Monday, April 14, 2008

A Soldier Asks God A Question [Exclusive]

The young soldier scratched at his scruffy beard as he listened closely to the musket shots in the distance. Lying low in the underbrush may help dodge the attention of his enemy but the hot muggy weather didn’t do much for his confidence in survival. If his brother in arms didn’t get him then the snakes and mosquitoes surely will. The thought had come to him that death on the battlefield, while dreaded, may be far better than the stench pits for the prisoners.

Why was he fighting his brother? Together they had fought the British, the French, and even the neighboring Mexicans. But now they raise arms over the differences of others. He thought about the family he had left on the dirt farm in the hills back home. He heard tell of the freeing of the slaves and he had known a few rich slave owners back near the river. For his family slavery wasn’t an option. Maybe that was best. So why was he out here waiting for his Yank brothers to either kill him or drag him off to hell?

Maybe if times were different they might meet in the field and travel together back to the old home place to share a pot of beans and some coffee. It was the best he could do, but it sure beat eating tree roots and nuts, praying a squirrel would wander close enough to knife. He dare not risk the sound of a musket for hunting, and what dry powder he had left probably wouldn’t be enough to carry him back to his regiment. He had lost the rest of his comrades at the daybreak fight back on Cedar Creek. For all he knew they might already be marching in chains to Yankee land.

The sun had reached mid day and the breeze gave little relief to the searing heat of Alabama. He had seen a cave spring about a quarter mile back down the hollow that could bring some cool relief. But the musket shots behind him kept him lying still like a rabbit in the eyes of the fox. The rotted cloth of his grey uniform, tattered and torn, soaked up his sweat to the point of dripping. If only darkness would bring cover he could probably make out the fires of the Yanks’ camp and sneak back to the cave. Thoughts of his family crossed his mind and weighed almost too heavy to bear.

Today he fought proudly for God and his family. He knew if the Yanks advanced to Bear Creek his family might not survive the onslaught. He had heard the stories from his companions on what happened when the enemy came upon a Southern farm. Even his small farm would surely be attractive to a weary soldier who had marched from the northern parts of Ohio. Will God forgive us for what we’ve done? Does God even know why we are here?

The thirst had overtaken his parched mouth and he glanced back one more time at that cave with the cool water. The sun delivered its final blow upon him for the turn of his head cause the emblem on his hat to glare. At first it was a sharp stinging pain that settled into a slow burn. He felt the warmth of the new thick liquid overtake his soaked uniform. A musket ball had found its target. One last time he stared to the heavens and asked God, “Why must man hate another and find someone else to raise the sword?” Now only he heard the answer for at that moment God took our soldier home. And yet the battle raged on.

© 2008 Mark A. Daily

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thank You For Another Day of Life [Exclusive]

The sun is rising and we embark on another day in our journey. The dew is fresh and the air hangs heavy with the smell of spring. Birds fly gently beyond a wisp of cloud. God has granted another beautiful day of life. Lord, may we be ever grateful for this new day and may we share one thing that will brighten someone else’s day.

We stand humbled before your creation and know we are accountable for our hand upon it. You have given us the power to build upon it or break it down. Lord, may we do something to enhance its beauty this day.

When the sun gives way to evening may we stand before You thankful with our family and friends. Keep us safe along our journey and when we do reach our destination may we be at Your side proud of what we have accomplished. Amen.

© 2008, Mark A. Daily

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lord, Thank You For My Children [Exclusive]

Lord, thank you for my children, for it is through them that I shall live on without the blemishes I gathered in my own journey. Help me to show them the road without driving for them. Help me to teach them to eat without me cooking. Give me the patience to see them learn so they may excel far beyond my own dreams and hopes.

Lord, thank you for my children. Watch them as they reach beyond the home and learn independence. Guide them home on those nights I sit and wait, relying solely on you to bring them home. Be with them when I am not there to make the choice that they may choose wisely.

Lord, thank you for my children. Give them the ability to spread their wings without looking back on the pains of learning to fly. Give them the sight to see around the corner and know the dangers ahead. And teach them to pray so their faith may grow strong and carry them through the bumpy roads.

Lord, thank you for my children. Give me the ability to be a parent so they may learn from my examples. Let me be the parent I would want them to be for their children. Let them know that a father’s love is unending just as your love is unending. Wipe away their tears so they may cry freely yet smile for tomorrow.

Lord, thank you for my children. Amen.

