Ark Encounter

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It’s called an encounter instead of a museum for a reason. Entering the Kentucky ark made to God’s specifications for Noah of ancient days is an experience.
Whether or not you are a believer in the one true God, you couldn’t leave that ship the very same person who entered.

We went to this wonderful attraction several months ago but I’m just now writing about it. The Encounter was too rich, the information too overwhelming, to begin immediately to recount it. Friends had been there and told us about it; we had read about it; but until we experienced it ourselves we could not imagine its magnitude.

The original Noah’s ark was huge. Noah built it in a dry land midst jeers and taunts of neighbors who’d never experienced rain and thought he was crazy. He built it because God told him to. The floods came, as God had said they would, and covered the whole earth. The only people to survive were Noah’s family, eight people. The only animals to survive were those brought to Noah by God and given space in the ark, two of every kind.

You can read about the original ark and the flood that God sent in Genesis chapters six, seven, and eight. The present ark in Williamstown, Kentucky is built to the exact same specifications. God chose Noah, the only faithful man He could find, to build that first ark for the purpose of saving whoever would choose to enter the ark. God chose Ken Ham to build the life-size ark in Kentucky for the purpose of answering the many questions people have concerning this phenomenal ship.

Some of those questions are: What does two of a kind mean? How did Noah fit so many animals on that boat? What happened to all the waste? How did they have enough food? Where did the people stay?

As we entered the ark, our first reaction was one of total awe at its sheer size: in present day measurements, instead of cubits, the ark is 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. It took 3.5 million board feet of timber to build it. By the way, it is the largest timber-frame structure in the world.

As we continued to explore the three decks we saw living quarters for the four couples (Noah and his wife, their three sons and their wives), some live animals in nice roomy compartments, in other enclosures life-size animal “dummies.” We saw means of cooking, gardening, weaving, and carpentering. After all, Noah’s family lived there for 150 days! There were life-size figures, some animated and speaking, of the family members going about their daily tasks. I’d never before pictured the women cooking on the ark. I had not imagined they might have a loom for weaving, certainly not that they might grow vegetables in tubs and boxes.

All along the way there were excellent signs and charts explaining what we were seeing. Ken Ham, whose passion is to reveal God’s word to the masses, has exerted an extraordinary amount of energy, time, and funds making this knowledge available in a fun and believable setting. Every detail has been researched and explained as facts or as speculations in keeping with history.

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The engineering and workmanship of the structure is mind boggling. This ark, built to show what Noah’s was like, is also comfortable and accessible to thousands of visitors a day. The builders managed to make it where we could “peer into history” at the same time have restrooms, good lighting, long easy ramps, and even a restaurant. Noah spent 75 to 100 years building the original ark. The Ark Encounter was constructed in six years. The original ark God built with Noah’s hands was to save Noah and his family. The Kentucky ark was built with the hope of saving masses for eternity as they encounter the Creator and Redeemer God.

The story of Noah and the flood, according to Ken Ham, has been turned by many well meaning folks into a cutsie pie fairytale. Children have grown up viewing this part of the Bible as unbelievable. And if they couldn’t believe the account of the flood, then why should they believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection?

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Outside the ark we wandered around in the Ararat Zoo enjoying some unusual small and large animals–such as a water buffalo with a shaggy coat, a bearded dragon climbing his keeper’s shirt, and a huddle of ostriches. We ate in the huge buffet style restaurant before we left. The food was delicious, fresh and delightful, not left over from the flood!

Just twenty miles from the Ark Encounter is the Creation Museum. We spent a day at each attraction. It is hard to say which I would recommend you do if you could only do one. I’m leaning toward the Ark. We did the Creation Museum, then the Ark, but some started with the Ark. Whichever way you do it, allow for plenty of time. Allow one day for each one.

We were so blessed to be able to hear Ken Ham speak in person in a large auditorium. His Australian accent, his humor, and his passion for reaching crowds for Christ kept us spellbound. He addresses the age old question of where Cain got his wife and gives a wonderful lesson in genetics.

