The day that follows sleep

I got up this morning and wondered what will the day bring.

Each morning that I awake, I push myself from the bedclothes, I shake off the grogginess left by sleep.
I move my legs towards preparing myself for the day – wash, shave, brush, comb, fresh clothes and so then it begins. What will the day be?

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Learning can last a lifetime

One skill that has come in very handy for me since March is one that came into my life as a youth – cooking.
While my normal routine in recent years has been a lot of meals out, the stationing at home the past few months required me to break out skills learned when I was growing up. Both of my parents stressed I should acquire the skills.
Perhaps it was their foresight that it would not be likely to find a woman of my generation willing to dedicate themselves totally to cooking, cleaning and raising children, or perhaps it was my mother’s independent spirit as someone who was before her time.
My mother began operating her own restaurant when she was in her 20s, so needless to say she was a career woman long before I entered her life.
I think she knew that more and more women in my generation would be entering the workforce and spending more time in the workplace.
However, with my arrival and due to some of my unforeseen health issues, she left the business world to look after me until my health improved enough for her to work again full time.
As I grew, I helped out all I could, and one of my chores once she returned to work was to help with evening meals.
With her help, I learned to cook a variety of dishes from Hungarian goulash to Southern style meatloaf. My favorites were the sweets, pineapple upside down cake, pecan and sweet potato pie, which of course barely lasted to the table.
When I was around 13-years-old I had the opportunity to solo on my very first holiday meal — turkey, cornbread dressing, sweet potato yams with marshmallows, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy, slaw and pumpkin pie. Of course, like any good teacher she quietly coached and helped with some of the odd jobs like peeling potatoes, grating the cabbage and carrots, opening cans, and of course getting the turkey started soon enough to be done by meal time. You know, if you do not take that thing out of the freezer a day before you’ll be having fried Spam instead.
One thing that to this day I just cannot deal with is those little turkey giblets you put in the gravy. I think gravy is just fine with them swimming in the gravy boat.
For the occasion we invited our neighbors, Millie Dobbs and Bessie Yarbray, to join us.
I was also in charge of setting the holiday table with our finest linens, bone china, crystal glasses and silver ware. These were always reserved for special occasions and guests.
I will never forget my excitement as the meal was set on the table and the guests arrived to see what I had done.
The image looked like it could have come right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
I am pleased to report that everyone said they enjoyed the meal and the portions evidenced that. As far as I know there were no late-night visits to the emergency room, so I guess you can say the event was a success.
I also may have been inspired to pursue this endeavor by the fact that my brother’s wife could not boil water. They spent many evenings sitting around our table.
As an adult these lessons have served me well, and while cooking is no longer what one might call a passion for me, I do know how. As long as food is available in the absence of someone desiring to cook, I won’t starve. Although I have discovered over the years that my food choices are becoming what we perceive today as healthier and as a result over the last few months I was blessed with losing weight – about 30 pounds.
But as years go on, I am sure that will be plain to see as I develop an ailment, which afflicts many of my kinfolk – Dunlap disease. My belly dun lapped over my belt. Bon appetite!

Soap, a brush and a baseball bat

I held the Ivory soap close to my nose and breathed in deeply. There was nothing quite like the smell of a fresh bar of soap out of the package. The smell carried me back to my days of late summer evenings of avoiding my bath as a boy.

Needless to say I would always need one after playing ball in the light of the street lamps.
Around the bases were Charlotte, Clay, Bubba, Charlie and Jennifer. Some were on base while others anxiously awaited me as I prepared the swing the bat on Bruce’s pitches.

