A heart of hope and help

I can remember going door to door as a youth collecting canned foods to place in paper bags with the blue letters marked upon the sides – Goodwill. This organization was one of the many that our family moved the young people in my circles to do work to benefit.
When parents work to instill in children the importance of giving their time and energies to help others, it provides solid stones upon which they may walk throughout their lives. I saw my parents take their last cash dollar and give it to someone who had even less than they did. I saw them both give endless hours to all types of efforts to uplift others.
Those lessons learned by watching their daily walk, changed my life and gave me a sense of hope that their generosity was the norm in the world.  I assumed there would always be those that do the same. Unfortunately, despite that hope, in the intervening time I have discovered with each passing year I see fewer and fewer that reach beyond themselves.
That does not mean however that I have become jaded in what I have seen. I still loving caring people that reach into other people’s lives with their gifts of time, talents, and when needed money. Perhaps I see more of that because, those are the people I choose to live and serve beside.
In adulthood, I have seen many generous people give to others when needs arose. I have seen people who had nothing themselves, give to those who have even less. I have seen those who appear to be well situated also give. I personally have been the benefactor of other’s generosity when I faced hard times due to an unexpected accident.
As humans, as Americans, we are the greatest we can be when we put aside any differences that others place between us and we work together to make the world around us a better place. We uplift those that have less, we strive to create opportunities for people to improve their lives, whether through education, needed treatment, or simply eliminating barriers which seem to prevent a person from succeeding.
I have no idea what may be the need in your community. But we as individuals cannot solve the problems of the world or our own country. All we can do is make a difference locally. There are millions of us who can look around and find ways to change the communities we call home. Spread the smiles of hope, look to fill the voids, band together and find ways to bring your home folks together to create a better place to live for all your neighbors.
It is only locally that we can truly serve and uplift each other. Make the world a better place by starting at home in your neighborhood, your town, your county. Once we make things better in each of those, our country, our world will not only be better, but folks from outside will be less able to divide us, because we will know our neighbors’ true hearts of hope and help.

Warsh and wear

Today most folks don’t give a second thought if they get their clothes dirty to go and change into another outfit. Of late, I have found myself babying a electric dryer as I have been trying to get parts to keep it working, so I am a little more cautious about how many clothes I have to wash.
In the valley below the Gravelly Spur, an abundance of clothes in the closet was not something that most folks experienced.
The Wood boys, like everyone, were often faced with limited things to wear. Little Woody had long grown out of his white cotton dress that he wore in the shadow of his late mother.
The dresses provided mothers the added benefit to keep track of a child when they had to leave the room by lifting the old iron bedpost and placing it on the tail of the gown. That kept the toddlers from toddling into mischief.
By this point the young boy had graduated to two pairs of overalls and two shirts.
After working in the fields two days in a row, both pairs of his overalls and his two shirts were stained with red dirt and mud. He came to his older sister and said “I haven’t got anything to wear to school tomorrow.”
She took him into the bedroom reached into the closet, pulled out her extra dress, and laid it on the bed.
“Get that on and I’ll wash up your overalls.”
Little Woody didn’t have much choice in the matter it was either put the dress on or run around in his all together. So out of the clod covered overalls and into the gray colored dress he slipped.
So even though it was late in the day, she pulled out the washtub and the warshboard and scrubbed them overalls from rusty brown to a faded blue.
She took them out and hung them to dry on the clothesline, as one would normally do.
As the family went to sleep that night, the temperature dropped way below freezing. When the family slowly made their way out into the kitchen wiping the sleep from their eyes with the rooster’s crow, little Woody’s older sister sent one of the other boys to fetch the overalls while she cooked.
He brought them in frozen solid, straight as a board. He stands them in the corner taking a bit of delight in the feat.
Woody is standing there in her gray dress and says “What are we going to do, I can’t were those to school and I am sure not wearing this dress.”
She took the overalls and shirts and placed them on chairs by the fireplace and within just a short time the overalls and shirts had melted into something looking like the occupants had simply disappeared. She quickly ironed one of the shirts.
Woody could not wait to get out of the dress and as soon as the overalls were warm enough and before the iron had hit them, he was into one of the pairs and out of that dress.
While the experience might not have been so bad for little Woody if his older brothers did not see the whole thing as an opportunity for some good old fashion ribbing once they got to school.
When the Moss brothers asked the Wood boys what they had done the night before each mentioned some adventure they had but one of them had to say, “Woody didn’t do anything. He was afraid to come out of the house cause someone might see him wearing sister’s dress.”
Needless to say this was enough to get Little Woody’s blood to boiling and with a little more agitation its safe to say that clean pair of overalls picked up a little schoolyard dirt as the kidders found themselves on the receiving end of his frustration.
Good thing his sister washed both pairs of overalls or he’d been back in that dress all over again.
( From “A Mountain Pearl: Appalachian Reminiscing and Recipes” by Randall Franks)

