Monthly Archives: November 2017

Hominy Day

One of the very best things about Thanksgiving is simply being with family. I am so thrilled that for Thanksgiving 2017 we will have our son Will, his wife Christi, and their three children, William, Thomas, and Mattie, our granddaughter Amanda Evans, her husband Jared, their five children Candi, Hailey, Caitlin, Charli, and Kaison, and our grandson Charles D Reeves all with us. There will be laughter, chatter, games and teasing–and lots of good smells and eating. One of the children will tell the Pilgrims’ story. Charles will pray. And then he’ll carve the turkey cooked on his new Primo grill (our first time doing a turkey on the grill, praying hard!)

So why did I title this blog “Hominy Day”?

We’re not having hominy for Thanksgiving. Maybe corn, not hominy. But thinking about “being with family” brought me to thinking of the togetherness my birth family experienced all the time, one day, for example, being “hominy day.”

If you arrive at your answer as to whether you like hominy by how that anemic hominy in a can tastes you need to taste my mother’s homemade hominy. Not that it’s still available. But wow! That was good stuff. The memory is delicious.

It wasn’t that easy to make. Simple, yes, but not easy.

First you had to have corn. Dry corn. Off the cob, of course. So you had to grow the corn, which required a lot of hot field work, but which also gave an opportunity for word games and philosophying and teasing to the rhythm of hoes clicking. Harvesting dried corn is a rattly, somewhat itchy proposition. Then there’s the shucking. And there had to be some for the cows. So sometimes Dad supplied corn for such a big family by buying some by the bushel from a neighboring farm. I loved it when Mr. Loggins came in the fall with a horse drawn wagon full of dried corn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and purple crowned rutabagas (not my favorite, but they were pretty).

We didn’t have a corn sheller. Well, we did too. Seven, eight, however many of us were at home. Sometimes we shelled corn in the barn. That was like a party. We had competitions to see how many of the fuzzy red cobs we could pile up, or someone told a wild story, or we ended up in a cob fight. If you’ve never shelled dry corn with your own bare hands you don’t realize how you roll the heel of your right hand over the hard kernels forcing them off the cob to rattle down into a bucket. And, yes, your hands do get sore before they grow tough. Sometimes we all shelled corn at night in Daddy’s study while Mamma read to us from a really good book like Lorna Doone or Tale of Two Cities.

So one day it would be time to make hominy.

The dried corn kernels would be placed in a very large pot, covered in water with a lot of soda, maybe half a box, added. The soda makes the tiny piece of husk detach from each kernel leaving a cute little hollow groove. The soda also turns the kernels a pretty golden color.

The hominy had to cook all day until the kernels were no longer crisp or hard or tough. They would be soft like little tiny pillows but not smooshy like boiled potato.

Then came the last operation late in the afternoon, usually very cold in November. We had to wash the soda out of the hominy so it wouldn’t be bitter. We did not yet have running water in our kitchen. The hominy washing job had to be done at the spring where there was plenty of water to wash and rinse and rinse and wash the hominy back and forth between two buckets. It was cold but it was fun. You never heard any more hilarity and cackling. If there were a minor accident such as someone spilling some of the precious product and having to pick it up grain by grain, that was just cause for more laughter.

Mamma welcomed us back to the cozy kitchen and promptly began to prepare hominy for our supper. She put butter in an iron skillet and piled the skillet full of hominy. Once she’d cooked it for about an hour it was ready to serve. There was never any left over! But of course Mamma had more hominy not yet fried ready to last several days. As we enjoyed that golden hominy we chattered over various interesting happenings of the day, other than hominy making–a sighting of strange tracks on a sandy beach of Ramble Brook, a discussion on how far away the moon was and its relation to Venus, or the discovery of Boleta mushrooms on Firewood Heights.

As I write this the wind picks up speed and our wind chimes play a merry jingle. I’ve been baking pies, making freezer rolls, stocking up on butter, extra coffees, making cornbread for the dressing, purchasing “the bird,” etc. etc. No, we won’t have hominy for Thanksgiving. And, yes, I am thankful for running water in the kitchen! But mostly I’m thankful for my family and that we will be together–laughing, teasing, telling stories and loving each other.

Happy Thanksgiving, All!

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” Psalm 100:4 (KJV)

 

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Veterans’ Day Smalltown America

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Cairo High School NJROTC in waiting for posting colors

I knew our friend Jesse Hobby (ret. Major, U.S.Army) would be “calling the colors” for the Veterans’ Day ceremony at the courthouse, November 10. I knew my favorite band, The Cairo Syrupmaker Band, would be playing. Good reasons for going. Actually, regardless of who was doing what, I wanted to take this opportunity to be openly patriotic with fellow townspeople. It was a freedom I wanted to claim. But I didn’t know the speaker would be someone so dear to my heart.

