Monthly Archives: July 2019

Marys in my Life


I’ve known several wonderful Marys who have made a difference in my life. After all, at my seasoned age I’ve known quite a few. Someone recently used that description of people past seventy and I love it! Seasoned sounds a lot more exciting than just plain old. Our elders have ever so much to offer those coming behind. I’ve always found it to be so, way before I began receiving senior discounts myself.

So–about those Marys, two of them, particularly.

There was a wonderful lady in the church where I grew up named Mary Church. She had grown up in a nearby community with the maiden name of Mary Loggins. My parents spoke of her affectionately as “little Mary.” I thought that was pretty funny since, when I knew her, she was a lady with many responsibilities in Clarkesville Baptist Church and our little town. It was hard to think of her as a small girl on the Loggins’ farm up on New Liberty Road. I knew that farm. When our hens weren’t laying enough eggs for our big family my brother and I were sent to buy eggs from Mr. Loggins, Mary’s father. Could that beautiful lady I knew once have gathered eggs and dug potatoes?

Mrs. Church, as I knew her, sang beautifully, directed our church choir, and taught Bible lessons to the children. Her husband was a mortician whose business, the only funeral home in town at the time, was directly across the street from our church. It seemed to me that Mrs. Church lived at our church. I couldn’t imagine it without her. In fact, she was the church. Pastors might come and go but Mrs. Church was always there.

When Mrs. Church sang, her voice lilted with peace, love and joy from the Master Himself. Her face glowed with the message she was trying to impart. I particularly remember her singing “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” I had no doubt God was watching her because I saw His goodness in her face and also in her life.

She didn’t have children of her own. But she loved all us “church” children as if we were hers. She made Bible stories come to life, stories of Abraham and Moses and Jesus. She taught or directed Vacation Bible School many years and told the most fascinating missionary stories. Even when she reprimanded us, we knew Mrs. Church was our friend.

As a teenager my respect for Mrs. Church grew. She talked my parents into letting me join the choir with the understanding that she would pick me up at our rural driveway for practice on Wednesdays. What I didn’t realize, until that first pick up, was that Mrs. Church would be driving the hearse. I was quite awed by the long sleek black automobile with its plush, roomy interior that smelled slightly of old flowers. But Mrs. Church’s warm greeting and completely comfortable attitude set me at ease. I probably was brazenly smug with my siblings who had never had such an unusual ride.

After Charles and I married we went together to visit Mrs. Church and her husband, Marler, in their neat bungalow beside the funeral home. She was, as always, warm and interested in what we were doing. She asked questions about veterinary medicine and encouraged me to write. It was the last time I would see her. Some time after she died when I was visiting Clarkesville Baptist, Mr. Church came to me and told me sorrowfully how he missed his Mary.

The other Mary so important in my life is Mary Ward of Cairo, Georgia. When we moved to Cairo in 1968, Charles was a new graduate of the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine. He worked very long days at Cairo Animal Hospital with Dr. Eugene Maddox. I was home alone, five months pregnant, and homesick. But Henley and Mary Ward lived right across the street from us. They weren’t the only good neighbors. We were surrounded by sweet caring folks. But “Miss Mary” became the mentor I needed who might say “I’ll pester you to death, honey. I’ll always be right here.” As the time came for my baby to be born, she called every day. “I don’t see diapers on the line yet,” she might say hoping maybe I’d begun labor pains.

After William was born, Miss Mary settled in to her role as substitute grandmother. She cuddled him, cooed over him, begged to babysit any time I needed her. She did not hold back from correcting me when she saw the need. She shared her grocery coupons and her wisdom. She assured me it was okay for my baby to scoot himself using one leg as a pusher instead of crawling on all fours.

We moved away from that neighborhood when William was three so I didn’t get to see Miss Mary as much. But I loved the way her eyes lit up whenever she saw us around town or at church or when we popped in at her house. Her “How are you doing?” was genuine and called for a full response.

For the last few years I’ve seen Miss Mary in a different setting. Her husband and oldest son, Phil, had died. Eventually she moved into an assisted living facility named Magnolia Place. Her son Dennis and his family are very attentive. She’s always been happiest bragging on those she loves and now when I visit her she brags profusely on Dennis. And, since I do a devotional at Magnolia Place nearly every Tuesday, I see her often. When I pop in to her room to remind her it’s devotional time, she raises her eyebrows and smiles. “Tuesday again already?” She’s very deaf so can’t hear much of what is said at devotional. But she smiles and contributes anyway.