Don’t go to eastern Kentucky or to Cincinnati, Ohio without visiting one or both of these wild and wonderful attractions. Hey, they’re both kid geared too. You can even spin through space on a zip line at the Creation Museum. I wonder what Noah would think about that!

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Cotton Lady

 

IMG_1608.JPGI think the reason I feel urged to write about the one I’m calling, just for today, “Cotton Lady” is that she came to see me in a dream the other night. Her hand was warm as I drew her into my kitchen where she, another friend, and I talked about ordinary stuff, like preparations for a baby shower, or how many cups of juice it takes to make a batch of grape jelly. This might not seem like a strange dream except that the Cotton Lady has been dead for two years.

She was a caretaker. She was a baker extraordinare. She was a fun photographer, taking pictures of snakes, birds, flowers and people. She was a droll humorist finding a way to make us laugh right in the face of our problems. She enjoyed seashells, history, good movies, and mainly her family.

Those of you who knew her know by now whom I’m describing. You have your own descriptions and recollections of this ordinary and wonderful lady named Sue Hinson. The following are only my own perceptions.

I first got to know Sue when we both were part of a mission action group. Our group “adopted” two sisters at a local nursing home. We all took turns visiting them each week. After one sister died, we began taking the other one out to lunch sometimes and even having occasional little “parties.” Lottie loved the attention. Sue was right in the middle of this ministry.

When my daughter Julie became seriously affected by a neurological disease, Sue was a lifesaver. Julie was in severe pain day after day for two years while we searched for a diagnosis. Her knee “lockups” could only be relieved by sheer strength, sometimes more than I could manage alone. Her husband, Doug, took care of her at night and I took the days with Charles helping whenever he could. Sue was always ready to come and could zip over in five minutes.

Julie’s children loved Sue, especially Charles Douglas who was about five then. “Miss Sue” was really gifted at teaching and caring for little boys. One day Julie’s knees were both locked up and Charles and I together could not make them release with heat packs, therapy, and strength. We finally called 911 and promptly the ambulance arrived. When it came to going to the hospital in Tallahassee, little Charles Douglas began to cry. “I want to stay with Miss Sue. Let me stay with Miss Sue. I don’t like hospitals.” So Miss Sue had a little boy that night and Charles Douglas was happy.

Sue and her husband Cecil were members of our Sunday school class. Cecil was an excellent devil’s advocate. Whoever was teaching had to deal, from time to time, with his interesting, sometimes distracting, questions. Sue groaned aloud when Cecil began a line of questions such as whether or not Osama bin Laden could be forgiven. She would elbow Cecil and give him an evil eye, all of which spurred him on.

She pitched in to help us when folks from several churches went together in 1995 to start Grady County Baptist ESL classes. “I won’t teach,” she said, “but I’ll do just about anything else.” And she did. She rocked babies, took many pictures year after year, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, transported students, registered and placed students, and traveled every year to training conferences in Toccoa and Norman Park. All the students, even beginners who couldn’t understand English, loved Miss Sue. I looked forward to her coming to my house every year to clip baskets full of holly for decorating tables at the annual ESL Christmas fest.

Sue was the caretaker for several of her and Cecil’s family members but was ready any time to take others as well to the doctor, the hospital, or to the hairdresser. Once when I called her house Cecil answered. When I asked for Sue he said, “She’s out somewhere doing her thing. I have to make an appointment to talk to her. You know Sue.”

I did know Sue. If she wasn’t helping Cecil with their trout lily project or driving a pilot car for a special friend’s biking across Georgia, she’d be helping with a bridal shower or taking a cake to a shut-in. She made thirteen-layer cakes for youth fundraisers at our church and baked cookies by the dozens, even hundreds, always giving them away.

