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Watching the Martins

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It was a beautiful morning when Susan and I traveled out into the country to visit our friend Sherry and watch the martins. Sherry had invited us pretty urgently, cautioning us that she thought they were about to leave for the season. In fact, there weren’t as many that day as there had been earlier, she said, but it was still a great show.

Charles and I have tried to attract martins but never with success. We’d love for them to feast on our mosquitos. But now I know we didn’t try hard enough. If you erect a whole community of martin houses in the open with lots of sky view, they will come. That’s what Sherry and her husband, Jerry, have done, Sherry having the vision and Jerry the skill and muscle to make it happen.

Sherry served us coffee and muffins on her generous porch. From there, looking across the peaceful blue swimming pool, we could see the martin condominiums with birds flying in and out the openings. Some would take to the sky while others were taking care of housekeeping.

“There really aren’t many today,” said Sherry anxiously. “Ya’ll should have come sooner when the place was packed.”

“We didn’t come just to see the birds,” Susan assured her.

“And anyway, it seems pretty lively to me,” I added. “We certainly don’t see them at our house.”

“There’s a nest with eggs about to hatch, I think,” said Sherry pointing to one of the martin mansions.

“Well, they’ll have to stay a while longer then,” I said. “They’ll have to wait for those babies to grow enough to fly with the rest.”

“That won’t take long,” said Sherry. “You know how fast our children grow. They grow up overnight.”

That brought on discussions and stories about grandchildren. Pictures were passed around. We became so enthusiastic we almost forgot about the birds.

Then I noticed the sounds of chickens clucking and chuckling around the porch, tending to their morning’s work.

“Hens laying these days?” I asked.

“We get some day by day. Enough for an omelet now and then. Jerry gathers them. One day when I was fetching the eggs I found a big gray snake in the nest with an egg half swallowed. I let the snake have it. Had nothing in my hands to finish him off with!”

I shuddered.

Susan remembered her own recent snake story. “I went in a shed at the back of our house to get a tool. Reached up and plucked it off a hook and turned to go out when suddenly something came down across my head–a sizable snake!”

“How long was it?” asked Sherry.

Susan held up her hands to indicate eighteen inches, then laughed. “Johnny says it was only this long,” she said sizing down to about six inches.

Sherry insisted on our getting more coffee. She, being very short of breath because of a lung disease, let us serve refills for ourselves.

The martins were busy again, some wheeling in the sky, others flying into their homes. Some were sitting on their porches, like us. We talked about their distinctive shape, their deep black shimmery color and their ability to one day simply pick up all their luggage and go to a distant land in Central or South America. We marveled at how God has made every creature able to take care of itself. How can the birds know where to go? How do they make such a long journey? We’d never be able to do that (without all our super aids). But “we” can build martin houses–and skyscrapers!

“One day we’ll look out and there will be no martins,” said Sherry. “Just all their empty houses. And Jerry will go to work repairing and cleaning out their homes. So they’ll be ready when the birds come back.”

“And about when is that?” I asked.

“Maybe about March. Early spring. We look out one day and there are a few scouts flying around, then soon there’s a flock wheeling, building nests and all.” She laughed. “One day I was sitting here watching and this one bird flew up to his door with a stick about a foot long. It was a show watching him force that stick into the small hole but he did it.”

It was a very good morning. Susan and I agreed it was one of the most fun visits we’d ever been on. As we drove back to town full of coffee and muffins and blessed with good conversation, we remarked that this was really life, taking time to stop and watch the birds with friends.

 

 

 

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Happy Hearts Day!

I just got back from visiting my friends at an assisted living home near me. What fun it was to take them fresh, crisp warm apple tarts that I’d just fried in an iron skillet.  They are such lovely folks! I see them each week when I give a very brief devotional on Friday mornings. This being Valentine’s Day, I wanted to do something special. Yesterday as I went about my work, I kept thinking about the verse that God had given me: “.. he who toucheth you toucheth the apple of my eye,” Zechariah2:8. God loves us unconditionally. He loved us before we loved Him! He loves us when we are pesky and ornery and totally unlovable. That’s unconditional love–no matter what!

I love that picture from Zechariah where He says to Israel (and now to us) “…he who toucheth you toucheth the apple of my eye.” I’m the apple of His eye? Wow! It’s one thing to be called a teacher’s pet, or a best friend, a buddy, a SWEETHEART, or to know your grandchildren adore you. But imagine! God, the ruler of the universe, calls you the apple of His eye!

I wanted my friends at Magnolia Place to know they are the Apple of God’s eye. What could I do to make it plain on this particular Happy Hearts Day? That’s when God gave me the idea of making fried apple pies. So I mixed the dough last night and left it chilling in the refrigerator. I bought those very green Granny Smith apples, peeled them and stewed them into nubby applesauce, not totally smooth, sweetened the whole lot with a little brown sugar and cinnamon and left the pot sitting on the back of the stove.

