Drifting Out to Sea……

I’ve never been so relieved over a dog I didn’t know as I was in the Cracker Barrel in Dublin, Georgia decades after I first became concerned about her fate.

My husband and I had created a campfire playlist the previous weekend, and one of the songs I’d chosen was Shannon by Henry Gross, which was released in 1976. It’s a song I’d half-winced at adding, but I’ve always loved the tune and the passion of the voice. All my life, it has been a trainwreck song – one that holds you with fierce abandon while you squirm and fight off tears as you listen.

I’d always heard that the song was about the singer’s dog who had fallen off a sailboat and drowned, and was now “drifting out to sea.” My heart has ached through all these years, thinking that this poor Irish Setter named Shannon had been doing what she’d loved in her role as the first mate on this vessel but had slipped and fallen into the waters, disappearing before anyone even realized she was missing.

I’ve been on that boat a hundred times in my mind, searching frantically for this dog, wondering if a shark had eaten her or if she’d been wave-drowned and folded into the depths.

I went searching for a picture of this dog, only to find that this was one of those rumors I’d always heard and had never taken the time to verify. Turns out, the dog was not Henry Gross’s dog at all, but an Irish setter named Shannon belonging to Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys, with whom Gross had played a time or two. She’d not drowned, but had been hit by a car. Ironically, though, Gross had also owned a dog named Shannon.

And so I celebrated right there in the Cracker Barrel over breakfast that Shannon did not panic in the water or dogpaddle for hours on end and succumb to drowning from fatigue. I think that most of all, I’m finally satisfied that there was closure for her family…….and now I can listen to the song with a happier sad heart around the campfire.

https://kool1079.com/a-classic-rock-song-you-didnt-know-was-written-about-a-dog/

https://www.henrygross.com/the-story-of-shannon/

Proverbs 20:5 

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.

Biblical History Center Part 3 of 3: Plants and Herbs

Today’s post concludes the 3-part blog post on my visit to The Biblical History Center in LaGrange, Georgia. As we’d strolled the archaeological gardens of the Biblical History Center, I noticed scriptural placards in front of several plants and herbs. Since my sister-in-law recently switched to a functional medicine doctor and is researching ways to be more targeted in using plants and herbs in her diet to take a more natural approach to her health, I took a stroll back through the gardens with the purpose of exploring what was planted there to note any scriptural references to the plants in the garden so that I could share them with her. Some had scriptures – others didn’t, but I found it all so fascinating to see the scripture-based plants. As she sat at her lake house posting on Facebook that she was exploring her new herbal medicine book, I was out admiring the plants that she was reading about on her porch swing that same day.

I’ve placed the Bible verses under each picture with a scriptural reference for today’s post.

This was the pond in front of the goat hair tent. Koi fish swam through the water lilies in this little pond, and it was captivating to watch them loving their environment so much.
Bulrushes and Papyrus – Exodus 2:3: New International Version Describes putting Moses in the Nile River to save him from certain death.
But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.
John 15: 1-8: The Vine and the Branches
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
John 19:29: John 19:29 – A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked… 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.
From the Berean Study Bible – Cedar of Lebanon, Psalm 92:13 –

12The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13Planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. 14In old age they will still bear fruit; healthy and green they will remain,…
Italian Cyprus tree
John 19:29: 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
Exodus 12:8: New International Version
That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast.
Deuteronomy 8:7-8: For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey;
Isaiah 28:27: Berean Study Bible
Surely caraway is not threshed with a sledge, and the wheel of a cart is not rolled over the cumin. But caraway is beaten out with a stick, and cumin with a rod.
Fig Tree Matthew 21:88-19: 18 Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
Hosea 14:6 – Berean Study Bible
His shoots will sprout, and his splendor will be like the olive tree, his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon.

If these plants interest you, there are many more links to exploring the spiritual symbolism and uses of plants in the Bible.

Genesis 1:12 

The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Biblical History Center Part 2 of 3: The Biblical Meal

Our tour of the Biblical History Center in LaGrange, Georgia began with a 90-minute tour of the Biblical Archaeological Garden, described in yesterday’s blog post. The second half of the three-hour tour began when we came in from the archaeological garden and artifact center and entered the room to partake in the Biblical meal. Up until this time, I’d only ever considered a Biblical meal as either The Lord’s Supper or a plate of grilled salmon sprinkled with dill and a couple of slices of Ezekiel bread.

