Tag Archives: Stone Gables

An Eclipse and a Hurricane

The rain is sluicing down, inches every hour, in Texas. Hurricane Harvey is one that will go down in history. Like Camille and Andrew and Katrina. Stories of devastation fill our television news. A mother in her car caught in the flood and drowned but her baby saved. A woman going into labor and birthing her baby in a rescue shelter. Family after family escaping by boat, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Dismal scenes of houses under water, automobiles floating, boats carrying huddled groups of people down streets they once drove.

But just last week the news was all about the sun, the eclipse of the sun viewable by folks from Oregon to South Carolina.

What a spectacular show of God’s handiwork it was, last Monday, August 21. We don’t live where we could see the total eclipse but we donned our solar glasses and watched what we could see. In a few minutes’ time (which had been precisely predicted) the moon went from a sliver on the face of the sun to a fat sideways dark smiley. The sun, that wonderful, powerful light of our days, was tremendously bright even when only maybe 15 percent of the disc was showing. We’d been told the maximum coverage would be visible at 2:42, I think, and that it would be hazy around us. We watched and shared our glasses with others, the timing exactly as expected. And the sunlight did get slightly less bright taking on a sepia kind of glow like old photographs. But we didn’t experience the darkness as our folks in North Georgia did.

My family in North Georgia gave me their reports. There, in Habersham County, the total eclipse could be seen. Charlie said about forty people came to Stone Gables to have lunch and then view the wonder from the lawn. There were a lot of children there who’d been excused from school for the occasion. He said for a minute and a half it became dark as night. He saw the stars, Mars and the Milky Way. He said the crickets began chirping. In a nearby pasture cows who had been peacefully grazing were observed lying down.

People traveled long distances to see this celestial show. Habersham County was one of the many good places in the corridor of viewing from the northeast USA to the southeast. Days before the event huge numbers descended on the area. My sister Suzanne told me how amazing it was to see the usually fairly quiet roads lined with cars, “like during leaf time in the fall.” She also was amazed at the empty shelves in the grocery stores.

The weather news prepared us days ahead for the big day. There was no rain expected in our area so we should have a good view, they said. As we did. My thanks to all those in news media, newspapers, and individuals who gave us a heads up about this phenomenal event. I would have been so sorry to miss it. And how easy that would have been! No bells rang to say “Look up!” There was no thunderous roar. We don’t go about watching the sun. If I’d been one of those cows I’d have thought it was night too!

It was noted on the national newscasts the night after as something that drew people of all races, ages, and political views, a real equalizer. We saw a picture of hundreds of people wearing the solar glasses and looking up.

Yes, the eclipse was amazing. It made me consider our amazing God, the One Who set the sun and moon and planets in place so precisely their orbits can be perfectly predicted by scientists. He’s also the God Who forms rainbows, plate-size hibiscus blooms, and babies who coo. He’s the same God Who made the funny platypus, Niagara Falls, and melons with those perfect seam-like grooves and peculiar skin patterns.

He is our God Who is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And we call on Him now for the thousands in trouble in Texas, devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Oh God of power and might, thank You for the sun and the wind and the rain. In your unconditional mercy intervene, we pray, for the people in the line of Hurricane Harvey. Show us how we can help. Please, Lord. Amen.

If you would like to contribute to help the people in Hurricane Harvey you can click on samaritanspurse.org-Samaritan’s Purse- Hurricane Harvey Relief.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In Appreciation of Spiders

E. B. White immortalized the ingenious spider in his classic “Charlotte’s Web.” Have you taken time lately to appreciate what Charlotte’s descendants and neighbors can do? It’s not that I’m in love with spiders and, no, I do not have one for a pet. But they are very interesting and deserve more attention than just squashing and sweeping out the door.

I was sitting alone recently in Stone Gables, the big stone house where I grew up, just enjoying the scents and quiet conversation of the house itself. It was late afternoon so the sunshine was filtering through tall windows creating leaf shadows on wide window seat and slate floor, shadows that gracefully and quietly shifted. The stairs let out a comforting creak, just a house-breathing sound, and an acorn hit the roof far above.