© 2008, Mark A. Daily

Friday, April 04, 2008

Campfires [CCR]

The spring vacation is a good time for renewing your family bonding. This year we had several experiences that included a trip to my friend’s drive-in theatre, the adoption of two baby goats, and an unexpected litter of kittens from a cat we rescued. The biggest family event was the bonfire. At least my sons wanted to call it a bonfire. We actually built a campfire in the lower pasture. Aaron invited his new girlfriend and the six of us enjoyed a time around the fire. But the night did not forego entertainment.

As a child we built many campfires. You’ve already heard about an ill fated venture into candle making with my cousin. But there were many pleasant experiences with campfires. Often the family would gather during hunting season and camp the night before the big hunt. Everyone would bring something to contribute to what became a chicken stew with a little bit of everything in it. I’m not sure you can find a better tasting stew than one cooked in an old iron pot hanging over a campfire in the middle of the woods.

Rusty Malone and I also had an interesting endeavor with cooking over a campfire. If you grew up around Cherokee and weren’t interested in fishing then something was wrong. So Rusty and I often went fishing. However, this trip resulted in no fish. All we had was plenty of bait, crawfish. We built a campfire and talked about our luck, or lack thereof, when an idea struck. Those folks down in Louisiana cook crawfish. It can’t be that difficult.

Now many folks are reading this information and thinking cooking a lobster and crawfish can’t be much different. The only problem was two teenage boys hadn’t ever cooked a lobster. We only read about it and, at best, saw it on television. But nevertheless, we decided to eat the bait. We built a nice little fire, found us a cooking pot, and began to heat the water. It was our understanding we should boil the critters. But we didn’t know how long. So when the water came to a boil we chunked a couple of the creek dwelling crustaceans into the pot.

I would reckon the crawfish cooked some, but we didn’t know how much. Our curiosity took the best of the moment and we decided it was time to take a bite. Pulling them from the pot Rusty took the first bite after yanking off the tail. It was only customary that I follow his lead but the look on Rusty’s face told me it wasn’t going to be fun. If I remember straight we only took that single bite and the rest of the bait went to waste. But the adventure ended well, we survived.

Back at our campfire over spring break the children brought marshmallows and hot dogs. It would only be tradition to cook them over the open fire. I decided that rather than finding good sticks to whittle into skewers I would buy these metal contraptions from the big box store. They seemed to work well until someone made the fatal mistake of eating a marshmallow directly from the metal skewer device. They survived with only a slight blister on the side of the mouth and I dare not tell on the victim so names won’t be mentioned. But just as we learn about the lessons of the electric fence so we learn about branding ourselves with hot metal rods. But the electric fence is a story for another day.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Basic Electricity [CCR]

It is simply amazing how we have become so dependent on electricity. Beyond the fact that I make my living through the manipulation of energy, I have recently noticed that all our lives are totally dependent on the availability of electricity. If we examine our daily activities we can only wonder how our ancestors lived without it.

Yesterday we were making the trek from North Carolina back to our home in Tennessee when I noticed the battery light on the van. In days past we probably wouldn’t be too worried about that light until nightfall. But the modern engine has changed our world. Today we get our horsepower and our economy through the use of a computer based control system on the car. Simply said, if I continued to drive down the road I ran a high risk of waiting for a tow when the car’s control system shut down.

As I felt a small worry coming to me I reached for my cell phone. It had plenty of battery so I had some time to make a few phone calls while I continued down the highway. I called information and located a dealership in Asheville. After talking to their service department they had someone waiting for my arrival and they gave me directions. Again, electricity helped me out.

We have already discussed the oil lamps and evenings when the electricity failed during a storm. But our lives are much more dependent than simply waiting out a storm. Batteries have given us that insatiable thirst for energy even when the lights go out. I am not sure how we might function otherwise.

Luckily I watched my grandparents relive the days when electricity wasn’t so plentiful. Grandmother Daily actually made lye soap and Granddaddy showed me how to use all his hand tools, including his brace. My children wouldn’t even understand a brace had I not bought one the other day. I was amazed to find one. They watched me forego my drill and install curtains using a simple bit and brace.

Our story ended well yesterday. Yes, I took a wrong turn and a second call with my cell phone got me headed in the right direction again. Upon arrival the car dealership diagnosed my van and confirmed my thoughts. Fortunately they had an alternator in stock and the van was soon repaired. We returned to the highway with a small delay which meant driving after dark. But, I was comfortable in knowing the lights were being powered by a brand new alternator and we could find our way home.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Traditions [CCR]

Each year it seemed we always donned our best for Easter services. Everyone arrived at church on Easter morning in the sharpest clothes they could find in their closet. Some of us sported something new while others dug deep in the closets to find their best.

