Beyond the Desert

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A stately, scarred saguaro cactus

We had a very happy experience in the Arizona desert this summer. We always had water available, were dressed with protective, comfortable clothing, our cameras ready to snap pictures of tall amazing cacti, and we were never far from our wheels, be it our own vehicle or the Hummvee we all climbed in for the ride of our lives. And the chance to interact with our grandchildren was priceless. But one could not keep from imagining how it would be if one were stranded out there. How beautiful then would the desert be?

As I was remembering that fun ride, I thought about some other desert scenes that were quite different.

While in the Holy Land we saw the steep stony mountain our guide said was the place of Jesus’ temptation. After forty days and nights, when Jesus the man must have been wildly hungry, so hungry he could “eat a mountain.” Satan tempted him to turn the stones into bread, even just a small one of those stones would have made a good meal. But Jesus resisted, using scripture to send Satan on his way. Satan tempted Him twice more before angels came and fed Him.

Remember Hagar trying to survive desert life with her son Ishmael after jealous Sarah sent them away? It came to the critical point when there was no more water, they could not squeeze one more half drop of water from the skin Abraham had given them. We have never been as thirsty as they were that day. The blistering sun was beaming down. They were both at the very end of their resources, but she was a mother, desperate to save her son. They would have drunk water full of wiggle tails if they’d had it, or licked moisture off a spiny leaf, or gotten down on their knees with the camels in the mud to lap up dirty water. But of course there were no camels and no water. But then Hagar began to sob and her boy started crying and Abraham’s God heard them both. He opened her eyes so she could see a well nearby.

And there was the time the Israelites complained bitterly that they had never been so thirsty in Egypt as they were on the trek to the Promised Land. As always, God provided their needs, this time water from a rock. Moses got into serious trouble over that miracle because he struck the rock instead of waiting for God to bring it forth His way. But the water did gush forth.

As we drove along a Texas highway on another trip many years ago we–my husband, his mother, our two children, and I–were surrounded by miles and miles of barren looking land. Tumble weeds, something I’d only heard about in a song by “Sons of Pioneers,” blew pell-mell in the hot desert wind. Elizabeth, Charles’ Mom, was pretty sick and wanted some chicken noodle soup. Not only was there no restaurant in sight, there were no gas stations, no houses, just mile after mile of Texas. When we spotted the structure ahead we knew we would stop, no matter what it was. It was a combination gas station and restaurant. With great relief, we began to avail ourselves of all the comforts offered. This stop along a Texas highway has become a favorite family story. It wasn’t just the very stiff waitress who would not converse with my very lugubrious husband; it wasn’t just that they had no chicken noodle soup even though Elizabeth went back to the kitchen herself to look; and it really wasn’t just that the hamburger William ordered was so big it was hanging off the edges of his plate. I think our experience was so bonding and so unforgettable because “we saw the desert and then we saw beyond it.”

The relief after any desert experience is so sweet.

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Charles, Brenda, Will, Christi, William Jr. Mattie and Thomas–On The Desert!!!

That ride on the Hummvee? It was really wild and wonderful; we saw the desert up close; and bumped so hard over rocks and gullies and holes that I’m very surprised we didn’t lose anyone, even though we were well strapped in. And oh my! We were so glad to put our feet to pavement after that! Lunch in a Sedona restaurant, even with snake sausage on the menu, was so refreshing.

I think the food the angels fed our Lord after he triumphed over Satan must have been the best in the world and heaven too!

The assuaging of the thirst of Hagar, and the Israelites, in their separate desert times had to be sweet beyond measure.

Whether a literal desert with hot sand and not a trickle of water, or a desert in life experiences, such as financial loss, a medical crisis, a devastating divorce, or the sudden death of someone very dear–in any case, one experiences hopelessness, pain, fear. It’s okay to cry like Hagar. God has prepared a well of fresh water for you, and strengthening food. Look past the sand, beyond the desert.

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A Carol Arrived

The year my niece Carol was born I was fifteen. I already had several nieces and nephews whom I loved. But I was given a special privilege at the birth of Carol. I was considered old enough to go take care of her three older siblings while she was making her debut in the Clayton hospital.

