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Magnolia Seasons

They’re dramatic and gorgeous in the spring. Those ivory blossoms high in the stately trees, or sometimes low enough for a better view, are so satiny and elegant. I think of the movie “Steel Magnolias” and how fragile and totally tough those women were, sticking together in good times and bad. The magnolia blossoms in all their finery and strength do fade away, their petals turning brown as they make way for the bright pods of summer and fall.

It is an experience to view a magnolia blossom up close!

Those pods really can be a nuisance. If you don’t watch where you’re stepping, you can take a nasty tumble. Charles diligently picks them up calling them “apples.” They are far from being Galas or Golden Delicious but the squirrels love them. Even before the bright red berries shine on the droop shaped pods, the squirrels manage to get to them even if far out on a limb. They have a wonderfully good gnawing old time dropping berries and finally pods in their eagerness.

Pine and magnolia are good friends–and there’s that beautiful summer pod.

This year some of us painted brittle smooth magnolia leaves for Christmas tree ornaments. Mattie decorated her large leaf with red and white peppermint stripes. Charli and I did Santa Claus faces with the pointed part of the leaf all white beard. Kaison, though asked to to please do something Christmasy, chose to make a very colorful monster, then made crosses at the edges saying they stood for Jesus protecting us from the monster. You might think these decorated leaves could not be preserved from one year to the next but this entire art project originated from a leaf decorated by Debbie Ashley, our Christi’s mom, many years ago. That leaf, cherished in the family’s beautiful collection of ornaments, is still bright and intact, a “steel magnolia.”

Thanks for the inspiration, Debbie!

The trunks of our magnolias fascinate me. The silvery bark decorated with lichens is full of character. Sometimes I’m reminded of ancient maps, Athens to Rome or Constantinople to Stockholm. Other times I see oceans and lakes and islands, so many odd shapes. Some trunks are pale with dark spots in a varied pattern like the coat of a cat. The bark has a lovely texture too. It’s not papery like birch or nubby like an oak, not flaky like a pine. The magnolia is very smooth looking but when you run your hands over the bark you’ll feel those lakes and oceans and islands. If you close your eyes, you may think you’re reading braille, or trying to!

Here, in the “dead” of winter, the magnolia is as beautiful as in any other season. Flowers in the spring, pods in the summer and fall, rich dark green glossy leaves in every season, faithful and true as an old friend.

Why would I write about magnolias on this sad day, January 6, 2021? It is sad because those who champion abortion of babies and defunding police, among a few goals, have won both houses in Congress. It is also very sad because Trump supporters have displayed their frustration over injustices by storming the Capitol in an unconscionable way.

Why would I write about magnolias? I wondered myself. I guess it’s because I need to focus on something beautiful and hopeful, something that reminds me that, in the words of Browning, “God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.”

God knows what is happening in our America. He is in control, though in this season it may not appear so.

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Cup of Christmas

Sit with me by the fire while the wind whines around the corner of the house. Have a cup of Christmas. Choose between hot cocoa, Russian tea, pumpkin spice coffee, caramel latte, or just plain coffee steaming hot. Enjoy the Christmas tree glowing with colored lights and sparkling ornaments. Feel the anticipation of Christmas as you see the stockings hanging empty ready to be filled on Christmas Eve. Take a look at the Nativity scene on a side table with shepherds, wise men, and the Holy Family casting shadows from the lamplight. Oh, and here, have a cookie please–sugar cookies in Christmas shapes, thumbprint cookies with a dab of mayhaw jelly in the clevities, chocolate covered pretzels, and spiced snowballs.

Now–sit comfortably with me, toasting your toes, and let us contemplate Christmas together.

The sight of those limp stockings reminds me of how heart-stopping exciting it was as a child to begin to unpack my knobby, crooked, fat sock that the night before had seemed so useless. Yes, it was a sock. Everyone in the family, large and small, hung their own socks, not fine needlepoint stockings, on nails used only for that purpose. The rest of the year those nails were seldom, if ever, used. When I was very little I can remember my mother gently replacing mine and my sister’s small socks with longer ones from our older brothers. It was amazing what interesting things came out of those socks–simple little tops, handheld dolls, puzzles, crayons, along with oranges, some of Mamma’s fudge wrapped in wax paper, coconuts for the older children, and nuts, of course!

As exciting as those socks were, I daresay packing stockings for our children when they were young, was even more exciting. I loved the time on Christmas Eve when they were (hopefully!) fast asleep and we could begin packing those stockings with little trucks and cars, whistles, new socks, games and puzzles, hair doodles, along with chocolate kisses, a pack of crackers (planned for our Christmas trip to Grandmother’s) and always a candy cane sticking out the top. It was fun to add an extra surprise, too big for the stocking and wrapped in tissue, laid alongside the stocking. We took great pleasure in collecting things, over a matter of weeks, that we thought might bring a smile to our children on Christmas morning.

We comment, you and I, on the fact that Jesus loves to give us good things–even during hard times–good things packed into the stockings of our days.

Think about the Christmas tree. We enjoy bringing home a new ornament as a souvenir of special trips. One prominent one each year on our tree is a tiny replica of the White House, complete with wreath. It reminds us to pray for whoever occupies that house and for other government officials. There are reminders all over the tree of our children and grandchildren. But the tree itself reminds us that Jesus came as a Baby but gave His life on a tree that we may have eternal life. And the lights twinkling so brightly? Even in the darkest days, He is the Light of the world and He wants us to shine for Him. Underneath the tree are various sizes, shapes of packages, gifts to our loved ones, a wonderful tradition, reminiscent to some of the wise men bringing gifts to the Baby so long ago.

