Remember the sweet potato vines I wrote about a few weeks ago? All summer we’ve watched them with great interest. Charles has faithfully watered them and they have flourished beautifully. They have snaked out on the lawn, climbed a nearby pine tree, and sent graceful shoots out into the nandina bushes, not to mention completely covering the big old rusty saw blade. Charles, seeing their energy, said maybe they weren’t sweet potatoes. Maybe they were cudzu!
We both wondered what was going on under the vines. Were there any potatoes down there? It was so quiet. No sounds of activity, just a few more inches of silent growth every day.
Last week Charles and Kaison decided to dig up one hill and see what was there. It was a challenge even to figure out the center of each hill, so thick with vines they were. But they found one and dug up several potatoes, one of which was the biggest sweet potato I’ve ever seen. It took two hours at 425 to bake the thing! But it was wonderfully tasty. Now we knew they were ready. It was time to unearth the whole patch and see how many potatoes the six plants produced.
As Charles pulled the vines out of the bushes, unwound them from the bird house post and the pine tree, we were amazed and amused at the length of them. Charles was curious enough to fetch a measuring tape and measured one vine to be 23 feet long. How did they achieve such length? How did they have the ability to wind around a bird house post, a pine tree? How did they ever even get started from that tiny plant?
Underneath those lush vines Charles found thirty-six sweet potatoes of various sizes from very small rat size (they look like rats with a long tail!) to huge like an odd-shaped pumpkin. They’re all that beautiful pink color even with soil clinging to them. I had a ringside seat (a lawn chair!) to watch the show. I thought how pleased and utterly amused Charles’s farmer dad would be to see us having such a party over a few sweet potatoes.
I like to think these sweet potatoes developing so quietly and with such strength and vigor are just one sign among billions and trillions that God is at work when we can’t see and can’t hear. If He created these lush vines that “knew” how to lace themselves all about and these marvelous bumpy red potatoes hidden from view while they grew, I am assured He’s watching over each of us even when He seems to be asleep, even when we are asleep!
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Psalms 121:3-4
The sudden rain sounds like a waterfall. Thick curtains of reeds along the driveway sway in the wind like giant green ocean waves. The driveway has turned into a fast-moving river. And the dogs are barking.
Soon after we moved to our present house we learned that several German shepherds lived next door. They considered they owned our place since it had stood empty for years. So anytime we walked into the front yard they barked ferociously. We talked to them and made friends, to a degree, through the fence. But still they barked. Were they just saying hello? Somehow it sounded more like, Leave this property, you are trespassing!
As time went on, we realized these dogs, sometimes one, sometimes two or three, barked at the sound of sirens, at every hint of rain, thunder or not. A lightning storm threw them into an uproar of baying like so many coyotes. Our bedroom windows weren’t far from the dogs with their tremendous capacity for volume and prolonged disturbance. I prayed they would learn to be quiet.
I loved our new house but I really didn’t like the almost perpetual sound of heavy deep-voiced German shepherds. The barking didn’t bother Charles. After all, he had lived with barking dogs at the animal hospital for fifty years. It was normal background music to him when the dogs tuned up at the sound of a garbage truck or even airplanes.
You’re probably thinking there’s some dramatic end to this story. But the change has been gradual. The dogs still bark but I’ve become accustomed to them. When I hear them in the middle of the night I wonder if a possum wandered through or if they feel a storm coming. When they’re quiet I know all is well. Sometimes I smile at their playful yipping as they run about in their generous yard.
Right now the sky is brightening. The reeds are shedding silver drops. And the dogs are still barking. My prayer was answered, not by the dogs learning to be quiet, but by a change in my own attitude toward them. Their ears must hurt painfully when the high squeal of screaming sirens reaches them. Instead of groaning when I hear them tune up, I say “Bless their hearts!”
My sister-in-law, Revonda Barwick, gave me this autographed copy of “Out of the Shadow of 9/11” last year. She had heard Christina Ray Stanton speak and knew I’d like her book. I’ve read it twice and both times was horrified, saddened, and very, very blessed. I know you would also be blessed by this account. It is told from a different angle than most you will have heard. It is a story of the transformation of this young couple who found a different life after 9/11.
Christina Ray Stanton was there. Not in the towers but very close by. She and her husband of only eighteen months lived in a high rise apartment building just six blocks from the World Trade Center. They slept late that morning in their apartment on the 24h floor. Christina remembers her husband, Brian, shaking her awake with the awful news that a bomb must have gone off in the North Tower. They both ran to their terrace directly facing the World Trade Center. She describes the smoke as so thick and black and reaching so high into the sky, it just couldn’t be real.
But it was real. From their terrace they watched, running back and forth to the living room to check the television news. It wasn’t a bomb, Katie Couric reported. It was a plane. A plane? How could a small plane have caused so much damage? About then Christina looked over her shoulder and saw a huge jet flying so low she could almost see passengers in the windows. It dodged between skyscrapers like a hawk, then aimed its nose at the South Tower. The impact threw Christina and Brian into their living room on their backs. When Christina first became aware she felt a heavy weight on her chest. It was their dog, Gaby, a Boston terrier shaking with fear.
This was the beginning of a long and treacherous journey for Christina and Brian and their dog, Gaby, as they walked and ran away from the towers seeking safety. She describes scenes of crowds of other terrified folks trying to escape, not knowing which way to go; the enormous number of sirens and flashing lights as first responders rushed to the scene; then the unbelievable horror when first one, then the other, tower imploded. Their clothes, hair, and skin were suddenly covered with a disgusting thick film of yellow dust. Everyone was covered–the trees, the buildings, and Gaby, too.
