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The Fiftieth Fourth

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The story of our second and third presidents dying on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence has intrigued me for years. In case you haven’t pondered it lately, let me remind you of that account. I have to wonder what these and others who risked everything to earn our freedom would think about what is happening right now in their beloved United States of America.

David McCullough in his scholarly and thoroughly interesting book John Adams describes the relationship between these two Founding Fathers. McCullough used letters from Adams and to Adams as well as letter and diary entries from Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams, and others to glean the details of their lives.

John Adams, second president, was known by many as the “voice” for pushing the long and sometimes heated discussions that led to the writing of that marvelous document. Jefferson, third president, was known as the “pen” being responsible for the actual writing of the Declaration with the other four on the committee giving strong input. Through those terrible times leading up to the Revolution they were friends, not agreeing by any means on everything but working together and enjoying each other. You might say they were like the proverbial “iron sharpening iron” as they forged through danger and conflict molding a nation.

The two men had grown up in vastly different surroundings. Adams’ family owned a farm in Quincy, Massachusetts where he grew up working the land and never lost his love for it. He became a lawyer, was a respected leader in his community, but always lived simply. On his frequent trips to Washington, he rode his horse, often alone.

Jefferson’s father was a plantation owner in Virginia. Jefferson naturally inherited the plantation, the slaves, and the lifestyle of a southern aristocrat. He, being an architect as well as lawyer, built himself a mansion and named it Monticello.

Both men were scholars, each acquiring in their lifetime a huge library. Jefferson is quoted as saying he could not live without books. Adams read constantly even during his last years when he was becoming blind. Jefferson had more than six thousand volumes in his library and Adams more than three thousand. Both were dedicated to serving their fellow man. Neither would sit by and let injustice rule.

It was at the end of Washington’s two terms as president that John Adams became the nominee and Jefferson ran against him. Adams was a federalist pushing for more centralized government whereas Jefferson was striving for far more government by representation of the people. Adams won by a narrow margin and Jefferson became his vice president. As Adams began to campaign for his second term Jefferson turned on him. It was the first and last time in history that a vice president has run against a president. The smears and lies that Jefferson circulated pained Adams to the core, as well as his dear first lady, Abigail, who often had hosted Jefferson in their home. One would presume they could never be friends again after all the hate Jefferson slung towards Adams in his fervor to win the presidency.

But in their later years these two past presidents became close friends again, corresponding regularly. Adams wrote more than Jefferson, almost twice as many letters during their last year. It was a happy correspondence, each dwelling on things he knew the other would understand. They generally avoided subjects that would raise conflict. It was time to enjoy their friendship.

Asked on one occasion how he, Adams, could be on such good terms with Jefferson after the abuse he had suffered, Adams answered that he didn’t believe Jefferson ever hated him, just his whole administration. Jefferson wished to be President of the United States and Adams stood in his way. Adams is quoted as saying, “I forgive all my enemies and hope they may find mercy in Heaven.”

Jefferson sent warm congratulations to his old friend on the occasion of his son, John Quincy, being elected president in 1825: “It must excite ineffable feelings in the breast of a father to have lived to see a son…so eminently distinguished by the voice of his country.”

The year of 1826 was to be a big one with wonderful celebrations. Ninety-year-old Adams, eighty-three-year-old Jefferson and eighty-eight-year-old Charles Carroll, the third living Declaration signer, were invited to a variety of commemorable celebrations. Though Adams and Jefferson in their years as negotiators and diplomats had both traveled to France, England, and the Netherlands, now they were too feeble to plan on being in Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, or New York for the Fourth. But they each voiced to those around them that they would live to see the Fourth.

Dr. Holbrook, Adams’ doctor, was with him early on Tuesday, July 4 as was the Reverend George Whitney. Cannons were already booming in the distance. It was obvious that the old president could not last much longer. Adams woke and on being told it was the Fourth, he answered in a clear voice, “It is a great day. It is a good day.”

“At Monticello,” David McCullough writes, “Thomas Jefferson had been unconscious since the night of July 2…At about seven o’clock the evening of July 3, Jefferson awakened and uttered a declaration, ‘This is the Fourth’ or ‘This is the Fourth of July.’ Told it would be soon, he slept again.” Jefferson died at approximately 1:00 the afternoon of July 4. Bells in Charlottesville were ringing in the distance celebrating the Fourth.

At Quincy, Adams lay peacefully resting as cannons grew louder. A loud thunderstorm showed off the “artillery of Heaven” as some would describe it. Adams stirred and whispered, “Thomas Jefferson survives.” He died at about six-twenty in the evening of the Fourth, unaware that Jefferson was already gone.

Two great statesmen, flawed men used by God to build a nation where everyone could worship freely, two strong leaders who deserve our honor and respect–both died on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

As you hear fireworks in the distance, or even see them light the sky, and as you furl your flag, say a prayer of thanksgiving for these presidents of the past. And pray for our current president, Donald Trump who also, though flawed, I believe, is the man God chose “for just such a time as this.”

 

 

 

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A Bit of Fiction

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They knew it would be their last weekend as six sisters in the old solid frame house on the hill because they were putting the house on the market. What they didn’t know was how fraught with adventure the weekend would be. They intended it to be restful, calm, peaceful. That’s not exactly what happened.

