The Cove

Cool, sweet, clear air; rich pink rhododendron blossoms amongst dark leaves; in the distance, layers of Blue Ridge mountains; great food and hospitality; AND an outstanding conference to feed the soul–all these were part of our first visit to The Cove. The Cove is the Billy Graham Conference Center near Asheville, NC. Established by Billy and Ruth Graham, the conference center more than lives up to its purpose of rest, relaxation, and renewal. Definitions of cove in Merriam Webster’s dictionary include “a small sheltered inlet or bay” and “a deep recess or small valley in the side of a mountain.” In other words, here is a place where folks can come to find peace and shelter from the storms of life. More than that, guests are renewed for going out to help others in the storms.

We arrived early on a Tuesday afternoon so were able to enjoy a tour of the magnificent chapel before checking in. Observing that I was not extremely agile with my walker, our guide readily offered us a wheelchair (poor Charles! the ramps were steep!). We were to learn that the staff throughout our stay was always just that thoughtful and kind. From the dining room staff, including Gigi Graham, Billy and Ruth’s daughter, to a warm welcome from Director Will Graham, Franklin’s son, to the front desk clerks and the employees in Ruth’s Attic, the book store, everyone seemed so happy we were there. As a joke, I took a picture of a reserved parking sign designated for “Graham” and sent it to a few friends with the caption “We are so welcome here!” Contrary to what one excited conferee believed when she saw our name tags, we couldn’t lay claim to being part of “the family.” We had to convince this disappointed lady we were no closer related than she was.

I could have sat happily for hours in that chapel. According to the chimes which ring every fifteen minutes, we were only there forty-five minutes. During that time we heard hymns played on request (we asked for “Amazing Grace”) by an accomplished pianist, basked in the beauty of the simple inspiring architecture, and prayed while sitting on 200 year old benches.

Our guide gave us a brief history of the chapel. The property was purchased in 1972, a vision of Billy Graham. It is named the Chatlos Chapel because of a very generous gift from the William Chatlos Foundation. Ruth asked for the height of the steeple to be increased several feet higher than originally planned. The 87 foot steeple was transported to the site by pickup truck. The chapel was open to the public in 1988, that steeple rising well above surrounding trees leading viewers’ eyes to focus on its cross against the sky.

The conference center and two inns are equally as beautiful. Billy Graham’s brother Melvin discovered the property when flying over in early 1970’s. Then Billy and Ruth walked over it as they envisioned this place for folks to come and learn in a relaxing atmosphere. I squinted my eyes and tried to imagine the mountain as it would have been when they first hiked it but I was unable to erase from my mind the simply lovely buildings fitting perfectly amongst the trees. The Grahams purchased the 1,200 acres in 1972 and would both live to enjoy the way the Lord pulled all their visions together and blessed its completion.

There are about 340 guest rooms, beautiful lobbies, auditorium seating some 400 as well as a small auditorium in the chapel, a light and airy large cafeteria, exhibit halls, classrooms and meeting rooms, a generous comfortable deck overlooking the valley and mountains beyond–all of this in simple and classic taste. Everywhere you go, in elevators, down the hallway to Ruth’s Attic, to comfortable roomy bathrooms, the details are eye pleasing and appropriate. One thing I particularly appreciated was the many splendid windows framing views of mountains and gardens. Also, we marveled at the wood work throughout the center. Everywhere there was a feeling of openness and plenty of light. And, as another conferee noted happily, there were scripture passages all along the way presented so attractively. What else could you expect from Billy Graham whose famous line in every sermon was “The Bible says…” ?

We have learned that the cost of a conference is only for one’s room and meals. There is no charge for the wonderful conference speakers and musicians, those being paid for by generous donors. Our conference speaker was Ken Ham, creator of The Ark and The Creation Museum in northern Kentucky. Speaking on the theme, “Thinking Foundationally,” Ken in his Australian accent kept us alert and stimulated. We came away with a new resolve to make a difference, even if tiny, in our changing culture. Some of the other featured speakers this year include Anne Graham Lotz, Richard Blackaby, Tony Evans, and Jerry Vines. Some seminars are especially for pastors and there are military marriage enrichment seminars as well as one-night concerts. I would love to go to one of the Christmas at the Cove evenings!

Michael O’Brien, song writer, vocalist, and pianist, led us in powerful congregational singing as well as giving us presentations of some of his own creations. Though he seemed so young, he was eager to get home to see a newborn grandchild.

In the words of one brochure writer concerning The Cove, “More than majestic views and natural beauty, the true wonder on this mountain is God’s work in the hearts of guests as they study His Word and open their hearts to Him through worship.”

As we drove back down the long curving road between tall evergreens and an under story of rhododendron and laurel, we were so thankful for our time at this beautiful place, for the legacy of Billy and Ruth, and for the astonishing ways God’s power has been manifested in and through them.

One of my favorite Billy Graham quotes is this: “You will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now…”

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Share the Space

When I saw these two trees a few years ago, I couldn’t resist taking a picture. I didn’t know why, just knew it was a very interesting sight. Recently, when I came across the picture it made me think of old and new sharing their strengths, sharing the space, living out whatever purpose they were sprouted for.

These trees are in a woods that was a favorite playground for my younger sister and me. I’m almost positive that the older leaning tree was one we climbed, a real challenge since it has no low limbs. That tree has to be pretty ancient now! The younger tree obviously hasn’t been there many years. It looks straight and proud and aggressive.

