Monthly Archives: August 2020

Courting in the 1930’s

My father-in-law was a great man, though he was known only to a lucky few. His name was J.B. Graham, simply that, not John Bryson or Joshua Brandon, just “J.B.” He was one of the oldest of thirteen children. For most of his adult life he lived in Thomas County, Georgia in a small community called Merrillville where church was the center of everything. It was a place where everyone watched out for the best interests of everyone else. Papa made sure all the widows got their screen doors repaired, their wasps’ nest killed, and that they had plenty of vegetables from his bounteous garden. He could be seen in his overalls and, for most months of the year, long-sleeved shirt, riding his tractor working long rows of tobacco or corn or soybeans.

His appearance on Sunday was quite different, however. He’d be spiffy as they come with pretty shirt, tie, and creased trousers. The ladies at church liked to comment on how nice his clothes looked and he’d say in his cute, humorous way, “But what about the hanger?” And he’d wink at his wife of fifty-plus years knowing he’d be lost choosing his own wardrobe.

Papa wasn’t originally from Thomas County. He came of dating age living in Danielsville, Georgia north of Athens. I was from north Georgia also, farther up in the hills near Clarkesville. Papa liked to tease me about “my” mountains which, he said, he’d seen once and that was enough. He said I had one leg longer than the other from growing up in the hills. He didn’t talk much about “his” north Georgia and I knew it was because he was so in love with the wide sunny fields of south Georgia where he met his bride. But one rainy day as we all sat on the porch he launched into telling about what it was like “courting” in the old days. I was intrigued and jotted down a few notes as soon as I got home. Here’s some of what he told us.

As he talked about his teen years in the 1930’s, I felt I was looking in to glimpse him on a Saturday evening or a Sunday afternoon, riding a mule to see his girlfriend.

“It was an easy quick mile or so over the creek, along little woods trails, and through a field or two from our house to where–oh, I can’t remember her name now–but to her house. But if darkness caught me, I couldn’t find those trails and had to ride three miles, going around on the road.”

The darkness always came too quickly, he said, before all the sweet things had been said, before all the pound cake had been eaten, or the fresh churned ice cream. He would begin to take his leave with the sun setting red fires up the trunks of pine trees. But by the time he finally really left the friendliness of the swept yard and the gentle maiden, he could hardly see her wave to him from her porch. Only a stone’s throw down the road, darkness engulfed him as if a thick blanket had been thrown over his head.

Papa looked around at the porch light with insects buzzing around it, at the nice floodlight in the yard, and he said, “You don’t know what darkness is until you get in that total country dark with no moon or stars out.”

He said one time he arrived at his own little road, still on his mule, and decided to light a match. The sudden flare spooked the mule who went one way while Papa landed somewhere in the other direction in a bramble.

Sometimes, many times, in fact, he didn’t have the luxury of riding the mule. Remember, there were thirteen children many of whom were boys. I guess they drew straws or something to see who got the only mule, and he didn’t always win. Once when he was on foot, he left in time to get home before dark. He thought. He was depending on a short cut, but he ended up in the middle of a woods with not a peep of light anywhere. He would have welcomed even a firefly.

“I stumbled along, tried to miss the briars and the logs, and got so turned around I didn’t know where in kingdom come I was. All I could see in any direction was the blackest dark you ever saw. Ain’t any darker down in a deep well.”

As accident would have it, he fell eventually into the road, plummeting several feet down an embankment. Standing and shaking off his humiliation, glad no one could see him, he realized he didn’t know which stretch of the road he’d fallen into. Should he go right or left? Feeling about for some landmark, he suddenly spied the flare of a tiny light far down the lane and somehow he knew that was home, that his mother had lit a lamp for him.

Flashlights were hard to come by, he said, and batteries weakened quickly in those days. In a big family like his, you might get the use of a flash about every six months, the mule maybe once a month if you were really lucky.

“And, you know,” said Papa as he rocked on the porch watching rain drip off the eaves,  “the darkness was blacker in those days. But don’t think I was giving up on my Saturday night freedom. The girls were mighty sweet!”

At that point my mother-in-law, Elizabeth, punched him in the arm and said, “All right now, that’s enough of that old stuff. Are you ready for a cup of coffee?”

And he always was.

On August 29 my husband’s parents would have been married for 78 years.


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Sprig of Rosemary

I don’t know just when I fell in love with the herb rosemary but it was a long time ago. I do remember the occasion when we first were given a pot of rosemary. By the way, the symbolism for rosemary is remembrance. Supposedly, eaten as seasoning on meats and vegetables, it can sharpen your memory skills. I need all the help in that department that I can get!

