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Monopoly

I love to play games with my grandchildren. I can no longer play badminton, croquet, or corn hole. But I can enjoy inside games. Last summer Charli came over to join Mattie and me at playing Author cards and a “quick” game of Monopoly that lasted three days (off and on!). Remembering how fun that game of Monopoly was Charli and Kaison talked me into pulling out the ancient game again this year.

We set the game up on a card table that was out of the way so we could play for an hour or two a day. Each afternoon we vied to see what properties we could buy, who would land on those properties or even go to jail.

You learn a lot about people playing board games. I’ve been very interested in the actions and reactions of these kids as we circle the Monopoly board.

I’m a very cautious Monopoly player myself, holding back from spending too much, trying to avoid bankruptcy (at least early on!). Charli, on the other hand, is not even satisfied with houses on her property. She buys hotels and often bargains with other players to get their property and truly form a monopoly. But she’s not without compassion when someone lands on her street and suddenly owes a huge rental fee. She is always ready with negotiable options.

Kaison is so quick in math making change without a problem. He, like me, is somewhat cautious about buying, loves to see his stacks of money pile up. He has a real sense of order so often goes to the banker (Charli) requesting change for a $100 or $50 so he will have cash in every denomination.

I was surprised at their reactions when I landed on Kaison’s or Charli’s places. They eyed my puny stacks of money and either gave me a great discount or even paid my debt for me. Kaison, particularly, would say, “I feel bad for you, Nana.” I laughed and told them it was just a game, that they didn’t need to worry. By about the third day I was wishing I could go bankrupt!

In other words, we didn’t play “hard” Monopoly where if an owner doesn’t notice someone lighting on his property until after the next dice is thrown the renter doesn’t have to pay. The fun, to them, was in the act of paying and being paid. They not only watched their own properties with eagle eyes, but spotted for other players as well. I did notice that Charli, when faced with a huge rental fee, counted and recounted her steps, sure that she might not really be on Park Place.

Landing on luxury tax immediately eats up your “pass go” salary. Landing in jail brings out groans even though a player can accrue some real benefits from being out of commission, collecting rent and not paying for any. If Kaison had a “Get out of jail free” card when I landed in jail he would have it no other way than that I should use it.

We finally decided it was time to count up and fold up. That turned out to be a real exercise in math since some had mortgaged property. You can imagine who won–Charli, the aggressive one!

Tearing up our “village” was a little like taking down a tent at the end of a jolly, adventurous camping week. The hub that held us together was gone. All the chatter, arguing about nonessentials like how much your mortgage is and trying to talk yourself out of jail, as are the anticipation of catching a fellow player on your railroad or drawing a really good community service card. It was time to face some real life challenges like buying groceries, studying for exams, and interacting with friends in new grades.

The Monopoly game is neatly back in its ragged old box, a box that represents laughter and groans of generations of players for about forty-five years. Like the tent at the end of a camping trip, it’s folded away in a closet until another time.

The chatter of youthful voices clings to the rooms as I lean back for a much-needed snooze.

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Remembering Rainbows

We had a delicious grilled tilapia dinner at Rock Bottom in Cairo one Friday night. It was cozy and friendly inside, a nice escape from the shower that had come up so suddenly. When we walked out of the restaurant the sun was shining again and there before us above the parked cars, stores and utility poles was an entire rainbow stretching from horizon to horizon. We watched it for a long time, several minutes, then chose a way home that would give us more views. We talked about other spectacular rainbows we had enjoyed.

I guess the most amazing rainbow we ever saw was one that, like this one, was an entire bow, but unlike this one, the “pot of gold” ends touched down on rugged western mountains. As we drove across the tumbleweed scattered desert we felt as if we could keep driving and melt right into the splendid bands of pink, lavender, green, red, blue. We both gasped at the sheer beauty and worshipped God right there in the car.

We saw several rainbows in the spray from gigantic, roaring Niagara Falls. We realized why it is known for its rainbows. When we donned raincoats and took a ride in Maid of the Mist tour boat we entered heavy spray from the falls and felt surrounded by rainbows.

One day on a country road we saw a double rainbow, the only one I think we’ve ever seen. Children spraying water from a garden hose delight in “making” rainbows. I love to see the rainbows splashed on the floor from a prism I have hanging in my office window.