As a child Mom said I always wanted to wear a tie to church. I don’t understand why I don’t remember the deep desire, but I do remember the day my Dad gave me his mustard seed tie tack to wear. I thought I was something special. That tie tack is still in my box of accessories.

Before leaving the house I searched through the room for my Bible. I always had my favorite Bible that I carried to church. As a small child it was a small white Bible given to me by the Gideons. Later I remember carrying a red Bible given to me by my parents one Christmas and more recently the Bible given to me by the church for my high school graduation. I recently gave that Bible to my son who now carries it as I once did.

Family traditions such as these provide connections to home and those comfortable years no matter where you move. It may differ in how it is formed. For example, some of my friends had spring traditions that came with Passover. Others may include connections to simple family life.

Another tradition at my house was the family garden. We always knew that by the time we reached Granddaddy Smith’s birthday it was time to plant the garden. I am sure that tradition started long before my arrival, but it is stuck in my mind to this day. In that respect I am very busy rushing to complete my spring garden preparations and the past few weekends have included quite a bit of digging in the dirt planting trees and grape vines at our new house.

The week after Easter we will renew another family tradition when our new goats arrive. As a child we kept ponies, cows, goats, and various other farm animals. The cows graciously provided fresh milk and the ponies many hours of pleasure. I think Mom and Dad wanted us to enjoy the full experience of growing up in Alabama. Keeping the animals was work, but for every complaint we had then we have a pleasant memory now. We did have chickens for a short time, but I think it was a little much for Mom to chase the chickens out of the garden.

Hopefully we each have built such traditions into our lives. Many of our elders will gladly testify that such memories keep us company through the years. A college professor once taught me that one aspect of marriage was the combining of two historical perspectives of traditions. It is the combination of these traditions with your family that brings new excitement to the entire family as you build those traditions for future generations.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Time Shifting [CCR]

Yet again the time changed, at least according to us. I’m not sure the trees, rocks, streams, or anything else God placed on Earth really cares about the time. In my case I maybe things actually improved. Ever since I moved back home from the Eastern time zone I have been in bed by 8:30 PM and up at 4:30 AM. My wife, children, and even the folks at the office think I am crazy. Well, today I finally arrived at the office about the time everyone else arrived. I’m not sure it really matters.

Granddaddy Daily was a woodsman. He rose with the sun, worked throughout the day taking a break for lunch when it was possible, and then returned home in time for his home chores before sunset. He had a family to feed. The trees and the sun didn’t change their clocks. The only effect he saw was shorter days in the winter with colder weather. Those shorter days meant extra work in the summer to prepare for the winter just as God’s other creatures prepare for winter.

Things weren’t much different for those folks farming down in the valley by the river. The cotton didn’t really care about the time. It only knew the combination of warm weather and water allowed it to present a healthy crop. Clocks weren’t really necessary. When the sun peaked over the horizon it was time to head to the field and tend to the crops that would provide sustenance for life.

The change came when man decided to organize efforts. Maybe we could have planned to meet when the sun topped the first pines, but our industrial growth meant work would extend through the evening hours and tighter time coordination was necessary. Today we have fancy gadgetry that receives the “official” government time by which we all conform. I must assume it gives a good payback to coordinate ourselves as our output has increased. But do we really need to shift the clock to tell us to take advantage of daylight? It wasn’t necessary for our ancestors, but it seems so to us.

Now we decided to make more shifts that confuse all these computers and yet again I had to patch all that gadgetry that helps me earn a living. But my body doesn’t want a patch. Yet it needs a time shift along with every other person. I could complain that it adds to the stress that we already pile on. Folks pass on the highway with their toes in the carburetor praying they get to work on time. I reckon all that coordinated effort requires conformity, but nature tells me otherwise.

I never asked Granddaddy if he twisted the hands of the old cuckoo clock twice a year. Since we didn’t start shifting time until he was already half way through his life I am not sure if he thought it was necessary. At least I’ve been adjusting since childhood. Granddaddy had to start his shifting after he had already been synchronized to God’s natural cycle. Benjamin Franklin first proposed all this change long before our government decided it was a good idea. I wonder if God gets a little chuckle at our efforts to coordinate.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Vision [CCR]

My fancy cable television service became confused today and a short conversation with the company helped resolve the issue but brought me to a new level of reality. I simply wanted to check out their upgraded “on demand” service. Most of the regular television programs today do not really appeal to me and I find myself watching science or nature channels in hopes of keeping my mind sharp. Frankly, I should be working on the fence in the lower pasture or preparing our summer garden. The gentleman on the other end of the line agreed that we should cycle power on the unit and that is where the revelation began.

