Hold fast to what is good (1)

I began my morning walk with Jake and Jesse burdened with the troubles of our world; the famine in Africa, the injustice visited on children in wars,  petty politics, corporate greed; all being paraded in rapid fire across the TV screen on the morning news.

The rustle of the wind through the tall pines, the sun sparkling on whitecaps on the lake,  the mallard ducks floating serenely on gentle waves,  the lush perfume  of jasmine on the fence and gardenia by the garden gate – none penetrated my mood.

Jake and Jesse strained on their leads pulling me behind them down the path like an overloaded dogsled.  I had no appetite for bringing them to heel, dimly aware that  allowing them to pull on the lead  meant more work for me in retraining.  If not for their insistent  pacing back and forth to the door when it was time for their walk, I would have bagged it  altogether.

As we started  up  the hill, a golf cart came into view heading toward us, the driver braking when he saw us.  I didn’t recognize them, but it was clearly a grandfather out with a morning ride with his two granddaughters; perhaps four or five years old.  Of course, they wanted to “pet the puppies” and PawPaw was OK with it, so over they came, squatting down to eye level,  tentative little fingers touching furry black ears and and quickly pulling back with giggles and shrieks of glee.

“Look, he LIKEs me, PawPaw,”  the oldest said as Jesse licked her finger.

“Likes me too!” from the younger.

After five minutes or so of playful chatter and pleasantries,  Grampa decided it was time to go home before Mom got worried.

“Well, you know what?” the oldest asked, swinging into the cart.

“What?” I answered.

“You can come visit me sometime. And bring the puppies!”

“I will!” I answered.

The grandfather turned the cart around and headed up the hill.  My  earlier foggy malaise slowly dissipated  as  I watched the happy little trio, the  girls chatting away and pointing out various points of interest to their grandfather as only small children can,  a squirrel, a bird perched on a high limb, a lizard, wildflowers,  until they rounded the last curve and disappeared up the hill.

Yes.  There IS that.

It is important to remember that in our troubled, broken, scary world, there are still grandfathers taking grandchildren for a ride on a beautiful spring morning.    That is good.

And what I learned in Sunday School is as true today as it was then:   “Hold Fast To What Is Good.” (1)  Don’t ignore the pain, the trouble, but hold onto the good.  With all your might.   That is what will get us through.

(1) 1Thessalonians 5:21

The Christmas Pageant

 

christmas-554720__180I tried to tell Miss Julianne it wouldn’t work. Jimmy don’t have the sense God gave a billygoat. But he begged and whined and went on until she let him try it out at the  rehearsal.

Jimmy are y’all SURE this will work?” she asked, her hands on her hips, looking up into the loft where Jimmy squatted, dangling a rope swing. Miss Julianne is the prettiest lady I ever saw. And just as sweet as she is pretty. She’s got naturally blonde hair which curls all by itself, images-9 she doesn’t even have to use a perm.   She was wearing blue jeans and her husband Ronnie’s old work shirt.  Anyone else would have looked like a hobo, but she looked beautiful.

Jimmy put on that stupid grin of his that makes all the girls swoon, I don’t see why.

“Yes Ma’m” he said, sugar sweet. Don’t you worry a bit. Suellen  is just a little bit of a thing – we’ll just lower her down on this swing, me and  Buddy, when Brother Paul reads the part about the angels coming down and then haul her back up after we sing  Hark the Herod Angels.”

Herald, you idiot, ” I thought.

“You know I  wouldn’t never do nothing to hurt her.  It’ll be great, it’ll imagesbe the best part of the pageant.  You’ll see!”

“Well, Miss Julianne said.  “I still think it worked just fine last year, with us just dimming the lights and the angel climbing a ladder behind the manger. What do  y’all think?” She turned to the rest of us sitting in the pews waiting to practice our parts.

I could tell she was weakening. That’s the only thing about Miss Julianne. Sometimes she can be too nice.

No one said anything.  “Ya’ll, what do you think? “Still nothing.   No one wanted to get into it with Jimmy.

