At a young age, Betty McKee had a dream of writing a book.
Now, 81, the Cornelius author is finishing up her fourth, though she only took up writing less than 20 years ago.
Her husband, Fabius, planted the idea in her head.
"Why not aim for the stars or shoot for the moon," he once told her. "Why not write a book?"
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Fabius founded McKee Insulation Company Inc. in 1956, which still operates off Statesville Road in Charlotte. Betty has lived on Lake Norman since 1968.
Prior to conquering writing, she stayed busy with other pursuits - always to the extreme, and always with a reasonable level of skill. She's painted large Lake Norman sunsets on canvas. She's sewn three-piece suits, a tux once, pageant dresses, and a lot of her family's clothes. She taught cross-stitching.
Often she'd just give her creations away.
She shrugs off her current endeavor, saying writing is just her talent at the moment.
"The way I write is like you and I are sitting here having a cup of coffee or glass of iced tea, and I'm telling you a story," she said.
All of her books are self-published and based on true events, she said.
Her first book, "House of Cards," is a murder-mystery involving her husband's nephew, who was poisoned with arsenic by his wife. She attended the actual court proceedings.
Her second book, "Letter To My Grandchildren," is about her family's history and lineage leading up to her own life. The book ends when she marries her husband.
Her third book, "Color Me Khaki," is story about her nephew, Roscoe Hoyle Freeze Jr. Called "John Doe" in the book, he was born in Mooresville and died at 62 in 2001 due to complications from diabetes.
The book is based on his 20-year military career, which included being a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He endured daily torture for more than a year before he escaped and went on to become a decorated and respected soldier, McKee writes in the book.
Her current book, "Rocking Chair Reflections," is a collections of short stories and poems about her life with her husband. She doesn't plan on publishing her last book, but will give it to family members - if she finishes it.
"I don't know, when I get tired of something, I just quit," she said. "But anything I do is big. I don't know how to do anything small. But when I quit something, I might just quit in the middle of it."
McKee is a self-described stubborn, tough woman. She provided the voice for her first two books on tape.
She lives by two philosophies: "If you'll let me be me and like me anyway, I'll let you be you and like you anyway," she said. The other: "As long as I can look in the mirror and like who I see, I'm alright."
But that's not to say, she has it figured out.
"I'm an enigma even to my own self," she said. "I don't even know me."
She has seven grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. She had three kids; her oldest died.
"My husband used to say death is not for sissies, and it's not," she said.
"It takes a sense of humor. You gotta have a sense of humor. I've lived a full life. I've been up and down, and over and under, and in and out - just like Frank Sinatra, but I've done it my way. That is me."
McKee's proudest aspect of "Color Me Khaki" is how it opened a door of forgiveness for her nephew.
The book took her about two years to write. She filled five notebooks during daily interviews that went on for months.
"We sat at his kitchen table, and he'd just start telling me facts and I'd write them down," said McKee. "There were times he'd begin to cry. He'd get upset and say, 'Will God ever forgive me for what I did over there, for the people I killed over there?'
"And I'd put my arm around him and say, 'Oh, Bub, you were being a good soldier. You didn't kill those people because you wanted to kill them. You were just being a good soldier. God forgives you and I forgive you.'"
David Christie, McKee's minister at her former church in Mount Mourne, told her if the book didn't make any money, at least it helped her nephew.
"Before, he refused to discuss anything about the Army, Vietnam or his capture," the minister told McKee, she said. "Now you've opened the door and I can help him.
"It was a healing process for him. By me forgiving Bub, it meant something to him. Then he could accept that God could forgive him."
Some of Freeze's military career highlights outlined in the book include a long stint working with military police, escorting Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz back to the U.S. after the Olympic compound in Munich, Germany, was bombed in 1972; and leading 120 undercover agents in one of the biggest drug busts in history (at the time) in Frankfurt, Germany.
More than 500 people were arrested; officials seized $8.4 million in drugs.
Freeze left the Army in 1975 when he was 37, McKee says in the book, and the day before his honorable discharge, a parade was held in his honor. There were more than 500 men, tanks, jeeps, trucks, and he even got a cannon salute.
She has sent hundreds of copies of the book overseas through the United Service Organization, a congressionally charged nonprofit organization that connects the public to the U.S. military in 130 countries.
She continues to get thank-you letters through the USO about how her book has provided hope and inspiration to those serving overseas.