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Buttermilk and Cornbread

Most of my children make a sour face at the very mention of buttermilk. Some people give me the impression they would rather die of thirst and/or hunger before they would take even a sip of buttermilk.

But to those of us raised on buttermilk and cornbread, those two were a mainstay, a delight, and even now they’re a tasty treat. So when someone asked me recently what exactly buttermilk is I was happy to explain, probably more fully than they wanted!

Basically, buttermilk is a byproduct of the production of butter. The process involves the fermentation of whole milk to the point that it clabbers. Then it’s a matter of moving, shaking, churning the milk until butter forms. This can be done with milk in a large jar as we did in nursery school, allowing each child a chance to shake. Or the process might be implemented in a glass churn with a crank. I guess the commercial process uses a huge vat or cylinder. But the most interesting way to make buttermilk is with a simple old crockery churn.

Mamma’s method of making buttermilk when we had a milk cow was to let each day’s supply of milk set until the cream rose. She would skim that cream off and save it for churning day. On churning day she put whole milk soured to a clabber in the churn, added the reserved cream, and let it all warm to room temperature sitting by the wood stove. The milk needs to be warm enough that butter will form but not too warm or the butter will not hold together. Mamma knew just when it was right. The churn had a wooden disc top with a hole in it so a rod with paddle at the bottom could move up and down. Once the milk was ready Mamma assigned a child to churn if she needed to be doing something else. In about an hour the paddle hitting the milk changed its sound. Mamma would lift the lid to see if butter had formed. If it wasn’t ready, then churning resumed until yellow islands of butter floated in the milk. Mamma scooped out the butter, rinsed it in cold water, packed it in a mold to make beautiful cakes of butter. She took pride in the perfect cakes with a flower imprint on the top. Naturally, the milk left in the churn is buttermilk.

Buttermilk purchased from the store is apt to taste pretty horrible compared to the fresh lively taste of home churned buttermilk. But often we find brands that are really good. The taste takes me back to Mamma’s kitchen, the churn sitting by the warm stove, the cat nearby hoping for a splattered drop. It seems Mamma’s weekly churning day often coincided with her wheat bread baking day so we could have hot bread and fresh butter.

But sometimes when she didn’t have time for the long process of making yeast bread Mamma made quick thin cornbread in shallow iron pans on top of the stove. The smell of that bread cooking could bring us out of our books or in from chores in a hurry.

One of the very good things about buttermilk and cornbread is how tasty they are together as leftovers. I can see us now, a line of hungry children sitting on a long bench. Mamma and one of the older girls would pour buttermilk (or sweet milk sometimes) into peanut butter mugs (remember those glass mugs?) and give one to each of us along with a generous piece of cornbread. We had the option of crumbling the bread into our mugs and eating with a spoon or eating/drinking them separately. I always took the crumbling option. It was filling and so good. That was our supper.

Buttermilk is a fantastic ingredient in many recipes. For instance, I don’t think I can make cornbread without buttermilk. As I said, not all commercially made buttermilk is really good. But it does just fine for cooking. You can even make a form of buttermilk instantly if you’re out of the real thing. Pour a cup of sweet milk, add a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice and voila! you have buttermilk for your cornbread baking.

Buttermilk, paired usually with a teaspoon of soda, makes for other delicious bakery products like muffins, coffee cake, pancakes, biscuits and more. There’s even a good recipe for buttermilk pie. It’s one of those desperation recipes that turn out surprisingly delicious.

I always get a sour look when I recommend buttermilk or yogurt to a kid with mouth ulcers. I only know it heals because I’ve tried it. Then again, I just like buttermilk. I’d far rather have my sister Suzanne’s freshly churned buttermilk but I’m happy with com-mercial also. Cornbread (made with buttermilk) makes it even better!

I confess we don’t now usually have cornbread crumbled in buttermilk. But last night we did and it was ever so good! Whether beans and squash, meatloaf and potatoes, or buttermilk and cornbread, it’s good to give thanks to God, our provider.

