Highlands

One afternoon a few weeks ago Charles and I took a short trip from north Georgia up to Highlands area in North Carolina. Pictures I snapped that afternoon take me there again when I get homesick for the distant blue slopes and the splash of waterfalls. South Georgia is beautiful with its live oaks and pines, its meandering roads between fence rows, its great fields of corn and soybeans, its sudden showers and heart stopping sunsets. And, contrary to when I first moved here, I now recognize rolling hills here in southwest Georgia. But I still miss the mountains. To change an old saying just a bit–“You can take the girl from the mountains but you can’t take the mountains from the girl.”

Folks used to ask me “How could you leave the north Georgia mountains to live here in the flatlands?” I would laugh and say this is where Charles Graham was, and that was answer enough.

But I do love to go the mountains when I can. Charles’s dad didn’t have much use for mountains because he wouldn’t be able to plant his nice wide fields there. In fact, after one trip we took him on he said of the mountains, “I’ve done that now. I don’t need to do it again.” But, whether he ever thinks that way or not, Charles wouldn’t dare express himself that way in front of me in other than pure jest. It would be highly disloyal, unpatriotic, almost a sacrilege. Instead, he takes me there when he can.

So when I asked to drive on up from Clarkesville, Georgia to Highlands, North Carolina his response was something like “Have we left yet?”

It was a sunny afternoon with drifting puffy clouds casting shadows on shoulders of the mountains. We drove up through Clayton and Dillard and Mountain City into Franklin spotting signs to Sylva, Cashiers, Bryson City, old familiar names. As we climbed higher up the winding road towards Highlands our ears popped with the changing altitude. We pulled over at every lookout to absorb the beauty of sky, mountains, a butterfly hunting its favorite nectar, springs trickling down rocky banks. Unlike my brothers, I never learned names of all the peaks we were viewing but they had such a sweet familiarity, like faces of dear old friends.

We came upon the sign to Dry Falls, a place rich with memories for both of us. As a child, my family (as many as would fit) piled in the 1934 Packard at least once a year and took a mountain trip (from way before dawn to deep dark) sometimes all the way to Mt. Leconte in the Smokies, sometimes rambling around these very roads including an hour or more at Dry Falls. It was absolutely amazing to me as a child that you actually could walk behind that very vigorous falls and only feel a cool mist in your face. Last time we visited it with other family members we found you cannot walk behind it any longer because of the danger of falling rock. On this sunny afternoon recently we decided against even attempting the steep descent to Dry Falls because of my temporary dependence on a walker. But we wouldn’t miss another much slighter falls named Bridal Veil.

The old road still winds behind the graceful falls but the new road now passes it by and a sign warns anyone from taking that behind-the-falls adventure. We parked and took pictures. I’m sure there are other bridal veil falls elsewhere but this one has to be the prettiest and most appropriate for that name. The filmy slip of water catches a gleam of afternoon sun as it ever splashes from black rocks like liquid lace. Again, memories flash for both of us. I remember riding behind the fall in the Packard, remember brothers jumping out to feel the splash. Charles and I together have visited it a number of times and it never loses its beauty, just changes with different times of day, weather, and seasons.

We took Road 106 back down to Dillard without going into the quaint little town of Highlands. The mountains and the waterfalls were our priority. In remembering that afternoon excursion I find the song about the Scottish Highlands singing in my head to the tune of “On Top Of Old Smoky.”

My heart’s in the Highlands,

My heart is not here.

My heart’s in the Highlands

A-chasing the deer.

A-chasing the wild deer

And hunting the roe,

My heart’s in the Highlands

Wherever I go.

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Triple Threat: a book review

Jason Rash, first time author and son of my good friend Sue Rash, has achieved something many writers yearn for: a surprise ending. His novel, “Triple Threat,” written with young adults in mind, is a page turner for the rest of us too.