As a child I fancied myself on my capability to read signs from a distance. I would look for road signs at a distance and challenge myself to read the sign before anyone else in the family car. I guess I never really gave thought to the precious gift God gave me in vision. I simply used it to my advantage. I can remember my Grandparents having glasses and complaining when they couldn’t find them.

The day finally came when I first saw my parents wearing glasses. It was slightly amusing to me as I still didn’t have a true appreciation of my gift. Over the years they slowly transitioned from a simple pair of glasses to bifocals. Maybe we attribute the changes to age, but sometimes more than age has a factor. Thankfully our friends at the Lions’ Clubs across America have helped champion the cause and educate us all on the importance of eye care.

But soon my turn came to sit in the chair with all the fuddling gadgetry. The doctor placed drops in my eyes to make them dilate and I believe I could see in total darkness. They carried me through the pain of bright lights, pressure tests, and other various fiddling with both my eyes and my nerves. At the end of the tests he affirmed my stigmatism. I had subsisted thirty six years without glasses, but now my turn had come. I just couldn’t stand the thought of placing anything in my eyes so contact lenses were out of the question.

A few years passed and as I entered my fifth decade (that’s forties if you count from zero) the doctor declared a slight case of near sightedness. Now I am on my second pair of “blended” bifocals. Bifocals are simply a fancy word for saying you have to bend your head in every direction to find the right focus. I now have a true appreciation for those games I played as a child and I also appreciate all the work generations have put into developing eyewear. Now I am dependent on their contributions.

The cable television company technician on the telephone had asked me to cycle the power on the box. I couldn’t bend my head back far enough to make my bifocals work and I didn’t want to admit I only saw white lines below the buttons rather than letters. After a brief pause he told me to look in the middle so I pushed the button nearest the middle. The display only blinked and returned to the error. After two or three tries I decided I must have the wrong button or my converter must be really confused. I reached behind the unit and pulled the power. I could now lift the unit and see I was simply pressing some display format button and the power button was on the opposite end. I plugged the box back in and it reset itself. I never had the heart to tell the technician I was choosing random buttons, but the frustration in his voice led me to believe he knew.

All of our service clubs do wonderful work in providing benefits to our community. This incident gave me a new appreciation for our Lions. The next time you see the folks in the purple Lions’ Club outfits asking for support give them a lending hand. I truly believe you will learn to appreciate their contribution. As for my television, maybe I should have stuck to the single channel on black and white television with the antenna behind the house that carried me so faithfully through childhood.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Stormy Weather [CCR]

This week I found myself caught in the middle of an ice storm in Indiana. One would think I had enough memory of the cold without having to revisit it so soon after relocating to Tennessee, but work beckoned and I answered the call. My coworker and I sat in the hotel lobby looking outside at the winter wonderland and I regained an appreciation for home. As I write I am overjoyed that we are about to begin our journey home.

Storms have always fascinated me. Not that I particularly appreciate the more difficult ones, but we must remember most storms deliver our much needed water. As a child I always remember looking to the west when watching storms approach. I am not sure I understood the prevailing winds at the time, but when the weatherman called for stormy weather I looked towards Granddaddy’s old barn and watched the sky.

As I have moved around the country I quickly obtained my bearings in my new locations and I always seemed to memorize directions by relating to home. North was always related to the direction of the fertilizer plant and the sound of the steam whistle at shift change. East brought the picturesque view of Mr. Harris’s pasture and the engine sounds of the various barge tugs pushing their goods up the Tennessee River. South brought the sounds of the mainline Southern railroad. West was the direction from which the clouds usually approached. Southwest always seemed to indicate the more severe of the storms. My method usually kept me straight on directions no matter where I moved. If I found one direction I could simply use my mental images of childhood to help orientate myself.

Whenever we heard of bad weather in Tupelo we knew it was time to batten down the hatches. Storms always found their way from Tupelo to Cherokee. Over the years those fancy weather folks on the television and radio always seemed to find ways to claim they were a little better than the rest on keeping you informed. Well, if you lived in Cherokee all you really had to do was listen for the news from Tupelo. It was much more reliable.