Look at the Nativity scenes. We have several. One is our elegant one, beautiful ceramic pieces purchased when our children were young enough to move the figures around, but surviving the little hands of grandchildren and great grandchildren. There’s an olive wood stable and figures from Bethlehem, a set a sister gave me made especially for children, another from France. Two Nativity scenes I’ve arranged on the piano on either side of hymnals ready for a pianist to play “Away In A Manger” or “Silent Night.”

As we sit here by the fire talking about the shepherds, the wise men, Mary and Joseph and the Baby as depicted by the Nativity scenes, our conversation turns to a question that troubles us. Why is it so hard for people to believe this story? It is so crucial to their receiving the marvelous eternal life God the Father gave us through His Son Jesus Christ. Why are there so many millions who refuse to believe because it “couldn’t have happened,” or “God wouldn’t have done it,” or because God doesn’t care that much. We’re talking about God who created the world by the spoken word, God who could do anything, impossible or not. Why will they not believe?

We remember Paul Harvey, a favorite radio storyteller. One of his stories he told several years at Christmas is about the birds. Remember that one?

It went something like this.

A man, his wife, and two children, lived happily in a little town. They did almost everything together. But on Sunday the wife and the children went to church and the man stayed at home. Repeatedly, the family begged him to go with them to church but over and over he refused, sometimes going so far as to say there couldn’t be anything to that Christian stuff. It didn’t make sense that God would become a little baby. On Christmas Eve, the family prepared to go to the special church service and, again, pleaded with the man to go with them. He almost lost his cool in his irritation and told them just to go on and leave him alone, that there was no way he’d believe Jesus was born to a virgin, died on the cross, and was raised again. Why in the world would God do that? So the family sadly left him alone and went on to the midnight church service. It began to snow again and, hearing the sound of many birds, the man looked out the window. On the lawn were a dozen or more little birds cold, huddling together trying to stay warm. He thought of the barn where the birds could be warm for the night. He went out and turned on a light to entice them. They didn’t come. He got some bread and sprinkled crumbs on the snow leading to the barn’s lighted door. Still, they continued to huddle on the snow. He waved his arms trying to shoo them in. Nothing worked. In frustration he thought, if I could just explain to them that they don’t need to be afraid of me, that I’m trying to give them a warm, safe place away from the storm. But, he realized, he’d have to be one of them in order to explain and to make them understand. He’d have to be one of them, one of them. He took in a gasp of cold air just as the church bells began to ring. Oh, my! The man dropped to his knees in the snow.

Because of the magic of modern media you can hear on You Tube Paul Harvey, who’s been dead for years, telling this story in his own words with his own dramatic pauses.

Well, here we are still nursing our warm cups, though they’re empty. Maybe we better get started on that knitting we were going to do together. Christmas is a time for sharing. It is so much fun!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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The Uplifted Horn

“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”

A twinkle of candlelight on brass, the uplifted horn, the blast of sound reaching even the noisiest of us children waiting in the crowded kitchen. It was time to troop into the Hall in age order to see the Christmas tree. Our anticipation and expectancy were never higher.

Daddy wasn’t really a trumpet player and always played only a few notes to call us out, but years later, when my brother Stan was the herald, he would play a whole song–“Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” or “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Stan made no bones about being a perfectionist. He just played to enjoy the music and hoped everyone else would enjoy it too. By the time he finished, everyone would be crowded close to the tree, eyes widened at the beautiful sight of the immense cedar or pine lit with twinkling real candles.

When I sing the notes today, I am not only thrilled at the truths in “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” such as “God and sinners reconciled,” I’m also remembering how quickly we hushed our silly prattle when the trumpet sounded, and how, with no argument, we found our places in the line–rounding a dark corner in the breakfast room and stepping down through the big arch into the Hall where we spied the tree for the first time and gasped in pure awe. Somehow the song and memory make me look forward to the next time Jesus comes, when, instead of “the herald angels,” He will appear Himself in the sky in a burst of unbelievable light. I want to be ready to put all distractions away and be quick to join Him when He calls my name.

***

We spent a lot of time in the woods when I was a kid. In fact, I spent a lot of time up in the trees, often with a book to read, sometimes even with a precious snack–a thick slice of Mamma’s bread spread with rich yellow butter and topped off with a layer of beautiful brown sugar, or a couple of cookies, or a baked potato snatched from noon leftovers stored in the stove’s warming closet. A few times I did fall out of one of those trees. My first concern–before checking for broken bones–was that no one tell Daddy, because he would ban me from climbing trees if he found out.

Aside from eating and reading, Suzanne and I loved to sing while aloft in a favorite dogwood. We’d sing with girlish gusto, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We giggled uproariously if one or all of our motley collection of dogs began baying. They were, after all, our usual audience. Suzanne thought they were singing with us, but I was sure they were objecting as hard as they knew how to a sound that grated on their ears.

We young sprouts didn’t understand all the words we so liltingly sang, although, until someone asked me directly whether I knew what the more advanced words meant, I probably thought I knew. I didn’t go around in a puzzled cloud wondering what in the world “the incarnate Deity” was or stop to study the meaning of “veiled in flesh, the God-head see,” either. Like solvers of jigsaw puzzles setting pieces aside until they fine a place for them, we held these words and phrases in our thinking somewhere until they made sense. Now, they are precious–a declaration of our mighty God’s humbling Himself for our sakes.

In the back of my mind, I hear Dad’s bass voice belting out “Glory to the newborn King” and Mamma’s soft yet enthusiastic voice almost trembling while singing “With th’angelic hosts proclaim, ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.'” I hear my brother Stan down the pew from me at Clarkesville Baptist, singing loud enough for three how Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

I can see my grandson Charles Douglas’s face when, as a tiny boy, he had his first experience “lining up for the Christmas tree at Grandmother Knight’s.” His brown eyes grew so wide, and he looked awed and amazed as the notes of the trumpet sounded. But how we did crack up at his next question: “What’s that noise?”