Rainbows–scientifically, spectrum separated producing different wave lengths, each reflected at a different angle. The definition escapes me when I try to explain it. But spiritually–now that I can remember! God set the first rainbow in the sky as a promise to Noah that never again would He flood the whole earth from Asia to Europe to Africa to Americas and Australia.

Remembering rainbows also reminds me of other promises God has made, such as: He will never leave me (Matthew 28:20); He will give me perfect peace if my mind is stayed on Him (Isaiah 26:3); He will supply all my needs (Philippians 4:19); He will be there for me when I’m afraid (Psalms 56:3); He will give me an abundant life (John 10:10) and eternal life (John 3:16); His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31). And hundreds more! Thousands more!

May you see a rainbow this very day! Enjoy the array of colors, the arch of the bow even if you can only see a piece of it, and feel a sense of awe. God still uses rainbows to remind us of His promises. And–which is more–He keeps His promises!

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Wild Life

I’ve seen a black bear on the side of the road in the Smokies and a moose grazing in a watery ditch in Ontario. I’ve seen tiny picas, like chipmunks, scurrying amongst rocks on Lassen Mountain, California, and amazing sea lions on the rocky shore of Oregon. As incredible as those wild creatures were, the wild life in our own yards is really so very interesting. It’s so much fun to visit a zoo or a wildlife park and see elephants, tigers, giraffes and rhinoceros. And, yes, I would love to go on an African safari. But the wildlife we encounter near, or even at, our own back door can be quite startling.

Charles had told me there was a possum in the shed. But I’d forgotten about it. I used the last of foil on a roll and needed more. Charles would have some in his shed kitchen. I dashed across the yard, opened the squeaky door, and pulled out a cabinet drawer. There sat a mama opossum with babies. She was as surprised as I was. She didn’t have time to play dead so she opened her pointed mouth and hissed. When I recovered from the shock, I simply closed the drawer. If she wanted to live in a cabinet drawer, then why not? The foil was in the next drawer which I opened very cautiously as if there might be another family on that lower story.

There are so many amazing creatures everywhere we go. An opossum in a drawer; a chameleon skittering across our daughter’s bedroom ceiling, adept as could be, upside down; a quail mama with four or five chicks following her across our side yard; a cute little fox with ears alert staring back at me from a thicket; a butterfly air dancing; a cardinal on a fence post; a snake crossing our driveway from a bank of reeds; two precious spotted fawns we inherited because a policeman confiscated them from an illegal owner and then didn’t know what to do but to bring them to the veterinarian. One day years ago when Charles Douglas lived with us our cat, Sassy, came proudly up to the door carrying a baby rabbit in her mouth. Charles D carefully rescued the bunny, who was unscratched and alive, and took it down to a nearby woodsy place where, hopefully, it might survive. We have a friendly turtle that comes to our back door on occasion and enjoys a taste of cat food, even visits us on the back porch. A tiny brown toad the size of a baby’s fist sat on our doorstep expectantly last night. And the list goes on.

Not to forget that abandoned baby squirrel in our garage which Charli claimed and so lovingly nursed.

Recently, while he was digging soil out of a flower pot, Charles came upon a small rubbery white lump. Curious, he pried it open. Out popped a miniscule lizard perfectly formed, though not alive. We began wondering how many eggs a lizard may lay and if they scatter them in various places. He said the baby was so tiny but exactly like those who hang around our porch climbing the screens and posing like model dinosaurs on leaves and window sills.

The creatures God has made of all sizes, shapes, colors, and habits are a marvelous testimony to His splendrous creativity. Each creature is made with a purpose, though we may never understand what that purpose is. I think I could do without mosquitos, fire ants, gnats, lovebugs–and snakes! But God knows best. Each creature is placed in the habitat and with instincts that it needs, polar bears and penguins on ice, monkeys where bananas grow. Each has exactly the right equipment for their intended occupation, a woodpecker with a strong drill of a beak, squirrels with springs in their nimble legs, and hummingbirds with helicopter wings for hovering.

Our great grandchildren have a favorite book titled “All God’s Critters Have a Place in the Choir” by Bill Staines with pictures by Margot Zemach. Our sixth grader still loves to pull that worn and ragged book out on occasion and read it with wonderful rhythm and pizazz. But we all know the refrain of the poem by heart: “All God’s critters got a place in the choir; Some sing low, some sing higher; Some sing out loud on the telephone wire; And some just clap their hands–or paws–or anything they got.”