Give us day by day our daily bread. Luke 11:3

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The Braided Rug

It’s not a magic carpet like Aladdin’s. But magical moments do occur on this center stage rug.

We arrived at my brother-in-law’s apartment to find him standing with his walker in the midst of chaos. David and my sister Pat, who had died about a year before, were both extremely neat and orderly. So the chaos was unusual. But then everything was unusual. David’s health had gone down sharply and he wanted to downsize. We had offered to help.

The first thing we noticed was the long stretch of rolled up braided rug, so long it was hard to walk around in that small apartment.

“I need to get rid of this rug,” said David coming right to the point. “You think you can take it to Goodwill?”

It was a big rug for that small apartment, a study in greens. I immediately felt sad that we wouldn’t see it there at David’s any longer. It was an important part of the apartment he and Pat had occupied for years. Many family occasions we’d enjoyed in that home with the rug a center of our seating area–birthday parties, 4th of July gatherings, unplanned visits. I could picture so well Pat almost dancing across the rug with arms wide open to welcome us. It had been part of the furnishing in their big beautiful North Carolina house as well, maybe even their West Virginia house. It wasn’t just part of their house, it was part of their home.

Charles and I looked at each other. We’d been looking for the right rug for our living room in the house where we’d recently moved, a rug with shades of green, a touch of red mingled with tan and gold. Just like this one. I’d always held an affection for braided rugs.

“David, would you mind very much if we took this rug home instead of to Goodwill?” I asked.

Somehow we hauled that van home in our modest van.

The rug took on new life.

Three young teenagers from Uganda spent several days with us not long after we laid the rug down. They were part of a group our church helped sponsor called the Daraja Choir. The program took elementary age children for a year, traveling over much of the U.S. performing at churches and staying in homes. They had lessons each morning at the church with their teacher and performed at the church one night. Their leader, Kaws, prompted them to put on a private show for us–on the rug. It was a memorable occasion for all of us, including several of our grandchildren. I can still see the expressive bright faces of those little boys as they danced and sang Christian songs in their language and in ours.

Our little Charli began taking gymnastics lessons. She practiced and put on shows on the rug almost every day. When her cousin Mattie came to visit they both worked out routines based on movements they had learned and a lot of imagination–and energy! There is a favorite area on the back lawn where they also so their tricks. But the rug is more often the chosen stage.

Then Mattie started dance lessons–pop, tap, and ballet. I love it when she shows us her solo for a recital or when she and Charli use the rug for their various, sometimes unbelievable, activities. They can bend themselves into such wild shapes, I think even a pretzel maker couldn’t compete.

We enjoyed hosting a Bible study in our home for six weeks one year. The rug made our circle cozy and casual for sharing.

At Christmas we all gather around the rug by the Christmas tree after dinner. Charles reads the Christmas story, usually from Luke, but this year he read prophecies of the Messiah from Isaiah. This year Charli read “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” before we began opening gifts. The grandchildren arranged themselves on the rug for digging into their stockings.

The rug gives nice space for working puzzles. It’s a good place for amateur chiropractors to do their cracking. It’s an ideal place, too, to test out a new robot or lie down and read a book, or practice for a school drama.

The rug has had several houses before ours. Like us, it’s no spring chicken and is somewhat faded. It’s not a magic carpet. But it’s seen many a magical moment as the center of our family and friend gatherings. And as a stage for some wonderful performances.

David came to see us a few months after the rug moved to our house. I gleefully pointed out how his rug fitted so nicely in our living room, how appreciative we were for it. David, not a sentimental person, only shrugged and said something like “That’s good.” To him it was just a rug. To me it is a magical center stage.

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The Old Ford

Life’s curves and adventures– challenges, bad days, good days–are never flat like a dime. They’re like prisms with many different facets. Those involved each have a different perspective about any particular event. As Charles and I traveled on an afternoon excursion I was reminded of how differently people consider circumstances.