Chloe was years younger than her five sisters–Grace, Sylvia, Tanya, Rosemary and Becky. Chloe was the one who helped Papa outdoors with the cows, worked in the orchard, and even hunted rabbits or whatever he asked. She was never happier than when following him around. All her sisters married, got jobs, and scattered from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Chloe and her husband still lived in Towns County, Georgia. She had taken care of their parents until their deaths and, since then, had faithfully cared for the old house and its treasure trove of unique antiques.

Though Grace had instigated this meeting, Chloe had cleaned and made preparations and she had the key. She and Grace had decided to make this a fun weekend. They would not start worrying about what to do with the furniture until Monday.

While Chloe unlocked the door, her sisters surveyed the yard where they had played and worked and met boyfriends for dates and learned how to drive. There, under that big oak tree Sylvia had shared her first kiss. Over near the now overgrown privet hedge Becky, so little at the time, had sat squarely down on a yellow jackets’ nest.

“That old swing is still there,” mused Grace. “How old would that thing be?”

“I don’t know. I just wonder how it even survived all of us and then grandchildren too,” responded Sylvia adjusting a shoulder bag.

“It didn’t survive,” said Chloe, finally opening the door. She stood in the doorway and held up one hand as if stopping traffic. “Don’t try that swing. The rope is rotten. And–just so you’ll know–things are not all good in the old house either. I made up beds for all of us but–”

“Quit stalling, Chloe. Let’s go in and see for ourselves.” Grace pushed past her.

Chloe lifted her hands and dropped them, at the same time rolling her eyes. “Oh, well–”

Regardless of Chloe’s warning, the sisters saw nothing surprising. It had been five years since most of them had been in the house so of course things weren’t quite the same. But there was the graceful Duncan Phyfe sofa of which Mama was so proud and the worn Persian rug Papa had bought overseas. Papa’s old plantation desk still reigned in its same corner and there, of course, were the many folding chairs neatly stacked against the wall ready for the next family gathering. A moment of wistful quiet settled on the group as they thought about their happy dinners around the long pine table.

Sylvia broke the spell. “Everything looks sort of shabby but it’s okay. Tell me you did find a bed steady enough for each of us. I’m too old to survive my bed collapsing in the night.”

They all giggled.

Chloe crossed arms over her chest. “The beds are okay,” she said with the tiniest spark gleaming in her eyes. “That’s not what I was–”

“Oh, Chloe, for heaven’s sake,” Becky said. “Just show us our beds. I’m tired of hauling this luggage. And look at poor Sylvia, she’s got luggage all over her, as always.”

They all trooped up the stairs chattering as they went. Rosemary was in front and called back to Chloe, “You must have used a whole gallon of Clorox getting ready for us. It smells like a swimming pool.”

“I was trying to cover up–” began Chloe but no one was listening.

Sylvia discovered the first sign of imminent danger when she entered the bedroom she and Grace had always shared. Her scream could have scared the wildcats on Brasstown Bald Mountain. “A snake skin! A snake’s been on my bed! Oh my gosh, what if he’s still here?” She backed up banging into a heavy rocking chair. Her sisters spluttered with laughter.

“Chloe, that was a mean trick to pull on us,” admonished Grace proceeding to remove the very long threatening skin holding it out from her body with two fingers. “But don’t worry, Sylvie, even if it really had been here, it was only a white oak snake. I think.”

They were all seated around the long pine table with their array of take-outs from Chick-Fil-A when Grace herself stood up knocking her soda over. Her face had turned red and she was garbling as she pointed. When they all saw five feet of grey snake slithering from Papa’s desk and disappearing under the couch they went into spasms. Should they call animal control? Should they sleep in a motel?

It took several minutes for Chloe to make the sisters agree to stay. “They moved in about a year ago,” she explained calmly when a semblance of order was finally restored. “I’ve tried my best to get rid of them.”

“Them!” was the outcry. “How many are you talking about?”

“Oh, maybe three. Really, I did try to drive them out. But they kept coming back. I guess I stopped trying when I realized they were annihilating the rodent population. There hasn’t been a rat’s nest in the sofa for months.”

“You’re not funny, Chloe,” said Rosemary catching her breath. “I’m sure I won’t rest a minute tonight. In fact, maybe I just won’t go to bed.”

But once the sisters got their voices back, they found many things to talk about other than the grey snake. They all talked until the wee hours, then fell into bed forgetting all about the serpentine invaders. The next day was beautiful. They went to Vogel State Park for a picnic as in the old days. They laughed and cried over old photos, wandered around in the yard, and even explored the old orchard. They found Papa’s Bible in his desk with his many notes and underlinings. They made spaghetti for supper and then built a fire in the fireplace so they could roast marshmallows.

They were almost asleep when they heard a growling guttural motor, a truck of some kind, climbing the hill. Lights flashed across western windows before the truck stopped. The women all fled to Grace and Sylvia’s room. Men’s voices, several men’s voices, could be heard.

“Who?” they all asked looking at Chloe.