It was a gorgeous autumn day. The plan had been made way ahead that when it was time, my brother John would come get me and I would stay as long as needed at his and Betty’s home on Warwoman Road. The waiting had not been as long for me, I know, as it had been for Betty. But I had grown mighty impatient. So that autumn day it was as if a dozen Christmases had come all at once.

Betty hadn’t had the baby yet. In fact, she was cleaning, doing laundry, cooking all day that day, my first day. She was almost giddy with energy and end-of-a-journey fulfillment. It was steep down the backyard to the clothesline and I helped her carry the laundry and retrieve it when it was dry. She gave me instructions as we went along. “Remember to give them their vitamins, Paul doesn’t like green beans, tell them to make their beds, be sure and brush the girls’ hair, be sure they brush their teeth”, etc. etc. I was almost dizzy with instructions by the time she went to the hospital when the pains were close enough, about 6:00. My brother would stay with her until the baby came but soon would have to return to his job “on the road” as an Edward Don salesman.

My parents, though only about thirty miles away, were out of reach for advice as there was no phone. It was kind of scary, being a “temporary mom” to three children, but so exciting!

Some scattered memories of that great adventure on Warwoman Road: the sound of happy children playing on the lawn in the late afternoon; the smell of leaves burning; the view of Screamer Mountain in autumn color; Betty’s well-ordered kitchen with meal plans and resources for every day; the absolute delight of all of us when John came in from work; my pride and consternation when Betty sent word from the hospital she wanted me to make some homemade bread; the fun we all had during those days, lots of laughter. No one broke a bone, no burglar intruded, if we forgot vitamins or teeth brushing everyone lived anyway. Paul did an impersonation of Gene Autry’s country singing (or was that another time?), Joan tried to lug all her dolls at one time down the hallway, Emily had a new jump rope, I think, and also she helped me remember all those instructions.

The big day finally arrived. Carol was coming home–Carol Leslie Knight. She was absolutely beautiful! Joan immediately recognized that this live baby was so, so much better than her dolls. Paul was somewhat skeptical. Did this mean he’d get no attention anymore when he skinned a knee? Emily learned how to change a diaper and to fold diapers. I learned how to wash them!

Some lasting impressions: Neither John nor Betty used sugar or cream in their coffee so I decided I could drink it black too, much easier than hunting up cream and sugar, and I’ve drunk black coffee for sixty years; Betty used the most delightful smelling lotion on her baby; babies are so sweet, so fragile and yet strong but they do cry and when they do, it sure is nice to hand them over to their moms; but moms of new babies do sometimes cry too and it’s best to leave them alone when they do, maybe go bake bread.

Carol was named for our sister who died at the age of four of a ruptured appendix. But she was also named appropriately because she’s always been a cheerful sprite, a “caroling” person everyone likes to have around. She was one of my flower girls at my December wedding. John reported that she, at the age of eight, sang “Little Drummer Boy” the entire trip from Asheville NC (where they had moved) to Clarkesville GA.

Carol now is a grandmother. I take great joy in seeing the pictures she sends of “her boys” and stories about their games and aspirations.

Happy Birthday, Carol!

 

 

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Carol at Charles’ and my wedding in 1965

 

 

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One Farm Visit

You wouldn’t call it a farm in the vernacular of yesteryear. But in today’s world, in some areas at least, it is a farm. Maybe five acres. A cow and a calf. Two goats. A scattering of chickens. And caring for them a whole family: father, mother, and two children. They had lost one cow who ate too much of the wrong feed so when their second one showed similar signs they called a vet. I was glad I was able to go with Charles on that “farm” visit.

I didn’t ask permission to use the names of these wonderful young folks so I will rename them to protect their privacy. We’ll call the young man Barth. He’s burly and strong, impulsive, eager, and very compassionate. Her name will be Cali. She is small of stature but obviously quite capable. She shows characteristics of a nurturer, an enthusiastic learner, and one who does not easily give up.

The children were away in school so we didn’t get to meet them. But we heard about them. They were a major reason the family had moved to this rural community. They like the school very much. But, even more importantly, the parents wanted their children to have a farm experience growing up, to pay far less attention to electronic games and social media, and more to growing things and to caring for animals. They had watched for a good opportunity to buy a few acres and were elated when this one became available, barn and all. It didn’t hurt that it is near grandparents too!

