Appalachian Thursday – Legend of the Dogwood

dogwoodI’ve always loved to bring wildflowers in the house. As kids we’d pick daffodils and forsythia, then wild azalea and lilacs, then daisies and black-eyed Susans. I even got in trouble for breaking off a branch from my mother’s redbud tree!

But we never cut dogwood. It’s a holy flower–especially around Easter.

I worked the legend of the dogwood into my upcoming novel, When Silence Sings. Here’s a short excerpt for you on this week after Easter. Colman Harpe is an itinerant preacher tasked with sharing the Gospel with a feuding clan. He finds his way through stories like this one . . .

“Dogwood tea,” a woman said, leaping to her feet and touching a flowery branch. She spoke to the woman to her right. “Ivy says it’s good for easing sore muscles if you use it externally. But taken by mouth, it can break a fever. I just remembered. Try that for Avery next time he takes a fever.” She snapped off a flower and resumed her seat, examining the creamy petals.

“Can I see that?” Colman asked while seeing a way out of the conversation about Ivy.

She nodded and handed him the flower. He looked at it closely, remembering what his grandmother told him when he was a boy. “I guess you all know the legend of the dogwood?”

All eyes turned to him with expectant looks. He supposed at least some of them knew the legend but didn’t want to get in the way of hearing a good story. He smiled.

“Dogwood trees used to grow big as oaks,” he began. As a matter of fact, they were so big and strong and had such good wood, the Romans used one to make the cross they crucified Jesus on.” The ladies were still now, almost reverent in their attention. “But after His resurrection, Jesus took pity on the tree and said that never again would it be used for such a purpose. From that day to this, dogwoods don’t get much bigger than this one here.” He stood and patted the trunk he could easily circle with both hands. “And this”—he held up the flower—“is shaped like a cross with two short petals and two long. And at the tip of each petal is a nail scar.” He showed them the crimped pink-stained petals. “While in the center rests a crown of thorns. I guess, if we take the time to look around, reminders of God’s gifts and graces are all around us, just waiting for someone to notice them.”

A gentle breeze wafted through the trees and set the branches of the dogwood to stirring as if in approval. Colman looked around the group and saw smiles softening faces that likely saw more than their share of grief as the women struggled to raise families and support their husbands in this hardscrabble mountain land.

Nell dimpled at him. “That’s the nicest sermon I’ve heard from a preacher in a long time.”

Colman felt a surge of pride and noticed Nell had soft brown eyes to go with her golden hair. He looked through the branches of the tree to the cloud-dotted sky beyond and thought maybe it was the nicest sermon he’d preached ever.

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