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The seeds of wisdom spit forth

This past week I gathered with kin beside the stream that flows by my late grandparent’s home in the mountains of Tennessee. The area is now a state park, in the stream one of our cousins placed a watermelon to chill its bright red innards. We shared so much fun that day, as we cleaned up, we discovered the melon ice cold, and it had missed out on all the fun. As I sat on the back porch today looking out watching the grass grow, this image carried me in my mind’s eye sitting similarly on my grandmother’s porch. It was a summer where I spent a lot of time with my Grandma Kitty and Aunt Norma Jean. Flossie, the milk cow, was meandering through the yard headed for a shade tree where she laid down and tried to create a bit of a breeze using her tail to move an almost non-existent breeze.
Grandma was doing a much better job in her rocker with her funeral home fan and her right arm. In fact she managed to move enough that I picked up a bit of the breeze as mother and I went back and forth on the porch swing. Norma Jean leaned back in a ladder back chair against the wall abnormally still for her.
It was one of those days once referred to as the dog days of summer. I never quite understood that except I guess that the similarities with dogs it brought to us humans. We all sat around with our tongues hanging out of our mouths panting or at least so it seemed to me as a kid.
After a while I just couldn’t stand being still so I headed down to the branch to dangle my feet in the water. You know that works a lot better if you take off your shoes and socks. I never said I was real bright back then, or maybe it was just the heat.
Before I knew what had happened I looked around and everyone from the porch had joined me and you know there were smiles on their faces. They actually remembered to take their shoes off.
It was like the branch filled our bodies with a sense of hope. Hope that the heat would pass, and we would once again feel like ourselves again.
It wasn’t long though until I realized it wasn’t me that had drawn the group to the branch, especially when I noticed mother had spread out a red and white tablecloth on the bank beneath a tree. On it was a large knife and a cutting board and a saltshaker but there was nothing else.
What I did not know was that Grandma had a surprise for me. She sent me down into the deepest spot in the branch and told me to reach in for a surprise.
There was a deep green watermelon from the garden that was now cold as can be from the water running over it for most of the day.
I lifted it out and brought it up and set it on the cutting board. My shoes squished with each step.
We all now gathered around as mother cut the watermelon in pieces and we each began eating our fill.
Red fruit with a touch of salt and all those black seeds. How do you be polite with all those black seeds?
I followed Grandma’s lead and realized she was throwing the conventions of proper etiquette out the window. Rather than disposing of them quietly in a napkin, she suggested that we have a contest and see how far we all could reach spitting a seed.
We all took turns, seeing who could get across the branch. It is amazing how far the ladies could spit. They made it to the other side almost every time. Occasionally one fell short and down the branch it floated.
With each round, we found more laughter, each of us eventually won, and by the time we finished the melon, we had almost forgotten how hot it was when we started.
Our heat-induced melancholy was lost to the mischief of a melon and all its little seeds.
An added bonus, next year, the watermelons were so close to the branch, they didn’t even have to be carried and put in, they just rolled in themselves.