The “Cotton Lady” loved her family dearly. But a stranger might be puzzled by the disparagements she used when talking about her sons, Lofley and Dan. “I could have strangled him” or “Just wait till I get hold of him” or “knothead” were words and phrases that might spill out of her mouth at the same time she was baking a birthday cake for one of them or pulling out bragging pictures. She took great pride in being a part of the lives of her grandchildren, following one to far away swim meets and always practicing her photography on all of them. She watched her Cairo grandchildren grow up, then she and Cecil moved “back home” to Cotton where their son Dan and his family lived. “It’s time to concentrate on these children now,” she said.

When Cecil died, Sue went into high activity mode. “It’s the only way I can survive,” she said, hardening her chin to stop the tears.

In less than a year Sue herself was dying of cancer. One day when Barbara Payne, Jeani Pridgen and I went to see her, she didn’t feel like getting up but invited us all to pile up on the king size bed with her. We looked at old pictures laughing like college girls at a sleepover. We talked about how to preserve her trout lily photos. We talked about all her family–sons, grandchildren, sisters and all. One sister was with her that day ready to give her pain medication, plump her pillows, answer the phone. It was Sue’s turn to be cared for. A delightful young man Sue had mentored came by to see her. We all rallied around her. As I sat beside Sue that day I felt her gently rubbing my back. We were there to share this hard time with her but she was still ministering to us!

Though they’re gone from us for now, Sue and Cecil are still influencing us, still making a difference. Lofley reminds us often of Cecil, not just because of his red hair but his humor, although Lofley has his own unique way of telling tricky jokes. Every Sunday when I see him at church Lofley gives me a warm hug. When I told him I’d dreamed his mother came to visit me he said he dreams about her often.

Tennyson said, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Thank you, Lord, for friendships that bless us so richly!

By the way, readers outside southwest Georgia, Cotton is an unincorporated country crossing village near Pelham, Georgia.

 

 

 

 

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Thorns and Thistles

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Charles and some of his half dead vines

“Look at this,” Charles says pulling foliage aside so I can see a massive formation of a vine’s origin. He’s carefully uncovered this insidious “thing” which is threatening the life and beauty of a camellia bush. He’s trying to uncover it enough that he can kill it with chemicals. Digging it out and cutting it away only encourages bits of root remaining to sprout faster.

He has been digging them out, he and Ulysses, for years. Many times I’d go out to find them gloating over some humongous armful of growth they’d extracted from the earth with pick ax, shovel, and whatever was at hand. But after months and years of removing knobs, knots and tumors only to have them come right back, he is resorting to chemicals added to the back breaking work.

There are vines that grow overnight. They really do–almost. Jack and the Beanstalk is a fairytale. No vine grows that fast. But then there’s kudzu, honeysuckle, wisteria, morning glories, and that awful vine that twists its way up through the shrubbery disguising itself amongst its host’s leaves until it’s too late for easy removal. Those are the ones that grow from globs of tubular roots as mentioned above. Charles calls them potatoes but I shudder to think of cooking and serving that potato!

Charles remarked one morning at the breakfast table that when God promised thorns and thistles after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, He really kept that promise. Thorns and thistles are a constant challenge to those who work the soil.

Some of these insidious enemies are quite beautiful when they bloom and if they are kept under control. Who would want to eradicate all morning glories? Or take the scent of honeysuckle entirely away? And what about lovely purple wisteria, its blooms drooping lushly like so many clusters of grapes? Regular pesky weeds, like dandelions and spiderwort, can be seen and battled in the open. But the vines creep out and up from the very roots of the shrubbery they threaten to throttle.

How do they even get started so close to the base of a shrub that it’s impossible to dig them completely clear without harming the camellia or azalea? Charles speculates that maybe birds drop seeds in these very inaccessible places. It’s hard to imagine these formations starting from mere seeds but maybe so. Anyway, once started, the vines put out shoots, roots, grow knobby “potatoes”, and climb quickly toward the sun waving tentacles of foliage in great victory.