What does it mean ?

There are many times in my life when I have searched for the reason someone that I care for becomes ill or suffers through some series of events.

I have sat by the bedside looking at tubes connected to someone’s body; and watched people struggle to find a new normal while coming back from a change in health.

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The amazing sanctuary of a library

My fascination with taking my fingers and flipping through the pages of a book began early in my life.
Beginning with the children’s books read by my mother, I soon found myself carried into other worlds created by the minds of authors. Once I started school, I soon spent any free time in the school library combing through the books looking for topics which were of interest. One of my early favorites was a biography of World War I hero Alvin C. York giving me a lifelong hero that still remains.
The comfort of the room, the quietness, the calm, and being surrounded by shelves of books began a fascination with these environs. Once I was old enough, I began volunteering my time, learning the inner workings of the library. Understanding the Dewey decimal system and the old-fashioned card catalog file system. I found I enjoyed reshelving books and often I found another topic that fascinated me.  Also gaining an operational knowledge of all the audio-visual equipment that we had.
Mrs. Dantzler was my elementary librarian and she became an amazing encourager in my early life. As I rose to high school, the library continued to be a sanctuary. A greater level of books surrounded me and I once again became part of the volunteer library assistants. The librarians again became great influencers and the room provided a sanctuary from the social dynamics of high school.
Though I have not reached the dream – I always wanted to have a library room in my home filled with books that I have collected. I realized one day; it is not likely that I will reach that dream but even today holding my library card is special to me each time I walk into that building. It makes me feel comfortable as I did as a youth when I look around the many shelves of books.
There is nothing like holding a book between your two hands, while you step inside through your eyes to a new world that its words create. It’s like dreaming awake.
As so many now find their passageway through a book reader or computer, I still feel the printed book is the greatest source of this style of entertainment and I hope we never see the disappearance of the printed book.
If you have not visited your local public library in a while, I urge you, stop by, find out about their great programs for all ages. Walk through the aisles of book shelves, pick out a book, secure your library card and check it out. While its not a trip to an amusement park, turning the pages can certainly take you on rides that are thrilling, provide mystery, hope, fears and elation, and they are all between the covers of a book.

