Saturday, November 20, 2010

I’m Grateful

There are so many things for which I’m grateful today.  I have paused this week to consider my good fortune – not luck, because there’s no such thing as luck for the Christian.  It’s all a part of God’s plan.
I am thankful that I have a God who’s always with me.  I don’t have to search for Him.  I don’t have to find a place to seek Him.  He’s here beside me always, inside me and directing my way. 
I’m grateful for a good man who’s been beside me for 54 years.  I’ve never had to worry about being mistreated.  I’ve never had to be concerned about his abusing alcohol or drugs.  He’s always been here.  He’s a hard worker – perhaps to a fault, but there’s not a lazy bone in his body.  He’s always been good to our children- and to those who have become a part of our life, sometimes providing for them too.   He has given us all he had, including a comfortable place to live.  I give thanks every day for a warm house in winter – and a cool one in the summer. “Thank you, Lord” is a phrase I always pray when I walk in the door on a cold winter night.
I’m grateful that I had good parents who loved me, provided for us, and taught me about the important things in life:  loving Christ, remaining faithful to my beliefs, loyal to those God has entrusted to me, giving to others.   God has allowed me to have a mother with me for almost 99 years.  She prays daily that the Lord will just take her home to be with Daddy.  I tell her that it just isn’t His plan, and she’ll have to hang around with me until He’s ready.
My children are the joy of my life: those to whom I gave birth, and those who came to me by chance.  I’m so glad I was allowed to have them in my life.  How blessed I am to have had the opportunity to teach them, love them, and learn from them.
I’m grateful for others who have entered my life and contributed to my happiness:  in-laws, mates of my children, grandchildren.  What a blessing to have around us those who love us.
My years as a teacher will forever remain a part of my life for which I am grateful. I hope that those whose pathway I crossed caught a glimpse of my caring for them, of my love for children, and for my love for learning.  How grateful I am for the ability to continue to learn, even today!
I’m not sure what kind of legacy I will leave, and it really doesn’t matter, as long as I have accomplished what the Lord wants me to do.  I am grateful for the life He has given me, and for the privilege I have had to have those around me who have made my life what it is.      

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Life on the Edge of the Mill Hill

Life on the edge of the mill hill was a secure one for me.  My mother and daddy worked in Alice Mill for all of my young life.  Since my brother and I were not allowed to stay by ourselves, we were taken to my grandparents early every morning.  My grandmother fed us breakfast and sent us on our way to school. We always knew someone was close if we needed them.
When I was in the 6th grade, I decided I was too old to eat breakfast.  I had heard some of my friends say that they didn’t eat  breakfast; they just got up, got dressed, and came to school.  Now that didn’t get it with my grandmother – but she didn’t say a word.  Instead, the next morning, she had prepared hot biscuits (hers were great!) with real butter, homemade apple butter, and a milkshake.  Now Ma knew there was no way under God’s high heaven I would refuse such a feast, because those were my favorite breakfast foods in the whole world!  So I ate! 
It was not until I returned from Winthrop one fall that I reminded my grandmother of that occasion. In her own quiet way, she said,” Oh, yeah, I never did tell you – I used to put an egg in that milk shake and made  eggnog.”   She knew not to tell me at the time.  I never would have touched the stuff!  It was really a pretty good breakfast though:  bread, milk, egg, and even a little bit of fruit.  A smart lady she was!  I always ate breakfast after that –I still do!
My brother and I walked to school every day.  It was just up the hill from my grandparent’s house on Park Street.  At the top of the hill, we had our first encounter with what folks today call “bullies”.  His house was the last house on the right before we got to the school.  His name was Jack.  We approached his house in fear, because he threw rocks at us.  He never left for school until he had his morning “fix” by persecuting us.  By the time we got to the top of the hill, several others had joined us.  One morning, somebody suggested that we pick up the rocks and throw them back at him!  We did, and it only took a few days for him to stop antagonizing us. We never did become his friend, but we tolerated him!
After school, we walked down the hill and my grandmother always had snacks ready for us (and for our friends too, if they followed us home). My brother and I were always included in everything that our grandparents did:  garden work, raking leaves, picking grapes or cherries, planting potato plants – anything they did, we were expected to do.
Daddy and Mother (one or both of them) usually got off work every day around 3 P.M., and they would come by our grandparents’ house to get us and take us home.  We actually thought of both places as “home” and had free reign to go from one place to the other as long as somebody knew where we were.  To leave without giving notice however, was a definite no-no!  Daddy usually rested for about an hour when he got off work.  I remember once when I decided that I could go to my cousin’s house and get back before he got up.  Well, I just forgot all about time!  Daddy started calling around to see if he could find me, called my cousin’s house, and told her mother to just let me stay until I got ready to come home.  It was dark-thirty when I thought about going home. That’s the only time in my life that Daddy spanked me.  I never did it again 
I remember one day, my brother was helping Pa feed the pigs, and his friend Murray was with them.  Murray had a biscuit in his hand that he had brought from home and no longer wanted to eat.  So when they fed the pigs, he threw the bread into the feed trough.  The pigs had had enough and didn’t eat it.  Chuck (my brother) said, ”Look, Murray, even the pigs won’t eat your Mama’s cooking!”  Pa really got Chuck for that!
Some folks thought that living on the “mill hill” was to be frowned upon. We never felt that way.  We didn’t live in the mill village itself, but the mill provided our livelihood. And we never felt threatened by anything.  Our doors were left unlocked.  We were able to walk to school without being afraid.  We played on the sidewalk after dark.  I walked four blocks to take piano lessons by myself, when I was in elementary school. And if anyone threw rocks at us, we just threw them back! 

