Monthly Archives: June 2019

Picnic Paragraphs


Our firecracker plant blooming for the Fourth!

Our church, First Baptist Cairo, is hosting an All American Indoor picnic on June 30 following morning worship (about 11:45). Bring a dish of slaw or some chips and come on! Everyone is welcome to join us for hotdogs and hamburgers. The cool thing is, it’s indoors. Years ago I wouldn’t have thought it was fun to have a picnic inside. Picnics should be outside under the trees.

For example, our family once a year, sometimes more often, traveled up the road a few miles to picnic at Panther Creek. The parking lot was a quarter of a mile from the wonderful creek. Shelters and picnic tables were on the other side which we reached by way of a nice wooden bridge. Every person, small and tall, would carry something–a potato salad, deviled eggs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies and a gallon of lemonade. As you approached the creek you could hear the water gurgling around rocks and you couldn’t wait to set down your load, pull off shoes and socks, and go wading. Eating could wait until the cooks called.

We took a picnic lunch when we went on day trips to the Smokies. There were no picnic tables. We sat on a log or rocks or leaning against a tree trunk. There weren’t numerous cars going by so it was quiet except for our own teasing and giggles, the trickle of water dripping down a rocky bank, and birds singing. The picnic itself was very simple–maybe boiled eggs, apples, bologna sandwiches and cookies. Always there were cookies!

Most of our picnics were at home. We might spread a tablecloth under a mulberry tree down in the meadow. We might sit in a circle eating our sandwiches down on Myrtle Lawn under an apple tree. Or we might trek up Tulip Hill or picnic beside the pond to the tune of a thousand frogs “singing.” Whatever the plan, it seemed always to have been made before we young ones appeared for breakfast. There was time, then, to help make the picnic lunch and to fully anticipate the wonderful event.

A favorite picnic place at Pinedale was in the South Woods. Sometimes we spread a cloth under the beech tree by Indian Brook, sometimes near Indian Springs, or over by Ramble Brook where a wonderful oak tree invited us to climb and drop off a lower limb. Near that tree was a waterfall high enough we could get under it and feel the cool spray.

One of the most memorable picnics in the South Woods was the one we set up on the banks of Indian Brook within a thicket of laurel bushes. The dogs, as usual, were with us–a German shepherd and a cute pudgy mutt. Some of us played in the cold water while older ones helped Mamma spread the cloth and laid out the food. We settled, finally, around the picnic with Mamma cautioning us to keep our wet feet away from the cloth. Right about then the dogs  began jumping around wildly at the crest of a slope behind us. There ensued a great rustling of oak leaves and then a huge scurrying and yapping as the disturbance wound through the laurel bushes. And then there it was–a long brown water moccasin plunged (he didn’t have time to slither) across our picnic, the dogs right behind him. That snake hit the water and disappeared under a ferny bank leaving the dogs unhappy and our picnic a shambles. We ate heartily of the splattered remains of food, laughing that the moccasin would have a mighty good story to tell his children. He wasn’t the only one.

When Charles was in veterinary school at Georgia, our combined income from his student loan and my secretarial job did not allow dollars for eating out or for entertainment. Going out to a nearby park on a Sunday after church was a favorite pastime. It was much better, to me, than walking a high railroad trestle, which we did one Sunday. At the park, we usually ate our sandwiches and went for a walk following trails that wound past habitats of deer, peacocks and an aviary. But one Sunday, a windy one, we hauled with us a tiny grill with charcoal, two hamburger patties, a couple of buns, a tomato and a bag of chips–and, of course, cookies! It took us two hours to get the fire going. We’d forgotten starter fluid, our matches weren’t good, and the wind kept blowing out every tiny flame we coaxed into life. We thought we would starve before we could ever cook those hamburgers and I think we ate them half raw. But that stands out as one of the best picnics, maybe just because we were struggling together towards a goal.

After we moved to south Georgia, picnics were often cookouts or fish fries. One summer day Charles and I, along with most of his family, gathered at their farm pond. We fished and played and laughed and had such a good time. The children spun a frisbee back and forth, caught a frog, and played in the lily-choked pond. I can’t remember whether anyone really caught any fish! Good thing we had all that other food–including, of course, cookies!

Church picnics have always been wonderful to me. At the end of Bible school we always had a picnic. We had a huge picnic in 1974 as part of our centennial celebration. Everyone dressed in costume, fancy hats, flowing skirts, and all. Tables and chairs were set up on the lawn where now our Fellowship Hall stands. Everyone brought their scrumptious casseroles, cakes, salads, and, I think, crispy fried chicken, and cookies! The children, though somewhat hampered in long skirts and knickers, played happily and long. At a church picnic we all have time to talk longer and find out more about each other than we can in worship services. It’s a bonding time.

