Appalachian Thursday – The First Cutting

grassesWe’re finally having some truly warm weather with days that might even be what you would call “hot.” And as summer approaches, I’ve seen some folks in the area start to put up the first cutting of hay.

When I was a kid, the first cutting typically came pretty close to the last day of school. For so many children, summer meant freedom–going to the pool, plenty of time to play, vacations. For my brothers and me it meant working in the hayfield–or the garden.

Until I got old enough to be more help than hindrance in the field, my job was to carry Mason jars of ice water out to the workers. Not a hard job, though fresh-cut stubble is mighty hard on bare feet.

When I got a bit bigger, I stacked bales as they were tossed onto a wagon moving slowly through the fields. It’s important to alternate rows for a secure stack. Some days I got to drive the tractor which is almost fun until you get to a steep hill and have to stop and start without jerking bales (or people) off the wagon.

And there was always the need for extra hands to unload the wagon (we used a hay elevator to carry the bales to the barn loft) then to stack the hay inside. I can remember more than one rush to the barn as dark clouds swarmed the sky. Rain is NOT good for hay.

And then the best part–a long shower or a trip to the swimming hole to wash the chaff from places you wouldn’t think it could go. It’s almost worth getting that hot, sweaty, and dirty just so to feel cool water sluice across your skin. Then a well-earned supper perfectly seasoned by the day’s labor. I don’t remember what we ate, but it was good.

Now don’t let me fool you. I worked, but nearly so hard as my brothers and the other boys and men my dad hired to help. Sometimes it pays to be the girl.

And now, as an adult, when I drive by a field of freshly mown hay, or see a farmer tedding in preparation for the rake, then the baler, I roll down the car window and breathe deeply. The smell reminds me of the satisfaction of a barn full of hay ready for winter. And it almost makes me wish I could spend a day sweating under the summer sun.

Almost.

The BEST Reference Books

Hevenly Highway HymnsWhile you can look just about anything up on-line these days, it’s sometimes nice to have an actual book you can take down from the shelf and flip through to find what you need.

That’s what I do when I want to include hymn lyrics in one of my novels. When a character sings, mentions a favorite hymn, or is touched by lyrics, I reach for my 1956 copy of Heavenly Highway Hymns from Laurel Fork United Methodist Church.

By the time I was a kid in the 70s, we’d replaced the worn, softcover hymnals with foil stamped hardback copies. But, of course, no one threw away the old ones. So, probably 15 years ago, I asked for one of the 1956 copies (turns out to be the first printing). And now I treasure it. And refer to it often when working on a manuscript.

The problem is, once I dip into those fragile pages, I am typically lost. On the way to Rock of Ages–#225–I stumble across #241. And I have to sing it (aloud if no one’s around). Who can resist a chorus like, “Lord, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land . . . In the shade of the tree of life that it may ever stand; Where I can hear the angels sing and shake Jesus’ hand; Yes, build me a cabin in the corner of glory land.”

I can hear Smutt and Anna, Uncle Willis and Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Bess, Mom & Dad, Glenn and Mary, Freddie and Mary and all the others singing a capella because no one could play the piano that almost always sat silent at the front of the church. Freddie hit the bass notes.

And what’s even better, is that my book is a shape note hymnal. It’s an old-style of singing where each note (do, re, mi, etc.) is assigned a specific shape (diamond, square, triangle, etc.). It was a way to teach folks to sing without having to teach them to read music.

Trust and ObeyWhile my impromptu hymn-singing when I’m supposed to be writing can turn into a serious distraction, I think it’s also really helpful. Because I write about Appalachia–where shape note (or sacred harp) singing still hangs on. And those side trips back to my childhood in a one-room church where I first learned to call God by name–well, that’s why I write. It’s good to be reminded. And maybe to sing a few verses of #99, “When we walk with the Lord, In the light of His word, What a glory He sheds on our way!”

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 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–7 Spring Favorites

Spring is technically still a ways off, but we have daffodils, forsythia peeking out, warmer days (followed by COLD ones), and last night I heard the first peepers of the season. So I’m indulging my spring fever with seven things I love about this time of year.

1) Snow on daffodils. In spite of warmer days, we’ll occasionally wake to a fluffy dusting of snow that clings to branches and flower petals without making a mess of the roads. Pretty then gone. Just the way I like my snow! Growing up, snows like that were called “poor man’s fertilize” and farmers would hurry to plow it under in the garden before it melted.

2) Peepers. I love to wake to the song of the little frogs singing and then walk with them at dusk. It’s the music of spring!

3) Fresh asparagus. I think it’s kind of a shame that you can get just about any produce any time of year these days. I remember how Mom treasured those first asparagus shoots poking up through the warming soil. Thank goodness for farmer’s markets where you can still find the real thing! Of course, my great-grandmother wouldn’t have had such fancy fixins–she would probably have enjoyed poke sallat or dandelion greens.

4) Fiddleheads. There’s just something about those tightly furled fronds that’s gorgeous to me. When hiking with my husband year round, I love to point out flowers and plants. He calls them ALL “fiddleheads.”

5) Lambs. When I was a kid, spring was all about the new calves. Dad and would walk out to check on the mothers about to give birth. Now I get to drive past a local farm college’s lambing pasture every morning and evening. And yes, I will pull over to watch lambs frolic. I mean, how can you not?!?

6) Seed catalogs. I don’t grow many vegetables anymore (even when I try, I don’t grow many!), but I still love flipping through the pages of those colorful catalogs. Giant tomatoes, golden corn, plump strawberries, crookneck squash, new potatoes, baby lettuces . . . Oh, shoot. Maybe I will plant something this year!

7) Open windows. It’s a bit early yet, but any time the temperature creeps upwards of 65 I sneak a window open at least for a little while. The day I can leave them open all night listening to the peepers will be perfection!

What do you love about spring?