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Don Remembers
                “My Daddy was a good man.  I still remember him kneeling beside his bed every night and praying.  He prayed for all of us; and I remember that he specifically always prayed for the troops during World War II.”  He didn’t live a long life.  He died of pneumonia at the age of 50.  Penicillin was in the research stages and some was flown in to treat him, but it arrived too late.  We were young:  I was 10, Richard was 11, Martha (Sister) was 12, and Edwin was 16. The loss of Daddy was life-changing.
                When the family was very young, we lived in town, in Chester, S.C.  But when I was six years old, Daddy and Mama bought a farm out on the Great Falls Highway, and we started farming. We loved being out in the country.  Daddy knew all about farming, because he was brought up on a farm in Williston, S.C.  He had a job as salesman for Hormel Meat Packing Company and he traveled from store to store selling products wholesale.  But he loved farming.  Every afternoon when he got off work, and on Saturday, he and all of the children would work in the fields.  We grew and canned the extra food which we ate during the winter months.  We also kept chickens, and hens for eggs; we milked cows; and pigs were grown for pork. But the bulk of the work was in the fields during growing season.  In addition to providing food for the family, we also had to grow enough hay and grain for the animals.  Daddy was a hard worker, and he expected the same from all of us. 
We used horse-drawn farming equipment, and always kept horses and mules for the farm work.  Caring for the horses and mules was a job itself.  We had a horse named Beauty who had a tendency to run away, and she could really run!  One day, Daddy was plowing with her and came in for lunch, bragging about the fact that Beauty had done so well that morning.  He went back to work after lunch to continue his plowing.  Beauty obviously didn’t want to work!    Suddenly, she broke loose and started running.  The ropes from the harness were wrapped around Daddy’s wrists and the horse started dragging him and the plow.  She finally hit a stump and his hands jarred loose.  She kept going though, and ran through the chicken fences, tearing them down, ran through the fence at the pig pens, ran into the garage and knocked it off its foundation, and when we finally caught up with her, she was calmly standing in her stall chewing on hay.  It took us a couple of days to repair the damage she did.
                Daddy liked to go back to Williston to visit his brothers and sisters. I particularly liked to visit Uncle Dess and his family.  He had lots of children and we all enjoyed being together.  He and his family were asparagus farmers, and we were usually there when they had big flat bed wagons loaded down with asparagus.  We usually took some home, along with a great big watermelon.  His sister, Aunt Eloise, had never married, and she was an elementary teacher in Williston.  For years, when I would go to meetings, people would ask me if I knew Miss Eloise.  “She taught me,” many would say.   All of Daddy’s brothers and sisters lived around Williston.  Uncle Dess, Will, Dewitt, and Land were all farmers.  Aunt Eloise and Ilma were his sisters.
                Uncle Will was Daddy’s oldest brother and often would be in charge of his younger brothers.  Daddy told the story about Will and his brothers plowing a field with a mule in the springtime.  The mule lay down and wouldn’t move.  Uncle Will told his brothers to build a brush fire around the mule and it would get up and move.  It didn’t, and they lost a mule!!
                Cooking was one of Daddy’s favorite things to do, but he didn’t like the electric stove.  We had a big wood stove that he liked to use.  He believed that the food was just better if he fired up the wood stove and used it when he cooked.  He always cooked breakfast for the family.  He would stir crumbled sausage into a big pot of grits, or cook grits, country ham, and red-eye gravy.  And everything was always cooked just right.
 Daddy followed the troops in World War II religiously.  He daily pinpointed Patton’s trek through Europe, marking the progress on a wall map.  During this time, our farm and the neighboring farm was used for maneuvers.  They practiced full-blown war including the use of howitzers and all kinds of artillery.  They dug foxholes all over the fields and woods.  The Crain’s farm was called the red army.  Our farm was across the highway, and it was the blue army. We grew lots of big watermelons; the red army had none.  So Richard and I decided we would take watermelons to the red team.  We knew we would be rewarded with candy bars (which were practically impossible to buy during the war) if we made it through the enemy lines.  We each got a watermelon and started crawling under kudzu vines to try to get to the red army. We didn’t make it.  We were captured by the enemy and kept hostage. Daddy had to come and negotiate with them to get us out of enemy hands.
I also remember that on one occasion, the truck containing the kitchen for the troops was sent to another destination, leaving one company behind without any way to prepare food; so Daddy and Mr. Crain, his good friend, cooked breakfast for 120 of the men.  After church every Sunday, Daddy and Mama always took some of the soldiers home for dinner too.  Mama always had fried chicken and all of the trimmings for them. They loved it! 
One day Daddy was working at clearing some bottom land, and he got too hot.  That seemed to be the beginning of his last illness.  Mama was in Florida to attend her daddy’s funeral, and Aunt Eloise came to stay with us.  Daddy couldn’t seem to recover from working and getting so hot.  Then, he and I got the flu.  Both of us had a high fever, and Daddy decided to get out of bed to try to help around the house.  He became much sicker the next day, was taken to Charlotte to the hospital, and the doctors discovered he had double pneumonia.  He died the next day.  I didn’t go to the funeral.  Betty, Edwin’s girlfriend (later his wife) stayed with me. I was 10 years old.


