Mom, why would anybody buy unsanitary napkins?


When I was in junior high school, I saw an ad in one of Mother’s women’s magazines for Kotex and was curious why ads for sanitary napkins always showed young women out playing sports instead of sitting around the dinner table.

Mother was washing pans in the sink when I walked into the kitchen and said, “Mom, why would anybody ever buy an unsanitary napkin?” She dropped the pan, turned around as white as a ghost and shouted “What?”

“I saw a Kotex ad for sanitary napkins and wondered if they thought other brands were unsanitary.”

“These are special napkins for women,” she said.

“Is that what y’all use when you go to a tea or have cakes while playing bridge?”

Mom was swaying a bit, possibly remembering it was just a week earlier when I asked her what the word “shit” meant. I learned that she apparently didn’t know but that it was a curse word we didn’t use in our family.

“Absolutely not.”

“They’re for rich people, then?”

“Rich and poor, I’d say.”

“Does grandma use them?”

“Listen, under no circumstances are you to ask your grandmother about sanitary napkins,” she snapped.

“So, saying sanitary napkin is sort of like saying “shit”?

“If you treat the words that way, I will be eternally grateful. Suffice it say, sanitary napkins are especially packaged like Band-Aids so that folks will know they’re germ free.”

“The ad said they’re fail proof. Is that what you need if you’re really messy and keep spilling gravy on the table cloth?”

Mother sat down and put her head in her hands, inadvertently putting her elbows in a spot of grease that hadn’t been wiped off the table yet.

“Now, look what I’ve done to my best blouse.”

“If there are any Kotex in the pantry, I can bring you one and we’ll see just how good they are.”

“No, but thanks for asking,” she said with an unexpected trace of a smile. “Now go do your homework and don’t use the words ‘sanitary napkin” in front of your father or brothers.”

“It’s like shit, right, but a more powerful curse?”

“Someday you’ll be a father and when one of your sons asks you what the words ‘sanitary napkin’ mean, I hope you’ll remember this conversation and what you put me through.”

“I will, Mom,” I said, realizing that I felt less informed after asking the question.



How often do you re-read your old books?

  1. Never because I don’t know where they are.
  2. Once in a while whenever I can get them away from the dog.
  3. Whenever I find then hidden at the houses of friends who “borrowed” them.
  4. Are you crazy, who has time to re-read old books when so many new books are published?
  5. Whenever my stack of new books runs out and the next Amazon shipment is days away.

My answer to this hastily thrown together set of questions is #5. When I read a great book the first time, I think, “I’ll remember all of this forever.” When I re-read it ten or twenty years later, I’m amazed at how much I’d forgotten.

Biltmore House Library

Returning to a favorite book is like having a new conversation with an old friend. I don’t re-read books as often as literature professors because many of them read books again every time they teach them in a course. While some literary criticism is interesting, I seldom read it, even when it focuses on the books on my selves I like the best. I don’t like being skewed away from my impressions of a book over time by reading what others have said them.

My favorite room at Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore House is the library. My library wouldn’t look this good because I buy mostly paperbacks. They don’t wear as well or look as nice on shelves that climb all the way to the ceiling. As it turns out, some of my paperbacks are so old that the pages fall out when I read them. Suffice it to say “Perfect Binding” (the style used for most paperbacks) isn’t perfect. The glue deteriorates over time.

I’ve probably re-read this series of novels more often than any other. Fortunately, my copy isn’t as beaten up as this old edition on Amazon.

I doubt that any of my old books are worth a lot of money, so you won’t see my name attached to a newsworthy sale of a book at a famous auction house. In addition to the favorites I’ve owned for years, the most dear are those that were once owned by my parents or grandparents. They speak to other times and other places, but re-reading them occasionally is almost like a psychic experience because my imagination tells me what my relatives thought and felt when they once read the words I’m seeing years later.

Every time I re-read a book, I discover something new about the story or about me. Sometimes I remember where I was when I first read it. Sometimes I’m disappointed because I no longer like the story and I see that I’ve changed from the person I was when I thought it was the best thing I read “that year.” However, the books I turn to again and again are always a special pleasure because through luck or magic or the author’s skill, they have kept their excitement, sense and relevance.

Perhaps some of you have found some of the same things to be true whenever you took an old book off a shelf and enjoyed it again.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sun Singer,” “Sarabande,” “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire,” “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Mountain Song,” and “At Sea” in addition to numerous Kindle short stories.



Summer Sale – Two Free Books


To celebrate the arrival of summer, my companion novels Mountain Song and At Sea are free on Kindle June 22 through June 26.

Mountain Song

David Ward lives in the Montana mountains where his life was impacted by his medicine woman grandmother and his utilitarian grandfather. Anne Hill suffered through childhood abuse and ultimately moved in with her aunt on the edge of a Florida swamp. Their summer romance at a mountain resort hotel surprises both of them. But can they make it last after the initial passion wears off and they return to their college studies far apart from each other especially after an attack on a college street changes Anne forever?