“We don’t know anything about farming, and neither do our parents, but we’re learning,” said Barth.

“And so are our children and their friends. Sometimes there’s a whole cluster of children out here petting the goats, following the chickens around, or giving a bottle to the new calf,” said Cali.

The new calf was not an offspring of either of their cows. No, Cali found the calf by word of mouth, drove several miles in her van to a neighboring farm, picked up the leggy calf, and brought her home. “All by myself,” she said, her eyes sparkling. “Barth was at work.”

Barth works nights as a fulltime mechanic for UPS.

Charles passed a tube down the cow’s throat and pumped in antacid and mineral oil. She was lying in a stall, not offering to get up, but did show some resistance to this treatment. Both Barth and Cali were very remorseful about the cow’s pain, talking to her along and along as they watched Charles come forth with a couple of syringes, giving shots to lessen the pain and give her bloated stomach some relief. Barth seemed ready to cuddle the 400 pound heifer in his arms if he could have.

All this time the new calf “hung out” in the same stall causing no problem except to be in the way a few times. The cow and calf seemed to have bonded.

I asked Cali if she had any laying hens. “Only one right now, that sassy white one,” she said and then giggled. “See that nice big chicken coop? We built it, put nine babies in it and went to bed believing they were safe. Well, we hadn’t secured the coop well enough, and a fox got all those babies. We did better with the next batch but we missed it on the genders. Instead of six hens and one rooster we have three hens and four roosters. I know we have to make this place at least help with the cost but so far we haven’t worked up the nerve to make chicken’n’dumplings. So–we hear a lot of crowing!”

Charles and Barth released the cow from her rope and she did stand up. “You think she’ll make it, Doc?” asked Barth as the two walked out of the stall.

“She has a chance,” was Charles’ cautious answer. “Forty-eight hours and you should know. She’s in good flesh so we can hope.”

Barth wiped his sweaty face on his sleeve. “I’d like to get a young bull if I could find one for less than an arm and a leg. I really want to grow a small herd. Sure hope she makes it.”

We asked about the goats. “Just the two you see, wandering around with the chickens. We plan to get more. Those are miniatures, they’re not as young as they look. When we first got them they wouldn’t let us touch them but now they love playing with the children. They’ll let us do most anything.”

As we walked out the gate toward the truck and Cali’s electric “mule,” Barth pointed to a shelter and said, “Let me show you another one of my special toys.”

He moved nuts and bolts and wrenches around so he could get to the starter of his ancient gray and rust red tractor. A little tinkering and she fired right up. He glowed with pride. “I’m restoring her all the way,” he said.

As we climbed into Charles’ truck Barth called after us to notice their sorghum patch. “We’re going to make syrup in November. We plan to have a Big Day and invite everyone to come. Ya’ll come too, please! We’re excited. Guess you can tell, we like old fashioned stuff!”

Yes, we could tell. And we were delighted. This family is preserving the good part of the “Good Old Days.”

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Did You Labor or Play on Labor Day?

I’m not advocating one over the other, just chatting about our Labor Day.

The table was laden with dishes of potato salad, baked beans, barbecued goat, grilled chicken, blueberry peach cobbler, and homemade bread hot from the oven. The barbecue was a special achievement. Charles had mentioned several times that he was going to barbecue a goat on Labor Day. He butchered on Saturday, then started a long day early Monday morning of parboiling, smoking, then chipping and baking. I was so busy in the kitchen I didn’t have time to go “watch” the smoking process but whenever I looked out from the porch I had to smile at the column of smoke rising above intervening shrubbery. Charles D marinated chicken for twenty-four hours before grilling it. He also helped me in the kitchen, going to WalMart for peaches to put in the cobbler.

While the grilling and smoking was going on children and adults squealed and cheered their own successes at the game of Corn Hole. To make the day even more fun, our friend whom the children small and bigger all call “Mama Jane,” came to enjoy it with us.