One of Charles’ newest methods of “killing” is to pull vines out and away from the shrubbery, then spray those branches repeatedly. This means that when we walk around the yard we find these lanky, even snake-like, vines laid out on pavement and grass in various stages of death.

Some enemies in the plant world were intentionally brought to our country by well-meaning agronomists. I remember when my dad, along with many others, bought a starter of kudzu because it was recommended for fighting erosion and good for cattle grazing. Now north Georgia is mounded in the big-leafed wonder. It swaths the trees; it buries abandoned houses; it swallows old cars. Instead of looking for shapes in the clouds, traveling children can spy them in the massive kudzu growth: a giraffe here, an elephant there, a man in a hat, an old bent woman; a whale. Yes, some folks have discovered, in their resourcefulness, how to make walking canes out of thick gnarled vines and use vines and roots for medicinal purposes. I’ve even heard of people eating some portion of kudzu plant. But have you seen kudzu soup on a menu lately?

Wisteria and trumpet vines are so pretty growing on a trellis or, in the case of wisteria, kept trimmed in the form of a bush. But keep a sharp eye out for those sprouts that can thrust their way up a stone’s throw away from the original growth.

A gardener’s work is never finished. But the reward is a beautiful garden.

As we fight these monsters in the grass and bushes, I can’t help thinking how easy it is in our lives for bad habits, less than savory speech, and ugly thoughts to sprout and spread. And, like thorns and thistles and invasive vines, one battle does not eradicate the evil. It takes repeated applications of repentance and acceptance of God’s grace.

But as for you, be strong; don’t give up; for your work has a reward. II Chronicles 15:7

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Marys in my Life

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I’ve known several wonderful Marys who have made a difference in my life. After all, at my seasoned age I’ve known quite a few. Someone recently used that description of people past seventy and I love it! Seasoned sounds a lot more exciting than just plain old. Our elders have ever so much to offer those coming behind. I’ve always found it to be so, way before I began receiving senior discounts myself.

So–about those Marys, two of them, particularly.

There was a wonderful lady in the church where I grew up named Mary Church. She had grown up in a nearby community with the maiden name of Mary Loggins. My parents spoke of her affectionately as “little Mary.” I thought that was pretty funny since, when I knew her, she was a lady with many responsibilities in Clarkesville Baptist Church and our little town. It was hard to think of her as a small girl on the Loggins’ farm up on New Liberty Road. I knew that farm. When our hens weren’t laying enough eggs for our big family my brother and I were sent to buy eggs from Mr. Loggins, Mary’s father. Could that beautiful lady I knew once have gathered eggs and dug potatoes?

Mrs. Church, as I knew her, sang beautifully, directed our church choir, and taught Bible lessons to the children. Her husband was a mortician whose business, the only funeral home in town at the time, was directly across the street from our church. It seemed to me that Mrs. Church lived at our church. I couldn’t imagine it without her. In fact, she was the church. Pastors might come and go but Mrs. Church was always there.

When Mrs. Church sang, her voice lilted with peace, love and joy from the Master Himself. Her face glowed with the message she was trying to impart. I particularly remember her singing “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” I had no doubt God was watching her because I saw His goodness in her face and also in her life.

She didn’t have children of her own. But she loved all us “church” children as if we were hers. She made Bible stories come to life, stories of Abraham and Moses and Jesus. She taught or directed Vacation Bible School many years and told the most fascinating missionary stories. Even when she reprimanded us, we knew Mrs. Church was our friend.

As a teenager my respect for Mrs. Church grew. She talked my parents into letting me join the choir with the understanding that she would pick me up at our rural driveway for practice on Wednesdays. What I didn’t realize, until that first pick up, was that Mrs. Church would be driving the hearse. I was quite awed by the long sleek black automobile with its plush, roomy interior that smelled slightly of old flowers. But Mrs. Church’s warm greeting and completely comfortable attitude set me at ease. I probably was brazenly smug with my siblings who had never had such an unusual ride.