” Well, ” she finally said,  ” We got to make up our mind pretty soon so we can help the Ladies Aid with the decorating. We got a lot to do, we got to decorate the big tree outside, tie bows on all the pews, and clean up before we go. Remember, ice cream at the house for everyone when we get done. “

Wally  was scribbling in his little black notebook which he carries with him  everywhere  and writes down what happens and what he thinks and I don’t know what all. He has a whole shelf in his bedroom full of his crazy notebooks. His mama gets them for him  every Christmas over in Shreveport at Marshalls.  She gets them wholesale  since she owns Portia’s  Blossom Shop.

This year Wally’s a wise man instead of a shepherd like last year. I should of got  Mary, because why?  Because I wouldn’t forget my lines is why.  Last year Miss Julianne had to whisper almost every line to Georgia. At least I thought I should of  got  wise man like Wally. Instead, I had to be a shepherd again and wear a costume made out of a scratchy croaker sack with holes cut out  for the arms.

Miss Julianne doesn’t get to say who gets the parts. The Sunday School teachers all meet and decide the Sunday after Thanksgiving, in secret, so no one can get mad because they don’t like their part. But except for Miss Lavinia, who’s real old and pretty much deaf, they’re all men, so they always pick the prettiest girl, even if she’s dumber than a stump. Which Georgia was. I know that’s not nice to say, but it’s true.  She’s just pure D dumb.

So when  Georgia  graduated Junior High last year, which is the oldest you can be and still be in the pageant, I thought sure I had a chance, but this year Betsy got the part. At least Betsy isn’t dumb, but she’s not all that pretty either. I guess the best I can hope for is to make it to wise man next year. I don’t think the Sunday School teachers like me much. They say I ask too many questions, like the time I asked what a virgin is.  Mr Grady got real mad and said I shouldn’t talk like that in Church, and I had to get Wally to tell me.

“Jimmy’s up to something,” I whispered to Wally. ” I can tell by the
way Buddy is squirming around. He never could stand up to Jimmy. Lets him boss him around like he was his daddy or something instead of just his cousin.”

“Afraid of getting beat up, more like, if he won’t do what Jimmy tells him to.”

“But what if  they drop her and she gets hurt?  And who knows what else they’ll drop down out of the loft?  You know rats get up there. ”

He just shrugged. “Everyone knows Jimmy’s got a crush on Suellen. He’s just trying to impress her. But anyhow, it’s none of my never-mind,” he said making that pruney  little face of his.

“O Wally, you make me want to scream.” I hate how uppity he gets sometimes.  I decided if no one else was going to say anything, I ‘d have to. I walked over to where Miss Julianne was standing.

Miss Julianne? I said sweetly.

“Yes, Sugar, what is it?” she said, smiling and putting her arm around my shoulders.

“Miss Julianne, I just think .. “

Jimmy glared down at me from the loft where he squatted dangling the rope.

“I just think you’re right about last year, it was real pretty.  Why do we need to do anything different?”

Jimmy hopped down from the loft and began winding up the rope swing. “What do you know about it, four eyes?” I was the only girl with glasses and all the boys teased me about it. They were pink plastic and  ugly, and I hated wearing them,  but I couldn’t see past my nose without them.

“Now, Jimmy, stop talking like that and let her have her say, too!” Miss Julianne said, the way she can always make us mind without yelling.

Everyone stared at me. I felt like I had forgot to put on my clothes or something. “Well, I mumbled, “I just think it’s dangerous is all.”

Jimmy curled up his lip at me. “You’re just mad cause you have to be a shepherd. You ought to be glad you don’t have to be a sheep no more.”

I wouldn’t admit it, but he was right about the shepherd thing.

“Please, please, please, Miss Julianne,” Jimmy crooned, getting down on his knees and making his hands like he was praying.

“Now, Jimmy,” Miss Julianne said, laughing. Am I gonna have to paddle you again?

He gave her a big hug.

I was sunk.

country churchThe night of the pageant it was cold and sleeting. I had prayed for snow, but just like when I prayed my dog Pepper would get well, it didn’t happen. Mama says the Bible tells us “Ask and ye shall receive,” but so far that’s not working for me. I must be doing something wrong. One day I’ll ask Miss Julianne about it.

The church was full up. People like the Banks who never go to church except on Christmas were there with their whole raggedy family taking up the front pew where my Grampaw always sits. This happens to him every year. He just walked over real slow to where they were sitting and stood there, thumping his cane on the floor.