Chris is a lonely misfit who has endured pretty ugly stuff for a high school senior. She has been abused by an uncle, has lost both her parents, and now is facing the trauma of a new school. She lives with her aunt Kathy who is good to her and hopes her niece gets a great new start in life. But, though Chris is befriended by Alex, handsomest boy on campus, he happens to have a very snobbish and selfish girlfriend named Laura. The girlfriend and her two buddies, proud of their nickname “Triple Threat,” set out to make Chris’s high school days a nightmare.

When Chris becomes desperate in her loneliness and rejection she turns to an option way too many teens are now turning to: suicide.

When the principal reports to the student body what has happened to Chris, the Triple Threat and Alex all recognize they were responsible for the girl’s depression. Even ten years later their lives are still affected by heavy guilt, though Alex and Laura are married and, to all appearances, they are successful and happy.

The twists and turns of the story become more and more stunning until the climax leaves the reader hoping the author is writing a sequel.

The opportunity to write this book came to Jason unexpectedly, though he says he’s long wanted to write. With a background in physical education, Jason is an avid basketball and pickle ball player. Recently he has discovered he has a birth defect causing great pain in one leg. He is having prolonged surgery for receiving cartilage from a donor. His hopes of starting an athletic business have had to slide to a back burner. So there is time to write and Jason has grabbed it.

Jason lives in Birmingham with his wife, Jennifer, who is editor of The Alabama Baptist.

Triple Threat is available on Amazon as well as at the publisher, Suncoast Publishing, http://www.soncoastpublishing.com

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Fourth of July Quilt

I love to celebrate the birthday of our country, the United States of America, without a doubt the most wonderful place in all the world to live! Whether grilling hotdogs and hamburgers, playing yard games, cutting a watermelon, churning ice cream or, of course, watching fireworks after sundown, we are in a celebratory mode. We celebrate differently at various stages of life. No more lawn games for me, but I can enjoy watching! At one time putting up flags early in the morning was part of our day. Now we have a handsome two-flag flagpole furling always the U.S. flag on top and under it one of either the Georgia flag, the Georgia Bulldog flag, or the Christian flag. If we don’t have a crowd of youngsters we don’t drag out the ice cream churn. But, whatever chapter of life we’re in we always celebrate, even if we only hear fireworks from afar.

This year, the Fourth being on Sunday, we worshipped our great God of all freedom with friends at Cairo First Baptist Church. In the afternoon we oven-roasted a London broil cut of beef, cooked green beans and Charles’s whole crop of Irish potatoes (one small bucket of cute little brown potatoes), and baked a blueberry pie with blueberries from our own trees. Did I say we took a nice nap? Of course at this mature chapter that’s a pleasant activity. But in between all this I was making a Fourth of July crazy quilt. No, not sewing one. I was writing it. Well, I almost finished it but became caught up in the televised “Capitol Fourth,” wonderful celebration with singers and bands on the Mall and from around the country. Then we sat on our porch and watched fireworks explode over the tops of our bamboo hedge, numerous neighborhood displays. I didn’t quite finish the quilt. So please help me out here! You add your own words or phrases as we write our quilt blocks.

My blocks for the quilt will be made up of things pertaining to life in the U.S. There will be a block of famous heroes and heroines. We will make another list of those heroes and heroines who never get any particular notice, see their names in the headlines, or carry home any interesting trophies. One block will be American foods, just brief descriptions or mentions. Another block will be covered with names of places, some of which you will know, some you may not. Remember to add your own favorites! And another could be musicians and their compositions. You get the idea. Thing about it is, I’m not going to do significant research. Everything will be “sewn” in place quickly like notes in a journal, higgledy piggledy, if you know what I mean. This is a crazy quilt, after all!

My American heroes include George Washington, John Adams, Lewis and Clark, Abraham Lincoln, Eli Whitney, George Washington Carver, Henry W. Grady, Rosa Parks, James Habersham, Billy Graham, Susan B. Anthony, General/President Eisenhower, Wright Brothers, Louisa May Alcott, John Philip Sousa, and Margaret Mitchell.

You’ll notice statesmen, generals, innovators, authors, musicians, and others. All these are famous people, part of the very fabric of our dear country along with many, many others.

