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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Fish’n’Chips in Moffatt

We had been home for several weeks from our trip to Europe when I received a text from our Georgia traveling companions. “We’ll pick you up in twenty minutes for fish’n’chips in Moffatt.” Moffatt, Scotland, it was, a place we had all enjoyed so much along with Scottish driver friend John Lewis. I smiled as I typed in my answer: “Sounds intriguing but a bit too far.”

Moffatt was a place I’d never heard of before this trip. It was a former burgh in Dumfries and Galloway, its population 2,500. It’s on the Annan river, one of three rivers that originate within a few meters of each other, then flow three different directions. We found the little town so friendly and inviting. John showed us the statue of a bronze ram and told us its story. The sculptor, he said, unveiled his creation to a nice gathering of villagers. There was a respectful silence and then a young boy called out, “Why did ye leave the ears off?” John said the sculptor was so humiliated to have left the ears off that he committed suicide. But the village erected the ram, a fine symbol of a wool producing area.

Now, truth be told, that sculptor did not commit suicide, not then at least, because there are several pieces of his work created in later years. And as to the missing ears? The ram has curly horns, big showy horns. Who could be sure whether or not he had ears, save God alone? We liked the old ram and had our picture made with him.

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Now, to back up a mile or one hundred, we had a big day before we arrived in Moffatt. Our road trip took us from Lockerbie all the way to Edinburgh viewing breathtaking sights along the way. I’m sure John Lewis must have wondered if we’d ever seen sheep before since we exclaimed so much over them. Actually, we’ve even raised a tiny flock of woolies and hair sheep in South Georgia. But there were so many in Scotland, thousands, white against those beautiful green Scottish hills, pastures divided by stone walls or hedgerows, even some regular fences. We enjoyed also winding roads, villages, and farms, glistening streams, and then the dignity and character of old Edinburgh. John was an excellent guide who told us so much as he skillfully twisted and turned in city lanes to give us all good views of Sir Walter Scott’s memorial, government buildings, kirks, and the Castle so majestic, and maybe forbidding, high on its craggy hill.

On the way back toward Lockerbie, north of Moffatt, John pulled over at a high overlook and invited us to see the Devil’s Beef Tub, one of South Scotland’s geographic oddities. We looked way, way down into the dark depths of a valley formed by four hills. John said it was named Devil’s Beef Tub because a Scottish clan named Johnstones, also referred to by their enemies as devils, used to cross the English border centuries ago, steal cattle, and bring them to this valley to hide them. I later read more interesting tid-bits about this unusual valley, some true, some probably not.

For instance, a Covenanter in 1685 is said to have tried to outrun enemy dragoons by climbing a side of the Beef Tub. He didn’t make it, according to the story. Much more recently, a woman lost control of her vehicle and plunged 500 feet to the bottom of Devil’s Beef Tub but was not seriously injured. No word about how she got out. Supposedly, her vehicle is still there. Sir Walter Scott included a description of the valley in his novel “Red Gauntlet”: “It looks as if four hills were laying their heads together, to shut out daylight from the dark hollow space between them. A damned deep, black, blackguard-looking abyss of a hole it is.”

Scott’s description gives me a chill. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to find myself in that valley for I’m sure I could never climb out. But it was beautiful that afternoon, from the top. The dark purplish shadows didn’t seem forbidding with bright sunshine around us.

Then we arrived in Moffatt and met the bronze ram statue. That’s when someone spotted the fish’n’chips shop and we realized how hungry we were. Harley was always hungry for fish’n’chips having enjoyed them so much when he and Debi lived in England years ago.

When we walked in the shop we found it busy with locals as well as tourists, with a friendly proprietor and a staff eager to make us happy. Just the warm tasty smells made us happy.