The rule of checking Tupelo didn’t always apply for snow or ice. Those sorts of storms seemed to be a random event that occurred when nobody predicted. Ice was much worse than snow and seemed to occur more often. My job was to keep wood piled in the box between the fireplace and the heater. After the cold blustery wind battered my face I would stand over the wood stove to thaw my hands and face. I made sure I brought enough wood to keep these trips to a minimum. At least, in the South, most of these problems didn’t last long.

This morning we slowly made our way down a small two lane road that winds along the Ohio River. The water lay choppy in the cold wind and didn’t really look to head in any direction. Trees displayed their new shiny coats of ice and the roads were covered with a salty slush. Folks here may be prepared for winter’s onslaught, but the mere view of all this winter weather makes me long for home. Many miles south along the endless asphalt we will find our warmer weather and my family waiting to welcome me back home.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Shopping [CCR]

Shopping now means regular trips to those big box stores. Even if I wanted to visit the local grocer there isn’t many left in my area, and I live in the rural area of my county. So I make my regular trips to the city to get our groceries, which is more often than I desire since I have two teenage boys in the house. My last trip to the overgrown grocery store provided a rather peculiar site. The front area of the store was cordoned off with yellow tape as if some crime were committed. I grabbed by grocery cart and continued about my business while I pondered the potential crime scene out front.

Grocery carts haven’t changed much over the years other than a transition to mostly plastic parts. It shouldn’t shock us to see the plastic as our cars have made the same transition. They still fold out and provide a fancy seat for youngsters or you can flip up a cover over the leg holes. But now the cover is drenched in advertisements.

I wheel my cart around the grocery store sporting the usual squeaky wheel or maybe the often felt “bump, bump, bump.” You push the cart around and fill it with your needs and then proceed to the front of the store while they tally your goods. I did notice the cost of that basket of groceries has increased over the years while the size of the basket hasn’t really changed.

Gone are the days when you pulled up to the Davis’s store out at Mountain Springs and were greeted by name. I don’t remember that little store having those grocery carts. You simply asked for slices of cheese and they gladly helped you find whatever you needed. You didn’t spend time hunting through the store for some person in a colored vest who may need to speak on a radio and help you wade through the aisles of goods. I really don’t remember needing all those many aisles of goods thirty years ago.

At the checkout today the clerk usually has some kind words and that may be your first exchange of friendship since you entered the store. That little machine in front of the clerk asks if the clerk greeted you. I usually ignore it as I don’t need a machine teaching me manners. Unless you filled that cart to the top the clerk is expected to handle all your needs while they sling your goods into plastic bags rather than the big grocery sacks of yesteryear. At least she has those fancy bar codes to help speed the process along. I can never remember the correct price displayed on the shelf. If you don’t have a quick eye you can never be sure what that computer is saying you owe.

Finally, after getting my cart full of groceries I realize why the yellow tape is wrapped around the front of the store. The store has an awning where they like to display flowers. This awning, with a concrete walk, provides perfect cover to load your groceries in the rain. We are forbidden from using that awning to protect us from the elements. Now I seem to remember each grocery cart once had its own “license plate,” a number with a removable tag sporting the same number. You carried the tag with you to the car. In the car you pull up to the awning and a clerk matches your tag to the cart waiting with your groceries and they helped you fill your vehicle with your groceries.

Today I sloshed past the yellow tape through the rain and loaded my minivan with the wet plastic bags praying one doesn’t spill my goods on the ground. It is interesting that we were willing to take such deep discounts just to forego that extra level of service. It is a shame I just don’t really realize those discounts when I swipe my fancy little card and the computer magically drains my bank account. I really miss that little store in Mountain Springs that simply had all I needed and nothing more.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Evening Ritual [CCR]

The aged man sat gently in his old wooden rocking chair using both his canes to balance himself. The pillows barely cushioned his arched back as he positioned himself for an evening ritual. His grandchildren lay on the floor by the fireplace careful to distance themselves from the popping embers that intermittently project themselves to gently glow and dim on the hearth.

The elderly man reaches beside him for the book with tattered pages and a soft bind displaying its years of service. He thumbs through the pages looking for the right place that satisfies the yearnings of his soul. Alas his fingers, crumpled with age and the pain of arthritis, reach the words that express his feelings. He adjusts his bifocals carefully such that the shapes show clearly in the dim lamplight.