We moved around the U-shaped table to be seated in front of our plates, very close to those seated to our right and left. Our docent, Greg, a retired teacher who volunteers at the center, began by explaining the high seating and the low seating. The host and most highly seated person was positioned in the second seat at the top of the right side of the U shaped table, and the servants were seated in the bottom middle of the U, having to make their way past everyone as they left their seats to go and get more food to serve as people needed it. One thing they didn’t have was cutlery or napkins – they pretty much used their hands to eat, and hands or sleeves to wipe their mouths. (Georgia Law requires The Biblical History Center to provide diners with a napkin, but we learned to use the leavened bread as our spoon).

The host’s job was to keep the conversation moving and be sure that everyone was happy. The low seating was at the top of the left hand side of the U, which is where Peter sat during the last supper.

Can you see the candles in the corners? They sell them here, and I loved them. They are flat pottery, you pour olive oil in them and a clean mop string as a wick, and light the candle. It burns low and cleanly as you eat a meal.

Greg showed us The Last Supper by DaVinci and explained how it was a beautiful painting but not exactly aligned with the cultural norms of the day.

He passed with a picture of a more accurate rendering of the way things most likely actually happened.

Blessing of the Bitter Herb

As we began eating, he blessed our drink (water or grape juice – our choice) as we held our cups upward, and then took a tiny sip. Next came the leavened bread, and he blessed this before we took a bite. The bitter herb was also blessed (above) , after we took a slice of radish and dipped it twice in a bowl of salt water. Bitter herb was eaten to remind us that life, too, has some bitter times. Where today we say one blessing at the start of our meal, in Biblical days there were multiple prayers – said for different foods, including the soup.

While we were enjoying the food, Greg climbed up on a bed, reclined on his left side, and demonstrated how Jewish people ate during these times. They ate lying down and were required to eat at least once a year this way, using their right hand to eat even if they were left-handed, since the left hand was the personal cleaning hand and would not have been used to consume food. If you were a southpaw in those days, you just did the best you could with your non-dominant hand.

The lentil soup was served – Esau’s favorite, apparently. We had black and green olives, spinach dip, grapes, and hummus. There was also an interesting apple sauce (Flodni) that tasted like apple butter with applesauce mixed in, and then had additions of raisins, spices, and nuts. It was tasty and could be spread on the bread. Chicken was also a part of the meal, which could be rolled into the bread. Boiled eggs were served, although the more authentic way that Jewish people would have eaten their eggs was by baking or roasting them. People of Biblical times did not indulge in large meals, but instead ate what they needed in small portions to keep themselves nourished.

Throughout the entire meal, Greg was giving an account of events leading up to the crucifixion, the placement of Peter’s seating at the low end, the seating of Judas at the high end, (despite Jesus’ knowing all the while that Judas would betray him in the end), the probable feelings of those around the table, the fishing and empty nets after Jesus returned, and Jesus returning and cooking breakfast after the nets were made full from casting them off the other side of the boat.

We left the Biblical History Center with full stomachs, full heads, and full hearts from this amazing place that had been originally destined for Houston or Dallas but thankfully came to LaGrange because the Callaways (of Callaway Gardens) are located about twenty miles east in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Now we know that there is so much more to a Biblical meal than communion or our proverbial bag of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 4:9) bread (wait, does a proverbial saying apply when it originates in another book of the Bible besides Proverbs?).

If you’re ever in the neighborhood, don’t miss this experience. Our next quest to replace our empty bottle of elderberry will be to Kentucky so that we can stop by and check out the Ark Experience and Creation Museum.

Please come back for tomorrow’s post – the third and final part of the Biblical History Center blog post series will feature the historical and scriptural plants and herbs of the archaeological garden.

Ezekiel 4:9 NKJV
“Also take for yourself wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat it.

Biblical History Center Part 1 of 3: Archaeological Garden Tour

Water urns at a well

I have a writing friend in Idaho who recently turned a trip of getting her new eyeglasses into an adventure by visiting Red Butte Gardens in Utah on her outing to pick them up.  I commented on her Facebook post recently and admire her ability to seek fun in the ordinary stuff.  She inspires me to do the same.