I knew I had been on this road before but I didn’t know where in Habersham County we were. Many curves in the road and glimpses of mountains or views into the forest struck a chord of memory. Then we came upon the ford and I exclaimed with pleasure “I remember this ford!” I asked Charles to stop so I could take a picture. Okay, it’s not really a ford any longer except when the creek swells high. But back before the road was paved the water literally did flow across the road and the car tires splashed as we rode through.

But sometimes, after a heavy rain, the car tires did not splash on through.

On one such occasion my brother John was driving several family members on a ride in the hills. I’m not sure whether we were riding towards a destination or just taking a scenic jaunt. Daddy may have needed to visit someone and allowed the rest of us to tag along. I must have been pretty small so I don’t remember all the details. But I do remember that we became stuck in the mud at the edge of the ford.

When I related the memory to Charles he, being an all-time fixer, wanted to know how we got out. I remember a lot of pushing and grunting and spinning. I don’t think there were any boards to put under the tires, although maybe a log or two were retrieved from the woods. There certainly was no tractor with a chain. The good part about our being stuck was that we kids played in the water the whole time the men worked to budge the car.

It must have been an hour before the car was freed. It was long enough for us to wade and splash and chase each other with water lizards. Mamma must not have been part of that adventure because she would have probably stopped us from getting wet and muddy. The way I remember it, all attention of adults was on getting the car out and we kids were allowed to have a wonderful time playing in the cool water.

As Charles and I drove on up the road and came to the tiny community that calls itself “City of Batesville, unincorporated”, I kept thinking about that day when our car was stuck in the mud. To Daddy and John it was a very unwelcome event. I think it was John’s car and I’m sure he was pretty unhappy about the mess he was in. Daddy would have been anxious to move on. He was not a patient man. But to us kids it was a fantastic, joyous time.

Different perspectives make for sparkling rainbow colors from a prism. Let’s be conscious this year of recognizing and respecting those who have an entirely different perspective from our own. And if you are blessed to find a real ford, a stream sparkling in the sunlight as it crosses the road–pause and enjoy it!

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O Little Town of Bethlehem

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Micah 5:2

I knew everything would be different. There would be no stable as I’d always pictured, no shepherds watching sheep on a hillside, no patient donkey, instead honking taxis and tourist attractions. I wanted to picture Bethlehem as the Bible described it, a quiet little town suddenly filled with strangers needing to be counted, frantically seeking a place to lay their heads. But when an unusual opportunity came up that allowed Charles and me to visit the Holy Land we were excited.

In 1996 it was possible to visit Bethlehem on certain days. Our guide, a Christian Palestinian, explained that when there was a terrorist threat (as there often was), no tourists were allowed. But it was clear the day we went to Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Yes, Bethlehem was different but it was fascinating. Not only was it was the birthplace of Jesus but it was also the birthplace of David, the town where Ruth met Boaz in the field. Ruth became the great-great-great (about 14 greats!) grandmother of Jesus. It was Joseph’s ancestral home so he had to go there when Caesar declared a census be taken in Judea. All part of God’s marvelous plan.

We enjoyed buying olive wood nativity sets for family members at a huge store where there were dozens and dozens of nativity sets of all sizes, from Christmas tree ornament, to almost life size. Crafting these nativity sets is the main livelihood for many folks in Bethlehem.

When we visited the place of Jesus’ birth, the actual place, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge of what He did for me, leaving Glory to become a helpless baby. For centuries after His birth, according to our guide, folks eagerly pointed to that stable/cave and told what had happened there. In about the year 500 the Church of the Nativity was built over the place to preserve it for all to visit and, like me, to worship the Lord. There were hundreds of people standing in line to be able to kneel at the very spot marked by a large star on the floor of a recessed “cave.” When I knelt ever so briefly just to touch the tiles it was a very precious moment. That site is said to be the most authentic of all the sacred sites.

It was years after our visit that I read the account of Phillips Brooks’ visit to Bethlehem. It was something like this.

