Autumn Flowers

Following the wonderful occasion of my getting my first haircut in over two months, we decided to expand our rare outing to take a ride in the country, see if any autumn color was showing along the creeks.

It has been seven weeks since we were struck with COVID-19. At this point, Charles is still on oxygen, still coughing some, and definitely not up to his usual strength. He has gained back three or four of the fifteen pounds he lost. Unfortunately, I have found the few pounds I lost! But fortunately I’m able to move freely in my kitchen and, with a walker, to make those rounds in the driveway (we’re almost to a mile a day!). We are still secluding until we’re well enough to have the flu shot. But it was a joy to get out and ride around a “country block.”

Quickly we realized that, fall leaf color or not, fall flowers are blooming in abundance.

Goldenrods bloom in thick profusion on the roadsides, along the fences. Red, blue, and pink morning glories festoon themselves amongst the goldenrods or climb fence posts. Other flowers, particularly a dainty white one blooming close to the ground, join in the picture of wild beauty. In front of pretty homes roses still bloom. Pots of chrysanthemums make splashes of color on many porches.

We drove in and out of short stretches of live oak canopies. I always love to see the shadow patterns on the roadway from those huge trees so lavishly decorated with Spanish moss. Looking upward in these “tunnels” gives one a feeling of looking up at the arches in a cathedral. Also, being a girl from the hills, I take a certain joy in seeing even a semblance of banks along the road as often are part of the canopy stretches. Unlike the Meridian Road toward Tallahassee, though, these stretches are so short you can’t dwell on their beauty for long.

One of those canopies arched over the road as we approached the turn into Providence cemetery. We drove in and circled the very neatly kept cemetery and paused to read a few headstones, something we enjoy doing. Then we put our windows down and listened to a mockingbird trilling out a great repertoire of songs and sounds.

We paused on the quiet roads to take pictures as if we were tourists.

I was hoping the sweetgums might be changing color along Wolf Creek Road. I’d noticed the sweetgum at Cairo First Baptist already has a hint of red. But the only color we saw along Wolf Creek was a slight gold tinge of tulip poplar and grapevine leaves. In a couple of weeks we’ll have to venture out again and see if we can see sourwoods and sweetgums turning red.

When we pulled back into our own yard we were struck by the beauty of our own surroundings. Climbing jasmine on our big mailbox pine has yellow blooms, not as many as back in the summer, but so pretty all the same. The red firecracker plant does not display the wonderful abundance of little firecrackers as it did on July 4 but it’s still showing out. The lantana beds are a mass of yellow which butterflies hover over. A stray, very late, azalea blossom peers from amongst leaves like a child not wanting to go to bed yet. Camellias are already covered with buds and the Susquehanna is blooming. Around the rusty cotton planter the spring wildflowers we planted are looking as bright as ever.

And those autumn leaves? Our Japanese maples are tinged with red and the Indonesian cherry tree is dropping persimmon-colored leaves in the driveway. Stray red leaves appear on crepe myrtle and soon the nandina bushes will take on color as well. In a neighbor’s yard across the street from our mailbox a large flowering tree is an absolute brilliant show of pomegranate red.

Aside from flowers and leaves, we have been so interested in birds that come to our feeders and bird baths. The usual titmouse, chickadee, cardinal, mourning dove, bluejay, purple finch, nuthatch, wrens, mockingbirds and catbirds are all delightful. But we’ve also seen bluebirds on the bird bath and a bird we’re not familiar with, so bright and beautiful, maybe a painted bunting, according to our bird guide.

As usual, little green lizards find their way into our porch and don’t know how to get out making cute little green exclamation points on the screen. We now have identified four different turtles who show up repeatedly. Squirrels and birds have been enjoying the berries they dig out of the magnolia pods and even are hunting for stray fresh leaf buds on the otherwise sprangly bare branches of the mulberry tree. And, of course, our cats, Sassy and Cramer, contentedly sprawl on warm patio tiles, drink at the bird baths in preference to their own water dish, and prowl through the shrubs or, in spurts of youthfulness (they’re eleven and twelve now), chase each other. One of them greets us at our kitchen window each morning when we open the shutters.

The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Psalm 24:1

Pines and goldenrods

A couple of October reminders: (1) It’s breast cancer awareness month. Girls, get those mammograms. I’m speaking as one who knows she probably wouldn’t have caught the cancer in time if it hadn’t been for that pesky mammogram. (2) Don’t forget to vote!

Christmas will be here before you know it. Order Christmas Carols in my Heart for readers/journal keepers on your Christmas list. Click on the link below.

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Vote Your Convictions

Election time is here. We’ve heard many say this is the most important election in the history of our country. That has been said probably concerning every election. But this one is crucial because it’s not just a preference between parties, it is a vote on whether or not to keep our America as she is today.

When I was growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s my father listened to the news every evening on the radio. I almost can hear the sonorous voice of H. V. Kaltenborn now. And there was Morgan Beatty. Dad would expound on the news, standing in the kitchen door while Mom cooked supper. He hated the very idea of government handouts. He made no bones about disliking FDR. He would pay his fair share of taxes but he preached vehemently against the government taking control and telling us how we could live. He and Mom taught all ten of us at home. They taught us to love our country, honor those heroes who had fought for our freedom, to respect the flag  (by all means, stand for the national anthem), to cherish our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They taught us to love God and worship Him daily and never to give up this precious right secured for us by our heroes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and all those others.

My Dad talked about the horrors of a society where a government takes on the job of making everyone the same, not just equal in their rights, but on the same level. He himself was an artist and he was fiercely determined that his children, too, be able to develop as individuals with the ability to compete and accomplish great things, to own property, to make the world a better place.

Even though Dad talked so much about a government, like Russia, taking over its people, I didn’t believe ours could ever come to that. I lived in a dream world of security and peace. I thought my Dad was eccentric for being so worried about a government take-over.