The lasting effects of friends

     John Donne wrote centuries ago “No man is an island.” Sometimes I think we may run our lives in a fashion that we think we are an island.
     If we are blessed, we surround ourselves with family, friends, acquaintances, but are they really part of us and we a part of them? There are those who seldom find their way from their self-exile on their personal island to actually share with others a sunset, a walk on the beach or watching a kite bounce in the sea breeze.
     In the mirror sometimes I see the man looking back at me and wonder if he ever realized where he would be today.
     If the choices he made would add to the sands of an island exile or build bridges connecting him to the piece of continent making him part of the main, as Donne described. Have I broadened the world of the little boy that once stood there in the mirror or have I simply augmented his isolation?
     Sometimes in life though moments occur, things are said, news arrives that reminds us solidly, that Donne left an indelible footprint in the sand with his premise that no man is an island. No matter how isolated we may choose to become in life, in soul, in mind, we are connected.
     In years past it was by letter and phone calls, today our own private islands are equipped with an umbilical cord connecting us to the internet. As I sit at my computer screen, I can check the status of “Friends” on numerous websites and stay connected to see what is happening. I can find out the latest news without even carrying on a conversation because it is all there to see in bits and bytes.
     Does that make my island more connected or less connected? I can sustain an illusion of being connected to thousands of people now where before it was maybe a few dozen on Sunday at church or at musical events.
      I saw where this new technology helps me stay connected. While reviewing the myriad of sites where I stay connected. Some time ago I found a note from a childhood friend desiring to right some perceived wrongs and wipe the slate clean. That served as a wonderful bridge re-establishing connection.
      Sadly, on numerous occasions, I have learned of the passing of those who at some point in my life were in my close circle of friends but time and distance had moved us along in life. Those moments always leave me with the sense of loss that is expected. A deep spirit of melancholy will often walk in behind it. Thankfully though, just a little later I will feel the spirit of thankfulness that allowed us to share the walk that we did as I pan through the memories for the gold nuggets within.
      We are in a time when we need to realize that those who we hold close are the friends who will sustain us in times of trouble.
Those friends will be there to help us when we are in need, or protect our backs when folks are coming at us from what seems all sides.
     While we cherish old friends, if something happened in your town tomorrow, do you have a circle of people you could rely upon? Can you come together to make sure your town comes through a crisis? Say a tornado, a major fire, or some other unexpected happening? If not, I encourage you to start building that group of friends that care about your neighborhood, town, county, region. Those are the friends who will make a difference in your life in good times and bad.
      Help make a difference in your own life; make friends you know you can depend upon and together you can make a difference in the world you and your family call home. Live local – not on the internet.

Needing something you don’t have

Water faucet and refrigerator leaks, garbage disposal freezes from
working, blower motor on heating and air conditioning unit wears out,
dryer timer goes out, and the blinkers on my cars quit.
There is an old saying that says “When it rains, it pours.” I
feel like I have been on a never-ending marathon of late, fixing one
failed system after another.
I simply rise up in the morning wondering what the next adventure
might be that I will have to fulfill.
Thankfully, my folks gave me some great primers on life insisting I
learn the basics about most elementary fixes to household and
automotive problems.
Despite the skills learned and the available information now
available from experts on the web, inevitably, as I progress through
the basic repairs, I have learned one great lesson. There will always
be one more thing that is needed to complete the job.
Whether it’s another tool, or another needed part – because one did
not work or it turns out it was actually something else which was the
problem; I seem to always be ending my efforts, getting into my Ford
Explorer and driving off to the hardware store, being sure to use my
arm signals, to deposit more in the Ace or Junior’s Hardware bank.
Why is that the nature of such experiences? I must have made three
trips just yesterday to only have to return again today still trying
to complete the same project.
I, however, set out this weekend to break the mold. I vaguely
remember my late mother often commenting that my dad spent much of
his time rushing off to buy a tool that he already had but could not
find. A trend that has blessed me as I inherited his tool collection.
But that being beside the point, I really think this time allowed him
to clear his head from a tough fix-it job.
So, this time before I headed off for my hardware fix, I spent some
time going through my many boxes of stored away items to make sure I
didn’t already have what I needed.  Guess what? I didn’t. So back
into my Ford Explorer I went for another adventure scanning the
aisles at the hardware store.
I guess I need to invest some money in hardware stocks. One thing’s
for sure, their profits will be up because of me and all those like