Chloe was as shaken as the rest of them but she tried to brighten. “I don’t know who it could be–but, hey, they’ll never get in that door. Even with a key it’s tricky–”

“Wanta bet?” breathed Rosemary. “I hear them clomping in the back way. Don’t anybody dare turn the light on. And keep quiet.”

Chloe wished she had brought one of Papa’s guns upstairs but who would’ve thought–

The men were below now, making plans in loud voices. “We’ll load every bit of this into the truck. These pieces will bring a pretty price in North Carolina. No need to grab the folding chairs, nothing special about them. Okay, start loading!”

Papa’s desk made a horrible scraping sound as they slid it from its corner. Then the sisters shuddered at the sound of a man screaming like a tortured mountain lion. “Snakes!” he yelled. He must have knocked another man down trying to get away. The leader was barking at his men not to be such fools until, by the sounds of it, a large snake dropped from above right onto his shoulders. “They’re coming down from the ceiling! There’s another one–over there, going under the couch!”

Next thing the sisters knew, the truck was roaring away.

“I told you those snakes were good for something,” said Chloe before they all burst into nervous laughter.

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Peaches in Barney

2018-07-07

Stopping at one of the open markets in Barney, Georgia (east of Thomasville), is really fun, especially now that peaches are ripe. You will find other delightful produce as well: cantaloupe, corn right from the field, sun ripened tomatoes with a taste like none other, Vidalia onions, wonderful watermelons, and crook-neck yellow squash. You may also browse through attractive displays of pickles, jellies, and sauces. The oddest one, I thought, was the whiskey barbecue sauce.

Choosing vegetables and fruits is better (well, almost) than a Christmas shopping spree, but it can be tiring. So when you need to rest a bit and enjoy some refreshment, buy a cup or cone of fresh peach or blueberry ice cream and sit at a table under a cooling fan (social distance honored), or settle at a table out under a big pecan tree. Beautiful hibiscus and bougainvillea are a feast for your eyes at Luck and Moody market as you enjoy your ice cream right down to the last lick. Or just a short way down the road, at Burton Brooks Market, you can shop and then walk about eating ice cream while taking in details of several antique cars.

On past the markets heading east you will find the orchards. Burton Brooks owns acres, rows on rows, of peach trees. I was reminded of the peach orchards in north Georgia where Daddy used to buy several bushels at a time for our family to “put up” for winter.

Peach days were full and wonderful. When else would our whole family sit in a circle and play guessing games all day? Mamma was in the kitchen sweating over the hot cookstove, along with one of my older sisters, canning dozens of jars of bright, beautiful fruit. The rest of us from the littlest up were peeling and paring peaches. Daddy stored the peaches in the cool cellar and brought buckets of the ripe ones to us as he sorted them. He sometimes entered into our games and chatter and was always coaching us on peeling thin so as not to lose any of the goodness.

We made up riddles, the sillier the better, recited poetry, and told jokes. Sometimes someone was chosen as a reader so we could all listen to a book like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain. The games? Initials was our favorite. We would guess initials of famous writers, artists, politicians and inventors, as well as those of local friends and leaders. The field was wide open for choices and the rules simple with questions requiring only a “yes” or a “no.” Another game was to see who could answer more quickly naming capitals of countries, US states, and books of the Bible. Or someone would make a challenge and the race was on to see who could peel the most peaches in a given time, who could peel the longest peeling, or even who could peel the shortest one. That last one was intended, I think, to give us younger ones a chance to win.

Mamma made sure we wore our oldest, most dilapidated clothes on Peach Day because peach stains are not beautiful like the fruit itself. Therefore, we were a real rag-tag bunch. But it didn’t matter since no one would see us. But one day friends from Brunswick, Georgia arrived unexpectedly. Mamma was so humiliated! I think she went right to work making one of her scrumptious deep dish peach cobblers trying to make amends for our appearance.

The peaches we usually worked with were called Elbertas but maybe once in the late summer Daddy might bring home a bushel of Georgia Belles. I loved slicing one of those in half so I could see the snow white flesh in such beautiful contrast to the bright red crater left when I popped the pit out. I failed to ask what variety we bought in Barney. I was so excited to get peaches of any kind. But I was told that right now clings are the only ones ripe, the freestones ripening later in the summer.

Hold a peach in your hand. Feel its velvety fuzz. Contemplate the varying shades of red with touches, even swatches, of gold and look at the shape with its charming cleft on one side. Put it to your nose and smell the rich enticing scent that makes you feel the warmth of remembered good things. And, finally, peel that peach and begin slicing fruit away from that fascinating grooved pit. Let the juice drizzle between your fingers. The fruit is golden with blending shades of red glistening with moisture. You won’t be able to resist popping a juicy morsel into your mouth!

Charles and I enjoyed sharing peaches from Barney with friends. Then we sat on our back porch peeling peaches while we told family stories and made up a few jokes. We froze some, ate a lot, and made a pie. Making a peach cobbler is pure joy. There’s one thing better, though. That’s eating it! Mmmmmm!

 

 

 

 

 

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Where Do You Run?

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Jared Evans and wife Amanda at a Republican forum in February

The following story is true, though I may have missed a few details. My grandson-in-law, Jared Evans, who is running for sheriff of Grady County, told it to me.