Lord, I pray I’ll be ready when You come. I pray I’ll do my part in preparing others for Your coming. I pray we’ll recognize You and never once wonder what the “noise” is. Amen.

The above is adapted from a chapter in Christmas Carols in my Heart by Brenda Knight Graham. If you’d like signed copies as Christmas presents, please e-mail me at topdawgs@syrupcity.net for info on this and other books and prices.

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Christmas Joy

I once thought joy was synonymous with happiness. Sure, I would use the word to mean extreme happiness, not just everyday cheerfulness, but still…I lined it up somewhere in the happiness spectrum. But joy is far more than happiness. Experience in God’s kingdom teaches us this more than His word, though it is confirmed there over and over.

In December 1997 my then ninety-three-old mother was in the hospital. We all knew, though we wouldn’t admit it, that she was dying. Previously, I’d been guilty of thinking that the passing of someone over ninety didn’t bring forth strong grief; after all, the person had lived a good, long life. I was totally wrong.

All ten of the children Mamma had given birth to and nine chosen ones, as well as thirty-three grandchildren and thirty great-grandchildren, expressed ourselves differently, but we were heartbroken at the thought of losing Mamma, Momsey, Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, Miss Eula. We couldn’t imagine ever finding full happiness again without this dear lady whose cozy bedroom had become a sanctuary for all of us–a place where we knew we’d find loving support, challenges to keep our chins up, boosts to our faith, encouragement to continue pursuing our dreams, or simply the opportunity to catch our breath. Hers was a place where we could lean over a game of Scrabble and lose our other concerns in deep contemplation over whether we could find a brilliant or not so brilliant use for a q.

It seemed natural to sing around Mamma’s hospital bed. Gradually, she slipped too far for us to communicate in any other way. She’d always enjoyed her children being around her–so we sang, some of the boys strumming guitars. We gathered each night around Mamma’s bed to sing, even though, for days, there was no response from the still figure in the bed. We sang all her favorite hymns and, with Christmas approaching, felt compelled to sing carols too. It was apparent Mamma wouldn’t be with us at the big Stone Gables Christmas tree this year. In fact, some of her last words had been that she wouldn’t be seen sitting in her big blue chair “But,” she’d whispered, “I’ll see you.”

It was a struggle, even a battle, for me to sing “Joy to the World” beside Mamma’s silent form to the accompaniment of her struggled breathing. But I was determined to do it. When one of us dropped out of the singing because of tears, others took up the slack. Nurses, who had ignored hospital rules to let us overcrowd Mamma’s room, told us with moist eyes how much our faith–and, yes, joy–meant to them as we sang Mamma to heaven, her flight to perfect peace finally occurring in the wee hours of December 12, 1997.

For over a year I could not sing any Christmas carol without needing one of Mamma’s handkerchiefs. But I knew hos much Mamma had loved Jesus and loved Christmas, how she’d loved seeing the little ones sitting around the tree singing “Away in a Manger.” I remembered how she’d always beamed as her younger sons, Stan and Charlie, took turns emceeing our large family Christmas party. They would throw in a line about how Santa had been delayed by a heavy snow, but could still possibly come. She was as thrilled as the children when a real live Santa Claus came walking in our big front door with a pack on his back. It would have been a tremendous sorrow to her if she knew she’d laid a shadow forever over our Christmas spirit. So, I kept singing. We all did. And the joy of the Lord came to us even in the midst of grief.

Now, years later, I can sing more joyfully than ever. For there are even more memories–memories of Mamma’s sweet concern for us to the very last, of her dreams for each little great-grandchild, of her love of life. I remember vividly my husband’s tenderness throughout that dreadful, sweet time and my children’s thoughtfulness. William pulled on his dad’s boots and went out in a cold dawn to help his cousins dig Mamma’s grave in our family cemetery, all of them wanting her place of rest to be personally and perfectly right. Julie reminded me, “Grandmother’s happy now and not hurting anymore. She’s singing with the angels. And you’re just going to have to learn how to make those good green beans she always cooked for us.”

Yes, true joy comes during our darkest hours. True joy shines through our grief in an unexplainable way. The Christ of Christmas knew sorrow greater than any of us can begin to conceive. But He offers Joy that is eternal.

Almighty God, thank You for being there for me in great joy and in sorrow. Thank You for bringing joy out of sorrow and showing me rainbows in my tears. Make me a blessing, Lord, to others who mourn. Amen.

Ideas for you to write in your Christmas journal:

Have you experienced grief at Christmastime? Write about it, if only a few words.

What are some of the voices you hear in your mind when “Joy to the World” is sung?

Write a prayer from your heart to His.

This “Pens and Needles” entry adapted from Christmas Carols in my Heart by Brenda Knight Graham

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Good Christian Men, Rejoice

Please allow me this month to share excerpts from my Christmas book, Christmas Carols in my Heart, published October, 2019. I call it an interactive Christmas journal because, not only do I write of memories evoked by twelve Christmas carols, but I invite you, the reader, to write down your memories too. The following is part of my entry for “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” by Heinrich Suso.

Good Christian Men

I tugged at quilts and straightened heavy muslin sheets, scraping my knuckles while dealing with tight spaces between antique headboards and mattresses. It was all part of making beds at Stone Gables, a regular job for me when I was a teenager. Daddy expected the boys to work outside, not inside. As I cleaned up after my brothers, I listened to music on Stan’s new radio. Good Christian men, rejoice, with heart and soul and voice…Even the carols were male oriented. Why should only men rejoice?

