Michele Roldan-Shaw grew-up in Long Beach, Wash., but spent months at a time visiting her mom in Sequim while and after attending The Evergreen State College. In about 2003, Roldan-Shaw recalls getting her true start and only formal training in the field of journalism with the Sequim Gazette.
After gaining some professional experience, Roldan-Shaw took her newly learned skills and put them to the test as a freelance writer in South Carolina.
For the past four years, Roldan-Shaw has taken her passion for storytelling document her experiences while traveling around the South. The ongoing project she refers to as, “Rambler’s Life,” has since developed into both a means of living and way of life for the self-published writer.
Roldan-Shaw is back in Sequim for a few weeks and will host a public reading where she’ll share some of the stories from “Rambler’s Life,” including “true adventure tales about traveling around the South,” Roldan-Shaw said. “Crazy characters of the Cajun bayou, Memphis ghetto, Georgia cotton fields, Mississippi juke joints and Florida tangles come to life in this performance.”
The reading is intended to be interactive, fun and engaging, Roldan-Shaw said.
“I was in the (Great) Smoky Mountains of North Carolina on a road trip, on a ‘ramble,’ and I wanted to do some gem mining and I heard that was a good area. Not having anything else to go, on I picked the mine farthest from town, thinking it would be the most authentic. They told me you pay $30 to dig all day and you keep whatever you find so I decided to come back in the morning to get my money’s worth because the day was almost over.
I asked if there was anywhere to camp nearby. A guy standing nearby was like, ‘Well shoot, you can camp at my place and we won’t charge you nothing and we got real flushing toilets.’
I then made the snap decision that you’re forced to make while you’re on the road. Because I believe in the kindness of strangers and I am used to just going on my gut. I followed him home on a road called Sugar Fort. We get to his trailer and another fella comes out, and I think, ‘Oh boy, now I am outnumbered.’ The other fella was a big stocky, bear-looking guy, but had a baby face, and was real sweet looking – His name was Todd. Anyway, we just all sat out on their porch drinking beer and they both turned out as cool as can be and we hit it off. We later parted the best of friends and I wrote a really cool story about them. They said if I ever come back to Franklin they would show me ‘real-deal gem mining.’
I kept their offer in the back of my head as the year continued and I did other rambles and writing projects and worked on the sequel to my first book.
I just couldn’t shake the thought of all the stuff Todd and Keith (men Roldan-Shaw stayed with while in Franklin, N.C.) had promised me if I came back. I couldn’t turn Keith up, but I did manage to razz Todd out and wouldn’t you know a beautiful friendship was forged. He (Todd) was now like, ‘Yeah come on, I’ll take you to Chunky Gal and we’ll do this and do that’ and he was now manager of the mine, Mason’s Ruby and Sapphire Mine – the name of the place I originally went.
I spent about a week just camping at the mine. It then turned out he (Todd) took me to meet the moonshiners and it was like a whole tribe of moonshiners that didn’t really take too good to me at first… as you can imagine given I was a journalist coming into the area, but I played it super cool with my little backpack and composition book … trying to look as non-threatening as possible. People from Appalachia, and especially moonshiners, have that reputation of being very closed-off to outsiders, so I had an uphill battle, especially with the daughter of the moonshiner.
One evening wears on and the family tells me all these tales about the basement and it being the place where Daddy would take anyone who wanted to date one of us girls. If they (the potential suitor) came out of the basement with their dignity still, then they could date us and all the such tales. Then they asked if I wanted to go check out the basement, and I said well, ‘sure.’ So they took me down to the basement and showed me where he (Daddy) makes wine and shine. Daddy was happy to talk, but Mama was all anxious about it, and Daddy showing me the still was just too much for her to handle and she came down there and said, ‘I’ve got a son in Georgia that investigates frauds,’ and I just looked at her and said ‘Ma’am, luckily for us there is absolutely nothing about me that is fraudulent’ and after that she completely backed down and she told me there was a bed down here and she had just put clean sheets on it and I was welcome to stay there anytime.
I came there to hear their story and to appreciate the people for who they are, and not sensationalize them whatever their livelihoods might be. I was just there to talk to them, human to human.
I forgot my backpack that night, so I went back and decided to leave my notebook in the truck because I told myself, ‘Today is the day I am not a reporter, but just a friend.’ (Angie, the moonshiner’s daughter) told me, ‘You know … you really never know the impact you have on people. That was the most I’ve heard Daddy talk in years. You got him to tell his stories and I have to thank you for that.’
To relinquish one’s fears and just open up and see the good in people and let them respond in a positive way is what it’s all about. There’s something about being a young, female, solitary traveler that makes me a victim, but I’ve found 100 percent of the time so far that doesn’t not make me a victim, but a recipient of kindness. I allow people to show their best side and then if that’s not already great enough, I then get to write about it and tell this story that people are cool.
If you just treat people with dignity, kindness and respect and you don’t judge them and you can accept them as they are, you’ll have wonderful experiences with people and that is one of the major things I try to draw out in my writing.”
Everyone has a story and now they have a place to tell it. Verbatim is a first-person column that introduces you to your neighbors as they relate in their own words some of the difficult, humorous, moving or just plain fun moments in their lives. It’s all part of the Gazette’s commitment as your community newspaper. If you have a story for Verbatim, contact editor Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.