Now I’m thinking that my father saw what was coming even way back then. My Dad probably wouldn’t like Trump’s overbearing personality, but he would look beyond that to see that Trump is the man God is using to rescue us from that government take-over he dreaded so much. The Green New Deal, free health care, free college, free child care–he would be horrified at what all that means: government telling us exactly how to live.

In the early 1970’s a missionary to Cuba came one day to speak to our ladies’ group at Cairo First Baptist Church. As I remember, it was a sunny afternoon. I delivered my little boy to the cheerful sweet lady who kept the nursery and went to the meeting room, excited to hear what the missionary had to say. But that was not to be a warm fuzzy meeting. That missionary (I don’t remember her name) spent thirty minutes talking about how blasé the people of Cuba had been, not believing they could ever be turned into prisoners and hopeless laborers and even executed in huge numbers. But it did happen. She had been one of the “lucky” ones to escape rather than being executed for preaching Christ. The chilling message the missionary gave us was that this very thing could happen to us unless we were diligent in using our freedoms and alert to what was happening in our own government.

I titled this “Vote Your Convictions.” What are my convictions? What are your convictions? What do we believe so firmly and long to pass on to our children and our grandchildren and great grandchildren?

My pastor, Chris Allen, preached last Sunday on “Voting Values.” He didn’t talk about securing the border, having the right to defend ourselves, taxes, any of that. He summed up our values with three points: the value of human life, the value of traditional family, and the value of religious freedom. If life is not valued (from the unborn infants to feeble senior citizens); if traditional families are no longer respected (so that children grow up without a mother and a father); and if there is no religious freedom (freedom to worship, to speak of Jesus, and sing His praises), then nothing else matters.

I long for my grandchildren to have the security, the choices, the inalienable rights, that I have enjoyed. There is only one way to vote, in my opinion, to make that a possibility. I will vote for Trump.

I pray for our children and grandchildren to be able to live as the following verse, Isaiah 32:18, describes: “My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”

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Niagara Falls

The Maid of the Mist in the mist

While confined with COVID-19 we’ve had time to talk about our past adventures. Of the following episode our memories differed. I thought it happened the night before we saw Niagara, Charles thought it was the next night. I dug out my journal and found we both were right. We first saw Niagara late one afternoon but went back the next morning. This camping experience took place the night between.

It was July of 1988 and we were on the first leg of a journey across Canada with tent in the trunk of our 1987 Buick.

After leaving my sister’s house in Raleigh, NC, where we’d enjoyed a fun Fourth of July family weekend, we headed north arriving in Amish country in time to have good daylight setting up our tent. It was a new tent and very simple to put together, or so the instructions said. To us, even in our well lit family room at home practicing, it was tricky making all the poles fit the way they should. It took us almost an hour there by that creek to put it all together but we did it, tent pegs down and rain flap in place.

Our camp site was right by a pretty creek. On the other side cows were plodding home. We’d been charmed and fascinated as we drove through Lancaster and the countryside by little buggies, often driven by ladies in long dresses, mingling with the traffic. We saw boys in black hats baling hay on wonderful neat homesteads along the way.

The next day was a very long one but full of beautiful sights. We wound through Pennsylvania following narrow roads intending to reach Niagara Falls by midafternoon. We purchased beanie weenies, crackers, and apples and ate lunch at a wayside park. As my journal reminds me, “because of my making a wrong turn, we saw a lot more of the Alleghenies than we’d intended to.”

It was late in the afternoon, 6:00, when we arrived at Niagara Falls. First hearing, then seeing Niagara was such an incredible experience. I remember it as a time when I wanted to shout with surprise and ecstasy but instead was struck dumb. Maybe it was a tiny bit like when we first will see Jesus, just totally struck dumb by His Glory.

Tons and tons of water, green and splashing white, thundered over the precipice, cool spray hit our faces, and wonderful rainbows played in the mist, adding unbelievable beauty to the scene. The roar was so loud we couldn’t talk much, just make motions to each other as we moved from one viewing place to another.

We enjoyed the sights so much that we let ourselves be late looking for a campground. By the time we found a camp, then drove cautiously between rows of quiet tents to our site, it was thick dark. We had a flashlight but decided quietly not to use it so we wouldn’t waken those sleepy campers. Putting the tent together in the dark was pretty tricky and we were exhausted when finally we crashed on our nice plump air mattress. We weren’t so tired, though, that we couldn’t talk about the prospect of going back to the Falls the next morning. I imagined I could still feel the vibrations from the thundering water as I drifted off to sleep.

I was wakened from a hard sleep by the sound of a tremendous roar, if anything much louder even than Niagara. Through the thin nylon of the tent I saw a huge blinding light coming straight at us. I shook Charles awake screaming, “We’ve set our tent on the railroad track! We’ve got to get out of here!”

By the time we could have gotten out of that tent, the train would have smattered us to pulp. But, as it was, there was a curve in the track and the train cruised on by. It is advisable that campers set up camp while they can see their surroundings. The next morning we observed that there were campers even closer to the tracks than we were and they didn’t look at all stressed or haggard. 

The next day was wonderful. We saw the Falls from the Canadian side. We saw them from the Maid of the Mist wearing yellow raincoats. Our ride on the tour boat took us right into the cloud of mist at the foot of Horseshoe Falls, close enough to speed up the heart rate of at least some of us. Our tour guide told us many stories of those who perished when they went over the Falls (some on purpose) and those few who survived. One story that I recall was of a young child who somehow fell out of a boat upriver. No one was able to rescue him before he plummeted over the Falls. But he was rescued below by the crew of the Maid of the Mist. I couldn’t imagine anyone’s surviving such an accident.