Only a short distance away is a cluster of rocks large enough that Suzanne and I climbed on them. We had picnics atop their mossy backs with imaginary friends, and claimed the rocks as the center of our lively village of interesting characters. We played there for hours at a time, only returning to our real house when it was time for dinner. Imaginary dinner doesn’t nourish very heartily!

Farther down the hill from the interesting pair of trees is an old family cemetery. Lilies of the valley used to grow there, their tiny white bells so pretty amongst the moss giving a sense of music to the place in addition to the wind in the numerous tall pines. Four graves share the space in a small enclosure defined by a dry stone wall nestled into the hillside. Suzanne and I were very respectful of those graves and the people there whom we’d never met. We were always quiet when we wandered close to the cemetery. But we were never afraid. We’d been told wonderful stories about Grandmother Grace, Great-Grandmother Amelia, Great-Aunt De and, especially, of our sister Carol who died at the age of four a few short years before the last three of our clan were born. We sometimes wondered how it would be if Carol could play with us. We wondered, too, if she were growing older in heaven or staying the same age.

Naturally, when I came upon these trees a couple of years ago, I was assaulted with memories of our playground, some of our imaginary friends whose names I could still remember, and vague images of the occupants of that cemetery. I should add here that my Dad was the first to be buried in the new cemetery on Tulip Hill when he died in 1959. He had planned it that way, partly because he didn’t want those tall pines cut down to make more space, and partly, I think, because he thought a hilltop from whence you could see sunsets and sunrises was a more hopeful place.

My parents both loved trees. Dad could lose his temper badly if some forester mistook his directions and cut down the wrong tree. Yet he was diligent in taking down trees in order to open a view to the mountains, or removing one that was diseased so a healthier one could use the space. A keeper of the woods has to cut out and prune some. But I do love to see old rotting logs, stumps with mushrooms growing on them, the old and the young together. And there’s something very artistic about crooked, gnarled, or leaning trees that show their wear and tear. That’s why I was so intrigued by these two trees. I wondered what my Dad would have done had he come upon these two when the young maple was a sprout proposing to grow in the same space with the old dogwood. Which one would he have cut? Or would he have left them both?

What a wonderful thing it is to have a mingling of old and young in our churches, amongst our friends, in the workplace. The older ones can offer wisdom and knowledge (maybe!) while the younger ones keep us up on technology, the newest music, as well as lending their strength when seniors get wobbly. My youngest great grandchildren helped me yesterday making a batch of cookies. I helped them learn to measure, sift flour, cream butter and sugar, and space cookies evenly on a cookie sheet. They fetched items for me and kept me from falling! As we worked we talked about old times of which they have no concept. They jabbered away about one of the new video games, just sure I’d want to play it. It was a good sharing time.

Looking again at the two trees I wonder–is the elderly tree helping with its strong deep roots to keep the young one secure? Or is the young one covering the older tree’s base with its claw like roots in order to keep the leaning tree from leaning right on over? This could be a picture of diversity, a difference in age, in strengths and weaknesses, not to mention a difference in appearance, in bark and leaves. What this says to me is this: as people, we, too, are all different, every one of us endowed by our Creator with a particular purpose, maybe multiple purposes at various stages of life.

One purpose is simply to share in the walk of life.

1 Timothy 5:1-2–Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity.

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Little Woman Reading Little Women

We are blessed with special moments that become bright umbrellas on rainy days. Such was the moment when I caught the above photo of my granddaughter Mattie several months ago reading in the Japanese maple tree.

Not only was she reading, an activity I delight in, Mattie was reading my old tattered copy of “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. When Mattie and I were scanning the titles of my childhood books, she pulled out “Little Women.” She had become familiar with Alcott’s name as we played Author cards and now she eagerly hugged the book to herself. “I’m going to read this while I’m here,” she said. Realizing she really wanted to read it, I told her the book was hers to take home and keep. I don’t think I’ve ever given a gift that was more enthusiastically received.

That book is worn and scuffed. In the front is an inscription from my mother who gave it to me for Christmas in 1953 when I was eleven as Mattie was at the time of this picture. The book got me into trouble more than once because I was such a bookworm that I neglected my duties while absorbed in the story of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March.

Mattie and I had already shared some humorous moments over Louisa May Alcott. When she and her older brothers were visiting from Birmingham one of our favorite games was Authors, a “Go Fish” kind of game for which the object is to collect four cards of works by each of eleven authors. The first summer we played it Mattie was very young and couldn’t quite keep up with the concentration and strategy of the game so she and I were partners. Every time we came into possession of a Louisa May Alcott card Mattie would burst out laughing. I’m not sure whether it was because Alcott was the only woman in the pack that included Scott, Dickens, Cooper, Poe with all their solemn faces, or that she just liked Alcott’s looks. As she became a very shrewd Authors card player, Mattie tried to learn to keep a poker face when she landed an Alcott card but if I really watched her I could catch that look of delight and the bare twinkle of a smile on her lips.

Not long before the visit mentioned above, Mattie’s dad had sent me a picture of Mattie sitting in a nice generous-limbed cherry tree at her house reading a book I had written, “Her Name Was Rebekah.” Mattie’s description of that occasion was something like this: “I knew how you liked to climb trees, Nana, so I thought that was a good place to read your book.”

Now here was Mattie in one of our trees, one enjoyed also by her cousins Charli and Kaison, ready for a session of reading between gymnastic exhibitions on the lawn.

