On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

Published in the Rains County Leader on June 30, 2022:

My Daddy and me – 1947

The week before Father’s Day, I changed my Facebook profile picture of a favorite picture of Dad and me. I was about nine months old which would have made him about twenty-six. You could tell that, even at that young age, I had him wrapped around my little finger – and I was pretty fond of him, too. While I was at it, I decided to change my cover photo. I chose a picture my neighbor Connie took of me and David back in 2014 during a photo shoot. You see some of the results of that day at the top of my column every week.

I’m not a very good model – I stiffen up in front of a camera – so after we finished the hard work of getting something acceptable for a head shot, Connie wanted to do some fun shots. She snapped a few pictures of us among the flowers in her front yard, and then she had us change into our biker clothes and move over to the old metal bridge on County Road 3200. In the summer, it’s shaded by a canopy of trees that she said would make a great setting for photos. I’m much more relaxed when I pose with David, and the results were some of the best pictures of me since our wedding. (His pictures are always good!)

I posted my favorite of the bike shots, and although I’ve posted it before, it got a lot of attention. One day last week at the Senior Center, Linda Pietila said, “We  got a real kick out of your biker picture, especially Rocky. He couldn’t believe you were ever on a motorcycle.”

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Just when I think I’ve experienced all that country life has to offer, I find something new – or at least new to me. In the eleven years we’ve lived in Emory, I’ve heard about the “you pick” farms, but I always seem to miss the seasons, and I always seem to hear about the picking parties after the fact. But this year was different.

I did miss the strawberries – they came and went in a hurry. And I thought I had missed blueberries when I saw a post that one venue had been picked out in three hours. But then a couple of weeks ago I saw a post from Alford Family Farm that they had lots blueberries ripening in sequence. When I asked David if he’d like to go on a berry-picking outing, he replied that he’d like to have some fresh blueberries, but he didn’t think he wanted to go in this heat.

I was a little disappointed but not crushed. I’ve not been a huge blueberry fan in past years. I enjoyed a blueberry muffin now and then, but after I had a major allergic reaction the first time I ate fresh blueberries, I swore off of them for a while. My doctor said he’d never heard of anyone being allergic to them, but whenever I ate anything blueberry, my face would itch so I continued to avoid them. But blueberries are everywhere, and a mixed berry cobbler is hard to resist. Eventually I ventured a taste here and there, and when I didn’t swell up and turn beet red, I decided maybe the doctor was right. Who knows what caused that initial reaction, but whatever it was, I seem to have outgrown it and blueberries have made their way back into my diet.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on June 16, 2022:

Crawfish. The first thing I did before beginning this column was to Google the correct name for these strange looking creatures. According to those who are supposed to know, people north of the Mason-Dixon Line normally refer to these miniature lobsters as crayfish while residents of the West Coast, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas call them crawdads. But since I married a Louisiana boy where they are known as crawfish, that’s what I’ll go with.

Texas wasn’t mentioned in the blog post I used for reference, but in the era before organized play dates and yoga classes for kids, my friends and I sometimes went fishing for crawdads in the drainage ditch near my house. We’d sneak a piece of bacon out of the refrigerator, wrap it around a rock, tie a string to it, and troll the muddy waters. I don’t think we ever caught one – in fact, I don’t remember ever seeing one. I don’t have a clue what we would have done if we had caught one – but if it was good enough for Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, it was good enough for us.

As an adult, I tend to avoid the unattractive critters. I love a good shrimp boil, but I don’t get excited when the local restaurants begin advertising that the crawfish are in. I did have some fried crawfish tails once which, as I recall, I enjoyed very much. But I don’t want those feelers and legs rising to the top of my bowl of gumbo or gracing my plate of jambalaya. Maybe it’s the eyes. I’ve had a couple of creepy experiences with the eyes of seafood.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on June 9, 2022:

The leadership of Believers’ Baptist Church puts a big emphasis on building relationships among the church family and the community. The Sunday morning schedule is set up with a fifteen minute gap between Sunday School and Morning Worship to allow time for members and visitors to meet new friends and touch base with old friends they haven’t seen in a week or so. It works so well that it’s often difficult for Pastor Jason to settle the congregation when it’s time for the service to begin.