The finished products were served on a long picnic table in what we call the Green Barn. After a heartfelt prayer by the tired barbecuer, everyone loaded their plates. There was that initial quiet when hungry people take their first bites, then jokes and stories flew, each trying to outdo the other.

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After supper Jared prepared to go to work as a policeman serving the night shift. We hugged him, told him to be careful (a “helpless” thing to say, but we must say it!), and waved him off. He looked so fine in his uniform and we are proud of his achievement–hours of preparatory classes, long nights keeping Camilla safe. We prayed he’d be ready for any case that might come along.

Putting things away, restoring order, was a team effort, always a fun time of chit chat, rattle of dishes, divvying out leftovers, and, in our case, hauling things back from the Green Barn.

Grandaddy had recently taught Kaison to ride his bike without training wheels. (We count ourselves very fortunate to have the privilege occasionally of teaching these little ones something!) That is one happy kid. He still can hardly believe he can do it and wants to show off whenever someone new comes along. So “Mama Jane” got an eyeful. He and Charli had a great time riding around and around our circular drive.

After the crowd dwindled, Charles and I settled down on the porch to watch the children and to talk about some past Labor Days when we really labored. For instance, we knew Will, if he had been here, would have laughed and groaned with us over the Labor Day we took the peach trees down. Daddy and Mama Graham came early that morning, Daddy hauling his tractor on his trailer. All of us spent a steamy hot day taking up a straggly clump of non productive peach trees. Neither Charles nor his dad considered Labor Day as anything but a day to get an extra job done while children were out of school to help.

Charli and Kaison found a Frisbee and threw it back and forth, Kaison chunking it like a ball, Charli sending it gliding and spinning. We watched their different methods and their runs to retrieve from bushes and the bird bath.  Suddenly Kaison threw the Frisbee straight up and it lodged on the limb of a large maple.

“Get a ball,” I told them. “Knock it down with a ball.”

I didn’t have much hope they would actually dislodge the Frisbee but maybe they could have a good time trying. Maybe we could buy a few more minutes before one of us went to help them.

They came back with a basketball so heavy neither one could throw much higher than their own heads. We sent them back to the ball box for the blue “world globe” ball. It would be much lighter.

Kaison’s throws were wild. Charli had the right idea but couldn’t send the ball high enough. Charli then devised a plan and we tried not to laugh too loudly as we saw her struggle to stand up with Kaison on her shoulders throwing the ball. When that didn’t work, Charli took on an extra degree of persistence and hoisted the ball straight above her head.

Others had come to join us on the porch. We all cheered when the Frisbee came down, the greatest accomplishment of the day. I think Charli was as surprised as we were and definitely was one happy second grader.

As my brother John would say of our Labor Day amusements, “A great time was had by all.”

 

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Serendipity on a Sunday Afternoon

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Sometimes the most interesting places are those you happen on. Even when you carefully plan a trip and enjoy each segment fully, looking back, you find great pleasure in remembering the short detours, unplanned “serendipities”. (That’s a word passed on to me by my Uncle Burns who described a surprising pleasure as a “serendipity.”)

It was a Sunday afternoon in the little town of Jerome, Arizona. Jerome is perched on the side of a desert mountain we’d reached in our touring van. To be more accurate, the mountain is called Cleopatra Hill. Hailing from South Georgia, I don’t call it a hill! When we parked, I wasn’t real sure we wouldn’t tumble right back down the mountain, the space between heights seemed so tight. Looking down past cacti, scrubby trees, and even some brilliant orange trumpet vines, we could see a structure in the distance, maybe a service center we’d passed coming up. Looking up the mountain we could see a grand big building dominating a flat area and overseeing the whole Verde Valley there in Arizona’s Black Hills. One shop owner told us it is a hotel now but once was a hospital.

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From high on Cleopatra Hill the Grand Hotel, once hospital, watches over Jerome

That hospital was part of the unusual history of this town, now dubbed a ghost town. It isn’t really a ghost town where all buildings are vacant and cobwebs curtain the windows. There is life in this place, even though some shops were closed that Sunday. Other tourists, like us, ambled up and down the steep street dropping in on shops that were open, gazing in windows of the closed ones.