So when we ran out of elderberry on Friday night, I told my husband that it would be our weekend mission to replace the empty bottle -we set it out on the counter so we wouldn’t forget it when we went to town.  

When I rose early to do my writing, I saw the empty bottle and thought of my Idaho friend, of turning our day into a more fantastic adventure than a simple errand.  This drove my spur-of-the-moment decision to wake my husband, get showered and dressed, and drive an hour west to the Biblical History Center in LaGrange, Georgia.  I wasn’t certain, but it appeared that there may be tickets for the 10 a.m. Archaeological Garden Tour and Meal.  

A group from Alabama had come that day and every seat had been booked, but four people scheduled to be on the tour were sick and could not make the trip – which left spots for us and one other couple in line hoping to buy tickets.  And so began a delightful day of learning, which sparked this three-part series on our Biblical History Center experience.

Weaving loom a young girl would use to weave panels of goat hair tents

We met our docent, Greg, a retired teacher who dressed in the clothing of Biblical times and took us into the classroom to talk a little about the schedule of the day before proceeding to the goat hair tent, where the men sat on the man cave side of the tent house and the women sat on the family room side, separated by colorful woven panels.  My husband was fascinated by the way that the tent worked – where we get five feet of rain on average where we live in Georgia, the arid area of the tentdwellers in the Middle East received 21 inches per year; as the rain fell on the tent top, the goat hair would swell, keeping the rain out. As it dried, the porous opening allowed sunlight and air to come through to cool the tent like an Old Testament HVAC system.

The man cave side of the goat hair tent, separated from the family room by the colorful blankets

We learned that young girls would begin weaving long thin sections of panels of goat hair they would eventually weave into a wider covering to become a tent and ultimately become her home once she married.  She’d begin the process around the age of 8 or 10, and by the time she finished a few years later, her father would raise a flag to let others know that there was an eligible young woman ready to be married.  The actual tent we sat in had been purchased from a family in the Middle East so that its authenticity was evident to visitors.  

Our docent, Greg, describes the life of shepherds in Biblical times

From there, we moved around the garden and learned about the life of the shepherds and the ways that they would separate the sheep from the goats.  We found it delightful that the sheep would follow their master’s voice as the shepherds sang and went into the fields and then back home again.  Shepherds dwelt in a cave, taking turns keeping watch over their animals as others slept and ate in the caves.  These caves were built to stay at an even temperature of 69-71 degrees – cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  They placed Biblical barbed wire (thorny branches) around the walls to dissuade predators from attacking their flocks.  

Old Testament Tomb (they make the point several times that the bones – which look real – are not real)

Greg explained the Bosom of Abraham in the tomb section of the garden – – those deceased who would sleep with their fathers in death.  He explained that in Old Testament times, the bodies of the Jewish people were not embalmed but were wrapped in cloth and laid in a tomb – sometimes in a sarcophagus, but most often on a shelf.  On this shelf, the rodents and bacteria and insects would do the job of turning the body to bones over the course of about a year.  The bones could then be placed into an ossuary, a small box that needed to be only as long as the femur and wide as the skull; all the other smaller bones would then be collected and placed into the ossuary and stored in the family tomb. 

New Testament Tomb

In New Testament times, the tombs had large rocks over the door, whereas in Old Testament times, the tombs were more open.  

We moved to the place of crucifixion, where a tree had become the cross.  Greg went into great detail about the suffering of crucifixion and the process of dying – which often took about six hours to suffer to the point of death.  We learned that some who were dying on the cross could raise themselves enough to take in more breaths and live longer – both a blessing and a curse, as the suffering was prolonged along with life. Not everyone died in the first day – some held on for several days.

Our docent, Greg, explaining the significance of olive oil and how it was extracted in ancient times

We learned about the process of pressing oil from olives, which went through multiple rock pressing processes – – to get the firstfruits, which were taken to the temple as tithes, to get the oil for foods and medicines, and to get the dregs, which were used as oil to light candles and to make soap.  

Replica of a Patriarchal Biblical Family’s home

Where the daughters became women who wove starter home tents and became part of the husband’s family, the sons generally remained with their families and brought their own wives on board, building rooms onto the family home as their own families expanded.  