Granddaddy’s Florida Farm

Don Remembers
                Mama’s family lived in Florida, and we didn’t get to see them very often.  When we did go, it was quite a trip. We left early in the morning and traveled all day.  We passed the time away by counting the mules and horses and cows along the way.  If we encountered a gray horse or mule, we could double the number that we had counted.  Richard and I counted one side of the road and Edwin and Sister counted the opposite side of the road.  We looked forward to the trip simply for that game alone.
                Granddaddy lived in Sanford, Florida, and he was quite innovative for his day.  He heated his house with solar energy before it was even an idea in the mind of others.  He grew a variety of produce on his farm:  celery, melons, and papayas as well as other vegetables.  Mama would receive big barrels from Granddaddy with papayas and watermelons carefully packed in excelsior to prevent their being bruised or broken.  Mama loved them, and he frequently surprised her with them.  He also had turkey houses, where weasels often would invade the premises and kill his turkeys; he had to remain diligent. He also had to deal with rattlesnakes, particularly in the terra cotta irrigation pipes where the turn-off valves were located.  At night, they slithered into the pipes, and I remember that he used to tell us about popping their heads off. 
One of his major projects was the breeding and growing of gladiolas.  He had acres and acres of them.  A particularly beautiful one that stands out in my mind was big and white with a red throat.  The flowers were packaged and shipped all over the country.
                Granddaddy was married to his second wife.  We called her Aunt Emily, because that was the name by which we knew her.  His first wife died young, and we never knew her.  Aunt Emily was her sister, and the two of them were married after she died.  We just always thought of her as our grandmother.
                When we were in Florida, Granddaddy would always take us fishing in the St. Johns River, and we never went without catching lots of fish.  It was always one of the highlights of our trip.  He always took us to see Uncle Bob Garrison who was Mama’s brother.  He farmed hundreds of acres in the Sarasota area, and was so busy he seldom took a lot of time with us, but we liked going to see him. Uncle Bob offered me a job one time, but we were already building a house and involved in our own farm work, so I refused.  Aunt Betty, one of Mama’s sisters lived in Bradenton and was married to Uncle Ed L. They were always fun to visit.  (Aunt Betty used to make persimmon pie that was so good.)  They lived on the Manatee River and had a dock that projected out into the river.  Manatees would frequently swim within view of the house.  She always warned the children to stay away from the shores of the river because alligators attacked anything within their reach.  We believed her!
                Granddaddy became very ill, and Mama went to Florida to see him.  He died seven days to the hour before Daddy did. Mama lost both of them within a week.

My Friend, Willis

Don Remembers
I was six years old when we moved to the farm.  The neighboring farm was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Monroe Crain.  Mr. Crain was the Chester county extension agent, and Mrs. Crain was an elementary school teacher.  They had one son, Willis.  Willis and I became close friends.  That was 60 years ago, and we have remained friends ever since that first encounter.   During our childhood and early adulthood, we shared work, and play, and school. We used to go camping in the woods behind Willis’s house and cook our meals over a campfire.  We built a swimming hole by damming up the creek and swinging across it with a grape vine.  Tackle football was a major game for us – no touch, regular tackle football.  When I got to high school and got pads, I thought I was hell on wheels.
When we were 12 or 13 years old, we went to 4-H Club camp together.  He and I worked all summer to earn the $4.00 to pay to go to camp for a week by working for Mr. Jim Bagley.  He had a farm about ½mile from us.  He had the only hay baler and combine in the community.  We would work with him from daylight to dark for $1.00 a day, going from farm to farm to harvest everybody’s corn and grain.  We would cut the corn with a machete and pile it around a “corn horse” – a wooden structure around which the corn was stacked.  After the corn dried, a shock of it would be loaded up to feed the horses. The hay baler was a wire tied baler which was fed with a fork.  If, in the process of feeding the baler, we broke a pitch fork, we would have to work a whole week to pay for it, receiving no other pay.  When wheat was combined, it had a sacker instead of a bin.  We used 200 pound sacks, and we stacked a big truck full of wheat.  Mr. Bagley’s son, Sam, was very strong.  He could lift the 200 pound  bags of wheat and hoist them on to the wagon or truck as if they were nothing.  It would take two of us to arrange the bags on the truck. We always took the grain to the grain elevator in Shelby, N.C. That was where the closest elevator was located, so we had to leave at 4 A.M. in order to get there.  Sometimes we would have to wait long hours to unload because of the traffic ahead of us.  We also harvested oats for the livestock. Oats were cut with a grain cradle and tied it up in bundles. We loaded it on wagons and stored it in the barn to feed the cows and horses. It was all worth all the work to get to go to Camp Long 4-H Camp. Camp Long was in Aiken S.C., and it was one of the few times when we did nothing but have fun all day.  We had swimming, canoeing, archery, and all kinds of recreational activities.  Every morning we got to go to the canteen to buy snacks.  I had only 25 cents to last the entire week.  The only thing available for a nickel was Luden’s Cough Drops, so that’s what I got every day.
Willis and Richard and I worked together on everything – for Mr. Jim, as well as in our own fields. One year we had an acre of cotton and made a bale of cotton off that acre. Willis’ dad became very ill, Daddy had died, and the three of us did all of the farm work together. Both of our fathers died much too early. The three of us worked well together and made the farms produce a living for us. 
We sold our cows before my senior year in high school so that I might play football.  Willis and Richard started to Clemson, and I finished my senior year in high school.  The following summer Willis and I started working for Borden Milk Company in Chester during our summer breaks.  Those summers were hard work but we earned 90 cents an hour!
 Willis, Richard, and I stayed good friends, continuing to work together on the farms until we left to go to Clemson. None of us did very much farm work in Chester after leaving to go to school. Mama went to Winthrop to work as a house manager and sold our farm.  Willis still lives in the house where his parents lived.  We still keep in touch with each other. Every time I see him or call him, he’ll say, “Hello, my friend”.    