Here it is:

Jared was working at his family’s business (Cairo Paint and Body) one morning when a man came running up totally out of breath. “Give me a ride,” he gasped.

Jared asked where he was trying to go.

“Anywhere,” the man huffed, “just anywhere.”

Jared, who has been in law enforcement for many years, began to smell something fishy. “What is your hurry?” he asked.

“I’m running from the sheriff, man, just get me out of here.”

By this time, Jared could see deputies turning in the driveway. Getting a firm grasp on the man, Jared said “I’m a policeman. You’ve come to the right place.”

It seems this man has been running from the law twenty years for having set fire to a church in Tallahassee. The sad “rest of the story” is that, because of Covid-19, the man could not be extradited back to Florida and now is working in Grady County.

The moral of the story? Be careful to whom you run.

VOTE  JARED EVANS FOR GRADY COUNTY SHERIFF

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Annie’s Chapel

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You never know when you’re going to round a corner and plunge right into a refreshing surprise. It happened to us last week. Our plan to “drive by” Annie Parks’ yard to see her multiple lily beds became an introduction to a very unusual Covid-19 ministry.

Charles and I had delivered a book to a friend near Old Egg Road. Driving on from there, I realized we were very near Annie’s house and proposed we go by just to see her pretty flowers. When we turned the corner onto Elkins Road I spied Annie down on the ground under an azalea pulling weeds. We stopped to wave but Annie jumped up and called out, “Come on, let me show you my chapel. You can drive right to it. You’ll be safe.”

In amazement we followed this spry little woman who called out and pointed to this flower and that bush, even adding bits of history as we crept along. Annie was born in the big frame house she now lives in and has fond memories of growing up there. She stopped along the way to tell us about a tree now gone under which she kept the babies and children of the cotton pickers. “Some of the mothers wanted me to make frocks (dresses) for their little girls so Mama let me have the pedal sewing machine out here under that tree.”

But it’s another tree past that spot, a wide spreading oak tree, that is the setting for Annie’s present ministry. It’s what she calls her chapel. Under the tree spaced at least six feet apart are five wire “baskets” turned upside down to serve as seats. These baskets, Annie explained, were covers for tobacco barn heaters. Annie discovered a neighbor about to throw these old things away and claimed them, not knowing what she would do with them. But then the Lord gave her the idea of having an outdoor prayer chapel during the pandemic and very soon she knew what she could do with those old wire baskets. Next to the trunk of the tree is a large tight cooler holding towels to make the seats more comfortable and a stack of paper plates. The plates are not for serving food. Annie laughed and said, “I don’t feed the people who come. We just read scripture I’ve printed on the plates and then we pray. That’s all.”

Annie, who is “going on 88,” is the only family member left in her generation. But she has no spare time for being lonely or taking her rest. Under normal times she is organist at her church, teaches Sunday school as well as an ESL class, crochets, grows and preserves vegetables, and keeps a colorful yard year round. If mayhaws are ripe, Annie will be harvesting. If the lemon tree is bearing, Annie will be picking every one to share with friends and to freeze for making her own lemonade.

The Lord is Annie’s constant and “ever present” help when things are good and when they are bad. When the “home shelter” started she suddenly couldn’t go out to work at her ministries in town. She explains that she didn’t really beg the Lord to show her what she should do. “He took the initiative,” she says. “I just felt this warmth in my chest and I thought about those tobacco covers and my tree and I knew what to do. I don’t advertise it. Folks find out by word of mouth.”

Folks pull up to Annie’s house and blow their horn. Annie leads them to her chapel just as she did us that day. “I never know who’s coming,” she says, “but friend or stranger they are all welcome. We just talk to the Lord and then they’re on their way.”

Speaking of the tree, the home of her chapel, she says her grandfather, Christopher Columbus Miller, told her it was as old as the historic Big Oak in Thomasville. It has been through many storms including last year’s hurricane but, having lost only one limb, is sturdy as ever and makes a wonderful canopy of shade for the pray-ers.

We didn’t sit on Annie’s wire seats but she gave us each Bible verse plates which we read out loud. Then, standing safely back from our car window, she prayed for us that we would be blessed and be a blessing, that we would stay healthy and strong. Charles prayed for her too, thanking God for this special praying lady. There were three of us there under the oak tree, no four. Jesus was there!

We left feeling refreshed and ready for the next thing. I think Annie returned to pulling weeds. I’m sure she was talking to the Lord while she worked. She told us she had even asked God one day for a dog she wouldn’t have to take to the vet. And right soon Rufus, a sweet black mutt, showed up. He stays at Annie’s during the day, then goes home to his “other family” at night.

When I called to ask Annie if I could write about her and her chapel this week, she readily agreed. “But it isn’t my chapel; it’s the Lord’s. Be sure you give Him the honor and the glory. He’s the one who sends me folks needing prayers, like the couple down the road who left a few minutes ago.”

As I said, you never know when you’re going to turn a corner and find a wonderful surprise. Maybe you’ll turn Annie’s corner one day.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

 

Click on the link below to see my latest book: Christmas Carols in my Heart, an interactive Christmas journal.