Recently, I arrived at Magnolia Place sad since I knew Miss Mary had fallen and was in the hospital. When Charles and I visited her in the nursing home she was moved to, she couldn’t talk, only barely smile and pucker her forehead. But in my head I could hear her saying “Let me get you both some sweet tea. It’s hot outside” or “Honey, I’ll pester you to death. I’ll always be right here.”

Shortly after I wrote the above paragraphs about Miss Mary I got word she had died. I missed her so when I walked into Magnolia Place yesterday. Dennis and his family will miss her more keenly than anyone. But Miss Mary is having a wonderful reunion with her husband and son and others right now, I have no doubt. She may be climbing a mountain free of her walker, or picking flowers in a glorious garden, drinking crystal clear water, hearing the angels in chorus, and, best of all, meeting Jesus face to face. And someday we will see Mary Ward again in that place reserved for those who trust in Jesus.

Two dear Marys–I’m glad God put them in my life.


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The Secret Ingredient Is…


Mattie and Charli sipping smoothies

I would not trade anything for the experience of having my granddaughter Mattie cooking in my kitchen. Or other fun events of the week–going fishing, enjoying lunch at Mr. Chick’s, or music time with piano and guitar. But the cooking, I guess, turned out to be the most fun.

Mattie is ten years old and is not a total novice to the geography and skills of a kitchen. She’s cooked a lot with her mother and her Pop Ashley. However, though she would like to do everything herself, she will take suggestions and an occasional stirring of the batter when her arm gets tired. And she doesn’t vigorously object to someone’s cleaning behind her.

She started out her first day with us by making pancakes. She said she could make pancakes “golden brown on both sides” and that’s exactly how they turned out. She reminded me of our Great Creator when she loaded our plates and pronounced, “They are very good.”

Next, she tackled the job of making cupcakes for a gathering of her cousins at our house. She couldn’t decide on one color for the whole batch so she tediously colored each one a different shade using a small spoon to swirl the food coloring just so. She did get mighty tired but wouldn’t give up.

Then there was the cake. That became necessary because there was too much chocolate frosting for the cupcakes. It wasn’t good enough that the cake would be loaded with frosting, though. Mattie wanted M&Ms in it too. With Mattie, following a recipe exactly is boring. She has to liven it up. The result was M&Ms stuck in the bottom of the pan. But she didn’t worry about that. We dug it out and patched the broken places with that very rich frosting. She crowned the cake with Oreo cookies turned on their edges like wagon wheels. And everyone enjoyed those goodies!

We made zucchini bread together. She really enjoyed turning the crank to shred the zucchinis in my old Saladmaster food preparer.

Some of the things she learned, or had reinforced, were: leveling a cup of flour without packing it, remembering the baking spray, that it’s not the end of the world when an eggshell drops in your batter, and that a Dustbuster works nicely vacuuming sugar and flour from the floor.

Mattie’s final culinary achievement of the week was her smoothies. She made them twice and had eager tasters both times.

She first made smoothies to surprise Charli, her cousin, who came to stay for a couple of days. Charli, who also loves to cook, showed great patience and fortitude waiting in the den with Grandaddy for the “surprise” while Mattie rinsed, peeled and chopped ingredients for the four smoothies. Mattie called out hints about what she was making but never gave conclusive clues. When she turned on the blender, though, everyone knew what the “surprise” was.

Making smoothies was only one of the activities these girls giggled over in their two days together. They played under the lawn sprinkler, took a trip to a park, competed for properties in Monopoly, rode bikes, braided colorful bracelets, built amazing block structures (only Grandaddy and Nana would have old-fashioned blocks instead of video games), swung for hours in the porch swing, and practiced doing each other’s hair.

They watched a movie Mattie had brought called “Soul Surfer.” Though it made us all cry, I would highly recommend it. One of the previews on that DVD was “Courageous.” We watched that movie too, and cried! In fact, both girls went to sleep before that one ended so the next day they insisted on a rerun with, of course, popcorn.

Mattie hasn’t finished perfecting her smoothie recipe. As with a fruit salad or a stir fry, much depends on the ingredients at hand. But Mattie did go shopping with me and chose her own items. Below is a semblance of her recipe.

Mattie’s Smoothie

1 c. diced strawberries                                   1 yogurt of your choice

1/2 c. chopped raspberries                             2 scoops vanilla ice cream

One banana sliced                                            milk to finish filling blender 1/2 full

Mattie says there needs to be a secret ingredient. That keeps everyone guessing while they sip. This time it was sugar. Her brother, William, who had arrived in time for a cup from the second making, told her sugar couldn’t be the secret since almost everything she used had sugar in it. She just rolled her eyes as if to say she could do without that comment. To finish off her smoothies she added a slice of banana to the edge of each glass.