In one shop we bought a bottle of Scorpion Sauce to take home to Charles D who enjoys experimenting with new grilling accompaniments. I saw a tee shirt on a dummy touting “Ghost Town Girl, Jerome, AZ”. There was an art gallery, then up the street a brothel sign left over from days when this town was known as the wickedest in the west.

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Charles and our grandson, Thomas, outside one of Jerome’s shops

And all the time, from high above us, that former hospital, now a haunted hotel, peered down at us like a mountain gnome deciding our fate.

From reading markers and talking to shop owners we put together a sketchy history of this town. It was a mining town, a copper mining town, one of the biggest in Arizona in the early 20th century. But as copper became less desirable and the gold and silver had run out, the town declined. A Mr. Phelps Dodge actually decided to raze the town. He had destroyed several buildings before some discerning people stopped him. They realized that this town, once the fourth largest in the state, could rise again as a tourist village.

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William Jr., Will, and Mattie strolling Jerome

In our short visit we also learned that the miners in Jerome were stricken with copper poisoning which made them lose their minds. The large hospital was built and adapted as a sanitarium. Looking up at it from Jerome’s main street it isn’t hard to imagine at least some patients not fully possessed of their faculties walking out the entrance and falling to a quick death on the steep slope. It was reported that 900 people died in that hospital from various causes.

A quick check on copper toxicity shows it can be caused by “excessive exposure” and that it can affect the neurological system. Perhaps the copper toxicity coupled with vast amounts of booze, which was readily available, caused a high percentage of mentally ill miners. Think what that must have done to their families, to the town.

Years later that hospital was refurbished and renamed The Grand Hotel. Many who register there are hoping for a ghost sighting, or to hear groans and moans, or at least orbs.

Whether or not the hospital was actually a mental institution, one word embedded over the entrance in bold letters seems to support that. The word is ASYLUM.

The hospital, now hotel, crouches above Jerome like a guardian or predator. It’s a fascinating story. If we had had time to stay longer exploring the Black Hills of Arizona, would we have rented rooms at the Grand Hotel or would we have opted for the smaller, more intimate looking Ghost Inn located right in the middle of the little town? Maybe we would have gone to visit the Douglas Mansion built in 1916 by a mining magnate. Or we might have viewed a 1918 mine shaft from a glass platform, or visited Jerome’s Jail House which, many years ago, slid 200 feet down the mountain. There were no inmates in it at the time.

As it was, we drove back onto the Prescott highway and left that little western ghost town clinging to its stories and advertising its haunted hallways in the Grand Hotel. This “serendipity” gave us another taste of the great state of Arizona and fulfilled a spoken request by some of us to see a “forgotten Wild West town.”

Whether it’s here, or there, I admire those folks who so sturdily and imaginatively restored their town. And if they took a few liberties with legends, who could blame them?

 

 

 

 

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Lockerbie–Looking Up

Lockerbie, Scotland was innocent of all wrongdoing concerning the crash of Pan Am 103, December 1988. Yet they’ve paid a huge price simply for being the site of that airliner tragedy. History was rewritten for the small town beginning that day. When we were told we were going to Lockerbie, it was with the identification statement, “You know, the place where Pan Am flight 103 went down.”

It happened on December 21, 1988, just before Christmas. Families in the U.S. eagerly awaited their college students home from their “studies abroad.” There were also many other Americans, more than 100, I believe, of the 258 on board, and folks from 21 countries in all. The flight had left from Germany and was flying at 31,000 feet preparing to begin its trans Atlantic voyage toward New York when the explosion, caused by a bomb planted in a cassette player in cargo, went off. Scraps of the plane were scattered for miles, but the cockpit and largest piece of the cabin came down in and near Lockerbie. Instantly, 270 people on the plane (passengers and crew) and 11 on the ground, were killed.

Jeff Rushton, a distributor of Christian literature with Opal Trust, as well as our guide to Lockerbie and surrounding areas, drove us to the site where the plane’s cockpit came to rest. He was very somber as he told us what it was like the day of the tragedy. We could relate now better than we could have then in 1988. It was like 9/11 in our country. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. He took us to where the main fuselage came down and incinerated several houses killing eleven folks on the ground. Jeff spoke respectfully and kindly of those eleven, one lady in particular whom he knew.