Think about two of the “picnics” described in the Bible. The time Jesus fed 5,000 is one. I think the fish and bread multiplied by Jesus must have been so delicious! But, even better, would be the friendships shared as the disciples seated everyone in groups of fifty. Then there was that breakfast on the shore of Galilee with Jesus and His disciples. I never tire of hearing that story. Going back much farther, consider the children of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land. There weren’t any fast food places on that trip, but plenty of manna. It was one long picnic!

But back to the indoor picnic at our church tomorrow. Let’s face it, we have become soft. Eating indoors doesn’t seem like a bad idea. We still have those wonderful food contributions. We still have so much fun just seeing all our friends, and maybe making new ones, in that casual setting. And the children still play. Children will find a way to play. And–surely someone will bring cookies!

Happy Fourth of July!

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The Little Room


A Grady County Sunset

Oh, Lord, thou has searched me, and known me. Psalm 139:1

The Little Room of my childhood home, Stone Gables, was a portion of attic tucked under a sloping roof but accessible from the bedroom we called the East Room. Mamma called it her unsightly corner and kept a thin curtain over the opening, not only to cover her storage but also to hide an area of stone wall Daddy had roughed in but not finished when he was building the house. Though the entrance was low, there was plenty of space in the Little Room for my sister Suzanne and me and little nieces to play and we didn’t mind the storage boxes or the unfinished corner. In fact, we used both as part of our dolls’ world.

We made paper dolls from Sears and Ward’s catalogs, rows and rows of them. We built pasteboard box houses and cut out paper trees. Sometimes our dolls were in boarding school getting into mischief. Other times they were visiting each other’s houses having tea parties. Either way, the floor was scattered with our treasures, whether a whole village or only a campus. Our dolls all had names and personalities and they certainly didn’t want to be boxed up at the end of each playful day.

Mamma sometimes mildly scolded us for the mess we were making but then, as a mother of ten, she couldn’t be an active perfectionist. So usually as long as our tacky disorder was covered by the curtain she didn’t mind. But one day our untidiness was suddenly exposed to a special guest and Mamma’s embarrassment was keen.

Mrs. Eastham was from Virginia, a fact which meant to Mamma that she was part of the elite and elegant Old South, not someone who would cook turnip greens and fatback, as we did in Georgia, but who would wear white lace gloves while sipping mint tea. She wore beautiful dresses and always smelled delightful. Just watching her eat in her dainty manner was an experience. Mamma had warned us before she came to be on our very best behavior for Mrs. Eastham who was not only a friend but also our sister Jackie’s mother-in-law.

We didn’t play in the Little Room after Mrs. Eastham arrived. She occupied the East Room and we would have had to troop or sneak through her room to get to our treasures. The curtain stayed neatly closed every day. Until one day when several of us followed Mamma into the East Room to give our guest fresh linens. Our young niece decided to give Mrs. Eastham a closer look at her surroundings. Little Emily swept back the curtain and said proudly, “And this is our playroom.”

The sunlight reached every dark corner of that little unfinished attic room. Our wonderful paper village, our limp paper dolls fallen this way and that, a cracker box doll-size divan, an oatmeal box cradle, all became trash before our eyes. We’d never noticed before that one of Mamma’s storage boxes was sagging and split, even showing some of its contents because we had used it as a nice little seat. The whole place was quite a mess! Even the dust motes we usually playfully tried to catch were suddenly not so pretty. We saw our magical place through the eyes of Mrs. Eastham and our faces turned crimson. Mamma literally gasped as she snatched the curtain back in place.

We looked to see how Mrs. Eastham would react.

She smiled with beautiful enthusiasm as she exclaimed, “Oh, what a lovely, cozy spot! May I play, too?”

Mamma gently urged Mrs. Eastham to come downstairs for some fresh peach cobbler.

Suzanne and I looked at each other and grinned with a measure of deep relief. We had been “searched and known” and–we were still loved!

I think of that exposed, messy corner as I consider this first verse of Psalm 139. I have corners in my life that become messy, quite messy. Resentments build up. Jealousy stirs. “Why” questions spring up as difficulties get worse rather than better. My thoughts stray away from Jesus and turn to dismal possibilities. I’m selfish, rude, and unkind when I want to be just the opposite. All these feelings and thoughts could be compared to the untidy boxes and bits of paper or stacks of storage boxes in our Little Room. And–oh yes!–I have a lot of unfinished territory in my life.

