An out-of-season smile for you! Pumpkins are for Halloween and Thanksgiving. But this pumpkin carving was deep in the month of January.
Our tradition is to buy two or three pumpkins as soon as they’re available in October to set out on our front steps as decorations for the autumn season. Rather than bring in the pumpkins to carve for Thanksgiving pies we use pumpkin frozen in measured amounts the year before. Then, after Thanksgiving, we carve the pumpkins, cook, and freeze them for the next year. This year the pumpkin process was delayed by various circumstances. So last week, past the middle of January, Charles cup up a pumpkin–with lots of help!
I heard squeals of laughter and commotion in the kitchen. Leaving my desk, I found Charles, our two great grands, and a pumpkin having a hilarious time.
Charles had carved a jack-o-lantern with a smooth smile. The kids insisted he (the Jack) should have teeth. So Grandaddy accommodated. By the time I came on the scene, the assistants were replacing teeth they’d knocked out in their enthusiasm and sticking them back in place. They declared themselves dentists right then and there. But that wasn’t all. As the activity developed, Charli, first to start digging out the insides, discovered she could shoot seeds out of old Jack’s mouth. Then, of course, Kaison made it even more fun by shooting seeds as far as they would go. Both kids’ hands were covered with seeds and pumpkin innards. They even pretended to eat the slime! All in all, the pumpkin carving was more fun than a trip to Chuck E Cheese. Grandaddy and I sat down to enjoy the show. We had to dodge flying seeds and, finally, call for a washing up and sweeping.
Charles finished the job of cutting up the pumpkin for stewing. Now it’s mashed to a nice puree and packed in ziplocks for next Thanksgiving. Or, who knows? We might have an out-of-season pumpkin pie just any old time.
I’m thankful for beautiful orange pumpkins with perfect seams down their fat sides, pumpkins who waited patiently in a dark corner until carving time. I’m thankful for a Grandaddy who will apply his strength to carving and turning a chore into a frolic. I’m thankful for grandchildren who find such joy in simple things. Yes, way past the “official” time to be thankful, I’m so glad.
God never tires of hearing our praises!
Oh Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. Psalm 104:24
My brother Charlie particularly enjoys hearing the wind rush around the corners of his house, bluster through the trees, send leaves scattering. He has heard some mighty boisterous wind the last couple of days and seen snow too, a nice thick fall in north Georgia. Several of my siblings and I very much like to hear the wind whistling around the corners. I think we inherited a love of the wind from my Dad. The only thing better to him than the sound of the wind was the sound of the surf crashing on the shore. He often commented that the wind blowing around our house reminded him of the ocean waves. (He had spent several years as a single young man homesteading on Cape Canaveral.)
Wind can be brutal, waves too. Recent tornadoes in midwest US destroyed lives, homes, whole communities. Constant wind on the seashore stunts the growth of palms, oaks and pines turning them into strange, yet beautiful silhouettes on the dunes. Every year we hear of folks killed when caught in a riptide. Hurricanes are a fierce and frightening force.
On a lighter side, wind can bring havoc to a picnic or a camping adventure. My husband and I often remember the strong wind on a Saskatchewan prairie that blew our tent right down on our faces. Walking along high cliffs of the Oregon shore we felt we would be blown down to the sea lions on rocks below. A sign in a gift shop read, “Yes, the wind always blows here.”
I say I love to hear the wind. But that doesn’t mean that I enjoy driving in a storm. I enjoy seeing the moods of the ocean. But I would not want to be in a ship battling to stay afloat in a cyclone or typhoon. Reading about them is as close as I want to get.
One of the very best storm stories is the account in the Gospels where Jesus went to sleep in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a violent storm came up suddenly. The disciples were terrified and shook Jesus awake. “Don’t you even care that we’re about to die?” they asked. Jesus stood up and calmly spoke to the sea as if talking to an over wrought child. “Peace, be still,” He said. The storm quieted instantly. Then He chided the disciples for having so little faith. They should have known their Master would take care of them. The disciples were suddenly fearful in a different way. “Who is this who even tells the wind and the waves what to do?” (paraphrased)
No, I don’t want to be in a storm, I just want to listen to them while staying safe inside. I don’t want to be in a storm but if I am, I know that now, as that day on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus can calm the tempest whether it’s an actual tornado or a figurative storm in my life, although in His infinite wisdom He may not choose to. He has purposes I know not of. Just as the wind and the waves change the trees on the shore, God may have designs to resculpt me too. But do I really trust Him to hold my hand through the wind and the waves? Or am I, like the disciples, filled with fear?