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Remembering Parenting Classes

Child development and parenting classes were probably the favorite things that I taught.  I had the best of both worlds:  the high school students, whom I loved, and the little children who just wrapped themselves around my heart.  To see the high school students teach the little ones and have the children respond to their teaching was priceless.
 In the child development room, we had an observation booth.  A third of the class of students worked with the children while the other two thirds observed, using structured observation sheets.  The students who worked with the children had the responsibility of planning and executing activities for the children.  The high school students were divided into groups who worked together to do the work required of them.  We never had a problem with “slackers”.  They were generally anxious to work with the children and wanted to have good plans made.  We often had people to enter the observation booth unannounced, and the workers wanted to have their day with the children work smoothly.
The room was divided into centers, concentrating attention to specific subjects:  a reading center, a numbers center, an art center, puzzles, dress-up center.  The students who worked with the children were assigned a center where they were completely in charge, and one student in the group served as the chairman and supervised the group. He or she would sometimes have to step in to take the place of a student who was absent, though absences were rare when the group was working with the children.  They loved that day. Their responsibilities in the group rotated with each work day, so they had the opportunity to plan activities in a variety of subjects.  Each work day had a theme and the activities must be planned around that theme. 
On the days that the children were there, my job was to stay in the observation booth evaluating the students who were working with the children.  I never went into the room with the children unless a problem came up that the high school students couldn’t handle.  That rarely occurred. Most of the students were so involved with the program that they foresaw any problem and were able to handle it.
The school provided us with a fenced yard where the children participated in outdoor activities.  The students carefully planned the outside fun so that the little children were not just freely running about, but were engaged in learning activities too.
As their teacher, I observed extreme maturity taking place in the high school students.  They discovered a lot about themselves while they were in the process of learning about children and working with them.  Their class time without the children was intense.  For one whole semester, we studied the developmental skill patterns in children: how they should behave at certain ages; what was normal and what wasn’t; what happened if they child missed a particular stage of development; how long it took a child to catch up if he did miss a stage of development.  All of the class time focused on child behavior, and the students looked for those behavior patterns in their observations.  We had several students to go to college to further study child development and early childhood education as a result of taking the child development classes.  Some of those students are almost ready to retire from teaching!  Doesn’t seem possible!
In the second semester of the class, the students studied parenting skills:  responsibilities of being a parents; correct ways to handle a child’s behavior; the relationship between the parent’s behavior and the child’s behavior; the difference between discipline and punishment; allowing a child to suffer or enjoy the consequences of his own behavior; determining factors for a child’s learning; teaching a child to take responsibility for his own behavior as well as his own learning.  In addition, we studied home management skills as it would apply to the family.  The students put these skills to practice when they planned their programs for the child development room.
The first half-semester that the students were in my class was spent in the study of child development skills.  Sometimes it was hard for them to grasp the idea that they had better learn these skill patterns because they would be using them in just a few weeks. Most of them settled down and studied, especially the closer time came for planning for the children. The second half-semester was spent planning for and working with the children. 
The third half-semester was spent studying parenting skills, and the fourth half-semester, they worked with the children again.  They made visuals and posters, planned skits, decided how the centers would be set up, made written plans for the work to be done on the days that children would be present; tried to decide  what a parent would do in certain situations. Again, a surge in maturity took place during the time that they worked with the children and studied what they would do if they were the parent.
The high school students had many opportunities to guide the behavior of the younger children. They used the techniques they had learned during classroom time, and most of them did an excellent job in directing the children.  One day, one of the little girls wrote all over a table with a crayon, and the student working with her told her she would have to scrub the marks off the table.  She looked with disdain at the student worker and said, ”No, I can’t. I won’t do it.”  The student calmly went to get cleanser and a wet cloth and presented it to her.  She crossed her little arms, protruded her lips, and sat with a horrible frown on her face.  My student sat beside her. The other students and children went outside for play time.  The two of them sat!  When the rest of the class came in and got ready to have a snack, the little one was not allowed to eat until she cleaned up the table.  It didn’t take long until she started scrubbing. When she finished she looked up at the older student, smiled and said, “Now!”  That is taking responsibility for one’s own actions!  We often do not want to take time to allow a child to do that.
Hopefully, the students who enrolled in those classes learned something that made their family life a little easier.  We never know the impact we have when we endeavor to give example – not just teachers, but all of us.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recalling a Walk on the Beach

                The beach is almost deserted. No human voices, no mechanical sounds, no street clatter.  Quiet.  Almost lonely.  I shuffle my feet in the dry sand, walking just above the most recent tidal high-water marks.  Even there, the water soaks my sneakers occasionally, making me more aware of the crisp October afternoon.  Lost in my thoughts, it was a while before I became aware of all of the noise around me – sounds that one did not hear in the summer when the beach was crowded with beach-combers and sun worshippers.  One by one, sounds besieged my reverie; sounds which came not as clanging trashcans would, but sounds which quiet the soul and bring peace to the spirit.
                I walked by a group of gulls blabbering to each other as they sat around their tidal pool bistro.  They reminded me of a club of little old ladies who had not had the opportunity to talk to anybody lately.  Their loneliness - and aloneness- gone, they were relishing the moments of togetherness.  Their conversation and chatter made me laugh.
                Above my head, terns were screaming delight at having narrowly missed a friend while performing acrobatics.  I am reminded of  my children when they were young, playing hard, never running out of energy, delighting in the joy of youth and of each other.  Sharing the same air space with the terns was a flock of pelicans, brown and gray, flying in formation – formal, organized, with only the rhythm of their wings revealing evidence of their adult, grown-up presence. Skimmers were raking the surf, expecting a smorgasboard but having to return over and over to find just a morsel of seafood.
                The surf commanded my attention, beating out a message of strength, controlled by some unseen power.  And then out of the water, the dolphins came into view, playing leapfrog with the waves, rising and falling and whistling to each other as they announced the joy of their adventure in the sea.  It was as if they were making fun of the waves and their force and fury.
                Around the next turn, a blue heron was cautiously pursuing his next meal, webbing his way silently through the tidal pool. And an egret stood bemired in the marshy grass, revealing his presence in the occasional splash of erupting water.
                As I turned to walk across the board-walk which traversed the tidal pools, there were crabs silently taking a crooked stroll, sidling through the rivulets of water.  Sea oats caressed the sand dunes, whispering to the wind and to the surf and to me.
                Sounds…..Silent Sounds…..Sounds which quiet the soul and bring peace to the spirit.     
                Quiet in the midst of nature’s noise!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Granny and the ‘Possum