Phillips Brooks was a very famous preacher in the mid 1800’s. He was the one chosen to preach the funeral of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. After that funeral he was so depressed, so hopeless, he could no longer lead his parishioners. He took a sabbatical and traveled to the Holy Land. He rode by horse from Jerusalem to Bethlehem late one afternoon. Contemplating the little town and remembering the supernatural event that took place there, he felt a peace come over him that was unexplainable. He went in a small church where, as he wrote later, his “heart sang.” He knew that, in spite of the horrors of the last few years, God was still in control.

When Phillips returned to his flock he tried to explain to them what it was like walking where Jesus walked. He wanted them to have the peace he experienced. But no matter how hard he tried he could not convey to them the feelings that he had. It was simply too much for words. Three years after his return to his church in Philadelphia he sat at his desk trying to prepare for that year’s Christmas service. Suddenly the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” formed in his head and he quickly wrote them down. He rushed to his organist, Lewis Radner, who exclaimed, “This is what you’ve been trying to say!” Radner began trying to write music for the words but he was struggling. On Christmas Eve night he finally went to sleep knowing he would disappoint Phillips because he had no music. In his sleep the tune came to him and when he woke he was able to write it so the church could, that Christmas Day, sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

The little town of Bethlehem is different from the time when Jesus was born. It’s different from the time Phillips Brooks was there. And I’m sure it’s different from the time we walked its streets in 1996. But the story of the birth of the Messiah is the same. Our great God who sent Jesus is the same. And we can find His peace in the streets of Bethlehem or — wherever you are!

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above they deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

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A Puppy and a Camera

Photo by Kanashi on Pexels.com

My sister Suzanne dreamed of having a collie puppy. She all but devoured every book Albert Payson Terhune wrote about hero and heroine collies. It was 1954 and she was nine years old. In her enthusiasm for collies she even said she planned to have 1,000 of them when she grew up. Mamma, hearing her announcement, smiled as she mixed the Christmas fruitcake. “Maybe not quite that many,” she responded.

As for me, I studied the cameras in the Sears catalog knowing they were all too expensive, almost as unattainable as Charlie’s longed-for jeep. Still, as Mamma said, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Weeks before Christmas Charlie began teasing Suzanne. He said he knew something she might get for Christmas. He came up with new clues every day. This thing, he said, would be a little different every day. “It” would be covered with little pointy spikes. “It” wasn’t a ball but it could possibly knock a person over. I tried to help Suzanne figure out what this thing was but we both became more and more perplexed.

It would be a strange Christmas with only four of us kids still at home at Stone Gables and even Stan wasn’t there much since he had a job. Jackie had married and lived in Maryland and all the rest except John lived too far away to come home. John and his family lived in Clayton but all three of his children were sick so only he could come to our family Christmas Eve celebration. John was “too old” to wait in the kitchen for the lighting of the Christmas tree. In fact, only three of us waited for the blast of Daddy’s horn calling us to come see the tree. Where was Charlie, we wondered. No one seemed to know.

We rounded the turn at the arch, Suzanne as youngest, in front. Our eyes would usually be focused only on the beautiful tall cedar tree with real candles aglow. But that year what we saw was Daddy striding towards us with a soft golden bundle in his arms. I think we all lost our breath when he laid that collie puppy in Suzanne’s eager arms. And there was Charlie behind Daddy grinning with an “I told you so” look. Stan reached out to pet the puppy who licked his hand as if he were an old friend. Seems Charlie had kept Lassie, as Suzanne named her, in Daddy’s study during supper. And Stan had been the one Daddy assigned to purchase the dog and bring her to her new home. It was an amazing surprise, impossible to pull off without several conspirators.

The coming of Lassie was enough Christmas for all of us. But we each had a special gift. I don’t remember what the boys’ gifts were but mine, wrapped in a chunky square package, was a camera with two 12-exposure rolls of black and white film. I felt like a true reporter and wasted no time in trying to record the happiness of that Christmas. My favorite photo, even better than those of the snow that fell the next day, was that of Suzanne lying in front of a crackling fire, one arm over Lassie, reading her Christmas book, Lassie Come-Home.