On the last Sunday of the month, we have a casual Brown Bag Fellowship where people are encouraged to bring food from home or pick up fast food and spend some time together over lunch. We also have cookies and tea following business meetings, occasional potluck dinners, and an annual chili cookoff. And several times a year, we suspend regular Sunday evening studies in favor of Family Fun Night which usually takes place in the church parking lot. People bring lawn chairs, desserts, and outdoor games and enjoy more time together. This past Sunday we did something different and had Family Fun Night at Sandy Creek Park.

My research, which included a few minutes on Google and a note to Heather Rollins, indicated that the City of Emory purchased the land for the park sometime before 2015. With the help of various grants and other funds the City added bridges over the creek areas, a beautiful walking trail, several picnic tables and a concrete pad with some electricity for events. Recent City add-ons have included a splash pad and permanent restroom facilities. In addition, funds raised by dedicated people like Heather Rollins and her Keep Emory Beautiful projects have paid for an amazing children’s playground and a number of covered picnic tables as well as restoration of the arch bearing the Sandy Creek sign. They also planted some trees, but unfortunately, these were stolen. The hard work of all these people has turned Sandy Creek Park into a lovely retreat in the heart of Emory – the perfect place for Church in the Park.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on June 2, 2022:

The people of Uvalde suffered a great tragedy last week, and we suffered along with them. When something like this happens, there is so much that needs to be said, but too many words are the wrong ones. Words spoken or written during times of shock, horror, grief, pain, and anger often come out wrong or are misunderstood by those who hear them or read them, and they end up causing more harm than good. I was reluctant to write about what occurred, but so much heartbreak can’t simply be overlooked.  First, though, I want to share some thoughts about my grandson “T”.

T is eighteen years old, and he graduated from high school this weekend. Even those who are not doting grandparents recognize that he is an amazing young man – intelligent, handsome, talented, ambitious, loving, and caring. A family friend who has a beautiful home with a stunningly terraced back yard overlooking the Brazos River hosted a celebration for him on Saturday, and it was attended by friends and relatives from all over the country. One of the highlights of the evening was when the small professional jazz band that provided entertainment took a break and T and several of his friends took their place. We had missed the concert where his group won the best jazz ensemble award, so I was thrilled to hear them perform in person. I was also thrilled to watch him interact with a dozen of his peers as they played volleyball, engaged in a photo scavenger hunt, and generally enjoyed one another’s company. It was’t always this way.

Life was hard for baby T. He was temperamental, going from sunny to stormy without warning. He was super intelligent from the beginning, but his emotional development sometimes lagged behind, and he found processing life very difficult. But his parents and others who loved him found ways of helping him cope. As a baby, they discovered that swaddling him tightly in a receiving blanking and making a loud “shhhhhh” noise in his ear to mimic the sounds of the womb settled him when nothing else would. As he outgrew that method, T responded to a different kind of swaddling. His mom or dad would take him into their lap with his back against their chest, align their arms with his, and wrap him in a tight kind of reverse hug. Like the swaddling, this contact soothed him, and even though it was often a kind of disciplinary action, he sometimes asked to be held.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on May 26, 2022:

We will celebrate Memorial Day on Monday. It’s a day that began in 1868 as a time to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers. It has evolved into a celebration of all who have served our country in any way. Although some still decorate graves with flags and attend services of remembrance, it has also become a celebration of the summer season that is only a few weeks away. One of my early columns was about the more serious side of Memorial Day, and I’d like to share it with you this week.

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Memorial Day is a day of hope and remembrance, of remembering those who gave their lives in the service of their country. Why is remembrance important – and what is our hope?

Some of the stories we remember are of epic proportions, involving thousands of troops and tons of metal that was fashioned into war machines of all kinds. The stories that move us most, though, are the individual stories of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and the loved ones who love and miss them.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on May 19, 2022:

The City Girl column first began with a Letter to the Editor in September of 2011. When I continued to submit my thoughts from time to time, Earl Hill gave me print space. After several stories about the adventures and misadventures of being out of my city element, he began heading my column “City Girl,” and the name stuck. I still have my moments of showing my city roots, but almost eleven years later, there are periods of time when I’m definitely more country than city.