As I sat there at a little card table sipping coffee and remembering all the many, many times this house had put its arms around me, around my family, in joyous and sad occasions, I noticed the spider webs. They graced window corners and draped across the tops of arches up the stairs. There was even a fine zip-line of a spider’s game from a bookcase to a nearby lamp. I immediately smiled at the picture in my mind of my sister Pat, broom in hand, swiping down cobwebs right and left.

Our house always attracted spiders and our mother was loath to kill them. She said they were our friends, that they kept the fly population down, loved mosquitoes, and didn’t hurt anyone. We knew a black widow spider was to be killed, but other than that very poisonous arachnid, we were urged to leave them all alone. (At that time we didn’t know about the mean little brown recluse which, I believe, does not make a web, just hangs around in dark closets.) That meant, of course, that someone was regularly dusting down webs, both elaborate and mundane. Because Mamma’s kindness toward the spider did not go as far as leaving their webs hanging.

Speaking of elaborate, have you ever really paid attention to the wonderful patterns in spiders’ webs? Of course we never see any like Charlotte’s. But you can see some wonderful beauties. I read that spiders, most of them, have three spinnerets from which to spin. They have the ability to spin three different kinds of “rope.” They can build, they can span, and they can kill. It isn’t true that all webs are created as prisons. Some are for taking care of egg sacs and some, it seems to me, are just works of art to inspire and encourage and, perhaps, irritate.

There are circular webs, triangular webs, flat webs and what I call “picture webs.” If you’re walking in the woods, you may find yourself peeling web from your face. Hopefully, though, you will see it before you would demolish it and, instead, be able to study the infinitely meticulous pattern, almost like a picture suspended between trees. The web patterns are as varied as tatting or lace patterns and the spiders have no copies of crochet designs to follow, or maybe they do have patterns hidden in their bodies. Anyway, if you think the webs are beautiful on a clear afternoon, try viewing one after a shower when tiny droplets are catching the light like prisms along each tiny vein.

An example of the flat webs are those you may see stretched like tiny filmy sheets on blades of grass in the morning. Some kind, imaginative adult told me, when I was a child, that those were fairies’ blankets spread out to dry in the sunshine. I wondered if fairies have accidents in their beds.

But to other appreciation points of spiders. Their silk has been greatly envied and admired. I remember reading a story as a teenager about someone’s life being saved by the silk web of a spider. There is vitamin K, a clotting agent, in the silk and, supposedly, laying thick layers of web across a bleeding wound could actually serve as a “plastic surgery” effect, the fiber latching on to the raw flesh.

Aside from medical uses, some have tried to use the silk for creating fabric. One of the largest pieces of cloth, maybe the largest, was 11 x 4 feet made in Madagascar. Another use was to make the crosshairs for guns and microscopes. And, the most astonishing to me, was the attempt in 2012 to make violin strings from spiders’ web strands. I don’t know how successful that was!

Some spiders’ webs are very, very strong. If you run into a web formed across a hiking trail, a web by one of those monster yellow and black spiders, you will experience the strength and the stickiness. But it was a surprise to me to learn that a given weight of spider silk is five times as strong as the same weight of steel.

Spiders are persistent, can build back a web in minutes. They’re fine weavers, designers, and wonderful acrobats. Have you seen one swinging from a single fine thread? They are zealous reproducers and go to great work in protecting their egg sacs. And–they love insects! Their favorite Sunday dinner is a wasp trapped on Saturday or mosquitoes or flies, or even much bigger meals like a dragonfly. They are excellent trappers. They know how to wait with great patience for their prey and they sometimes have back doors where they can exit the scene if it gets too dangerous. Clever critters!