But as I opened my mouth and began to sing, my resentment melted away like morning mist disappearing from the grove in front of our house. My question wasn’t exactly answered. It just didn’t matter anymore. Of course men weren’t the only ones to rejoice. Because I was rejoicing and I knew it. Suddenly it seemed clear why the song said Christian men. Nothing else would fit poetically. Try to sing the song with women or children in place of men.

Years later, singing in our Cairo church congregation surrounded by Charles and our children and one special guest, I could appreciate even better the words to this song and rejoice more completely. He hath opened heaven’s door, and man is blest forevermore. Now I knew that “man” means mankind, including women and children. And I had so much about which to rejoice that day. Festive wreaths were up once again high above the doors on either side of the nave and along the balcony railing behind us were graceful loops of garland, hung lovingly by Sarah Timmerman and helpers. A Chrismon tree glowed near the right transept. Even though it was a very gray cold day outside, warmth and friendship surrounded us here.

But the best part of that day was that a missionary to Alaska was visiting us. As director of women’s missions that year, I had asked him to come from his retirement home in Tallahassee and here he was. He would be speaking in only a few minutes. Calls you one and calls you all, To gain his everlasting hall.

Rev. John Isaacs and his wife, Lillian, pioneers in teaching English as a second language in Kentucky, then Alaska, had always sought to bring their students to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They became dear friends of our family after they retired, even helping churches in our community start ESL classes. Always we’ve enjoyed remembering that particular day when Rev. Isaacs first came to our church.

As we all stood outside after services talking about Alaska, the weather in our little south Georgia town made a distinct change. Snowflakes began to fall, lighting on our shoulders and hair. William and Julie and church friends ran about in great glee. It was the first snow we’d seen in years!

We took Rev. Isaacs out for lunch, and as we sat at the table in Pizza Hut eight-year-old William blurted out, “Can you believe it’s snowing today?” John Isaacs, never one to miss a chance to tease, said in his low key way, “Yes, son, I can believe it. I put in a special order early this morning. So glad you like it. It’s Alaskan snow, you know.”

***

It was one of those years when my brother Charlie’s teenage sons James and Nathan did most of the work of cutting and setting up the Stone Gables tree. We arrived as a small crowd of other family members were pulling out Mamma’s ornaments and starting to decorate the tall rafters-high cedar. William took a handful of sparkly icicles from his grandmother and dashed up the stairs to work on the top third of the tree. Julie accepted an angel and began to hung for the very best lower branch. Evelyn, James and Nathan’s older sister, hummed “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” with her twin cousins Fairlight and Rebecca, as they chose ornaments to place.

My sister Ginger was on a ladder working on the middle branches when she suddenly screamed and Suzanne grabbed the ladder to steady it. There, draped gracefully across a branch near the trunk of the tree was a long gray snake skin.

“What in the world!” said Mamma, immediately looking at Nathan. Though we all accused Nathan, his neck never turned red the way it did when he was guilty. But he did take the thing out like a young gentleman.

I couldn’t help expecting to meet that snake in its new skin wound around a chair leg or lining itself up in a shady corner of the breakfast room. But he never showed up and the merriment grew merrier. Nathan, to this day, declares he did not put that snake skin in the Christmas tree.

***

I’ve been married nearly fifty-five years to a “good Christian man,” and I am so grateful for him. Charles is a godly leader in our family and in our church. He takes his instructions from God’s holy Word and I trust him. He is faithful as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a deacon, and a veterinarian. And he is so patient in putting up a straight Christmas tree.

Oh, Jesus, how You continue through the ages to give Your words, Your truths to humble folk. You use nobility and skilled persons and You use children and people of low esteem. I’m so grateful, Lord, that You’re always ready to respond to our seeking. Help me learn something new every single Christmas. And thank You for all the good Christian men You’ve put in my life–father, father-in-law, brothers, son, especially my husband. Amen.

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One Small Dino Footprint

Kaison still likes his dinosaur!

When Kaison was three years old he and I spent a good bit of time together, particularly on Tuesdays. His older sister had started Pre-K. Until we picked her up in the afternoons, it was just Kaison and I learning about roly polys, turtles, squirrels, how to pedal a tricycle uphill (a very gradual south Georgia hill, but a hill nonetheless), and the big lesson of learning to stay out of the street.

One day as we rounded a curve walking in our circular driveway, I said, “Oh, Kaison, look!” I pointed at a strange white formation in the asphalt and then squatted down with him to get a closer look. (I could still bend at that time!) “A dinosaur’s footprint,” I breathed.

Kaison was really “into” dinosaurs then. I think it was the year his parents gave him a big toy dinosaur that roared and swung its neck in a truly forbidding way. Kaison would sneak up on me and scare the willies out of me with that dinosaur. Also, we played a matching game with colorful dinosaur cards, a game that was more fun when his sister Charli was there to make us a threesome. They always beat me hands down. I got lost remembering where on the table brontosaurus, tyrannosaurus rex, stegasaurus and all the rest were.

We examined that design in the asphalt and we wondered together. “It was a baby dinosaur,” observed Kaison.

What kind of dinosaur made this footprint–a tyrannosaurus rex maybe? We speculated about where the baby’s mother was and why there were no other tracks. Thereafter, every time we came upon that white “track” imprinted in the driveway, we would speculate more about the baby dinosaur. Was he lost when he made that print? Where was his home? Did his father come looking for him? What did he eat? Where did he sleep?

A trip to the library answered some of our general questions. Invariably, like his uncle Charles, Kaison chose books about dinosaurs.