Now you have to know a little bit about fish’n’chips to appreciate our feast that night. Of course, anyone who’s been in Britain for any length of time would have at least heard about this iconic meal. Fish’n’chips is to England what a hamburger is to USA. Before our trip, my friend Sue Nell told me “Eat some fish’n’chips for me.” So–what you get is one or two very generous portions of golden batter-fried fish (a white sweet fish) along with a pile of what we call French fries, called in Britain chips and in France frits. A bottle of vinegar will be handy so one may sprinkle however much they want over fish and chips. The fish was perfectly golden and so crusty, not greasy at all, and the chips were really wonderful. We had enjoyed fish’n’chips in Portsmouth, Deal, and West Wickham and would have one more chance near Bromley. But the Moffatt fish’n’chips were the freshest, the crispiest, the most delicious.

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After supper we wandered along the street, window shopping, and back over to see the bronze ram again before we started back to Somerton House in Lockerbie.

A lovely day with friends, not to be easily repeated, but always warmly remembered.

So, yes, I would buckle into that British car with the rest, if I could, and happily set out for fish’n’chips in Moffatt.

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Udderly Divine

Was it a pie shop, an ice cream shop, or a sandwich shop? We enjoyed some of all those, including chili and corn chowder. I guess it is a deli, a very charming one at that.

We’d never before heard of Udderly Divine. Finding it was one of those happenstances that became a special feature of our vacation conversations.

We had just left the Montezuma Castle, getting acquainted with history of cave dwellers. Not far from there was this small Arizona town called Camp Verde, in the Verde Valley. We had been enthralled by the awesome cliff homes (some of us older ones more than the very young ones!) but now we were hot and tired and thirsty, not to mention hungry. We had stopped at one restaurant already where my son Will, the scouter, had rejected it as not a friendly menu for all involved: my daughter-in-law, Christi, their three children, William Jr., Thomas, and Mattie, as well as Charles and me. He came back from checking out “Udderly Divine” with a thumbs-up but an edge of doubt in his voice. “I think everyone will like this place. But there’s only one lady running it and doing everything.”

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A hardworking restauranteur with a big smile

There was no one else there as we chose seats at two tall fifties-style chrome and black tables. The one lady greeted us with friendly confidence, explained her simple, yet complete deli menu and then retreated to let us make decisions. About then, more customers took their seats. How was she going to handle all of us? Why didn’t she have more help? Maybe someone “showed up missing,” as my brother John used to say.

By then we had discovered a spread of small, wrapped homemade pies on the counter and I knew my will power against desserts was not working. Whatever else, I would have a strawberry/rhubarb pie.

As instructed, we went to the counter to order. The seven of us requested various sandwiches–chicken salad, egg salad, grilled cheese, turkey and cheese on breads of our choice–or soups–corn chowder or chili. She then directed us to a drink box to make beverage choices.

I was struck by how clean and fresh everything looked. The black and white chessboard floor fairly sparkled. Counters and tables were chrome and black formica, some tables standard height, some taller like ours with stools to match. A back door opened to a kind of mini mall where Christi and Mattie went for a short browsing.

Other customers had given orders but in a very timely fashion we were served with graciousness by our lady whose name we now knew was Teresa. She made sure we were all happy and then went about serving others. Some of them, we could tell, were regular customers, very loyal customers. Teresa took time for a friendly conversation with each. I could imagine she has some customers in that small town who eat with her every day.

Those sandwiches were so delicious! Charles and Christi scraped the bottoms of their corn chowder dishes too. When we questioned Teresa she said she starts work about 3:30, makes pies and sandwich fillings and chowder as well as chili fresh every day. She told us in a very humble manner that even on hot summer days, like this one, her soups are always consumed. “Oh, and the pies, too,” she said. “Lots of people come in just for my pies..” As to having help, she doesn’t. She likes it that way. She’s not trying to grow a big business and she’s happy with things as they are.

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Who doesn’t like ice cream?

Several of us wanted ice cream which Teresa dipped. Others chose pies. I did share my strawberry/rhubarb pie but, oh my goodness, it was good. Tasted like Mamma’s she used to make from rhubarb grown in the corner of her garden. Teresa had baked other pies that day: blueberry, apple, peach, and pecan.

