An Anniversary Outhouse Memory

wedding dayToday is our 21st wedding anniversary and I’ve decided to re-run a version of last year’s anniversary post. Our wedding was uniquely Appalachian for several reasons, not the least of which was that the only “facility” at our wedding was . . . an outhouse.

We got married at Laurel Fork United Methodist Church in West Virginia. I’m the fourth or fifth generation in my family to attend the little, white church on the hill and it was where I wanted to pledge my heart to my husband for life.

The church is OLD and creaky, but it does have modern updates. We traded the pot-bellied, coal-burning stoves for gas heaters and installed a drop ceiling to help keep the heat in on cold winter mornings (I’m kind of sad about that). And we eventually updated the wiring so it wouldn’t burn the church down. It’s simple but picturesque.

We invited our friends and family to the ceremony, but didn’t expect many to make the trek to a remote hilltop in West Virginia for the nuptials. Those who did travel from SC (where we lived then) were encouraged to use the facilities at their hotel before coming to the church 30 minutes away in Laurel Fork.

Ha-ha, they thought, a West Virginia joke.

Nope. The closest thing there is to running water is the downspout at the corner. Even today the only bathroom is an outhouse. Of course, some adventurous souls might have enjoyed the experience, but I’m pretty sure everyone crossed their legs until the reception back in town.

When I was a kid, we actually had TWO outhouses at church. One for the ladies and one for the gentlemen. The ladies had two compartments (fancy) each with a separate door for privacy. It was painted white and tucked back in the trees behind the church for discretion. Unfortunately, it’s leafy, protected eaves seemed to be prime spots for wasps to build their nests, but you often have to sacrifice something for the sake of your dignity.

The men’s outhouse is a much roomier one-seater with an open end that serves as an, ahhh, urinal. It’s closer to the doors of the church, which often made it preferable when I was young. The wooden seat was worn remarkably smooth and there was always a stack of church bulletins in place of toilet paper. Waste not, want not.

And honestly? It wasn’t unpleasant to use. Oh, it wasn’t great on a January morning, but in general, it served just fine. It smelled of worn wood as much as, well, what you’d expect, and members of the church maintained both outhouses so they stayed relatively pleasant. MUCH nicer than any port-o-let I’ve ever been in.

Outhouses have become something of a redneck or hillbilly joke, but I’ve used them (although NOT while wearing a wedding dress) and they’re no joke. They’re just the best way to deal with a necessity in a place with no running water.

Of course, the standing joke is that every outhouse is too close to the back door in the summer and too far away in the winter. You can probably guess why.

The Joy of Naming Characters

Loudin FamilyI’ve never had children, but I have spent a fair amount of time considering what I might name a child if I did have one.

Thankfully, I now have LOTS of characters, all in need of a good name. And naming them is one my favorite things to do. It even holds me up at times, because I can’t write the book until I have the names just right. Delilah, in my novella Appalachian Serenade, got her name from Delilah Jane Brady pictured in the center of the photo above. I don’t know a thing about the real Delilah (my great, great grandmother), but what a fantastic name for my character!

So for a little inside scoop, here are the names for several of my main characters and the inspiration behind them.

MIRACLE IN A DRY SEASON
-Casewell Phillips – I wanted to use the last name Phillips because it’s the line of family members who settled in our corner of WV–for seven generations. I found the name Casewell on a grave marker near my father-in-law’s and thought it was wonderful.
-Perla – I toyed with naming my first heroine after either my Aunt Bess or Grandma Burla, but wasn’t sure family members would appreciate that the character was an unwed mother–so I tweaked Grandma’s name and came up with Perla.

UNTIL THE HARVEST
-Margaret & Henry – This time, I wanted my hero and heroine to have good, solid, “regular” names.
-Mayfair – On the other hand, Margaret’s little sister with a touch of the miraculous needed a special name. Mayfair is something of a play on Fairlight from Christy by Catherine Marshall.

A TAPESTRY OF SECRETS
-Ella – This is Perla’s granddaughter–her name is a variation on my Grandma Nellie’s name. Plus, she’s something of a Cinderella to her Grandma Perla’s fairy godmother.
-Mark/Richard/Seth – I wanted solid, masculine names for the three possible love interests. And none of them could be the name of anyone I ever dated! If you’re getting into the groove of how I pick names, you’ll probably be able to guess which character Ella ends up with 😉

THE SOUND OF RAIN (Releasing November 2017)
-Judd Markley – This may be my favorite character thus far. He’s flat out named for my great Uncle Judd (who never married) with my paternal grandmother’s maiden name added on.
-Larkin Heyward – I wanted a southern name for my heroine from coastal South Carolina. We have family in Greenville, SC, where there’s a restaurant named Larkin’s. My mother-in-law lives on Haywood Road, but everyone pronounces it Heyward–so there you go!