I wonder which one of Mattie’s talents God is going to use the most. Will she be a gourmet cook or a fabulous cook at home? Will she write songs and sing them? Will she be a dance instructor or a gymnast? Actually, as He does whenever a person allows Him to, I believe He will use the whole package, the whole recipe, including the secret ingredient.


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Diary of a Six Year Old Boy



Grandaddy and Kaison with a bull

My six year old great grandson spent this week with us. I chuckle inside, sometimes outside, at what I’m sure he must be thinking about the activities at Grandaddy’s and Nana’s. Often he expresses himself so transparently I don’t have to imagine his thoughts.

But here goes for my idea of entries in his diary if he wrote one:

We went to see Nana’s doctor. I don’t know why. Because she isn’t sick. But it was pretty cool. They let me watch her racemaker at work on a funny tv screen. Too bad it doesn’t make Nana race. I’d like to see that.

I went with Grandaddy to the sale barn. We walked on big board walks looking down on tons of cows. He thought I’d be excited to see so many cows but I really wasn’t. They all looked pretty much alike. But I didn’t want Grandaddy to be disappointed so I waved my arms and yelled so I’d look excited.

Nana and I sat on the porch shelling peas. It’s too bad she couldn’t have gotten some of those in neat packages ready to cook.

My grandparents get so excited every time a bird comes to eat seeds at the feeder. You’d think they’d never seen them before.

We went to a furniture store. They thought I would be bored so they told me they wouldn’t take long. They took forever! But it was okay because I was trying out every chair, specially the ones with buttons to make them go up and down.

Nana kept trying to get me to watch movies and stuff when all I wanted was SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nana and I went to see Grandaddy at work at the animal hospital. There was this big black bull with ferocious eyes and stuff drooling out of his mouth. He was in a kind of cage and you could tell he didn’t like it any more than I like getting shots. I was not sorry to get on out of there because that bull made me sad. But of course Nana had to take my picture with Grandaddy before we left. I would have been glad to stay longer if there hadn’t been so many gnats and if Grandaddy would let me push and pull things.

We played some games. I like UNO because I can almost always beat Nana. She doesn’t pay attention real good.

Today we made playdough. I cut out cookies and made snakes and balls and everything. When Nana wasn’t looking I ate some but Nana was right. It really didn’t taste good, too salty.

I surprised Nana today. She was going to read me a book but I read it to her instead. I bet I’ll be a better reader than she is when I start First Grade.

When we went to the grocery store I helped Nana find stuff–the best cereal, plenty of ice cream, and even some cookies she would never have found in forever. While we were checking out I kept the lady behind us from getting bored. She said I reminded her of her boy that’s gotten too grown to help her anymore. She said he used to drive her grocery cart like a maniac. Maybe I’ll do that too. Is a maniac like a monster?

When we go to church, I really love seeing everybody. When they start hugging and shaking hands and going crazy, I can talk all I want to. But when the preacher starts talking then I’m supposed to be quiet. It’s weird because I can talk just as good as the preacher.

Now I’m back home. I worry about Grandaddy and Nana. They must be so sad and lonely. They don’t have me to cheer them up and I guess they pretty much do  nothing. Probably just feed the cats and that’s all.

I’ll go back as soon as I can. But today I’ll take care of Mama and Daddy. They’re trying to take a nap and that just wouldn’t be good for them.



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Heavenly Hampers of Okra


The word abundance comes to mind when I think of Papa Graham’s garden. Charles’ father was a true honest hardworking farmer who found delight in harvesting that first hamper of okra, picking five gallon buckets of squash, butter beans, and all the rest. Mama would make coffee first thing, before daylight, and Papa would drink a cup and then head to the barn to load feed for sixty cows onto his truck. Mama would make a huge breakfast of grits, eggs, biscuits and gravy to have ready for him when he returned. After eating, he would be on his tractor in the corn field–or would b e working rows of vegetables in his garden.

Charles and I lived in a small upstairs furnished apartment while he was studying at the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine. It was 250 long miles to Papa Graham’s garden in Merrillville, Georgia. But on several exciting occasions during those years Papa and Mama brought their garden to us. We’d open our door and there they’d be, their arms loaded with brown grocery bags bulging with okra, squash, corn and peas, even a cantaloupe. It was almost like Christmas!