After she went home Mattie texted me several times to report on her progress reading “Little Women.” She had read where Amy got into trouble taking limes to school and where Jo, while paying attention to the wrong things, burned a whole hank of hair off Meg with a curling iron. She was so gleeful one day when she found a pressed leaf in between the pages. I assured her that, yes, I was sure I had put it there some time when I was perched in a tree reading or maybe sitting on the ferny bank of a brook.

I’m so glad I could capture that moment of Mattie in the tree to keep for days to come. Children grow up very fast. Grandchildren grow up even faster! The gifts they give us as they grow–gifts of joy, laughter, pure innocence, and compassion and uninhibited pleasure–are immeasurable. Yes, umbrellas for rainy days!

But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children.” Psalms 103:17

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Quick Answers to Prayer

God answers all prayers of believers one way or another. It may be years before an answer comes, even a lifetime. The answer can be yes, no, or wait. But sometimes an answer is revealed in only minutes, or even instantly. Following are a few of those “yes” answers that came so quickly. Some are my own and some from friends of mine. I hope you will be encouraged to remember some of your own quick answers.

I was driving home years ago from Macon with two grandchildren. We had been to a doctor’s appointment and had splurged with a shopping spree afterwards. Now it was late afternoon. As we drove up the ramp onto interstate 75 I noticed the forbidding clouds and hoped it wouldn’t rain much. I very much dislike driving in heavy rain. Only minutes later a deluge hit us. With windshield wipers at fastest speed I still couldn’t see anything, tail lights ahead of us, the side of the road, nothing. Panic rose into my throat. I gripped the steering wheel and heard myself telling the kids to pray. Instantly the rain stopped, just as if Someone had turned off a faucet. We didn’t have a wreck but were safe for a ride home in sunshine!

Another time our crisis was in Julie’s kitchen. My daughter, Julie, had a very bad condition which kept her at home much of the time. I had delivered her two children home from school and had barely parked at my house, just up the street, when Amanda, a young teenager at the time, called urging me to come down in a hurry. “Mama fell in the kitchen and her legs are both locked up,” she told me. Amanda and I tried our best to unlock Julie’s legs which often locked up in painful pretzel shapes several times a day. This time we couldn’t relieve her. We piled on hot rice bags to no avail. We needed a man’s strength, but neither Julie’s husband, Doug, nor her father would be back in town for hours. Praying, with our own tears mingling with Julie’s, Amanda and I tried one more time to straighten first one leg and then the other but they wouldn’t budge. Just then we heard the front door open and in walked Doug. He masterfully straightened Julie’s legs, picked her up, and put her back in bed. When I asked why he came home so early from his electrician job in Tallahassee, he shrugged, as I remember, and grinned his charming grin. “Just got off early, don’t really know why.” But I knew why. God had answered that prayer before I even prayed!

My friend Anne Parks tells of a time when she was very lonely and weary as she worked in her garden. There, between rows of beans (or was it squash?) she voiced out loud her need. Her prayer was something like this: “Lord, I’d so like to have a dog, someone to keep me company. But you know I can’t really afford one right now.” She continued picking beans, filling a bucket. Suddenly she heard a hassling sound and there came a black dog his tongue hanging out as if he were smiling. He lay down close by in the dirt. He looked at her in what she described as a tender way, as if he’d known her since puppyhood. It turns out that Rufus belonged to a neighbor down the country road who worked in town all day. Rufus became Anne’s dog in the daytime and went home to his other family at night. He has never since that day failed to come to Anne’s house until recently when his aged arthritic body has kept him on his own porch. Anne, as always when she tells me about answers to prayers, laughs in spontaneous joy and says, “Isn’t God so good!”

Sally Whitfield wrote this: “It was the holidays and my birthday. I was ready to get out of the hospital in a town where I did not live. Would the doctor finally come and release me? But then I would have to call my husband (miles away) to come back and pick me up. I was weary from all the procedures. My husband was weary going back and forth between our home and the hospital. I prayed, ‘God, I want what you want but you know I really want to go home today.’ Immediately a couple of friends appeared in my hospital room, followed quickly by my doctor saying ‘Let’s get you home.’ This couple offered to take me home. The answers were already on the way when I prayed. He is faithful in all his ways.”

Harry Hughes answered my request for a quick prayer testimony with this: “My most recent big (for me) answer was on May 7th. It was Daniel’s (my son’s) hooding ceremony for his M.D. It was a big milestone event and the culmination of much sweat and prayers. Heavy traffic in Columbia was making my time of arrival uncertain, down to the minute. As I was leaving the car to enter the conference center, I reached for my mask and discovered it was gone. I think I would be better off shoeless in a room filled with doctors than to be without a mask. Not having time to go buy a mask, my prayer for one was answered when I timidly stuck my head in the door and found out they had souvenir masks with the USC Medical School logo. Problem solved and I was not late.”

Barbara Payne wrote: “Recently, I found out I have breast cancer. My first thought was I don’t want chemo but for my children I will consider it. When test results came back and I met with my surgeon, he explained that the kind of cancer I have doesn’t respond to chemo. Therefore, procedure will be surgery and radiation treatments. How good is God! I didn’t have to make that decision!”

Whether we’re at the end of our rope, in a quandary, facing health issues, or simply needing encouragement, God is faithful with imaginative surprises which, though possibly insignificant to someone else, almost take our breath away. Remember, He is closer than the air you breathe!

