“He didn’t tell me how to live;
he lived, and let me watch him do it.”

Clarence Budington Kelland, 1882-1964

Feb. 2004

Dear Dad,

I’ve told you before but not often enough how proud I am of you and how much I love you and who you are and what you have done for me. So much of who I am today is because of you — from listening to your wise counsel over the years, yes, but mostly from watching you in action. I suppose all those years of playing with your office equipment and supplies and writing notes all over your office with your cool pens helped lead me to where I am now professionally. As I organize things, delegate jobs and direct projects, I also glimpse you and your leadership skills rising up in me. Your cool-headedness under pressure and the ability to look at things logically and pragmatically, yet with a touch of compassion and heart, is what I probably value the most. All those years growing up, I always knew you were the real softie!

I also watched you over the years go through challenging experiences and deal with difficult circumstances. You taught me that life isn’t fair and life is difficult, but that isn’t reason to make excuses or blame the world — you keep plugging away and do the best with what you have, and cherish the small moments of life and love your family and serve your church and honor your God and don’t give up on any of those things even when sometimes they seem to give up on you.

Thank you for the sacrifices you have made over the years and continue to make for your family. I know you sacrificed a lucrative career and worldly goods for us. And then you struggled over the years to provide for us in a way that didn’t take you away from us. Thank you for that. Please know that we never once went without the most important things in life — the love of two parents who loved us and put us first in their lives, and the many, many, many wonderful family memories that will last forever. I am thankful now that we didn’t have fancy cars or fancy clothes or fancy vacations. We have fancy memories of a family that loves each other.

We had the coolest family vacations — hiking, camping, canoeing, visiting historical sights — and enjoyed the best times together…and continue to do so. All these things, and so many more that I could write a book about, make you a wonderful Christ-like man and the best father for ME. And one of the things that I thank you for the most is the way that you adore my mother. Nothing speaks more loudly about your Christ-like example and compassion than the partnership you have with Mom and the family that together you have dedicated your lives to.

I thank God daily for you and for allowing me to continue to be blessed by your wisdom and wit and wonderful unconditional love. Thank you for living Christ and letting me see His face in your life so often throughout my life.

I love you.




“Imagine loving yourself. Imagine being able to enjoy who you are. Imagine not having to compare yourself to other people…And imagine being able to celebrate others! Imagine…doing your job not to prove your identity or worth but as an expression of it! Imagine knowing you have value!”

Josh Riebock
Heroes and Monsters (2012)

A Friend

A Friend

Pink Lady Slipper – Appalachian Trail, Iron Mountain NC/TN

“A friend is someone who will die to keep us from becoming anyone else, someone who fights for us against a world that is constantly trying to shrink us into shelved canisters labeled ‘how you’re supposed to be.’ A friend does everything possible to make sure we become who we are made to be — nothing less, nothing more.”

Josh James Riebock
Heroes and Monsters (2012)

20 years


“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life
which bears no relation to true immortality
but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts
in the same way as when they were alive.
It is as though they were traveling abroad.”

Marcel Proust, 1871-1922
French novelist, suffered from asthma


20 years ago today my world changed completely. I was a senior in college and for the first time I learned what death and real pain and loss and confusion were about. I lost a woman who was my best friend — an aunt whom I had adored since birth and whom I spent every weekend with when I was in college.

I had always loved and admired her tenderness, her compassion, her acceptance of the realities of life, her ability to laugh at herself and life in general, her quirky ways and love of life even when it beat her down, her recognition of beauty even in the mundane and insignificant, her intelligence, her eagerness to try new things and enjoy exploring and experiencing life and our mountains, her beautiful writings, her faithful loyalty to her family, her sisters, and her lifelong group of girlfriends, and a faith that lived simply and loved deeply. I always wanted to be like her and still do. I hope I am.

My mom (her sister) asked me the day of her funeral, “Would you give up all your memories with Aunt Toby just so you wouldn’t have to experience this pain?” Of course not. As hard as it still is, she was so worth it. And 20 years later I still walk in her footsteps and try to be like her. She’s the reason I am who I am. She’s the very essence of “beauty and wisdom from Appalachia” and the reason I’ve found my home is Tennessee. She’s the reason I’ve given my hand and heart to Milligan College (she was an alum). She’s the reason my heart aches for those less fortunate. She and my parents are the reason that today I’m a foster mother. She’s the reason I’m a lifelong learner, always striving to understand more. She’s the reason I laugh and smile and giggle — at myself, at friends, at life.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years without her. I don’t want to forget her and the lessons she taught me and I don’t want her grandchildren to not know her and all they can learn from who she was. In the days after her death (from an asthma attack at age 51), I kept a half sheet of paper with me everywhere I went and jotted down random memories of her. Each one has a story that continues to make me smile.

AUNT TOBY (Roberta Lynn Smith)
May 16, 1942 – October 21, 1993

swing * walking at Rooster Front Park after dark with Sam scaring us *
Shepherd’s Pie * cooking * chocolate chip cookies and Krispy Kreme donuts
’til we were sick * laundry, laundry, laundry * “To the only star we know” *
Pardee Hall * bleaching clothes * puppies biting our ankles *
guinea pigs * Henry (the guinea pig) peeing on me * possum poop in my hair *
her sense of direction (or lack their of) * emergency room visit *
Biltmore House * Garfield comics about dieting *
“My car! My car! Someone touched my car!” * Food Lion visits 3-4 times a weekend *
trying to use a rolled up sleeping bag as a pillow *
Mack falling off his chair at the dinner table *
“hick-a-choo fart” * “Let’s drive by my house!” * Appalachian Caverns *
Patrick Bratrick * TCBY’s & Big Lots * Stormy and his favorite past-time *
sled-riding down the driveway * trips back and forth between Milligan and Bristol *
the Knobs * Madrigal Dinners * Shamrocks * Steele Creek Park swinging bridge *
Autumn Chase Festival moonshiners * her old curlers * burning biscuits *
hearing stories over and over and still laughing every time * caring * Smith blood *
turning around and going back after the girl in my green jacket *
Gretta * midweek phone calls * her driving technique at the wheel *
“a jinx on the Jeep” * “who needs a bulldozer when you’ve got Mom in a Buick?” *
my childhood memories in Ohio, Tennessee, and Alabama
* strawberries * clarinet * worrying about James
* poems * boxes of memories * Slim-fast and a candy bar for breakfast *
doing Sam’s homework * infuriation with Ted Kennedy and politics in general *
unbuttoning top pant’s button in order to eat more * weak bladder *
taking sandwiches to the homeless guy at the park *
listening to my college stories * swinging on the tire at Aunt Pat’s *
riding/walking on the Creeper Trail * Abingdon library * White’s Mill *
animals * lack of coordination * the peacock *
joking about winning the lottery but never buying tickets *
“Let’s see—where did I put that?” * hated spiders but wouldn’t dare kill one *
watching stars and eating cookies on the hood of the car *
walks * laughing * giggling * loving



Aunt Toby