolin and violin. His violin instructor rapped him on the knuckles with a pencil for playing a piece wrong and that was the end of lessons from that instructor. Did I mention the McNeals had a bit of a temper? John, apparently, did not put up with disrespect or shenanigans from others.

In his youth, Uncle John contracted Scarlet Fever. Although he managed to survive, he had seizures from time to time. There was no real treatment for seizures back then except Phenobarbital which has the side effect of drowsiness. I can only guess from what I know about John, being hindered by a medicine that interfered with his active life was probably unacceptable.

In May 1927, John went fly fishing with some friends down at Roaring Creek near his home in Numidia, Pennsylvania. His friends moved downstream around the bend and out of sight of John. It was then that John had a seizure, fell face forward into three foot of water, and drown. He was only twenty-one on the threshold of a promising life when he died. A light went out in the McNeal household. His wake was held at home as was the custom in those days. Pop said people came from everywhere to pay their respects, especially young women. According to Pop, John had a particular charm that drew the affections of the ladies.

After my Grandfather McNeal died Pop, the only living family member, sold their family home, an old red school house, and auctioned off most of their belongings to pay for my grandfather’s funeral. But Pop saved a very special treasure for me—John’s violin. He had it refurbished for me and I began to take lessons. I loved playing that violin. In later years I played it with my great-niece Madeline who took a genuine interest in music. A couple years ago I gave John’s violin to Madeline because I wanted to honor the memory of John for generations to come. She named the violin Lola. In return, Madeline gave me her violin so I could keep playing music.

I always felt sad for John that he never had a chance to find love, marry, have a family, and fulfill his dreams. I wanted to write his story and I wanted to make as true to his life as I could, but give him the life I wish he could have had. I wish Pop could have lived long enough to have seen my fictionalized version of his brother’s life, and part of his own, in the book I titled THE VIOLIN. I think it would have made him happy. I dedicated the book to Uncle John and my father.
“This book is dedicated to the memory of my uncle, John Douglas McNeal, whose tale I have told here in the pages of this almost true story, and to my dad, James William McNeal, who loved and missed John until his own death in 1981.”

Livia Washburn Reasoner created the cover for THE VIOLIN using an actual picture of John.


by Sarah J. McNeal
Fire Star Press/Imprint of Prairie Rose Publishing

Can the heart live inside a violin case? Can a message reach across time?

Genevieve Beaumont is haunted by dreams of a drowning man she is helpless to save. When she buys a violin and discovers news clippings and pictures of its owner who died from downing inside the case, she realizes he is the man in her dreams.
She travels to the little town where he died 90 years before to investigate who he was and how he came to drown that day. Little does she know how her own life will be tangled in the mystery…until she steps through the threshold of time to 1927.


She heard him take in a slow breath before he spoke to her in a more relaxed, quiet tone. "I beg your pardon, miss, I didn't mean to curse. What's your name?" The younger man’s voice soothed her as he knelt beside the couch where she lay. He wrung out a cloth in the bowl of water beside his knee, folded it, and applied it to Genevieve's brow.

"My name is Genevieve Beaumont. I was just standing at the window and now…I'm here." She lifted a shaky hand to her brow. "My head is pounding."

"You bumped your head when you fainted. Is that a French name?"  He lifted a quizzical brow and smiled.

She lifted her eyes and got a good, close-up look at him then. Her heart almost stopped beating in her chest. She sucked in a deep breath. What was happening to her? How could any of this be possible? The man holding the cool cloth to her head was the man in the pictures she found in the violin case!
She would not have guessed he had auburn hair, or that his eyes were such a vivid, bottle green. He wore a collarless, khaki shirt with the sleeves rolled up and suspenders instead of a belt held up his tan, canvas trousers. Oh, but he was handsome—so much more than his pictures ever allowed. She didn't have time to admire the young man's good looks because her mind swirled round and round with the unfathomable implications of her situation.