We had a picnic lunch near the Falls before we struck out toward Guelph, Ontario. We would go then to Cyprus Lake on Bruce Peninsula, cross a ferry to Wawa, and drive along the shores of Lake Superior, exclaiming over and over at the splendor. But nowhere would we see anything more astonishing and magnificent than Niagara Falls. 

Have you started looking for Christmas gifts? How about a fun and inspiring interactive Christmas journal? Check out the link below.

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From the Floor

The words “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” have taken on new meaning to me. I studied the den rug, nose to fiber, spent a long time seeking a way to pull myself up or, at times, contemplating the ceiling fan in an all new way. COVID-19 will do strange things to people, including putting them on the floor.

When we first got sick, someone suggested that I keep a log of how Charles and I felt each day. I did that for a few days until everything began to fuzz out into a fog. Now I’m going back and trying to remember the progression of our illness in case it might be helpful to anyone. It is a strange and mysterious virus affecting people so very differently including the two of us in the same household.

My husband and I became sick at the end of August. Charles came home from work at the animal hospital at noon on August 31 burning with fever, shaking with chills. I started coughing a couple days later and knew that I, too, had the dreaded virus, in spite of how careful we’d been with quarantine, hand washing, etc.

Our doctor administered dextamethazone, hydromed cough syrup and in- halers for both of us. We took measures to keep family and friends safe and figured out how to get through this illness. Our granddaughter regularly picked up items we needed at the store and dropped them on our back porch. By the end of the week, Charles was feeling much better and I was two days behind but making progress. We thought we were recuperating nicely and felt almost smug, as if to say “We’ve got this covered!”    

But on Labor Day Charles’s fever spiked. He woke repeatedly in heavy sweats. I noticed his breathing changing to a pant but when I asked him if his breathing was impaired he said he was just hot. The day after Labor Day we called Dr. Nesmith who sent us immediately to Grady General ER. He was admitted that afternoon about 5:00. At the time he was admitted his fever was 103 and his oxygen level in the low 80’s.

I naiively thought this would be a short hospital stay for Charles so was surprised the next day when Dr. Nesmith informed me he was giving Charles a strong intravenous drug which would require at least five days of administration. I appreciated the daily phone reports from Dr. Nesmith who also asked how I was feeling. He particularly asked if I was breathing all right and whether I had any fever. I told him I was fine except for the incredible fatigue which is, he assured me, a normal affect of the virus and takes a long time to get over.

Day by day I expected to hear that Charles was much better but instead heard that his “numbers had not yet turned around.” I called him about twice a day but couldn’t talk very long as I could tell it was hard for him.

That week when I was home alone is not very clear, looking back. A couple of days I took things to the hospital for Charles. I fed the cats, replenished bird baths and such. Amanda brought things I needed and I would creep out after she left to retrieve them from the porch. I treasured her wave and air hugs. As the week wore on, I began to think it was all right to leave the mail in the box. I remember one afternoon walking around the end of the house to put seeds in a bird feeder and wondering if I would make it back inside.

Food didn’t taste right. Everything had a metallic taste.  I was supplied with beautiful soups and casseroles by loving friends who brought things to the porch. But I would take two or three bites and push it away. I didn’t realize how little I was drinking.

By Saturday that week I was so wiped out I hardly budged from my chair. When I did, I used my cane, not feeling very steady on my feet. Dr. Nesmith reported that Charles’s numbers were beginning to turn a curve but Charles said the doctor wouldn’t even talk about when he might come home. I fed the cats and locked the door against the dark of another night. Opening “These Far Green Hills” by favorite author Jan Karon, I tried to concentrate on her funny, inspirational characters.

It was about 9:00 when I attempted to get up and prepare for bed but ended up on the floor instead. After an hour and a half when I did finally get back in my chair and to my phone, I called my sister-in-law and told her I was ready to use Memaw’s walker she’d been offering me. We agreed she would bring it the next day. Opting for as little movement as possible, I slept in my chair that night. Sunday was a bright beautiful day but I didn’t dare move much, stayed close to my chair waiting for the walker. When Revonda delivered it, my first thought was to feed the cats. As I attempted to take the step back up onto the porch I hit the floor again, this time the hard unforgiving porch floor bricks.

“Lord, what do I do this time?” I asked with my face smashed against the bricks, my glasses frame hopelessly bent. Wrangling my phone out of the walker basket I managed to call Amanda. I was halfway inside the screen door and half way out and too scared to worry about how ridiculous I might look. As I waited on Amanda and Jared, I tried to squirm myself into a more bearable position. My phone rang. My son Will calling from Birmingham to see about us. I had repeatedly told him not to come, not wanting him and his family exposed to the virus but now when he said, “Mom, I’m on my way” something in me relaxed as if God said I could let go.

It was that night while Will was with me that I fell a third time. The next day he took me, on Dr. Nesmith’s instructions, to ER where I was eventually admitted that afternoon to an ICU room. Dr. Nesmith grinned as he cautioned me what to expect: “Your husband is still here but don’t even think you’re going to see him.” Someone has joked since then that Grady General should have a honeymoon suite. When I was admitted my temperature was over 100, my oxygen in the low 80’s. I was put on a different steroid than Charles had been given. After three days I was moved from ICU to a regular room. The hospital was eerily quiet with no visitors at all. Nurses dressed in their COVID resistant gowns, masks, gloves, and shields were like aliens. But they spoke kindly and were very thoughtful.

Will brought his dad home equipped with oxygen the day after I was admitted. When I talked to Charles on the phone, I was shocked at how weak his voice was. In fact, when we tried to talk he usually let Will interpret for him.

After a week of IV’s, careful nursing, long nights and slow days, I came home, so happy to see Charles who’d grown a woolly beard. We hadn’t seen each other for two weeks. Will stayed on several days to be sure we were okay before heading back to Birmingham. We were so thankful when the report from his test came back negative!