The two were stunned and sobered by the thought that they could easily have been in the World Trade Center that day. Brian was having frequent interviews seeking a job in the Financial District. He wanted to be rich and successful. Christina was auditioning every chance she got for a role in a Broadway play. In the meantime she worked as a tour guide for NYC. She could have been showing a group the World Trade Center, maybe even at the top. The fact that it could have been them made them face the reality of how fragile life is. Later they were to learn that one of Brian’s close friends, a fraternity brother from Clemson University, was in one of the towers that day and was killed.
Their escape route finally took them aboard a boat headed for the New Jersey shore. There they encountered stares and disbelief that anyone would be out walking barefoot in a flimsy gown with no bra. Some folks were positively rude as if the couple and their dog were aliens from Mars or had contracted a horrible disease. Others were unbelievably kind like the lady who realized their dire need and invited them up to her bathroom. They were finally able to use a borrowed cell phone from another kind person so they could let their families know they were safe.
Christina, who has trouble verbalizing the horrors of that day and ensuing homeless days, has now written a compelling account because, she says, We must never forget. She draws the reader to experience stark, breathtaking scenes as she remembers realizing she in her hurry hadn’t put her shoes on. She was dressed only in a flimsy nightgown with no bra, no identification, and no money. Brian had remembered his wallet and credit card and shoes with socks (Christina wore his socks for miles across railroad tracks and all.)
As bad as those first few days were, there was much more to come, both bad and good. There were some very kind people along the way. Christina’s friend Sarah took them in to her small apartment for several days. A perfect stranger who, having fled the city herself, allowed Brian and Christina to stay in her studio apartment rent free.
They finally were allowed back in their apartment and began the overwhelming job of cleaning up the thick dust and debris. There were even snippets of paper from World Trade Center offices blown into their living room through the terrace doors which, in their panic, they’d forgotten to close. For weeks the dust kept accumulating.
Other challenges included getting Gaby to a veterinarian because he wouldn’t eat, was throwing up, and scratching his eyes. That’s when they learned that one of the many components of the horrible dust was ground glass which had injured Gaby’s eyes and her stomach. And then there was the vet’s bill of $517.
Their budget was stretched to the max since now neither of them had a job. Against Brian’s wishes Christina sought help at the Redeemer, a Presbyterian church a friend of hers attended. That contact turned out to be God’s avenue for giving this couple, not just material help, but spiritual and mental help as well.
The weeks of PTSD and searching for jobs, were a learning process for which now Christina and Brian are grateful. They both now have jobs at Redeemer, Brian as a financial advisor, Christina as director of short term missions. Christina’s passion now, instead of aspiring to Broadway fame, is to lead and/or send missions teams around the world with the Good News.
In her epilogue Christina writes: “The lives Brian and I have built since 9/11 are in many ways like the memorial, which is beautiful and meaningful, even though it looks nothing like the towers it replaced.”
I love to play games with my grandchildren. I can no longer play badminton, croquet, or corn hole. But I can enjoy inside games. Last summer Charli came over to join Mattie and me at playing Author cards and a “quick” game of Monopoly that lasted three days (off and on!). Remembering how fun that game of Monopoly was Charli and Kaison talked me into pulling out the ancient game again this year.
We set the game up on a card table that was out of the way so we could play for an hour or two a day. Each afternoon we vied to see what properties we could buy, who would land on those properties or even go to jail.
You learn a lot about people playing board games. I’ve been very interested in the actions and reactions of these kids as we circle the Monopoly board.
I’m a very cautious Monopoly player myself, holding back from spending too much, trying to avoid bankruptcy (at least early on!). Charli, on the other hand, is not even satisfied with houses on her property. She buys hotels and often bargains with other players to get their property and truly form a monopoly. But she’s not without compassion when someone lands on her street and suddenly owes a huge rental fee. She is always ready with negotiable options.
Kaison is so quick in math making change without a problem. He, like me, is somewhat cautious about buying, loves to see his stacks of money pile up. He has a real sense of order so often goes to the banker (Charli) requesting change for a $100 or $50 so he will have cash in every denomination.
I was surprised at their reactions when I landed on Kaison’s or Charli’s places. They eyed my puny stacks of money and either gave me a great discount or even paid my debt for me. Kaison, particularly, would say, “I feel bad for you, Nana.” I laughed and told them it was just a game, that they didn’t need to worry. By about the third day I was wishing I could go bankrupt!
In other words, we didn’t play “hard” Monopoly where if an owner doesn’t notice someone lighting on his property until after the next dice is thrown the renter doesn’t have to pay. The fun, to them, was in the act of paying and being paid. They not only watched their own properties with eagle eyes, but spotted for other players as well. I did notice that Charli, when faced with a huge rental fee, counted and recounted her steps, sure that she might not really be on Park Place.
Landing on luxury tax immediately eats up your “pass go” salary. Landing in jail brings out groans even though a player can accrue some real benefits from being out of commission, collecting rent and not paying for any. If Kaison had a “Get out of jail free” card when I landed in jail he would have it no other way than that I should use it.
We finally decided it was time to count up and fold up. That turned out to be a real exercise in math since some had mortgaged property. You can imagine who won–Charli, the aggressive one!
Tearing up our “village” was a little like taking down a tent at the end of a jolly, adventurous camping week. The hub that held us together was gone. All the chatter, arguing about nonessentials like how much your mortgage is and trying to talk yourself out of jail, as are the anticipation of catching a fellow player on your railroad or drawing a really good community service card. It was time to face some real life challenges like buying groceries, studying for exams, and interacting with friends in new grades.
The Monopoly game is neatly back in its ragged old box, a box that represents laughter and groans of generations of players for about forty-five years. Like the tent at the end of a camping trip, it’s folded away in a closet until another time.
The chatter of youthful voices clings to the rooms as I lean back for a much-needed snooze.