Monday, February 21, 2011

Ajalon Acres

In the summer of 1970, my parents and I walked their 50-acre farm, looking for a good building site for their dream house. We settled on building in a low-lying area rather than on a rise. They wanted cozy more than majestic, and it worked out well.

They finished building in the summer of 1972, the summer our first child, Joshua, was born. Mother had dithered quite a bit about a name for their place, and once she adjusted to Josh’s name (“Why would you give him an old man’s name?” was her quick response on hearing of the birth of her first grandchild), she knew what to name her home.

In Joshua 10, the story of Joshua’s commanding the sun to stand still so they could finish defeating the Amorites had always been one of Mother’s favorites. Mother’s paraphrase of her beloved King James Version sounded more like today’s NIV: “On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the LORD in the presence of Israel: ‘Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Ajalon.’ So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies…. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel!”
So she named her home Ajalon Acres, and her father was quick to make the interpretation, in case anyone had missed it: “Since Joshua is her first grandchild, he will surely always be able to get his grandparents to stop whatever they are doing to accede to his wishes!”

So we were all grown and gone by then, but she constantly had new audiences, from relatives to paying B & B guests, to listen to the story of why her farm was named Ajalon Acres.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Reflections on Aunt Evelyne

OK. Enough about husbands.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my experiences with my Aunt Evelyne who died on February 1. She was an unusual person with an extremely strong personality. In retrospect, I see that in many ways she shaped my character.

My mother was the fourth child and Aunt Evelyne was the fifth of nine. I am very sad for her sisters, for I know they loved her and seemed to easily overlook her faults. They saw that her intentions were the best, no matter how people felt blasted by her strong personality and determined nature.

Frank Harmon came to preach at Old Beech Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1943 and was sought by all the girls there as the most eligible bachelor around. Aunt Evelyne was the one he picked to marry, so he was a few years older than she.

My favorite Aunt Evelyne story took place during the Carter administration. She called Aunt Carleen around 2 am in high dudgeon. “I figured out the simplest way to balancing the budget and world peace, and I called the White House and they wouldn’t even let me speak to President Carter!” she complained. Aunt Carleen, ever the sane and level-headed oldest sister, was greatly irritated at being awakened for such an irrational tirade.

I visited her for a week every summer from the ages of 9 to 14. My parents would take me one way and I’d ride the Greyhound bus the other. Since Uncle Frank was a minister, they moved every few years. The first few years I visited her in Dyer, Tennessee; later I visited them in Cookeville, Tennessee.

She would plan special activities when I was there, such as picnics in the park or swimming somewhere—creek or public pool. Nothing was extravagant, for I’m sure they were on a tight budget, but the church manse was always nice and Aunt Evelyne had it well-furnished and decorated.

She treated me as one of her children, even to assigning me chores when I visited. I recall once when my dusting did not meet her expectations. She said, “Hasn’t your mother taught you how to dust?” I was very offended that she would blame my mother for my short-comings. I saw no reason to remove every object from a table in order to dust it, but for her I did. She made me responsible for her sons at times and I didn’t always meet her expectation. She’s the only person besides my parents who ever spanked me.

Sometimes we would go for rides and Uncle Frank would start as the driver. But she criticized his every move and speed, finally simply saying, “Just pull over, Frank. Just pull over and let me drive!” This happened so often that I wondered why she didn’t drive to start with.

She taught me how to sew. She bought me some green and white fabric for three yards for a dollar and a pattern. She supervised as I cut it out and stitched it on her machine. I was so proud of that dress! After that, I made many of my own clothes for years.

She had a reputation in the family for serving food in the smallest possible bowls. When we sat to eat at her table, serving bowls seemed actually to be cereal bowls but maybe they weren’t. Daddy always said he left her table hungry because there didn’t seem to be enough food to go around.

Her other memorable characteristic, also based on frugality, was the Christmas gifts she would give. My mother’s siblings and their spouses drew names each Christmas for next year’s gift to give. Then everyone lived in fear all year that Evelyne had drawn his or her name because Evelyne’s gifts were usually from some church bazaar or bargain basement. The one I recall the best was when she gave my dad two enormous paintings of “Blue Boy” and “Pinkie,” framed in gold and white papier-mâché. My mother insisted that they hang in our dining room for years, vowing that she treasured them because they were from Evelyne.

When one of her sisters and her husband invited her to their 50th wedding celebration, she refused to attend. “Why would anyone want to celebrate being married that long?” she asked. When she and Uncle Frank had been married 50 years, she forbade her children or siblings to honor it in any way.

At every age, she was still a force to be reckoned with. She told me once of going into the kitchen at her assisted living residence to show the cooks how to season their food correctly. Shortly after that I was given a change of address for her, and I wondered if there were a connection.

The last few years, she was in one assisted living home and Uncle Frank in another. She was going to remain married to him till death parted them, but they were parted quite a bit by living across town from each other.

She was buried in Dyer next to her stillborn baby girl. We were unable to go, but my cousin and brother gave me a complete report. The present Dyer preacher preached it, reading many of her favorite scriptures. Of course he didn’t know her. Everyone was very sad and told stories about how wonderful she was. As one of her sisters said, “Evelyne planned trips and made us go all kinds of places we’d never have been if not for her!” True—to visit distant cousins in Missouri or the covered bridges of Indiana, for example.

Uncle Frank did not go to her funeral. That’s understandable, I guess, since he’s 92 and it was 450 miles away. But I thought their children would not want him to preach her funeral, because he’d be sure to say, in his most sonorous tones, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” But not according to his children. In spite of everything, he maintained a strong love for her and is grieving her passing.

So I guess I got back to love and husbands after all.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I wrote this poem for Steve over 25 years ago and it's truer now than ever.

I didn't want you to rescue me.
You didn't fit my plans for my life.
I wanted to climb my own mountains,
slay my own dragons,
break magic spells all by myself.

Then there you were--awkwardly fitting armor,
lacking in gentlemanly graces,
moody, even childish, in your demands on my life.

And I succumbed, yielding to your persuasive powers,
drawn by your presence,
intrigued by your demands.

How can I be so happy in
being what I never planned to be,
doing what I never intended to do,
in a place I never wanted to be?

Now you move gracefully in your armor--shining white,
your graces far exceeding my own,
your concern and sharing overwhelming me.

I would never have chosen this path on my own,
Would never have turned this direction
without God's guidance,
prodding me
drawing you to me,
guiding us, as we

Climb mountains,
slay dragons, and
break magic spells

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Proverbs 31 for Men: A Husband of Noble Character

Jon Acuff gave his take on a modern version of Proverbs 31, which reminded me of my own version for men, so here it is.

A husband of noble character, who can find? For his worth is far above diamonds.

His wife trusts him completely and is confident of his love.

He brings her good and not distress all the days of his life.

He looks for wood and tools and works with eager hands.

He is like transport planes, bringing his food from afar.

He rises while it is still night to provide food for his family and his workers.

He considers a business and begins it; from his earnings he reinvests his money.

He exercises regularly to keep himself in good physical condition.

He sees that his trading is profitable; he labors late to finish his business.

He works to keep the yard mowed and trimmed; he sees that the cars are maintained well.

He gives money to the poor; he takes food and clothing to the needy.

He is not afraid of bad weather, for his roof is secure and the storm windows are tight.

He buys good clothes for himself and his family so they always look appropriately dressed.

His wife is known in the city where she is respected in her own profession.

He does his job well and has the respect of his peers.

He is strong in following the Lord's will and he is always optimistic.

He spends time teaching his children and shows wisdom in dealing with his friends and extended family.

He gives attention to each child and his wife and does not spend too much time on selfish activities.

His children rise up and call him blessed, and his wife praises him, saying,

"Many women have good husbands, but you are the best of all."

Charisma is shallow and good looks don't last, but a man who fears the Lord is to be praised.

Let him prosper in what he does and let the church praise his good works.