So many strange creatures in our own backyard. Makes for a Wild Life! But the strangest of all? Humans! As the psalmist said, I will praise thee; for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14a

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Julie Moments

The sound of the hawk’s whistle high in a distant tree reminds me strangely of Julie. She and I never talked about the whistle of a hawk. Our moments were spent in other ways. Yet now, ten years after our daughter’s death at the age of 42, the hawk’s whistle during the month of August somehow reminds me of her.

Maybe it’s because I link the sound of the hawk with the visit of a mysterious bird that showed up a few years back just when I was particularly missing Julie. Though I’m not sure it was a hawk, I concluded afterwards it must have been because of its distinctive whistle. I was feeling nostalgic and morose that day, close to the August 18 anniversary of Julie’s leaving us. I had tried for weeks to see the bird making the shrill call. When that bird lit on a dead pine tree limb and stayed for long minutes, I thought he was the caller. Whether a hawk or just a mysterious bird, somehow its visit was like a whisper of comfort from the Lord.

Julie was a bouncy little girl with blonde hair in two ponytails when we adopted her at five years old. She loved to tease us all, especially her brother William, our biological son. William was almost seven when she arrived. She liked older men which was sometimes comical, other times embarrassing. One dear elderly gentleman in our church was one of the ones she picked on. She would run up to him and hit him as hard as she could, then laugh that mischievous laugh. Mr. Pipkin took her hits as the signs of affection they were meant to be and playfully hit her back. Mr. Fred Bearden became a lifelong friend who responded in kind to her teasing comments about his singing.

Our daughter was crazy about her father. Whenever she could she went with him on one of his veterinary calls. One of those times Charles pulled a live calf and realized there was a twin as well. Teasingly he said to Julie, “Watch this! I’m going to get another one.” Julie clapped gleefully from her perch on the fence as the second calf emerged. Problem was that thereafter every time Daddy delivered one calf she would plead “Daddy, get another one!”

Julie loved, like most kids, to have friends over for a sleepover. Those friends became precious to us as did those of William. I’m thinking of Julie and Dawn Baggett gloating over a beautiful cake they as sixth graders baked. Carol Mitchell was with us the night Hurricane Kate hit in 1984. The three children “camped out” downstairs for safety. They had a hilarious time the next day cleaning up the debris in the yard and welcoming back our black mule Raleigh who had escaped where a tree demolished the fence.

Every Mother’s Day Julie worried about her birth mother. We’d explained to her that her birth mother, whom she hadn’t seen since she was a toddler, loved her but wasn’t able to take care of her. She reasoned that her mother might not be able to take care of herself. When Julie turned eighteen she inquired at DFCS about finding her mother. They discovered her mother had signed a paper saying she wished not to be found. After that Julie seemed not to worry anymore.

Our two children looked strikingly similar, though very different in temperament. Even the dentist remarked again and again about their having identical orthodontic problems. I stopped reminding him that Julie was adopted! But Julie didn’t feel she looked like the rest of us. She longed to have blood kin. When her daughter, Amanda, was born a peace came over her that was amazing. One of the moments I cherish was when, a very few minutes after her baby’s birth, Julie said, “Mom, would you please hold her?” Something clicked as I held her blood kin and we all three bonded in a very special way. Julie at last had someone who could really look like her!

Julie loved babies–puppies, kittens, kid goats, lambs, rabbits, squirrels–but nothing compared to the fierce love she had for her own two babies, Amanda and Charles Douglas (named for his father and his grandfather).

As a young mother Julie developed an incurable debilitating condition called Familial Spastic Paraparesis. It became very difficult for her to take care of her children. We were so glad that God had blessed us by placing Julie and her family in a little house on the other side of our goat pasture so we were nearby to help.

Some Julie moments crowd my mind as I hear that hawk above: Julie doing somersaults and back bends on the lawn as now I see her granddaughter achieving; Julie playing with her brother and their friends in a tung oil tree treehouse; Julie’s baptism when she was eight and then again later when she wanted to rededicate her life; supper with her and her husband and children at their house when she could still cook–such delicious cornbread!; the two of us playing triominos which she always, without fail, won; crying together over sad movies; watching the children swim while we sat on her deck sipping coffee, hers loaded with cream and sugar.