We visited the cemetery where many of the victims are buried. It is carefully tended with clipped sward and roses blooming. It is obvious that family members visit and place flowers on the graves, though they have to travel great distances. Jeff said some go there every year. What struck me so forcefully was the dates on so many of those stones: 1968-1988. My son’s birthday is November, 1968. He, too, at about that age, went on a studies abroad trip. But he came home. My heart aches for those parents whose children never came home.

But there’s more to Lockerbie.

Lockerbie is a small town of about 4,000. Located in Southwest Scotland, near the Annan River, it was once a center for production of lamb’s wool and still one may see thousands of sheep on green hillsides in the area. Our reason for visiting Lockerbie was that our travel leader, Harley Rollins, is on the board of Opal Trust and he needed to meet with their leaders and familiarize himself with the headquarters of this literature distribution concern.

We were guests at Somerton House, a very interesting old hotel, first built as a private home. When we asked Brian, the manager, why the large lions flanking the front door were named Livingstone and Stanley, he told us the lady who had the house built was a cousin of Livingstone, the famous British missionary to Africa. Stanley was the journalist sent by the New York Herald in 1871 to find Dr. Livingstone from whom little had been heard in six years.

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Here we are with Jeff (left back) in front of Somerton House with the lions

Brian also told us that much of Somerton’s inside woodwork is built of a rare wood called kauri from a tree in New Zealand. At the time of its building a shipwreck washed up. The ship had been loaded with kauri lumber so, suddenly, this beautiful honey-colored wood became available. It is said that the ship itself was built of kauri wood. Brian pointed out door frames in the house that exhibit an interesting curve, supposedly from first being part of a ship. Soon after the building of Somerton House, arborists discovered that the kauri tree, growing only in New Zealand, is so slow growing, it isn’t feasible to use it for lumber. Hence, the Somerton House is the only building in Scotland made of kauri wood. We enjoyed the comfort, dignity, and hospitality of Somerton House, especially the Scottish breakfast cooked to order and served with big smiles in their lovely dining room.

Lockerbie is, as I mentioned, home to Opal Trust as well as Langston Publishing. We were delighted to be able to get to know both establishments, even if for a short time. Both are busy distributing books that the lost may hear of our awesome God. Naturally, we saw many, many books which always brings me great pleasure. And we met great folks in editing staff as well as managing and operating. But I think the unit that grabbed my attention the most was the Tell-It tract publisher, towards Glasgow. In a tiny building where doors hardly have room to open and shelving is stacked with a wide variety of leaflets and small books, Robert and Ann Smith are working diligently to get “the Word” out. Their publishing equipment is topnotch and they create colorful, clear pieces that speak to all ages and all walks. There are tracts for pet owners, for parents, for the grieving and the empty nesters. There are leaflets sharing the gospel using the life stories of famous people, like John Livingstone. We were excited about all the different titles and came away with a few samples, though I think we’ve given them all away. We enjoyed meeting, too, the Smiths’ beautiful dog Mattie who roams amongst the stacks happily swishing her tail.

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Charles and Jeff talking about books

Taking a walk around Somerton House the night before we left, we were amazed that, at 10:00, the sun was still bright. No wonder the hollyhocks and peonies, the roses and hydrangeas are so vibrant.

Folks of Lockerbie are not locked into sorrowing, even though they seem so ready to offer compassion. They want to look up, to look forward, to look past that terrible day in 1988. They want the name Lockerbie to be linked with laughter and celebrations and beauty. Because of the graciousness of our hosts at Somerton House and our friendship with John Lewis and Jeff and Janet Rushton, as well as Robert and Ann Smith, we will remember Lockerbie with much affection. In fact, my picture in my mind right now is of Jeff and Janet in their bungalow den with their black lab Jessie as we enjoyed midmorning tea. Their garden just outside was beautiful, and birds were singing. Below is a picture of Jessie at the warehouse faithfully “keeping” the books. Should be the smartest dog in the kingdom!

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Lockerbie is looking up!

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My Mysterious Bird

All it takes for something to be a mystery is for it to be unknown to the one seeking it. Would you agree? So, though the bird who spent an hour perched on a dead pine limb outside my home may be very familiar to many, if he’s unknown to me, he’s a mysterious bird.