Yet–God knows all this and loves me still! And if you have a messy “Little Room,” He loves you too. Will He just close the curtain on it or help us clean it up?

Lord, please forgive me for the mess I know you find in my life. Thank you that with your forgiveness comes also your perfect kindness in restoring me to a right relationship and setting my life in order.


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Mushroom Houses


One of the mushroom houses designed and built by Earl Young


They look like hobbit houses straight out of J.R.R.Tolkien’s novels. There are twenty-six of these mushroom or gnome houses as well as four commercial structures in Charlevoix, Michigan. Descriptions like “cute,” “weird,” “charming,” and certainly “unique” all come to mind when one finds these buildings on otherwise typical down home streets.

It was a cold drizzly day in May when we started out to find the mushroom houses. Our hotel’s concierge had told us very little except that these unusual houses were worth the hunt. GPS indicated Park Avenue as a mushroom house address so we found that street and started looking, not even sure what we were looking for. Mushroom houses? Initially, I could imagine a museum lined with glass cabinet displays of tiny houses made like Cesar, boleta and button fungi. But since we were told that, because they were occupied, we wouldn’t be permitted to go inside any of them, I had adjusted my expectation.

The first one we found was so obviously a mushroom house: rippled roof, chimney of large irregular stones, and an oddly shortened door. All that was missing was Bilbo Baggins popping out! The more we explored, the more houses we found and the more interested we became. Who was this man who designed and built these strange houses and for whom a beautiful park was named?

His name, we learned, was Earl Young. He moved with his family to Charlevoix when he was eleven and never left the area except to study one year at the University of Michigan’s School of Architecture. He studied diligently on his own after that year, being somewhat of an eccentric and preferring his own ideas rather than to follow Greek or Victorian or some other style. He was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. That influence did not present itself in his designs but in his adoption of the philosophy that “buildings should respect their surroundings.” He didn’t cut trees down but fitted houses amongst them. His passion for the natural also led Young to build with boulders.

He was in the right location to find boulders on and near the shore of Lake Michigan. Some boulders were very large. It seems he was always on the lookout for rocks, stones, and boulders with which to build. He was known to “stake them out” or dig them up and to hide them in the lake for future use. That couldn’t have been an easy task. One boulder he used in building Weathervane Inn weighed 18,260 pounds or nine short tons.

No one seemed to mind our pulling in front of these houses and taking all the pictures we wanted to. In fact, I guess they’re quite used to it. Later we learned that at least four of the 26 houses are rented to vacationers. On Google I even had the chance to see the interiors of one or two—charming, fun, but not very practical. The kitchens are often described as “like narrow hallways.” The short doors are a problem to some as are the oddly shaped rooms. But, all the same, they are quite lovely with wonderful windows, cozy corners and fireplaces. Young’s houses have earned fairly the description of “whimsical architecture at its best.”

This architect wanted to create character in his town and that he did. He started out as a photographer, an interest he continued to pursue. In his family’s business he was a realtor, insurance agent, and also at times sold bread. He wasn’t known for his practicality and might have failed at business had it not been for his levelheaded wife Irene and his very astute mother. He was one of those fortunate people who knew his dream, stuck to it, and had the support of those around him.

I think the rippled roofs may be the most distinct and charming feature of the mushroom houses. Some are less rippled, others made me smile, they were so funny. Always it was the roof that sealed the identity of a structure. Young is quoted as saying he “built the roofs first, then shoved the houses under them.”


The Thatch House

Names and/or descriptions of some of Young’s houses are: The Owl House (has two round windows like eyes either side of the front door); The Enchanted Cottage; The Pagoda House (influenced by Asian culture); Boulder Manor; Abide; and Tide Beside Abide (name shortened to Betide). The Hatch House is the one which most intrigued us but, ironically, it was not solely designed by Young. Its thatched roof along with other major renovations were accomplished as recently as 2015 by a South African architect named Mike Seitz. He learned that Young really wanted to make a thatched roof but never was able to do it. So Mr. Seitz re-designed this house with thatch brought from the Netherlands. I read that this, Young’s first house, is the only one that had a blueprint and that Young was dissatisfied because his ideas weren’t entirely adhered to by his workmen. Ever after, he made drawings in the sand for his builders to follow, or so the story goes.

Earl Young died in 1975 at the age of eighty-six. He fulfilled his desire to give Charlevoix a distinct character.