One of the last times we saw Julie was July 4, 2012. She then lived across town trying to be independent. She arrived at our carport picnic glowing with excitement. She couldn’t wait to see her granddaughter, Charli, with whom she hadn’t played in several days. She’d just learned that a second grandchild would be born that winter but Charli at 18 months was the light of her life. My hair was just growing back after chemo treatment for breast cancer. She ran her hand over my bristly head and said, “Oh, Mom, you look so sexy!”

That day, August 18, 2012, when we received the emergency call, sticks in my mind as a very dark one though I think the sun was shining. We rushed across town. Julie had died in her sleep.

We enjoy Julie’s children and grandchildren (five of them now with Amanda’s husband Jared’s three). I wish Julie could see them succeeding, growing, learning. I wish she could be at her son Charles’s wedding as he marries his sweetheart, Allie, this winter. But the high whistle of the hawk, or whatever bird it is, somehow seems like a message from the Lord that Julie is enjoying happiness with Jesus none of us could even imagine, beauty beyond belief.

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Potato Persistence

One of the most fascinating small town museums we’ve visited was a potato museum we happened onto while traveling in Idaho. I don’t remember that much about details but it was fun and delightful. There was much about the history of potatoes, many varieties, the progress in potato harvesting equipment, the peoples who depended on growing them, exhibits on what can be done with potatoes, stories of potato growers, their joys and their sorrows. What I remember most is that potatoes are a mainstay for many people. But those who work with them have to be mighty persistent. Even then, as with poor Ireland, the best efforts may be rewarded with failure.

When Charles proposed planting a few sweet potato vines in our yard we didn’t realize how interesting it would be to watch this tiny crop develop. It’s nothing like the fields of potatoes in Idaho or Ireland, but it is still amazing.

One of the fun things to watch is the persistence of these vines that grow inches every day. They creep along, over, around, and even through any obstacle.

Charles pulled up unproductive lemon trees and planted the potatoes in their place between a marten house and a big pine. One of our old relics, a rusty round saw blade, is propped against that tree. The vines grew this way and that. They would have crept over the driveway if Charles hadn’t redirected them. They stretched behind the saw blade, wrapped around the pine tree, covered the area with lush leaves. Then one day we noticed it: a vine peering through the hole in the center of that saw blade making it look like a huge rusty face sticking out a green tongue. We had to laugh at the stubborn persistence of that potato vine.

The crop of potatoes is yet to be seen. But the lesson is strong: don’t let anything stop you from reaching for the light or from striving for your highest potential. Never, ever give up!

I can almost taste a sweet potato drooling with melted butter, even sprinkled with cinnamon! But until we dig them up, we’ll enjoy the very persistent vines.

Sweet potato, sweet potato,

Down in the soil

Growing, maturing

To bake or to boil.

Eat it with butter?

Bake some pies?

Casseroles? souffles?

Contented sighs!

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Hitch Hiker

Our cat, Bertha, one of three, loves to walk our circular driveway with us. Actually, she doesn’t just walk. She meows around Charles’s ankles until he picks her up. She cuddles down as if she would ride there in his arms forever. But sometimes before we’ve even gone around a bend she wants down. She enjoys the lift but suddenly leaves the safety of her ride when something more attractive claims her attention–a bird in the grass, a squirrel flirting at the base of a tree.

Years ago I read about hummingbirds who would hitch hike on the backs of Canada geese on their migration to Central America. That would really be trusting! Now I read that hummingbirds hitch hiking on geese is a myth. Then again, maybe not. Who will tell–the goose or the hummingbird?

My brothers, decades ago, used to hitch hike long distances. One brother even hitch hiked from our home in Georgia all the way to Three Hills, Alberta, Canada where he’d be attending Bible college. The boys knew necessary strategies for getting those valuable rides that might take them farther than just the next town: certain places were more likely to entice a truck driver, for instance, using the right body language, and having an eye for the vehicle most likely to offer long distance rides. Once in the vehicle, according to their stories, they engaged the driver in conversation and might ride for hundreds of miles.

I certainly never hitch hiked. It was okay for boys at that time, but not for girls. But I do remember riding a Trailways bus at a time when a passenger, seeing their destination ahead, could pull a cord which gave the driver a signal to stop. He would then let you off anywhere in town or on a country road. I can hear those noisy brakes now and smell the vile exhaust fumes as the big bus growled away. And I remember the perfect peace I experienced as I walked in the wonderful familiar driveway to our home.