The children adjust themselves so they may listen in amazement as their grandfather finds the sounds of the notes before him. He sings the notes in rhythm, “Doe fa ray ray me fa doe.” The children stare closely as the old man studies the page and rubs the gray whiskers from the evening shadow that has fell on his wrinkled face. Once he has sung a verse of notes and discerned the tune he quietly adds the words. It seems he can almost close his eyes and sing the song as if he had sung them many times over, which he has. The gentle gospel melody almost lulls the children to sleep.

After a couple of songs and maybe a moment of reading from the worn Bible laying upon the mantle the elder looks to the little eyes watching in amazement. They woke from their gentle hypnosis as if anticipating something new. He thinks for a moment and then the smile upon his thin lips seems to reflect his joy in sharing. And he begins.

Most of his stories told by the glowing fire would be hard for a young mind to envision if it weren’t for the enthusiasm. He told of the time he walked all the way from Mountain Springs to Tuscumbia to take a month’s earnings and purchase something special for his family back home. Now the story may seem bland to some at first. But then he begins telling of the walk home after dark. Envision a day when there was little light and who knows who you might meet on the seldom traveled wagon path. Other stories told of his childhood adventures with names some easily recognize today, such as Denton, Hester, McCullough, and many others.

As the story is told sleepiness finds its way back to the young adventurers who lay near the fireplace. The story ends and the children wander back to their bed snuggling deep under the pile of homemade quilts to dream about the stories they heard. The old man reaches for his two canes to help pull him up. His back has stiffened slightly in the chair, but the smile on the little ones’ faces made it worth his time. He too must crawl beneath the covers. Tomorrow a house full of grandchildren will fulfill his day and rekindle his childhood memories when he too lay by the fire to hear stories from years gone by.

Of course the stories were told by my own Granddaddy Daily and those sleepyheads by the fireplace were my sister and me. People of his generation didn’t depend on electronic gadgetry to bring entertainment to their evenings. The stories told by the crackling fire nurtured vivid imaginations and brought much excitement to those who listened. Today this tradition lives only in story telling clubs or contests and is no longer celebrated by the fireplace. Such is a loss to our own children.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Road Not Taken [CCR]

After growing up in rural Colbert County it is only reasonable to assume I would tend to locate in rural areas. With my career it is not always easy to live in a rural area and through the years I have made exceptions. Not this time. I actually live just at the edge of the Nashville Metropolitan Area on what one may consider a small farm. Each morning I make my way up US Highway 231 to work. But I usually deviate from the beaten path to wind along a back road and find the edge of what many consider civilization.

For me a country road is preferable to any wide multilane slab of pavement. A true country road has trees that extend their reach across the road forming a tunneling shady lane. My primary back road to work leads across a small one way bridge formed from a single slab of concrete. While not the luxurious memory of the wooden one lane bridges from my childhood, it does maintain the serenity of the drive. If I must wait for an oncoming vehicle taking its turn at the crossing I can quietly enjoy the view extending up and down the creek. I can only wonder at the number of fish who may be returning that stare and my mind momentarily drifts away from the upcoming day’s work.

An alternate route takes me along a path even more reminiscent of my younger days. This route sports a gravel road that beckons for some attention after years of traffic. It slowly slopes downward towards the fast flowing creek to a bed of rock where no bridge lies in my path. I slowly ford the creek as my Jeep sloshes along through the water. To the north is a rather large rock and earthen dam that may have once supplied the local grist mill, although no verifiable remnant is seen. As I climb the opposite slope I watch a flock of turkeys meander across the road and see several horses grazing beyond the trees in the nearby pasture.

As a child in rural Colbert County I remember many similar roads, some more traveled than others. In my younger days it seems we always anticipated an upgrade, when asphalt would overtake the yellow gravel and dirt combinations. Time progressed and soon the entire road to Mountain Springs sported a wide, paved right of way. Not long after that change you could no longer find a gravel path around the Riverton Rose Trail. Transportation advanced as older homes faded into history and new, modern housing took their place along these routes. I understand the advantages to advancement for our economy, but I sometimes mourn the loss as well.

Gone are the days when you traveled a little slower as to not stir the dust or sling the gravel. The gentle drive gave time to recognize the passing neighbor and you may even stop a moment for conversation, a Southern tradition. On the quite back roads to my office these golden nuggets of memory have bypassed the constructive wheels of modernization. One day they may fall victim to asphalt and urbanization, but for now they grant me solitude and a moment of peace before the rush of another workday.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Anticipation [CCR]

As we approach February we prepare ourselves for winter’s last stand and we begin our search on the horizon for the first signs of spring. Mom always said to never wish your life away, but I reckon there is nothing wrong with anticipation. I spent an entire day this past weekend honing that anticipation by working on the fence again. I am determined to have the lower pasture ready for occupation by the time spring breaks through the damp winter soil.

