New Year’s Fixin’s

It was a blustery cold morning as Kitty and Pearl began their walk over to Maudie Pearson’s house. They carried tins full of green collards, black-eyed peasand hamhocks and some cornbread.
“This seems like an odd meal to take Miss Maudie,” Pearl said.
“It’s News Year’s Day fixin’s,” Kitty said.
“If she eats these she will have all the luck and money she needs in the next year,” Kitty said.
As they walked across the field to the tenant shack where eighty year-old Maudie lived, their steps barely marked the frozen ground which months before would have allowed them to sink a foot deep with each step.
Kitty’s walk was long and gated since she carried the extra weight of another family member inside her.
“Momma, when will the new baby come,” Pearl asked.
“When its ready,” she said. “I feel it should come any day now.”
Maudie welcomed them at the door and asked them to sit a spell.
“You folks sure surprised me coming on such a cold day,” Maudie said.
“I knew you wouldn’t feel up to cookin’ much, so we wanted to bring you blessings for the New Year,” Kitty said.
“And it looks like you will have a new blessing soon,” Maudie said as she placed her hand on Kitty’s belly.
The threesome sat near the warm fire and shared some hot cider as Maudie showed off a quilt top she was working diligently to finish.
Kitty said they best be getting back.
“The men folk will be home from hunting soon, and they might think we run off,” she said.
Kitty and Pearl took small steps on the way back. Kitty’s pace became slower and slower as she fell on her knees to the ground.
The pain doubled her over.
“Momma,” Pearl called to her, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s time,” Kitty exclaimed.
“What do I do?” Pearl asked.
“Help me and let’s get back to Maudie’s,” she said.
Pearl helped her up, and the duo made their way back to the tenant house.
Maudie said, “Land sakes I knew it would not be long.”
She helped her into the bed and told Pearl to fetch some water from the well and put it in the fire to boil.
Pearl did, and then she placed a damp cloth on Kitty’s head to ease the sweat rolling from her brow. Every few moments intense pain brought Kitty’s shrill scream of agony.
“What can we do?” Pearl said.
“We are doing all we can; the rest is up to God and the little one,” Maudie said.
After a while the screaming stopped, the pain subsided, and in Maudie’s arms was a brand new baby boy.
“Well it looks like the blessings of the New Year have arrived,” Maudie said.
Maudie reached over, picked up the new quilt she was making and wrapped the boy inside, laying him beside Kitty.
“He’ll get it a little early,” she said. “I was hoping to finish it before he came. I’ll do the rest a little later. He needs it more now.”
As the little baby looked up at Maudie and smiled, a shared grin was passed to Kitty and Pearl.
Kitty looked at Pearl and said, “Sharing blessings goes a long ways, little one. Just look what a few greens, peas and cornbread gave to us today.

From the book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”

The Christmas shine is for sharing

“Here’s the boxes of outside lights,” I said as I handed them down the attic stairs to my father Floyd.
Next came the interior boxes that were spread on the floor of the living room for my mother Pearl to sift through. A few hops up and down the attic ladder and all the Christmas decorations were strewn on the living room floor.
The holly climbed the wall by our front door, the bushes were full and green in front of the red-brick ranch-style house and the greenery made a perfect location to hold up numerous strings of Christmas lights.
As we moved beyond Thanksgiving, it fell on my father and I to bring my childhood home’s exterior into the Christmas spirit.
“Dad, have you seen the extra light bulbs, we got several out in this string,” I said as I raised my head seeing him standing on a ladder placing a power cord.
The lights were long strings some with full-sized colored bulbs, some with smaller ones. Of course, the first task was making sure all the bulbs worked before placing them. This was my job as my dad ran the electrical cords providing the power.
“There still in the boxes,” he said, so I was up and sticking my hands down through a spider web of wires searching for the box of bulbs.
After getting all the lights in place the final act of exterior decorations was the placement of a large lighted Santa Claus face was hung in the holly by our front door.
By the time this was done we moved inside to set up the faux fireplace, where our stockings were hung and assisted mother with the placement of various items around the house including lighted candles for all the windows and in then we would assemble our artificial tree and add the decorations and lights.
We always worked together to make the tree look just right. We didn’t always have an artificial tree, that came when my health was so weak that live trees caused breathing issues.
We built some wonderful memories preparing for the Christmas season as friends and family flowed in and out of our brightly decorated home.  It was the backdrop of so much joy and laughter, tears of sorrow, and lessons learned.
I watched as both my mother and father welcomed others into our home who had no one to share the holidays with. I participated as my father refurbished bicycles and peddle cars for needy children, and as my mother collected and boxed foods for needy families. Christmas is always brighter with the shiny decorations that we wrap our live within. Let’s not forget that the greatest gift of Christmas was the baby Jesus that charged each of us with loving our neighbor as ourselves. Share the shine that God gave you in your life by loving your neighbors.