Time passed. Kaison started school and just loved it from the very beginning. He learned to read–all about butterflies and elephants–and dinosaurs. Now he could ride a bike around our circle and the new game was for me to time him and see how many seconds it took to go around.

We never talked about the dinosaur footprint anymore. Until one day when he and I were walking around the circle. Suddenly he bent over to inspect the “track.” “Here’s the dinosaur footprint,” he said with glee, almost as if it were his first time to see it.

“Oh, Kaison,” I said, “you do realize Nana was just telling you a story for fun. That couldn’t be a real dinosaur’s print. This driveway wouldn’t have been here then.”

He nodded. He looked as if he understood. But a few weeks later he took me by the hand and said, “Let’s go look at the dinosaur footprint.”

Again I explained that I had been using my imagination when I told him that was a dinosaur footprint. Would he ever believe anything else I told him?

Shortly after that conversation Kaison and I were sitting in the swing talking about Jesus. He looked at me with his big blue eyes shining and said, “And all that about Jesus is really true. Right, Nana?”

I was so glad to say yes!

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Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow

It has been an anxious time in our nation. And it isn’t over yet. My state of Georgia is now in the political beam as two senators vie for keeping Republicans the majority in U.S. Senate and, hopefully, keep us from falling to a socialist minded government. But–I was reminded this morning by a beautiful blossom that governments may come and governments may go but Jesus is still on His throne!

All summer long we watched our Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow shrub for the pretty purple-to-pink flowers that fade day by day giving it its name. The foliage was healthy and bright. The plant almost doubled its size since winter. But no blossoms appeared, not a single bud. We reminded ourselves that it was slow blooming last year. But evidently it just wasn’t going to bloom this year at all.

We had searched online and in person for this plant when we heard about it three years ago. We were intrigued by its name and description. When we finally found one (at Nesmith Nursery in Coolidge, a nursery which has since closed its gates because the owner retired) we were ecstatic. We came straight home to plant it. It has a favored spot beside a butterfly house and close to the yellow lantana bed. It gets nice morning sunshine but is somewhat shaded in the afternoons by a clump of azalea bushes. All in all, it seemed to us the shrub had everything it needed.

But it wasn’t blooming.

It was two days after the election with the counts for the two presidential candidates so close, razor thin in some states including Georgia. We, along with half the nation, were dismayed at the way the election was turning out. Tensions were high. Members of each party are convinced this election is not just about two candidates. It’s about what our nation is to become.

On top of the anxiety over our country, we received sad news from family and then more disturbing news from friends. It was one of those days when, as happened to Job, “while he was yet speaking, another servant arrived with more bad news.”

We had to run an errand downtown and decided to take a ride afterwards “to get a grip on things.”

When we returned, we walked around our driveway and that’s when we saw it–a purplish blossom on the Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow shrub. On closer inspection we discovered many buds ready to pop open in days to come.

I’m not happy with Biden as president. But if he is the one, then I will honor him as president and pray for him to gather wise people around him. We Trump supporters will not burn cities down in our disappointment.

I don’t know what may happen to our beautiful free country. But “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)

Nothing is resolved. The outcome of the election is still not clear and certain. Sickness and problems still prevail. Death separates us from dear ones. But the purple-pink-lavender blossoms remind me: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-carols-in-my-heart-brenda-knight-graham

Consider an interactive Christmas journal for gifts this year. My stories of memories hearing twelve dear Christmas carols are followed by an invitation for the reader, too, to recall special Christmases. Follow the link above to find out more! (Highlight link, then right click, then choose “Go to barnes and noble”

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Camping Across Canada II

I think we left you last week as we were driving into Calgary, Ontario. Calgary is quite a city and as I drove into the edge of it, I thought “I don’t want to find my way in this place.” Spying a visitor information center, I pulled over so Charles could drive. Of course we went in the visitor center. That’s a good way to learn about an area even if you don’t have time to sightsee. In a few exciting minutes our new plan had developed.

We discovered it was not just any week in Calgary. It was the week of “Stampede Calgary” and the tour consultant told us she thought we could still get tickets for that night. We found a motel, checked in, changed into warmer clothes, and hurried to Stampede Fairgrounds.

Luckily for us, we were an hour ahead, having crossed into mountain time. So we had plenty of time to eat an absolutely scrumptious plate of barbecue with trimmings and get into the stadium in time for the chuckwagon races. It was late in the Stampede week so the only tickets available were “rush” or “standing room only.” We found our places at the front line about thirty feet from the spirited thundering horses pulling the wagons around the track.

An older Canadian couple stood with us and explained some of what was going on. They heard our Georgian accent and had pity on us! There were nine races of four entries each, four horses for each wagon, and four outriders. Outriders must be within 100 yards of the chuckwagon when it goes under the finish line. Winners are announced at the end of the ten-day Stampede according to the number of points throughout. When the wagons came past us, it was almost overwhelming but we loved it. The rough and ready flavor of the old west surrounded us–men in their big hats laughing and yelling, horses raring to go, the crowd cheering all around us.

Immediately following the chuckwagon races a stage was rolled into place in front of us and we were treated to two hours of Canadian talent–music, humor, dancing, skits, unicycling, circus elephants, trained dogs, bands, and even fantastic fireworks. My fingers grew tired of taking pictures but, surprisingly, our legs weren’t all that tired after three or four hours of standing. We were just that enthralled.

Following the show we wandered about the grounds enjoying the sights–local art, home displays, so much that was interesting and delightful. To cap off this surprise involvement in Canadian life, we went to our motel which had, to our delight, a flush toilet, hot shower, and a wonderful luxurious bed!