Urns and pouring jugs in the Biblical home

In the artifact room, we were not permitted to take photographs, but there were over 250 authentic artifacts dating back to Biblical times in this section, including ancient tools, weaving loom weights, mortars and pestles, vases and containers of various sizes and shapes, and all sorts of anchors and fishing artifacts.  The room housing these items had to be built to be “everything-proof” – fireproof, tornadoproof, floodproof – and remains at a constant temperature.  

We peeked into the kids’ archaeological dig area, and what an experience this is for children! Although we did not go in to do any digging and there were no children present at the time to observe, this sensory experience helps children understand how we have come to have artifacts that teach us about history.

Once we finished the 90-minute tour of the gardens, we entered the Biblical meal room.  We smelled it long before we saw it.  In tomorrow’s post, I will share Part 2 of this 3-part blog series on The Biblical History Center: The Biblical Meal.

1 Timothy 4:13 

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

With Special Thanks to Slice of Life

Cemetery QR Codes

The Allman Brothers Band plot

On the way home from meeting my brother in Dublin, Georgia at the Cracker Barrel for a Saturday morning brunch to take him his childhood bedroom furniture of cherrywood given to him by our grandfather, we stopped at the Macon graveyard.  The main historic one is technically called the Rose Hill Cemetery, but it borders others nearby, making it feel like one enormous eternal sleepover of resting dead.

Little Martha, Rose Hill Cemetery, May 2022

On the way down, I’d quipped, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Macon Graveyard.  We should stop by on our way home if it’s not raining.”  I was thinking of my camera in the back seat, how I’d brought it along just in case today turned out to be the day I felt like shopping for a zoom lens for an upcoming trip.  

I asked if he’d ever been.  

“I’ve never even heard of it,” he told me.  

“We have to change that today.  It’s where Greg Allman is buried.”  A few years back when he died, Cher and other music superstars had all gathered here to lay their loved one to rest.  

Bird on a headstone, Rose Hill Cemetery, May 2022

I love walking through graveyards.  It’s not really as much of a morbid fascination as it is a way of reminding myself that these people were once breathing the air I’m breathing, living their days pursuing dreams, and then it all came to an end in one moment.  As it will for all of us.  Walks through places like these can spark a desire in us to live each day to the fullest, to seek peace in relationships and allow pride to be set aside as we move toward our marks – to regain focus on what really matters. Or to maybe even find the perfect headstone for ourselves when we die, like that open book headstone that blankets two people.

Open book headstone

What I’ve always wished was on every headstone was a QR Code that would let me scan it and come to know the person resting there beneath my feet.  Like really see them in the flesh, smiling as they graduated school full of hope, then at the altar getting married, cradling infants years later, becoming grandparents, celebrating golden anniversaries and celebrating other milestones.  I want to know their hobbies and what they did while they lived – to know their favorite books and favorite songs, the unique footprint they made here.  A way to bring every graveyard to life and keep the spirits of the dead alive might be as simple as attaching to the QR Codes the funeral Powerpoints that scroll as people are waiting in lines to speak words of comfort to grieving families.

Before we’d arrived, I turned on my hotspot driving down I-16 and did a little research on the Allman Brothers Band, and Little Martha and the Bond Monument and all the cemetery places associated with their music.  Someone had posted driving directions to get to these plots from the front gate, so I navigated as my husband drove.  We parked and met up with some motorcyclists with fingerless leather gloves paying their respects to the members of the band, and I took their picture for them.  They let us snap a picture of their map that would help us locate the other places to see.  

Biker dude in his fingerless leather gloves, holding a map for me to photograph

On the way home, we also stopped at the grave of Ronnie Hammond, lead singer of The Atlanta Rhythm Section, who is buried by his wife in Forsyth, Georgia in Monroe Memorial Cemetery.  I just wonder how many people walk graves each day all across this country, not really knowing those buried in these sacred spaces.  I wished that we could have scanned a QR Code that would have given us some pictures of Ronnie, a few clips of his music, and maybe even a music video to see him alive and in person before he crossed the finish line.  

Maybe someday in the not too distant future, cemetery QR Codes will be a thing.  If I were one of those prophetic science fiction writers, I might even predict gravestones of the future not with built-in screens but with those kinds that shine up off the headstone like laser-light and start playing messages from the dearly deceased just like the lights in the frozen food section that come on when shoppers get within feet of the cases of frozen pizzas or vegetables.  

And maybe those who’d known the end was approaching would have special messages that encouraged us to live every day like it’s our last.  