Pretty soon, Miz Banks looked up and said, “Why hello, Mr. Henry? Would you like to sit here? Betty Sue and Darrell, y’all go sit in the back. Just you set down right here, Mr. Henry. So nice to have you with us.”

Grampaw acted like he never heard a thing she said.  Just walked over to  the window where he always sat and waited for them to make room for him.   He sat down,  wedged his cane between him and Mr. Banks, looked at the Banks bunch like they had cooties (which they probably did) and  stared out the window. I think he sits here so he can see Gramma’s grave, but he’d never say that.

Mama and Daddy couldn’t get to their usual place, so they sat in back by the heater, which was actually better since it was cold in the church.  I ran downstairs to the Sunday School room where everyone was putting on their costumes, carrying a dishtowel and one of Grampaw’s old canes. Mama said she’d make me a costume, so I didn’t have to wear the croaker sack and she can sew anything, but  I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

Suellen was prancing around the room in her angel costume, everyone going on about suellenhow pretty she looked. She had on a  white dress with lace ruffles on the bottom lace on the sleeves with white satin slippers to match and was carrying a stupid wand, like she was a fairy godmother instead of an angel, going around tapping everyone on the head and cooing, “Bless you, bless you.” I thought I would throw up. I pushed my way  over to the corner where Miss Julianne and Mr. Ronnie was images-5helping the little kids into their sheep costumes. The sheep part is the worst because you have to crawl around in a boiling hot costume.  They always give that to the little kids.    They think it’s fun, they don’t know everyone’s laughing at them.

“Hi,” Wally, said, adjusting his turban and brushing his robe.” Want

some help with your costume?”

“I don’t need help, thank you very much,” I grumbled, tying a dishcloth around my head.

“That’s looks real nice” he giggled.

“Shut up,” I said, sticking my arms through the croaker sack. “Shit, his damn thing  scatches!  I said under my breath.

“Cricket!” Wally said, putting his hand over his mouth and giggling. “In the Lord’s House! You’ll go to hell.”

‘Well, if I do, I guess I’ll see you there, Mr. Smarty Pants.”

Mr Ronnie whistled and yelled, “Y’all be quiet, Miss Julienne needs to say something. ”

“I’m so proud of y’all! Miss Julianne said, smiling.  “And I know you’re going to do great.“ Now lets go over the program  just one more time so we’ll be sure.  Everyone get your song sheets. ” Mr. Ronnie was passing out blue mimeograph copies that smelled like vinegar and the purple ink images-4rubbed off on your hands.

“The first one is Silent Night. Now remember everyone sings this one. Then everyone goes behind the curtain except Mary and Joseph.  Betsy, did you bring your doll?”

“Yes’m.  I brought my nicest one, with the China head that I got  last year for Christmas.”

“Oh, Betsy!  You brought you very BEST doll,” Miss Julianne said. Isn’t that NICE, y’all?”

“Next the the wise men sing  We Three Kings of Orient Are and then the shepherds  sing  While Shepherds Watched Their Sheep By Night”  And  I need ALL the wise men and ALL the shepherds singing, not just Wally and Cricket.

“No, you don’t, I thought. Wayne sounds like a dying horse, and Marvin’s tone deaf.”

“Then the congregation will stand and we’ll  all sing the final song Hark the Herald Angels Sing,  while Jimmy and Buddy let Suellen down from the loft.  Just one verse now, of all the songs.  Miss Martha will signal to you when to start and when to stop.”

Miss Martha  smiled and waved her pudgy finger in the air.  Miss Julianne put her hand over her heart. “Now Buddy and Jimmy, ya’ll be real, REAL careful with Suellen. Let’s pray before we go.”

“Good idea, I thought.”

We made a circle, joined our sweaty hands and chanted the Youth Fellowship prayer, “Lord, teach us to so number our days that we might apply unto wisdom.”

“And bless us as we carry thy message though this Christmas Pageant,” Miss Julianne  added. Amen. “

“Amen,” we chorused.