July 13, 1988–After sleeping in (two days of 500 miles each had earned us that!) and breakfasting at Denny’s, we pulled back on to our western road. While getting petro, we were told by an eager friendly attendant about the Olympic grounds. “You’ll be going right by them. See? There are the ski jump towers you can see from here.”

We did stop at the scene of the 1988 Winter Olympics–so interesting! We saw a much-used bobsled, the bobsled chute, and the ski jumps–all different without the snow. We had watched the Olympics on television and it was surreal actually standing on the grounds, viewing the high slopes, imagining the skiers and the bobsled riders vying for the gold.

Soon after we left Canmore, we began to see high craggy mountains, our ears tightened, new (to us!) wildflowers appeared on the slopes. At our first stop we grabbed our coats and still shivered in a fine mist of rain. It was such a beautiful drive up to Roger’s Pass and on, stopping often to read historical markers, mainly about the railway, the spiral tunnels, etc.

We passed through Banff, British Columbia (both town and region), Lake Louise, rode across and along Bow River. Couldn’t believe the generosity of the Lord as He poured out beauty in wildflowers, waterfalls, mountains, and trees. There were glacier lilies (white bloom low to the ground similar in appearance to a dogwood blossom), bluebells, pink sweet williams, Indian paintbrushes and more!

There were, along with the beauty, very large and healthy mosquitoes who loved us! While eating our lunch by a little lake, we kept them about an inch from our faces with a thick spraying of “Off.”

We stopped in Glacier National Park at a visitor center built in the form of a snow shed with moss and grass growing on the roof. There was a fire inside, a cheerful sight compared to the chill damp wind. It was a long day and we were dead tired when we arrived at Niedusachsen campground. The hostess was a warm interesting lady originally from Germany. Coffee tasted so good along with our beef stew eaten in sight of glacier mountains. We went to bed quickly when it started raining and lay in bed talking about all we’d seen. We hoped some of the poor dry wheat fields back in the Saskatchewan were getting rain too.

July 14, 1988–We weren’t quite as thankful for the rain when we woke up with puddles developing in our tent and rain still drumming on our thin roof. We had to take down the tent in the rain and pack it away wet. Our big black garbage bags came in handy. We were so thankful for a down home kind of restaurant downtown. We had eggs, croissants, and sausage. Charles asked for grits and got very little humor from the waitress, though she was very nice, just didn’t know anything about grits.

Traveling through the Rockies was wonderful as long as Charles was at the wheel. The flow of the traffic was about 70 mph even on those steep grades where signs warned trucks to gear down and watch for runaway ramps if necessary. At one point, we took an alternate route through the Okinagan Valley on advice of a petro clerk who lives there. There we saw lake after lake after natural lake, a rich land of orchards, pastures and beautiful gardens. We bought cherries and raspberries at a roadside stand to add to our lunch menu in a provincial park.

July 15, 1988–We arrived in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia, home of Butchart Gardens in time to have almost a day going crazy over the beautiful flowers. The beauty of Butchart Gardens took our breath away, a trite description but so true. We literally fought over the camera in that garden begun by Mrs. Butchart in her husband’s gravel pit. She turned an ugly eyesore into a lasting place of beauty visited by people from all over the world.

It was late afternoon when we began investigating the ferry possibilities in Victoria. I had spent a day in Victoria in 1964 as a college summer missions volunteer working at Port Angeles. I was delighted now to see that VICTORIA is still written with gorgeous flowers on the slope one sees ferrying over from Port Angeles, Washington.

Prospects of our getting on the ferry that night were slim. It was already full, we were told, so we’d have to wait till the next morning. Even then, we must be in line no later than 7:00 a.m. or we’d still be left behind. What to do? This was no place to set up a tent and if we left to find a motel we’d lose even the tiny hope that we could get on that night. We walked to see what we could of that beautiful city and took a ride in a carriage pulled by horses named Gypsy and Hope.

We were elated upon our arrival back at the docks to learn that one vehicle in line for the ferry was too big so we would be allowed to be the last car on! We arrived in Port Angeles about 10:00. It was hard finding any campground but we did and had to set up tent in the dark. It reminded me of our night at Niagara Falls. But this time there was no railroad nearby.

Thus ended our trek across Canada. We would attend the American Veterinarian Medical Association Convention in Portland, Oregon in just two more days, and then we’d have another long trip across the USA before getting home. It was truly a “trip of a lifetime.” We were then, and still are, grateful for that opportunity. We owe a big thanks to Dr. Eugene T. Maddox for his cooperation in letting Charles be gone from the veterinary practice for all those weeks.

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Thanksgiving Birthday

Fifty-two years ago our little boy was born. He was born on Monday night before Thanksgiving. It is the only time I’ve spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. Although it was somewhat lonely between the times when little William was brought to my room, all in all, it was an extraordinarily wonderful Thanksgiving. The disappointments had nothing to do with him.

Archbold Hospital in Thomasville, Georgia, had some very strict rules in those days (as I suppose other hospitals around the country had). The normal hospital stay for first-time maternity patients was five days, no matter what. There were no cozy “Family Room” possibilities. Fathers could not be in the room while babies were being fed. They couldn’t even see their babies except through the glass nursery window. Charles was the only veterinarian on call that whole week so it was very hard for him to get to the hospital at all, even harder to get there when the baby wasn’t in the room!

Thanksgiving morning there was a special handmade card on my breakfast tray reminding me, in the hands of a little girl from a local church, that God loved me. I had helped children make cards like that before and here was one on my tray, a happy beginning for what would be a great day. Charles would be having dinner with me.

That day the hospital rules were relaxed so that fathers would be allowed to have dinner with their wives. So at noon two trays arrived. I peeped under the cover to savor the anticipation of turkey, dressing, green beans, sweet potato souffle, and pumpkin pie. I’d wait for Charles before eating. Finally, about 1:30 the LPN came to get my tray and found it still full of cold food. I was admonished that I’d better eat because babies would be brought out soon.