I do love to hear the wind rustling in the trees. I greatly enjoy watching and listening to the waves constantly chase each other to shore. One thing I love so much about them both is that they remind me of the strength of God. If He can speak to the wind and the waves and instantly calm them, then He is strong enough to see us through any kind of storm.
And he arose and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39
My sister often speaks of her love for and fascination with the Florida sky when she lived in Orlando and then Sebring. There the sky was so big because there were fewer tall trees than here where we live in Georgia. But here, too, the sky is fascinating and a daily reminder, I think, that God is still in control.
We’ve just celebrated the birth of Jesus. We were reminded of all the wonderful accounts including the amazing visit of the wise men when Jesus was a child, no longer a baby. Surely those wise men had traveled for months since they first saw the star and knew the Messiah had been born. There’s so much mystery surrounding the wise men. Where exactly in the east did they come from? How did they know about the Messiah? How many wise men were there really, not just assuming by the presentation of three gifts that there were three. Lots of mystery. But this we know. They saw the star and started out. They studied the skies and got a message. They stopped briefly in Jerusalem to inquire and were elated when, again, they saw that unusual star stop above the house where, as they learned, the Messiah, the child Jesus lived. They entered and worshiped Him. God used that star in the sky to lead the wise men to Jesus.
What does He say to us as we look up at the sky, whether a night sky of a million stars, or a wide open blue sky swirled with filmy clouds?
In the craziness of the world around us, there’s the steady consistency of a sky above that only God controls. When I look up, I feel hope, freedom, inspiration. I love to see a blue sky framed by pine and magnolia. I enjoy gray skies, too, a sign that rain will come, that we will have everything we need. Looking up encourages me that, no matter what, God who loves me will always be by my side and that I can be sure better times will come.
I feel very sad for those who cannot see the sky. I think it is a healing therapy just to look up. For those in hospitals and nursing homes, in prisons, and indoor office jobs, I pray that somehow they will be able to see the sky. Even if only a scrap of sky can be seen (as in my picture taken during a hospital stay), it is an encouragement. Corrie ten Boom wrote in The Hiding Place of how comforting it was to her to see the sky, even the smallest patch of blue between buildings. When all around her was ugliness and fear and cruelty, if she could look up at the sky she took courage.
In contemplating the vastness and beauty of the sky, different every season, every day, every hour, I found some intriguing quotations.
Leonardo da Vinci wrote “Once you have tasted the taste of the sky, you will forever look up.”
Some anonymous quotations:
“The sky is an infinite movie to me.”
“Staring at the sky restores your hope and makes you connected to nature.”
“Look up at the sky. There is a light, a beauty up there, that no shadow can touch.”
The sky may be solid blue like the proverbial robin’s egg or decorated with fluffy soft clouds. It may be pierced by streaks of vapor from silver jets. It may be filled with spires and towers of cities or framed by brittle bare boughs. It may look like a seascape above us or simply a backdrop for the beautiful hawks, high flying eagles, and evening swallows. Whatever sky it is, a dark night sky displaying moon and stars, sunny or stormy skies, rainbow skies, be reminded of the greatness of God. Take a deep breath and worship Him. Find the peace and security He can give to every believer.
With a title like the above, you would think of a calm stand of pine and oak, maybe some poplars, an understory of dogwoods, laurels and wild azalea. But there was a different meaning for the section of woods my father acquired.
Already our place called Pinedale had a six foot woven wire fence around most of the perimeter. Dad’s intention was to keep a wildlife sanctuary where no hunting was allowed. From time to time over the years he added to the place when more acres became available
I was next to youngest of Mom and Dad’s ten children and knew little about why we could now go through a gate to previously prohibited woods. Dad called the added acreage simply The New Woods. My brothers called it The Still Woods.
One day while performing a task Dad had set us to (“Pile brush into heaps,” he said, “and nip sprouts from stumps”) the boys let my sister and me in on why they called this place The Still Woods. They showed us the remains of an old still. Whisky had been made there, they explained in ominous tones. There was a wide pit, some twists of copper tubing, broken shards of glass. The boys said the sheriff had caught the men operating the still and they were probably rotting in jail.