Psalm 46:1–God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

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A Deer Cat

Somehow the idea of a cat making friends with a deer is almost as amusing and ludicrous as the old fable of the lion and the mouse who removed a thorn from his paw. But, as you can see, these deer are not alive and the cat knows that quite well. However, the cat is very much alive! I didn’t pose this picture but it sure looks as if Bertha expected that photo op. My therapist and I were walking around our circle when she noticed Bertha on the deer and took a picture for me.

Bertha is a talented cat full of personality. She regularly walks with me, weaving herself and her long tail in and out of the my legs and those of the walker. Charles picks her up and carries her sometimes and she sniffs his beard and cuddles down until she’s suddenly ready to hit the ground again. She talks to us too. If I say something she responds with a “meow” and hugs my leg with her tail. She is a rather loud cat, in fact, seeking attention with varied mews and meows.

But she does know how to be very quiet. She’s a hunter.

One of her favorite places is amongst some flower pots at the base of a bird bath. Whenever a bird lights on the rim of the bird bath, Bertha goes into a crouching stance, her tail very silently twitches, her head is slightly down with ears flattened. I have told her before that if she starts killing our birds she’s “out of here,” but she’s never taken me seriously. She’s probably talked to the other cats and learned that Sassy, when she was younger, caught birds sometimes and didn’t get ousted. The other day we saw Bertha investigating the bird bath very closely and, on his own investigation, Charles discovered many feathers floating in the water. Bertha came very close that time to catching a mockingbird. Another time I saw her sneak up on an unsuspecting mourning dove grazing under a feeder. That dove came within one tail feather of being caught before she took wing. We’ve seen Bertha stalk a squirrel too. She ran one squirrel up a tree in such hot pursuit I doubt that squirrel ever sets foot on the ground again. He better stay high in the pines and the mulberry tree.

As to the deer, they are always there to greet us from the very same spot between camellias. As with us, their appearance has changed some over the years. They were a smooth pretty deer-tan when our family gave them to us at our joint fiftieth birthday party. Now they are covered with lichen. I set grandchildren to helping scrub and scrape the lichen off one day but it was a lost cause. Even bleach didn’t help. I decided their coats of lichen were a very nice camouflage. I guess you can’t make even a deer statue young again!

From the time they were babies the grandchildren have enjoyed being set on and later climbing up for a deer “ride.” The buck and doe have always been most amenable for whatever the children’s imaginations led them to do, as the above photo shows. They have submitted to being horses galloping across the range or props for gymnastic stunts or roaring lions in the jungle.

Seeing the very lively cat Bertha who chases after every moving creature, even beetles, sitting so dramatically on a solid never-moving deer has to produce a smile. I can’t help thinking homophonically of a dear deer cat!

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Grandma Minnie

Mother’s Day is a time for honoring our living mothers. As girls, my sisters and I always clipped red roses from a vine near our house to wear to church on Mother’s Day. Those roses smelled so sweet! In blessed years that followed, until my mother died at 93, I proudly wore a red rose every Mother’s Day. But Mother’s Day isn’t just for honoring the living. It’s also a time we can remember and be thankful for mothers and grandmothers who are long gone. I’d like, this week, to feature my Grandma Minnie, my mother’s mother.

I only remember Grandma in a hospital bed at Aunt Emma’s. She had a warm smile for me when my mother held me up so she could kiss me on the cheek. It is such a short memory, yet I’ve always had a good feeling of being loved as I jumped down to run out and play with cousins under the privet bushes.

When Grandma died in 1947, I was four years old. I couldn’t understand why my sisters and especially my mother were so sad. But I was sad because they were sad.

I’ve learned so much about Grandma from my own mother. She used to say that she knew there must be some dirt in heaven because Grandma wouldn’t be happy if she couldn’t wash little children’s faces. She’d come to stay with Mamma and help her as she had eleven babies and, I guess, as Aunt Emma had her seven. Grandma had raised six of her own. Washing children’s faces was a delight to her.

She was also a wonderful cook, Mamma said. Aside from sewing for the family, gardening, knitting and crocheting, she made lace. Her tatting was fine and wonderful, gracefully decorating pillow cases, blouse collars, and curtains. But Grandma wasn’t just a good homemaker. She was a very good neighbor. She regularly helped others deliver their babies, nursed them when they were sick and even, during the 1918 flu epidemic, prepared those who perished for burial. My mother was her helper at the age of fourteen.

When Mamma told me how Grandma and Papa Gibbs met I was totally intrigued.

Grandma lived in Commerce with her father, three siblings and her stepmother Janie. For several years she had mothered her younger siblings after their mother died. It wasn’t all bad when her father married again. Janie gave her some relief from household responsibilities. Still, at twenty years old, she hadn’t married, though she did have a few admirers.

In those days, the 1880’s, a highlight of the social life was a church picnic. Mamma said that her mother always looked forward to those picnics splashed between two long church services. It was at one of those when Leonard Gibbs rode up. Papa Burns introduced him to the family and Mama Janie invited him to eat with them. Leonard had come all the way from Cornelia on horseback, a trip of twenty-five or thirty miles. He must have had some relatives in Commerce. Minnie and Leonard were immediately attracted to each other. Though Leonard only conversed with Minnie’s father, he spent a lot of time looking at Minnie. When he rode away Minnie heard her father tell Mama Janie, “That young man is looking for a bride.”