And they’re off! Here we go a shop-eling

The Christmas shopping season is in full swing and so has the mad dash to get everything done before all the kinfolk start gatherin’ around the icicle-strewn Douglas fir tree to open presents.
I remember waking to the smell of bacon frying Christmas morning. As I rushed into the living room, the tree would sparkle with what seemed like a thousand stars. I just knew that I caught a glimpse of Santa as the jolly old elf was moving about the house the night before.
There were so many beautifully wrapped red, green, silver and gold packages that my mother carefully placed under the tree, only to see all her handiwork destroyed in a matter of minutes Christmas morning.
My parents worked hard to put inside those packages items we had our eyes on, that we said we just could not live without. I know there were times they sacrificed what they wanted so that we would have a memorable Christmas. It is amazing though, since reaching adulthood I realized that “our wants will not hurt us.” If we do not get something we want, it is not going to be the end of world. In fact, in most cases, it is probably for the best.
I know my parents also were awakened much as I was with the smell of homemade buttermilk biscuits cooking in the oven. I’m sure they and their siblings rushed in to see the tree and their stockings filled with their presents.
Unlike my brothers and I, many in my parents’ generation were lucky to receive an orange, a stick of candy and maybe some small toy that their parents scraped and saved to buy. Toys were usually a luxury, as practical items like shoes or clothes were more likely.
My parents worked to give me and my brothers more Christmas gifts than they knew. Even more than the gifts they shared with us, it was the true spirit of the season that stands in my memory today.
As we push through the crowds of shoppers at Wal-Mart, we see the aisles covered in Barbies and GI Joes, icicle lights, and light-up Santa statues of every shape and size with which we can adorn our homes. When we attend the church plays and school recitals, we should remember really what the spirit of Christmas is, as we recognize the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In the center of the celebration are our families. We are given the opportunity to pause and remember God’s greatest gift to us, his son.
Children today would probably look back and say what little many of our parents had for their childhood holidays. Back then they did not know they only had a little, because they had as much as any of their neighbors and in many cases more. During the holidays, our family gathered together around a table set with a mouth-watering feast prepared by loving hands with the ingredients available no matter how meager or abundant. The family would make a trip into the woods and select a tree off the farm, which they cut down and brought back home. The family decorated the tree with popcorn strings, construction paper chains and ornaments they crafted by hand.
Like the decorations, many of the gifts they shared were also fashioned by the hands of the parents, grandparents or siblings.
To me more than the toys, I remember what our family did together.
At our family dinners, mother always made it a point to include a neighbor or relative who was alone. While the holiday can be joyous for some, for others who are alone due to distance or the loss of a loved one, the time can be unbearable. Including someone outside the immediate family in your holiday festivities reminds us and our young people the importance of caring about others.
We always worked to gather items for those in need. Sometimes we knew them, sometimes we didn’t. Whether it was clothes, toys, or food, we tried to make someone else’s holiday better. I remember one year my mother and dad worked to gather and repair old bicycles to improve the holiday for the children of a large family.
I learned to cook very early. One of my tasks was to help prepare the Christmas cookies, which we shared with others who might not have them.
I’ll never forget one year. I thought I would help by getting a jump on the baking tasks, so I followed my grandmother’s cookie recipe. What I did not realize is that I had to adjust the mixture for the use of self-rising rather than plain flour. So, let’s just say the salt I added gave a new meaning to the words bitter sweet. But the gallons we prepared were still eaten, with more wanted and needed.
No matter what you plan for the holidays, remember it is not how brightly you decorate your home, the expense or number of the gifts you buy or the volume at which you play and sing the beloved carols that make it Christmas. It is what you do with your family to make it a memory that will stand for a lifetime, not only for you but for all those your family can touch this Christmas season. Take the time to make a difference. God never promised tomorrow, so make sure this holiday counts. You may just change a life —yours!

I walk behind the mower, therefore I am

When I began my working experience, I always looked forward to the arrival of warm weather.
I could hear my wallet growing exponentially with each inch rise of the green, green grass of home.
Well, maybe more like the neighbors’ grass since I didn’t get paid for mowing our yard.
When I was about 10, I saved enough money from my allowance to buy a second hand push mower and then set out to find willing partners in my desire to become a millionaire before age 11. Well, that is a slight exaggeration, I was mainly hoping for a few neighbors who would give me $10 every couple of weeks to mow their yards.
I amassed a pretty good list of clients which kept me busy as long as my allergies didn’t get the best of me.  Al Weidenmuller was the first I think agreeing to my business proposal, but I had to learn how to deal with raking magnolia leaves prior to each mowing; next was Ed Mikell – with more Magnolia leaves.
Then as I progressed down the street, I picked up the Neils, occasionally the Reeds, who had Zoysia and I learned to hate that type of grass because it was so hard to push. Also sometimes the Grosses.
The list grew overtime and eventually I had to enlist my father to help get me to and from in his truck as I press on beyond walking distance.
I found the time behind the push mower a time to think, dream, write songs along to the rhythm of the engine in harmony with hits hum.
As I look back, sometimes I wonder where that youthful exuberance went for the activity. I kept up the business until I finished college, even adding other landscaping tasks and working sometimes miles from my home. Eventually though, I slowly weened my customers off my services as I wanted to focus on finding my fit in the professional world after earning my degree.  Leaving me with just the task of mowing my own yard.
Through the years, I have liked the task less and less, giving me the understanding of why so many were willing to accept my eagerness to mow. My late mother use to draw great joy from hopping upon the riding mower and going full speed around the task as I weeded and pushed. She looked forward to it, possibly because it was something she could accomplish with her failing health and see a positive outcome.
Sometimes now I am even blessed by the kindness of a neighbor who will knock mine out with his. I am so happy when I see his kindness and as happy when I return the favor to him.
Sometimes I miss that young boy and young man who looked forward to the inch by inch progress of the green growth, as I sit on my back porch, I look more forward to the end of the growing season and often quip, I should do like Hollywood – just kill it and paint it green so it stays the same.
No matter where you are in your synergy with the mower and the grass, I hope you find your bliss with the endeavor and make joy in the fact that I walk behind (or ride upon) the mower, therefore I am.