My first introduction to rosemary may have been at Roddenbery Memorial Library in Cairo, Georgia while herding a classroom of children on a “Miss Wessie” tour. Miss Wessie, longtime librarian, knew the value of letting children experience their surroundings with eyes, ears, fingers, and nose. As we walked through the garden she instructed the children to pinch a leaf or run hands gently down a branch of this plant, that herb or bush and then smell their hand. I think that was when I first found the calming, yet invigorating scent of rosemary.

That first pot of rosemary was given us by a veterinarian friend in Gray, Georgia. We went through Gray every few months on our way to Clarkesville and often passed right by Dr. Barry Moore’s clinic. Sometimes we’d stop for a minute and Charles would run in to say hi. Dr. Moore’s wife, Sarah Jane, was also a veterinarian but she worked in Macon so we didn’t see her except occasionally at a Georgia veterinarians’ meeting. We didn’t know them very well but they were very interesting people and we missed them after they retired.

One day as we traveled north we made the sudden decision to go by Barry and Sarah Jane’s house. Charles knew it was on the back side of the property where the practice was. We found them at home enjoying retirement, both of them very pleased to see us. We had iced tea and chatted a few minutes, then stood to leave. Sarah Jane insisted we look around their yard and garden before we left. That’s when I saw a rosemary bush that was thick and beautiful. It reigned like a queen close to a walkway, its slender-leaved branches brushing against a rock. I ran my hand along one branch and took in the restorative scent. As we continued around the yard I kept looking back at that beautiful rosemary bush. Finally I worked up the nerve to ask this lady whom I knew so slightly if I might have a cutting from her rosemary bush. She laughed and said, “Oh, I can do better than that. I’ll give you a rosemary bush already rooted and potted.”

We planted that rosemary where we could see it from our garden room. It grew to be as grand as Sarah Jane’s. But after years it began to be somewhat sprangly and we cut it back severely. It never recovered. But I had rooted some branches from it so when it died we still had rosemary. When we moved from that house we took cuttings with us and started a new tub of rosemary which became as bushy and full of that tantalizing aroma as the first had been. One day while I was playing with my great grandchildren I missed my footing somehow and landed right in that tub of rosemary. The children worried I’d hurt myself but I was cushioned nicely in the fragrant branches. The problem was I didn’t know how to get up. It took a lot of effort and squeals of laughter from all of us to haul me out of there. Then I realized what I’d done. I had sat smack down in the middle of my beautiful rosemary bush and it was flattened and broken. It never quite recovered. But, again, I had rooted some branches so we planted another one which grew nicely.

Presently, our rosemary bush is less than healthy having missed a few waterings, I’m afraid. It looks a little like a chicken that’s lost most of its feathers. But not to worry. I have another cutting rooted and ready to plant. Not only do I want to keep a rosemary near the back door. I also look for opportunities to give a newly rooted rosemary away, to pass forward the generosity of Sarah Jane.

I use dried or fresh rosemary on beef and pork roasts, on baked or stewed chicken. I even made a loaf of rosemary wheat bread and I really liked it by my family didn’t seem too turned on about it. Use a teaspoon of dried rosemary in a pot of vegetable beef soup. Use the pretty little branches as a garnish on a plate of stuffed eggs or a platter of sliced ham. If you want a quick decoration for your table, stick some rosemary branches in a pitcher of water. If you replenish the water every few days the leaves will stay fresh and green for weeks. And if you keep it long enough, about a month or six weeks, you can pull those stems out and–voila!–Roots!

It’s easy to dry rosemary for future use. Harvest about a dozen little branches, tie them together with a string, leaving a loop on stem end of bunch. Hang it over any hook and enjoy the down home feeling of its scent for a couple of weeks. When it’s dry, place the bunch on a cookie sheet or a piece of wax paper and strip every one of those twigs.  You can place dried rosemary leaves in a ziplock bag and keep them for at least six months. When you use dried rosemary, rub the now brittle little leaves between your hands and turn the into tiny flavorful bits to add to your cooking.

Aside from its savory scent, its delightful flavor and its Christmasy boughs, I love the tenacity of the rosemary. If you have the misfortune to prune it to death, flatten it, starve it you can plant new rootings so you’ll always have a rosemary.  For this non-green-thumb girl it is a pleasure to be able to root anything! And maybe, as a side effect, my memory will improve also.


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Jelly for Jesus



Charli ladling jelly into jars

Charli and I were making grape jelly. She helped me wash jars, measure sugar, collect utensils and stir, stir, stir. I felt a generational bonding as I remembered fondly making jelly with my mother, my daughter and my granddaughter. Now here was my great granddaughter working along with me.

As we worked I not only explained the process, but also threw in bits of my jelly devotional believing that, even at nine years old, she may remember some of it.