Minnie dreamed that Leonard would come see her but weeks went by and even months. One Saturday Minnie was sweeping the yard (it was customary then to have swept yards, not lawns). It was cold and she sent her siblings all inside to warm up. To her surprise and horror she saw a man on horseback far down the red clay road. Could it be, yes, it was, Leonard Gibbs. He absolutely must not see her dressed in her oldest calico with a rag around her hair instead of a pretty bonnet. She scuttled into the stable and peered out through a crack, then realized that Leonard would certainly come to the stable to put his horse up. She scurried into the harness room and hid there until she thought that, of course, he’d take the saddle off his horse and put it in the harness room. Quickly she climbed a ladder into the hayloft and hid herself amongst the hay.

Of course, Leonard had ridden a long way and would certainly take care of all the needs of his horse and that included hay. Next thing Minnie knew he was coming up the ladder. She prayed she was hidden enough, that none of her skirt was peering out. She was sure he could hear her heart beating. But he took some hay, paused only a moment, and climbed back down the ladder.

When she thought it was safe she clambered down the ladder herself, probably went by to pat the nose of the visiting horse, and then took a circuitous path around to the back door of the square two-story house, hoping not to be observed from the parlor window. She didn’t think about that it was Saturday and Papa never lit the fire in the parlor on Saturday. So when she opened the kitchen door to sneak in and change clothes, there was Leonard Gibbs grinning at her. He is said to have commented, when he told the story, that Minnie was charmingly beautiful with curls haphazardly falling about her flushed face, one hand clutching the rag she’d jerked from her head. But at the time, the story goes, he took her free hand, exclaimed at how how cold it was and, with a twinkle in his blue eyes, suggested she warm by the stove.

Leonard and Minnie were married September 6, 1888, lived in Commerce, Georgia for a while, then in Cornelia, Mt. Airy, and finally on a farm named Clover Hill near Cornelia where Papa Gibbs, a very progressive farmer, became known for growing winter pasture grass. He died in October, 1918, of a very difficult intestinal problem, not from the flu. Grandma, brave woman that she was, continued raising the youngest ones of her six and became a loving resourceful grandmother.

Her bravery in the face of illness and death was also evident one dusky evening when she was returning home alone in a buggy. She was suddenly, the story goes, surrounded by white-hooded men on horseback. Instead of fainting away in fear, she simply sat erect in her seat and, in a very stern voice, told the KKK’s something like, “You men just go on home where you belong.”

Grandma passed on her sense of compassion, her bravery, her resourcefulness to my mother. But what I’m most grateful for is Grandma’s shining faith in God which caused her to make sure, along with Papa, that all their children memorized long portions of scripture, knew right from wrong, were honest in all their dealings, and were well aware of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Her oldest son, my Uncle Charles, became a Presbyterian minister as well as her youngest son, Burns. Uncle Hugh stayed with the farm and was well respected in Habersham County for his honesty and productivity. Uncle Robert was a very successful business man in Atlanta. Aunt Emma was a school teacher before she had her family. And my mother–well, she had eleven children! One sister died as a four-year-old, but ten of us grew up under Mamma’s and Dad’s homeschooling. And, yes, they taught us early about Jesus.

What a rich heritage we have! Thank you, Lord, for our mothers and grandmothers. May we, too, leave footprints of faith in the lives of those who follow us.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!

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Suppertime

Suppertime–that’s an inviting word, isn’t it?

The word supper, to me, brings up all kinds of warm and wonderful memories. Maybe having good memories of suppers helps me absorb so poignantly the account of the Lord’s Supper as written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

In a recent Bible study lesson we revisited the very special and amazing account of Jesus and His disciples at the last supper. Michael Best, our Bible study leader, painted word pictures for us of Jesus at that Passover meal–the low tables, the disciples reclining on left elbows. We even know the placement at the table of Jesus and some of His disciples. Judas, who would betray Him, was invited by Jesus to recline on His left, a place of great honor. John, the beloved disciple, reclined at His right. This supper, according to Luke 22, is described as the last Passover. But it was also the first Lord’s Supper which Christians for two thousand years have commemorated in different ways. Instead of celebrating the rescue of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt we celebrate the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who saves those who believe, not just temporarily, but for eternity. The disciples didn’t understand the significance of the wine and the bread that night. But after the resurrection they would grasp the symbolism of the wine representing His blood and the bread His body.

What they did understand that night was that this was a very special supper, that Jesus had desired fervently to eat it with them, that things were happening they couldn’t explain, but right now Jesus was with them. They had followed Jesus’s detailed instructions for the preparation and now they were gathered in an upper room to “break bread” with Him. Though such a wonderful time for them, as I read it I always am shrouded with sadness too. Because I know what was about to happen. But–there would be another feast in His new kingdom, He told them! He told these very dear friends to remember Him each time they partook of the wine and bread, to celebrate, and to anticipate that time when, again, they would share supper with Him.

When Mamma called us to supper we responded quickly. Whether we came from chores, from play, from reading or milking the cows, the supper call was reason for celebration. We wouldn’t have a great feast. That would be reserved for Sunday dinner. At noontime dinner every day we had hearty staples like mashed potatoes, dried lima beans, mackerel patties or beef stew and, in the summertime, a table loaded with wonderful fresh vegetables–squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, snap beans and, always, Mamma’s fresh bread. Supper, then, was leftovers sometimes but often our large family would have eaten everything at dinner so supper was milk and bread. In the wintertime Mamma sometimes cooked a huge skillet of fried homemade hominy for supper. In case you don’t know, hominy is dried kernel corn soaked for hours, cooked for hours until tender, an all day operation. But the bread and milk was often our fare and it was so very good.