I remember all the houses looking comfortable and peaceful whether facing the lake, snuggled against a hillside, or tucked in amongst tall trees. I’m sure the maintenance requires a lot of gold. But I’m glad someone is doing it so folks like us can ride by and see the mushroom houses of Charlevoix, Michigan.

Visitors are invited to take a self-guided tour with instructions and directions. You can go online to to learn more. And while you’re about it, check on the possibility of renting one of those houses for a week or two!


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Cat Tales


Sassy enjoying a nap on a garden bench

Today I’m writing about a few feline friends, not about the gangly stalk that grows near the water and has a fuzzy long brown tip on it, called a cat tail. No, this is about cats of many different colors and designs and various personalities.

When Jane recently lost her honey colored cat named Tabby I was reminded of the inevitable heartaches pet owners face. It is certainly better to “love and lose” than “never to love at all.” But it hurts.

Our line of cats started with Fussy, a mixed gray stray who moved with us one very hot June day from Athens to Cairo, Georgia. She didn’t like the move one bit. We had borrowed Papa’s pickup to move in and Fussy hid within the seat somehow. Yes, I said within. It was hours after our arrival when we finally pried her out of there. But she loved her new, much larger place, a place where she could go outside. She loved it, that is, until our baby was born. She was no longer number one and she knew it. Not long after that she was run over and killed. The whole neighborhood mourned with me.

Misty was a soft gray Persian cross. She had some dignity about her and a deep love for life’s little comforts. But she was cruel to the bird population. Almost every day in season she caught a mockingbird and left only a small fluff of feathers as evidence. She knew how to make herself at home in a rocking chair but minded her manners when it came to food on the table. She knew her boundaries. And Misty never died. On record, she still after forty years hasn’t died. But we lost her. She leaped from Charles’ truck on the way home from getting her shots and we never found her. It may seem the better way to lose a pet but you never stop wondering what happened to them.

Then there was Tigger and after him Toby, or Ybot as he came to be known. William and his friends turned his name backwards to irritate Julie and the name stuck. Ybot was a fun, good natured cat but very naughty. He never learned his manners. He would help himself to any food no matter whether it was on the table, the top of the refrigerator, or already on someone’s plate. He wasn’t picky at all. He liked tomatoes, a stick of butter, okra and potato salad. A sealed loaf of bread was not safe from Ybot. The day he was hit by a car Julie and I both cried for hours. I said that was it for cats. I just couldn’t take the trauma again. But, of course, it doesn’t work that way.

I transported a cat three hundred miles to become a companion to my mother. Marbles was a beauty of “marbled” gold, cream and brown. She was a trial on the trip because she was so smart she could work her way out of her crate no matter how I fastened it. But we both survived and she became a much-loved member of Mamma’s household. She spent many hours lying in Mamma’s comfortable lap under her book or crochet work but found time also to annihilate the mouse population. We all loved Marbles. Ironically, Mamma was at my house when she got a call from my sister informing her gently that Marbles had died.

Juanita and Angela Jordan have taken such cute pictures of some of their many cats. But what I remember most vividly is Juanita’s care of two very elderly cats. She said she was running a feline geriatric ward. Those two cats died within months of each other at the ripe old age of twenty-two years.

We’ve had a long line of resident cats at Cairo Animal Hospital. They are only paid by having free room and board but have important jobs: welcoming shy new visitors, catching an occasional mouse, allowing children under supervision to play with them and just making the hospital feel like home. The most memorable of the hospital cats might be Singey. That’s “singe” with a y on the end. She got her name because of the circumstances under which she arrived at the hospital.

The goldy yellow cat was brought in while in great trauma by a man who had been burning a large brush pile. The cat’s face was blackened, her ears were burned to nubs, her whole body singed. The man said he had no idea a cat was hiding in the brush heap when he lit it. Next thing he knew there was a streak of fire and a chilling cry as that cat ran out.

Singey became a vital part of the Cairo Animal Hospital staff. With loving treatment over many months she did heal. She had no eyelids which gave her sort of a spooky look along with her cropped ears. But she didn’t let her injuries cause her to be bitter. She was a sweet companionable cat. In fact, one family was so drawn to her, they pleaded with the staff to let them adopt her. When she ran away from her new home it seemed she was gone for good. Than another “Good Samaritan” brought her to the hospital where, of course, she was immediately recognized. The techs then declared they’d never let her go again. So she enjoyed a long good life with many visitors asking to “see Singey.”