Sitting here safe in the den I remember clearly the feeling of helplessness as I urned this way and that trying to pull myself up from the floor. I remember whispering against the rug, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” In the hospital during forever nights words of Psalm 103 scrolled in my mind: “Who healeth all our diseases and crowneth us with lovingkindness and tender mercies.” Charles and I are both so thankful for the Lord’s bringing us to this side of COVID. We’re thankful for the superb hospital care, for Dr. Nesmith and his staff, and for our family and marvelous church family who kept us supplied with beautiful food and other needs. 

Never does a trauma occur that God’s faithfulness cannot shine. Even when we’re knocked all the way to the floor, God reminds us to “keep looking up.”

Start planning for Christmas! Look up my Christmas book to give to family and friends.


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National Geographic

The other day our great granddaughter, Charli, expressed her curiosity over the shelves of yellow magazines in our den. “What are these books? Why do you keep so many? What’s in them?”                                                                     

We subscribed to National Geographic when our son was a toddler and have continued our subscription to this date. Each month the magazine with its marvelous pictures arrives. When he was little, our son loved for us to read to him and National Geographic with its colorful pictures was one of his “books.” Over the years one or both of us have perused the pictures, the captions, and many of the articles, sometimes all of them. Granted, during hectic times we might only have skimmed through the pages but usually we at least look at the pictures.

Before internet took over the information world the Geographics were a much-used source for school papers on almost everything from dinosaurs to earthquakes to every place on earth and the moon too. The spine of each volume has titles of the featured articles with titles of maps in red so they’re very easy to spot. And oh! those maps! I love maps that show you places all over God’s earth and I have always enjoyed using them in teaching children, allowing them to have a vision of where countries are and their relationship to each other. The maps are folded inside the magazine, easily extracted and, unfortunately, easily lost.

It is so easy and fun now to ask Siri for information about everything, even chewing gum. But it’s a lot more colorful and fun to look things up in National Geographic. The pictures alone with their captions can give you the taste and feel for places and people around the globe.

A few times over the years we have looked at each other and voiced the possibility of stopping our subscription. But then, how could we? We couldn’t give it up as long as our children were students. Then there were the grandchildren. They might seldom look at the treasures between the yellow covers but the source was there for them. Then we couldn’t stop it because we liked the magazine so much. Then suddenly (or it seemed that way!) we realized we had forty years of National Geographic and we certainly couldn’t break that wonderful heritage.    

Along the way we had a bookcase built specifically for the National Geographics. Tommy Humphries was a skilled woodcraftsman and we asked him to build a bookcase with adjustable sloping shelves, maybe three shelves, something low that would fit under a window. Tommy added his own ideas to ours. Didn’t we want four shelves? We said okay, four. Next thing he insisted five shelves was what we wanted and we agreed to that, knowing it now would not fit under a window. Well, the bookcase has six four-foot shelves, four of them now filled to capacity with golden Geographics, 1972 to 2020. Good job, Tommy! You knew better than we did!

A year or two ago I, as the bookworm of the house, had the audacity to approach Charles with the possibility of selling our collection, just so we’d have space for the books spilling out from other bookcases. I thought he would be so pleased that I was actually willing to part with this marvelous set of magazines. Turns out, he was shocked I would even think of such a thing. “We can’t let them go now. Look what a treasure we have!”

So the National Geographic keeps coming, month by month. When we moved we were able to set them all in order by dates. But that was six years ago. So when I began to answer Charli’s questions and show her some of the wonderful contents, I realized the bottom two shelves were woefully out of order.

“I can fix them for you, Nana,” Charli proposed. Well, Nana thought that was a wonderful idea “for another day.”

I left the room to see about lunch and when I came back there was Charli in the midst of stacks of National Geographics happily organizing. Together we matched loose maps back to their proper issue, pausing of course to take a look at them. I told her maybe she’d be a librarian one day. In the meantime, I hope she’ll be inspired to look into the fantastic pages of this magazine that, issue by issue, shows us things about ourselves and about people we’d never know otherwise, about coffee plantations, volcanoes, hieroglyphics, and even some of the latest on the dreaded coronavirus.

Psalm 107:8 “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!”

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Life Along the Levee

Photo by David Abbram on

It was the summer of 1965. It was very hot down in the bayous of south Louisiana. I was a college student summer worker with a missionary in Creole country, sixty miles south of New Orleans, about a thousand from my home in north Georgia. The missionary, Miss Edrie Hatton, was all of four feet eleven, wore extenders on her shoes so she could reach the accelerator and, hopefully, the brakes. She was little but she ruled her realm, the Triumph Baptist Mission, firmly and steadily. I wrote Mama about the Louisiana gumbo feasts, blue crabs some youth brought to the mission, about how mosquitoes lined up on my knuckles as I played the piano. But I didn’t tell her about Miss Edrie’s driving, how she made up for her size with her speed. As it turned out, I was to experience a faster, scarier ride than Miss Edrie would have imagined.

My main responsibilities that summer, divided between Triumph Mission the Buras Mission a few miles away, were to teach children in Vacation Bible School, play the piano for Sunday meetings and visit folks. Visiting was by car (with Miss Edrie driving), by foot, or sometimes by boat, inviting folks to church and building relationships. Building relationships can take some odd turns. Trying to be friends with young people and children in the neighborhood, I became involved in an unexpected activity on the levee that stretched between us and the Mississippi River.

When I told children the story of the five thousand Jesus fed with one little boy’s lunch, I learned that these children had no concept of what a mountain is. I wanted them to picture the crowd of people on a grassy slope but I couldn’t feel they grasped the vision. Having grown up in the foothills, I couldn’t imagine not knowing what a mountain is. Finally, I pointed to the ever present levee. “Like the levee,” I explained, “except much, much higher.”