Suddenly those woods became a place of evil and danger to me. What if the criminals came back and started up their still again? My Dad would be furious if this were to happen. I knew he hated whisky with a passion. I could picture bearded, rough talking men sneaking in at night to do their dastardly deed. My imagination was working overtime!
From then on, when we walked through that gate into The Still Woods, a certain dread filled my heart. Even though my brothers, I knew, would defend us valiantly, what if they couldn’t overcome the sneering outlaws determined to make their wicked liquor? Trees seemed to hide something sinister. And why were there no squirrels in those trees? They knew it was haunted land!
When we went back through the gate and closed it behind us, I felt safe. The evil was on the other side of the fence. Here, in our beloved woods near the Indian Spring and our little schoolhouse cabin, the rocky brook and the beech tree scarred with initials of our brothers’ girl friends–here we were safe. The ghosts of The Still Woods would not haunt me here!
Thinking about The Still Woods and the childish horror I endured as my brothers told their tall tales, I’m reminded of how the world’s wickedness surrounds us. But always we can go through the Gate, our Lord Jesus Christ, and be safe.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God; in him will I trust. Psalms 91:2
When the day is gray and cold and damp, as it is today, I think of snow. It only snows here in south Georgia on the very rarest of occasions. But I can remember some lovely snow days in north Georgia, remember the dark hemlock boughs burdened with snow and the delight we felt in finding rabbit tracks on the perfect covering of the forest floor.
One Christmas season in particular, I remember we woke to see every bush and rock, holly tree and hemlock laced or even banked with fluffy snow. When I first opened my eyes that morning I saw a soft white reflection on the ceiling. Looking out, I saw our whole yard turned into a fairyland. Usually slow to crawl out of bed on cold mornings, I bounced from the bed that morning in a second. As fast as I ran down the stairs and out the door, I was preceded by my little sister whose excitement was coming out in squeals and yells of delight.
We ran and shuffled in the white stuff with Crusoe, Suzanne’s small brindle dog, barking frantically as he tried to keep up with us. Then we stopped to admire the wood stack topped with white like a huge frosted cake. The chickens were subdued and obviously perplexed about the strange cold stuff. Mamma called out for us to come in and put on more clothes. Daddy laughed at us when we came in and backed up to the warm stove. We slurped cups of hot cocoa before we ran out in our coats and mittens. That was when our brothers came back from milking the cows and began bombarding us with snowballs. Not that we let them have all the fun. It was really good snow for forming snowballs and I can remember right now the pleasure when I ambushed Charlie and Stan from behind a white pine tree.
It wasn’t our first time to experience snow. We usually had snow once or twice every winter. But that particular snow stands out in my mind as one of the best days of my childhood. Stan had received a plastic flute for Christmas and played it a lot between snowball fights and building snowmen. The sound of the flute echoed oddly in the snow covered world. We played until our fingers were like ice in our mittens, then ran in to get warm before going out again. Mamma and big sisters made a huge pot of stew that day, I think, or was it meatloaf and mashed potatoes? Whatever it was, it smelled so good when we crowded into the kitchen and, better than the smell, tasted wonderful.
Midafternoon, when it seemed the snow was starting to drip from the eaves as it thawed, suddenly flakes, fluffy big flakes, began falling again sticking momentarily on our eyelashes. Mamma gave us a saucepan o fill with good clean snow and she made snow cream. Nothing has ever tasted so good!
It was another snow day years later when one of our married brothers, John, came over with his family of four and we all took turns sledding down our steep hill on flattened cardboard boxes. Another snowy day we somehow had acquired an old round Coca-Cola sign. It made a delightfully dangerous sled, it shot so fast down the hill. Dodging pine trees was a big challenge. The shocker that day was when our Mamma sat down on that makeshift sled and took off lickety-split down the hill while we screamed in terror.
Even though snow days in south Georgia are so rare, we do occasionally have flurries, even sometimes an inch or two!
It snowed one Saturday when our son was small. We lived at that time next to a pine grove and the fluffy flakes falling amongst the evergreens was so beautiful. Charles was out treating a herd of poisoned pigs and missed all the fun, just had the added challenge of dealing with the bitter cold. I played with William all day as if I were still a kid myself. When William was about six years old we lived in a different house and he then had a dog named Floofy, his constant companion. I took a picture of him and Floofy on one of those rare snow days when tiny banks of snow piled up on branches of the palm trees.