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Christmas Shepherds in May

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While cutting out and painting two shepherds and two sheep during “home shelter,” we’ve had a lot of time to think about what life might have been like for these men. We may often think about shepherds during December when we hear the dear account of Jesus coming to earth as a tiny baby. But what about the rest of the year? Could we catch a glimpse of a shepherd’s life, what he might have endured, how he may have thought?

The first day we worked on painting the shepherds we only did their cloaks, sashes, and headdresses. As we left them that evening they were still just cut out boards with paint on them. But the next day we painted their faces. Suddenly they became real, no longer just plyboard, but people.  One tall shepherd in gold caftan and green sash is holding a staff (that staff with its crook took some fine sawing on Charles’ part!) and has a look of awe on his face. The other shepherd is kneeling with eyes closed in worship. Even our feeble attempts at painting eyes, noses, hands and feet brought forth in us a feeling that these men could (almost) talk.

What might they say?

Shepherds are often cast as the lowliest of the low because of their grimy smelly job. As former sheep owners ourselves we can vouch for how messy and oily sheep shearing is. But shepherds were due a great deal of respect. They were the ones who raised those perfect lambs for temple sacrifices. One online source, Father Dwight Longenecker, declares the shepherds were not mere “country bumpkins” who would have only the vaguest idea of what the Angel’s announcement meant. After all, these shepherds and others in the fields raised up to 265,000 lambs for the Passover sacrifices each year.

Did you know that a Passover lamb was actually called “The Lamb of God”? Shepherds had to raise lambs that met very strict legal-religious regulations. Lambs could be no more than a year old when sacrificed. They had to be male with no spot or blemish. They had to be born within five miles of Jerusalem, Bethlehem being exactly that. When a lamb was born, if it were male and appeared to be perfect, the shepherd wrapped it in strips of cloth and laid it in a stone feeding trough until the priest could pronounce it worthy to be raised for sacrificing.

The shepherds would have understood better than most what the Angel meant when he said, “You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Shepherds lived in the fields with their sheep all year, 365 days and nights, with no tent, no roof over their heads. They would have been so familiar with the seasons, with the sky at different times of year, as well as where the best grazing might be, and what predators might attack. A shepherd was veterinarian, shearer, husbandman, and trainer of bellwethers (lead sheep). He also tied the ewes onto lengths of rope for milking, usually done by women.

I have always treasured Luke’s account of the shepherds on Bethlehem’s hillside who were the first to hear the wonderful Good News. I’m grateful for the Sunday school teacher who prodded me to learn the passage that begins “There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night.” But working with these figures has made me want to know more about these common men who were chosen above the elite to receive God’s message that night. They had to be men of great wisdom, God’s wisdom, who believed and followed the Angel’s directions, who worshiped in awe, and returned to the fields rejoicing, telling everyone they met what had happened.

What might these weathered men of the field have thought and said? I can imagine such broken sentences as: “Oh, God…” “Can this be?” “This–what just happened?” “Oh, dear Lord, the sounds, the lights…” “Praise be!”

As they walked to that stable or cave they may have been silent in stunned wonder. As they knelt before the King of Kings, I cannot think what they might say except “Oh, God!”

Our wooden, silent shepherds stand now under the eave of our green barn ready to be stored with other Nativity figures until December. It is raining but I can see them from my sewing machine window. It seems appropriate that they experience a good rain before they go into hiding. Shepherds of long ago would have rejoiced at receiving such a rain that would bring forth tender herbage for their sheep, as would present day shepherds in the same area.

A couple more morsels I gleaned from reading about shepherds and their sheep:

Skeptics say lambs were born in spring, not winter. In northern Europe and North America that is true. But in the Mideast, the Awassi sheep most common to the area, lambed in December.

The Awassi sheep have fat tails from whence they receive sustenance during the meagre grazing times.

As pointed out by Father Longenecker, Jesus was born in the same time, place, and with the same treatment (swaddling clothes, lying in a manger) as lambs that would be sacrificed.

I look forward to Christmas when we can add these figures to our Nativity scene. But–right now–I thank God for sending Jesus as a Babe and then as our sacrificial Lamb so that we can have abundance of life now and the prospect of eternal life in the glorious place He has reserved for us called Heaven. Maybe I’ll be able to talk to one of those rugged shepherds and find out more about how it was that starry night on a hill near Bethlehem.

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Family Picture

20200507_125431Last week we stood on the boardwalk at Cherokee Lake and watched two families of Canada geese gliding across the water, feeding on tender at the edges, all the time in perfect formation. I couldn’t help noticing a few similarities to human families. Could it be they get their pointers from the same Creator?

About once a week Charles and I go to Thomasville to deliver two hundred completed masks and pick up more for our team to sew. We make a fun excursion out of the errand, usually taking the opportunity to walk the mile around Cherokee Lake. We have always enjoyed watching Canada geese–flying in formation over our house from one lake to another, grouping in their black and white on the shores, flying in for such dramatic entries onto the water. But this time of the year is the best when the goslings are newly hatched. On that recent visit to Cherokee Lake we saw goslings out with their parents learning how to forage, how to follow directions, how to swim away across the lake staying together as a family.