You reap what you sow

The warm air, a slight breeze, sunshine shining on my face, are all things that raise my spirits as we set off through another spring season.
As a boy, this time of year was set aside for preparing and planting our family garden. I will never forget one year in some reading I had found some guidance to enhance our tomato crop by planting them in old tires. The reservoir created then helped to keep them well fed with water throughout the season. With the passage of time, I do not recall whether the experiment brought much success to the process for the couple of years I used those. I do however remember the effort required to bury those tires and then in subsequent years to dig them back up as I transitioned to another approach.
Needless to say, I was an industrious gardener as a kid. When I started the garden, I dug out the around two feet removing huge granite rocks and the filling the area with good soil. I prepared a seasonal compost system that kept the area each season refreshed with needed materials to break down and enhance the soil. I put in fencing to protect them from my rambunctious dog.
Most of the standards – green beans, squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, okra, peppers, cucumbers and a few melons were the crop. In banner years, enough was harvested to can and keep us fed for a while. I enjoyed the gardening in that I felt I was being productive and giving back to the upkeep of our family especially before I was old enough to get a regular job.
One of my favorite years was when the weather was weird on down into the fall and much of what I had planted had peaked and began to die. I had yet to clear the garden for winter and the weather got warm again for a couple of months, many of the plants revived and yielded another crop by Thanksgiving. It is amazing what God allows nature to provide.
I know many of you garden and some farm. Our family has done both, although I have not planted something to eat in 15 years. But this year, once again, I felt the need to dig in the dirt and try to bring forth something productive that hopefully may sustain me a bit in the coming months. Of course, this year, the crop will cost a bit more as I have had to develop a new garden spot. However, thus far just the action of preparing the spot, mixing the soil has given me a great sense of accomplishment. As the seedlings come forth and hopefully bear edibles throughout the year, I know I will have a new sense of joy that will empower my spirit.
Fresh vegetables, fresh herbs and a few melons are my hope and maybe a new connection to God’s creation that I have not sensed within my soul in quite a while.
Sadly, I fear that rising food prices are ahead, and possibly some items not being as readily available with rising shipping costs. It may be a good idea for everyone to plant a few of your favorites. Dig out that old canning equipment from mom or grandma that you put in the basement, and store back some food supplies for you and your loved ones.
There is a saying “You reap what you sow.” It usually has a foreboding tone in relation to getting your just deserts for something bad you have done. In this case though, I wish you all reap a great bounty should you decide to sow this season!

Are animals Christians too?

When there was no place among people for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, the animals made room for the birth of Jesus in a stable. Donkeys and horses were probably among the first to look upon the Son of God.
Isn’t it only appropriate that there be a place for them in the Kingdom of God? I am reminded of an old farmer, Jebadiah Cross who had worked his fields side by side with his old gray mule named Flossie for many years. When Flossie died, he called the Presbyterian preacher to come and do the funeral for his Flossie.
Upon arrival, the elderly preacher stepped down from the buggy, dusted his long black overcoat, and straightened his black stovepipe hat. He prepared himself for comforting the family. He was shocked when Jebediah led him to the barn and he discovered the dearly departed Flossie was only a mule. He popped on his hat, said there was no way he would ever preside over a service for a mule and sped towards his carriage.
So Jebadiah called on the new Methodist minister. Just in his twenties, he had arrived from seminary to serve an established congregation. This was to be his first funeral. Nervously, the young man came out to visit Jebadiah. After discovering that Flossie was not a member of the family, the minister had to break the news that he could not do it because he was worried about how his new congregation might react.
Finally, he called a Baptist pastor. The pastor arrived in a Ford Model T. It almost sighed with relief when the middle-aged well-fed pastor stepped to the ground. Again, Jebediah led the clergy through the house and then back into the barn where Flossie lay in state. He concurred with his fellow clergymen that he couldn’t lead a funeral service for a mule.
As the pastor headed for the barn door, Jebadiah looked down at his faithful companion, stroked her mane and said, “Well, Flossie, I guess I’ll just have to keep that $10 for the preacher.”
The Baptist pastor turned and said, “You should have told me Flossie was a Baptist.”
Animals are sometimes better friends than most folks are. Cats, dogs, fish and birds can all make differences in our lives.
Some folks are cat people — I am not a cat person. Not that I have anything against them. It is just when I am around them I sneeze, itch, scratch, turn blue and eventually die. But if there is a cat anywhere to be found, nine chances out of 10, it is rubbing up against my leg.
When I look at a potential date, one of my first questions is: “Do you like pets?” If they have a dog, I know that I am safe — well sort of. Some of them can leave a permanent impression. I have one of those on my right leg. Boy, old Bugar sure could bite.
Ever since I was a little boy, I have been a dog person. You can do so much more with a dog.
What can cats do anyway? They lay around the house and eat. That is a man’s job isn’t it? Might explain why so many women have cats instead of men. Most women probably want only one animal laying around the house anyway; at least cats don’t talk back.
But dogs, they can hunt, play Frisbee, scare off bad guys. I remember one of my first dogs when I was little, Brutis. I couldn’t have been more than three-feet tall. He was six feet if he was an inch. I am not kidding. He could stand on his hind legs and look my dad in his eyes.
Often my dad would say after supper, “Why don’t you go out and play with Brutis.”
Play with Brutis? That dog played with me. I was like a big, squeaky toy for him.
He had this little game he would play — let’s see how many times we can knock Randall to the ground. He was a good trainer; eventually I learned how to play dead.
I will say this: Brutis was a cultured dog. He had the finest taste in clothing. One time he felt that I was not dressed quite right, he held me down and tore every stitch of clothes off me.
I think it was his way of saying, “My mommy dresses me funny.”
My mother did not care for his fashion advice and he was soon on his way to destination unknown.
I sort of envision him on the defensive line of the Bulldogs. He sure knew how to tackle.
From the comedy story “Animals are Christians Too — Aren’t They?” by Randall Franks, used by permission of Peach Picked Publishing.