All this being said, I now have a confession to make. I came around a corner that day in Stone Gables heading to the kitchen to wash my cup, only to find a creature dark against the concrete floor, a very fat meaty body with eight legs, the whole thing being at least four inches wide. A spider. I didn’t feel friendship oozing from this thing. I didn’t feel the beginning of a warm and sweet relationship. I shuddered. What would Mamma say about this one? It didn’t take me long to decide. He was soon a dead arachnid headed out the door in a dustpan.

“O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”–Sir Walter Scott

“The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” — Proverbs 30:28

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

One Starry Night

I love stories. Just begin “Once upon a time,” and my ears are perked. The song “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” by Edmund H. Sears starts like a story and I love it dearly, along with all the other Christmas carols. When I hear Christmas music, even before Thanksgiving, I experience a feeling of peace and wonder and nostalgia. Some carols remind me of specific wonderful times and I’m transported to the scents and smells and sounds of that experience. For instance, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”…..

Who knows it was really midnight when Jesus was born? But it could have been. It was at least night because it says in Luke that the shepherds were keeping their flock “by night.” Anyway, when I was nine years old I wasn’t worried about theology or philosophy either one, but I absorbed the story and enjoyed singing the words that etched themselves into my heart for later perusal: “It came upon a midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold:…”

The night Jesus was born, I considered, could have been a night such as the one when I, along with several of my brothers and sisters, took a very special Christmas Eve walk.

My two playmate brothers, Charlie and Stanley (the other three had already grown and left home), had been building a small house in our woods that fall of 1951. They had allowed five-year-old Suzanne and me to help–that is, up to a point. As soon as it was “dried in” when we could have really enjoyed it, they put us out. We were forced to find our own amusement. Hopeful that the hammering and sawing we heard might just mean the boys were making us a present, we tried to think of something we could give them in turn. Mamma helped us hem handkerchiefs after we’d given up on our success in pottery and aircraft construction.

Christmas Eve finally, finally, arrived. Mamma and Daddy banned us from the Hall about 5:00 that afternoon so they could bring in the Christmas tree and decorate it. We could hear swishing and sliding as they wangled the tree in, hear Daddy instructing Mamma, “All right, now, up she goes,” and Mamma then eying its straightness with “No, to the right, little to the left, there that’s good. Here’s the string. Catch!” We knew, though we were not supposed to look, that Daddy was now tying the tree to the balcony rail.

Even the oldest girls, Pat and Ginger, home from college, were not to see the tree until the candles were all lit and Daddy blew the trumpet. In fact, the girls were in charge of feeding us all our supper. But no one was hungry except Stan who was never full. Suddenly, instead of prodding us to eat our bread and milk, Pat was putting on her big coat, fluffing her hair out over the collar and grabbing coats for Suzanne and me. Somehow everyone else seemed to know what we were doing, but it was a mystery to me.

“Oh, Suzanne, where are your mittens?” asked Ginger.

“In my coat pocket with mine,” I said. “Her coat doesn’t have pockets. Anyway, our mittens are so full of holes our fingers are sticking out.”

“Well, that’s a good thing,” said Pat helping Ginger fit them on us. “If it weren’t for the holes they’d be too little. Hmmmm. Too bad you two don’t have new mittens. That’s a shame.” She sounded a little as if she were telling a joke but I wasn’t getting it.

It was a moonlit night with a dome of stars overhead, so clear it felt almost as if they were pulling my eyes right out of my head. Jackie started singing It Came Upon a Midnight Clear as we trailed down Sunny Lawn, across Sand Flat, and crunched in frozen ruts of an old road that wound around Tulip Hill. I could almost imagine one of those angels appearing in our path, “bending near,” especially when Pat said in a hushed voice, “There! Do you see that one bright star?” We looked where she pointed and sure enough, the brightest star actually did have a shining longer point like stars on Christmas cards.

We were so intent on studying the stars, Suzanne and I, that we didn’t notice Stan, Charlie, and Jackie running on ahead leaving us far behind. The cold crept into my holey mittens and I fisted my hands to warm them. It had gotten pretty dark in the deeper woods and I stayed close by Pat’s side, glad when she took one of my hands in hers. At least that one could be warm. Suddenly Ginger said in the most startling voice, “Halt! Look through the trees! What is that?”