Grave of Ronnie Hammond, Forsyth, Ga, May 2022

Ecclesiastes 9:5 

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

Keeping Bahamian Secrets

Our ship had come into the port of Nassau in the Bahamas, where we’d been on a Christmas cruise with our friends as they cruised for the first time ever. We’d decided earlier that year to make Christmas about an experience and not about adding things to gather dust or end up in our attic museums.

We were making our way to the world famous straw market when a little boy, maybe around nine or ten years old, approached my friend, holding two identical wooden carved turtles with bauble heads and tails – one in each hand.

“Hey, pretty lady, you like to buy turtle?” he asked.

I saw the smile flash across her face, and the quick concern as she realized he was all alone without an adult in sight.

“I don’t know. Tell me about your turtles,” she said, looking around for a parent somewhere nearby.

“They’re ten dollar, but today I sell to you for five, but don’t tell my fodder if you see him.”

She drew near, in secrecy, looking closely at each turtle, considering which one to buy. One, it turned out, had a broken bauble tail. She bought the working one for a mere “five dollar.”

The kid smiled a wide, white-toothy smile, proud of his sale. We saw him glance over his shoulder toward the corner of a building.

“Okay, now, before you go running off, you might better show me which one is your father so I don’t go telling him about the deal,” she added.

Clearly, this took the kid by surprise. He hadn’t expected such clever detective skills from his turtle customer.

He thought for a moment, then pointed at the corner of the building to our left and whispered, “There he is.”

She waved at the kid’s fodder, and we resumed walking toward the straw market, a fresh five dollar dent in her wallet.

Carved Coconut bauble head and tail turtle

Ecclesiastes 1:7 

All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.

God’s Country. Like Nowhere Else on Earth.

I first discovered back in the late 1980s that Pike County, Georgia had a quaint charm and a certain magic about it that made it different from anywhere I had ever lived.  My college roommate, Stacey, grew up in this town, and the stories she told made it even more appealing.  When I divorced in 2006, I decided to relocate from Hilton Head Island, SC to Zebulon, GA with my youngest child. We both needed this Little House on the Prairie to heal and pick up the pieces of our shattered lives.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that we were, as characters and readers, moving directly into the pages of the most interesting book I’d ever read.

Rolling hills and fences contain plush meadows filled with cows and mules, donkeys and goats and horses.  Countryside barns of Pike County take me straight back to my childhood dreams to the farm of Fern and Avery, with Charlotte and Wilbur at the core of this idyllic, pastoral setting that is a hidden gem my husband calls “God’s country.”  He says it every time we’ve been off rambling somewhere out of county and pass the sign coming back in: “Ahhh……we’re back in God’s country.” Then he’ll crack the window and take a deep breath. Roosters ask and answer back and forth from neighboring farms at all hours, doodling their warnings on red tailed hawk sightings. And that song my mama always sang when I was little, that I still sing to my grown children today – early in the mornin,’ bout the break of day, you can hear the donkey, and this is what he’ll say….hee haw, hee haw…. You can hear those donkeys, too, here in Pike County.

When folks talk about a place so remote that they can pee off their own front porch, they are talking about right here.  There is something forever lingering about this way of life when little boys grow up fishing in ponds and jumping dirt bikes from hill to hill ~ they never, ever lose their joy of peeing in the great outdoors.  Take my word for it.  

On one visit as I was preparing to make my move here, Stacey was driving down Reidsboro Road when she slammed on brakes.  I looked up, bracing myself for a crash, and saw a goat with a red collar standing squarely in the middle of the lane, with no apparent plans to be anywhere.  Stacey put on her flashers, exited the car, and took the goat by the collar, leading him well off the road to a grassy patch. That was the moment I knew for sure that I was moving to the right place.

One-eared wayward pig in someone’s yard in Pike County

Still today, on our community discussion page, “Someone’s bull is loose over on Pedenville Road, so if you know the owner you might wanna let ‘em know.”  “A miniature pony is running around over on Chapman Road, and he won’t let me close to it.  No idea where it is this morning, but if you’re missing one you could check the area for it.”  “A pig is running down Shady Lane, and I almost hit it.  If this pig is yours, come get it before it gets hit.” 

Every.Single.Day some critter makes a break for it and winds up on social media.  

There was that one day, too, when our neighbor’s bull got loose and wandered into our front yard. I had no idea he was visiting until my youngest child came home.