Suzanne and Lassie were inseparable. The dog grew quickly and was an intelligent, smart one. Suzanne’s job at that time was to milk the cow. Soon she learned that Lassie would help her bring the cow gently to the stable for milking. Then Lassie began fetching the cow by herself from wherever she’d wandered. The dog was almost human, knowing when to play and when to lie quietly, when to frisk and run, when to show off her many tricks, and when to be a shadow at Suzanne’s side. Mamma allowed Lassie anywhere except in the bed. Getting nowhere with her pleas to have Lassie in the bed, Suzanne made herself a cozy pallet and the two slept together on the floor. Suzanne remembers that the only time she and Lassie were apart was when the family went to church.

At the age of six months Lassie became suddenly sick and died. Our whole family mourned but Suzanne was inconsolable. Even now, in her seventies, Suzanne says Lassie has always been a part of her life. Now she and her husband have a border collie who reminds her poignantly of dear Lassie. I asked her if she had that picture I made of her and Lassie in front of the fire. She couldn’t find it and neither can I.

But both of us have that picture in our minds. The sweetness of that special Christmas lingers today–the anticipation, the overwhelming surprises, the scents of cedar, oranges, and the taste of Mamma’s Japanese fruitcake full of nuts and raisins. We need no picture to remind us of all of that or of Lassie’s knowing bark, her beautiful full collie fur, her faithfulness and her cheer.

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Celebrating a Blister

Mattie, 13, came dancing into the den where several of we family members sat. She had great news, she said. Mattie is a very good dance student. She absolutely loves to dance wherever she goes–down the hallway, around the kitchen, into the living room to start dressing the Christmas tree, and of course on stage. So I naturally thought she had achieved some wonderful award.

Actually, she had, but not quite the award I expected. Astonishment is hardly strong enough a word to describe our reaction to Mattie’s announcement. Exposing a reddened ankle, she exclaimed, “I have a blister! I finally have a blister!”

Mattie explained her enthusiasm saying she’d been working very hard to perfect a new ballet step. Evidently the instructor had warned her that a blister in the right place would indicate she’d twirled, pivoted, pirouetted correctly.

Blisters are no fun. Remember those blisters when you got new oxfords in fourth grade? You applied a bandaid which then curled up and made the blister hurt worse. It took a few days to toughen your heels so you and your shoes were comfortable. I’d never considered being at all happy over a blister. But here was my beautiful granddaughter thrilled at discovering she had one on each heel.

Mattie’s excitement over having blisters made me start thinking about other hard and bad things we might celebrate.

Sore muscles after a strenuous workout is reason for celebration. Also, sheer exhaustion after a hard day’s labor or callouses from gardening. There are times when we have tough circumstances that turn out to be very good for us. No circumstances we face are any worse than those of Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie in a Nazi concentration camp. They were confined in a smelly, tight room with many other prisoners. They soon discovered their cots were infected with fleas and the women were all scratching, having trouble sleeping in spite of their exhaustion from hard labor. But it became apparent that the guards totally ignored their quarters because of the fleas. Therefore, Corrie and Betsie could lead their fellow prisoners in Bible study. They learned to celebrate the curse of fleas.

One of the best examples, I think, of joyful hardships is that of a mother birthing a baby. After the baby comes the mother all but forgets the pain of labor as she cuddles a tiny human complete with fingers and toes and depending on his mother for food, safety, and love.

Thinking of the pain and joy of childbirth leads me straight to that amazing night in Bethlehem when Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and named Him, as instructed by the angel, Jesus. Mary must have suffered pain and great discomfort there in a crude cave or stable. Joseph, too, would have been so troubled that he could find no better place for travel-worn Mary to have her baby. But all that hardship was followed with rejoicing. Imagine being blessed by the coming of the King of kings who left His glorious home in heaven to become a helpless baby.

The shepherds on the hillside slept on the hard ground, nursed cold blistered hands, and fought off predators that were after their sheep all through the night. But their pain and danger were rewarded. They would never have received the glorious message from angels in the sky if they’d been home in cozy cots.

Yes, hard things, painful circumstances, difficult times do bring rewards not found any other way. Congratulations, Mattie, for achieving ballet blisters!

