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.