Now our son lives in Birmingham where his family enjoys a good snow almost every year. He is good to send me pictures of snow both at home and in his travels around the state for his job. He and Christi have one very treacherous story to tell about a snowstorm when the roads were all closed and neither of them could get home. Charles’s brother Ronnie sends us pictures of snow in Michigan and talks of shoveling snow, of cleaning up when the whiteness turns nasty.
I know I am better suited to this climate where no one has to shovel snow, where I can step out the backdoor without fear of sliding down on ice, where flowers bloom year round. But when we have a gray day with a winter chill in the air I do think of snow. I think of how it covers even ugly heaps with perfect white, how every twig and leaf is transformed into a wondrous sight, how it feels to mush through snow before anyone else has set foot on it. I remember the sight of little brown birds hunting for morsels in the snow, the joy in watching a flurry of snow in the pine trees knowing that every single flake is created like none other by God who loves us each as unique individuals.
As snow turns even trash into a beautiful hump, so God through His son, Jesus Christ, turns us into new creatures. This is true no matter the climate in which we reside. I love Psalm 51:7 which says Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
Wherever you are this Christmas–enjoying a beautiful snowy day, groaning as you clear your icy driveway one more time, or trotting down a sunny beach–I wish you a Merry Christmas and pray you will know you are loved as a unique person by our Creator and Redeemer.
I so enjoy listening to Christmas music the whole month of December. Of course, one of my favorites is “Away in a Manger.” How could God send His Son who was with Him at the creation of the world to be born as a helpless baby? How could He? Only because He loved us that much!
Now that we’ve wound pre-lit garlands around the porch railing, I think we have signs of Christmas almost everywhere. I admit I did contemplate not asking for everything to be pulled down from the attic–so much work to put it out and then in January to put it away again when I can do little myself. But Charles and the children said of course we’d have a tree and all the decorations. So here we are again celebrating with twinkling lights, stockings hung, manger scenes proclaiming the reason for everything.
Our niece, Evelyn, and her two teenage children, along with Ulysses, our gardener, helped Charles set up the life size nativity scene on the lawn. Will and his two tall sons put the Christmas tree up with glowing star on top. We had a chance to talk about many of the ornaments as they hung them on the tree, including hand crocheted snow flakes by my Aunt Emma and our friend Juanita, a cardinal on its nest which was our first Christmas tree ornament, handmade candy canes and tiny brass instruments. Charli and Kaison helped me set out the manger scenes inside. I told them they could arrange the shepherds, the wise men, the angel, even Mary and Joseph, where they wanted in each set, but I asked that Baby Jesus be in the center of each scene.
I never cease to be amazed at the wisdom of children. Charli considered carefully as she placed the figures, disturbed when she discovered that one set had no Baby Jesus. We found another one that would be beautiful in place of the lost one, though it is ceramic in a wooden manger. We agreed it was perfectly fine. Then Kaison expressed all our feelings when he said, “Without the Baby Jesus we’d just have a group of people here.”
As the children arranged the figures, including the creche made of olive wood from Bethlehem, lines of “Away in a Manger” began to play in my head.
What memories and thoughts play through your mind as you sing or listen to “Away in a Manger” or contemplate the Babe in the manger? Here is one of my childhood reflections lifted from my book Christmas Carols in my Heart:
We had a stable at Pinedale. It was a small gabled building with stone walls and a slate roof–a tiny imitation of our own big house but with no windows and, of course, no chimneys. Inside the stable was a manger. We didn’t have donkeys or sheep or camels. But we did always have at least one milk cow.
Though the Bethlehem stable Luke described was probably not stone, my image when we sang “Away in a Manger” was of our own stable, its interior dark as a cave even at midday because there were no windows. I imagined it as it was on Saturdays when my brothers had just shoveled out the muck and laid down a thick layer of fluffy, dry oak leaves.
The manger was in one corner and it was a generous one worn smooth as silk on the inside by the licking of many rough tongues. I examined it while Scamp, our cow, was out grazing on a grassy slope. Here was a deep wooden box, rough on the outside, smooth on the inside. I ran my fingers over the boards where, between cracks, I found a vestige of sweet grain clinging. I squinted my eyes to picture hay cushioning a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling clothes. For a while I thought swaddling clothes were thick, bunglesome things like some of our heavy quilts, wrapped around and around the baby until he almost smothered and would have “waddled” had he tried to walk. Then I was told the clothes were strips of cloth that a mother wrapped around and around her baby’s body to confine his limbs so they would not grow crooked.