Making jelly has always been fun for me. I’m fascinated by the amazing changes that occur as crude juice is turned into sweet jiggly clear jelly. One time as I stirred the juice heating to a boil, God planted the idea for this devotional in my head. Maybe some of you would like to use this simple visual devotional as well. It is symbolic but not allegorical, meaning each point has a spiritual significance, but the whole process cannot be compared to our Lord or to our relationship to Him.

First, I introduce the jelly pot, aka roast pot, soup pot, etc. It is about forty-five years old, a stainless steel six-quart pot by Saladmaster. I point out that it is marred, one handle completely missing. There are scratches and stains on the shiny pot. It’s solid and good. But it’s marred. In spite of its faults, though, it is a very useful pot. We, too, are marred sinful vessels but God can use us in His purposes even with broken handles, multiple scratches and stains.

Next, I set out all the utensils I will need to make jelly–tongs for handling hot jars and lids, a long handled stirring spoon, a ladle for pouring jelly in jars, a funnel, cotton gloves I use for handling the filled hot jars, and a fresh clean dish cloth for making sure the rim of each jar is perfectly clean. I even drape a nice clean dish towel over my shoulder in case I need it during the process. All these are very minor characters in the jelly making but any one of them becomes major when I need them. I have to stir the jelly, ladle it into jars, tighten rings. And I’d make a scalding mess if I didn’t use that nifty little yellow funnel. Each is part of a team and, though seemingly insignificant, is of great importance for making a sweet delightful product. Just as each of us in God’s church, no matter how small our role, is very important.

It’s time to wash the jars. When doing this devotional, I hold up one clean sparkling pint jar for my audience to see. Cleanliness is totally necessary to insure safe and secure canning. God needs clean jars (us!) for the assignments He fills us with. But we can’t scrub ourselves clean in soapy water. He has to clean us with His blood and His power.

After washing the jars I place them right side up on a cookie sheet and place them in the oven to heat at 220. Heat is to sterilize the jars even more than washing can do and to promote the process of sealing. All jars have to be heated either this way or in a pan of simmering water as my mother used to do, or in a canner. Jellies are safe to can “from the stovetop” as opposed to most other products. Heating jars in the oven, lids and rings in hot water, make them pure for the job they’re to do. At this point I ask what the heat represents and someone will say it is our trials which God uses to prepare us for future assignments.

I measure the sugar into a bowl, each cup leveled exactly evenly. I usually just take some sugar in a ziplock bag for this part of the demonstration. Being so precise with measurements reminds me that God has given us commandments to obey and they are extremely important.

We talk about the process of obtaining the juice from fruits, varying according to the fruit. Mayhaws and grapes, for instance, have to be boiled slowly in a generous amount of water, then strained through cheesecloth. (The juice can be canned or frozen for future use.) One thing is obvious.  Whatever the fruit, it has to be mangled, squished, changed in form to become juice. We as Christians must be submissive to the Lord’s “molding and making,” or squishing, in order to do His work.

We take a deep breath. After all this preparation, we are finally ready to start making jelly. Preparation is necessary and often takes more time than the job itself. Sometimes the Lord takes years preparing us for one single assignment.

I like to have a quart jar of what I call crude juice ready to pour into that nice waiting pot, though in the interest of cleanup, I don’t actually pour it in. The Sure Jell will be at hand also but not opened. We talk about adding the Sure Jell and stirring it in. The juice isn’t pretty to start with, not clear and bright. After the Sure Jell goes in it becomes positively ugly. Experiences, situations, enter our lives, for good or for bad. Without Jesus we have no help in facing grim problems.

At last, after constant stirring, the juice and Sure Jell are thoroughly mixed and boiling. Time to pour in the sugar! This is really a fun stage. As we mix the sugar in, the juice suddenly turns a beautiful color and is so clear we can see the bottom of the shiny pot. I say this is like when Jesus comes into our lives. The ugliness disappears (well, at least part of the time!) and others can actually see Jesus in us.

When the jelly has boiled one minute at high heat, white foam forms on top. As I told Charli, the foam isn’t very good so we skim it off. Sometimes we call it sludge. My audience quickly recognizes that this is like the daily sins that Jesus “skims” off our lives.

We ladle hot jelly into hot jars and seal with hot lids and rings. This, too, is a really good part. Once we commit to following Jesus and become His child, nothing can separate us from Him, not tribulation, not distress, not persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword (Romans 8:35) Just as the jars are sealed for safe keeping, so are we. The recommended shelf life for most canning is one to three years. For the Christian it is for eternity!

As the jelly cools it will become jiggly and spreadable. Christians become firm in their faith as they mature through studying God’s word, praying, and interacting with other believers.