We tromped up the stairs in a line and walked behind the curtain. The church was full and kids was sitting on pallets on the floor, mamas standing holding babies. The church was so pretty;  there was flowers, candles, and big red bows everywhere and it smelled like pine and candle wax.  Buddy and Suellen climbed up the stairs into the loft,  Jimmy behind them. I thought I heard him say to Suellen, “I’ll show you a thing or two, you little tease.”  She hissed something at him, but I couldn’t hear what she said.

“I knew it.!  Why doesn’t anyone believe a thing I say?” I hissed to Wally.

He gave me one of his looks over his glasses. “What’s the matter with you?  Are you still mad about the shepherd thing?”

Before I could answer,  the curtain opened and Miss Martha plopped down on the piano bench. She’s so fat, we always think she’s going to break it  and we all got out our song sheets.  She held up her finger and started playing Silent Night while we all sang. Everyone in the

Chris Phillips, Flickr, Oxford, UK
Chris Phillips, Flickr, Oxford, UK

audience oohed and ahhed over the little kids.  When the wise men came out, Wally was the only one singing, the other two just hanging their heads and sorta mumbling. Wally didn’t seem to notice. When he’s on a stage, Wally’s  in hog heaven.  Next it was our turn, and not only was I the only singing shepherd,  Marvin and Wayne didn’t even know the words.

“This is the LAST time, the VERY LAST time I do this, I thought to myself. It’s hot and I itch all over; besides it’s embarrassing. I’m too old for this.”

And then it was time for the big finish. I felt a lump in my stomach. I knew something was going to go wrong, real wrong, but there wasn’t nothing I could do to stop it. Mr. Ronnie shined the spotlight up onto the loft where Suellen stood in her angel get-up.  In spite of her stupid wand, she looked look real nice, standing there in her white dress, holding out her arms, her clothes-hanger halo sparkling.

Miss Martha started up Hark the Herald Angels Sing and everyone in the church stood up to sing with us. While we sang, Suellen started to come down from the ceiling on the rope swing – almost like she was floating. Everyone in the church looked up at her like they could hardly believe it. The whole church was quiet.  Miss Julianne was standing off by the curtain, her hand over her heart. I think she was praying. I thought for a minute I may have been wrong. It really was pretty.  But then some of  the boys started giggling. That’s when I knew.

I looked up just in time to see Suellen fall out of the loft into the manger, landing with a big crash right on top of the Baby Jesus doll. Everyone started yelling and going on and Miss Julianne and Mr. Ronnie went running over to see if Suellen was OK. She was, all except for being fighting mad, scratched up and the sleeve of her angel dress tore plumb off from where she caught it on the manger.   She was sitting up, picking hay from the manger out of her halo and yelling at Jimmy  that she’d get him back for this and he was laughing his head off.   And Betsy was fit to be tied.  “Git off my Doll, “she yelled.

Sure enough the doll’s face was cracked where Suellen fell on top of her and her wand was stuck into the doll’s stomach. The boys was all snickering, Betsy was crying and Miss Julianne was walking around making sure no one was hurt. The people in the church was real quiet.  But then there was another big thunk and  Miss Bernice had fainted dead away in the third pew.  She’s real  bad to take fainting spells if she gets over-excited except Mama thinks she’s just putting on for attention.  Miss Lavinia was fanning Miss Bernice with her handkerchief and Vonda Fay was waving smelling salts over her face,  She uses them in her beauty shop for ladies who fall out from the permanent wave fumes.

Mr. Ronnie came running up onto the stage. “Which one of you knuckleheads done this?” he yelled, looking straight at Jimmy.   Mr. Ronnie is a real nice man as long as you don’t do nothing to make Miss Julianne unhappy. I seen him grab Wilbur Spivey by the neck and throw him out the door of Vickers Newsstand just for cussing where Miss Julianne could hear. I  remember thinking I wouldn’t want to be Jimmy right now.

Brother Paul was trying to get everyone to be quiet. “Quiet, Brothers and Sisters,” he kept saying. “Be still.   This is the Lord’s house. There is no harm done. Let’s all be seated and have a word of prayer.”