Carefree days of youth

I opened the door and the thickly painted white screen door slammed behind me. I seldom noticed the sound it made as I bounded down the three steps from our front stoop. Once down on the sidewalk, I was hidden from the street behind the huge green box hedges fronted by azaleas.

Once I was big enough to roam outside on my own, this is how most summer days began. Once I hit the sidewalk, I was making my way around to the utility room to pull out my green bike to open up the doors of freedom. Sometimes, my mom would be standing there by the washing machine loading in a load of clothes that she would later take out and hang upon the line for drying.

As I stepped up on the pedals, rested myself on the banana seat, and from behind me, I would hear “Be back by lunch, we are going to town for ‘looking and feeling’ this afternoon.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied as I gained speed going down the driveway and turned to the left headed for adventure.

You might ask what is ‘looking and feeling?’ That is what ladies from our area called shopping when they were aiming to get out and not buy but enjoy the air conditioning in the stores in the hot summer months.

We did a lot of that which could seem to be a terminal situation when you had something else on your mind to do as a kid.

But for the morning, I was off to create some adventure, so, my first stop would be banging on a couple of doors to raise some other kids to play. Before you could say Hank Aaron, there would be about five or six of us on our bikes riding down suicide hill.

Soon we would move on to the woods where we had built a series of forts fully stocked with pinecones.

We would pick sides and we were battling the other team to ensure the survival of our clan over the other. Sometimes we were Yankees and Confederates, sometimes Cowboys and Indians, sometimes Germans and Americans, British and Colonists, it really depended upon what movie we recently saw or what history lesson was near at hand.

Either way, and no matter who we were representing the battles took form until we ran out of ammunition and the other team overran our stronghold. We would then restock the forts for the next battle day then we would be off for maybe wading in the creek and then back home in time for lunch.

Usually a bologna sandwich with a slice of tomato from the garden, a wedge of cucumber, some barbeque Charlie’s chips and a big glass of cherry Kool-Aid. Then I would go was off the and change from my play clothes and be ready to climb into the passenger side of our Chevy Malibu to head to the stores.

Often, I would be moved to the back seat, if we picked up another mom and kids. The children were sent to the back seat and we made our way to Woolworths, J.C. Penney, Sears or even Rich’s. Of course, in those days there were no special youth seats, we didn’t even use the seat belts. We sat still though or we would feel the long arm of the law from the ladies in the front seat.

We were expected to behave no matter how many hours the excursion was. Especially when we were in public – in the stores. If we ever forgot ourselves, which I did on a couple occasions and turned the women’s and men’s department into a playground and the underneath areas of the hanging clothes and good places with hide and seek with whichever other kids were on the outing. We soon felt the sting of our mistakes upon our posteriors, and it would come sooner than later if we disturbed other folks.

As I hear kids screaming at their parents and see them acting out in public today, I fondly remember the tough lessons my parents gave me. I remember those days of imagination, the hours of fun and I wish that children today could have those experiences, rather than a childhood attached to screens of various types and parents who look the other way when they act out.

 

 

 

 

 

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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A flight of adventure

I was driving across Georgia the other day on a back road when I noticed on my right a youth heading in my direction from the right at a fast rate of speed. He wasn’t running, so I assumed he was on a skateboard. Protruding from the small blue toboggan on his head, I could see earphones covering his ear. Over the bushes in my line of sight, I could see his flannel green jacket gaining ground fast as I began to slow my rate of speed.

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A bucket of chicken and an airplane

It was Saturday morning and I had risen early in anticipation of a family outing.

I couldn’t have been more than seven and of course to me the adventure should start right then despite the fact it was an afternoon picnic that was planned.