The first family of geese was made up of the gander, the goose, and six downy teenage goslings. The second family had only five goslings and they were very young. I wished I could pick one up and feel its soft golden feathers but I knew that if I were so stupid as even to try such a thing I would be attacked viciously by both parents.

As we watched, the first family glided smooth as silk under the bridge where we were standing and went straight to the grassy shore. One goose was in front and one behind, consistently the same ones. We decided the one in front with the longer neck was the gander. He seemed always to be in charge, the goslings in a row behind him, then the goose swimming at the end of the line. On the shore, the goslings went greedily to work feeding on tender water grass while the parents stood guard, one on either side of their gaggle. Those parents were so alert.

The second family came quietly along crossing the water so effortlessly. They, too, swam under the bridge and the gander chose a different shore landing where they wouldn’t invade the first family in their feeding place. As the others had done, these parents stood watch over their young, necks stretched in alertness, one on either side of the foraging goslings. When it was time to move on, the gander gave a command in goose language that was quickly obeyed and all the family took to the water again.

Canada geese are some of the fowl that mate for life, or so I’ve read. (By the way, I always thought they were Canadian geese until some authoritative source made it clear they are Canada geese, a common name for Branta canadensis, not necessarily from Canada.) We were blessed to have a pair nest at our Pinedale pond years ago. As different ones of us went to stay with my mother who was in declining health we focused a lot of attention on the pair of geese and their nest. Someone, somehow, looked in the nest before the gander could attack and said there were three eggs.

Mamma enjoyed more than any of us the prospect of the eggs hatching, though she couldn’t go to the pond and see them. She loved to hear reports of how faithfully and zealously the goose parents watched their nest. Finally the eggs hatched and phone lines buzzed with the news as if a new heir to a kingdom had been born. Unfortunately, there were some mighty hungry and aggressive turtles in that pond so only one of the three downy goslings survived and he only lasted a couple of months. We were all so disappointed but still the goose and gander had each other, at least for a time.

We don’t know what happened to the gander but one day he was swimming with his mate making rippled reflections in the water. The next day she alone was there. We saw her swim around and around the small pond, then walk the shore, as if she were hunting for her sweetheart. After a few weeks she disappeared too. We found no pile of feathers so the hope was that she flew to another pond where other geese congregated. Did she really never mate again, never have more cute little goslings?

Watching those geese with their young at Cherokee Lake, I shuddered at the thought of the dangers they face. The predators of geese listed in a National Geographic article are such as eagles, coyotes, man, even skunks. But at this lake, as at our Pinedale pond, they also include turtles. There are a lot of turtles and they can sneak up from below and grab unsuspecting goslings by the legs. No wonder those geese are so protective of their young.

The next time we went to the lake I looked for those two families. I saw the family of five goslings. This time they were obviously a week older. Still, the young swam in a row with the gander in front and the goose behind. But this time one gosling dropped back and was swimming behind the mama, as if beginning to want his freedom. Watch out for turtles, little gosling! The family of older goslings seemed to be separated so we could hardly pick them out. The teenage goslings were experimenting life on their own.

As geese watch so carefully over their young, so do humans. The natural leader of the family is the father who may bark orders to the “gaggle” behind him, or more likely in their rooms, down the street, or trying out the refrigerator. The mother is like a bookend making sure the flock minds their manners and keeps their feathers preened (and their teeth brushed). There is an orderliness in the family when each knows his or her place. But sometimes, with the best of instructions from parents, one young one may creep out of safety, lag behind, try its freedom before it is quite ready to face danger. The little ones follow along observing every move their parents make. The older ones begin to try their own choices.

That family picture I took was a moment in time. Next time I see them those teenagers may be handsome beautiful geese with long sleek necks, strong legs, and sleekly perfect wings, all dressed up in black and white. Next year they may be the ones shepherding their young.

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Consider the Lilies

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Lilies of numerous varieties are blooming all around town. Friends have sent me gorgeous and amazing pictures. Lilies in our own yard are smiling and reminding us that, no matter how horrible the national news may be, God’s still on His throne. The day lilies right now are making a show. Several observations come to mind concerning these lilies.

Day lilies, as their descriptive name indicates, bloom only for a day. I brought some blossoms in the house, purposely picking stalks that had nice buds as well as blooms so there would be new ones the next day. I made the mistake years ago of using day lilies for a centerpiece at an evening supper party. They drooped way before the guests went home. But, I learned, this is not always the case. The ones I cut this week were still beautiful at 10:00. Then, the next morning, I walked into the kitchen and there were the spent yesterday’s blooms but, at 6:00 a.m., the new ones had already opened up bright and perky. Think about it. From 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. is a pretty long work day.

Still–it was only a day. I’m amazed at the intricate detail in each blossom, each petal, the vivid colors, and the designs that outshine any dressmaker’s creations. Our Master spent that much attention on flowers that would only bloom for one day? How much more attention he spends on the “apple of his eye,” humans!

Another observation on the short-lived lily. It does exactly what it was made to do during that one day. It blooms even on cloudy days. It puts forth knock-out perfection. It doesn’t talk or walk, worry or whine. It just blooms.