Colorful roots

As I began my search for ancestors, I never knew what wonders the stories would open to me. Seeing history come to life through people to which I am related helped to make historical events more than just words upon a page.
I am sure that some of the tales have grown with time and the accuracy of some would not hold up in a court of law, but for a 10-year-old and avid history buff, reading about an uncle who traveled with the Lewis and Clarke expedition, grandparents who were Underground Railroad stationmasters, or discovering a long-lost branch of the family that no one knew existed gave me such a thrill.
My search carried me to homes where members of my family have lived since the country was founded. I have stood with a musket in hand on the battlements where my ancestors staved off the Cherokees when the United States were still British colonies. I have touched the soil which once ran red with their blood as they fell fighting the red coats.
Among my forebearers have been presidents, congressmen, governors, state legislators, sheriffs, soldiers, slaves, cowboys, Native Americans, farmers, poets, businessmen, sailors, lawyers, educators and even royalty.
With each turn of the page through another generation, my search would become more fascinating from my infamous grandmother Lady Godiva to the Scottish independence leader – King Robert de Bruce.
 Years ago, a distant cousin enlightened me to an aspect of our family I never knew about how some of our ancestors from Portugal came to the Americas even before the Pilgrims settled in eastern North Carolina in the late 1500s. Their settlements were destroyed at some point, and survivors intermarried with Native American tribes and eventually migrated to the mountainous areas in western North Carolina and Southern Virginia, remaining together as a tribe.
Being on opposite sides of a fight was repeated time and time again in my family going back thousands of years. On both sides of the American Civil War and Revolutionary War, the frontier battles, and in the old country – the war for Scottish Independence, English against the Vikings or French or Spanish, or Germans against the Romans and those peoples against so many more adversaries.
With grandfathers spanning from the Viking Rollo to the Russian Rurik, struggles and conflicts across centuries, principalities, faiths and continents. 
My grandfather Ernulf de Hesdin (died 1097), was a French knight who fought alongside my grandfather William the Conqueror in the conquest of England. He was richly rewarded by the King with land holdings under William as evidenced in the Doomsday Book. He joined King William Rufus in his efforts to conquer Normandy in 1093 held by his brother, my uncle Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy. The campaign was stalled by the involvement of my grandfather King Phillip I of France on the side of Robert. However, in 1095 Ernulf was unjustly accused with joining my grandfather Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria, in a baron’s revolt against my uncle King William Rufus. His champion succeeded in winning in a trial by combat but he was so disgusted by the accusations, so he never returned to England. He joined the First Crusade to the Holy Land (1095-1099) and gave his life at the legendary Siege of Antioch in 1097. Ernulf was a forebearer of Scotland’s House of Stuart which eventually ruled also England and Ireland.
After the death of my cousin England’s King Henry V (1387-1422), his wife, my grandmother Queen Catherine De Valois (1401 –1437), daughter of my grandfather France’s King Charles VI (1368 –1422), was dowager queen raising my uncle King Henry VI (1421-1471) of England and France. Queen Catherine was in her 20s and the nobles wishing to control my grandmother and the 6-month-old king passed a law that if anyone married the queen, they forfeited their lands and possessions. The law was in effect until the king was an adult and he could approve the marriage. The law did not control the heart though as Catherine fell in love with a young welsh named Owen Meredith Tudor or ap Maredudd ap Tudur (1397-1461). He was a descendant of Ednyfed Fychan, and thus part of one of the most powerful families in 13th to 14th-century Wales. The couple had six children including my grandfather Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond. While the Plantagenet Dynasty (1154-1485) began its 30-year War of the Roses between the Yorks and the Lancasters that would take Owen’s life as he was killed by Yorkists, my York grandfather King Edward IV (1442-1483) was the last Plantagenet in our direct line to rule as his brother, my Uncle Richard would take the crown from my uncle King Edward V (1470– 1483) as he and his brother died as boys held captive in the tower of London. The Tudor line extended under Edmund, though he died of plaque, he left his widow pregnant with the future Tudor heir my grandfather King Henry VII who would raise an army and depose Uncle Richard at the Battle of Bosworth where King Richard III died ending the Plantagenet dynasty, and where the crown was placed on a Tudor’s head from 1485-1603.
I discovered these stories long after the passing of my late parents who once traveled with me from courthouse to cemetery, house to battlefield, to learn from whence we came. I so would have loved to have shared these and so many more stories with them.
Once our loved ones are gone, however, we are left with only the paper trail and some remnants of memories in the wind.
While history is a wonderful place to spend time seeing the colors that make up your family tree, if you would like to know the story of your family, start with those around you. Don’t forget that those stories which are right at your fingertips will one day be history, too.
You might just wish you had written them down.