It was nice and chilly that day but sunny by time to go downtown. I parked at First Baptist Church a few blocks away preferring to get a little walk in and not hassle with blocked off streets. Five cars waiting at a light is heavy traffic in Cairo and you don’t want that. All along Broad Street, both sides, U.S. flags snapped merrily. By the time I arrived at the crowded courthouse lawn I was cool enough that a seat in the sun was inviting.

Linda Johnson of UNB Bank in her usual cheerful and bright manner gave small US flags to each spectator as well as bottles of water, a very welcome gift. Programs were being distributed also, compliments of Family Worship Center. Somehow, however, I missed being at the right place to get one. So I was still ignorant of who the speaker would be.

Third graders from all schools sat in happy groups on the lawn. Their enthusiasm for the morning away from school was obvious, but their energy was in respectful control. Behind the children the band members stood ready, brass instruments gleaming in the sun. I had a wave of nostalgia remembering my blonde headed son, William, playing baritone (flugabone) in the Syrupmaker Band. Across the street the Zebulon Theater marquee invited veterans to view for free the movie “Thank You For Your Service.” I enjoyed conversations with my friend Betty sitting beside me. Nice to find a friend to share a special occasion with. I spotted Evelyn Bishop on the front row and went to speak to her and her friend Joyce. Evelyn isn’t getting out much these days but, frail or not, she simply would be at the Veterans Day celebration being the loyal military widow that she is.

I sat back and gazed on the beautiful Grady County Courthouse.

Squinting my eyes just slightly I tried to envision the old courthouse with its bell tower. That building burned one night in 1980. There was an ugly space in our town for what seemed like a long time until the new one was erected in keeping with the structures of the Roddenbery Memorial Library and the old Post Office and a suitable columned edifice to stand behind the large oak tree. A beautiful magnolia is becoming stately to take the place of the one ruined by the fire. I smiled at the memory of the year our town provided snow on the courthouse lawn and our grandchildren slid and threw snowballs for a glorious two hours.

I pulled my attention back to the porch where, behind the handsome white columns, the dignitaries of the day sat looking solemn, ready to do their part–Ray Prince, Johnny Moore, Wayne McDonald and the speaker. This would have been a good time for me to recognize who he was. But I didn’t. I did notice that he looked very distinguished in a short beard, maybe even nicely robust befitting a retired military officer.

The ceremonies began. We all stood as Jesse in his voice of military authority, “called the colors.” Jesse, who can be quite humorous, told me he was chosen for that job because he has a lot of volume. It was good he had volume because the flag bearers were around out of sight on the north side of the building. Hearing their orders, the uniformed veterans marched forth behind a bag piper and formed a straight line in front of us. Flags of all the branches of armed forces as well as the coast guard rippled in a gentle breeze. The Cairo High School NJROTC presented flags for our giving the pledge of allegiance and for the band’s playing “The Star Spangled Banner.” As we pledged our allegiance to the United States of America I felt a surge of pride and gratitude for my country and for my town. I remembered my grandson, Charles Douglas Reeves, enjoying so much his experiences as a member of the CHS NJROTC and was thankful to those who provide that program.

Every segment of the program was touching and inspiring–the invocation by Reverend Wayne McDonald, remarks by Ray Prince, Chairman Grady County Board of Commissioners, and by emcee Johnny Moore, aka “Pastor Johnny.” I loved the presentation by American Legion Post 122 to the POW/MIA, complete with very poignant symbols such as a straight backed chair tilted against a small table, indicative of someone “not here.”

The speaker was being introduced. Wait a minute. Jeffrey TODD McDonald? Could that be Todd? Our own Todd who grew up with our son William? He and William studied together at our house poring over their math and science. They played tennis with each other, enjoyed sleepovers, practiced long hours for band performances. I blinked and looked again. It had been a long time, maybe fifteen years, since I’d seen him.

But, yes, it was Todd. He was no longer the slight young man whose image I carried in my head. He was this distinguished Lt. Colonel with a beard but the same winning voice expressing eloquently his gratitude for his hometown, his country, his freedom, and his opportunity to serve. Telling us about his tour in Iraq which, he said, taught him a new and profound appreciation for his own country. He reminded us of the many rights, both large and small, our service men give up so we may enjoy our many rights. I know his father, Wayne McDonald, seated there nearby must have been bursting with pride. Because I was filled with pride myself with no relationship ties except that he was my son’s friend, that he was a Cairo boy, that I knew him back when I could ply him with peanut butter sandwiches.