A mouse in the house

In the valley below the Gravelly Spur sometimes life was lost in the living, but at times circumstances would change that for a while.
Billy Thurston lived in a sharecropper’s house with his mother Alma and father Fred. Although Billy was just eight-years-old, he already had performed almost every task it took to help run the farm and help his parents scrape a meager living on shares.
He plowed and planted, tended to animals, and walked a few paces behind his father as they hunted to add a bit of meat to the table.
Each fall when it came time to cut the corn and tie the stalks together, in the mist the stands of corn stalks looked as if an army had left the field and propped its rifles there.
At this time of year an army of mice which made the field a home would tend to run for the cover of whatever building they could find.
This year Billy’s father told him it would be his job to place the mouse traps around the house and keep them clean of whatever they might catch.
Being mindful of his father, he went about his chore and kept each trap ready and waiting for the next offensive.
One afternoon one of the traps did not hold a dead mouse but one whose leg was caught and broken.
Billy did not have the heart to end the little one’s life. So, he cut some small branches and took a few threads from the ragged area of his overalls and tied upon the mouse’s leg a splint.
Billy carefully carried the gray field mouse to the edge of the cornfield which lay between their house and my Grandma Kitty’s and released it.
After a couple of days, my Grandma Kitty was sweeping off the front porch. As she turned and opened the screen door, in scurried a little mouse which she promptly followed with broom in hand. After quite a chase around the old butcher block table, she finally had the little critter cornered.
As she was about to bring the broom down with all her might, she saw the splint upon its leg. The sight of that little splint reminded her that every life has value no matter in what form it is carried. She could not bring herself to end this one.
She reached down, picked the animal up and carried it to the edge of the corn field to release it.
Twice the little mouse got a reprieve. The yellow barn cat Grover was not so kind-hearted.

From Randall Franks’s book “A Mountain Pearl : Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”

For truth, justice and the American way

Never rely upon what “other people” say when you develop an opinion.

I have spent my life walking in the light of truth. I was taught early to follow the rules and speak the truth. As a small child, I was a whiz at numbers but had some difficulty with spelling, at least that is the way I felt at the time. In an early experience that I shared with my first-grade teacher, I was caught using a small note placed under my leg with my spelling words upon it while taking a test – cheating plain and simple.

Being caught I was sent out to stand in the hallway and then received a dressing down by my teacher which then resulted in my mother being called in and later my dad being brought in the loop for the final punishment at home.

Needless to say, I didn’t have the opportunity to hide a crib note under my leg when taking a spelling test again, I couldn’t sit comfortably for a while to take a test. But the experience re-enforced some of the lessons I had been taught – don’t cheat and don’t lie. A simple lesson learned is it’s much easier to tell the truth, you don’t have to remember and keep up with the lies.

Later in my life, as my career moved to journalism, spending a life in truth, being dependable and making sure no stone was unturned, allowed me to tell the stories of many folks who would not talk to other journalists, because they knew I would be fair and honestly share their story. That approach helped me earn over 20 state and national awards for the work. I fondly remember a boy who use to call me “Superman” because he thought of me like Clark Kent, saving the world.

As a journalist developing a story, I focused on getting three different sources who could confirm facts about a situation that may need to be brought to light in an article.

In recent weeks, I have experienced a lesson in the current human condition. There are folks in the world today that do not care about integrity of the information that they believe. They take the words at face value, placing no question on the source and the ultimate motives for what is being said. They do not look deeper to see if what is being said is even valid.

Some then use those words to formulate decisions that impact the lives of numerous people, to slander others with no foundation by repeating what has been said. That is now an easy adventure in our world which rotates around various social media platforms.

There is no accountability for those that do it. There is no way to fix the damage done by these people that propagate falsehoods and what is the sad commentary is some of them that choose this path are successful in hurting others and benefit from their efforts whether the ultimate gain is financial or gains in power within some position.

I have always believed that good wins over evil and still do. I read the back of the Book and that is how the story ultimately ends, but these little battles along the way that seems to allow evil people with evil intentions to succeed does dishearten. The only way to overcome it is if we all don’t believe blindly… do a little research and find three reputable sources when making decisions and conclusions that impact all of us. I pray for our people that we all do a better job of reaching for truth, justice and the American way.