By the time Charles arrived it was so late it was time for the baby’s feeding. The sergeant-like nurse came in almost on his heels and barked at him that he must leave. He looked so weary and defeated–and hungry!–but he gave me a smile just the same and a wink implying “this won’t be for long.”

In spite of my disappointment it was a wonderful Thanksgiving, one of the very best.

I studied my baby William’s perfect features, fuzz of hair, and his tiny hands as I fed him. What would those hands do as he grew? They seemed, even so tiny, as if they would be capable and strong. Those long fingers might play piano, clutch a baseball bat, bind wounds, open doors for ladies, maybe build forts or sandcastles. I prayed he would be blessed and would be a blessing. And my prayers have been answered.

Every Thanksgiving since that one in 1968 we’ve celebrated Will’s birthday in some way. I can picture him now at his five year old party when all his kindergarten class came. They crowded up to the table when it was time for cake and ice cream their faces full of eager anticipation. I guess he was twelve and his sister eleven when we gave him Traveler, a horse Charles had found that would be gentle and kind to children. Traveler wasn’t what he’d been touted to be. The children had a double birthday party, Julie’s birthday being December 9. Traveler threw off nearly every one of the kids who climbed on him. We began to fear we’d be arrested for child abuse! When William turned thirteen, he and his sister were with us enjoying a marvelous vacation in England, Hyde Park to be specific, a really awesome place to receive birthday licks! 

After receiving many honors at Cairo High School, including the prestigious John Philip Sousa award as a baritone player in the band, William went on to the University of Georgia where he played in the Dixie Redcoat Band. It was during a studies abroad term, that he became Will instead of William as there were three Williams in the sixteen member class. We, however, still called him Will until he and his wonderful wife, Christi, gave us a grandson named William Stacey Graham, Jr.

Now we have wonderful times around the birthday table right before Thanksgiving, as it is this year, or on the very day, or some time that week. Will’s wife wasn’t named Christi for nothing. She is a bright Christmas lady, but she loves making birthdays special too. She and the three children including now Thomas Hamilton and Martha Elizabeth, go to very special pains to give birthday celebrations, whether we are in Birmingham or here in Cairo. In addition to a cake baked by Christi, or me, or Publix, I usually bake Will a pecan pie. On one of his birthdays growing up we spent Thanksgiving at St. George Island and had pecan pie on the beach. Pecan pie became a tradition for his birthday celebration.

I think back to the thoughts I had that Thanksgiving Day in Archbold Hospital gazing down at my precious little baby. Yes, my prayers have been answered extravagantly.

And, yes, those hands have become quite strong and capable. He gripped a baseball bat in little league as well as holding ready a catcher’s mitt. He studied piano, played in recitals, practiced with great self discipline and received honors from third through twelfth grades. He picked up pecans, mowed the grass, worked with his Dad at the animal hospital, fished at the river, and played backyard basketball and football with his buddies. He helped bind the wounds of animals. He loved to build forts in the woods and sandcastles at the beach.

I’ve seen his hands guiding the children as they learned to walk and later to play ball. His hands have been busy as, for fifteen years, he’s worked for a veterinary supply company, calling on veterinarians in central Alabama, as well as his Dad’s practice in Cairo, Georgia. He’s busy taking care of his beautiful yard in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Almost every year he brings us cuts of venison from his deer hunts. When we’re at the beach together he’s the go-to person if one of the children is wounded and always may be found at some time during the vacation building a sandcastle, his six feet two frame hunkered down with whoever will help. Or he’ll be throwing a frisbee, kayaking, and fishing. A vacation to him is a time to do as many activities as possible. And all his family joins in.

When we had COVID, Will came to take care of us. I experienced the gentleness and capability of those hands, now so strong and capable. He even had to pick me up off the floor one time! He’s always been good to call us often but has been particularly attentive since our illness and hospitalization. He talks to his Dad about veterinary drugs and equipment. He often calls just to tell me about some beautiful and/or interesting sight he encounters as he travels–a shimmering lake, a mountain, bright flowers, even weird roadkill.

Well, I’ve made this quite lengthy but it was hard not to write even longer about this wonderful Thanksgiving son! However, now I’d better let you go and I’ll go to the kitchen and start on that pecan pie so it will be ready when we go to Birmingham for Thanksgiving. We are especially thankful, with the world as it is right now, that we can make this trip.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

P.S. Time to think about Christmas! Please take a look at my Christmas interactive journal, Christmas Carols in my Heart, released October 2019. It is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon.com, and Books a Million. Ask for it at your favorite store as well. Locally, you will find it at Rayann’s in Thomasville, Center Drugs and Miss Myrt’s in Cairo.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-carols-in-my-heart-brenda-knight-graham/1133044431?ean=9781732239197

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Camping Across Canada

A few weeks ago I wrote about the first part of our trip from Georgia to Oregon in 1988 by way of Niagara Falls. The next leg of our journey, a very long one, was our camping across Canada. This, too, was an experience never to be forgotten.

We were traveling in a 1987 Buick, a roomy comfortable car with a nice big trunk for our tent and other camping gear. It was just the two of us. We were scheduled to be in Portland, Oregon by July 17 for the American Veterinary Medical Association annual convention. We rode the ferry across from Tobermory, Ontario to South Baymouth on July 8. By driving three or four hundred miles a day we knew we could make Oregon in time and have leisurely evenings and mornings in provincial camps.

I am drawing many of my recollections from my journal, some direct quotes. I wrote in my journal sitting at a picnic table, in the car riding across the prairie, and in the tent retreating from fierce wind.