The levee hid the mighty Mississippi from our view. I would like to have been able to see the water from the mission, the expanse of rolling river about to dump into the Gulf of Mexico. But of course I knew why the levee was there. I’d seen the water level left by hurricanes in homes I visited, a dirty mark just shy of the ceiling. The levee was there to protect the residents, though sometimes even that barricade wasn’t enough. And then there was another use for the levee that even the sharp-eyed Miss Edrie didn’t realize. 

One Saturday afternoon while Miss Edrie was fully focused on studying for a Sunday Bible lesson, some children and young people came to the door to see if I’d like to come “do some things” with them. I wanted desperately to be their friend, not only just to be friends but to be able to point them to Jesus. And, besides, I was ready to go outside and “do some things.”

We followed the sandy shoulder of the road down the street several houses, then around one small house with its two banana trees and its clothesline hung with a week’s wash of bright skirts and heavy fishermen’s jump suits. Chickens scratched in the bare yard. I had no idea what we were about to do and, I think, the young people didn’t know either. We stood about awkwardly talking about fishing on the Gulf, catching blue crabs and such. One guy told with enthusiasm how he might be going to New Orleans with his father the next month. He’d never been so was very excited. We played a couple of games like “Rover Red Rover.”

About then a boy from farther along the levee appeared, pushing himself along on an old rusty dismantled motor bike. Before I knew what was happening a new game had developed, one I knew nothing about. A kid would laboriously push the bike to the summit of the levee, turn around and position himself, then push off allowing the bike to rush pell-mell down the slope while all the children screamed with glee. As the bike leveled out, the rider would turn slightly and use his feet as brakes.

My heart raced as I watched them. What if one of them broke a leg right here in front of me? At the same time, I was impressed with their inventiveness. I clapped and laughed with the others, glad to be sharing in their fun even if it was a little wild.

Suddenly my twelve-year-old friend Jocelyn climbed on the thing. Everyone cheered her on as she pushed her way up the slope. At the top she waved, adjusted her skirt, and climbed on. She plummeted down the embankment giggling and squealing in delight.

To my horror, Jocelyn then said, “Sister Brenda, it’s your turn. Try it, it’s fun!” (This was largely a Catholic oriented community, though few actually practiced Catholicism. Still, the children connected me with the terminology they were familiar with so I was “Sister Brenda.”)

I turned down the offer. One by one each youth and child, even the youngest ones, took a turn never having any trouble and obviously getting a swishing thrill out of their ride. As they continued to plead with me to try it, I admitted I’d never even learned to ride a bike. That wouldn’t matter, they insisted. The bike would go so fast I couldn’t fall off. What about my skirt, I asked. The girls, all dressed in skirts as well, laughed at me. That was no excuse.

As I pushed that surprisingly heavy bike to the top of the levee my heart began to pound. Lord, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Please help! But they had all done this so easily and I’d watched each one. Surely I, too, could safely arrive at the bottom. At the summit I looked out at the muddy Mississippi. I wished I could just sit up there for a while and watch the water go by. But the children were beginning to chant “Sis-ter Bren-da, Sis-ter Bren-da.” I positioned the bike as I’d seen them do, promising myself it would all be over in a minute. Then I pushed off.

The ride down was a terrible thrill. Indeed, I was going too fast to turn over. The trick came when I hit the flat. I forgot how they’d swerved and put their feet out. I can still remember the thud as I crashed into that house. My knees  throbbed and burned from the collision. As I lay in a heap of skirts (mine and some from the clothesline) and wheels, it was my pride that suffered the most. With all those children standing over me in great distress, adults from inside the house rushing out to see what had happened, all I could think was “What in the world is Miss Edrie going to say?”

I managed to keep my skirt down over my knees so Miss Edrie never knew how badly I’d skinned them. But there was no keeping her from knowing about my foolish ride. She admonished me severely, telling me I was supposed to be a leader of the children, not a follower. How could she trust me after such a stunt?

That summer was full of so many experiences–riding the ferry across to a charming island where several of us helped with a Bible class, making visits by boat to a French-speaking village named Venice, approached only by canals, drinking coffee that marched it was so strong. It was the summer before I would marry my sweetheart so I volunteered every single day to go to the mailbox. The baptistry at the Baptist mission was used that summer after many months of being quiet. My friend Jocelyn prayed to receive Christ and she, along with several others in her family, was baptized. Every morning Miss Edrie prayed beginning with the words, “We come boldly to the throne of grace.” Yes, she did forgive me for my foolishness.

I learned that summer that God protects the foolish and uses our weaknesses for His glory. And never do I hear of a hurricane headed for the Gulf that I don’t think about and pray for my friends along the levee.

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Courting in the 1930’s

My father-in-law was a great man, though he was known only to a lucky few. His name was J.B. Graham, simply that, not John Bryson or Joshua Brandon, just “J.B.” He was one of the oldest of thirteen children. For most of his adult life he lived in Thomas County, Georgia in a small community called Merrillville where church was the center of everything. It was a place where everyone watched out for the best interests of everyone else. Papa made sure all the widows got their screen doors repaired, their wasps’ nest killed, and that they had plenty of vegetables from his bounteous garden. He could be seen in his overalls and, for most months of the year, long-sleeved shirt, riding his tractor working long rows of tobacco or corn or soybeans.

His appearance on Sunday was quite different, however. He’d be spiffy as they come with pretty shirt, tie, and creased trousers. The ladies at church liked to comment on how nice his clothes looked and he’d say in his cute, humorous way, “But what about the hanger?” And he’d wink at his wife of fifty-plus years knowing he’d be lost choosing his own wardrobe.