For a tiniest second I thought, The angel has come down! Then I took a deep breath of cold air and realized the light, like a tiny pinpoint through the trees, was exactly where that little house should be, the one from which we’d been exiled weeks before. I let go Pat’s hand and, suddenly fearless, dashed ahead.

The Little House as we began to call it had been furnished and decorated by Jackie and our brothers. It was the most fantastic playhouse anyone could have imagined. There were curtains, wallpaper, stove, quilted doll-size bed–and a window with a sill on which a candle gleamed. I can remember this very minute, all these years later, the pounding excitement in my chest. It was a gift of love that would last long after the walls caved in and the shingles disintegrated.

It was time, then, to hurry back to Stone Gables house and line up for the Christmas tree, the youngest, Suzanne, in front. I can taste a piece of hard candy right now, feel the warmth of new mittens, and smell the tantalizing scent of a brand new book.

And in the distance I hear the tune to It Came Upon a Midnight Clear…


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Fifty Christmases Ago

As Christmas 1965 approached, our house, Stone Gables, was buzzing with excitement. Windows had to be washed, every piece of furniture polished, the Christmas tree dressed early instead of, as our tradition was, on Christmas Eve. This was to be a different Christmas. Charles and I were getting married on December 20.

Looking back, I’m amazed that my mother was so calm through the whole season. It was “a time set apart” for her, my younger sister Suzanne, and me. Suzanne was commuting to a nearby college, I was teaching a combined first and second grade class at a local school. Mamma was there every afternoon when we got home to help us meet the newest challenge, to smooth the wrinkles of any plans that went awry, and, if time from homework and grading papers, etc. allowed, to read together as in the “old days.” We laughed ourselves silly over some book about a Dr. Latimer.

Charles and I had become officially engaged on my birthday in September. Though I caught Mamma crying in the laundry room she insisted they were tears of joy. As plans for our wedding in December developed, she never tried to put it off until spring or until June. When we planned a Monday afternoon wedding she never tried to dissuade us, to warn us that we might have very few guests at such an odd time. She never once reminded me that my sister and I were the last of ten children, that Dad had died not too long since, that my next oldest brother was in the service stationed in Germany, and that Charles and I could just wait a little while. To tell you the truth, she had become particularly fond of my Charles. Who wouldn’t?

Charles came up often from Athens where he was in his second year of Veterinary school. He applied himself to working on the grounds around Stone Gables, and Mamma was quite charmed. With my brothers so scarce, Charlie in Germany, Stan running a country store from 6:00 a.m. till about 9:00 p.m., the nandinas were out of control, young oak sprouts in the lily beds, and the thorn hedges wild and ragged. She was, though, quite startled sometimes at the subjects of conversation Charles and I got into.

One day while taking a break from work Charles was describing to me the manner in which farmers kept their cows having calves on schedule. It had, in part, to do with artificial insemination. Mamma walked into the parlor, took a seat, always interested in whatever was being discussed. However, as she realized what Charles was talking about she turned quite red in the face, got up abruptly, and left the room.

Monday, December 20th, 1965, dawned crisp and lovely with blue sky framed by bare oak and fuzzy pine. I think Stan closed his store that day. Anyway, he came for breakfast. As we ate eggs, grits, bacon and toast (actually, I was too excited to eat!), the boys talked about the great adventure they’d had the night before climbing Blood Mountain as a bachelor party for Charles. I ignored the conversation pretty much, still feeling stung that John and Stan had taken the South Georgia boys on a mountain trip leaving very convincing suggestions with both Mamma and Stan’s wife Zelda, that they were likely going to leave them on some country road and let them find their way back home. I poured Charles’ Dad some more coffee and realized with relief that he, at least, thought the whole episode a great joke. I still wasn’t quite sure about Charles’ mother. I can just see her now that dark night peering out a window and saying, “Don’t you think they should be back by now?”