“Mom? There’s a bull in the front yard? Why??”

As if I had put it out there as a pet (and, to be fair, my children never really knew what to expect out of me – – I did once capture an alligator with my bare hands and a rubber band when it was threatening to get into a neighbor’s pool in South Carolina, and held it until DNR arrived to take it and relocate it). I called the neighbor, who showed up a few minutes later and took his bull by the horns and led it back over to his pasture.

Minature pony making a break for it on Chapman Road

Shortly after I moved here in 2006, a headline in the once-a-week newspaper reported that a cannon had been fired over in Meansville and the cannonball had ripped through a wall of a house a half mile away as the residents were out to dinner.  

And everyone’s a character.  One deacon in a church talks with such passion about everything, his favorite word “onliest.”  The onliest way to Heaven is accepting Jesus, he’ll say, further squeezing more superlative status out of the already-narrow-laned word. The English teacher in me cringes every time he uses that word, but when I step outside my teacher skin and sit back and listen, I feel the pulse of the onliest place I ever really want to be.

And then there are all the typical busybody southern ladies who can’t keep their noses in their own wadded purse Kleenex to save the queen, and who rarely even call ceasefires on gossip for Sunday services.  Those prayer lists in the women’s Sunday School class? Are usually veiled gossip sessions.

There are mudboggin’ jacked-up pickup truck types who take their Saturday night shower and slick their hair back on Sunday mornings, wipe the tops of their boots off, and wear their best Wrangler jeans and bolos, reverently removin’ their cowboy hats before passin’ through the church doors to find a pew and sit with their grannies to harmonize in the hymn-singin’ as they praise the Lord.  

Every small-town southern character who has ever appeared in any book is here, in the flesh, in Pike County, Georgia.  Story lines play out right in front of me, so that’s why I try to listen far more than I talk – – I’m busy watching the next writing ideas take root.  

Some characters are scandalous, so scandalous I can’t mention them here, like the local convenience store regulars who show up for the undergarments hidden in the pizza boxes.

You can’t make this stuff up.  

Maybe my favorite was the day I was scanning Facebook for a moment right before a serious meeting and came across this post:  I’d like to apologize to anyone who was at Pedro’s.  I showed my white tr@$h a$$ last night.  My bad. 

Not only could I not focus on the meeting for having to cover my face as if I were about to sneeze several times to cover the laughter, I kept thinking to myself, …..and this is why I love living here in this sauna of sin, where self-deprecating confessionals plummet like waterfalls all around in the natural beauty of the rural countryside. And…..why wasn’t I at Pedro’s to see this spectacular show??

God’s country. Like nowhere else on earth.

2 Chronicles 7:14 

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

This little piggie went to market……..(not to be slaughtered – – but to shop!)

#Team Snake

For several years now in late spring or early summer, we have found black rat snakes on our front porch. They like to get in our windows and look inside to see what the humans on the Johnson Funny Farm are up to.

The first time it happened, Boo Radley was barking a high-pitched bark, nose to nose and separated from the snake only by the windowpane in the living room. Its body was wound up in an oval shape like a garden hose, lying side to side in the two foot span of the window, raising its head and staring straight at Boo.

Last year, there were two of them all intertwined under our kayaks that we had placed on the porch temporarily while we cleaned out the garage. That took some wrangling to get that pair under control.

Fitz, Summer 2021, looking at one of the snakes who wanted to go kayaking

This morning, I noticed one in the window, climbing the house to get to the bird eggs in the nest at the corner of our front porch roof.

May 2022 – black rat snake clinging over first window, trying to get to the eggs in the nest at the top of the white column
May 2022 Black Rat Snake on House

We got our snake trash can and our trash picker-upper and contained him before putting the lidded can in the truck and relocating this fellow to the west side of the Funny Farm to help control the field mice population over yonder where the sun sets.

May 2022 Black Rat Snake being relocated to the other side of the farm
Briar, releasing Black Rat Snake, May 2022

Once we got him over on the Turner Road side of the farm, we turned him loose into the rugged side of the wild, where he slithered for cover once he realized that his life was going to be spared. On the way back, we saw a second black rat snake of the day about fifty feet from where we had released our prisoner, so it’s safe to assume that maybe the resident west-ender was coming to greet the east-ender and show him all the best field mouse spots.