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7

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Enter Into His Gates

It’s almost Thanksgiving. We’re planning the big feast, looking forward to family gatherings, and enjoying the children’s glee over a school holiday. We’re soaking up the beauty of chrysanthemums and pumpkins. And we’re making thank you lists.

Making thank you lists is fun, it’s rewarding, and–it will destroy depression and pity parties!

Making a thank you list always leads me to a huge sense of gratitude to the Lord God. I’m thankful for salvation, for family, for beauty around us, for church, for friends, for answered prayers, for unanswered prayers, for the ability to read, for Bibles, for the laughter of children, for the scent of pumpkin pies baking–and the list goes on. I’m thankful for family members and church leaders who urged me as a child to memorize poetry and Bible passages like Psalm 100.

I’ve been brushing up on Psalm 100 lately and becoming amazed as always. How incredible is it that in our own homes we can enter into His gates with thanksgiving! I have no better Thanksgiving message for you than to remind you of the wonderful words of Psalm 100. I challenge you, if you have not already, to memorize all five verses. Make it yours, so you’ll have it wherever you go and whenever you need it.

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.”

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

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A Misty, Rainy Autumn Ride

The peak of leaf color in the North Georgia mountains was past. Family members had reported it was the most beautiful fall ever and, though we’d missed the best, were sure we’d still enjoy fading colors–even on a rainy day!

We drove towards Helen from Clarkesville. The Nacoochee Valley is beautiful whatever season it is. Riding past the little steepled white church on the right and the historical Indian mound on the left, I was swept to other times when, as a little girl, our family took this trip. Also, I was reminded of the many times I traveled this road as a student at Young Harris College. Along the way towards the Chattahoochee River we exclaimed over bright gold hickory trees, a few tulip trees with golden leaves still clinging like birds against the sky, and red oaks standing brightly amongst the gold.

Our first stop was at Nora Mill. This mill and granary hugs a curve and stands on the brink of the Chattahoochee River where the waterfall still gives power for grinding corn into meal and wheat into flour. We purchased a bag of yellow cornmeal just so we could make cornbread at home and remember the quaint mill and its companion river, white water and all.

Driving around curves and finding wonderful views of trees still bright, we arrived in Helen. It is a busy little town even in off seasons, many happy tourists visiting quaint alpine shops. The German theme is captivating, drawing thousands to its Oktoberfest every fall. We were glad to catch it on a quieter day. Glimpsing the beautiful murals on sides of some original shops, we talked about our artist friend, John Kollock, who brought new life to this little mountain logging town. He had been in service in Germany and envisioned turning Helen into a Bavarian village. Years later I was so thrilled when he illustrated the second edition of my book, Stone Gables.

We had intended to drive to the intersection with state road 76 which would lead us to Clayton. But by the time we arrived at that intersection we had decided to go on up to Lake Chatuge, Hiawassee and Young Harris. Charles had sensed my strong pull towards Young Harris where I’d spent such happy college years.

On one side of a ridge the trees were almost bare, but on the other side the foliage was still full and bright. I reveled in every burnished gold beech tree or stray red sourwood. But I was absolutely enthralled when we came around a curve to see a mountainside carpeted in color. At times the sun came out long enough for shadows to dapple the mountainsides, a sight that had always thrilled me.

At Young Harris College we drove everywhere cars were allowed. Of course it was exciting to see all the handsome new buildings, new library, dining hall, sports facilities and all. But I treasured the sight of the buildings I could remember, the little chapel in particular. Young Harris was a junior college when I was there in 1961-63 but is now a four-year college. But the dormitories I lived in are still there backed up against the mountain. As we circled about I vividly remembered faces of many who had helped shape me, like Mrs. Dowis with whom I worked at the Henry Duckworth Library, Mr. Clay Dotson who taught political geography trying to make us understand what was happening in Vietnam, and Miss Hunter who took such kind notice of me though I was a disaster in her algebra class. Driving on beyond the college we saw llamas grazing and, farther on, little Cupid Falls still merrily tumbling along as if years had not passed.