Papa wasn’t originally from Thomas County. He came of dating age living in Danielsville, Georgia north of Athens. I was from north Georgia also, farther up in the hills near Clarkesville. Papa liked to tease me about “my” mountains which, he said, he’d seen once and that was enough. He said I had one leg longer than the other from growing up in the hills. He didn’t talk much about “his” north Georgia and I knew it was because he was so in love with the wide sunny fields of south Georgia where he met his bride. But one rainy day as we all sat on the porch he launched into telling about what it was like “courting” in the old days. I was intrigued and jotted down a few notes as soon as I got home. Here’s some of what he told us.

As he talked about his teen years in the 1930’s, I felt I was looking in to glimpse him on a Saturday evening or a Sunday afternoon, riding a mule to see his girlfriend.

“It was an easy quick mile or so over the creek, along little woods trails, and through a field or two from our house to where–oh, I can’t remember her name now–but to her house. But if darkness caught me, I couldn’t find those trails and had to ride three miles, going around on the road.”

The darkness always came too quickly, he said, before all the sweet things had been said, before all the pound cake had been eaten, or the fresh churned ice cream. He would begin to take his leave with the sun setting red fires up the trunks of pine trees. But by the time he finally really left the friendliness of the swept yard and the gentle maiden, he could hardly see her wave to him from her porch. Only a stone’s throw down the road, darkness engulfed him as if a thick blanket had been thrown over his head.

Papa looked around at the porch light with insects buzzing around it, at the nice floodlight in the yard, and he said, “You don’t know what darkness is until you get in that total country dark with no moon or stars out.”

He said one time he arrived at his own little road, still on his mule, and decided to light a match. The sudden flare spooked the mule who went one way while Papa landed somewhere in the other direction in a bramble.

Sometimes, many times, in fact, he didn’t have the luxury of riding the mule. Remember, there were thirteen children many of whom were boys. I guess they drew straws or something to see who got the only mule, and he didn’t always win. Once when he was on foot, he left in time to get home before dark. He thought. He was depending on a short cut, but he ended up in the middle of a woods with not a peep of light anywhere. He would have welcomed even a firefly.

“I stumbled along, tried to miss the briars and the logs, and got so turned around I didn’t know where in kingdom come I was. All I could see in any direction was the blackest dark you ever saw. Ain’t any darker down in a deep well.”

As accident would have it, he fell eventually into the road, plummeting several feet down an embankment. Standing and shaking off his humiliation, glad no one could see him, he realized he didn’t know which stretch of the road he’d fallen into. Should he go right or left? Feeling about for some landmark, he suddenly spied the flare of a tiny light far down the lane and somehow he knew that was home, that his mother had lit a lamp for him.

Flashlights were hard to come by, he said, and batteries weakened quickly in those days. In a big family like his, you might get the use of a flash about every six months, the mule maybe once a month if you were really lucky.

“And, you know,” said Papa as he rocked on the porch watching rain drip off the eaves,  “the darkness was blacker in those days. But don’t think I was giving up on my Saturday night freedom. The girls were mighty sweet!”

At that point my mother-in-law, Elizabeth, punched him in the arm and said, “All right now, that’s enough of that old stuff. Are you ready for a cup of coffee?”

And he always was.

On August 29 my husband’s parents would have been married for 78 years.


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Sprig of Rosemary

I don’t know just when I fell in love with the herb rosemary but it was a long time ago. I do remember the occasion when we first were given a pot of rosemary. By the way, the symbolism for rosemary is remembrance. Supposedly, eaten as seasoning on meats and vegetables, it can sharpen your memory skills. I need all the help in that department that I can get!

My first introduction to rosemary may have been at Roddenbery Memorial Library in Cairo, Georgia while herding a classroom of children on a “Miss Wessie” tour. Miss Wessie, longtime librarian, knew the value of letting children experience their surroundings with eyes, ears, fingers, and nose. As we walked through the garden she instructed the children to pinch a leaf or run hands gently down a branch of this plant, that herb or bush and then smell their hand. I think that was when I first found the calming, yet invigorating scent of rosemary.

That first pot of rosemary was given us by a veterinarian friend in Gray, Georgia. We went through Gray every few months on our way to Clarkesville and often passed right by Dr. Barry Moore’s clinic. Sometimes we’d stop for a minute and Charles would run in to say hi. Dr. Moore’s wife, Sarah Jane, was also a veterinarian but she worked in Macon so we didn’t see her except occasionally at a Georgia veterinarians’ meeting. We didn’t know them very well but they were very interesting people and we missed them after they retired.

One day as we traveled north we made the sudden decision to go by Barry and Sarah Jane’s house. Charles knew it was on the back side of the property where the practice was. We found them at home enjoying retirement, both of them very pleased to see us. We had iced tea and chatted a few minutes, then stood to leave. Sarah Jane insisted we look around their yard and garden before we left. That’s when I saw a rosemary bush that was thick and beautiful. It reigned like a queen close to a walkway, its slender-leaved branches brushing against a rock. I ran my hand along one branch and took in the restorative scent. As we continued around the yard I kept looking back at that beautiful rosemary bush. Finally I worked up the nerve to ask this lady whom I knew so slightly if I might have a cutting from her rosemary bush. She laughed and said, “Oh, I can do better than that. I’ll give you a rosemary bush already rooted and potted.”

We planted that rosemary where we could see it from our garden room. It grew to be as grand as Sarah Jane’s. But after years it began to be somewhat sprangly and we cut it back severely. It never recovered. But I had rooted some branches from it so when it died we still had rosemary. When we moved from that house we took cuttings with us and started a new tub of rosemary which became as bushy and full of that tantalizing aroma as the first had been. One day while I was playing with my great grandchildren I missed my footing somehow and landed right in that tub of rosemary. The children worried I’d hurt myself but I was cushioned nicely in the fragrant branches. The problem was I didn’t know how to get up. It took a lot of effort and squeals of laughter from all of us to haul me out of there. Then I realized what I’d done. I had sat smack down in the middle of my beautiful rosemary bush and it was flattened and broken. It never quite recovered. But, again, I had rooted some branches so we planted another one which grew nicely.