With arms imprisoned, He wouldn’t have been free to curl His fingers around mine as my baby sister did. But He’d have smiled even as a very tiny infant, I was sure, and His eyes would have gazed into mine with recognition. Because this was Jesus, not just a baby.
As a child standing before a real-life manger, I could feel Mary’s warm hand on my shoulder, hear Joseph clear his throat. Then, the soft thud of many feet approaching. I imagined the shadowy flapping of shepherds’ plain wraps as they approached up the hill outside. The stars were so bright in the dome of the night sky as to be almost touchable, even though, in reality, the sun was shining, and there was Scamp the cow lifting her head to look at me curiously as if to say, “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost. Somebody step on your grave or something?”
I could smell hay the instant we began to sing “Away in a Manger.” Maybe it’s not surprising that I met the risen Savior at a very young age sitting on a rock just up the hill from our little stable. An older sister, Ginger, explained to me how to become a Christian and prayed with me. I felt right then that I was one of the children sitting on Jesus’ knee after He scolded His disciples and told them to “let the little children come to me” (Matt. 19:14)
Back to the present: I wholeheartedly agree with Kaison. Without the Baby Jesus we’d all be just a lot of people, lost people. Without the manger and the cross, we’d be a hopeless people. But good news! The Baby Jesus did come, grew up a perfect Lamb, and died for us on a cruel cross, then was raised again on the third day by the power of God, ascended into heaven after being seen by hundreds of witnesses, and sits now at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.
The Baby Jesus, the grown Jesus, the sacrificing Jesus has been found! Because God loves us that much!
Away in a manger no crib for a bed the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head…
Thank You, God, for this beautiful fall season. Thank you for wind in the trees, for geese flying in a vee, for cotton white in the fields, for pumpkins piled up, for scuppernongs on the vine. Thank you for chilly mornings, longer nights. Thank You for healing from Covid, for miracles in so many forms. God, I just can’t stop thanking You!
Thank You for the waxing and waning moon and how its cycles affect crops, the tides, and even the birth of babies. You are amazing! Thank You for the millions of stars that remind us of your promises to Abraham that he would be the “father of many nations”–and how You have kept every one of those promises.
Thank you for my walker. I’d like to be able to walk without it but in the meantime, it’s a good companion. Its wheels swivel quite handily; I can walk almost anywhere with it except up and down steps and through thick grass. When I get tired I can sit down on the seat that I also use to haul things around. Thank You for the ability to walk without a walker for 77 years.
Thank You for all our senses–sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feeling–and for all the beautiful things You share with us through these senses. We enjoy the drama the sun puts on every night and every morning. We try to discern all the colors in a rainbow and remember your promise to Noah that we have inherited. We listen to Beethoven who, though deaf at the time, wrote the Ninth Symphony, so beautiful. We can hear the birds singing and children laughing, the honk of a horn, an airplane flying over. We can taste Thanksgiving pies, tender turkey and wonderful dressing. We can taste our salty tears of joy and sadness. We can smell fresh linens, yeast bread baking, roses in bloom, and rain. We can feel a warm hug, a cat’s tail circling our legs, a hot bath, and the textures of yarn and fabric.
Thank You, God, for our family and for a time to gather around the table. Thank You for my energetic veterinarian husband of 55 years, for his patience, wisdom, and tenderness. Thank You for a tall handsome son, Will, who is so good to us, so thoughtful and cheerful and for his wife and children. Thank You for all our five grandchildren and five great grandchildren and for our dear daughter, Julie, who has gone to be with You.
Thank You for bluebirds and cardinals, for squirrels and rabbits and deer. Thank You for butterflies flitting over the lantana as the season wanes. Thank You for trees whose leaves turn bright and then fall right on schedule. Thank You for rain, sleet, and snow, all under Your control. Thank You for a warm toasty fire.
Thank You for the sky, for the vastness of it like an ocean, for billowing clouds and wispy feathery ones. Thank You for bright sunny skies and for grey hovering ones. Thank You for waking me this morning with the tune of an old hymn in my head: “Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the sky of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade, To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.” (Some of the original words of this hymn were written about the year 1100. Other writers include Lari Goss, Mike Speck, and Danny Zaloudik.)