After Charles and I married we went together to visit Mrs. Church and her husband, Marler, in their neat bungalow beside the funeral home. She was, as always, warm and interested in what we were doing. She asked questions about veterinary medicine and encouraged me to write. It was the last time I would see her. Some time after she died when I was visiting Clarkesville Baptist, Mr. Church came to me and told me sorrowfully how he missed his Mary.

The other Mary so important in my life is Mary Ward of Cairo, Georgia. When we moved to Cairo in 1968, Charles was a new graduate of the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine. He worked very long days at Cairo Animal Hospital with Dr. Eugene Maddox. I was home alone, five months pregnant, and homesick. But Henley and Mary Ward lived right across the street from us. They weren’t the only good neighbors. We were surrounded by sweet caring folks. But “Miss Mary” became the mentor I needed who might say “I’ll pester you to death, honey. I’ll always be right here.” As the time came for my baby to be born, she called every day. “I don’t see diapers on the line yet,” she might say hoping maybe I’d begun labor pains.

After William was born, Miss Mary settled in to her role as substitute grandmother. She cuddled him, cooed over him, begged to babysit any time I needed her. She did not hold back from correcting me when she saw the need. She shared her grocery coupons and her wisdom. She assured me it was okay for my baby to scoot himself using one leg as a pusher instead of crawling on all fours.

We moved away from that neighborhood when William was three so I didn’t get to see Miss Mary as much. But I loved the way her eyes lit up whenever she saw us around town or at church or when we popped in at her house. Her “How are you doing?” was genuine and called for a full response.

For the last few years I’ve seen Miss Mary in a different setting. Her husband and oldest son, Phil, had died. Eventually she moved into an assisted living facility named Magnolia Place. Her son Dennis and his family are very attentive. She’s always been happiest bragging on those she loves and now when I visit her she brags profusely on Dennis. And, since I do a devotional at Magnolia Place nearly every Tuesday, I see her often. When I pop in to her room to remind her it’s devotional time, she raises her eyebrows and smiles. “Tuesday again already?” She’s very deaf so can’t hear much of what is said at devotional. But she smiles and contributes anyway.

Recently, I arrived at Magnolia Place sad since I knew Miss Mary had fallen and was in the hospital. When Charles and I visited her in the nursing home she was moved to, she couldn’t talk, only barely smile and pucker her forehead. But in my head I could hear her saying “Let me get you both some sweet tea. It’s hot outside” or “Honey, I’ll pester you to death. I’ll always be right here.”

Shortly after I wrote the above paragraphs about Miss Mary I got word she had died. I missed her so when I walked into Magnolia Place yesterday. Dennis and his family will miss her more keenly than anyone. But Miss Mary is having a wonderful reunion with her husband and son and others right now, I have no doubt. She may be climbing a mountain free of her walker, or picking flowers in a glorious garden, drinking crystal clear water, hearing the angels in chorus, and, best of all, meeting Jesus face to face. And someday we will see Mary Ward again in that place reserved for those who trust in Jesus.

Two dear Marys–I’m glad God put them in my life.

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The Secret Ingredient Is…

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Mattie and Charli sipping smoothies

I would not trade anything for the experience of having my granddaughter Mattie cooking in my kitchen. Or other fun events of the week–going fishing, enjoying lunch at Mr. Chick’s, or music time with piano and guitar. But the cooking, I guess, turned out to be the most fun.

Mattie is ten years old and is not a total novice to the geography and skills of a kitchen. She’s cooked a lot with her mother and her Pop Ashley. However, though she would like to do everything herself, she will take suggestions and an occasional stirring of the batter when her arm gets tired. And she doesn’t vigorously object to someone’s cleaning behind her.

She started out her first day with us by making pancakes. She said she could make pancakes “golden brown on both sides” and that’s exactly how they turned out. She reminded me of our Great Creator when she loaded our plates and pronounced, “They are very good.”