The West-end Welcome Wagon Snake (he is alive, they just do this weird body shape thing like someone has tied them in knots)

We don’t kill our snakes unless they are venomous, and then we do so only to avoid young snakes that may threaten our dogs. We did kill the copperhead all coiled up and ready to strike, hiding in the barn under the tractor last year.

One time when a rat snake got in the chicken coop, I leaned in to get him and got my hair caught in the chicken wire. Fortunately, my stepson was home, so I called him to come and help as I had the snake trapped between an upside-down metal mesh garbage can and a campaign yard sign. I couldn’t release the pressure without the snake getting loose, so there I waited, with my head stuck in the coop, face to face with the snake through the mesh until Andrew arrived to help untangle me.

For today, the bird eggs have survived, the snake lived, and the dogs never even figured out what was happening. We high-fived our continued relocation teamwork, satisfied that we had done our part to protect the life of this eco-friendly serpent.

But once we’d seen two snakes before noon mid-May, we concluded that it is going to be quite a year for snakes.

Luke 10:19 

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.

Eastern Phoebe Eggs at the top of the porch, saved from the snake May 2022

Travel is Fatal to Prejudice

Postcards from Glenda

The letter arrived Thursday, May 5, postmarked May 2, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah from my writing friend Glenda Funk, who lives in Idaho. I observed every square inch of the envelope – her return address seal, a blue circular sticker the size of a half-dollar with a bird surrounded by leaves, put a smile on my face. Next, I noticed the handwriting – exceptionally beautiful, especially for someone who has had two recent eye surgeries and has NOT let her less than perfect vision sap even one ounce of the hunger she has for passionately living a full life of travel and making a difference in the lives of others (she is a private person, but listen up: there are some people who work tirelessly behind the scenes by choice to lift others up every day, and she is one of them). Finally, I noticed the stamp – a Women Vote 19th Amendment Forever stamp. Yes, everything about this envelope addressed to me built my anticipation for what was inside.

When I opened it, the first thing I saw was a red and white bookmark with the image of Mark Twain at the bottom. Travel is Fatal to Prejudice, it said. “Found the perfect bookmark for you,” she wrote. She knows from all of our shared writing that we both have an insatiable desire to see the world and to make every day an adventure. I read this in her writing, see it in her posts. Here’s a woman who drives out to go get her new glasses and ends up in Red Butte Garden and Arboretum with her husband while she waits for her lenses to be switched.

And as I read her letter, touching tears pooled in my eyes. The letter was personalized to me, but was sent to a group of people to share that she had decided that her monthly theme would be a postcard project to share the postcards that she has collected from her many years of travel. She explained that she has purchased lots of postcards during her journeys, and while she intended to mail them then, she never did – so she would embark on a Postcard Project for the month of May, reliving memories and bringing smiles to friends as they checked their mailboxes across the country. She’d also be writing in response to reading (she gave me a perfect June theme, so I’m going to take this and run with it, starting today in May in a hammock in F D Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

At the end of her letter, she explains that her Postcard Project is about her commitment to continued daily writing, so recipients should not feel the obligation to write back. I believe that, and I also know this: these postcards are a way of sharing self, of offering a moment of connection, of bringing a smile to the faces of those who will receive them, and most of all – of saying you matter to me. And there is not a single soul anywhere who does not need to be reminded that we matter.

Thank you, Glenda!

Letter and bookmark from a dear fellow writer and traveler who keeps me inspired

Proverbs 16:9 

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Wear the Dress, Buy the Shoes, Take the Trip

My school system has been working with our Family Connection in partnership to bring Elia Moreno  to our community collaborative meetings virtually each month.  Elia lives in Texas and works tirelessly with those in poverty to help empower them to effect positive change in their lives. She leads us in discussions about how to make a difference in our rural Georgia community as we strive to be good neighbors. 

In our May meeting, there were a lot of tears; Elia’s sister Dee, diagnosed a couple of years ago with cancer, had passed away the day after our previous meeting in April.  Elia is known for her powerful words and thoughts (I often jot down quotes as she speaks).  In our May meeting, I wrote this:  “In the two years leading up to my sister’s death, we made it count.  We wore the dress, we bought the shoes, we took the trips. And I’m so glad we did that.  We spent time together and had no regrets.”  Her words brought to mind the Tim McGraw song Live Like You Were Dying, about the man whose father is faced with a life-threatening illness and gives the message that we should do the things we’ve always wanted to do today – while there is still time.