Some of my most pleasant memories of spring’s approach are Grandmother Smith’s tulips. Their driveway split as you approached the house. One drive entered the front yard while the other circled to the back of the house. Right past that split in the road was the habitat of one of the most memorable ensemble of tulips. The colors varied from light pastels to bright vivid colors that capture your attention. I’m not sure how much time Grandmother spent cultivating these forecasters of warmer weather, but they returned faithfully each year.

The tulips seemed to remain in bloom for us until the passage of Easter. The color variations always made a wonderful location to hide the Easter eggs. It didn’t take long for me to figure out to make my first hunting pass by the tulips where a pastel or brightly colored egg lay in the camouflage of the tulip’s blooms. It would almost seem that Easter eggs adopted their own colorful tradition from the colorful variations of the tulips. The theory might hold true if it weren’t for some of the color combinations I created by dipping the eggs in various pools of brilliant liquid.

In my picture albums I find some of the grandchildren standing near the tulips. I suppose the tulips subconsciously made a great photographic background for I never remember anyone requesting somebody stand in front of the tulips. But nonetheless they are documented in my picture collection.

Mom and Dad plan a trip to Holland to see the tulips growing in their native environment. I have seen pictures of the beautiful flower groves lying beneath the lazy turning windmills. They will have a wonderful trip seeing the annual tradition revive itself again in Nature’s cycle. Somehow I don’t believe the experience could replace the memory of Grandmother’s tulips.

Spring passed and the tulips became dormant again waiting for another year. The flowers of summer then reigned supreme. The spot where Grandmother’s tulips grew became the lawn mower’s dominion until another years passed. The smell of fresh cut grass, hydrangeas, and honeysuckle replaced the sweet smell of the tulip. But another consecutive year of the tulip has made an indelible impression in my memories of home.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Southern Invasion [CCR]

As I sit to write a snowfall attempted to invade the South last night. The newscasters say Atlanta and the Carolinas took a hit. I stepped outside this morning expecting a disaster and found my yard damp and enough ice on the deck to make the cat shake her foot. But it was peaceful. Yet the weatherman predicts another battle this weekend. By the time my friends read my story the battle will be over and I hope we have a victory, meaning we avoided anything major.

The boys rose out of bed running to hear the news. Was school canceled? Maybe it was delayed. The routine in Ohio meant we checked the school status every morning. I informed the boys that we had returned home and their chances of good news, in their opinion, was dramatically less than it was last year. As a child we were always ready to procrastinate and take an extra school day before summer break to have a day off now. How lucky we are, for only a generation older than me had their breaks in the fall and spring so they could work in the field. Not that we didn’t work, but our schedules did not revolve around that work.

Granted our area has had its fair share of snow in years past. But while a Southern snowfall may occur, it quickly retreats and life returns to normal. And in the same respect we occasionally see ice, more often than snow. Winter does attempt to inflect its damage upon us but we always seem able to win the war. It is the lack of battle intensity that makes our way of life attractive. We do, at times, get to experience the exuberance of the white fluffy groundcover. We run into the flakes catching the larger ones on our tongues just to gather a taste of winter. Even as late as the college years I lay on a snowy hillside and made snow angels with a close friend.

Does living in our area deprive our children of a unique experience? Only if you have a strong desire to dig your way through snow. I will admit winter brings its own unique highlights to our scenic beauty. When the temperature dips below freezing I see a scene from picturesque postcards while driving to work. The little creek has trees dipping down to touch the reflective still water. The limbs dipping into water sport a frosty coating that isn’t clear ice, but rather snowy white as if sprayed on. Other sticks reach upward from the water with the same covering.

Winter does bring some relief to our area. We do want enough frost to kill at least some of the pesky bugs waiting in the winter hideaways to pester us throughout the summer. And I know that by the middle of August I’ll reflect on these scenes of winter when the hot sweltering sun is hanging midway through its daily journey across the sky. I’ll take our touch of winter to refresh my soul and provide another wonderful reason to love my home.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dinner [CCR]

As the family sits around the dinner table we are able to once again share stories, bond, and remember all the good things about being a family. I called a truce. The television is silent and the video games take a break. This is time to remember the love bond we all share.