        Granny Bowen was an old lady when I knew her.  For many years, she had lived with my grandmother and grandfather, the three of them sharing home and living responsibilities.  There was an orchard, a vegetable garden, a pen for hogs, a barn for dairy goats which were milked twice daily, a chicken coop filled with Rhode Island Red hens, and a great big mean rooster.  Granny did a lot of sitting and rocking!  She loved the Chinaberry umbrella trees that shaded the big back yard where she sat for hours watching my brother and me play.  She would often say nothing for long periods of time, and I know now that she was probably remembering those days in Appalachia when she lived on the French Broad River with her brothers and sisters.  As with most folks in those days, her family lived off the land.  If the land didn’t produce it, they didn’t eat it.  Her brothers hunted the woods for game to feed the family.  Sometimes it was squirrel, or rabbit, or opossum; sometimes it was quail or mourning dove, or duck.  If they were really fortunate, they would come home with deer or wild turkey.  Sometimes there was not enough meat to go around for thirteen siblings, and it had to be extended with whatever was in the root cellar:  potatoes, turnips, sweet potatoes.  There were always dried peas and “leather britches”(dried green beans) that could be added.
        My brother and I were great-grandchildren of Granny Bowen; not her only ones, but two of many.  My mother was an only child and her grand-daughter.  Since Granny lived next door to us with my grandmother, we were a close family.  Mother was a working mother when no one else I knew had a mother who worked at “public works”.  That was o.k. with us though, because we got to stay with my grandparents and Granny while Mother and Daddy worked in the textile mill.  Our childhood was not deprived by any stretch of the imagination.  There were always fun thing to do, and both of our “grandmothers” could tell fantastic tales that just happened to be true.
        When Granny was in her later years, she often reminisced about her younger days.  One day she was talking to my daddy and told him that she would love to have some ‘possum again, prepared just the way her mother did it when she was a youngster at home with her brothers and sisters.  Daddy told her that he would do his best to find her a good specimen.  He talked to one of the mountain men who worked for him in the mill and told him he’d give him five dollars if he’d find him a big fat ‘possum. It was about a week when he brought to work a hissing, snorting, and generally disagreeable animal.
        Daddy brought the ‘possum home to Granny.  He had built a wire cage for her to hold the animal.  She wouldn’t think of eating the meat without feeding him for a long while so she would know exactly what he had eaten. (It seems that ‘possums aren’t too particular about what they consume.)  So the cleansing process started.  Every day, twice a day, Granny fed the ‘possum good, wholesome rations.  Every day, he looked up at her with those soulful eyes, knowing for sure he had found a friend.  He finally stopped hissing and snorting and just “smiled” up at her twice a day when she fed him.
         After Granny had wintered and summered and wintered the ‘possum, the time arrived for eating.  Daddy butchered him for her and presented the clean white meat to her for preparation.  Granny seemed excited at first; she raved on and on about how good her dinner was going to be.  None of us had any intention of eating any of that ‘possum.   After a while we could tell that Granny might be having second thoughts about it too, but she continued the preparation just the way her mother had done.  When she had finished her cooking, Granny sat down to eat her ‘possum and sweet potatoes.  But she couldn’t eat a bite.  She said that every time she started to take a bite, she saw that ole “possum looking up at her from that pen.  She threw away every bit of it.
        That was the last time I ever heard Granny mention ‘possum.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mom Remembers