Later, after we moved to Cairo only twenty-five miles from Papa’s garden, we were blessed by many more bags, hampers, and boxes of delicious vegetables. From June to September, whenever Mama and Papa visited us, they brought beautiful tomatoes, a box of potatoes or whatever was the current crop. Sometimes they even shelled peas and brought them in a ziplock bag ready to cook. Or they would insist on sitting with us on our porch to help us shell the peas.

Papa grew many long rows of peas, a staple in south Georgia cooking. I learned to tell the difference between black-eyes, pink-eyes, lady peas, and crowders. Then one year there was a new variety. We all were delighted with the zipper peas which, as you can imagine, zipped open so much more easily than any of the others. And they were delicious. I was always ashamed when I picked peas with Mama and Papa because I was always a row behind where I should have been. My back started hurting before we were half done but I couldn’t admit it because here were these folks, riddled with arthritis, plugging along with only an occasional grunt.

Then there were those lush squash vines–yellow crookneck, zucchini, and even some years the white scalloped squash that looked like squatty dishes under the vines. You could fill a bucket in no time. In fact, sometimes the squash crop was so heavy Papa hauled squash to market, to all his neighbors, as well as to church members. Cucumber vines vied for being the heaviest producers. As a kid, in my mother’s sweet garden I’d enjoyed picking squash and cucumbers more than any other vegetable. It was like hunting Easter eggs. And that was true of Papa’s garden as well. Only his garden was so much bigger.

Speaking of vines, I was very fond of Papa’s cantaloupes. Splitting open one of those melons was a thrill every time. The gorgeous soft orange color itself made me happy. But the taste! To use a cliché, I could eat my weight in those cantaloupes. Cantaloupes are still good but, somehow, not as good as Papa’s. Some years he didn’t plant cantaloupes or watermelons. It seemed as if those were luxury products he only grew if he had some space left after planting the necessary vegetables.

And one of those necessary vegetables was okra.

Not only did all of his family depend on that good okra, but there were businesses in town like Holiday Inn that were on his list for weekly deliveries, and of course the Farmers Market too. During the peak season Papa broke okra every other day. “Breaking” okra was a new term to me. In my mother’s garden we cut okra with a knife. It was certainly not a favorite job because okra makes you itch. But it didn’t seem to bother Papa. As the season progressed the okra developed higher and higher on the stalks until in September he’d be reaching above his head sometimes. When he left his house with two or three heavenly hampers of okra in the back, he was the picture of peace and contentment. Or when someone would pull into his yard having come some distance to claim a reserved hamper of JB Graham’s okra, then, too, he looked as happy as anyone who’s won a foot race.

It was not just corn that Papa grew. It was silver queen, sweet corn, field corn and others I can’t remember. But it was all so good! From planting time to fingerling size to tasseling and then those first wonderful ears, the progression of the corn crop was a subject of great interest. When the harvest began, you might find Papa under a pecan tree shucking corn by the bushel while Mama “creamed” or grated the corn in the kitchen. There would be a fantastic huge dish of corn at every church dinner, every family reunion, and, of course on the table for us when we “dropped by.” It was so good you’d hardly be able to eat anything else.

Between them, Papa and Mama grew, processed, and froze hundreds of quarts of vegetables every year. Their freezer along about mid-August would be filled to the brim, everything neatly dated, sorted, and recorded in Mama’s records. All through the year Mama served those wonderful vegetables, fresh as if just picked. The only year we missed those vegetables was 1968 when lightning struck Papa and Mama’s house. The whole house was ablaze when they came home from church that Sunday night. And it was August so the freezer, fully packed with the year’s crop, was ruined along with everything else. All they had was what was still in the garden.

Now, I sniff the cantaloupes at the grocery trying to find one as good as those Papa grew. I buy a bag of shelled peas remembering hot afternoons sitting on the porch with Mama and Papa shelling crowders or zippers. Or I buy a sleeve of frozen creamed corn and try, unsuccessfully, to make it taste like Mama’s. And when I see a bin full of perfect tender pods of okra, I simply have to buy some to fry in an iron skillet.

Papa never won the prize for selling the first hamper of okra or for growing the best crop or the biggest crop of anything. Unless, that is, his prize was seeing all of us, and many more, benefit from his hard work. He didn’t consider winning prizes, just wanted to work hard and reap a bountiful harvest, to pay his bills, to enjoy partnering with the soil, the sun, and the rain. To him, delivering a heavenly hamper of okra to an eager customer was worth more than any blue ribbon.

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