Then here’s my list for the block on non-famous people. (I’m not doing a block on infamous people, though Al Capone comes to mind.) I’m thinking of First Responders, men and women in blue, veterans (especially brothers, brother-in-law, nephews and uncles), grocery store clerks, children who have worn masks to school all year, teachers who pour themselves into their students, every honest upstanding citizen doing their job, the pioneers in their soddies, all settlers trying to build a life in strange and scary places, railroad builders, ever vigilant airline employees, sellers at fruit stands, farmers who watch the skies anxiously but never give up, keepers of the home fires everywhere, those who lovingly tuck their chidren in at night and urge them awake the next morning. Could I add here particularly my “fairy godmother” who helped me through college, the lady who picked me up every Wednesday night to take me to choir practice in her business’s hearse, and my artist friend who would not let me give up on my dream to write a book?

American foods–hot apple pie (of course!), Chicago pizza, hamburgers slurpy with lettuce and tomato, Coney Island hot dogs, Louisiana gumbo, Alabama barbecue, Maine lobster at one of their quaint lobster pound shacks, fresh Alaskan salmon bake, baby back ribs at a small restaurant tucked on the back street of a little town, church “dinner on the grounds,” turkey leg so big it could walk off with the boy gnawing it at the country fair, big succulent shrimp straight from the Gulf, fried okra, black eyed peas, and cornbread–to name a few!

Don’t you love to collect names of towns, rivers, roads, if not on paper, at least in your head? Well, these days, if it’s not written down I may not remember it, and if it is written down I’m certainly not going to know where. But, like popcorn popping, here come a few. Old Egg Road (I’ve always wondered whether the road is old or the egg is old since I’ve never seen a New Egg Road), there’s Stove Creek, Little Tired Creek, Hard Labor Camp Ground (who wants to go there?), Triumph, a very nice tiny Louisiana town on the Mississippi River. Speaking of rivers, the Colorado and Columbia come to mind and closer by the Coosa, the Cahaba and, known to all Georgians, the Chattahoochee made famous by Sidney Lanier. I’m thinking of Three Rivers Park on the Florida Panhandle, Coon Bottom, and a town just over the Tennessee line, I think, from Georgia named Cherry Log. I went with a friend at Young Harris for a weekend at her home there. Some places bring up an image just by their name: Murder Creek, Black Snake Road, Moose Jaw, or maybe Six Mile or Climax. Then there are cozy sounding places like Good Hope, Homewood, and Apple Pie Ridge.

Historical dates? Let’s just smatter on a few dates and let people guess their significance: 1620, 1776, 1860-1865, 1898, 1918, 1929, 1941, 1945, 1963, 1968, 1969,1976, 1990-1991, 2001, 2008, 2020.

Some names of musicians I’d want to remember using maybe two or three blocks since it’s hard for me to narrow down my list: George Gershwin and his “Rhapsody in Blue,” Johnny Cash singing “I Walk the Line,” “A Rhinestone Cowboy” sung by Glen Campbell, a favorite of our little five year old daughter Julie when we adopted her. Also, any marches by John Philip Sousa which always remind me of our son William’s high school and college band career. I’d add Lee Greenwood singing “God Bless the U.S.A.,” Carrie Underwood or George Beverly Shea singing “How Great Thou Art,” Francis Scott Key and his “The Star Spangled Banner,” sung by Marian Anderson in the 1960’s. “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” would have to be included and that’s not to mention the beautiful musicals like “Oklahoma,” “Annie,” and “South Pacific.” I’d have to include, too, the crooning voices of Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis as well as The Beach Boys and the signature sweet light music of Hawaii.

Well, I think we’ve done it, finished writing our crazy July Fourth quilt. Let’s put it together with lots of red, white, and blue with flags around the border. Happy Fourth on the Fifth!

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Sunflower Story

Who wouldn’t like to be cheered by sunflowers along the fence or by the mailbox? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to have a bouquet of sunny faces on their breakfast table, a perfect centerpiece for a big breakfast of eggs and bacon or blueberry waffles?