Miss Lavinia and Vonda Faye got Miss Bernice back up on her feet and helped her out on the porch to get some air.  Miss Julianne closed the curtains on the stage. We all looked at her. She looked so sad. I thought sure she was going to fuss at us which I can’t stand. But she  looked back at us for what seemed a long time. Finally   she sorta smiled.  And then she began to laugh. At first we thought she was crying. But when we saw she was laughing, one by one we all started laughing.  She opened the curtains and walked out onto the stage.

“Y’all, she said, still laughing. “I don’t know when I’ve seen such aimages-12
Christmas pageant to beat this one.“ The whole church began to laugh, even Brother Paul. Even Grampaw, who hardly ever laughs. Everyone except for Mr. Ronnie  who was standing in the back of the church with his arms folded over his chest.   After all the laughing died down,  Brother Paul walked up behind the pulpit.

“Brothers and Sisters, “ he said, real serious-like.  “Some of us here tonight have not understood what Christmas is all about and  could have ruined it  for the rest of us with their foolish prank.  Luckily no real harm was done and I am quite sure that those responsible will be held accountable.  Jimmy’s face was redder than Santa’s cap.  But no one can ruin the Christmas story; it’s too powerful.  It’s about turning sadness into joy.  It’s about the love and forgiveness this community have for each other.  Nothing can take the joy of Christmas from us.  And we’ve had plenty of that tonight. Let us pray,” he said. “Let us give thanks to the Lord for a joyful Christmas.”

Flattened

unknownBlind-sided, thunderstruck, ambushed, stunned,  floored flummoxed.  Just flattened.  By what’s just happened in our country – no, not what  just happened – what just surfaced.

As my genteel cousin put it, “Surely not?”  Exactly.  Surely we are not the people screaming racist epithets, intimidating  children, advocating jail for our  rivals.  We are not the people that believe  silencing those who don’t look like us oreuters-porland-oregon-anti-trump-protestr believe like us will solve our problems.  We are not the people who obsessed on the media’s  24/7 shouting matches, while shaking our heads about the ugly campaign.  We don’t  riot
in the streets after an election and burn the President Elect in effigy.  We can’t be those people.  And yet we are.

Until November 9, I carefully sidestepped awkward social and political conversations.  After all, everyone’s entitled to her/his own opinion, right? And what does it matter really?   Things will go on pretty much as they always have no matter what I do, right?   So why risk damaging a friendship, causing a ruckus. Why be “that” woman?  I really didn’t know what my friends, my neighbors, even some of my family, believed at a core level,  didn’t really want to know, and  didn’t  share my own opinions.   We  coexisted; polite and superficial  strangers under the skin.  So when November 8 happened, we were amazed to find out who was living next door, or even in our own house!

It’s pretty clear   we don’t understand each other.  Perhaps we don’t really understand ourselves.   Hopefully the 2016 election will inspire us to learn more about  ourselves and our government and moreover,  to become involved in our communities.   We can learn to images-1listen respectfully to each other with no other agenda.  We can  have discussions that don’t deteriorate into  shouting matches.    Ideas that challenge us are healthy precisely because they make us uncomfortable.  They stretch us and keep us growing.

On the morning of November 9, I began  a one woman listening campaign. I talked  to neighbors on my morning walk.  I listened to  members of my church, to my family, to  my Facebook and Twitter friends.  And I  heard some surprising things.  Some not easy for me to hear.   But my friendships were not threatened.  In fact, just the opposite.  After all, we all want to have our voices heard.

I  know the fluttering of the butterfly wing in my tiny corner of the ranunculus-aconitifolius-1548312__480universe cannot influence world events.  But just as one vote makes a difference, so does one honest conversation.

So let’s talk!  Leave a comment.    Tell us what the  2016 election meant for you.    Who knows?   We might not be as far apart as we thought.  At the very least, we are sure to learn more about our own beliefs.

 

 

 

 

DO YOU KNOW THIS WOMAN?

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Santa Barbara’s trees, like its oceans and mountains, are one thing she says she never tires of here.”I feel very fortunate to have my car,” she says. “It’s a little cramped, but it’s softer than cement.” For Some Seniors Without Housing: A Parking Lot Is Home; NPR, Sept 18, 2016

My stomach lurches every time I look at this photo.    How can this be happening in upscale Santa Barbara?  This woman  could be my neighbor, the grandmother in the  pew next to mine at church, she  could be that woman struggling along with me at  Pilates class.   She probably  went to college, paid her bills on time, baked cookies for the PTO, raised a family.  Or so it would seem.