Typically, I don’t use the names of people in my everyday life for my chain characters. I can’t ever foresee writing a character based on someone I know, lest I offend! My mom used to try to guess who my characters really were until finally I convinced her they’re all a blend of friends, family, strangers, and my imagination.

And oh how I love giving them meaningful names!

Q4U – How about you? If you were writing a novel, what would you name your main character(s)?

Appalachian Thursday – Foraged Food

morel2
Found this beauty last weekend and brushed the leaves back for someone who will be delighted by a fresh morel.

Spring is prime foraging time in the woods where we hike. We often see folks out with baskets or net bags and I know they’re looking for tasty tidbits to add to dinner.

Personally, I’m more of a catch and release forager. I love finding things I could eat, but I’m not really all that interested in actually consuming them. Plus, I know just enough about wild mushrooms to realize there’s a fair chance I might poison myself. I just take a picture and move on.

But I often think about my ancestors eating these plants not because it was cool or trendy, but because they were hungry. Especially for something green after a long winter of preserved foods.

Wild foods are so popular these days that there’s actually a company here in Asheville, NC, called No Taste Like Home Wild Food Adventures. You can call them up and book a guided foraging trip. I haven’t had any dealings with them (although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen their groups in the national forest where we hike), but I like the disclaimer on their website, “You can’t learn to forage from a website. Always learn from an expert, preferably, your parents.”

Which is a little bit ironic, because while my great-grandmother knew all about foraged foods and remedies, she would have taken pride in having children and grandchildren who didn’t need such knowledge.

Last weekend, I called Dad and asked him if he ate that stuff when he was a kid. Not really, he said, although there was a great aunt who did. Folks ate poke sallat, creasy greens, and ramps, but they didn’t brag about it. As a matter of fact, if they ate ramps, they’d skip church that week for fear of being too stinky.

As a seventh-generation Appalachian, I’m glad to have some idea about the sorts of things I can eat in a pinch, but mostly I’ll be sticking with the farmer’s market and grocery store.

The day my left hand went numb

handIt’s my anniversary.

Not of my birth or my wedding, but of my stroke. On April 15, 2016, I went to work like usual and as I was addressing an envelope at my desk I . . . fell out. You can read about that experience HERE.

In that post, I mentioned that having a stroke is the sort of life event that would continue to echo through my life for a long time. And it has. But not as expected (because what EVER happens the way you expect??).

At the time, I felt certain having a stroke would be some sort of watershed moment. There would be a definite before and after. Not so much. Basically, after my week-long recovery (translation: laying around letting friends and family spoil me), my life picked up where I left off on the 15th.

So how does having a stroke continue to resonate? Fear. Or rather the lack thereof.

Fifteen years ago I had a severe allergic reaction to a yellow jacket sting. It was the most terrifying thing to ever happen to me. And the fear held on afterwards. Tight.

Not so with the stroke. I was never afraid. Confused, uneasy about my numb hand, tired, troubled about medication–but mostly I felt safe and well cared for. Loved. At peace.

And that’s a Holy Spirit thing y’all.

Because He was the main difference between the two events. I was on my own with the bee sting, with the stroke I had the Spirit to comfort me.

The only lingering effect of my stroke is some numbness in the tip of my left index finger and the side of the middle finger closest to it. The neurologist said to give it a year and if the feeling didn’t return it probably wouldn’t. Hello new normal.

And I’m glad.

That funny, tight feeling and lack of fine sensation is a wonderful reminder that with God I have nothing to fear. I’m safe even when I’m not comfortable. And when scary things happen–a bee sting, the illness of someone I love, all sorts of loss–I can tap that numb index finger and whisper, “fear not, fear not, fear not.”

Because so long as I am His, fear is transient and love is eternal.

Isaiah 41:10 – So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 

Appalachian Thursday–Easter Sunrise

sunrise
Sunrise at the farm in WV.

I love most every holiday. Food, friends, decorations–it’s all wonderful. But my favorite holiday is Easter. And my favorite part of Easter is the Sunrise Service.

It’s a disappointment to me when the service gets moved inside because of the weather (too cold, too wet, too snowy). But I’ll still be there, in the pre-dawn light, waiting to celebrate the moment when the truth became clear. Jesus is ALIVE.