Presently, our rosemary bush is less than healthy having missed a few waterings, I’m afraid. It looks a little like a chicken that’s lost most of its feathers. But not to worry. I have another cutting rooted and ready to plant. Not only do I want to keep a rosemary near the back door. I also look for opportunities to give a newly rooted rosemary away, to pass forward the generosity of Sarah Jane.

I use dried or fresh rosemary on beef and pork roasts, on baked or stewed chicken. I even made a loaf of rosemary wheat bread and I really liked it by my family didn’t seem too turned on about it. Use a teaspoon of dried rosemary in a pot of vegetable beef soup. Use the pretty little branches as a garnish on a plate of stuffed eggs or a platter of sliced ham. If you want a quick decoration for your table, stick some rosemary branches in a pitcher of water. If you replenish the water every few days the leaves will stay fresh and green for weeks. And if you keep it long enough, about a month or six weeks, you can pull those stems out and–voila!–Roots!

It’s easy to dry rosemary for future use. Harvest about a dozen little branches, tie them together with a string, leaving a loop on stem end of bunch. Hang it over any hook and enjoy the down home feeling of its scent for a couple of weeks. When it’s dry, place the bunch on a cookie sheet or a piece of wax paper and strip every one of those twigs.  You can place dried rosemary leaves in a ziplock bag and keep them for at least six months. When you use dried rosemary, rub the now brittle little leaves between your hands and turn the into tiny flavorful bits to add to your cooking.

Aside from its savory scent, its delightful flavor and its Christmasy boughs, I love the tenacity of the rosemary. If you have the misfortune to prune it to death, flatten it, starve it you can plant new rootings so you’ll always have a rosemary.  For this non-green-thumb girl it is a pleasure to be able to root anything! And maybe, as a side effect, my memory will improve also.


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Jelly for Jesus



Charli ladling jelly into jars

Charli and I were making grape jelly. She helped me wash jars, measure sugar, collect utensils and stir, stir, stir. I felt a generational bonding as I remembered fondly making jelly with my mother, my daughter and my granddaughter. Now here was my great granddaughter working along with me.

As we worked I not only explained the process, but also threw in bits of my jelly devotional believing that, even at nine years old, she may remember some of it.

Making jelly has always been fun for me. I’m fascinated by the amazing changes that occur as crude juice is turned into sweet jiggly clear jelly. One time as I stirred the juice heating to a boil, God planted the idea for this devotional in my head. Maybe some of you would like to use this simple visual devotional as well. It is symbolic but not allegorical, meaning each point has a spiritual significance, but the whole process cannot be compared to our Lord or to our relationship to Him.

First, I introduce the jelly pot, aka roast pot, soup pot, etc. It is about forty-five years old, a stainless steel six-quart pot by Saladmaster. I point out that it is marred, one handle completely missing. There are scratches and stains on the shiny pot. It’s solid and good. But it’s marred. In spite of its faults, though, it is a very useful pot. We, too, are marred sinful vessels but God can use us in His purposes even with broken handles, multiple scratches and stains.

Next, I set out all the utensils I will need to make jelly–tongs for handling hot jars and lids, a long handled stirring spoon, a ladle for pouring jelly in jars, a funnel, cotton gloves I use for handling the filled hot jars, and a fresh clean dish cloth for making sure the rim of each jar is perfectly clean. I even drape a nice clean dish towel over my shoulder in case I need it during the process. All these are very minor characters in the jelly making but any one of them becomes major when I need them. I have to stir the jelly, ladle it into jars, tighten rings. And I’d make a scalding mess if I didn’t use that nifty little yellow funnel. Each is part of a team and, though seemingly insignificant, is of great importance for making a sweet delightful product. Just as each of us in God’s church, no matter how small our role, is very important.

It’s time to wash the jars. When doing this devotional, I hold up one clean sparkling pint jar for my audience to see. Cleanliness is totally necessary to insure safe and secure canning. God needs clean jars (us!) for the assignments He fills us with. But we can’t scrub ourselves clean in soapy water. He has to clean us with His blood and His power.

After washing the jars I place them right side up on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven to heat at 220. Heat is to sterilize the jars even more than washing can do and to promote the process of sealing. All jars have to be heated either this way or in a pan of simmering water as my mother used to do, or in a canner. Jellies are safe to can “from the stovetop” as opposed to most other products. Heating jars in the oven, lids and rings in hot water, make them pure for the job they’re to do. At this point I ask what the heat represents and someone will say it is our trials which God uses to prepare us for future assignments.

I measure the sugar into a bowl, each cup leveled exactly evenly. I usually just take some sugar in a ziplock bag for this part of the demonstration. Being so precise with measurements reminds me that God has given us commandments to obey and they are extremely important.

We talk about the process of obtaining the juice from fruits, varying according to the fruit. Mayhaws and grapes, for instance, have to be boiled slowly in a generous amount of water, then strained through cheesecloth. (The juice can be canned or frozen for future use.) One thing is obvious.  Whatever the fruit, it has to be mangled, squished, changed in form to become juice. We as Christians must be submissive to the Lord’s “molding and making,” or squishing, in order to do His work.

We take a deep breath. After all this preparation, we are finally ready to start making jelly. Preparation is necessary and often takes more time than the job itself. Sometimes the Lord takes years preparing us for one single assignment.

I like to have a quart jar of what I call crude juice ready to pour into that nice waiting pot, though in the interest of cleanup, I don’t actually pour it in. The Sure Jell will be at hand also but not opened. We talk about adding the Sure Jell and stirring it in. The juice isn’t pretty to start with, not clear and bright. After the Sure Jell goes in it becomes positively ugly. Experiences, situations, enter our lives, for good or for bad. Without Jesus we have no help in facing grim problems.