Graves of Ronnie Hammond, lead singer of Atlanta Rhythm Section, and his wife, Tracey Wilds Hammond, at Monroe Memorial Gardens in
Forsyth, Georgia

I recently visited Monroe Memorial Gardens in Forsyth, Georgia, where Ronnie Hammond, lead singer of the Atlanta Rhythm Section (my husband’s favorite band), is buried. On that same day, we visited Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia, where the members of the Allman Brothers band are buried. We were both deeply moved by the beauty and peacefulness of these places, but the finality of life, the certain eternity of death in this life and promise of eternal life in heaven, was strongly felt.

Graves of Allman Brothers Band in Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia

As we searched for Ronnie’s grave, we noticed an older gentleman sitting in a folding chair on the far side of the cemetery, next to a grave. When he saw us walking the rows, he asked my husband, “Who are you looking for?”

Briar shared his stories of concerts and interactions with the Atlanta Rhythm Section and his more than half-century fixated fandom with the band and their songs. I watched these two – this older gentleman and my husband – walking side by side toward a grave near the entrance to the cemetery.

Briar spent some time there, reflecting and thinking, considering. What goes through our minds as we pause with graves at our feet is a deeply personal thing, caught as we are in our own blips on the dash at an unknown point between birth and death.

I looked back over and noticed that the gentleman had returned to his chair. “What’s his story?” I asked Briar.

“I don’t know. Let’s go find out,” he said, heading in that direction. I followed.

Briar talking to Mr. Hall in Monroe Memorial Gardens

Turns out that the man has come here every evening for the past 8 years, except when weather or his own illness prevented his coming. “This is my wife, right here,” he explained, pointing at the grave at his feet.

I read the name. Hall. Juanita, born in 1936, had died in 2014. Frederick’s future plot is right beside hers; 1940 was etched in his birth space. Frederick, 82 years old, is in a strange sense, warming his own space pre-burial, as he had been for 8 years already. I wondered how many people on the face of this planet spent this much time next to the place that they would eventually be buried. And what he thought about as he sat.

“I just buried my daughter in the new section a month ago,” he told us, suddenly misty eyed the same way an unexpected rain shower moves in, pointing just beyond where our truck was parked. “It’s not supposed to work like this. We’re not supposed to bury our kids. They’re supposed to bury us.”

I looked at my feet. There was nothing to be said, and any words might take away the power of his feelings. So I stared at the ground.

Mr. Hall’s daughter’s grave in the new section

And I thought a lot about Elia and Dee. Sisters who made a conscious choice to live with joy even in the face of death. Sisters who wore the dress, bought the shoes, and took the trips. Sisters who parted with no regrets, knowing that their time apart would be but a blink of an eye before they are reunited in heaven.

I thought about Frederick and Juanita, and their daughter, and wondered whether there were regrets, whether they’d known ahead of time to wear the clothes, buy the shoes and take the trips as they faced a finish line. I imagine that Frederick’s family was his entire life – folks who sat around the table together every Sunday after working hard all week, folks who celebrated every birthday and Christmas together, steeped in tradition with each new journey around the sun, contentment at its peak in their own living space.

I wondered about the regrets that Ronnie Hammond and his wife Tracey had ever felt. Ronnie’s last days involved surviving a bullet and ending up with heart failure.

And I stopped and took a quick personal inventory. For some of us, avoiding regrets means wearing the dress, buying the shoes, taking the trips and living like every day is our last – to live like we were dying (which, let’s face it – that’s how we are all living; from our first breaths, we inch our way toward death). I have an insatiable desire to travel, explore, see the world and write as I live like I am dying. For others, like my husband, having dinner at home around our table and spending time together, staying close to one’s roots – spending every moment in our own walls, cocooned safely in the familiar places – is how they would choose to live like they’re dying.

Moments in a cemetery have the power like nowhere else to shape the ways we think, to help us forgive, make decisions, and spend our time. After all, it is not our money that is our most valuable resource in this life; it is our time.

I think of Aunt Sook’s words to Buddy in A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, feeling assured that every one of us will, in fact, leave this world with today in our eyes.

You know what I’ve always thought? I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself…..as for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes. – Capote

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14