Diverse stories filled with heart

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A Reflection on The Life of Mister Rogers by Sarah J. McNeal

I didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers like so many kids did. Lucky them. Even if he had been on TV when I was a kid I still wouldn’t have had the chance to see him because we didn’t have TV except those transient times when Mom found some second hand TV for $5 or $10 that only lasted a week or two. But for those of you who were fortunate enough to get to know him, I am so happy for you.
Fred Rogers was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1928. He didn’t sail through his childhood on some magic carpet. Like most of us, he suffered some emotional setbacks. Kids made fun of him because he was overweight and he did not make friends easily. Mostly, he was alone and somewhat shy and introverted. In high school a life changing circumstance happened to him. He worked with a football hero who was, naturally very popular. Their relationship grew and they became lifelong friends. Because of their association, Fred became accepted by his classmates and began to move out of his shell. He began to be a positive influence on others.

His first experience watching TV had a negative effect on him. He watched as two men threw pies in each other’s face. Fred thought that was so demeaning for anyone to do and for children to watch such a thing. Though his goal in life was to become a theologian, he had several jobs working in TV studios which gave him some great ideas about what he really wanted to do to help kids—kids who were poor or picked on, or sad, or treated with disregard by even their parents.

He did become a Presbyterian minister. But then circumstances and opportunities came his way so that he became the director of a children’s TV program. He didn’t like being the center of the show, but he used the opportunity to change the way we talk to kids and taught a great message of quiet kindness and showed people how to listen to children. He wasn’t entertainment, he was a teacher using puppets and his authentic self to show kids how to love and accept others.

His mother made sweaters to give to charity and for the war effort. Every sweater he wore on his show was a sweater knit by his mother’s hands—300 sweaters total. He was a vegetarian because he didn't want to eat "something that had a mother."
Now that I know about this extraordinary, humble, and kind man who was the same person off camera as he was on, I am going to incorporate his ideals into my own life as much as I can. I know I can never measure up to his standards, but I want to work on it.

Did you grow up with Mister Rogers? What did you think of him? Did you change in any way from his influence?
Diverse stories filled with heart

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

HOLLOW HEART #Blog-A-Book-Scene#TheWildingsSeries by Sarah J. McNeal

Blog-a-Book-Scene is a monthly themed blogging endeavor from a group of authors who love to share excerpts from their stories. You can find us at #PrairieRosePub @PrairieRosePub
February's Theme: Love Letters
March's Theme: Kidnapping


Madeline Andrews is a grown up orphan. Sam Wilding made her feel part of his life, his family and swore he’d come home to her when the war ended, but he didn’t return. With the Valentine’s Ball just days away, the Wildings encourage Madeline to move forward with her life and open her heart to the possibilities. But Madeline is lost in old love letters and can’t seem to let go.

Madeline folded the letter and slipped it back into its envelope. Her heart ached as she put the envelope back into the box. She placed it with reverence on her dresser beside the picture of Sam and her, laughing into the sun on that beautiful summer day, years ago. She twisted the gold ring with the little heart-shaped ruby around her left ring finger. Sam had given it to her the day he left for deployment to Europe. He said it was a promise ring. The ring would remind her of his love, his promise to return, and his pledge to wed her when the war ended. A sigh escaped her. None of his promises had come true.

“C’mon, fess up. I can tell you’ve been reading those old letters and digging up misery again, haven’t you?”
Madeline sighed as she collapsed in the chair opposite Juliet. “Yes. I confess.” She smoothed out the skirt of her dress and avoided Juliet’s gaze. “I can’t help it. It’s just so hard to believe he might really be gone, that he may never come back.” She swallowed against the rising tide of emotions gathering in her throat. “I feel so empty inside, as if someone has hollowed out my heart with a pocket knife. I can’t imagine my life without him in it. If I just knew he was alive and in the world somewhere, I could bear it.”
Juliet reached over and patted Madeline’s hand in comfort. “You have to stop this, Madeline. Somehow, you have to come up with the courage to go on with your life. I want you to go to the Valentine’s dance and just open up to the possibility that there may be a Mr. Right out there for you besides Sam. If you don’t, you’re going to wither away into a crone like that old Mrs. Havisham in her wedding dress with her dried up wedding cake in Great Expectations.
“What are you suggesting I do?”
“Go to the Valentine Ball. Just go and dance a little.”
Madeline stood and walked to the window to stare out at the white landscape below. “What earthly good would that do?”
Juliet left her chair to join Madeline at the window. “You’re too young and beautiful to closet yourself away like some old hermit. You need to get dressed up, fix your gorgeous, wavy black hair, put on some lipstick and enjoy a dance or two with some handsome men. God knows, there’re plenty of cowboys to go around, here in Hazard.”