Around Easter David and I did a tour of the yard and noticed several wild blackberry vines in bloom. They’re more scarce than they were when we first moved here since the Virginia Creeper has taken over most of their favorite spots, but there are still enough to be of interest to cobbler fans. So, early last week I donned my berry-picking clothes, grabbed an overly-optimistic-sized container, and headed out.

I only found about half a cup of ripe berries, but it was fun searching for the small treasures hidden under other plants and often sheltered by a canopy of spider webs. It was also fun being able to distinguish the blackberry vines among the miscellaneous tangle of leaves without having to see the actual berries or having David along to point them out. I did, however, bring home an uninvited guest. When I was changing back into my “house clothes,” I felt a tickle on my shoulder. I discovered a small tick looking for a place to dig in, and like any good country girl, I sent him on a free tour of the Brendle septic system.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on May 12, 2022:

Back in March I wrote a column called “Back in the Garden” in which I mentioned David Perkins, our friend/neighbor who lives in our motor home. He had started a small garden, first in containers on the dashboard of the RV and then moving on to a couple of small plots near our storage shed.

The three of us along with Connie and Charles across the street have a small family-like community thing going. When they go to the 3rd Friday Food Giveaway at Freedom Church of God, they share when they receive more than they can use, and we sometimes think of each other when we shop. After reading my column about the difficulty of finding affordable vanilla wafers, Perkins – so called to avoid confusion with my David – brought me three boxes he found at Aldi. In return, I made a large banana pudding which was big enough to share. The sharing often extends to group meals, especially on holidays, but sometimes just because. Sunday was one of those more casual times.

The motor home is parked to the side of the driveway. It used to sit behind the house until it began to sink into the gopher runs. After that, David moved it to firmer ground, and we back the Kia in beside it. Perkins’ favorite perch is behind the computer desk which puts him next to one of several windows in the living area of his moveable home. Preferring natural air to artificially cooled, he uses fans and open windows until the temperatures approach triple digits. He says it gives him a feel of camping out, and it leads to a lot of our version of across-the-fence chats.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on May 5, 2022:

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a slightly updated chapter from my second memoir titled “Mom’s Long Goodbye:”

I miss Mom. I’ve missed her for a long time. For most of my life, I talked to her almost every day, but after Alzheimer’s invaded her mind, those talks gradually lost their meaning.

Mom was smart, but she was never an intellectual. She didn’t care much about politics or philosophy or current events. She cared about her family and the things that affected our lives directly.

She went to work outside our home when I was in third grade, and Jim and I became latchkey kids. It was a gentler time when children played outside unsupervised and walked or rode their bikes to school without fear. But Mom was cautious. We were required to stay inside when she and Dad were at work, and I was expected to call her when I arrived home from school.

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Published in the Rains County Leader on April 28, 2022:

Another Friends of the Library Book Sale has come and gone, but it wasn’t just another book sale. During preparation for the fall sale last year, publicity chairman Marsha Rakestraw declared the sale to be an “event,” and so it has become.

Setup, which begins on Tuesday of sale week, has always been something of an event, but it was much easier this year. Having signed up for the first shift of the week, I arrived at the City Centre at 8:00 am expecting to walk into an empty space and begin setting up tables. However, several members and their husbands had already arrived, and almost half the tables were already set up. By the time the Road and Bridge crew arrived about fifteen minutes later and began bringing in boxes of books, the tables were in place and waiting to be filled. And I had done little more than help with table placement and stay out of the way.

The next three hours were a flurry of unboxing and sorting. Experienced volunteers coached newcomers on how to sort and display the books in a manner that led one customer to make this comment: “This is the best organized book sale that I’ve ever seen.” When David picked me up for lunch, there was still a lot to be done, but there were lots of people still working with more arriving all the time. I intended to return on Wednesday afternoon to help finish up, but by the time our ladies’ Bible study was over, set up was finished. All that was left to do was to rest up on Thursday and be ready when the doors opened on Friday.

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