Did I say it doesn’t worry? That’s what Jesus said about the lily: “Consider the lilies; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

The lily, you say, has nothing to worry about. It has rain and sunshine and soil, it has daylight and dark, winter and spring. We, on the other hand, have many things to worry about–food, shelter, health, jobs, children, the state of the world, the future. But Jesus told his disciples not to worry, but to make their requests known to the Father, to forget trying to solve everything on their own and lean instead on the all-wise, all-powerful King of all Kings. Planning is good. Striving to do our best is good. Caring for one another is good. But worry? Worry causes deep wrinkles in our faces and in our health. I Peter 5:7 says: “Casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.”

The casting of our cares on Him is a daily exercise; it doesn’t come naturally. Case in point, yesterday while I was writing this, I became drawn into a troubling situation and, yes, I worried! Then I looked at what I’d written in this blog and had to laugh. Leaning on Him is a daily and even hourly discipline.

Which leads me back to the day lilies. We plant the bulbs in beds, or rows, or just scattered about beside trees or bird baths. We put them where we want them. We divide the bulbs some years which makes them thrive. We share them with others or replant them to increase the number of gorgeous blooms. I remember my mother and her sister giggling in delight as they exchanged bulbs and other plants and vegetables. We brought some of our favorite lilies to our new home when we moved. If a friend, or relative, gives you a bulb, you remember that friend when your lily blooms.

As God, our Master Gardener, cultivates us we, too, can bloom where He plants us or be moved to other places. We can be used to spread the message of His goodness abroad. Sometimes the cultivation can be painful. But in God’s hands it can always bring forth beautiful blossoms.

Even in a pandemic, whether caused by Heaven or Hell, God is in the business of cultivating His human “lilies” to produce more beauty, to spread His mercy.

There is one other consideration of the lilies I want to mention. Charles is very good at discovering lilies forgotten in a thick growth of shrubs or hiding in a scramble of vines and rattlesnake weed. He so tenderly rescues the poor forgotten lilies and brings them to a safe garden with the others or plants them in a spot where a dash of color is needed. He has had a lot more time lately to clear overgrown corners and discover forgotten lilies.

God cares for the “forgotten” humans, too, more than they will ever know, especially if no one tells them.

I have always been enthralled with the majesty and mystery of day lilies. Years ago when I was “into” writing haikus, I penned this poem: If anything awes me more/Than a towering snow peak/It’s the golden heart of a lily.

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Story of a Table

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We’re accustomed to having children and grandchildren around our large dining table often. But these pandemic days we are just the two of us so we eat every meal at our breakfast table. Now this table hasn’t always been a breakfast table. If it could talk it might tell us even more than we know. But we do know some of its background.

When Daddy Graham began downsizing his workshop he offered this sturdy old table to us. He disposed of the clutter that was on it in various ways. He seldom threw anything away so every item in his possession had to find  either another use or be given to someone who would give it a second life. Buckets of paint remainder, rolls of hay twine, coffee cans of used nails, even an old pair of boots, all were carefully passed on. When he had unearthed the 4’X3′ pine table he helped load it onto Charles’s truck. A man of few words, he simply mumbled something about that this table was his and Mama Graham’s first table.

We used the table sometimes out in the yard when we had big family cookouts. But gradually it became a fixture in our storage shed, a place for various tools, work gloves, cans of used nails, a broken lamp that was too good to throw away.

We renovated our grandson’s upstairs room and with the changes came a need for a computer desk. We looked around and decided we could use that old table for his desk. A few years later we moved across town. Charles D, though he had acquired a desk, really wanted that table in his room but there was no space for it. He tried to make it work because he had become attached to that old table. When it just wouldn’t fit, suddenly I had to direct movers where else to place it. This new house had a breakfast room as well as a dining room but we had no breakfast table. So–temporarily, we said–we put that old table in the vacant spot.

It wasn’t long before we all realized that table was just right for our breakfast nook. The knotty pine boards gave us a sense of contentment, the rustic nature fitted our taste. We wondered why we hadn’t thought of using it there sooner. We used odd chairs and stools until we could start looking for the most appropriate ones for this table.

I was being dismissed from the hospital following a painful surgery when my friend Sally called in great excitement. She’d found the perfect chairs for our table, four of them, at Goodwill for $5 apiece. I groaned at the very thought of walking into Goodwill that day but my nephew, Rick Eastham, had come to take me home and I asked him and my sister Jackie to go in and look at the chairs. The chairs were in good shape, they said, except for the seats which needed re-rushing. Rick was just beginning to weave chair bottoms and took on the job of doing these for us. I know nothing of the former life of these chairs but they are happily settled in with us now.

So there we were eating every day at Mama and Daddy Graham’s first table sitting in nicely resurrected rush-bottomed chairs. Daddy G was not a furniture maker but a very resourceful farmer. He made this table from whatever he could find in 1943. The edges were rough. The four corners he sawed off so there wouldn’t be any sharp edges. Charles imagines his mother may have instructed Daddy to do that for the safety of the children. One corner has a “boo-boo” cut as if Daddy had begun to cut more of a corner and Mama had said, “No, no, JB, not that much!” The legs are the same length but one is slimmer than the others. In addition to these characteristics, there were the scars and marks from all those years as a thrown away table.