Next, she tackled the job of making cupcakes for a gathering of her cousins at our house. She couldn’t decide on one color for the whole batch so she tediously colored each one a different shade using a small spoon to swirl the food coloring just so. She did get mighty tired but wouldn’t give up.

Then there was the cake. That became necessary because there was too much chocolate frosting for the cupcakes. It wasn’t good enough that the cake would be loaded with frosting, though. Mattie wanted M&Ms in it too. With Mattie, following a recipe exactly is boring. She has to liven it up. The result was M&Ms stuck in the bottom of the pan. But she didn’t worry about that. We dug it out and patched the broken places with that very rich frosting. She crowned the cake with Oreo cookies turned on their edges like wagon wheels. And everyone enjoyed those goodies!

We made zucchini bread together. She really enjoyed turning the crank to shred the zucchinis in my old Saladmaster food preparer.

Some of the things she learned, or had reinforced, were: leveling a cup of flour without packing it, remembering the baking spray, that it’s not the end of the world when an eggshell drops in your batter, and that a Dustbuster works nicely vacuuming sugar and flour from the floor.

Mattie’s final culinary achievement of the week was her smoothies. She made them twice and had eager tasters both times.

She first made smoothies to surprise Charli, her cousin, who came to stay for a couple of days. Charli, who also loves to cook, showed great patience and fortitude waiting in the den with Grandaddy for the “surprise” while Mattie rinsed, peeled and chopped ingredients for the four smoothies. Mattie called out hints about what she was making but never gave conclusive clues. When she turned on the blender, though, everyone knew what the “surprise” was.

Making smoothies was only one of the activities these girls giggled over in their two days together. They played under the lawn sprinkler, took a trip to a park, competed for properties in Monopoly, rode bikes, braided colorful bracelets, built amazing block structures (only Grandaddy and Nana would have old-fashioned blocks instead of video games), swung for hours in the porch swing, and practiced doing each other’s hair.

They watched a movie Mattie had brought called “Soul Surfer.” Though it made us all cry, I would highly recommend it. One of the previews on that DVD was “Courageous.” We watched that movie too, and cried! In fact, both girls went to sleep before that one ended so the next day they insisted on a rerun with, of course, popcorn.

Mattie hasn’t finished perfecting her smoothie recipe. As with a fruit salad or a stir fry, much depends on the ingredients at hand. But Mattie did go shopping with me and chose her own items. Below is a semblance of her recipe.

Mattie’s Smoothie

1 c. diced strawberries                                   1 yogurt of your choice

1/2 c. chopped raspberries                             2 scoops vanilla ice cream

One banana sliced                                            milk to finish filling blender 1/2 full

Mattie says there needs to be a secret ingredient. That keeps everyone guessing while they sip. This time it was sugar. Her brother, William, who had arrived in time for a cup from the second making, told her sugar couldn’t be the secret since almost everything she used had sugar in it. She just rolled her eyes as if to say she could do without that comment. To finish off her smoothies she added a slice of banana to the edge of each glass.

I wonder which one of Mattie’s talents God is going to use the most. Will she be a gourmet cook or a fabulous cook at home? Will she write songs and sing them? Will she be a dance instructor or a gymnast? Actually, as He does whenever a person allows Him to, I believe He will use the whole package, the whole recipe, including the secret ingredient.

 

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Diary of a Six Year Old Boy

 

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Grandaddy and Kaison with a bull

My six year old great grandson spent this week with us. I chuckle inside, sometimes outside, at what I’m sure he must be thinking about the activities at Grandaddy’s and Nana’s. Often he expresses himself so transparently I don’t have to imagine his thoughts.

But here goes for my idea of entries in his diary if he wrote one:

We went to see Nana’s doctor. I don’t know why. Because she isn’t sick. But it was pretty cool. They let me watch her racemaker at work on a funny tv screen. Too bad it doesn’t make Nana race. I’d like to see that.