Mamma served a wonderful lunch and, contrary to superstitious tradition, Charles and I sat together on the piano bench eating fried chicken and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Ginger had arrived from Dug Gap to help Mamma in the kitchen. Suzanne and I had been busy, with my friend Betty’s help, doing hair, ironing our dresses, then dashing down to welcome the florist who’d come to set up poinsettias and candelabra in front of the arch. Three sisters had gotten married ahead of me but theirs were summer weddings in front of the great fireplace banked with greenery. Mamma said the preacher’s legs would get too hot if I had mine there!

Upstairs again, I heard Mrs. Cook arrive to arrange the reception table. Brother Dick, student campus minister in Athens, arrived with great laughter erupting over something, probably to do with his flight from Athens to Toccoa in his private plane. Rev. Holmes, my local pastor, arrived. They would both take part in the ceremony. Suzanne and I could hear their voices along with others as she and I were donning our finery. Her red dress was gorgeous and, thanks to Mamma, I was very happy about my wedding dress.

My dress, ordered from Montgomery Ward only three weeks before the wedding, had arrived just the week before and, miracle of miracles, fit perfectly. Her ordering my dress was another sign of Mamma’s patient calmness in the midst of flurry that fall. The dress I had planned all along to wear, a special satin one worn by my sister-in-law, had finally arrived at the end of November. But when I saw that it was obviously ivory, not white, I’d burst into tears. The little girls’ white dresses would not “do” with this one, no matter how beautiful it was. Mamma picked up the Montgomery Ward catalog and said with absolute conviction, “We’ll order one. It will get here in time.”

“Nervous?” asked Suzanne arranging my train behind me.

“No. Not really. Just shaking a little bit.”

Betty came in with her radiant smile, ready to pin my veil in place. “The way you look now, maybe I’ll reconsider and plan to get married,” she said cheerfully. “Last night I wasn’t sure.”

We stood ready on the balcony out of sight of the guests: flower girls Carol and Jill, Suzanne, Stan (who would give me away), and I. Ron Collins, a dear friend from the University, began to sing. Stan gave me a careful, sideways hug. “We just wanted to give Charles a good welcoming into the family,” he said. “No hard feelings?”

“Of course not! But if you had left him up there….”

Stan grinned. “I know, it wouldn’t have been safe for me to come in the door.”

There was a pause after Ron’s solo as he sat down. In that quietness Suzanne whispered frantically, “I can’t find the ring!” As she felt about in her bouquet, the ring hit the floor and rolled, rolled, rolled toward the edge of the balcony and the open arches. Carol and Jill giggled and both grabbed for it. Carol had barely gotten it back in Suzanne’s hand when Zelda started playing the wedding march.

It was time. Stan and I passed the big piece of coral Dad had brought from Florida, passed the oak seat where I’d read into the sunset so many times, passed the bookcase full of “Heidi,” “Little Women,” “Girl of Limberlost,” along the straight stretch under Dad’s painting of “A Walk in the Snow,” around the turn and down the last flight past the arched stained glass window Dad had created. And now I could see Charles waiting for me, handsome and smiling. Everything else receded into the background.

We enjoyed saying our vows. It was as if no one else were there except us, and yet it was as if the whole world were celebrating with us. As we lit one candle from two we quoted together from the book of Ruth (with shaking hands!): “…Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God…”

During every Christmas season we’ve celebrated our anniversary, sometimes at a Sunday school party, sometimes at a family party, sometimes with delightful little shopping trips, very special evenings out, always with beautiful Christmas decorations. This year, celebrating our Fiftieth, will, again, like fifty Christmases ago, be different. We are very blessed to have reached this milestone and we don’t take it for granted. Fifty Christmases ago we were blessed to pledge to each other. Now we’re blessed far more. As Charles likes to say, “I love you more than yesterday, less today than tomorrow.”

Why is this anniversary different? Because this time we’re going to have a party and celebrate with our friends. And what can be better than that?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized