Saturday, September 25, 2010

Farm Life as I Knew It

I've gotten some questions about the farm, so here's a summary. The first few years of my life we had a milk cow, Bessie, that Daddy milked twice a day so we had fresh milk, which I disliked. Much later, when I tried skim milk and liked it, I realized that it was the cream that I didn't like. We always had a garden where we raised tomatoes, potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and flowers for cut arrangements. At one time we had chickens, but that didn't last long because my dad didn't like to eat chicken and just getting the eggs wasn't worth the bother.

We always kept pigs and had them slaughtered in the fall, making pork sausage and smoking hams and bacon. Quite a foreign idea to those living in a Muslim country! We also kept beef cows and would have one slaughtered and the meat cut up and frozen. We had a large chest freezer that was often filled with beef and vegetables from our farm.

The part of the farm I disliked the most was working in tobacco. We would take the tobacco worms off the leave and kill them, one plant at a time. Then we had to "sucker" tobacco--take off the small sprout out of the middle so the base plant would grow stronger. Then we had to cut it, stalk by stalk, and hang on wooden sticks in the barn. I still have a scar on my toe from the time the tobacco knife slipped. At least that got me out of the job for the rest of the day!

The barn in the picture on an earlier post was one of the tobacco barns where the sticks of tobacco were hung to dry. After the leaves dried, we'd "strip tobacco," taking off each leaf and binding several together at the stems. Then it could be sold at market. The tobacco leaves were sticky and the stuff would be almost impossible to get off our hands. After Steve joined the family, he was shocked at how labor-intensive it was to grow tobacco. Then he persuaded my father that it was inconsistent to be opposed to smoking and raise tobacco, so Daddy quit growing it, though it was his most profitable cash crop.

We also raised wheat, and harvesting it was the only part of farming that I liked because I was allowed to drive the tractor from about age ten or so. The wheat would go into bags and a person had to tie off one bag while the wheat grains were pouring into the other bag. Daddy and I would take turns on the tractor or bagging the wheat. It was hot work, but I did enjoy that part.

The best part of all of it, whether canning beans or cooking or farming was that my parents talked to me and listened to me. I think that may be the most important part of parenting—listening to your children and responding. Mother, especially, would tell me Bible stories and stories from her childhood. Daddy would talk about the soil quality and seeds and sowing and reaping and draw spiritual connections. They were constantly planting seeds in my mind and watering them as well. They were both life-long learners and encouraged me also always to keep learning.

That learning thing really stuck, too. So next week I'm attending the Maranatha Christian Writer's Conference to see what else I can learn about writing and publishing.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fort Thomas, Kentucky

There are many formal and informal nicknames for Fort Thomas, Kentucky, where I have lived for 35 years—“City of Beautiful Homes,” “City of Trees,” and even, according to Cris Collinsworth, “Mayberry, USA.” All are true descriptors.

The city is safe day and night. My husband jogs or walks before daybreak without fear. I walk later in the day; others jog in the evening darkness with confidence. We don’t lock our house when we’ll be gone a short time; some people never lock their doors. “Oh, this is Fort Thomas!” they say with pride, though occasionally it is unfounded.

School transportation is not furnished to the students, so they either walk or are driven. Children can safely walk to school unescorted, but it’s the kind of town where parents enjoy walking their children to school.

We only feel desperate when our health is threatened, because that’s something that even living in Fort Thomas can’t forestall. When health or financial problems arise, the community rallies around, taking food, child-sitting, working on the house, sponsoring fundraisers.

There are many churches in the town and Sunday morning is still left free of scheduled sports activities or meetings. Almost everyone seems to be connected to a church in some sense or another. Our churches sponsor effective outreach programs to poorer areas in nearby cities.

But there is a downside to all this peace and safety. The people here live in a bubble of unquestioned security. There is rarely a need to feel desperate for God and his strength and love and mercy. Our lives are not affected by third-world poverty or the persecution of Christians worldwide. We are too safe, too secure, too dependent on ourselves.

I don’t want a disaster to turn us more to God, but I do want us to awaken to the needs of the rest of the world. I keep recalling Jesus’ words in Luke 12:15: "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions." I’m trying to remind myself of this more and more. How can I reorder my priorities to be in line with those of Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

About the Farm

I grew up on a farm and do not have idyllic memories of those early years. I couldn’t wait to leave the farm and live in a town or city. I wanted close neighbors that I could chat with when coming or going or working in the yard. I wanted to be able to walk to something—school, or church, or a grocery store. I wanted to be able to pick up Chinese carryout en route home from work. I wanted to walk on sidewalks and not the side of the road. From the time I got married, I have lived out that wish. With the exception of one year in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina, we have always lived in town.