Joey glanced through the kitchen window at the snow falling in the yard. “I’ll do it right away. I wouldn’t want any of Dad’s patients sliding off the road into the ditch. When Mom and Juliet come home, they’ll need a clear road, too. I’d feel terrible if anything happened to them.” He turned back to Madeline and took the broom and bucket of cleaning supplies from her and followed her down the steps to his father’s office. “Did Juliet talk you into going to the Valentine Ball?”
Madeline smiled. “Who could resist the persuasive powers of Juliet Wilding? It’s like trying to take down a brick wall with a wooden spoon.” They both laughed.
“I’m glad. It won’t be so bad, and I can tell you for a fact all my cousins will be standing in line for a dance. Before you’ve had a dance with those idiots, I’ll take a turn first, before you’ve suffered too much damage. Hope you don’t mind some broken toes. None of us can dance worth a hoot.”
“Thank you, Joey. It makes me feel better to know I’ll be surrounded by men who are like brothers to me.” Madeline gave him a friendly swat on the arm.
“You can count on us to get you into trouble or get you out.” He spoke as he headed back up the steps toward the kitchen. “Well, guess I better get on a warm coat and hat and get out to the tractor. Get busy with those mops and brooms, girl; daylight’s wasting.” With a chuckle, he disappeared beyond the kitchen door.


Diverse stories filled with heart

Thursday, February 14, 2019

In Honor of Mars Rover Opportunity #TheWildingSeries#FarewellOpportunity By Sarah J. McNeal

In 2004 the United States sent twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, to Mars on a 90 day mission to discover if water ever existed on the red planet. Soon after their arrival, Spirit and Opportunity parted ways to explore opposite ends of Mars and gather all the data possible about the landscape, rocks, and soil. A wealth of photographs and important information began to flood into NASA. An ancient volcano was discovered and, beneath a layer of red dust, silica. Silica is an extremely important find because it indicates there was once hot springs of salty, sulfuric water made acidic by volcanic eruptions. Though most likely alive with microbes in the beginning, it did not have the necessary elements to support a higher evolutionary climb. Expecting only 90 days to gather data, the scientists worked as quickly as possible to learn all they could. They felt the solar panels on the rovers would cover with dust and block them from recharging from sunlight. Turns out, there is wind on Mars and the wind swept away the dusty layer on the panels.

In 2010 Spirit faltered and went silent. The scientist tried to revive her, but turned to Opportunity when they could not get Spirit to wake up. Well, Opportunity turned out to be quite a champion. He worked and worked and worked over the years and the scientific community began to think he would never die as they collected the invaluable information from the mechanical little soldier.

Then, in June 2018 a global dust storm overtook the planet and rover Opportunity was buried under the dust. Still, scientists hoped he would revive so they waited and waited for a recovery. Opportunity never replied to any of their commands after that. 

At the end of the night on Tuesday Dr. Callas phoned operators of a radio dish in Australia, part of the network that NASA uses to communicate with its interplanetary voyagers.

He thanked them for 15 years of work with Spirit and Opportunity, and said he was now signing off.
“There had been a lot of talking and laughing and whatnot between crying and hugging,” Dr. Harrison said. “As soon as that moment happened, it just went silent.”

On February 13, 2019, Opportunity’s mission official ended. The last message sent to Opportunity was a song, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” sung by Billie Holiday in an original recording. Opportunity did not reply. When I heard that song played on NPR radio as a last farewell to the brave rover, Opportunity, I have to confess, I broke down and cried.

Link to Billie Holiday singing "I'll Be Seeing You"

On a positive note, NASA plans to send another rover, a more sophisticated one that can analyze mineral content to Mars in 2020. I have missed the hope, knowledge, and excitement of space program since it ended. But at least we have rovers and dedicated scientists still exploring the unknown.
Are you a science enthusiast? Do you miss the space program? Were you sad to learn of Opportunity’s death? What are your thoughts about future adventures to explore space?