Thank You for our church and for freedom to worship there. Thank You for friends, old and new. Thank You for the encouragement You give us through these sweet instruments of Your mercy and grace. Thank You for the Bible, our guidebook, our love letter from You, for the promises kept, Your forgiveness and patience.
My youngest great grandson, Kaison, eight years old, came bouncing in while I was typing and leaned over my shoulder to see what I was writing about. He promptly asked if he, too, could write a thank you to God. What he typed on my iPad screen sums up my prayer of thanksgiving. Here it is:
“Thank you, GOD, for sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins and for making our beautiful world.”
We were walking around our driveway, each in our own thoughts, when Charles spied a red leaf ahead of us, picked it up, and handed it to me with a knowing smile. We both knew what the red leaf meant so no words were needed. I treasured the red leaf for several hours until it started to turn brown.
We’ve been enjoying this little gifting of a red leaf for almost 56 years. One or the other of us finds a red leaf and gives it to the other. More often, red leaves are found in the fall, but some shrubs put forth stray red leaves other times of the year, like nandina. It only needs to be a red leaf, regardless of size.
This is how it started. When we were newlyweds, Charles in vet school and I working at University housing, we were asked to help chaperone a Baptist college retreat. It was very odd, being chaperones for our classmates. We forgot most of the time that we were responsible for making sure everyone was safe and reasonably proper. Most of the time we just enjoyed the opportunity to be away from campus a day or two, studying God’s word and having hilarious good times with our friends. One of the speakers talked about ways to build good relationships, even very small, silent ways. He’s the one who told us about the meaning of a red leaf.
We were in the north Georgia mountains in the autumn, and there was beautiful color all around us. It wasn’t hard to find a red leaf. On a rare quiet walk, just the two of us, we each found a red leaf to give to the other. We have found delight in continuing this little ceremony ever since.
Of course the exchange is more romantic when it’s between sweethearts or spouses (who are still sweethearts!), even grey headed ones. But this tiny gesture can mean a lot when practiced by good friends, cousins, parents and children.
The red leaf simply means “I love you.”
When I think about the One who provides the beautiful red leaves of sweetgum, maple, sourwood, dogwood, and red oaks, I’m so blessed with the realization that God is saying “I love you.” It’s just one of His many imaginative ways of communicating with us. To receive the message, though, we have to see the red leaf and accept it. Just as we may walk past a red leaf without noticing it, we can often miss a word from the Lord as significant as that of the still small voice He used to talk to Elijah.
Remember, when you see a red leaf it means “I love you.” Maybe there’s someone you’d like to gift with a bright red leaf today!
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
We don’t always watch the World Series. But the Braves were playing for the championship so we watched every night, mourning the nights they lost and cheering vigorously when they won. We agreed that we had the best seats “in the house,” not having to elbow through crowds and not having to pay a monstrous amount. We just settled back in our comfy chairs until someone made a big hit when we almost danced.
Watching the games, I began considering some things I’ve learned about baseball. Though my knowledge is meager, I’m going to share a few of those baseball lessons. Hope not to embarrass my son and grandsons!
You might say my experience with baseball began when I was eleven. I was visiting my oldest sister Pat and her husband David in Charleston, West Virginia. Ostensibly, I was to care for their baby girl, Lorna, while they moved to their new house. However, all my older siblings (eight of them) were ever watchful for giving us younger ones a new experience and this was no exception. Hence, one hot summer evening I accompanied David to my first baseball game. Only now do I realize what a drag it must have been for poor David to have the responsibility for an ignorant little girl instead of sharing the game with Pat. On the other hand, David, who loved baseball better than his favorite chocolate pie, was engrossed in the game and didn’t notice I was so bored I went to sleep and all but fell out of the bleachers. Why did everyone yell and clap when the score didn’t change? What in the world was there to get excited about when, time and again, a batter tried to hit the ball and couldn’t?
Baseball Lesson #1:
If you don’t know the rules, there’s no joy in the game.
Forward a few years: One afternoon at a college church retreat I found myself “forced” into playing softball. I still didn’t know the rules and had no skill. But I did know the point was to hit the ball and then run as if a monster were after you. So I did that. Problem was, I didn’t have a clue when to stop. I collided so hard with the third baseman, an elderly deacon, that we both hit the dust. I was hurt very little and I think he got up laughing, but I was humiliated beyond words.