     My Mom is 98 years old today.  She was born Monday, October 7, 1912. During her lifetime many of the events we call “ancient history” occurred.  During the year she was born, the Titanic met its demise (on April 15). The Fifth Olympic games took place in Stockholm, Sweden.  Woodrow Wilson defeated Theodore Roosevelt for president. Other significant events have taken place.  IRS began to levy and collect income taxes on March 8, 1913. Ford began its moving assembly line to manufacture the T-model Ford, the first in history. The first electric refrigerator was manufactured, and sold for $900 – a lot for that day. (It was years before she and Daddy could afford to buy one.) In October, 1929, the stock market crashed, taking all of her daddy’s savings. In 1939, TV was first introduced in the United States.  She experienced World War 1 and World War 11, as well as the more recent wars we can name. During World War 1, she and her parents went to the train station in Greenville to greet the troops being transported from one station to another.  She still remembers waving and shouting to the men as the train inched its way through town.  And she learned to drive an A-model Ford when she didn’t have to have a license.
      Lately, she has been remembering events that took place when she was a young girl. Her parents had moved from North Carolina to Greenville, S.C., to take advantage of the textile boom taking place.  Jobs were plentiful and the salaries were good for the time in which they lived.  Her parents, Zoie and Isaac Davis, worked in Woodside Mill and lived in one of the houses the mill provided for its workers. She remembers that they lived on Seventh Street.   Mom was an only child, and as a result, she was very close to her uncles, aunts, and cousins, all of whom lived in the same mill village. Her mother had 8 brothers and sisters, and all of them lived in and around the area.  They obviously visited among each other, frequently eating meals and just spending time together. 
      Her grandmother (Granny Bowen) lived with them and she and Mom frequently walked to places in the village to visit other relatives, etc.  They often went to Uncle Will’s house, taking him milk and butter.  Her mother always kept a cow, and they provided milk and butter for several of the families in the village.  “Uncle Will” was her mother’s oldest brother whose wife had died at an early age.  He had the responsibility for caring for several young children, and Mom loved to visit them.  She became very close to his children – they became almost like siblings.  Uncle Will always cooked big meals, and all of them, including Mom, were seated around a big table to eat.  One of the things Mom remembers most is the big pan of cornbread he always made.  As they got older, his boys learned to play string instruments, and they would sit on the front porch and play and sing for hours.  One of their Saturday night excursions was to go down to the company store to get hot dogs.   She believes that’s why she likes them so much now.      
     When Mother was a teen, she and her parents moved to Easley where her daddy and mother were given a job working for Alice Manufacturing Company.  For Mom, a new part of her life was beginning.  For a few years, she and her parents lived on Railroad Street, and then they had the opportunity to build a house on Park Street (where they lived when I knew them).  She met my Daddy at church when she was 16 and they were married when she was 18.  She and Daddy both worked in the mill and lived on the mill village for a while.  In 1933, just before I was born, they bought a house near her parents.  They both worked to make it a pleasant place for us to live. Mother remembers planting roses, planting and harvesting vegetables, gathering eggs from the hen house, and cooking on the wood-fired stove.  They heated water for baths, and warmed the house with fireplaces.
     In 1936 my brother was born, and I would freely have given him away if I could have found someone to take him.  I learned to love him though, and we spent wonderful childhood days together.  He and I became constant play partners, and practiced undying loyalty in case of misunderstandings with our friends.    Mother was witness to several incidences of our sticking together.  Mother and Daddy continued to work while we were children.  Daddy worked on the first shift and Mom worked on the second shift.  When Mom came home from work, she always brought us a surprise from the canteen.  I remember running to her apron pocket to see what she brought us every morning.   She remembers caring for us and working too, and that was not always easy.  Daddy was always a big help and Mom’s mother and dad, as well as her grandmother (Granny Bowen) helped to care for us.
     In 1947, my parents sold the house in Easley and bought a farm on Highway 178: a Liberty address, an Anderson telephone number, and Pendleton schools for us.  My Mom thought it was in the middle of nowhere because she had always lived in town.  The house was big and beautiful, and we each had our own room.  It was cold in the winter and cool in the summer; we loved it though.  Mom was able to quit work, and Daddy got to do the farming he loved.  He continued to work in the mill until he retired. Both Mother and Daddy became involved with the church and loved the work there.  They became involved in the community and developed friendships among the people that were lasting and meaningful.
     Most of Mom’s memories now center around my Daddy.  They lived together for 52 years.  She very often says, “ I miss your Daddy so much”. She readily admits that her parents spoiled her, and Daddy continued it after they were married.  He always gave her gifts and flowers, and did for her sometimes what she could have done for herself.  I’m glad her memories are good; very few are harsh and unhappy.  How good to live for 98 years and be able to say that!   

Remembering Wash Day

     Remembering wash day is not one of my favorite memories. In the days before automatic washers and dryers, getting clothes clean was a major task in most households.  Ours was no exception.  It all started early in the morning as soon as daylight appeared.  All of the preliminary tasks connected with the day began as soon as breakfast was over.   A fire was built under the big iron wash pot in the back yard, the pot filled with water, and a week’s worth of clothes was sorted.   A bench was set up on level ground.  It had to be long enough to hold at least three big wash tubs which were later filled with hot water from the wash pot:  one for soaking, one for washing, and one for rinsing.  Sometimes we had a fourth tub for a second rinse.   The equipment was assembled which would be necessary for scrubbing and cleaning the clothes:  a wooden paddle for stirring the white clothes in the iron pot, a scrub board for cleaning the really dirty spots in the knees of pants, etc., a full box of soap flakes, a bar of Octagon soap for extra help in cleaning the rings around collars and the knees of pants.  As soon as I was able to reach the washtubs, I was drafted into helping with the “washing”.  I never looked forward to the day, but was made to realize it was necessary if I expected to have clean clothes.  Mom always tried to get my brother to help too, but generally he caused more problems than was worth the effort!  He would just slosh the clothes around in the water and called it washing them.  As a result, he was allowed to leave and play with his friends.   I usually stayed until the very end, and my fingers were shriveled and snow-white.
     The white clothes were put into the washtubs first, washed in the hot soapy water and then put into the boiling hot water in the wash pot.  They were stirred with a wooden paddle until they were white and as clean as they possibly could be.  After about an hour, they were lifted from the wash pot with the wooden paddle, rinsed, squeezed free of water, and hung on the line to dry.  The colored clothes were next, and the dirtiest work clothes were washed last.  If we were lucky, the sky would remain clear until all of the clothes were crisp and dry and folded. However, sometimes we had to rush to the clothesline and grab the laundry and quickly fold it to keep it as wrinkle-free as possible.  Occasionally though when the rain caught us by surprise, we had clothes scattered all over the inside of the house so that they might dry.
     I was taught that there was an art to hanging clothes on the line. If we hung all clothes that were just alike on the line together, it made folding a lot easier later – towels with towels, sheets with sheets, underwear with underwear, socks with socks.  Nothing smells like clean clothes fresh from the clothesline.  The smell of fresh air and sunshine can never be reproduced.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Farmer’s Wife