The presentation of a memorial wreath for Gold Star Mothers, mothers of fallen soldiers, was followed by a profound silence as the wreath was being placed. The only sounds, (and remember those many third graders were sitting on the lawn), were those of the flags snapping crisply and a creak or two from folding chairs as folks twisted to see.

Needless to add, I was ever so glad I had gone downtown for the Veterans’ Day ceremonies. When we stood for the Moores’ singing of “God Bless the USA,” a spontaneous rising with our little flags waving, I was never prouder to be a citizen of our beloved United States of America and of our small town named Cairo.

Thank you, Veterans, for your service and sacrifice!

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Blood Rushing Through My Veins

I’ll call her Kathy. She was 60 years old and my first reading student in the Frank Laubach “each one teach one” literacy program. I had had a week of intensive training provided by my church and the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board. But was I ready for this?

Kathy lived on a narrow little lane that trailed away from Belcher Circle between crowding fields of corn. I put my car window down and heard a mockingbird going through a long string of calls. The house was small but very, very neat. I parked under a chinaberry tree in the swept yard and approached the porch steps. Kathy called out to me to come in. She sat just inside the screen door. Her warm smile greeted me as I walked in and my nerves began to settle.

We sat at her kitchen table getting acquainted that first day. She said she wanted to be able to read her Bible. She was a leader in her church and yet she couldn’t read. And she wanted to be able to sign her name and even write short notes. She had dropped out of school at a young age to work. She and her husband had raised several children and often she’d “spied” on their homework but always she had to work and couldn’t take time to learn.

“I guess now I’m sixty it’s time,” she said, white teeth shining in her beautiful brown face. “Maybe if I hadn’t had this stroke I still wouldn’t think I had time.”

Before we opened her book for each week’s lesson we had prayer, each of us praying. Her prayer always began with “Thank you, God, for the blood rushing through my veins this morning.”

As we progressed through her colorful book, she caught on to the “a” looking like an apple with a leaf, to the “d” looking like a dish with a knife beside it, and to the “v” looking like a valley. She learned to read simple paragraphs. And she learned to read in her Bible.

And every day when we prayed she said, “Thank you, God, for the blood rushing through my veins.”

There were many song birds around Kathy’s house. It was easy for her to see that a “b” looked like a bird with a tall tail but, for some reason, it was hard for her to make the sound of a “b.” She would laugh at herself and, as we became more and more comfortable with each other, we would laugh together. As she rubbed an aching knee, afflicted by her stroke, she would talk about her church. She admitted one day, very shyly, that her fellow worshipers called her “Mother Kathy.”

Her main goal was to be able to stand in her church and read from her Bible to her friends.

I met her husband only a time or two. He was busy in the field and, beyond that, I think, recognized this adventure of Kathy’s as a fulfillment of a dream. He respected her privacy. I never met any of her five children except in seeing their pictures everywhere in her small living room and hearing her tell about them.

Once I took my little boy to see “Miss Kathy.” It was so sweet to see her brown hand on his blonde head as she blessed him.

Kathy faithfully covered the ground, studying all three books in the Laubach series. Some parts were very difficult but she never gave up.

One day Kathy asked me if I would come to her church the next Sunday and “stand with her” while she read Psalm 23.

“But, Kathy,” I said, “you don’t need any help. You can read it all by yourself.”

She turned that bright white smile on me and pleaded. “Please. I want you to be there with me.”

So of course I went. It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for a ship full of gold.

Kathy’s face shone that day. It was hard for her to stand but her husband provided her with a sturdy lectern. Her audience seemed to hold their collective breath as she began to read. I kept my arm around her shoulders and felt her trembling subside. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…He leadeth me beside the still waters…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Never have I heard a more beautiful reading of this favorite psalm.

Everyone burst into celebratory shouts and applause when she finished.

There was a covered dish dinner after the service. My friend Nell Rose had come with me as well as my little William and we all enjoyed the bounteous feast. We were made to feel like royalty by Kathy and her friends.

Soon after her “graduating,” Kathy and her husband moved away, maybe to be closer to some of their children. I lost connection with her. Then one day I saw her obituary in the paper. Tears stung my eyes. My friend had died and I hadn’t even known she was sick. But immediately I was comforted by the sound in my head of Kathy reading “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

When I pass Belcher Circle I often think of Kathy and remember her simple thanksgiving for “the blood rushing through my veins.”

She was my student. She was my teacher.

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