I can picture us now, a whole long bench full of youngsters, hungrily waiting for Mamma’s pan bread to brown and for older sisters to pour our mugs of milk. That bread was whole wheat flat bread cooked on an iron pan on top of the wood burning stove. When we started singing “Here we sit like birds in the wilderness waiting for something to eat,” Mamma slid the bread pan over, removed the griddle, then replaced the bread pan next to the flame so the bread would cook faster. There couldn’t be any bread more delicious–hot, slathered with butter, or crumbled in that mug of milk.

Supper for Charles and me and our family was different. Charles didn’t like a lot to eat in the middle of the day because he would be “bending over it” all afternoon working with cows, pigs, and horses. He preferred sandwiches at noon and a big supper at night. So supper consisted of things like fried pork chops, baked potatoes, and plenty of south Georgia vegetables. I liked to make bread too–cornbread, fresh loaves of wheat bread, but never those delicious flat griddle breads like Mamma’s.

To me it was very important to have all of us sit down to eat together. This meant long waits sometimes since Charles would often be working late finishing a herd or delivering a calf or something. I guess I tortured my children making them wait until Daddy got home. When they were little and the waiting got long, I’d tell them to go outside and call Daddy real loud, maybe he would hear. Miraculously, at that point, we often heard his pickup turning in off South Broad. It was so good when we were all around the table sharing what the day had brought, both bad and good.

Suppers at church have always been so joyful whether at midweek or some special occasion. Then there were the community fundraiser suppers, the south Georgia fish fry suppers, the spontaneous “ya’ll come over” suppers, the cook-outs and the spaghetti suppers.

The best thing about all of them was the people gathered around the tables.

A few weeks ago my siblings and I and our spouses (only seven of us this time!) spent a weekend in a mountain cottage. During that weekend Suzanne played an old cassette which included my brother Charlie singing the Jim Reeves song “Come Home, Come Home, It’s Suppertime.” Charlie, accompanied by his guitar, used to sing that song whenever he and my brother Stan “jammed” on Saturday night. Now, on the mountain, we all, including Charlie, listened and hummed along, remembering Mamma’s call to supper as well as the fun jamming sessions.

The first part of the song is spoken to the gentle strumming of the guitar. Charlie’s words were clear, filled with pathos, as he told how, when a child, he’d play till shadows came, then he’d hear his mother’s call to supper. The refrain goes like this:

Come home, come home, it’s suppertime,

The shadows lengthen fast.

Come home, come home, it’s suppertime.

We’re going home at last.

The last stanza of the song takes us back to my opening concerning the Lord’s Supper. In spoken words Jim Reeves, or our Charlie, talks about when all Christians will gather for the greatest supper of all, in Glory with Jesus at the head of the table.

We’ve had to say goodby to so many dear ones the last year. We’re saddened at their leaving and there are huge holes that will not be filled. But it’s so good to remember that they’re enjoying supper with Jesus. And whatever the food is, it’s even better than Mamma’s hot griddle bread!

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Epoch Times

My husband is a newspaper reader. For many years we’ve been subscribers to the Thomasville Times-Enterprise. Part of every morning’s routine for Charles was to pull that paper from the box and read the headlines while walking back to the house. He’d then read every bit of it that night, sharing news, cartoons, and obituaries with me while I knitted. It was really a shock when, during the Covid year, the Times announced it would no longer be a daily and, in addition, would no longer be delivered to our box. We would receive the paper in our mail three times a week. We still enjoy it and depend on it but now our news is always a day or two old.

About the same time the Thomasville paper made such a drastic change we received a sample of a paper called Epoch Times. It is only a weekly paper but is rich in editorials, feature stories, historical essays, national news, and much more. It is a conservative paper giving readers much opportunity to see both sides of political views.

We subscribed and have both enjoyed and been enlightened by this refreshing newspaper. Let me tell you a little of what you will find in its pages.

If you’re basically a front page and headline reader, as I am, you’ll notice articles such as “UNACCOPANIED MINOR CRISIS SPARKS FEAR OF MS-13 RESURGENCE,” “BIDEN’S GUN LEGISLATION AGENDA RAISES RED FLAGS FOR RIGHTS GROUPS,” “ATTACK ON HONG KONG EPOCH TIMES’ PRINTING PRESS DRAWS INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNATION,” and “GOP SENATE CANDIDATE IN PENNSYLVANIA SAYS SHE WILL BACK CONGRESSIONAL TERM LIMITS.” A chilling between-columns plug says “Collecting Americans’ Data a Priority for China’s Communist Party.” The main headline on the March 31-April 6 edition reads: “CCP Adviser Revealed Detailed Plan to Defeat United States.”

But there’s much, much more to this paper that sparked my interest. One week in the “Life and Traditions” section, there was a lengthy feature story on American inventors. Though Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison were big names on the list, this writer also pointed out the marvelous input of unnamed inventors of chewing gum, drawers, mirrors, cell phones, dishes, magnifying glasses and on and on. “…I do know,” the writer, Jeff Minick, says, “that all of these spring from one source: human ingenuity.”

In that same section is the astonishing account of how a baby girl left to die in a garbage bin was rescued, nursed to health, and later adopted into a loving family. Morgan Hill now says “If my story saves at least one life, it was worth telling and I believe it has saved many.” She is now working to save the lives of infants by making people aware of the “safe haven law.” Instead of abortion or leaving a baby in a trash dumpster, mothers can place their newborn in a “haven” attached to the outside of fire stations in many communities. An alarm, after a few minutes, goes off inside so firemen know to rescue the baby. Morgan Hill is now 26, a beautiful young woman, pictured with her adoptive mother, the man who heard her cry and rescued her, and the nurse who cared for her.