I went with Grandaddy to the sale barn. We walked on big board walks looking down on tons of cows. He thought I’d be excited to see so many cows but I really wasn’t. They all looked pretty much alike. But I didn’t want Grandaddy to be disappointed so I waved my arms and yelled so I’d look excited.

Nana and I sat on the porch shelling peas. It’s too bad she couldn’t have gotten some of those in neat packages ready to cook.

My grandparents get so excited every time a bird comes to eat seeds at the feeder. You’d think they’d never seen them before.

We went to a furniture store. They thought I would be bored so they told me they wouldn’t take long. They took forever! But it was okay because I was trying out every chair, specially the ones with buttons to make them go up and down.

Nana kept trying to get me to watch movies and stuff when all I wanted was SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nana and I went to see Grandaddy at work at the animal hospital. There was this big black bull with ferocious eyes and stuff drooling out of his mouth. He was in a kind of cage and you could tell he didn’t like it any more than I like getting shots. I was not sorry to get on out of there because that bull made me sad. But of course Nana had to take my picture with Grandaddy before we left. I would have been glad to stay longer if there hadn’t been so many gnats and if Grandaddy would let me push and pull things.

We played some games. I like UNO because I can almost always beat Nana. She doesn’t pay attention real good.

Today we made playdough. I cut out cookies and made snakes and balls and everything. When Nana wasn’t looking I ate some but Nana was right. It really didn’t taste good, too salty.

I surprised Nana today. She was going to read me a book but I read it to her instead. I bet I’ll be a better reader than she is when I start First Grade.

When we went to the grocery store I helped Nana find stuff–the best cereal, plenty of ice cream, and even some cookies she would never have found in forever. While we were checking out I kept the lady behind us from getting bored. She said I reminded her of her boy that’s gotten too grown to help her anymore. She said he used to drive her grocery cart like a maniac. Maybe I’ll do that too. Is a maniac like a monster?

When we go to church, I really love seeing everybody. When they start hugging and shaking hands and going crazy, I can talk all I want to. But when the preacher starts talking then I’m supposed to be quiet. It’s weird because I can talk just as good as the preacher.

Now I’m back home. I worry about Grandaddy and Nana. They must be so sad and lonely. They don’t have me to cheer them up and I guess they pretty much do  nothing. Probably just feed the cats and that’s all.

I’ll go back as soon as I can. But today I’ll take care of Mama and Daddy. They’re trying to take a nap and that just wouldn’t be good for them.

 

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Heavenly Hampers of Okra

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The word abundance comes to mind when I think of Papa Graham’s garden. Charles’ father was a true honest hardworking farmer who found delight in harvesting that first hamper of okra, picking five gallon buckets of squash, butter beans, and all the rest. Mama would make coffee first thing, before daylight, and Papa would drink a cup and then head to the barn to load feed for sixty cows onto his truck. Mama would make a huge breakfast of grits, eggs, biscuits and gravy to have ready for him when he returned. After eating, he would be on his tractor in the corn field–or would b e working rows of vegetables in his garden.

Charles and I lived in a small upstairs furnished apartment while he was studying at the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine. It was 250 long miles to Papa Graham’s garden in Merrillville, Georgia. But on several exciting occasions during those years Papa and Mama brought their garden to us. We’d open our door and there they’d be, their arms loaded with brown grocery bags bulging with okra, squash, corn and peas, even a cantaloupe. It was almost like Christmas!

Later, after we moved to Cairo only twenty-five miles from Papa’s garden, we were blessed by many more bags, hampers, and boxes of delicious vegetables. From June to September, whenever Mama and Papa visited us, they brought beautiful tomatoes, a box of potatoes or whatever was the current crop. Sometimes they even shelled peas and brought them in a ziplock bag ready to cook. Or they would insist on sitting with us on our porch to help us shell the peas.