Maybe not.  Maybe she lived wildly beyond her means, enrolling her kids in expensive private schools, indulging in spas and Mediterranean cruises, driving a Lexus. Rotating credit cards for payment, betting on the return of the pre-recession economy.  Or maybe  she was forced out of a longterm marriage by a deluded husband frantically trying to recapture his youth.  Or maybe she’s a widow  bankrupted by overwhelming medical bills.

Maybe.  But is  something more fundamental in play?   In our frenzied rush to achieve “success,” have  we have forgotten our need for each other?  Have we  lost our communities?

I grew up in a tight community.  And I hated it.  Everyone knew everything you did, and worse, attributed it to your genetics.  If your family was properous, that predestined your success, despite all distressing evidence to the contrary.  If as in my case, your familymain-street
were not  wealthy landowners, city fathers or otherwise distinguished, you were not expected to rise above your family’s  social standing.  No credential, diploma or bank statement could refute  this.    That was the down side, the only side, I saw growing up.

But no one, no matter what color or family circumstances.  NO ONE lived in a car or wanted for food or clean clothes.   This was not because were endowed with unnatural virtue or were a microcosm of  Christian charity.  Far from it.  We were mean-spirited, kind, quilting-bgenerous, greedy,  intellectually gifted and psychotic, industrious, and lazy; like people everywhere.  With one major exception: We needed each other.  No one had to tell us that.   We knew it by birth;  we were a poor farming community; if we were to survive, it meant cooperation.  It meant community.  In our case, a community formed around a church.

The little community still exists; thrives, in fact,  and its people are still just as flawed and nosy.  Inevitably, though, time has brought  change. Its members are more diverse, better educated, more tolerant now.  But  community foundation  never changed.  If a neighbor’s house is damaged by flood or fire, the community rebuilds the house and supplies food and clothes.  A  member’s bad medical diagnosis country-church1triggers a  rotation of members to supply food and housekeeping.   Extra rows are planted in  gardens for needy members.  The list goes on.   And this is why such a photo could never have been, never will be,  taken in that community.

So I wonder.  Why have our larger urban communities failed this woman?  Does she not meet some tedious beaurocratic requirement?  Is she in need of psychiatric help?  Are there so many like her that community organizations are overwhelmed?  Is it even possible for government to organize community?   Or can lasting  community be forged only on the anvil of  fundamental interdependence?    Is her plight, then, simply the logical outcome of a society who has forgotten this  fundamental truth?

 

 

 

 

 

PLEASE SPARE OLD BETTY, by Lesley Humphrey. A “Southern Transplant” shares her art and love of horses.

“1914 : Old Betty, War Pony” by Lesley C. Humphrey

As an artist and painter, one never knows when inspiration will hit… Last year, during a visit to the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England, I encountered a remarkable photo and letter written during World War I, to Lord Kitchener by a young girl, Freda Hewlett. The poem inspired “War Horse” the play… An excerpt follows:

“Dear Lord Kitchener,

We are writing for our pony which we are very afraid will be taken for your army. Please spare her! Daddy says she is going to be a mother early next year and she is 17 years old. It would break our hearts to let her go. We have given 2 others, and 3 of our family are now fighting for the Navy.

Mother and all will do anything for you, but do please let us keep old Betty and send official word quickly before anyone comes.

Your Troubled Little Britishers,
Freda and PL Hewlett.
Little Betty letter. 3

Don’t you just love the passion and creativity of children? Within days, they received their response.

Happily for them, their pony was spared…

The letters were inspiring enough but, by coincidence, I grew up and rode ponies in Haigh, exactly where ‘Old Betty’ and the “Troubled Little Britishers” lived 100 years ago. The result is my painting above “1914 : Old Betty, War Pony” by Lesley C. Humphrey is a 30” x 40” oil on canvas. It bears fragments of the “Little Britishers” letter and Lord Kitchener’s response. Colour and strong, gestural lines wind turmoil with hope in this painting, about gentle children caught in the turbulence and mayhem of war. It was commenced as an art exhibition at the centenary World War 1 event at Haigh Hall, Wigan, 2014.