As we traveled on over to Clayton we took some side roads just to see what we could see. Everywhere there was beauty, the sun coming out at intervals, then the misty rain again making the colors seem to bleed into each other.

Past Clayton towards Dillard we stopped for lunch at The Cupboard, a favorite restaurant of our family’s. We jabbered about what we’d seen all along the way as we ate delicious hot bowls of chicken pot pie, the special for Saturday.

The ride back to Clarkesville on 441 took us along the dear familiar landmarks like the Tallulah Gorge. The color wasn’t as magnificent as it had been earlier, but it was beautiful. I’m remembering a time many years ago during another chapter in our lives when we, our children, and special friends climbed down into the gorge, explored rock formations and hiked along the river before climbing back out. It’s hard to believe, looking at the awesome steep gorge, that we ever did that!

As I write this I can enjoy again the beautiful sights on that misty mountain ride–the slopes of color, the distant blue mountains, amazing changes along with the old at Young Harris College, the hickories and beech and red oak all along the way. I can see the drift of clouds on the mountains, the white water of the Chattahoochee flowing past Nora Mill, the tiny steepled white church in Nacoochee Valley. And I picture the church near Hiawassee where we stopped for a midmorning snack. The church was surrounded by autumn color including a brilliantly red pear tree. We viewed it all through a rainy windshield.

Returning to Clarkesville, we were grateful for and delighted with the comfortable apartment where we stayed with Michelle and her childen, Katherine and Joseph. Michelle’s husband, my nephew, Nathan Knight, is presently on assignment with the National Guard in Mexico at the embassy.

What a gift, that rainy misty ride in the North Georgia mountains! Even after the peak was well past it was wonderful to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

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Happy Hens

Candi’s three hens are laying beautiful brown eggs. These are pet hens Candi has grown from chicks who would sit on her shoulder. Now Candi is sharing eggs with us. Amazing!

Seeing those perfectly shaped eggs made me think of the years when I was the egg girl at our house. I learned many lessons about timeliness, faithfulness and not telling Mamma the hens hadn’t laid that day when actually I’d broken them all. I learned that chickens can get salt poisoning when their feed is too salty and someone forgets to water them. Mamma was very sad about losing those hens. I learned how baby chicks are so soft and adorable and how, when allowed out of their safe pen, they become adorable dinner for a swiftly pouncing hawk.

But I learned something else from those chickens. The rooster was always happy when morning came. He crowed before it was even daylight. I could never feel cross about his crowing because he sounded so happy. Just happy for another day.

But the hens sounded happy all day grazing the yard for worms and such. They made a certain chuckling sound as they meandered along. It almost sounded as if they were talking to each other. I didn’t know what they were saying but I was sure they weren’t grumbling about having to hunt for worms. It sounded more as if they were playing while they worked. When it was feeding time they had a wonderful party. They jostled and pounced on their scattered grain, playfully competing with each other over the bountiful feast, sometimes getting raucous in their eagerness.

But the happiest sounds of all were when the hens announced freshly laid eggs. There was a certain utter joy expressed by a hen as she cackled loudly that all chickens might know she had produced another marvelous, perfectly formed brown egg. It was a sound of great enthusiasm no one could miss.

Thinking about Candi’s three hens, I thought beyond the happiness of hens making a day’s super production and all their other daily delights. I thought about us. We have far more to be happy about than those hens. But do we raise our voices in hallelujahs and let those around us know the good things the Lord has done for us?

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote the lines “The world is full of a number of things; I think we should all be as happy as kings.” The question follows, are kings really happy? Mr. Stevenson, might we be allowed to change your lines a little? “The world is full of a number of things; I think we should all be as happy as hens.”

All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. Proverbs 15:15

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The Beech Tree

It was an adventurous ride through the woods to the beech tree. Never before had I ridden to the beech tree. I had always walked, or run. But on a special Saturday in September during this year’s Knight reunion my clever and inventive nephews took Charles and me over the hills and through the woods–all the way to the beech tree. Oaky Dover, Nathan Knight (who is deployed now by National Guard to Mexico) and Mitch Harper (married to my niece Evelyn) are determined that Pinedale be enjoyed by our burgeoning family, even those of us who are disabled. Charlie, my brother, has been a great leader as these young people have formed and executed their ideas. For months they have engineered and cut this ATV trail through the forest.