As cold as I remember on one side

It was already the dark of the night when I went out to the woodpile and gathered as many pieces of wood as my little arms would hold. I tried to get into the back door but could not manage to figure out how to turn the tarnished brass doorknob while keeping my load.
It was freezing outside, and it was not much warmer inside. I scrambled at the door long enough to see my breath fogging up the panes of glass in the door.
Perhaps that is what Grandma noticed as she opened the door and said, “Get in here boy before you freeze to death.”
“Yesum,” I said as I rushed through the kitchen into the darkened living room. There sitting about three feet from the wall was a pot-bellied stove on a large piece of metal on the floor.
I was in kindergarten when my Grandma Kitty moved to a smaller farm in a rural area outside Dayton, Tenn. This was our first winter visit at the old four-room house.
She was much closer to town and her brothers and sisters than before, but still the move wasn’t as joyous as one might think.
She left behind the place she and Grandpa had called home and raised their family. A homestead where our family had lived since the first family member crossed the mountains in his coonskin cap with a musket in hand and looked out and said this will be home.
As a boy I cherished any attention that my grandmother gave me. On the rarest occasion her cracked tan skin tightened revealing a smile that could wake up the sun. I knew in those moments that she had found something within her soul that reached up and shook her from beneath the 70 years of struggle, pain, and loss that seem to blanket her in those days after she said goodbye to Grandpa Bill.
I still remember hearing Aunt Duck saying as I dropped the wood in the box next to the stove – “ Randy did a good job. Didn’t he do a good job.”
I looked over my shoulder to see my grandmother leaning now in the doorway between the living room and her and Aunt Duck’s bedroom. The pale blue curtain that separated the rooms draped over her shoulder accenting the glimmer in her eyes as my mother opened the stove door and placed a log inside. Although it slipped away quickly like the heat gained on your warm side once turned from the stove, but for a moment, on her wearied face was a smile.
I don’t know if was having a little one trying to make his way in her world that drew her out or if in the flame of the stove she saw remnants of a memory in which she lost herself.
But for that moment for me, it was what I needed to see before crawling under 30 pounds of quilts in the back room bed and watching my breath rise above me. I moved my legs trying to warm the bed only to feel colder while all the time praying that I would not have a need to run to the outhouse.