Today’s families seem to find a special need or require a special effort to build that bond at the dinner table. In this world of high speed commotion combining an unlimited number of activities, most everyone holding down a job to make ends meet, and everyone owning some type of transportation, making a group gathering almost impossible. But many families find that time. And for them a special tradition formed through the years of our ancestry will once again perform its magical bond upon us.

Growing up in Alabama presented almost as many obstacles as we see today. In our earlier years Mom was attending college, Dad was working shift work, and Susan and I had all the school activities. Yet each evening found us sitting down at the dinner table, sharing a thankful blessing for our meal, and enjoying both the conversation and what our joint efforts had prepared. Granted Mom did most of the cooking, but working in the garden and gathering the ingredients was a family activity.

We had some food from the grocery store which became a lifesaver as Mom’s responsibilities grew when teaching and attending school simultaneously. But we still managed to maintain a good portion of home grown meals and we still spent that time set aside most evenings for family bonding. Here we heard stories of Dad’s days at work or Mom’s challenges at school. It seems I knew more about the people at the chemical plant than most people might imagine, even if I didn’t know some of the faces. It was a time to relieve a little stress while sitting amongst those who care no matter what changes in life.

The blessing had interesting connotations. While it didn’t vary much through the years, Dad always asked a blessing on the family. If we had visitors he never failed to ask a blessing upon their family as well. And, in Southern tradition, visitors were always welcome at our dinner table. Many times visitors included extended family members that included aunts, uncles, and cousins. But Mom and Dad never excluded others who might enjoy a meal with the family.

It was especially important to share an ice cold glass of tea with people who may be helping us with special work around the house or maybe someone who had just dropped by to say hello. I can remember many times Mom wrapping up a meal for someone to take home and share with their family. Maybe it was a lesson learned from church, but more likely it was that built-in Southern obligation passed through the ages from one family to the next.

Today family meals haven’t changed much. At our house we ask the blessing upon the meal. When visiting Mom and Dad it almost seems a little awkward when Dad asks a blessing upon those visiting for once again I have come home. Other than that one phrase little has changed. A big pitcher of cold tea sits on the table along with a whole cake of corn bread and other vegetables to share. As Mom and Dad have retired and the home place requires a little more attention, there still seems to be a fair share of home vegetables around the table.

Take a moment tonight to remove all the distractions and sit with whoever may share a meal with you. At the time of that meal they are your family. Enjoy a laugh, contribute a story, and if possible, relieve a little of the days stress. Maybe your soul will join your appetite in being filled with a little Southern hospitality.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Fencing [CCR]

The cool breeze of a Southern winter blows across the lower pasture as I finish working on the fence for the day. The dogs are challenging each other for my attention and it is simply amazing how the Miniature Schnauzer holds up to the St. Bernard. As I look around the pasture I can’t help but feel I have cheated. Today I simply replaced a few posts and secured the net wire. Someone put in a lot of effort building this fence.

Dad spent many hours teaching me how to build a fence. We didn’t have the fancy augers to drill holes nor the metal posts to drive into the ground. I can still see the sweat on his forehead as he drove the posthole diggers into the ground. I only dreamed of the day when I could match his skill.

Dad would find good cedar heartwood which provided the stable support for our fencing. He held the axe firmly as he trimmed away any remaining bark. As we dropped the post into the hole Dad would eye the post to make sure it stood straight and sure. Periodically we included cross bracing in preparation for mounting the wire. We took the back side of our hoe handles and compressed the fresh dirt tightly against each post.

After all the posts stood with firm support it came time to string the fencing. We didn’t have the farm supply store with fancy fencing tools at our beckon. We simply used crowbars on barbwire fencing while Dad built a rig to compress and stretch net wire fencing along our newly placed posts.

Dad and I didn’t build many fences, but much of the fencing we put in place stands today. For many years it helped contain our cows, ponies, sheep, and goats that we raised. Dad taught me everything I know about maintaining fencing and it helped me complete my work today.

Granddaddy Daily exposed us to an earlier generation of fencing. His front yard was partially contained with split-rail fencing. Granddaddy was demonstrating earlier techniques which are rarely seen today. I can only imagine the effort into locating enough heartwood and properly placing each log in the fencing arrangement.

The sun is setting now and the dogs have tired of their play. I grab my tools and begin my trek through the pasture towards the barn. I turn to look at the work I completed today and feel satisfaction. But that satisfaction isn’t exclusive to my day’s work, but to years of work with Dad back home in those Alabama pastures. I can only hope that some day my children will look upon these pastures and share similar pleasurable memories as the sun’s orange glow dips below the horizon.