That’s all I know to call him right now. For bird enthusiasts, here’s a rough description. He appeared to be somewhat larger than a mourning dove with a larger head but a smooth, rounded one with no crest. He was white breasted with darker wings, dark grayish blue. His tail was long and in a straight line with his body. I had heard his call several times that day not knowing what he looked like but knowing I’d never consciously heard him before. It was a whistle starting somewhat shrill and high, then coming down in a long smooth swing. It was a little like a boy’s wolf whistle but more musical, almost like a circus balloon with a whistle in it.

I was trying to describe its whistle to Charles when I heard him again. But Charles really didn’t hear him. He’d cock his head and mumble a “maybe” but I knew if he really heard him, he’d be more interested than he was. It was not, as he implied, like any other bird. No mockingbird, cardinal, mourning dove, sparrow, wren or titmouse ever sounded like that mysterious bird.

“Wish I could just see what he looks like,” I said. And right that minute that bird came flying across from a neighboring pine and lit on that dead limb. I knew it was the same bird because he continued to whistle right there in plain view.

I quickly tried to absorb what he looked like knowing he wouldn’t be there long. Charles kindly went after the binoculars. We both studied him. He sat there whistling for, yes, close to an hour. There was another one answering from a distance. That bird was so beautiful sitting there in the sunlight silhouetted against a blue sky.

I’ve heard him several times a day since then but haven’t seen him again. I’ve studied my Audubon bird book but have found no match. I thought maybe he was a predator, some kind of falcon, but his bill was straight, not hooked as theirs are.

Now. A couple of ideas have come to me as I considered this bird. One is downright funny and not really related to him other than that he is a bird.

My mother loved a good joke and could laugh until she had to pull her dainty handkerchief from her bosom. But she couldn’t tell one. She always, as I do, got mixed up on the punch line. But in her eighties she learned a joke she could tell very effectively and she used it over and over. A young man, she said, was taking a class in ornithology. He arrived in class one day to realize the professor was giving a test in which the student had to identify various birds by their legs only. The poor young man was quite horrified, not having studied the bird legs for spending time studying more shapely ones instead. The whole test was on birds’ legs, and he’d be making a zero. He walked up to the professor to complain. The professor adjusted his glasses and asked coolly, “What is your name?” The young man, gifted with quick wit, raised his trouser legs and said, “Identify these legs.”

Another idea I’ve had is that this could be a comfort bird.

On Saturday morning, August 18, 2012, our phone rang with the wrenching news that our daughter, Julie, aged 42, had died in her sleep. It was six years ago but we still miss her. The initial shock was so bad but now we know that the missing part goes on and on. She’s still not here, when we set the table for family gatherings, when we fill our Christmas shopping list. Her little grandson whom she never saw has asked, “Why didn’t I get to see her?” She’s not here for birthdays, outings, or plain old days. We know where she is and that she’s happy and enjoying Heaven’s beauty which we can only imagine. But we can’t call her or text her and the children can’t give her “grandmother pictures.” We can’t hug her, sip coffee with her, or give her a candle, one of her favorite things. We can’t pray with her or sing with her.

Near the anniversary of the date she left us, we naturally think a lot about our Julie. And we miss her poignantly.

No, I don’t think that bird was Julie sitting up there on a dead pine limb. (She’d have chosen a brighter place, maybe a branch of the pink crape myrtle.) But maybe he was a comfort bird, come to remind me God remembers our sorrow and cares. It wouldn’t be the first comfort bird God has sent me. A number of times, in answer to a prayer, God has sent me a bird at a particular moment–at a window, on a branch, in the path, flying in front of the car. But it’s always been birds with which I was familiar–a cardinal, a dove, a sparrow–never a mysterious bird like this one.

Even today, August 18, I’ve heard that bird whistling high in the trees. I’d love to see him again. I’d love to know his name.

But having a mysterious bird in the neighborhood is pretty special. Especially if God sent him!

I was not close enough to the bird to take his picture. But I do have one of Julie.

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Julie holding her first grandchild, Charli Singletary

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