That’s why I love Easter now–remembering Christ’s resurrection. But I think I learned to love Sunrise Services when I would go with my Dad as a child. I remember at least one Easter when it was just the two of us. I remember getting up in the dark and putting on my new Easter clothes–a dress, white stockings, and black, patent leather shoes. Oh, how they shone.

As Dad and I went out the door I remember seeing our Easter baskets waiting–brimming with bright candy and other goodies. But I knew going to church to see the sun rise was somehow more important. Candy and treats could wait.

That might have been the year we went to French Creek Presbyterian and stood on the crest of the hill looking down over the valley. There were houses down there–mostly on the ramshackle side–with old cars and peeling paint. Some chickens scrabbled in the dirt and a dog or two stirred. It wasn’t exactly a bucolic scene.

But then the sun rose and we sang and proclaimed that He is risen! He is risen, indeed! And I was warm where I stood leaning up against my Daddy. Then we went home for breakfast and Easter baskets followed by church and Easter dinner with ham and deviled eggs.

And the world was good.

There’s plenty wrong with the world today. Some of it touches me personally, some of it doesn’t. But somehow when the sun rises on April 16 this year, it will be like starting over. And those first rays of the sun will fall on a world that God is still shaping. And I’ll remember that what Christ gave us most of all is . . . hope.

Happy Easter.

A Palm Sunday Memory

Easter eggsI spent Palm Sunday at a friend’s church. It was a lovely service with lots of joy, but I’ll confess I missed the children’s processional of little ones waving palm branches that’s a tradition at my own church.

Which got me to thinking about a Palm Sunday back in 2011 . . .

That year, the children not only came down the aisle waving palm branches, they also offered up a series of songs and readings. It was alternately moving and, well, funny.

Three of the children performed solos, each taking a verse of a song. Camden went first. He was five at the time and very poised for one so young. When he began singing, clutching that microphone and pouring his whole heart into the song, I got a little teary. He was trying so hard and obviously wanted to do his very best. He finished his section and handed the mic off to the girl next to him.

And then . . . he heaved a sigh and began untucking his shirt from his pants. It was like the tired executive at the end of a long day loosening his tie and unbuttoning his collar. But then a look came over Camden’s face. I’m guessing he realized that this might not be the time or place for getting comfortable. So he began stuffing his shirt back into his pants–largely without success. Finally, with half of his shirt tucked in too deep and the other half flopped over his belt he stood up straight, thrust his chest out and looked like he was well-satisfied with himself.

I think when Camden began  singing, many of us got a little dewy-eyed. But now, looking around the congregation, I suspected the tears were from suppressed (mostly) laughter. I’ve never laughed so hard without making noise.

And I think that’s what Jesus might have been getting at in Matthew 18 when he said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Camden did his VERY best. He sang with all his heart and he remembered his manners if a little late. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t worrying about what the congregation thought as we giggled through his antics. He just knew what was expected and he did his best to meet those expectations.

God knows we’re not going to get it right. I think He loves it when we do our fallible, human best. He sent His son to die so we could keep trying to get it right every day. Whether it’s the start of Holy Week or just another Monday.

Appalachian Thursday – Allium tricoccum

GE DIGITAL CAMERAEarlier this week I was cutting through the woods on the mountain back of the house when I saw a lush patch of green off through the trees. I recognized it right away.

It’s ramp season in Appalachia.

I found an on-line article that said, “Ramps are a spring ephemeral of deciduous forests in eastern North America.” Man, I like the sound of that.

I pulled up just two, chopped them in butter and made a cheese omelette that evening. I’ve long felt ramps should be more of a seasoning or garnish than a main dish. It also saves others from having to smell me as my body processes the stinky plant.

Ramps were a spring tonic back in the day–and I suppose they still are. The first wild, fresh green of the season packed with nutrients. But now–NOW–ramps are trendy. Plenty of downright ritzy restaurants are weaving ramps into their spring menus.

My chef friend Dale Hawkins in Buckhannon, WV, posts his daily special for a full month at a time. On April 10 he’s offering: Pork Roast w/ Sauerkraut, Fried Potatoes & Ramps. I’d eat that. The Marketplace here in Asheville, NC, is offering a lamb dish with ramp pesto.

My theory is that trained chefs have hit on the right formula for cooking ramps. They really ought to be treated as a condiment–a flavoring or seasoning. Sure you can blanch them then fry them in a little bacon grease and sprinkle on the vinegar, but if you don’t regret that dish your close friends will.

It might be better to chop a few and add them to a potato and bacon hash or mix them with scrambled eggs. Or better yet, find some outstanding chefs somewhere in Appalachia and see how they’re working their magic on the legendarily stinky first fruit of the season.