          I once had a dream of becoming a farmer’s wife – just a farmer’s wife.  Somewhere in the back side of my mind were lofty dreams of a big, two-storied colonial house stationed at the end of the lane.  White columns at the front added to feelings of grandeur in my mind.   Black and white cows grazed the pasturelands, up to their knees in lush, green carpet.  Rows of corn and soybeans, laid out in symmetrical curves plowed their way into the furrows of my brain, and I experienced contentment just thinking about it all.
          That first glimpse of what would become our farm is firmly recorded in my memory.  It was like a dream materialized.  The farmer I was getting ready to marry had the same dreams and values that had been so important to me for so long.  As he and I walked through the wheat fields and orchards, we knew we had found our home…the white colonial house with the columns…the cows grazing in the front pastures…corn, soybeans…the whole package.
          Along with our dream package, we found work – lots of work.  We arose at 4 A.M. , extracted the white gold from the cows, baled hay, chopped silage, plowed fields; and we watched sunsets, listened to mocking birds, and counted the ducks and geese as they came home for the winter.  Such moments provided a balance that helped to strengthen our partnership.  I was the farmer’s wife I had always wanted to be.  I cooked, I sewed. I preserved fruits and froze vegetables, hauled grain to market, fed calves, helped haul hay – all those things farm wives do.
          Leisure moments were sparse, but we didn’t mind; we could see the end of the rainbow just over the next hill!  The synchronized partnership worked; we believed we would see that pot of gold if we continued to work at our dream.
          Decades passed.  Years of drought began to take their toll; fields, usually green and lush in June, took on the appearance of October after the first frost paralyzes growth.  Year after year it happened…brown fields and pastures…high prices for feed and fertilizer…low profits. Bit by bit we felt our life blood draining; we were falling into a great chasm of helplessness.  Hope and optimism, generally steadfast in farm people, fluctuated daily.  The dream quickly turned into a nightmare.
          We had to sell our farm, the cows, and the pecan orchard where they grazed – but we are among the fortunate ones.  We were able to keep our home and the surrounding acres.  We still listen to the mocking birds; we drive down the same lane every day. We watch the sunrise and sunset from the same perspective—or do we?
          We did all we could to achieve our dream.  We worked, we prayed, we manipulated, we struggled.  Man and nature’s coordinated efforts were more than we could withstand.  There is no regret; no bitterness.  No longer young, I still wonder how it might have been.  But then, that’s the material from which dreams are made.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

Remembering Mama

     Mama became a part of my life late- but once she did, it seemed odd to think of ever having existed without her.  For me, life was never the same once I met her.
     She was my idea of human perpetual motion.  I was constantly amazed at the amount of energy she expended.  Mama had developed though the years, a little running-kind-of-walk that set the pace for everything she did.  She expected us to possess the same level of energetic ability.  Though she was three times our age, she could do more work than all of us put together.  Sometimes when we became tired and had to stop a task, she just kept going!  It was all right for us to stop and rest for a while; she just didn’t need to!  Her day began early – always with a bath, full dress, and make-up; none of this bathrobe and slippers business for Mama.  From that beginning point, her day never stopped. She must have gotten tired, but it was never obvious to those around her.  Even when she sat to rest for a while, her hands were working:  mending, sewing, doing needlepoint, shelling peas, peeling apples.
     In my opinion, Mama could do almost anything – except learn to drive.  Several people tried to teach her, but were never successful.  At first, I felt that I had to compete with her, but I soon realized there was no such thing!  She made it perfectly clear that she wasn’t into competition.  She did things for us and with us simply because she loved us, thus eliminating the need for competition.  If she could do something better than we could, she simply taught us her skill – if we wanted to learn.  Out first recollection of each other centered on our love for stitching and sewing.  We sat and sewed and talked for hours when I was a student at Winthrop and she was the house manager. Our conversations ranged from her love of God to the proper way to peel a cantaloupe.
     She was a believer in doing things well – or not doing them at all.  As a result, she was an excellent seamstress.  Her creations were often works of art.  Perfection was her password.  Many times I have heard her say, “That just won’t do”, and she would take all of it out.  It didn’t make any difference whether it was her stitching or my stitching. The seams and final touches were always exquisite – bits of lace, or smocking, or appliqué – all hand done and just perfect.  She especially enjoyed sewing for children, and would spend hours doing the handwork on a garment for them.  A dress made by Mama would always make our eyes light up.  It fit perfectly, had all of the right finishing touches, and we felt special every time we wore something she created.  And nothing pleased Mama more than seeing one of us wearing one of the dresses she had made.
     After I married her son, I always looked forward to Mama’s visits.  She maintained a place of her own, so she had a life other than just her children.  Her visits were fairly infrequent, but they were always intense.  When Mama was in the house, things happened!  She could never stop working as long as she knew there was something to be done.  She did more work in less time than anyone I’ve ever known.  In our farmhouse, there were always things to be done. Summer brought an abundance of vegetables to be canned and frozen, fruits to be preserved; and Mama knew exactly how to engineer such projects!  She just couldn’t rest as long as she knew there were apples on the trees, berries on the terrace, or fabric in the sewing cabinet.  In the evening, we patched the knees or seats of pants, began a new sewing project (or finished an old one) or sometimes we just sat and snapped beans to be frozen or canned the next day.
     It always amazed me how much Mama could gear down for Sunday.  That was the Lord’s Day and no work was done when she was around.  She was a devout lady who loved God, and the subject of work on Sunday was definitely not up for debate.  Most of Sunday dinner was cooked on Saturday; the sewing machine was folded up and tucked away; the house was cleaned and readied for the Lord’s Day.  Clothes were pressed, shoes shined and set aside, and everything was put in order before going to bed on Saturday evening.  Sunday morning with Mama was spent in church.  Sunday afternoons were used for leisure conversation, long afternoon naps, and observing nature from the porch.  She held the secret of God’s plan: the Sabbath was made for man’s renewal, not man for the Sabbath.
     Mama’s frugality was the eighth wonder of the world.  She had lots of practice though.  Widowed at the age of forty-six with four young children and few marketable skills, she not only survived, but sent all four of the children to college.  She learned along the way how to use two small pieces of fabric and stitch them together to make a designer’s dream.  She could cook dinner for six from practically nothing.  And she must have known a dozen different ways to make a gourmet dish from corn meal – some of which I never learned to enjoy.  She taught me how to cook foods I didn’t know existed:  fried blueberries, eggless fruitcake, liver mush.  She taught me homemaking skills that my home economics education professors would not even touch!
     When I think of Mama I recall the thirty-first chapter of Proverbs.  Who can find a virtuous woman?  For her price is far above rubies.  She was quite a lady.  She never let me forget that I was a chosen one.  I never let her forget that I loved her before I loved her son.  We met while I was a college sophomore and she was my housemother.  She introduced me to her son who has been my husband for fifty-four years.
     I never cared much for mother-in-law jokes!