At Sea

Even though he wanted to dodge the draft in Canada or Sweden, David Ward joined the navy during the Vietnam War. He ended up on an aircraft carrier. Unlike the pilots, he couldn’t say he went in harm’s way unless he counted the baggage he carried with him. As it turned out, those back home were more dangerous than enemy fire.


Malcolm R. Campbell is also the author of Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman.

Glacier Park and Flathead Forest to Expand Visitor Use Research


from NPS Glacier National Park

WEST GLACIER, MT. – This summer, Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest are expanding visitor use monitoring efforts to better understand use along the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River.

Flathead River – Wikipedia photo

For the past five years, Glacier National Park has been collecting data on trail, and road use along the Going-to-the-Sun Road and surrounding trails. This year, with a donation from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, monitoring will expand to the river and several other places within the park. The Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park both manage segments of the North Fork and Middle Fork of the Flathead Wild and Scenic River. The other locations to be monitored include the North Fork, Two Medicine, Many Glacier, Goat Haunt, and Belly River.

The data, collected by the University of Montana, has been valuable to Glacier National Park as visitation has increased dramatically. With several years of data in hand, the park can now better inform visitors about how to plan their trips with crowding in mind, and also make educated decisions about where to station staff to best meet park needs.

“For the last few years, we have heard at our annual meetings with North Fork residents that river use seems to be increasing,” said Flathead National Forest Supervisor Chip Weber. “This information will allow us to better understand how much, where and when use is occurring. It will help us to better plan for proper facilities and management.”

“This is the sort of thing we could not do alone,” said Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow. “With the expertise from the University of Montana and the financial support of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, we are conducting cutting edge research about the way our public lands are used here in northwest Montana.”

Monitoring technology used in the park and now expanded to the Flathead National Forest along the Flathead Wild and Scenic River include: tube counters placed along roads and trails, and camera counters that enable the calibration of mechanical counters and estimation of river use levels.

The data collected will better help the park and forest understand visitor use outside the Going-to-the-Sun Road Corridor, including the Flathead Wild and Scenic River. This information will establish baseline visitor use numbers which in turn will inform future planning efforts such as a Backcountry/Wilderness Stewardship plan for the park, and a joint Flathead Comprehensive River Management Plan for the park and forest.

Florida Swamps: no, ducks don’t smoke duckweed


It’s easy to overlook this as well as the gators that might be hiding it it.

When you drive past a Florida swamp, it’s easy to see the duckweed without seeing the duckweed for it often covers the surface completely.

Swamp plants are classified as submersed, immersed, and free floating. As a group, they’re referred to as aquatic macrophytes to distinguish them from algae. All of them are large enough to be seen by the naked eye. Florida’s varieties of duckweed are included in the free floating group:

  • Water Meal (Wolffia columbiana) the world’s smallest flowering plant is a duckweed variety
  • Duckweed (Lemna valdiviana)
  • Giant Duckweed (Spirodela polyrhiza)

Even though private property owners are often at war with the duckweed that covers the surfaces of their ponds, the plant has more protein in it than soybeans. It’s eaten by waterfowl, can be skimmed off the surface and fed to cattle, and humans consume it in some parts of the world. It also “cleans the water” of farm and industrial waste.

Water Meal and Giant Duckweed – wikipedia photo

Ansel Oommen writes in The Incredible, Magical Properties of the Ugly Duckweed “the common duckweed provides an almost magical solution [to water pollution]. Duckweeds are natural super-filters, sucking up minerals and organic nutrients from the water, which then accumulate into the plants’ biomass. This process, called bioremediation, is not only safe, but effective. Central to the duckweeds’ success is their ability to grow at a rapid rate and hence, their ability to consume large quantities of contaminants such as ammonia, lead, and arsenates. In fact, duckweeds can double their weight in one to two days under ideal conditions.”

It’s often hard to convince those who see duckweed as a habitat-choking, invasive pest that there are benefits to it, including potential use as a biofuel.

Why do I read about duckweed? It’s in the Florida Panhandle swamps where I grew up, and Eulalie and Lena, two of the characters in my Florida Folk Magic series of novels see it and (in the work in progress) have to contend with it.

I love tromping around in the swamps and leafing through the stack of reference books that remind me what everything is–and whether it will attack me. As far as I know, ducks don’t dry it and smoke it in order to fly.



Maymont Mansion: Richmond’s Gilded Age Treasure


Maymont is a Victorian estate and public park created by Richmond lawyer and philanthropist James H. Dooley and his wife Sallie between 1890 and 1893. Like Ashville, North Carolina’s larger Biltmore House, Maymony featured electricity, central heat, plumbing, indoor bathrooms, and expansive, well-kept grounds. Maymont also includes an indoor/outsoor nature center featuring wildlife associated with the James River. When the Dooleys died, the estate was left to the City of Richmond.