I had occasion not long ago to ride with Charles on a farm call. He knew I love that farm family and would enjoy seeing them for a few minutes while he did his job. The teenage daughter showed me her fifteen cats. They have a wonderful life in the barn where, as you can imagine, there are no longer any mice. The cats have such interesting designs and colors–gray striped, calico, solid black, mixed grays, tortoise shell. This young lady saves her dollars so she can take each of her loved cats to the vet and keep them healthy. She knows them all by name, knows which ones don’t like to be touched, which ones are jealous, etc. It was fun seeing all her cats, although I’m quite happy with only two.

When we started out from our driveway the other day we heard a plaintive kitten’s meow. Our two cats are prone to hop in the car when they find an open door. But that meow didn’t sound like either of them. Upon investigation, which involved getting down on the pavement with our old knees trying to see that little cat, we finally found him under the hood. Charles got hold of him for only a minute. We would have tried to place him but he was gone in a flash of orange fur and prickles.

Our own two cats, Sassy and Cramer, live a very enviable life with all the luxuries a cat could ever want: plenty of food and water, more veterinarian attention than they want, lots of comfy places to curl up in, room to roam. Sassy occasionally catches a lizard but only slightly threatens the daring mockingbirds. Cramer feels no compulsion to any unnecessary action but is content to be a lazy cat. They both purr and enjoy a good petting, will patiently allow attention from the children–only when they’re in the mood.

When all is said and done, thank God for all pets. Life would be so dull without them!



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Home, Sweet Home


Inca lilies were abundant this year

Traveling is great fun. But enjoying our own yard, or garden as our British friends call it, is a great joy too. Right now a mockingbird is trilling through an amazing repertoire of all kinds of sounds and songs. Day lilies are fading, have more spent blooms than buds, but are still beautiful. Hydrangeas, both blue and oak, are blooming nicely after some severe trimming and replanting. Pink blossoms are appearing on the crepe myrtle, the yellow lantana are well started on their summer show, and a little wren has built a cozy nest in the Green Barn.

We’re picking enough blueberries from our three-year-old bushes to enjoy on our cereal every morning. They’re all rabbit eye blueberry bushes but are different varieties, some ripening slower than others. We’re hoping for a long blueberry season, though this year it looks as if there won’t be enough for a pie. Charles has worked diligently and patiently on these bushes and we have high hopes.

The knockout roses are so pretty along the front porch with its iron railing and also around the flagpole where the American and Georgia flags are furled. Also, two hibiscus bushes by the front steps are putting forth new blossoms every day, some yellow, some red.

Thomas Tree Service came last week to take down the big pine tree in front of the house, the tree whose whole top was wrenched off by the recent tornado. Already there were several open spaces left in the last two years by big trees lost to hurricanes, lightning, and beetles.

The magnolia trees are blooming. Their huge elegant white blossoms shine out from the glossy green foliage and scent the air with a nutty spicy sweetness.

We’re not sure that many of the citrus trees are going to be fruitful this year. Their foliage is healthy and pretty but right now only the kumquats are blooming. We remind ourselves, though, that the satsumas, oranges, and lemons can be very slow and then surprise us.

The bamboo is a thick guard around a good portion of our boundary. We love the way the whole line of them sways in a breeze reminding us of ocean waves. One big clump was bent over in one of the storms but it helps form a cave behind the Green Barn where wee beasties can hide. And, yes, the bamboo needs cutting back often but it shields us from the noise of Highway 84 and makes a nice buffer so we and our neighbors have privacy.

Hummingbirds are back but still scarce at our feeders. The songbirds and chippers are abundant–cardinals, titmouse, chickadees, finches, nuthatches, blue jays, and an occasional bright flicker. The mourning doves, too, come to eat and, especially, to splash in the bird baths at the front and the back. Bluebirds and brown thrashers enjoy a cool bath, too.

Along the wooden side fence the two-year-old red top shrubs have settled in, claiming their place. We miss the big oak trees we had to take down but the openness they left behind is really nice. Thanks to Charles’ sprigging, the grass has filled in the bare places and there’s more room on the lawn–the children’s outdoor stage–for playing ball, doing tricks, and just running.

There’s an openness, too, inside the sweep of circular driveway. Charles and Ulysses cut the azaleas back severely. Now we can see the children as they round the curve on their bikes.

Sitting on our back porch listening to songs of birds, the rattle of dry brittle magnolia leaves whisking across the driveway, and, in the evening, watching the fireflies come out–that’s all so good!

Thank You, Lord, for home, sweet home!



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