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God’s favorite postman

I was needing a laugh, so I hope you will join me as I recall an early music experience.
Throughout history, God has used many ways to send messages to us, angels, Moses, Jesus and others. I find one of his most interesting messengers is the weather.
When I was a child, I once appeared at a little Church of God tucked into the suburbs of North Atlanta.
This particular evening a guest minister was on the pulpit just preaching up a storm. That preacher began a sermon on the sacrament of baptism.
I always loved to see the late Hee Haw star the Rev. Grady Nutt. He is one of the funniest preachers I ever had the pleasure of watching.
On baptism, he would say there are “no instructions in the Bible about how to baptize” but from his descriptions, there are endless lists of things that can go wrong in the process.
Baptist preachers — they get right in there with ’em. About all Methodists can do is drop the cup.
The definition of baptism is to immerse or dip in water.
Nutt used to suggest using the word “dip” interchangeably with Baptist. Then millions would be members of the Southern Dip Church, the Southern Dip Convention; the group president would be the Big Dipper.
Baptising is no easy task; I had a friend who volunteered for new preacher duty at a Bible college one time and those fellers who were anxious to show they knew how to baptize nearly drowned him.
Nutt would say one thing to remember when baptizing in moving water is always point the person’s head upstream. You tend to lose them the other way.
Some folks tend to hold them under until they bubble — this might explain the number of Methodists.
Anyway, the visiting preacher began berating Methodists and the denomination’s approach to baptism through sprinkling. I could almost see the static electricity making my mother’s hair stand up on end as she listened.
Just about that time a bolt of lightning came down from the heavens, striking the transformer outside the little church and knocking out the power.
That preacher jumped three feet in the air, came down, hit the ground and without missing the rhythm of his message, “But no matter how they do it, those Methodists are good folks, too.”
He did not say another word about Methodists. My mom just could not keep from laughing.
I think God sometimes likes to send us a little postcard by airmail just to remind us he is listening.

The good news will outweigh the bad

If you’ve watched a lot of news reports, especially since many stories air over and over again at noon, 5:00, 5:30, 6:00 and 11:00, and every hour in between, you may soon come to believe that the world is in terrible trouble. Violence, crime and tragedies permeate everywhere you look. How many of you have asked, “What is the world coming to?”
I know I have in the last couple of weeks.
I have heard one of the first things some therapists do to treat depression is to encourage the patient to stop watching the news. Amazingly, it often helps.
People often carry the weight of what they see and hear in the news with them. They worry about the family or business person who lost their home to a fires, the child who disappeared from his home, the children of a mother killed by a drunk driver, the elderly woman who was a victim to a robbery, a man losing his life by the actions of another, the victims of riots, a foreign plague creeping across our land, or violence of war.
Have you ever heard someone say, ”People just don’t care about others anymore.” I think it’s obvious there are some that some do not, they care only for themselves, but the majority do care. I think people earnestly care, but often do not know what to do about it or do not think they have the time to show it.
Each week, I have an opportunity to read through a volume of news, good and bad. There are a number of tragedies in the pages and on the screens, sadness because of loss of family and friends, crimes throughout our country and the like.
But also within the pages are stories of people who do care. People who go the extra mile to make a difference. People who are being honored for their service by awards. Politicians and public servants who try their best to serve the people to the best of their abilities.
Within your local community calendars each week are organizations needing volunteers to help relieve many of the horrors which are reported on the evening news. I would like to encourage you to take the time to read these. You can make a difference right in your hometown. It might be something as little as buying a suitcase to donate through a local organization for a new foster child so he/she will have a place to keep belongings rather than in a paper sack. It might be giving time at your local Literacy Center to help someone read, or just to watch their children while they learn. It might be giving blood to help an accident victim. It might be cleaning out your closet to donate items which can be used by someone else through your local thrift store which provides help to area families in need. These are just a few of dozens of groups and organizations that are in the good news. By sharing a few hours a week, or just a hour every now and then, you could really make a dent in making our world a better place.
I cannot explain the sadness, and the unjust actions we have seen in the last weeks, but I am sure that there are ways each of us can rise above it, make a difference in the communities we love, and show the world that those who try to divide our country and destroy what we are will not win our souls, our minds, our hopes and our dreams. We can send them packing, if simply by turning off the outside world and focusing on our neighborhoods, our towns, and uplifting all within our arm’s length.
I hope all of you can find something here that makes you feel good. Strive to find the good news that always outweighs the bad.

Are you as tired of cleaning as I am?