One more thing. Now that we’ve made jelly, let’s taste it! I always have with me a jar of jelly, some crackers, and some napkins. One time I presented this devotional at an assisted living residence. Several little girls helped me serve the jelly on crackers. Everyone gets a taste of the jelly as I remind us all that when He puts sweetness in our lives, He expects us to share His goodness with others.

Whether you’re making marmalade, jelly, jam, or preserves from oranges, grapes, strawberries, or figs, I hope you enjoy the process. It’s always fun to hear that celebratory pop in the kitchen as each jar cools and seals. And there is a sense of completeness in stowing them away in the pantry. It’s so much fun to share gifts of jelly at Christmas and anytime.

I didn’t give Charli much of this devotional, too much for her at nine, but I hope she remembers that Jesus sweetens our lives.


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Watermelon Time

two slices of watermelons on grass

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

There’s nothing better on a hot summer’s afternoon than a slice of cool pink watermelon. We had a concrete picnic table at the house where we lived raising our children. It was perfect for watermelon cuttings. Many a Saturday afternoon we with perhaps an extended family group as well as friends would gather around while Charles “cracked” a watermelon wide open, then cut it into generous smile shaped pieces. Finicky ones would use a fork, others dive their very faces into the juicy melon spitting out the seeds with eager delight.

Some watermelon eaters opt to have just a portion of a slice, the “heart,” that beautiful, almost frosty-looking upper side of the smile. Others will eat right down to the rind and will have competitions over who might spit a seed the farthest. You can quickly tell the difference between the “heart” eaters with a fork and the “whole melon” eaters who have tell-tale juice running off their chins.

Most of the time right now there are only two of us here. We cut a watermelon into manageable small pieces and keep them in an airtight container so we can dip into them whenever we like. When I taste the juicy sweetness I remember many of those good old watermelon cuttings. One, in particular, was very different from the rest.

In my book Stone Gables I’ve written about the time when a watermelon vine grew in the corner of Mamma’s garden. She hadn’t planted it but we were so excited when it came up. One watermelon developed very nicely getting bigger and plumper as the summer went by.  Mamma “thumped” it almost every day and kept saying it wasn’t quite ready yet. But one day she agreed we could pluck it from the vine and carry it to the spring to cool.

We could hardly wait for that watermelon to be cool enough according to Mamma’s standards. Finally we all hovered around a big table-like rock near the spring while Stan did the cutting. We were holding our breath in eagerness as the knife cut lengthwise of that beautiful green melon. As it cracked open to reveal the inside we  we groaned in unison and even stepped back, I think. The watermelon wasn’t a watermelon; it was perfectly green inside. “It’s a citron,” Mamma said in disappointment. “I knew it didn’t thump right.”

Mamma was loathe to throw anything away so she had us haul the non-watermelon back to the house where she pared the rind into cubes and began boiling them down with sugar to make preserves. We still talk about the disappointment of that day.

Many another time we had wonderful watermelon cuttings on the patio at Stone Gables. People sat on the patio wall, in folding chairs, or just stood around with juice dripping between their fingers as they ate. Stan and Tom were both especially thoughtful about bringing watermelons to the big family gatherings. And never again, in my memory, did we have a citron instead of a watermelon.

A really good thing about watermelon, for those who are watching their calories, is that this “fruit” is ninety percent water. One can eat a lot of watermelon without worrying about blowing a diet. Also, the sugar is a kind sugar that doesn’t harm a diabetic, within reason.

A phrase from an old Tom T. Hall ballad comes to mind: “…old dogs and children and watermelon wine.” It’s a fetching tune and an intriguing thought but when I think of watermelon turned into wine I have to make a face. I’ve had the misfortune to let a watermelon spoil. Cutting into one of those is worse than opening a citron! What would watermelon wine taste like? I wouldn’t be able to get past the smell to find out.

This time of year there are watermelons in huge crates in almost any grocery store–round ones, oval ones, those claiming to be seedless, red meat watermelons, yellow meat watermelons, tiny watermelons and huge ones. You can see large trucks on the highway piled high with watermelons. There are wide open fields of watermelons still on their vines and then sometimes, sadly, I guess because the market becomes flooded, there are fields of watermelons gone to waste lying exposed with their vines turned yellow and shriveled and some of the melons popped open for the flies and bees.

Pick a watermelon from a crate at the store. Run your hands over its sleek dark hide, striped almost like a huge lizard of some kind. Take it home and cool it in the refrigerator, or if you’re in a hurry, cool it in the freezer but don’t leave it too long. Then crack into it. Open the halves and reveal the beautiful blends of slightest pink and rich red, the frosty heart, the rows of black seeds. Slice into smiles or handy wedges or fork-fun chunks and enjoy!

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. Psalm 34:8






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