Nowadays it is not safe even for boys to hitch hike or to pick up hitch hikers. And there are no buses so casually operated as to let a rider off at their own driveway on a country road. But Bertha, our cat, and sometimes Sassy who is basically not as trusting, will seek that ride around the circle. Cramer is not usually interested in being picked up, much more of an aloof independent soul.

I do wonder sometimes if I’m like Bertha when it comes to trusting God. Do I hop on board and ride for awhile, then find myself distracted and leap away? I’m afraid that far too often I’m the hitch hiker who says no, no, not this road, let me off here. I’ll clamber back on when it suits me. Maybe sometimes I’m like Cramer who would rather make it on his own than trust anyone else. Oh, to be like a hummingbird, myth or not, who trusts completely in his carrier and can take off to unfathomable beauty and experiences!

Words to an old favorite hymn by Edgar Stites ring true:

Simply trusting every day, Trusting through a stormy way; Even when my faith is small, Trusting Jesus that is all.

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A Handful of Bulbs

We have tried for years to find a bright plant that likes the white brick wall under our kitchen window on the patio. The place gets a nice dose of morning sunshine but none in the afternoon. We inherited an old black wash pot from Grandma Graham and we planted at different times geraniums, begonias, bougainvillea, impatiens and pansies. None of them thrived, most died. Ferns would be pretty, I thought. But I really wanted something colorful against that white brick wall. We decided to try one more thing: caladiums.

Now there was a reason we hadn’t tried caladiums for many years. At one time we enjoyed a healthy row of beautiful caladiums. The Georgia thumpers enjoyed them too–for dinner! You know Georgia thumpers? They are large meaty grasshopper things about three inches long with very muscular legs and beady eyes. They like lilies, lots of flowers, and especially caladiums, we learned to our sorrow. At first the colorful red and green plants were just fine. Then one day the thumpers discovered them and proceeded to strip them like a plague of locusts. Already, I didn’t like those thumpers and that finished any com-passion I might feel for the red and yellow monsters. We didn’t want to grow their dinner for them. So we dug up the caladium bulbs and planted good, steady green border grass.

But now we were in another time, another place. We hadn’t seen Georgia thumpers in years. So off we went to Lowe’s hunting caladiums. All they had were little boxes of bulbs, no plants already started. I was skeptical because I thought it was too late in the season to be planting bulbs. But we bought them and Charles planted the five nubby bulbs in a pot inside the wash pot. In case they didn’t make it we could easily move them.

We waited and waited for what seemed a very long time. Finally one, then two tiny points broke through the soil. Every day I checked to see if more had come up. There were only five bulbs but as time went on dozens of caladium leaves developed. I hadn’t realized that each bulb had several knots, each of which would sprout.

Now we are rewarded with a lush beautiful pot full of bright huge leaves. We are amazed at the number of plants and also by their size. It was only a handful of bulbs but now they’re making a bountiful display against the white brick wall. Not only amazed by the number of leaves, I’m fascinated with the intricacies of each unique leaf. Each one has its own pattern reminding me of a road map, or a large fancy valentine, or even a perfect cover for a toad to hide from the rain.

I keep thinking–God can take a boy’s small lunch and feed 5,000 plus people. He can spangle the sky with stars with a word. He can fill the ocean with teeming schools of fish, large and small. And God can take the smallest efforts we put forth, if done in His name, to change lives and turn problems into opportunities and even a thing of beauty.

We hope our caladiums continue to thrive and that we have no visits from Georgia thumpers. These great, wonderful leaves all from one handful of bulbs? Only God could do it!

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Windows

Maybe it’s the need for cataract surgery that has me thinking about windows although, truth be told, I just really like windows. Who doesn’t? As we age our lens become like dirty windows, as if our glasses are always smeared. But no cleaning will do it. The lens have to be replaced, thus surgery. I’m so looking forward to being able to see clearly again.

But, yes, I do like windows. The first thing I like to do when we enter a hotel room is to pull back the drapes and see what’s outside. It could be a beautiful garden, distant mountain slopes, a sandy beach with surf rolling in. Or it might be a view of the interstate or another building not far away. Whatever the sights, almost always there’s a view of sky, blue and bright, gray and threatening, or suffused with sunset color. The view outside the window is almost as important as the comfort of the bed.

For some the view from a window may be all they have. As a youth I read a book titled Eight Panes of Glass. An invalid lady told the stories of people in her community as she viewed their comings and goings through her eight panes of glass. The lady was confined. But she had a window.