Baseball Lesson #2:
Knowing when to stop is as important as knowing when to go.
I learned enough about football to enjoy yelling for the Georgia Bulldogs but still was baseball ignorant. Then, in 1973, when our son was five years old, we signed him up for tee-ball. He has been an avid lover of baseball and other sports ever since. I took him to every game and practice and watched as he progressed through Little League. I didn’t want to miss a single game. This was my child so I was very interested. I began to learn the rules, at least in rudimentary fashion. I watched every move my young catcher made springing from a crouch to chase a wild ball or trying to put a player out at home plate. Listening to other excited parents nd coaches, I learned some of the baseball phrases: “Good eye, good eye!” “Shake it off, shake it off,” “Heads up in the outfield!” “Run, run, run!” and “Touch the base!” I clapped wildly when my star hit a grounder and made it to first base, or when, wonder of wonders, he hit a homerun. I cringed when he struck out and retired to the dugout looking hot and unhappy. Good moves or bad, I clapped as did the other supportive parents. I tried to listen as Charles, much better versed in baseball than I, explained what was happening so I wouldn’t clap at the wrong time.
Baseball Lesson #3:
When you love someone, you become deeply interested in what means a lot to them.
For a few years in the 1980’s several family members met each fall for a few days at St. Simons Island. My mother was always a part of the group. In fact, it was John’s “trip for Mamma” to which others of us joined if we could. One year our vacation collided with the World Series. One night we were seated at a seafood restaurant waiting for our entrees when, on television, a World Series game began with a soloist singing the National Anthem. Mamma, who knew even less than I did about baseball, very elegantly stood at our table with her hand to her heart. The rest of us at our table, rose with one accord, while other diners stared. We might not all be smart baseball fans, but we were fans of our country. And we knew, even as adults, we’d better do what Mamma did.
Baseball Lesson #4:
Loyalty to our country and our team(whichever team that is) is very important. Loyalty is a characteristic of our parents and grandparents that we must pass on to the next generation.
Now here we are pulling for the Braves in the last game of the series against Astros. It’s the first time Braves have made it to the World Series since 1999. The score for the series is Braves 3-2 and Astros 2-3. Braves need only one more win to become champions. Midnight approaches and here we are with sleepy eyes glued to the television as our team plays a spectacular game, shutting out the Astros 7-0. We text back and forth with our son in Birmingham: “Way to go, Braves!” “Monumental homerun!” “Can you believe that double play?” I enjoy details that the little ignorant girl of eleven knew nothing of: the pitchers’ strategy in striking a player out, the timing and accuracy on the part of those batting, those pitching, and certainly the outfielders, and I enjoy observing the characteristics of each player and getting to know Rosario, Freddie Freeman, Soler, and others as if they were friends.
When the Braves win the World Series for the first time since 1995 we celebrate with them as well as with crowds of fans in Houston and Atlanta. Somehow, their win makes us feel like winners too! The players, their manager, and certainly the fans are ecstatic. Players and officials are almost tongue tied when they are interviewed. I think every one of them makes mention of how they won only because they played as a team. Several give glory to God for their success and for pulling them through great difficulties in the past year.
Baseball Lesson #5:
Keep your eyes on the ball, never give up, and be prepared at all times. Don’t go to sleep when, inning after inning, nothing happens. You will surely miss something! When wonderful things happen, be sure to recognize all who contributed to the success and, especially, remember to thank God.And celebrate!
There’s nothing quite like a crisp sweet apple, whether gala, golden delicious, winesap, honeycrisp or McIntosh. Granny Smiths and Romes are so good for cooking–pies, cobblers, applesauce, Apple Betty and other favorite recipes. My sister Suzanne, who cans hundreds of quarts of vegetables yearly from the Dovers’ small farm, as well as fruits from northeast Georgia, only canned twenty quarts of apples this year. Because of Covid restrictions her big family couldn’t have many gatherings so she had fruit left over from last year. If you stepped up on their porch during apple time you would find her and Bill paring apples while the warm aroma of a kettle of applesauce wafts its way from the kitchen.