A skilled acquaintance took on the job of sanding our table and coating it with many layers of see-through protection. Now the beautiful grains and knots in the wide boards are clearly visible but the surface is smooth and cleanable.

Charles doesn’t remember much about the table as he was growing up. Probably by the time he would have really noticed it his parents had acquired a new table for their growing family and moved this one to the back porch where people could set buckets of freshly picked beans and squash. But we imagine Mama making her biscuits on its surface when it was in her kitchen, maybe cutting vegetables and tallying farm records in a meticulously kept ledger. I can picture her sitting there as she read her Bible.

As is true of most treasures, someone else might not see the beauty of our old table and chairs but to us they are very special. Their value is not just in their history but also in the new story they are writing.

Our breakfast nook is a favorite place for grandchildren to draw pictures and play games. When we have a crowd too big for the dining table several children can happily settle around that table. It’s a friendly place for a cup of tea with drop-in friends or for spreading out a map as we plan a trip. And it’s a wonderful place for two to four to enjoy a meal while watching birds at feeders and bird bath just outside.

Charles’s thanks to the Lord as he “says grace” often begins with, “Thank You, Lord, for bringing us to this table again.”

Psalm 103:5 comes to mind. The psalmist lists some wonderful benefits God blesses us with. It says: “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” He gives us what we need–and extras too!

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Sewing Masks

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As I feed another mask under the sewing machine needle, I pray for the one whose face it will protect. Lord, heal this person if they’re sick, protect them if they’re not sick, give them a heart for seeking You.

When Sally asked me if I’d like to join her in sewing masks for Archbold Memorial Hospital, I was delighted. Yes! Some way to help in this awful time. I’m not a seamstress but I have a sewing machine. I could do this!

The masks those on my team are making are strictly utilitarian, designed to be passed out in hospitals and doctors’ offices when someone shows up with no protection. They are very simple, though I took all day figuring out how to make the first one, using advice of Mary Alice who, early on, said beware of the rubber bands. My machine didn’t like the rubber bands used to go around ears. In fact, after nineteen masks, that machine made a very horrible sound and, like an old mule in the middle of a corn row, it said “Not a stitch farther.”

I learned “Jimmy’s Sew and Vac” was open in the afternoons, curbside service. So Charles loaded the sewing machine into the car and we took off to Thomasville. There, Glenn kindly said that since I was sewing masks, he would quickly look at my machine and, hopefully have it ready in an hour. When we went back he came out with a sad look and informed me my machine was hopelessly broken. Seeing my disappointment, he suggested that he had a used machine in his shop I might like for a reasonable price.

Back home, with a new old machine, I began again. That machine, a Kenmore, worked sweet as pumpkin pie–until the bobbin gave out. Faced with a different machine, directions like a Chinese puzzle, I struggled. I longed for my “sewing machine whisperer” friends who would have wound that bobbin and rethreaded the machine quicker than the snap of Mary Poppins’ finger. Problem was, my friends were all social distancing.

I took a deep breath, several deep breaths. I prayed. Charles, my veterinarian husband whose sewing is of a different nature, tried to help. Miraculously, the bobbin did finally spin neatly and we rethreaded the machine almost correctly. The machine sewed like a dream then and I knew I was blessed to have one that made prettier stitches than my old one ever had.

I think I’m starting on my 140th mask. I’ve lost track. This I know. It is wonderful to be part of this tiny force of help for our hospital whose brave and faithful doctors, nurses, custodians and all are working long hard hours to fight this war.

Though we are blocks and miles apart, there is a feeling of happy togetherness amongst those of us sewing. On my team are Sally Whitfield, Mary Alice Teichnell, Jane Poole and Pat Orr whose daughter Julie Padget in Valdosta gave us a good clear video showing how to sew these masks more efficiently. There are many, many other mask makers as well. When I called Jimmy’s with a question I was told he had 25 sewing machines waiting for repairs, all belonging to mask makers. Seems some other machines didn’t like those rubber bands!

Some people are sewing using their own materials. I’ve done a few of those, but I can’t make the pretty tailored masks like the ones our friend Myra Easom made for us. On a rare trip to Wal Mart I saw patriotic masks, camouflage masks, bandanas, some kind of sock get-up, all kinds. I’ve even heard one might turn a bra insert into a good breathable mask!

As I sew I think also of sewing machines humming around the world as we all try to make folks a little safer. I even feel a kinship with those who have so willingly served in multiple ways on the home front during many wars. I think of my mother who knitted sweaters for soldiers of two world wars. During WWI she was only a slip of a girl. During WWII she had nine children and would have one more.

I just heard the good news that many states, including Georgia, are “opening” back up. But we’ll still be practicing social distancing for quite some time. That includes wearing masks wherever we go. So I don’t think Archbold Memorial Hospital is about to tell us “No more.”

A wise person said if you see the light at the end of the tunnel you’re still in the tunnel. So keep wearing those masks–tailored, camouflaged, or just plain utilitarian.

Enough talk about masks. I better start my sewing machine humming.

 

 

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