In the first prairie houses, the soddies, there often were no windows. Through the dark cold winter months it had to be so dreary inside those little houses. Families were protected from the wind and warmed as they made quilts by candlelight. But–no windows?

At Stone Gables washing windows was a pretty big deal. Every spring and whenever there was to be a wedding, Mamma set us to work washing windows. It was a real challenge to wash the outsides of upstairs windows. I remember clinging to the stone wall while standing in a swivel window trying to reach every pane. But I enjoyed cleaning the hundreds of small lead-framed panes so the beautiful outside world could come into focus.

Sometimes no amount of elbow grease and glass cleaner results in a clear, bright window. Whether using greatly acclaimed new cleaners or old-fashioned ones, like vinegar applied with newspaper, the finished job can be very disappointing. Our kitchen window needs washing often, on the outside and in. It can seem so clear after a good cleaning, almost as if it weren’t even there. Then the sun shines in and suddenly I can see smears and smudges on every pane.

Aside from real, physical windows, God gives us windows into the world through the written word and other media. What we see outside our windows can be affected by our mood, whether expectant or bored, thankful or stagnant. We might see a whole story develop like the author of Eight Panes of Glass or we might see a lovely little wren clinging to a tree branch.

When our own windows, our eyes, even the eyes to our souls, become smeared with worry and fear, God’s sunshine will show us we need a window washing, more than just cataract surgery. Prayer, scripture, interaction with other Christians, a lot of singing–all these can contribute to a good dramatic polishing of our “windows.”

Yes, I’m looking forward to seeing better after cataract surgery. I also have the very real hope that in heaven I will have perfectly clear sight. Our vision will be so good then and we will be amazed at the wonderful sights before us.

For we now see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known. I Corinthians 13:12

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Thy Word Have I Hid

On the front page of The Cairo Messenger a headline caught my eye: Cairo is part of statewide Bible reading event. I was immediately excited. On Thursday, July 14 at 7:14 a.m. all 159 Georgia counties will participate in reading the Bible at their respective courthouses. Each county will have a designated scripture which volunteers will read. The goal is for the whole Bible to be read that morning in Georgia alone.

This interdenominational project, according to The Messenger, was started in Iowa by Dianne Bentley in 2018. Last year there were 16 states and 57 countries that participated. The exact time for the beginning of the one-hour reading probably piqued your interest. The basis for this reading, according to organizers, is 2 Chronicles 7:14 which says: “If my people, which are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

There’s so little we can do to counteract the unconscionable things going on in our country. Horrible violence, defunding of police, convicts turned out on the streets while innocent people are sent to jail, folks demanding rights for women but paying no heed to the rights of helpless babies, all these and so many more. Parents are losing their rights to be involved in their own children’s education. In fact, there’s a movement demanding that parents no longer be called father and mother. Children four and five years old are being instructed in some school systems that they can choose whether they want to be a girl or a boy. Oh, and in some places, such as Disney World, children are not called boys and girls but simply people. Wonder what Mickey and Minnie think about that.

So–what can we do? Of course we can vote and that we must! But, mainly, we can follow the instruction of the God who made us and knows what is best. We can pray. We can seek His face. We can turn from our wicked ways. Then, if we are “called by His name,” He will hear us! And He will heal our land. We can meet July 14 at 7:14 and be a part of this Bible reading project, thus taking this opportunity to “stand and be counted.”

For more information e-mail: Georgia state project leader, Jerri Tuck, jerrituck40@gmail.com. For Grady County information e-mail Jessica Lee jnlee06@gmail.com.

A Bible verse I learned as a child and have “owned” for decades is Psalms 119:11: “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I may not sin against thee.” 7:14 is early for me and my walker but I plan to be there! How could we not?

See you at the courthouse!

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The Wedding Cake

My son, Will Graham, sent me this picture from his travels over central Alabama. He’s a sales representative for Covetris, a large veterinary drug company. He calls or sends pictures often while on the road from Birmingham to Montgomery, from Tuscaloosa to Anniston and points between. When I saw this picture of a yucca plant I was immediately reminded of my sister’s wedding in 1952, particularly the cake Mamma baked.

Pat was the oldest girl of ten children and hers was the first wedding to be held in our house, Stone Gables. She was teaching school in Virginia that year having recently graduated from UVA where she’d met David Peck. During her spring break they came to Georgia to finalize plans for their June 12 wedding.