We felt like old friends by the time we left. Teresa’s happy smile was contagious and made us all have good memories of the small town of Camp Verde. In fact, as we happily babbled about how good everything was, we agreed it would have to be one of our top favorite eating places of the whole week-long trip.

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Mattie joins us for a Satisfied Customer picture!

On the “Coffee Gram,” paper placemat advertisers given to each of us, are “tons” of little sayings, interesting ads for Watkins naturals, Skyliners Hiking Club, a backhoe service, hay sales, Saturday night dances and low-cost pet vaccines. Reading it gave me a snap view of that community.

In the middle of each green placemat is a quotation from the Bible: For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus my Lord. Romans 8:38,39

 

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An English Country Garden

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One small feature of the Armstrongs’ English country garden

When I played “In An English Country Garden” as a young piano student, I didn’t imagine that I would be in such a garden some day. But recently Charles and I visited not just one English garden, but several. I’m still under the spell of roses blooming on a brick wall, of the scent of lavender, and of the graciousness of the owners of one particular English country garden.

In Georgia, USA, we’ve been blessed with acres we can landscape and maintain with large trees, shrubs, lilies and many, many flowers. In England, often, a resident has only a few feet to work with. Visiting that country this summer was such a pleasure. The gardens were vivid with green velvety grass; roses of red, peach, yellow and pink; and everywhere bright flower beds and window boxes.

We had the privilege of being invited to a garden party. Friends we were traveling with actually were honorees at this party so we were there in a special status. I was free to wander about the trim, neat garden with my iPad before the guests arrived.

I discovered a tiny trail, sort of Peter Rabbit size, which led tightly between shrubbery to a work shed. On another side of the garden was a sculpture of David and on the garden’s brick wall carefully trained roses and ivy grew. An inviting curved bench waited under a small tree for someone to alight. Tables were thoughtfully and strategically set where guests would be free to sit and enjoy the delightful little sandwiches, tea, and cake. One or two tables were set on the tiled patio where also potted roses and ferns offered joy. Everywhere there were signs our host and hostess had been busy with a grass edger, pruning shears, and much tender loving care.

Dave and Mathilda Armstrong had invited friends of Harley and Debi to come from London, Oxford, and other locations, friends with whom they had formerly worked as a team for Jesus. The afternoon was perfect for the gathering–blue skies, a hint of coolness, the scents of lavender and basil mingling with the roses, and warm inviting scents from the kitchen. Birds sang and took quick flights from tree to tree.

Of special significance at this party was a strong Christian connection between all those present. Charles and I knew only a few of the folks but we became instant friends, sharing ways God has been busy in our lives and those around us. It was amazing to hear the stories these missionaries could tell from Switzerland to Afghanistan, from Australia to Honduras. The thought occurred to me several times that this little English garden party was a foretaste of the beauty and joy we can expect in heaven.

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Vera lost not an inch in growing a beautiful path to her door.

There were other gardens as well. We spent a couple of nights in a sweet flat in West Wickham where our hostess, Vera, gave us a refuge for recovering from our trans-Atlantic flight. Approaching her red door were bright flowers along the walkway.

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The Cotswolds area of south central England was such a delight!

 

We visited the Cotswolds one day. Their little gardens are squeezed between their small stone houses and narrow village streets, absolutely charming.

In Bromley, where we were temporary residents in the home for transient missionaries called Manna House, we walked several times to the center of town a mile away. There was one garden we passed that particularly intrigued me. Flowers of red, yellow, blue and white flourished just inside a gate that was always open. A walkway curved slightly toward the door. Birds were especially vocal there and I think there must have been a feeder out back. I was tempted to tap on the door and tell the owner how much I liked their colorful garden!

One last note. Dave and Mathilda, on our last outing, took us to the lavender fields not far from their home. Not only was the blue almost hypnotizing, but we were wrapped in the scent of it. It was an unforgettable excursion made perfect with steak and mushroom pies under an umbrella at a stream-side inn.

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Can’t you just smell the lavender?!!!

The tune of “An English Country Garden” is spinning gently through my mind. Gardens and music–they go together!

 

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