And now the irony: I couldn’t wait to leave that farm and now I own it—or at least part of it. When my brothers and I divided up Mother’s property, I ended up with 16.31 acres of the farm my parents bought in 1953. It is all pastureland grazed by my brother’s cattle.

My 17.39 acres across the road are part of the “Tennessee Century Farm,” designated as having been in continuous agricultural production for over 200 years. Of course this cannot leave the family. Even though I still don’t want to live there, I treasure the history and the memories that go with that land. Corn was raised there this year—not by me, of course!—and I appreciate the conscientiousness of the farmer that works our land. Next year will be soybeans.

And there’s a barn. Who would ever expect me to own a barn? Not I! But there it is. The orchard that was adjacent to it is long gone, but my fond memories of picking apples and pears there—and getting a stomach ache from eating too many green apples—remain. I have to admit that I’m glad I own a farm as long as I don’t have to live there. I appreciate the comforts and convenience of living in our little town so close to the big city of Cincinnati. I really do have the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kitchen Tables I Have Known

The first kitchen table I recall fondly was my maternal grandmother’s table. It took up most of the long kitchen and had often been filled with parents, nine children, and guests. But I loved entering it in the morning when Grandmama was listening to her soap operas on the radio—“Young Doctor Malone,” “The Guiding Light,” and “Helen Trent” are some I remember.

Grandmama would give me my sausage and eggs and biscuits she’d prepared before Granddaddy left for work. Then she’d fix me a cup of coffee that was half cream and sugar. Mmmm, did I feel pampered! We’d talk about what we’d done the day before or our plans for that day. She never said, “You’d better get dressed so we can get to work,” like my mother did. She seemed to have nothing on earth to do but talk with me. I still feel the coziness of sitting at the end of that long table with the old black wood cookstove nearby and Grandmama working at some kind of food—stringing beans, or cutting corn, or canning. She loved for me to help when I was ready, but she never asked for help. She just made me feel cherished.

The next kitchen table I loved belonged to Ruby Totty of Totty’s Bend, Tennessee. Ruby was about forty, I guess, and had been swept off her feet in South Carolina by Harold Totty, a young serviceman on maneuvers during WWII. He fell hard for the beautiful Ruby and brought her back with him to be a farmer’s wife. Steve preached at Totty’s Bend Church of Christ from 1964 to 1966 and her table welcomed us anytime we stopped by. The church was about 90 minutes from our apartment, so we would stay all afternoon, taking turns eating Sunday dinner with various church families. But even if we hadn’t eaten with Ruby that day, after evening services she would often say with her soft Southern accent, “I have a chocolate cake on my table just waiting for you to stop by.” And since we were young enough to value chocolate cake and Ruby and Harold’s company over getting to bed on time, we’d always go by for cake and coffee and conversation.

Another kitchen table was Steve’s dad’s table in his various little apartments after Mom died. He kept their long “harvest table,” and moved it to each new location as he sought peace and comfort without his beloved Dorothy, always thinking that the next place would work out better. We’d often have breakfast there with him, and he would scurry around the kitchen, trying to make our cereal and donuts and coffee just right for us. It’s a precious scene to me, little Kelsey and early-teen Josh as we sat around that harvest table that had so many memories for Steve and me of when his mother would host with her bountiful meals.

My mother’s kitchen table for the last 36 years of her life was a round table at a bay window overlooking her back yard. When the house was full of guests, we ate at the larger dining room table, but when it was just Mother, Steve, and I, we ate at the kitchen table, lingering over her warm cinnamon rolls and coffee, honoring the tradition of “I really shouldn’t eat any more” and “But you’ve got to have one more” that was both comical and comforting. At those times, Mother was her softer self with us—not agitated, not critical, not managing, except to manage our hot coffee and warm food. She would talk in pleasant tones, often mentioning someone she’d been working with and wanted us to pray for or bringing up a human relations problem she wanted advice on.

After she developed crippling rheumatoid arthritis, I would be the one to get up and down, but she still orchestrated it all. Her quick wit entertained us and helped us to ignore her physical limitations.

In our marriage, our earlier kitchen tables were the ones where our reluctant eaters would sit long after the family had moved on, as they were determined to eventually eat the vegetables and earn dessert. The kitchen table we have now has been with us only eighteen years, but already it holds warm memories—meals of laughter and conversation and lingering long after the food was gone. It’s seen multitudes of games of Boggle, Pit, and Scrabble, and, more recently, Qwirkle.