I gripped the handhold and was glad for the seatbelt in the compact and open-sided ATV. I wasn’t at all afraid of Oaky’s very skillful driving. All the same, one can’t be too careful. I didn’t like to think of myself dumped out on a rock or a big tree root. Soon, though, my nervousness turned to awe and glee as we rocked and spun through the woods. At times I wasn’t sure where I was, the forest had changed so much, then I would recognize some landmark. The trail is beautifully engineered to be safe and allow us to see parts of Pinedale we haven’t seen in years. I was wondering where exactly I was when suddenly there we were right by the beech tree.

To me as a young girl with nine siblings, four of whom were close playmates, the beech tree was one of many favorite places to play. It was downstream from Indian Spring, a nice wide clear spring dug out at the bottom of a bluff by Indians a hundred years before. It wasn’t far from our cabin school house, just a quick run, easy to reach for a break between history, geography, and literature. Even then the beech tree seemed both stout and lofty. Its gray bark was like a clear slate, perfect for carving initials.

Though homeschooled, we used the Habersham County curriculum for much of our studies. Every year it was very exciting to go to the Board of Education in town to exchange our old books for new ones on our grade level. Our parents threatened us with severe consequences if we wrote anything or made any markings in our books. The books should be nice and unmarked for the next students. I rather enjoyed finding names and squiggles in my books, a sign that someone else had struggled through the War of the Roses. But, at least for the most part, we adhered to the “no scribble” law. Still, there was something in one’s being that simply requires making a mark.

So if not in a book, then what about the beech tree? Brothers were good carvers and they always had a pocket knife handy. So there are more boys’ initials (and sometimes girlfriends!) than sisters. But it would be hard to prove since, as the tree grew bigger and taller, the carvings became knotty and all but unrecognizable. I could see HBK for Hamilton Brantley Knight, a list of single initials, probably for Pat, Brantley, Virginia, John, and Brenda. The names Grahams, carved in 1978, and above it, Dovers are still quite clear. My sister, Suzanne, and I, with our husbands and children, added those names when we stopped at the beech tree on memorable hikes through the woods.

But fond memories of the beech tree to which, until now, I had always walked or run, didn’t stop at carvings on the trunk. The tree, still so sturdy and healthy, stands on the brink of Indian Brook. Often there we played in and out of the brook according to the weather. In the summertime we caught water lizards and let them slither through our fingers back into the cold water. We dried our feet on soft green moss growing like a carpet near the tree. We hid behind the tree and booed our playmates when they came looking for us. At times I sat by the tree just thinking.

One of my favorite woods games was the one where “It” agreed to be blindfolded, then was led in a circuitous route to some nearby spot. “It,” thoroughly disoriented by the time we stopped, might not even know east from west, especially if the guides chose to spin “It” around. You could only depend on your senses–sounds, smells, and touch. If taken to the beech tree it was easy to be a winner. You could feel the nubby initials on the trunk, hear the chuckling stream, and even smell the damp moss.

At this recent visit I was not blindfolded but still had been somewhat confused on the ride through familiar places, now so different. But I almost cried with joy when we parked right beside the old beech tree. After a good time hunting old initials, observing a cozy camp enjoyed by our young folks, and taking pictures, we started back. We rode by the little cabin school, dilapidated but still standing. We crossed Ramble Brook, spun up Tulip Hill for a quick view of the cemetery and the wonderful new structure another blessed nephew, architect Joe Knight, is building, then back down through what was Apple Bars, across Sand Flat, past the new pond nestled amongst trees, and up the hill to the house.

I am so thankful for those good times when we were growing up and life was so simple. I’m also thankful for family members who take such time now and spend much energy and expertise making these old haunts available to young and old. And, of course, I’m thankful for the old beech tree!

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