We enjoyed our visit to Maymond last week. It was an oasis of calm in a busy city. The main floor and upper floors of the mansion are seen via a guided tour. The basement, which contains kitchens, laundry, and servant’s quarters, has a self-guided tour. Our rental car didn’t have a GPS system. Without one, finding Maymont was a bit tricky. It was easy to get near the estate by driving west on Meadow. Signs directed one in Maymont’s general direction, but in following them we ended up in a labyrinth of neighborhood and public park roads, many of which had no street signs, with no additional Maymont signs suggesting when or where to turn.

“During the Gilded Age of the late 1880s through the 1910s—the era of Carnegie, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt —millionaires demonstrated their prosperity through their elaborate homes. Richmond-born financier James Dooley was among this new class in American society. His home, Maymont, stands today as a remarkably complete expression of Gilded Age luxury and opulence.” – Maymont website.

Once there, be prepared to walk from the front gate to the house and out buildings. From the lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets, it appears that many locals visit the estate as a place to get away from it all.

“Whether strolling through the gardens, touring the mansion, watching river otters play, petting a goat or picnicking on the lawn, Maymont is a gift of 100 acres given for all to enjoy.”

Japanese Garden – Wikipedia photo. The other photographs in this post are by Malcolm R. Campbell.

On TripAdvisor, Maymont has 1,458 reviews with an overal average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Comments on the site today include “Maymont is gorgeous and is situated on historic grounds. It is family friendly and its animal farm is terrific for kids and adults. The Japanese gardens are beautiful and the coy pond is always clean and spectacular. My children (now grown) have taken me to Maymont for the past 23 years for Fathers day and we’re still going” from John and “I’ve been visiting care since I was a little girl. And now we bring our kids here. The estate is sprawling and gorgeous. And one of my favorite parts is there’s no admission. That means that you can pay what you were able to. This makes it accessible for the whole community.  There are so many storybook picture-perfect views: looking down the cascade waterfall in the Italian garden, underneath the enormous trees near the carriage house, crossing the stepping stones in the Japanese gardens, the stream near the foxes… always something new to discover and so much room for the kids to really stretch their legs, play and explore. We hope to visit for generations to come!” from Orexi.

I agree with their assessments.

“Maymont is home to hundreds of animals including mighty black bears, iconic American bald eagles, playful river otters and friendly goats. Many animals can be seen at the Maymont Farm, Nature Center and wildlife exhibits, and others are important members of the environmental education team, participating in public and school programs.” Click here for more information about the nearby nature center.



One can spend hours enjoying the grounds and statuary.

After walking around Washington, D.C. for several days prior to heading down I-95 for Richmond and stopping by Civil War Battlefields en route, we were tired by the time we got to Maymont. In fact, we were exhausted. While the estate lifted our spirits, we were too wiped out to see everything. I hope we have time to go back.


The dead do not whisper at historic battlefields


Jackson Shrine near Fredericksburg

Stonewall Jackson died of pneumonia May 10, 1863, at Guinea Station, Virginia, VA. eight days after being wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville. He probably would have survived the wounds–ironically from “friendly fire”–had the pneumonia not stricken him as he lay in a bed in this house which Lesa and I visited near Fredericksburg several days ago. The house was an outbuilding on the former Chandler Plantation and is preserved today at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

His bed is there now, and it is not a quiet one.

We didn’t have time to visit the Chancellorsville battlefield, but did tour the battlefields at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. There was a light drizzle most of the day. A fitting day, I supposed, to visit hallowed ground where so many were killed in 1862 and 1864. Lesa was a history major with an emphasis on the Civil War. We have both read fiction and nonfiction about the war as well as viewing documentaries such as the very memorable one produced by Ken Burns.


Battlefield Sign

As we walked the site of a nasty engagement at Spotsylvania called The Bloody Angle, we acknowledged that in spite of what we knew before we went there, standing there and reading the signs brought home a host of emotions about the death, fear, horror, resignation, bravery, determination and hope that were felt by the men who died and survived on that patch of ground a century and a half ago.

I don’t see how a writer of either fiction or nonfiction can write about an even without visit these historic sites. To varying degrees, we can sense the dead, hear their voices where they died. Like everyone, writers mourn the dead, the lives stopped in midstream often in moments of terror and pain. But we also mourn the living. The dead are here no more, resting in peace, we hope, but the living carry their memories of the dead and continue to suffer greatly for years and lifetimes. Better to die in the war, I’ve always thought, than to be the child or the spouse of the soldier who died in the war.

Stonewall Jackson’s wife Mary Anna visited him on his death bed in this house and subsequently lived until 1915. She suffered, I think, longer than he did. If I were to write a Civil War novel that included Stonewall Jackson, I would be listening for Mary Anna’s voice, too.