Suzanne’s love for preserving the “fruit of the land” goes way back. Our dad bought bushels of peaches and apples in season and put all us kids to work paring and processing. Mamma canned shelves full of fruit, including blackberries from our abundant brier patches. As the weather turned frosty cool in October, Mamma sometimes sent us to our homeschool cabin classroom with newspaper-wrapped fried apple pies warming our mittened hands. It took sheer willpower not to eat your pie on the way, but if you did, you’d have to watch the others eat theirs while all that was left of yours was the smell. Years later, my husband’s grandmother endeared herself to us all making delicious fried apple pies for the family gatherings. You didn’t want to be at the back of the line for fear the apple pie tray would be empty!
An apple is such a friendly, wholesome fruit. Years ago I determined that, no matter what, I would always have apples in a bowl on our kitchen island. What a ready and delicious snack! Our grandchildren love them. They’ve learned to eat them to the core instead of throwing half-eaten ones away, although recently I’ve been mystified by someone who takes one bite from an apple and leaves it in the bowl. I have my suspicions about who it is but haven’t been able to catch the biter “apple handed.” Apples serve the double purpose of being delicious and looking beautiful and inviting in the bowl. Today I have a variety of fresh, wonderful apples brought to me by friends Billy and Louise from their annual trek to north Georgia and North Carolina. Knowing how I miss the mountains, they brought me this treat.
Other apple memories come to mind. Two of my brothers as teenagers picked apples at a nearby orchard. One of the sweetest birthday presents they ever gave me was apples hauled home in their pockets. When we adopted our daughter at five years old she had a kidney condition which prohibited her from having sugar or salt. Kindergarten moms took turns making delicious snacks for the children–cookies, brownies, cupcakes. What could I take that would be okay for Julie and interesting to all the children? I didn’t want her to feel odd. One of my solutions to the problem was–you guessed it–apples! Cutting apples in crosswise slices so the star was in the middle, I carefully removed the seeds, then spread each slice with salt free peanut butter. They were a big hit!
Back to Suzanne–every autumn she and Bill put on what they call their “Harvest Meal” for their family of four children and their families. It is the culmination of hours upon hours, days upon days of hard work from March through September. Bill and his horse plow and cultivate the creek bottomland, then he and Suzanne harvest, process and can using a wood burning stove. Though they find much merriment during the months of heavy work, that culminating feast is the essence of merriment.
At that feast you would enjoy all the rewards of the bountiful garden–squash, peas, green beans, corn, cucumber pickles, sweet potato souffle, stuffed eggs, as well as figs from a tree on the hill–and, of course, applesauce and Suzanne’s signature Apple Cake. That recipe is in the back of my book, Christmas Carols in my Heart, along with a few other family recipes and craft instructions. I talked to Suzanne the day before the feast. She put me on speaker phone so she could continue chopping onions for a big pot of chili, part of this year’s Harvest Meal. She was also planning to make cornbread and a peach berry cobbler. The only thing on the table, other than the fruit, not raised on the farm would be a roasted hen. Their chickens, Suzanne said, were only for laying eggs.
Though I’ve never been present for the big Harvest Meal, I have enjoyed many times around the Dovers’ large table weighed down with the abundance of the crops. I can hear now Bill’s deep voice giving thanks to God for the crops and many other blessings.
Writing this I’m “forced” by nostalgia and yearning to make a pot of applesauce. Apple slices in the pot I add water very sparingly, turn the heat on low and check often to be sure the apples aren’t sticking and to breathe in a strong lung full of the hearty aroma. A variety of Granny Smiths, galas, and honeycrisps, whatever is available, make a good mix. When apples are soft, mash to a desirable consistency. Some apples don’t “cook up” as smoothly as others. Lumps are fine and some peeling is good for you! Sometimes, depending on how sweet the apples are, you may want to add some brown sugar. Serve it warm or store for up to a week in the refrigerator and serve cold, a scrumptious side dish, especially good with homemade bread and butter.
Is anything better than sweet, crisp apples? Maybe a word fitly spoken? Proverbs 25:11 says: A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.
Special to my readers
I still have copies of Christmas Carols in my Heart. If you would like autographed copies at $12 each including shipping, contact me at email@example.com. Stories of twelve old familiar carols like Silent Night are accompanied by a few of my own special Christmas memories. Each chapter includes space for the reader’s own journaling notes making it a treasure to pass on to one’s children and grandchildren. Illustrated with charming chapter heading pen and ink drawings by Christina A. Graham, this little book makes an excellent small Christmas gift.