We were mighty intrigued with David Peck. Mamma was won over for two reasons: he obviously cared deeply for her precious daughter, and he was a master at reciting poetry. We all laughed and cringed at his dramatic presentation of “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Daddy discovered he was a very good conversationalist and was openly impressed that, with a doctorate in chemistry, David would always make a good living. We all were taken with David’s sudden peals of contagious laughter.

Pat wanted my little sister, Suzanne, and me to be flower girls. I was nine and she was six. We were eager to do anything for Pat so, though we weren’t sure what being a flower girl meant, we readily agreed. Suzanne thought she was to move to West Virginia and pick flowers for Pat so was very happy to learn she didn’t have to leave home. Ginger would be the maid of honor and, with Mamma’s help, make all our dresses. Our uncle, Burns Gibbs, aka as Uncle Pete, would officiate along with David’s father, a Methodist minister. Jackie would be in charge of decorations. And Mamma was to bake the wedding cake.

That whole spring was packed with preparations for the wedding. Daddy hired a family friend to finish plumbing our big old house. Mamma set us to work washing the dozens of windows. Suzanne and I greatly enjoyed skating with old towels on the newly waxed slate floor in the Hall where the wedding and reception would take place. The boys worked diligently trimming shrubbery, pulling weeds, and mowing.

Everyone was busy, but as the big day came closer and closer Mamma’s focus was on that wedding cake.

The hens had slowed down on their laying so the week before the wedding Mamma declared we’d have no more scrambled eggs. She’d need plenty for the cake. She started three days before the day baking layers, and it was good she started early. Because the first layers were very obviously lopsided. Daddy laughed and said she could pile extra icing on the dipped sides but Mamma didn’t think that was funny. Daddy patiently (which was hard for him!) began sliding thin chips of wood under legs of the wood burning stove to level it. It took two more bakings of layers to produce the perfect ones Mamma wanted. We kids were not sympathetic with Mamma because we thoroughly enjoyed eating all those lopsided layers!

At last the day before the wedding Mamma and Jackie hauled the fully iced cake to the buffet. Mamma told us not even to breathe until the cake was in place. Daddy admired it and said she’d be in practice for the next four daughters’ weddings but she shook her head and said, “This is my first and last wedding cake.”

When Pat saw the cake she was overwhelmed at its beauty, stood back admiring it, gave Mamma a big hug. “But,” she said cautiously, “it needs a decoration on top. It’s sort of–plain, don’t you think? I wish we had a little bride and groom to put on top.” Of course we didn’t have a bride and groom. Nobody had thought of that.

The morning of June 12, the big day, David overheard whispered conversations about the bride and groom figures. He quietly left and came back hours later with a little package. Pat opened it and squealed with pleasure. She herself set the bride and groom on top of the cake. Then Jackie said wait a minute, that she had one more idea. She came back in the house with her hands full of ferns and yucca blossoms. She carefully wound ferns into an arch, then hung two yucca blooms right in the middle over the bride and groom, perfect wedding bells.

It was almost time to get dressed for the long-expected occasion. All this time I had been so enthralled with preparations I hadn’t absorbed the devastating reality: Pat, my adored oldest sister, would no longer be spending school holidays with us. She and David would live in West Virginia, far, far away. The big beautiful cake, all our pretty dresses, the floor so shiny we could see ourselves in it, the house full of house guests–it was all so exciting. But suddenly I needed my safe place. I dashed out the back door, hid behind a big hemlock tree, and burst into tears.

Only at a wedding would anyone drive so far behind the house they would see a little girl crying under a hemlock tree. But there was a crunch of tires and there was Uncle Pete in his fine gray suit walking towards me. He knelt down where he could look me in the eye and next thing I knew I was crying on his shoulder. “Look,” he said. “I cried when my sister, your mother, got married. It’s okay. You’re getting a new brother, you know.” Somehow the idea that this very sedate preacher uncle had cried when Mamma got married made me want to laugh. Uncle Pete loaned me his handkerchief and said we’d best be going inside.

The wedding was beautiful. Aunt Ruth directed us to descend the stairs at just the right time. Pat was gorgeous and radiant in her elegant white gown floating down the stairs on Daddy’s arm. I think David winked at me as we all stood in our places in front of the big north fireplace which was banked in greenery.

And that cake with yucca blossom bells over the little bride and groom was the most marvelous cake ever, bar none. But it really was the last wedding cake Mamma baked, though there have been many more weddings at Stone Gables.

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