We pulled in to a KOA camp at Wawa, Ontario about 7:00 p.m., July 8 and quickly set up camp. In minutes a can of stew was heating on the sterno. Contrary to our last camp on Bruce Peninsula, a beautiful provincial camp  but with only primitive toilets and no showers, this one in Wawa had everything. There were showers, a pool (much too cold to tempt us!), a laundry, even movies if we’d wanted one. But we actually preferred the provincial camps, some of which did have showers, because we were much more interested in exploring our surroundings. The firs were particularly beautiful, so many of them–bigger ones, cute little ones with knitted branches hugging the cool night air. We had known on Bruce Peninsula not to light a fire because of fire danger. But we saw no such warning sign around the camp in Wawa and it was cold. We had a fire long enough to make coffee before a fellow camper told us there was, indeed, a restriction so we started pouring water on our feeble little fire. That was the last time we had a fire in Canada.

Charles and I had been so busy with church responsibilities and raising children we’d neglected our shared devotional time. At the beginning of this trip we made a commitment to read the Bible and pray together each morning. It became more and more of a special time and we have kept up that practice to the present. One morning we sat down at a table to read our Bible and had barely gotten seated when we were literally attacked by a swarm of some kind of stinging fly. We ran to the car for cover and pulled out the Sting-eze.

The beauty of the drive along Lake Superior is as impossible to describe as that of Niagara Falls. There were views of rock-ribbed ridges spiked with firs. There were slopes covered with wildflowers (white, yellow, and soft pink). There was the view at the top of a peak, then a swooshing ride down into a valley again with the blue, blue lake on our left and, on the right, a jewel of a tiny lake fringed with spruce. (We had a new tree book but were constantly disagreeing about whether a certain tree was a spruce or a fir!)

Charles offered to turn around and go back to let me get a picture of a dead moose by the highway, but I told him I hoped we’d see a live one later on. There were lots of moose signs: MOOSE, NEXT 2 KM. NIGHT HAZARD. As it was, we did see a live moose one day eating grass right along the road. We stopped and watched him but at that point I had no film left in my camera!

Breaking camp in the mornings gets your blood going, particularly washing your face in icy water.

It was as we crossed into Manitoba that the road we traveled, which had been Highway 17 for all those many miles, now became Canada 1 with a sign near the border announcing “Crossroads of America Highways.” We could have turned there and gone all the way to the Gulf of Mexico! In Manitoba we saw fields of Christmas trees, a raspberry picking farm, and cherries for sale (yum!) by the roadside. We came to a giant field of potatoes, something we hadn’t seen since Pennsylvania and then not so large a field.

The first time I saw a red and blue oil pump right out in a huge field I asked what kind of a baler that could be.

Riding across prairies of Manitoba and Saskatchewan was almost like being in a virtual view, it was so smooth, so straight, never a curve or a rise. Yet, there were always interesting things to see: wide forever fields of yellow rape for making Canola oil, also fields of blue flowers we learned is flax used also for oil. The manager at Buffalo Lookout Campground near Regina also answered other questions. The little creature like a small prairie dog with whom we shared lunch was a Richard’s ground squirrel. The trees around our camp were Russian olives, elms, and aspen. This wide flat prairie surely does need trees! And water. A sign in the washroom pleaded: “Water is a precious commodity. Please use with care.”

Some road signs we saw: Yellow Quill Road, Red River Road, Thunder Creek, Roger’s Pass, Ocanagan Valley, Fertilizer Good for Peas and Lentils, many signs in English and French one of which read “Debut” for “Begins.”

Our mileage at the Regina campground showed we had driven 517 miles that day. We were certainly ripe for bed after eating our sardines, crackers, bananas, and moon pies. But our sleep was not to be a peaceful one. The wind picked up, getting stronger and stronger, until our tent literally blew down across our noses. We knew that, without our bodies, the tent, even with its good pegs, would have blown away.

July 12-8:00 a.m. Headed west to Moose Jaw and the Rockies and Portland! Drove downtown Moose Jaw just to see this pretty prairie town with handsome old buildings, well-blended new ones, a neat train station.  We ran into a downpour that day and were so glad the dry thirsty prairie was getting a drink. The year before, we were told, the crops had been so good, the surplus pulled the prices down. This year, 1988, the drought was threatening famine.

The land had been prairie-flat for such a long way but suddenly it appeared rippled like blankets loosely spread. We began to tease each other with “Look out for the Rockies!” though we knew we had a long ways to go before we’d see those majestic mountains.  We came to a scientific point of interest: salt mines. Saskatchewan is the only province in which sodium sulphate is known to occur naturally. The salt is saturated in lakes in summer, pulled up in ditch lines to reservoirs where the salt settles in cool autumn months, then is harvested in winter.

When we came to the Alberta line, we stopped. A woman from Australia offered to take our picture by the sign. The wind was blowing so hard we could hardly stand steady. Charles did the majority of the driving but I was the one driving when we first saw the Rockies. We had joked about cloud formations being the Rockies ever since Thunder Bay, Ontario, so when I exclaimed “There are the Rockies!” Charles didn’t believe me. The mountains were so far in the distance and it seemed as if we didn’t get any closer for such a long time, I was beginning to doubt my own eyes. But finally we were close enough that we knew absolutely. The mountains were jagged blue irregular teeth biting the sky. There was a sign reading “Rocky View” and then the Calgary Welcome Center.

More about Alberta, the Calgary Stampede, a quick view of the 1988 Winter Olympics park, the Rockies, and British Columbia next week!

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/christmas-carols-in-my-heart-brenda-knight-graham/1133044431?ean=9781732239197

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