Picking Blackberries on a Hot Summer Day

In the silence of the early morning dawn

The morning dew glitters on the grass.  

The long-awaited rains are over, giving life

To whiffs of earthy fragrance while quenching

The thirst of this sandy South Georgia ground.

 

“Get those blackberries picked before it gets too hot.”

“And put some shoes on,” Granny says,

“Snakes are crawlin’ everywhere, looking for water.”

We leave without shoes anyway; the damp dirt and 

The water-beaded grass feels familiar to our feet.

 

It’s light out, and the road, muddy from the rain

Leads us away from the house to the briar patch.

Rays of sun boastfully claim morning as darkness fades. 

The cows slowly amble our way, quietly watching us

With no expectations in their dull, blank stares.

 

The first blackberry drops into the metal pot, breaking the silence.

Plink. Plink. Plink. We step into the prickly briar patch quickly

Plucking juicy berries, filling containers with repetitive soft thuds.

We move down the fence line, picking from the outside now 

Because we’re barefoot, and someone stepped in an ant bed.

 

The blistering sun has long since dried the damp grass, erasing 

The kindness of last night’s rain as the sandy ground whispers for more.

Pots now heavy; youthful arms tiring and unsheltered from the sun.

We watch for snakes, wishing we had worn our shoes for

The stubbled ground no longer welcomes our bare feet.

 

“Come back to the house, youngins,” Granny’s muffled voice bids.

“That sun is gettin’ too hot for pickin’ any more berries today.”

We traipse the short distance back, walking down a road well-trodden,

Knowing the footprints, we leave behind will always bring us back

To this welcoming place called home. 

 


An Okefenokee Experience

For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
    --Folliott S. Pierpoint (1864)

The evening settles quietly on the Okefenokee like an old, worn, hand-stitched quilt, bringing comforting familiarity and the reassurance that things can withstand the test of time. Tall cypress trees, their knotty knees protruding from the brackish waters, stand as sentinels of the Swamp's diverse inhabitants, including its endangered and threatened species. 

An alligator's deep and resonant voice suddenly infringes upon the calmness of the night. Perhaps he's sending a message to another gator or calling a potential mate. This bellowing, however, doesn't discourage the entertainment provided by a chorus of frogs, each contributing melodic sounds to their nighttime symphony. The occasional eerie scream of a panther echoes through the stillness of the Swamp. 

With the sunrise, the Okefenokee Swamp awakens, shimmering in her beauty, revealing her unique personality, and sharing her mysteries and wonders. The morning silence is soon interrupted by the call of a bird or the unexpected flight of a sandhill crane. Alligators sunbathe on the swamp banks, warming their armored bodies before returning to the calm waters. The allure of this natural wonder called the Okefenokee beckons us as it has from the beginning, urging us to appreciate her beauty and the inhabitants she cherishes. 

The people of this region who were 'born and raised' here accept the Okefenokee as their heritage. It is a gift received from the past and is ours to value and enjoy in the present. But most importantly, it is our responsibility to preserve and pass on this heritage to future generations. 

In the northern part of Charlton County lies a small, once vibrant community called Racepond, which was home to several generations of Okefenokee descendants, among them a young Harvin Carter. On the edge of the Swamp, Harvin hunted, fished, and explored the surrounding woods and bogs, often referred to as the Little Okefenokee.

In the early morning hours, Harvin and his father would gather their fishing gear, pack a lunch, and travel the 3 miles "from the house" for a day of fishing. Remembering those days, Harvin said, "We would 'put in' at Kingfisher Landing. I waded barefoot in the shallow waters, pushing us off the boat ramp." As the boat began to drift, he would jump in. "It's a wonder a cottonmouth never bit me." Cottonmouth and diamondback rattlers are among the most venomous species in the Swamp. 

"The best fishing was found in deserted gator holes," Harvin said. "So, I watched for the gator holes." Alligators would create depressions in the swampy waters using their feet, snouts, and tails. These depressions would retain water even during dry spells, allowing gators to stay cool. It was also a good place for them to attract a mate or other prey. These holes also provided a refuge for fish, especially during the dry season. 

"When we found a hole, and there was no gator in it, we would drop our lines and spend quiet hours fishing," he recalls. "Sometimes, we would go as far as Buzzard's Roost Lake, and dark would catch us before making it back to the Landing. I didn't care anything about being in the Swamp after dark."