At last, after constant stirring, the juice and Sure Jell are thoroughly mixed and boiling. Time to pour in the sugar! This is really a fun stage. As we mix the sugar in, the juice suddenly turns a beautiful color and is so clear we can see the bottom of the shiny pot. I say this is like when Jesus comes into our lives. The ugliness disappears (well, at least part of the time!) and others can actually see Jesus in us.

When the jelly has boiled one minute at high heat, white foam forms on top. As I told Charli, the foam isn’t very good so we skim it off. Sometimes we call it sludge. My audience quickly recognizes that this is like the daily sins that Jesus “skims” off our lives.

We ladle hot jelly into hot jars and seal with hot lids and rings. This, too, is a really good part. Once we commit to following Jesus and become His child, nothing can separate us from Him, not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword (Romans 8:35) Just as the jars are sealed for safe keeping, so are we. The recommended shelf life for most canning is one to three years. For the Christian it is for eternity!

As the jelly cools it will become jiggly and spreadable. Christians become firm in their faith as they mature through studying God’s word, praying, and interacting with other believers.

One more thing. Now that we’ve made jelly, let’s taste it! I always have with me a jar of jelly, some crackers, and some napkins. One time I presented this devotional at an assisted living residence. Several little girls helped me serve the jelly on crackers. Everyone gets a taste of the jelly as I remind us all that when He puts sweetness in our lives, He expects us to share His goodness with others.

Whether you’re making marmalade, jelly, jam, or preserves from oranges, grapes, strawberries, or figs, I hope you enjoy the process. It’s always fun to hear that celebratory pop in the kitchen as each jar cools and seals. And there is a sense of completeness in stowing them away in the pantry. It’s so much fun to share gifts of jelly at Christmas and anytime.

I didn’t give Charli much of this devotional, too much for her at nine, but I hope she remembers that Jesus sweetens our lives.


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Watermelon Time

two slices of watermelons on grass

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

There’s nothing better on a hot summer’s afternoon than a slice of cool pink watermelon. We had a concrete picnic table at the house where we lived raising our children. It was perfect for watermelon cuttings. Many a Saturday afternoon we with perhaps an extended family group as well as friends would gather around while Charles “cracked” a watermelon wide open, then cut it into generous smile shaped pieces. Finicky ones would use a fork, others dive their very faces into the juicy melon spitting out the seeds with eager delight.

Some watermelon eaters opt to have just a portion of a slice, the “heart,” that beautiful, almost frosty-looking upper side of the smile. Others will eat right down to the rind and will have competitions over who might spit a seed the farthest. You can quickly tell the difference between the “heart” eaters with a fork and the “whole melon” eaters who have tell-tale juice running off their chins.

Most of the time right now there are only two of us here. We cut a watermelon into manageable small pieces and keep them in an airtight container so we can dip into them whenever we like. When I taste the juicy sweetness I remember many of those good old watermelon cuttings. One, in particular, was very different from the rest.

In my book Stone Gables I’ve written about the time when a watermelon vine grew in the corner of Mamma’s garden. She hadn’t planted it but we were so excited when it came up. One watermelon developed very nicely getting bigger and plumper as the summer went by.  Mamma “thumped” it almost every day and kept saying it wasn’t quite ready yet. But one day she agreed we could pluck it from the vine and carry it to the spring to cool.

We could hardly wait for that watermelon to be cool enough according to Mamma’s standards. Finally we all hovered around a big table-like rock near the spring while Stan did the cutting. We were holding our breath in eagerness as the knife cut lengthwise of that beautiful green melon. As it cracked open to reveal the inside we  we groaned in unison and even stepped back, I think. The watermelon wasn’t a watermelon; it was perfectly green inside. “It’s a citron,” Mamma said in disappointment. “I knew it didn’t thump right.”

Mamma was loathe to throw anything away so she had us haul the non-watermelon back to the house where she pared the rind into cubes and began boiling them down with sugar to make preserves. We still talk about the disappointment of that day.

Many another time we had wonderful watermelon cuttings on the patio at Stone Gables. People sat on the patio wall, in folding chairs, or just stood around with juice dripping between their fingers as they ate. Stan and Tom were both especially thoughtful about bringing watermelons to the big family gatherings. And never again, in my memory, did we have a citron instead of a watermelon.

A really good thing about watermelon, for those who are watching their calories, is that this “fruit” is ninety percent water. One can eat a lot of watermelon without worrying about blowing a diet. Also, the sugar is a kind sugar that doesn’t harm a diabetic, within reason.

A phrase from an old Tom T. Hall ballad comes to mind: “…old dogs and children and watermelon wine.” It’s a fetching tune and an intriguing thought but when I think of watermelon turned into wine I have to make a face. I’ve had the misfortune to let a watermelon spoil. Cutting into one of those is worse than opening a citron! What would watermelon wine taste like? I wouldn’t be able to get past the smell to find out.

This time of year there are watermelons in huge crates in almost any grocery store–round ones, oval ones, those claiming to be seedless, red meat watermelons, yellow meat watermelons, tiny watermelons and huge ones. You can see large trucks on the highway piled high with watermelons. There are wide open fields of watermelons still on their vines and then sometimes, sadly, I guess because the market becomes flooded, there are fields of watermelons gone to waste lying exposed with their vines turned yellow and shriveled and some of the melons popped open for the flies and bees.

Pick a watermelon from a crate at the store. Run your hands over its sleek dark hide, striped almost like a huge lizard of some kind. Take it home and cool it in the refrigerator, or if you’re in a hurry, cool it in the freezer but don’t leave it too long. Then crack into it. Open the halves and reveal the beautiful blends of slightest pink and rich red, the frosty heart, the rows of black seeds. Slice into smiles or handy wedges or fork-fun chunks and enjoy!

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Psalm 34:8






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