Diverse stories filled with heart

Sunday, February 03, 2019


Here we are in the deep freeze IN THE United States right now and although Charlotte isn’t getting any snow this year, back in 1960 in March of all months, it snowed—I mean really SNOWED—every Wednesday for three weeks in a row. Well, I was a kid back then and in the south we don’t go to school if someone even smells snow. So, the neighborhood kids, my sister, and I had a pretty dang good holiday that year.

But let’s face it, kids all holed up in the house for three seeks must be a pain for moms who, by the way in those days were mostly stay at home moms. We were all HIGHLY encouraged to go outside and play.
Luckily, my Yankee parents had some delightful sleds that suddenly became the center of the neighborhood kids’ attention. We had a huge hill and two sleds so, hello fun times. The really great thing about the snow that year was that it was also extremely cold. So all day the snow only melted enough so that overnight it froze into an ice sheet over the top of the snow making a nice slick, sled riding highway. Good thing, too, because we had already built all those snowmen and tried to kill each other with snowballs the first day. The snow was hard on top after that with the icy layer so we couldn’t build any more snow people or throw snowballs anymore.

I’m certain our parents were happy since all of us kids were occupied with sledding all day, we only came in for lunch or to warm our hands and back outside we went. I actually got a snow tan. Pop came out with me once and we rode down the hill together. His skills at sledding had faded so we crashed and burned spilling both of us off the sled. But that just added to the special memories for me.
I don’t recall ever having that kind of snow here again, but I remember that time with great joy.
The official climate report:

March 1960 remains the snowiest month on record in Charlotte.

How crazy was that March? It was and still is the snowiest month on record in Charlotte with 19.5” of snow for the entire month. That’s snowier than any other month including December, January and February. Even more, 1960 is the snowiest year on record in Charlotte as well. With 22.9”  of snowfall and 19.3” of that falling in March alone.

It was very cold as well!

It’s amazing to think that one month outside of Winter in one year can still be the record holder for snowfall in Charlotte.  Not only was it snowy it was frigid. The March of 1960 was the coldest March on record by 3.4°, and it was an astounding 11.5° below average.
There is good reason that so many people who were here remember the March of 1960. It will remain one the coldest and snowiest periods in the history of the area. For more information on that crazy March here is a great write-up that the National Weather Service Office in Greer, SC did in 2010. That was the 50 year anniversary of the memorable March.

For those of who were raised here during that time, do you remember that weird March in Charlotte? What did y’all do for fun? Now I know some of you experience this kind of winter weather every year where you live. Do you like that kind of snow that gets so hard on top you can walk on it? How did you spend your time as kids in winter? What about right now—are any of you living where this weather has gotten into the sub-zero category? Have you lost power? By the way, do you have a backup plan for power outages? What are you doing to amuse yourselves during this weather? What is the most memorable time from your childhood about winter weather?

 Charlotte Past And Present Face Book Page is a great place to check out pictures and stories of historical events here in Charlotte, NC just in case you might be interested.

3 Wednesdays graph in Charotte, NC 1960

Diverse stories filled with heart

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Yesterday I watched a new release on Netflix titled VOYAGER. I expected it to have some exciting facts and images, and I certainly was not disappointed, but I also got something unexpected.

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched a month apart in 1977, their mission to send back pictures and data on Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune including the moons that orbit them. From there the two spacecraft would continue to travel out into interstellar space beyond our solar system into the great unknown. We will receive information from Voyager 1&2 for many years to come because they have nuclear batteries powering them.

Jupiter's Moon, IO

All of this scientific data is enough to excite us Earth-bound humans, but Voyager 1 has on board something very special, something that the scientist, Carl Sagan envisioned and included that will carry humanity into the stars in immortality.

The Golden Record

Carl Sagan made a golden record of Earth sounds, of animal sounds, a variety of music from classic, to jazz, to rock, and music from other countries around the world. A message of “Greetings from planet Earth” spoken by adults and children in many languages was recorded on the golden record. Sagan also included images of humans and a map to Earth using pulsars.

The Arrow shows the last picture of Earth from Voyager 1 

Voyager will be out there still traveling with humanity’s thumbprint long after all life on Earth has disappeared and our sun has turned into a red giant. And maybe somewhere, sometime if other intelligent beings are out there, they will find Voyager and discover that there was a planet named Earth where once life abounded and human beings reached out to say, “Hello, we were here.”

Diverse stories filled with heart