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Doing nothing is an action, too

Recently I was honored to share the pulpit for a home going celebration of one of my late mother’s friends. Van McFall was among the close-knit group of moms within the circle of my childhood that I remember well. The mothers were Pearl, Van, Mary Burgess and Nettie Fisher. They got into all kinds of adventures from taking jobs as police officers, and bus drivers. They engaged in the midst of every type of civic service from political campaigns, parent teacher associations, boy scouts, girl scouts and everything you could imagine. Their activities threw all of their children and their husbands into the mix together. While we were not related, we spent endless hours entertaining each other while our mothers spent time together. We shared family births, deaths, holidays, school milestones, first jobs – many of which were at the local Dairy Queen, and the passing of endless hours of our youth.

In my neighborhood, we had a great group of children and we all found our place in that larger group.

Getting to share a few childhood stories with her children after not seeing most of them in decades brought back some heartwarming memories. I was reminded of folks I had not thought of for years.

I remember fondly remember hours of play after completing my chores around the house. Of course, as I got older, I took on odd jobs like mowing neighbors’ yards to earn a little money.

We all would gather to play and race our bikes down suicide hill. Van’s son Joe recalled one of his attempts at doing an Evel Knievel type Snake River Canyon jump using his father Joe’s new picnic table as a ramp. With the aid of some other neighborhood boys setting the lighter fluid the table was soaked in a blaze, he rode full speed for takeoff. He jokingly said it did not end well as many of the neighborhood moms realized what was happening, they ran to overt it, but not in time to stop him. Now I was not among that group who had a hand in that adventure but needless to say I found myself in some others.

I’ve had two bikes in my life; my first bike was small and green and well suited me. When I got big enough to earn my own money, I did odd jobs to earn enough money to buy a 3-speed red English racer. I saved all year and it was a Christmas present for myself. Buying that bike meant a lot to me.

I shared in our recollections,

on one of our trips down suicide hill, the new racer decided it wanted to go one way and me another. The accident sent me flying through the handlebars and sliding down the pavement for 20 feet or more. That still hurts just thinking about it. I had sores all over me from that adventure.

My friends and I would get in our share of disagreements with each other. Those would lead usually to some hurt feelings and some rolling around on the ground till someone would say “Uncle.” We always seemed to come through it. There really were no children who caused trouble in my age bracket. A few older ones sometimes got into mischief, but we always managed to keep out of trouble.

Do not get me wrong, there were bullies. We were just blessed not to have them on our street, at least for very long. I remember when I was about seven there were two brothers who took great pleasure in picking fights with me. At least, it seemed that way at the time.

A boy my age named Chris Sands moved in. His parents had just divorced, and at that time it was not as usual as it is now. I’ll never forget one meeting with those brothers that had me at the bottom of a wrestling match that I just could not win. Chris was the new guy in the neighborhood, and saw that I was being unfairly targeted for this fight and stepped in to pull the other boys off me. From that moment on, he was my friend — that is until he later moved away, and I lost track of him.

While time has erased many of the memories of the time we spent together hanging out as kids, that one action by the new boy on the block sticks in my mind. He saw something that was not right, and he did something about it. Not knowing the social lay of the land and the dynamics of the neighborhood hierarchy, he stuck his neck out for me. That is bravery.

Now I’m not advocating fighting as a way to resolve issues for children or adults. I was taught that it takes much more courage to walk away than to actually fight. However, when they jump on you, there are just a few hurdles you have to get over before you can walk away.

It is hard to walk away when you are at the bottom of the pile

I learned a valuable lesson from Chris that day.

Folks often do not like to stick their neck out to help other people, but when someone does, it makes our community a better place.

While that was a childhood lesson which placed something within me. As I reflected back upon the relationship that those four ladies shared, I am reminded that they stuck their necks out for one another and each other’s family again and again. Doing everything in their powers to make life better for each other and subsequently all of us, even though it wasn’t as apparent to us children. There was always something more to do when there was a need.

Ups and Downs of Dating

Can you remember your first love? How your heart raced? How excited you were to see the other person?
I remember mine like it was yesterday. I fell off the monkey bars, which were actually the steel handrails that went along the steps outside the school. She came over and helped me up. After I brushed myself off, she pushed me back down again. It was love right then and there.

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