A Godly Woman is….

     The Bible gives specific instructions for becoming a good wife and mother.  It isn’t an easy task to follow the rules, but God promises that the consequences are worthwhile and rewarding. A 1910 quote by G.W.E. Russell says,” The goodness of a home is not dependent on wealth, or spaciousness, or beauty, or luxury.  Everything depends on the Mother. “   God’s instructions on how to be a good mother and wife are in Proverbs 31:10-31. One cannot even come close to achieving God’s directives   without diligence and constant prayer. 
The following characteristics apply to a Godly woman:
1.       She is virtuous (verse 29), and Godly (verse 30)
2.        She is a good wife:  trustworthy (verse 11),  supportive (verse 23),  and shields and protects her husband (verse 12)
3.       She is at the top of God’s list (verse 29)
4.       She is of great value (verse 10)
5.       She is rare (verse 10)
6.       She is industrious (verses 13, 24, 27)
7.       She feeds her  family well  (verses 14-15)
8.       She is a business woman (verses 16 and 24)
9.       She is healthy and strong (verse 17)
10.   She works long hours (verse 18)
11.   She does volunteer  work (verse 20)
12.   She takes care of the physical needs of her family (verses 15,21,27)
13.   She keeps herself attractive (verse 22)
14.   She is not stressful  or anxious (verse 25)
15.   She teaches her children (verse 26)
16.   She is kind (verse 26)
17.   She is energetic and always occupied (verse 27)
18.   She earns the respect of her husband and children (verse 28)
19.   She gives good advice (verse 26)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Visiting the Old House

     The walls creaked and moaned when I lived there. The sturdy timbers expanded and contracted according to the temperature. With no “artificial” heating and cooling, they were at the mercy of the environment.  Standing stately and proudly by the side of the road, the old house has seen many generations enter and leave the front door.  And such a fine old front door it is – beveled floor length glass that gives a view of the long front hall with heavy walnut wood surrounding the glass.
     The doctor’s family lived in it first.  An old country doctor, he was one who went to visit his patients in a buggy, knew them by their first name, and took care of them from the time they were born until they died.   The herb garden at the side of the house provided many of the remedies he prescribed for his patients. The remains of it exist to this day, producing the same remedies – if someone just knew what to do with them.
     What fun it must have been watching that old house being built.  It was the finest, biggest, best built in the community.  In those days, the community had its own high school, a general store, post office, and a party-line informing the people of important happenings among themselves.  The old party-line telephone still hung on the front hall wall, bearing witness to days long past!
      Big rambling rooms, each with a fireplace of its own for warmth, allowed the family to enjoy living inside.  Lots of windows, big windows were included.  Bay windows, beveled glass windows, plate glass picture windows, and diamond shaped windows added interest to the rooms. There was only one bathroom, and having one at all, for its day, was unusual.  It had a big four-legged bathtub and a frosted glass window. There were mirrors over the mantels, marble hearths, a walk-in pantry, a butlers’ pantry, built-in china cabinets, fancy chandeliers -  but no closets.  Big over-sized armoires were used in those days so there was no need for built-in clothes storage.
     Broad pine boards, finished to a high gloss provided flooring – even in the kitchen.  Plastered walls extended into ten foot ceilings; summer days rarely got hot inside the house because of those high ceilings and cross ventilation.
     Summer in the old house was fun when it was first built.  Built in the edge of virgin trees, it was the perfect setting for a walk through the woods.  Rabbits, squirrels, deer, opossums, and hundreds of different kinds of birds were common. Cool breezes caught by open windows, wide eaves, and a front porch, a side porch, a back porch – all worked together to produce a Southern atmosphere, a Southern summer never to be forgotten by anyone who ever lived within the walls of the old house.
     The doctor built his office about twenty-five steps from the front door; the same sturdy timbers were used.  Shelves for storing the big brown bottles of medicines were made from single twelve inch boards of heart pine. An examining room with plenty of light and fresh air was constructed in grooved boards, naturally finished.
     The doctor and his wife lived to be old.  Their children moved away, and the old office became a storage building.  The grand old house geared down, taking a respite from noisy, growing children, but retaining it dignity and esteem.  The generation passed on, and the old house opened its doors to other growing children, to other generations.  They came – and they went.  The house was bought at times by people with high hopes and dreams of returning it to its grandeur – but they came and they left.  It needed money and time, and expertise – but none of the owners seemed to have it, so –they got by, but never restored the old house to its original beauty.  It was no less  home for its owners; it no less housed joy and happiness for its inhabitants; but still the house itself seemed to cry for help to all who saw it.
     Then finally, people came and saw the potential in the old house; they loved what they saw and decided to do something about it. They went to work, and it again sits proudly – restored and stately - by the side of the road, proclaiming to all who see it the history it has experienced.  I am glad someone loves it now.
      I once lived in the old house.  It holds lots of memories for me.  I learned the value of hard work and the joy of helping on the farm along-side my Daddy.  I went to middle school and high school while there; I started dating; I left for college and came home for breaks and summer vacation there; I got married and left, returning for Christmas or Easter or birthdays. The major events of my young life occurred in the old house.  It is a permanent part of me.  I’m so glad it’s still there!