Sunflowers are growing under our bird feeders, planted by the birds. Our birds like black oil sunflower seeds the very best, much better than the mixed bird seed. They sit on the edge of the feeder cracking seeds held firmly between their feet or hauling them in quick flight to a nearby tree. A lot of seeds fall and then sprout. What a cheerful sight they make! Most years we have a few stalks but they only reach two or three feet. We had one this year that now, as it’s dwindling, is still six feet. It ‘s tall enough to smile in the window at us! Sometimes it’s fun to think the cardinals are considering what an amazing thing they’ve grown, like Jack’s beanstalk.

At the same time ours have been growing our great granddaughter Candi is raising a whole row of sunflowers. She and I have compared sunflower growth along the way, sending pictures back and forth, describing the size of flowers, maybe sometimes with a little fun exaggeration. Ours bloomed first but hers are bigger and there are many more of them. We’ve exchanged fun facts about sunflowers, as well as ideas, legends and such.

Sunflowers were so named, it seems, by Grecians of old. The Greek word “helios” means sun and “anthos” means flower. The name was so appropriate for a flower that turns all day toward the sun.

The name refers to more than a casual resemblance to the sun. Sunflowers actually do absorb and emanate energy. They might be described as some of the first agents of solar energy. In fact, there is an invention called “fake sunflowers,” manmade flowers that turn all day toward the sun thus reproducing energy.

Candi and I have talked about how the sunflowers face east in the morning, then turn toward the sun all day. I remember seeing a large field of sunflowers years ago. I drove past them many times during the flowering season and was amazed to see that they really did all face the sun. But our few are not in such harmony. They usually face different directions, west more often than any. Candi’s, however, really follow the legendary pattern. Consistently, they all face the sun. Supposedly, the flowers follow the sun until it sets in the west, then slowly through the night turn back east to be ready for the sunrise.

We think our sunflowers are not adhering to the directional story because they get very little morning sunshine. I guess they’re confused. Whereas a field of sunflowers “follow the leader” and all turn the same way, our pitiful few have no such firm examples. I love the idea that a row or field of sunflowers can consistently turn faces sunward, just as Christians, led by the Spirit, turn faces Son-ward and remain in harmony like a choir, even turning toward Him during the night times of the soul.

Sunflowers have ever been a source of great fascination. A number of famous artists have repeatedly painted vases of sunflowers and fields or fence rows of them. Monet, Gaugin, Picasso all painted the happy flowers. But the one who seemed most obsessed with sunflowers was Van Gogh, the Dutch artist who moved to France. He persuaded Gaugin to join him at The Yellow House in Arles, France to start an art museum around 1888. Paul Gaugin painted a picture of Van Gogh painting a picture of sunflowers. Van Gogh loved nature, especially flowers, and considered sunflowers to represent gratitude and, so important to any artist, light itself. He painted many pictures of “Twelve Sunflowers in a Vase” (yes, same title, many paintings), as well as five sunflowers in a vase, wilted sunflowers on a table, and fields of sunflowers with faces toward the eastern morning light. He must never have been satisfied with his sunflower attempts since he continued to do more and more. Or did he, like Monet with his water lilies, continue seeing intriguing differences he wanted to capture?

I asked Candi what she would do with her sunflowers when they bloomed themselves out and started to seed. Being a busy college student, she may not be able to do very much with her crop. But she’d like to harvest the seeds, save some for replanting, roast some, feed some to the birds.

Sunflower seeds are highly nutritious, high in protein, rich in antioxidants. They can be enjoyed sprinkled on salads, vegetables, and even pastas. They are delightful as a snack and are very healthy unless they’re laden too heavily with salt.

It’s obvious Charles and I lost the sunflower competition as to size and number. But we feel like winners having happily watched the progress (inflorescence) of our own tiny crop. More than that, we have so happily enjoyed interactions with great grandchildren, particularly Candi. I wonder if we’re going to be munching her roasted sunflower seeds this winter!

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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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