Papa grew many long rows of peas, a staple in south Georgia cooking. I learned to tell the difference between black-eyes, pink-eyes, lady peas, and crowders. Then one year there was a new variety. We all were delighted with the zipper peas which, as you can imagine, zipped open so much more easily than any of the others. And they were delicious. I was always ashamed when I picked peas with Mama and Papa because I was always a row behind where I should have been. My back started hurting before we were half done but I couldn’t admit it because here were these folks, riddled with arthritis, plugging along with only an occasional grunt.

Then there were those lush squash vines–yellow crookneck, zucchini, and even some years the white scalloped squash that looked like squatty dishes under the vines. You could fill a bucket in no time. In fact, sometimes the squash crop was so heavy Papa hauled squash to market, to all his neighbors, as well as to church members. Cucumber vines vied for being the heaviest producers. As a kid, in my mother’s sweet garden I’d enjoyed picking squash and cucumbers more than any other vegetable. It was like hunting Easter eggs. And that was true of Papa’s garden as well. Only his garden was so much bigger.

Speaking of vines, I was very fond of Papa’s cantaloupes. Splitting open one of those melons was a thrill every time. The gorgeous soft orange color itself made me happy. But the taste! To use a cliché, I could eat my weight in those cantaloupes. Cantaloupes are still good but, somehow, not as good as Papa’s. Some years he didn’t plant cantaloupes or watermelons. It seemed as if those were luxury products he only grew if he had some space left after planting the necessary vegetables.

And one of those necessary vegetables was okra.

Not only did all of his family depend on that good okra, but there were businesses in town like Holiday Inn that were on his list for weekly deliveries, and of course the Farmers Market too. During the peak season Papa broke okra every other day. “Breaking” okra was a new term to me. In my mother’s garden we cut okra with a knife. It was certainly not a favorite job because okra makes you itch. But it didn’t seem to bother Papa. As the season progressed the okra developed higher and higher on the stalks until in September he’d be reaching above his head sometimes. When he left his house with two or three heavenly hampers of okra in the back, he was the picture of peace and contentment. Or when someone would pull into his yard having come some distance to claim a reserved hamper of JB Graham’s okra, then, too, he looked as happy as anyone who’s won a foot race.

It was not just corn that Papa grew. It was silver queen, sweet corn, field corn and others I can’t remember. But it was all so good! From planting time to fingerling size to tasseling and then those first wonderful ears, the progression of the corn crop was a subject of great interest. When the harvest began, you might find Papa under a pecan tree shucking corn by the bushel while Mama “creamed” or grated the corn in the kitchen. There would be a fantastic huge dish of corn at every church dinner, every family reunion, and, of course on the table for us when we “dropped by.” It was so good you’d hardly be able to eat anything else.

Between them, Papa and Mama grew, processed, and froze hundreds of quarts of vegetables every year. Their freezer along about mid-August would be filled to the brim, everything neatly dated, sorted, and recorded in Mama’s records. All through the year Mama served those wonderful vegetables, fresh as if just picked. The only year we missed those vegetables was 1968 when lightning struck Papa and Mama’s house. The whole house was ablaze when they came home from church that Sunday night. And it was August so the freezer, fully packed with the year’s crop, was ruined along with everything else. All they had was what was still in the garden.

Now, I sniff the cantaloupes at the grocery trying to find one as good as those Papa grew. I buy a bag of shelled peas remembering hot afternoons sitting on the porch with Mama and Papa shelling crowders or zippers. Or I buy a sleeve of frozen creamed corn and try, unsuccessfully, to make it taste like Mama’s. And when I see a bin full of perfect tender pods of okra, I simply have to buy some to fry in an iron skillet.

Papa never won the prize for selling the first hamper of okra or for growing the best crop or the biggest crop of anything. Unless, that is, his prize was seeing all of us, and many more, benefit from his hard work. He didn’t consider winning prizes, just wanted to work hard and reap a bountiful harvest, to pay his bills, to enjoy partnering with the soil, the sun, and the rain. To him, delivering a heavenly hamper of okra to an eager customer was worth more than any blue ribbon.

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