This morning my sweetheart didn’t have to go to work, a very rare treat for us. I cooked up a country breakfast of sausage, yellow grits, fried eggs just the way he likes them, and buttered toast with some of our new mayhaw jelly. We had our devotional as we finished sipping our coffee. Then I went to work frying the pies and I had to hurry. But, thank the Lord, they turned out pretty nice.

My friends were happy with their warm pies and the word from the Lord that they are “..the apple of His eye.” We talked some afterwards about the memories fried pies bring to mind. We decided that in south Georgia they were called apple tarts, whereas my mother called hers fried apple pies. Mamma used to make them for us kids in the mornings on rare occasions. I remember walking on a frosty trail towards our one-room schoolhouse cuddling a fried pie between mittened hands. It felt so good and smelled even better! And what a treasure to keep for a midmorning snack, if it made it that long!

To you, dear friends, I say remember you are the “Apple of His Eye” and consider yourself cherished this Happy Hearts Day!

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Doing the Next Thing

The house is suddenly quiet. I can hear the refrigerator, the washer, the dryer, the ashes settling in the fire, the hum of the computer. All weekend we were surrounded with dear, wonderful family members coming in, going out, eating together, singing together, crying together and laughing a lot. Now they’re all gone back to their homes, their jobs, and their schools.

My mother-in-law died Friday morning and her funeral was yesterday afternoon. Her daughter’s house, where she had been living, was the gathering place for a host of Mama’s family–children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, nephews, close friends, everyone. Cousins became much better acquainted with each other as they played ball, hide and seek, etc. Hidden talents were on display at the jam sessions on Friday and Saturday nights when people who are usually quiet and don’t say much were suddenly center stage with guitars in hand. We learned more and more about the dear lady we were celebrating as more and more yarns spun out.

We laughed and shed tears almost at the same time as we prepared for that funeral, a funeral which Elizabeth Morris Graham herself had planned so well that we had nothing to do but celebrate her wonderful life. My husband, her oldest son, did ask to be on the program as he wanted to eulogize his mother. “My speaking was not part of her plan,” he said in his opening, “but I want you to know a little bit about my mother that she wouldn’t tell you.”

He told us about how she grew up in depression years moving frequently from one share cropping farm to another, seldom able to finish one school year at the same place she started. She got involved in a church called New Shiloh as a young person and at the age of sixteen became a Christian. She married JB when she was nineteen and they had three children. She worked hard in the field, in the home, and in the community. But come
Saturday she’d be getting her family ready for church, even JB who early on was not a believer. My husband said she’d iron and cook and cream bushels of corn but she’d also read her Bible and make sure each child got ready for his/her Sunday school lesson. She taught them to tithe and help pay for their own clothes with money they earned from picking cotton.

She was a member of a little country church called Merrillville Baptist for 63 years before, as a widow, she moved in with Charles’ sister Revonda and joined First Baptist Thomasville. There she became a familiar figure rolling her walker in to Sunday school, no matter how much her humped-over back hurt, going to church, greeting every person she met with that eager smile of hers.

Her birthday was December 29 and on December 28 we gave her a big birthday party out at her old church in Merrillville. She had a lovely big cake and was greeted by 145 family members and friends from her two churches. Just recovering from a bad back fracture, she reigned like a queen that day in her favorite chair as we all buzzed around her.

Two weeks later she had a massive stroke and now she’s gone to heaven.

Mama was a detailed planner, had never been able to go to bed until her house was in perfect order. So it should have been no surprise to us that as she approached ninety she planned and replanned her funeral. She’d think of one more song she wanted at her service or one more detail for her obituary and Revonda would run it up to the funeral home. I told her she was going to plan it all so well, we’d have nothing to do. She’d just smile and shake her head–and keep on planning.

But we did have something to do. We celebrated her and had such a wonderful time looking at the pictures she’d given to the funeral home for her dvd showing (in her order, of course, with instructions not to change that order at all!) and enjoying her tons of friends of all ages. The music she’d selected was comforting and sweet and so very appropriate and performed with such passion and poise by her granddaughter-in-law Leigh Barwick and two friends.

And now today, as I adjust to a quiet house with no grandchildren running, tossing balls, hiding behind curtains, dashing out to feed the goats, I’m thinking of Mama Graham. I’m missing her already, missing that call she’d usually make to find out when our children got on the road. And I’m wondering what she’d do on a day like this when all the hoopla is over and there’s nothing left but the cleanup. We need to start this new chapter, a chapter without her, but just how do we do that? Well, of course, she’d tell me quickly what to do. Just do the next thing. Get busy and keep on going.

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