I’m reminded of a song our children used to sing, based on Song of Solomon 2:4. The only line I remember is “He gathers us into his banqueting table; his banner over us is love.” I think that’s what appeals to me about these kitchen tables: the banner over them is love. They are all where I felt loved and treasured.

We’ve enjoyed many meals at many beautiful and bounteous tables, but it’s the kitchen tables that mean the most to me. Do you have good kitchen table memories to share?

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Big Stuff and Small Stuff--an Amazing God

I’m sure I’m not the only one noticing that God is pretty amazing in how he cares about small stuff as well as big stuff.

First, the big stuff. This has happened before, but I’m always surprised—a slow learner, I guess. This morning I was walking along and praying along and listening some, too, when suddenly I realized that I hadn’t done anything for anyone except me and mine all week. (Taking my dear friend Shirley to lunch for her birthday does not count. It was as much for me as for her!) So of course, after that holy reminder, I said I was open, but who needed me? No answer within the next few minutes. But a couple of hours later, I got an unexpected call from a woman I don’t know well but who is a member at our church. I do know she’s raising her three ADHD grandchildren, grades 4, 5, and 6, because their mother, her daughter, is in prison. I hadn’t seen her since we returned, but at least she knew we’d been gone. She began with, “Oh, good! You’re home! I didn’t know if you were still in Honduras or Africa or wherever it was you were all summer.” At least I give her points for knowing we were on a mission trip to a far country.

Turns out she has had lung problems and throat surgery and is still recuperating. Her husband took off work to care for her and is now back at work, but there have been only bills and no paychecks for quite a while. Knowing gold is selling, she sold what jewelry she had and that helped for a while, but now the cupboard is bare.

She hesitated to call me, but called because she couldn’t reach the church office to ask for food from the church pantry. (So was the secretary not answering the phone one part of this godly plan?) I was thrilled that she called, because I had an enormous amount of leftovers from Saturday night, and we’d eaten on them all we could. I took her all that and more from my refrigerator, relieved that I still had it, all cooked and ready to share. I also stopped by the church building and loaded up on canned and boxed goods. When I took them to her—the first time I’d been in her home—she was ecstatic. I was impressed at the neatness and cleanliness of the house. This evidently is a woman who usually has it pretty much together but is up against hard times. The Lord just told her to call me, I’m sure.

She said she had my number from an old email I’d sent her months ago. Way back then I’d said for her to call me any time, but she didn’t squander that opportunity. She saved it up until she really needed it—and until I needed it as well. I can just imagine God saying, “Well, Lanita has all that food and not enough awareness to realize Debbie’s in need of it. I’ll just have to nudge Debbie to call her.” Because I don’t think he makes us do things; he just gives us the ideas and it’s up to us to follow through—or not.

Now for the small stuff. On Tuesday I picked up my contact lens to replace a broken one. (I’ve been dealing with an old one that’s the wrong prescription for two weeks, having to wear reading glasses, then they broke, blah, blah, blah.) I put the little square white packet on the front passenger seat of my car. I stopped at the bank to cash a check and at Dollar Tree where I bought two more pairs of reading glasses, just in case the new lens wasn’t the right strength. When I got home, the little plastic square was not on the seat. I searched, Steve searched, even Shirley searched the next day. We drove to the bank parking lot, guessing it might have stuck to my checkbook and been flipped out of the car. Nothing. I asked inside the bank. Nada.

This afternoon on the way home from Debbie’s (and the printer repair shop and the camera repair shop) I decided to check the Dollar Tree parking lot, too. I’d thought of that, but it just seemed too unlikely. I got out and looked under cars and all around where I’d parked. No luck. I got back in the car and started to drive away, still looking, as I had at the bank parking lot. Up against the wall of the store I saw a small white square. “That’s absurd!” I thought. “I didn’t even walk there. It couldn’t be….” But since I was checking all options, I stopped the car and got out to go look. There, against the wall, some Good Samaritan had carefully placed my contact lens container so it wouldn’t be run over and yet I would see it if I were looking. I was stunned. I almost fell to my knees right on the spot, but other cars were needing to get around where I’d stopped right in front of the store, so I got back in and drove home.

I feel so wrapped up and secure in God’s care. How on earth can he manage to care for all of us that way? That Holy Spirit guidance thing is a powerful force. I’m convinced that was the source of my thoughts to keep trying different places and to keep looking even when unlikely.

Thank you, Lord! And thank you for nudging that unknown person, probably another contact lens wearer, to put my lens in a safe and noticeable place. Thank you for the nudges for Debbie to call me and for me to be prepared with food they’d enjoy. She said, “My kids will go crazy over this! They will love dinner tonight.” And so will I—a spiritual feast just thinking about what a fabulous, Spirit-led day I’ve had!