Sections on “Mind and Body,” “Opinion and Business,” and even a comic page are very captivating even for this “only the front page” girl. In the April 14-20 edition the “Life and Tradition” section had a fascinating article on what it means to be a “Vessel” for music. In that same section was an article revealing prophecies and very studied warnings by Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville. Even two centuries after he wrote them his words are stirring and apropos: “Freedom is such a normal concept in American thought and rhetoric that the idea that our system could become tyrannical ‘with unusual ease’ makes us incredulous.”

I really liked the article about Tom Cornish, U.S. Navy volunteer during World War II and now 96 years old. He is a knitter! During the pandemic he has knitted more than 500 woolen hats for the Salvation Army. He says he intends to make hats “until I take my last breath.”

In almost every issue there is an article by an artist analyst along with painting or paintings he/she is writing about. Near Easter the painting was “Christ in the Wilderness” by Russian painter Ivan Nikolaevisch Kramsky. A more recent issue included an analysis of several paintings depicting the story of St. Peter’s supernatural release from prison.

At the bottom of the first page Epoch Times gives its history and purpose: “Founded in 2000 as an independent newspaper with the goal to restore accuracy and integrity in media. We have received numerous rewards for reporting, including from the Society of Professional Journalists, The Society for News Design, and the New York Press Association.”

Though we, of course, value highly our local papers The Thomasville Times-Enterprise and The Cairo Messenger, Charles and I recommend this paper, Epoch Times, to all who are seeking “Truth and Tradition.” As much as I might like to hide from all the frightening news these days, I know the Lord expects us to be wise, not ignore the rumblings of tyranny and socialism but to stand up for individualism and for constitutional rights. We believe this paper is dedicated to giving us the truth no matter how grim, but at the same time lightening our lives with good news too.

Quoting Tocqueville again: Freedom is such a normal concept in American thought and rhetoric that the idea that our system could become tyrannical ‘with unusual ease’ makes us incredulous.

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Popcorn Picnic

Children help us step outside the box of traditions and take on a new perspective. They give us a new outlook on the ordinary. They give us laughter and make our hearts light.

One blustery March day when hot chocolate seemed like a good snack, my two great grandchildren said, “Let’s have a picnic!” Now, I’m up for a picnic almost anytime, but that day really didn’t seem like a picnic day. But I asked what they wanted for their picnic. The answer was popcorn.

A popcorn picnic on a cool breezy day?

A picnic is a pleasant, fun, event more often associated with summer. You may think of a picnic by the sea or a picnic in the mountains, or a picnic in the park. But of course a picnic can be anywhere you spread out a blanket, or settle around a table for that matter. Just call it a picnic and it’s a picnic! You may think of PBJ sandwiches or pimiento cheese. You think of stuffed eggs and fried chicken. You think of crisp cookies and potato chips, maybe apples or bananas. But I think this was the first time we’ve had a popcorn picnic.

When I think of popcorn I think of the exciting sound of the popping, the buttery smell, the fluffy mounds of snowy kernels magically made from those hard little seeds. The warm friendly smell reminds me of the theater, a good movie with family members. It reminds me of going to a country fair, fun at a fall festival, and football games. I remember my parents popping corn in a corn popper held over an open fire. It was a rare occasion when we had popcorn and thus a very special one. The popper was a contraption with a pan that was closed and could swivel on long handles, turning upside down and right again as the corn began to pop. Daddy joked that the popping corn was the sound of soldiers firing away inside the pan.

Charli found the bright beach towel I sent her for, Kaison hauled a packet of popcorn out of the pantry. With some bickering they popped the corn, poured it in bowls, and headed out to a nice grassy place near the mulberry tree. Munching on popcorn and sipping sodas, they were happier than clams on the seashore. They tossed kernels in the air and tried to catch them in their mouths. It was nice no one would have to sweep popcorn from the den floor! I huddled, shivering, on a bench nearby, joining in their chatter and a guessing game or two, then watched them play badminton. They didn’t worry about the wind blowing the birdie in all directions, just thought it was funny.

On another day when summer had invaded spring Kaison disappeared for much too long and I went hunting for him. I finally realized that the odd pile of pillows on the couch was his fort and he was inside it. That fort, as it turned out, was a hiding place for Kaison to play his cell phone games, free from shadowy glares and free from Nana’s prompting to “go outside and play.” When he emerged from his seclusion he was drenched with sweat.

We’ve learned never to throw away a big box if there are children who can enjoy it for a day. That box becomes a fort, a theater, a playhouse, and even a monster’s mansion. Though sturdy treehouses can be very nice, don’t discount the fun two lively children can have in a cattle trailer. An old fashioned lawnmower, relic of quieter days with no motor, becomes a source of great entertainment even for kids who have dirt bikes and four-wheelers at home. And oh, the fun they can have with a box of chalk and an asphalt driveway.

Some of their ideas don’t work, such as trying to catch butterflies in January or climbing a tree in flip flops. Some attempts have to be thwarted by stuffy adults for being too risky, like chasing each other with six foot bamboo swords.

It’s a good thing, though, to listen to the children’s proposals, such as a popcorn picnic. You can learn a lot. And just maybe you’ll have a chance to share one of your own bits of wisdom or even fit their energy to accomplishing a chore, like picking up pine cones or pulling weeds.