DSC_0434-245x300

Born and raised in England, Lesley Humphrey has lived for 31 years in Houston, Texas with her husband Larry and three children.  Lesley is a prolific artist and horse aficionado. Her art is well known to Texans as well as internationally.  In her words,  Lesley “loves being a southern transplant.” You can view more of Lesley’s work at http://www.lesleyhumphrey/net.

Storytellers

I come from a long line of Storytellers.  If I asked my mother what day of the week Christmas fell on this year,  her answer might take a few minutes as she reckoned it against the events of  last year.

“It was on a Wednesday last year, I know that, because  I remember thinking I wouldn’t have to iron that week, Wednesday being my ironing day.  And I know it was last year because that’s when  Emma’s grandbabby was born.  Poor little tyke  had to have an operation of some kind.  I forget now.  Had to be in the hospital for several daysstoryteller and Emma was just beside herself.  I had to go over and help her with the housecleaning, she was so upset.  She had all that company, all the way from Oklahoma, you know.  Her two brothers, Pete and Buddy, and their wives and five kids, the oldest only seven,  her great Aunt Mary,  in a wheelchair, and Aunt Mary’s lapdog.  Meanest little cuss you ever saw.    All of them there to see the baby.   It was a crowd, I’ll tell you that.  Poor little tyke.  But  he’s OK now, you’d never know anything happened. Such a pretty baby.  And smart as a whip.   Emma’s so proud.

So since it was Wednesday last year, it must be on a Thursday this year.”

If all of that sounds a little convoluted and tedious, you don’t come from a family of Storytellers.    Nothing happens in isolation to a Storyteller.

“The Wreck At Sugarmill Junction”  is inspired by an accident that happened in a small town near my home in Louisiana. The accident itself was unremarkable. Nothing much more than a slightly damaged squad car.  What interested me was that no one who witnessed the accident saw the same thing. Not even close.   But even more intriguing was the Storytellers’  strong sense of place.  Each identified themselves in unique relationship to their community, relating the story in the context of the place and people they knew.  The Storytellers  savored, almost seemed to taste, each detail in their narrative.  In the long years away from home, I had forgotten about the Storytellers’ version of the news.   I was spellbound,  a child again, for a moment in time,  hypnotized by the lyrical cadence of the speech, the escalating excitement as the story approached its apogee,  the dramatic conclusion, the inevitable coda, “Oh, and another thing…”

Storytellers cannot be rushed.  They require a peaceful setting.  A porch swing accompanied by mending and fresh lemonade is ideal, but a vegetable garden or a kitchen will do.   Storytellers do not frequent Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The story is based on fact,  but details can be altered if need be to make the point.   Truth, not fact,  is what Storytellers are about.

And my mother’s storytelling; while mixing biscuit dough, hanging clothes on the clothesline, sewing, picking peas from the garden;  in the midst of life is where I learned our family history.  Here is where I met my ancestral heroes and villains (in Mother’s opinion), learned about my grandmother’s struggles in the Great Depression, and her mother’s difficult life in the “War Between the States.”  Here is where I formed my concept of right and wrong, good and bad, what is acceptable behavior and what is definitely not.

My mother worked hard.  There were no vacuum cleaners, automatic dryers, microwaves or air conditioners.  Our food came mostly  from our gardens and stockyards, not the local A&P.    My clothing did not come from Neiman Marcus, my mother sewed it on a vintage Singer sewing machine.   She did not have the luxury of sitting down every morning with a Moleskin journal and a pretty pen to write her memoirs.  Her stories were her memoir.

I am afraid we’ve lost the art of storytelling.   At the least, it’s a dying art. In our large cities, the people, places and things around  us  provide little more than a backdrop for our busy lives. We rush past traffic accidents with no thought for the victims, more than a little annoyed that we’ll be late for whatever seems crucial at the time.  We read in “bytes.”  I wonder how War And Peace  would make it in our “Haiku world”.  But there’s no chance of turning back the clock, and the idea of that is no doubt better that the reality.  But, every now and then, I just need to listen to a Storyteller.

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Look for The News from Sugarmill Junction, Chapter 3, coming soon.