Yesterday, I laid down on the floor to clean underneath a desk and I am almost sure the dust bunnies were conducting a performance of “Richard II.”
You would have thought considering their namesakes at least they would have been doing something from the writings of Beatrice Potter or “Alice in Wonderland.”
But the battles waged to try to get them out and into the dust bin was monumental.
In the last few weeks, though I have motivated myself, keep doing a little each day, clean this, wash that, box this up, throw that away.
You know, I never realized how much I have accumulated in the course of day-to-day life and how much each and every piece accumulates dust. There are vases that never see a flower, candy dishes which never hold a sweet, bric-a-brac of every shape and describable size and substance and all of it wearing a patina of dust. There is so much that needs to be sold or simply thrown away. Even the house and drive needed washing.
Why is it so hard to let go of some items? I looked at some fifty-year-old documents that I held onto from my folks, could I throw them away? No… They were refiled. I found a big bag of documents not touched in 10 years but could I throw them away? No… back into the cabinet. How do I break this cycle of hoarding?
Many pieces I can easily let go of while others seem to be tied to my heart, my mind, and even my reason for existence as I hold them. I dusted off a Nina ship pen desk set which was a gift from neighbors when I was about 11. It has set on my desk ever since, you know though, I don’t remember ever taking the pen out to use it, but I still hold onto it, as a remembrance of those two neighbors.
Now, I understand holding tightly onto heirlooms, my late father’s razors, cuff links, and ties. I am still using his ties, tie clips, handkerchiefs. I actually bought many of them as father and birthday gifts when I was a boy. I have been debating shedding my late mother’s toy horse collection, while I appreciate it, having a mass number of horses around in the guest room, seems a bit much. I am getting closer to letting those gallop into the sunset, maybe one will stick around the corral to keep me company.
The furniture, lamps and other trinkets passed down the generations hold their places of honor, as my career memorabilia eases its spots in between. One thing I have learned during this time at home, things need to be combed through, cleared out and cleaned up even when there isn’t a reason to be stuck at home, its just, I have never sneezed so much when everything was dirty. I hate chasing these dust bunnies. Hey, come back here!

We don’t do that here anymore

Have you ever taken your shoes to be worked on? Does anyone do that anymore? I remember when fixin’ shoes was cheaper than buyin’.
Of course, back then they were quality made and lasted a long time if cared for properly. I’ve been looking for a brand-new pair of blacks and a brown for about a month now. Every where I look, they are just not quite right. The pair I am trying to replace is about new but they are worn out with a few holes. I was looking at them and found that a percentage was made in one country – Mexico, another percentage in the European Union and then assembled in China.
I am sure the store that sold them made a profit, as did the various companies who manufactured the pieces. The sad part is after just a couple of years later and I am searching for a new pair. I still have shoes in my closet passed to me by my late father that were worn day after day for years and they are still as strong and shiny as they were when I was a child. I often wear them to dress events. Amazing how they have held up but of course, they were made entirely in the United States and whenever there was a problem, the shoes were taken to the shoe repair shop to strengthen them for a few more years of service.
I have always heard that the only way to avoid repeating the missteps of history is to know history and then use that knowledge to avoid the same fate.
If I understand one underlying reason that the South lost the Civil War, it is that the North held the best hand when it came to industry having a better ability to manufacture and keep manufacturing both the tools of war and those items needed on the home front.
Not having the same ability, the South was doomed to eventually simply run out of supplies.
Our country’s status over the last few months as the pandemic was thrust upon us has reinforced the need for concentration upon our all of our essential supply lines – medicine, food, technology, transportation, military and otherwise to not only encourage but ensure that our country will not be left wondering what happened if the rest of the world is shut down or we or isolated by any unexpected catastrophe.
I have heard President Trump stress the importance of building in and buying American over and over, and I hope that his administration and our congress will use this experience as a wakeup call. We may exist alongside our neighbor countries, but we are our own country with over 300 million people whose needs must come from some where and that somewhere plain and simple should be in the U.S.A.
Many times I heard my mother comment when the neighbors were selling scrap metal bound for Japan before WWII, that her father said that America would get all of it back one day.
It did begin Dec. 7, 1941, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent battles.
I mention this and my earlier example for two reasons.
Like those selling scrap iron, Americans have often looked to the best deal to make some extra money right now. Thousands of American businesses benefit financially by sending jobs overseas or over the border, or simply purchasing items they need from foreign producers. I am sure that these decisions are making their bottoms lines more profitable.
Companies are not totally to blame. As consumers, we want the cheapest whether it comes from China, India or wherever rather than purchasing something that will keep an American on the job making something and keeping an American company afloat.
There was a time when almost every component of every item we had in our homes and businesses or used in everyday life was made here in the U.S.A. — every automobile, radio, television, fan, telephone, refrigerator, stove, iron, vacuum cleaner, etc.
Today you would be hard-pressed to find any of these, which do not depend on a foreign-produced part to make them work. Of course, some of these manufacturing companies are American in origin but not in loyalty when they choose to build factories elsewhere, reducing America’s industrial might.
I understand that American manufacturing is to the point now that many elements needed to construct even some of our most sensitive military systems now must be manufactured overseas because no one does it here anymore.
We no longer need to hear a mantra for America to be: “We don’t do that here anymore.”
It is simple to see that we did not learn from history. If we do not right the ship, America will one day soon be no longer able to make anything without the industrial machine and labor force of China and other countries.
Now instead of scrap metal, we are sending our cash, boatloads of cash each and every day that Americans flood the stores.
If like our current experience and America was even more cut off from the rest of the world, do we have the wherewithal to survive on our own anymore? Can we build or produce what we need for our population? It was not so long ago, just 40-50 years, that the answers to these questions were yes. I would say the answer now is no.
When so many of our former factories are dormant, our skilled workers gone from lack of jobs, America may go the way of the South or to paraphrase my grandfather before WWII, America is going to get all those great bargain buys and cheaper jobs thrown back in our faces.
Think about that the next time you go out to shop. Think about that the next time you talk with you senator or congressman. Think about that when you visit the polls this November. If we don’t wake up, my friends, we will all be singing someone else’s tune and possibly in a different language.

A new norm?

As our country moves forward from the plan of flattening the curve, we all find ourselves in a new normal.
Perhaps new to us, but not to our ancestors. Just as we endured the Swine Flu as a nation a decade ago without any of the approaches, we have tried this time around, prior, we can reach back through the years to see our country and our ancestors pull through epidemics. The Hong Kong flu of 1968-1970 saw us not slow a step in our approach to life, doctors and families just did their best to care for those who contracted the disease.
Regionally and locally, our forefathers dealt with outbreaks of polio, measles, Spanish flu, and before that, smallpox, pneumonic plague, bubonic plague, yellow fever, cholera and other diseases.
Many of those outbreaks came when there was little medicine could do to aid in the situation. Just keep a person comfortable with hope people’s constitutions, wills and incessant prayers either brought them through an illness or not.
While I thus far I have not endured the latest disease thrust upon the world. In my past, I have endured the attack of a virus which brought about the doctors saying “There is nothing we can do, it’s up to him and God.”
That is a very scary place to be, both as the patient or a loved one. I feel deeply for the thousands of families who have faced those moments in recent months and pray deeply for those who are yet ahead facing this latest battle of survival.
These past few weeks, as we have all seen a time that we have not seen before, it makes me wonder what is yet ahead for all of us. Advances in medicine have possibly given us to high of an expectation that there is always something that can be done. I can remember a day in my own lifetime when we assumed a diagnosis of one type or another was essentially a death sentence.
Today, we take many of those diseases in stride, maintained by drugs, operations, treatments that allow people to live long lives, where just decades ago, it was not even a hope. Cancer is still one that scares us all individually, though even within certain types of cancer, survival rates are tremendously better.
I am sharing all of this to say, a few decades ago, any infection that could overwhelm our system, broken bones, heart failure, diabetes and so many other diseases meant our clock was now running on borrowed time. As a society, though it did not make the individual situations less painful or less important, we took the reality of what was possible in stride.
I am wondering now, are we are no longer capable of that strength within ourselves? Can we take in stride that medicine can’t always fix us? Can we take in stride that government is not there to save us and we must be self-reliant? Will we now feel the need that big brother government will have to tell us what we have to do to survive? If everyone does not do what is said to the letter, are we now going to be the watch guards trying to get someone arrested?
My parents and grandparents lived through many epidemics in their lives with no medicine to treat and little hope of survival. They cared for each other, they prayed, they kept working because the family had to survive no matter what came. Loved ones passed, the family mourned, remembered, and struggled through. That strengthened the importance of the survival of all who went on. I and my siblings lived through many epidemics as well, some saw friends fall to polio, we endured measles, and all types of influenzas. I survived some of those when the outlook was bleak myself as a child.
As a country, we will come through this pandemic. As families, we must learn from this experience and come to realize, we must rely upon our own abilities to remain safe and healthy. We cannot put outrageous expectations on medical professionals or government to save us from some new virus or even an old virus which could run rampant across the earth. Our government also should not come to think that the American people are going to allow the shutdown of civilization as they prescribe with each and every epidemic that comes in the future. What we are enduring, I pray is not what we allow to be a new norm.

A comb, a mirror and a brush

As young Pearl sat quietly on the edge of the bed, the red, white and green patchwork quilt wrapped around her feet to ward off the chill of the January frost laying heavily upon fields of brown grass around the homestead below the Gravelly Spur mountain, she stared endlessly over the shoulder of her mother Kitty into the dressing table mirror.
Kitty worked carefully and diligently to take down her long reddish brown hair from the bun she had placed on her head before the rising of the morning sun.
She spread its length down upon her shoulders and towards the floor performing a nightly ritual that her mother Rachel taught her to do before the Scarlet fever came and took her red hair.
From the dark oak dressing table she picked up a brush left her by her mother, encrusted upon it in gold were lightly lilting engravings that surrounded the initials RMH. Beside it lay a matching comb and hand mirror. Kitty took the brush and slowly ran it through her hair as Pearl began counting “One, Two, Three….”
With each stroke Pearl quietly continued her mathematical exercise as Kitty moved from one side of her head to the other not missing a single strand of hair.
As the process continued, Kitty began humming the “Wildwood Flower” gathering momentum as she pulled each stroke.
What to some might seem like an eternity passed for these two in an instant as this quiet time the two shared as Kitty reached her 100 strokes.
When Pearl reached 100 in her count, Kitty turned and said its your turn now and Pearl sat upon the dark green upholstered stool in front of the dressing table and her mother took the golden comb in hand and pulled it through the reddish brown hair removing the tangles brought on from her day’s work around the farm.
She then reached for the brush that Pearl already had in her hand admiring the engraving upon its back.
“When I was just a little one, I watched Momma do this every night. Her hair simply stacked on the floor it was so long,” Kitty said.
“Why do we do this?” Pearl asked
“So that our hair will always be beautiful,” Kitty said.
“Why do we want our hair to be beautiful?” Pearl asked.
Kitty thought about this for a while before answering as she continued to run the brush through Pearl’s hair.
“You remember last year when we took that pony you are so fond of to the fair?” Kitty said.
“Yes,” Pearl replied.
“We’ll didn’t you spend nearly three hours brushing Roscoe down and trying to make his mane look just right?” Kitty asked.
“Yes, I wanted him to look good when everybody saw him and maybe win a ribbon,” Pearl said.
“That’s why we do this each night. We want to look good when everybody sees us,” Kitty said.
“Most of the time the only things that see me er Roscoe, the chickens, and our cow Flossie,” Pearl said. “And that old Stephens boy that’s always hanging around. I don’t much think they care how I look.”
“What about all of us, me and your dad, your brothers and sisters?” Kitty said.
“Well y’all don’t count, y’all have to like me no matter what I look like,” Pearl said.
“Yes, that’s true we will always love you no matter what you look like but even with those who are suppose to love us no matter what, its best to always put some effort into being someone to be proud to be around,” Kitty said.
“Then we better get to work on the twins Wilson and Woodrow, they were wollering in the mud all day and I shore ain’t proud to be around them,” Pearl said. “We better get the washtub out and start boiling some water to give them a bath.”
“I think we will pass on giving them a bath tonight,” Kitty said.
“Tomorrow?” Pearl said.
“We’ll see if there isn’t too much else to do,” Kitty said.
“Can we use some of your fancy perfumed water on them?” Pearl asked.
“I don’t think they will like that very much,” Kitty said.
“If you put a little on me, I’ll let them smell it and if they don’t run away we’ll know,” Pearl said. “I got some nice blue ribbon we can put behind their ears.”
As Kitty pulled the last stroke with the brush through Pearl’s hair, she sat the brush down upon the dressing table and said, “OK, now scoot off to bed.”
“May I go out and tell Wilson and Woodrow they are getting a bath tomorrow?” Pearl said.
“I have to go by the pig pen when I gather eggs in the morning. I’ll be sure to tell them what you have in mind although I think you are going to have an awfully tough time convincing them about your notion,” Kitty said.
As Pearl ran from the room, Kitty picked up the hand mirror and looked more closely at her hair, in one side of the mirror she noticed a portrait of her late mother hanging upon the wall and as she glanced to the other side of the mirror she saw Pearl peaking around the corner. Rather than chastising her for not going right off to bed she reflected on how interesting it was that all three of them were in her mother’s mirror.
(A story from Randall’s book “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes”)

The trip to town with country kin

I drove through my town today and saw our shop owners with their doors open with some sitting outside anxiously awaiting customers to stop in. It is an unusual time in all our world. As many communities prepare to open in stages, I think back upon a funny story about some of my country kin. Hope it raises your spirits.

I do not know if I have ever told you about my great-uncle Elige Doolittle. Elige has two twin boys, Will Doolittle and Won’t Do-alot.

I remember as a boy, I always looked forward to Saturday when I was visiting with my grandparents. That meant we would be taking a trip to town. It could mean some time in the 5&10, the grocery store or a stroll around the Courthouse Square or visiting with folks at the farmer’s market.

Going to town was special and meant the folks would put on their best clothes and their best manners.

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