Considering the inventiveness and freshness of children’s play, I’m reminded of the cartoon Charles shared the other day. A little boy says to his father, “When I grow up my shoes will be bigger. I’ll have longer laces so you won’t have so much trouble tying them for me, Dad.”

Robert Louis Stevenson was one of those fortunate people who never did grow up, at least not in attitude. He wrote this poem for his book “A Child’s Garden of Verses”:

“When I am grown to man’s estate

I shall be very proud and great,

And tell the other girls and boys

Not to meddle with my toys.”

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The Lonely Heron

The lonely heron (or egret) stood at the edge of the water, long spindly legs supporting his perfectly white feathered body, his ess curved neck turning occasionally with calm deliberation. His long sharp beak must have ignited fear in every little mud scrambler or water creature, although they didn’t have to fear for long. He was so quick at snatching a morsel of dinner you would hardly notice.

There were a few ducks nearby, such different fowl from the heron. They swam and feasted, sometimes simultaneously, moving effortlessly from one area to another. The ducks were playful, pestering each other, diving head first into the cloudy water and coming up a distance away. The tall heron was silent and stood for long minutes as still as one of the sweetgum trees or oaks nearby, only his alert eyes seeming to move at all.

On the other side of a wide boardwalk, gliding towards the deep water, were black and gray Canada geese. Perhaps less playful than the ducks, they still were noisy and opinionated, asserting their claim to the lake. They were sociable, communicating with each other. Three more geese flew in from the other side of the lake, slicing smoothly into the water’s surface and instantly becoming part of the party.

Still, the heron kept watch, only moving a few feet occasionally along the edge of the water, sometimes in the water, yellow legs making squiggly reflections, sometimes on the shore. He seemed preoccupied as if he were studying to make a long speech. Then, like a snake striking, he would bend his long neck and spear a fish or frog pulling them neatly out of the lake, barely disturbing the surface.

There were several kinds of ducks, some dark brown, some almost golden, some male Mallards with unbelievably colorful markings–glistening green heads, a brown bib, as well as black and gray feathers along their backs. The mama Mallards are just as pretty in a much more subtle way. There weren’t many white ducks but two or three pair. They swam and foraged for water weeds and rested together not mixing with other ducks, or with the geese, or trying to converse with the silent heron.

Why was that heron all alone? Every time we went to Lake Cherokee (about once a week during the long Covid year) we could depend on seeing him there in the same location, all alone, no other heron to keep him company. I use the male pronoun, though I have no idea what sex the heron is. Maybe it was a she all alone with no one to tell her whether or not her feathers were smooth or to tell her troubles to. Whichever sex, why were there no other herons? When we had Covid we were absent from the lake for several weeks. When we went back, there was that heron, the only one of his kind, still fishing the same corner of the lake.

With my penchant for romance, I rushed to assume that herons mate for life, that the mate of this one had died, and that this lonely widow or widower stalked the shores or took flight across the tiny inlet, day by day, year by year, sad and grief stricken.

Then I decided to learn more about this lovely, sad, amazing bird.

I haven’t by any means done an exhaustive study but here are a few facts I have gleaned.

The great heron, great egret, snowy egret, and blue heron all have a wingspan of 4.3 to 5.6 feet and stand three to four feet tall. It is very hard for an amateur to distinguish between some of these herons and egrets so I’m not sure my lonely bird is a great heron or a great egret but I know it is great! Some have long thick yellow beaks and yellow legs, some have dark beaks and legs. Some grow beautiful plumes during mating season. The majestic great blue heron is colorful, but most of the egrets and herons are white, some snowier than others.

During mating season herons pair off though there’s no proof they mate for life. The male builds the nest in the top of a very sturdy tree, usually near water. Sometimes he lets his mate help him finish the job. Maybe she does the decorating! The nest is about four feet wide and a foot deep, quite a structure. And they reportedly do not use their nest again. What a waste! Heron eggs are about as big around as a chicken egg but longer. Egret eggs are a bit smaller.

Only a few of the young ones survive, not so much because of predators like hawks or foxes, but because the herons and egrets are very bad at siblicide. Yes, they are very agressive chicks, and very jealous too, and they eat each other.

Those plumes that herons grow during mating season? They are stunningly beautiful, I guess. My heron (or egret) only has a few dark plumes at the back of his neck. But the showy ones grow on the bird’s back. These plumes became cause for near distinction of the bird in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ladies loved to have those plumes in their hats and would pay a good price for them. But, happily for the herons, by 1910 it became illegal to hunt them. The Audubon Society was founded to protect birds from feather hunters.

Herons and egrets do migrate, always in flocks, but in the southeast U.S. they stay year round.

Almost everything I’ve read indicates that the heron belongs to a very sociable species, one whose members nest often in colonies, who fly together to migrate, and who, though silent unless very disturbed, seem to communicate with each other.

So why is this Cherokee Lake heron/egret always alone? I observed him week by week for months and always he was a loner. Yesterday Charles and I had the opportunity to drive over to Cherokee Lake, the first time in several weeks. I eagerly looked along the edges of the little inlet but he wasn’t there. We studied the shores for the tall white graceful bird but there was no sign of him. Geese and ducks were everywhere but no heron.

Was he in grieving and finally found another mate? Was he ostracized but finally welcomed back? Had he gotten lost somehow?

One thing is clear: he was a beautiful creation. He will never know how much pleasure he gave people just by being there in his little corner of the world, doing what he knew how to do, fishing and being beautiful. Wherever he is now, I hope he’s doing the same–except maybe now he has a mate, maybe a friend or two.

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