In later years, as a young man, home from college on the weekends, Harvin would take his mother, Ms. Eyre, an avid fisherwoman, and her friend and neighbor of many years, Lavon Drury, to Kingfisher Landing. Unlike the days of his youth, he was considerably more cautious when wading into the brackish waters as he launched the boat. They would spend the better part of a day fishing in the familiar dark waters, always coming home with a 'mess of fish,' usually warmouths.  

Following the devastation of large-scale logging operations in 1937, landowner John King, Jr. set up a peat mining operation at Kingfisher Landing. Because of its ability to retain moisture and release nutrients into the soil, sphagnum and peat moss was harvested and sold to agricultural industries. The unstable, sponge-like peat moss covers much of the Swamp floor and, when stepped upon, will tremble or quiver, giving meaning to the phrase associated with the Okefenokee. The Land of the Trembling Earth.  

Harvin remembers vividly, "I was only ten or eleven years old the first time I stepped out on that peat moss and began to sink. It was a scary feeling." 

Harvin recalls that his brother-in-law, Hoyt Padgett had a lucrative moss business. "The sphagnum and peat would be raked with potato racks and hauled to the Landing on the bogie. The bogie was a flat cart that ran on rail tracks, probably left by the loggers." He explains that "the rails lay on old wooden planks and functioned as a temporary railroad."  

"Then they laid out the peat moss to dry and later baled it for sale. Hoyt would haul truckloads of the dried moss, sometimes traveling as far as Texas," Harvin shares. 

Finally, in 1969, the remaining private acreage of the Okefenokee was purchased by the federal government and added to the National Wildlife Refuge, ending all private commercial operations. Wounds left by the near-fatal ventures have healed, but the scars remain.

The solid and sturdy roots of the Okefenokee folks have endured. The Swamp, its history, and its survival remain an integral part of the descendants of these early settlers.                            

Their homes remain in the Swamp and offer us a glimpse into the past. As one of the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge experiences, visitors can visit the old, restored homesteads. 

These Swamp families are now gone and, along with them, a way of life that cannot be reclaimed. Because it is our heritage, we gladly share the spirit of the Great Okefenokee, keeping it alive for future generations.


A Celebration of Love

“And now these three remain faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

The Christmas tree is down, and the boxes of ornaments are finally in storage after sitting in the corner of the living room for the past two months. Before we know it, retailers are bombarding us with suggestions of flowers, gifts, and chocolates or a special evening out at your favorite restaurant, promising to dazzle those we love. 

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. Naturally, our thoughts turn to love.   We have an entire day set aside to express our affections with warm greetings and exceptional gifts. Not only is it a day of romance but an excellent time to share our love with family and friends.             

So, how do we say I love you?  Three little words, simple yet powerful. Words we long to hear. Words we long to say. And yet, as adults, we often find it challenging to share this complex mix of emotions, these feelings of affection and warmth that we call love. 

As a young child, I searched diligently through my dime-store box of valentines finding the perfect cards to exchange with my classmates. The message was fundamental, as was the picture of the cupid’s arrow shooting hearts of love. “Be mine” or “Will you be mine?” If you desire a more direct approach, send the daring one, “You’re my valentine.” 

 Heart-shaped construction paper and staples comprised our Valentine ‘mailbox’ where numerous cards were deposited and opened during our classroom party. Parents brought decorated sugar cookies, homemade of course, candy conversations hearts, and Kool-Aid. 

 My expectations of Valentine’s Day flourished as I entered high school. The dime-store cards with generic white envelopes that never had quite enough glue for sealing and the conversation hearts dimmed when compared to the Hallmark cards and the heart-shaped box of Brach’s chocolates. The empty faux velvet box was saved, along with the personal hand-written message inside the card. The words “I love you” were treasured long after I had enjoyed the last piece of chocolate. 

As a young adult, I was ecstatic when a dozen red roses, a box of Godiva chocolates, and an impressive card expressing never-ending love were delivered to my workplace. 

In later years, as with most things, the excitement of youth becomes worn, the glitter and sparkle quietly fading. In its stead are simplicity, wisdom, and appreciation.  

Simplicity whispers “I love you” in the card created many years ago by a little boy for his Meme.  

Wisdom is cherishing the magnitude of the words, “I love you.”  

Appreciation is the joyful privilege of having loved and being loved.

I regret not sharing the words; I love you more often. When spoken, its message is held close to the heart and forever treasured.

May the gift of love, both given and received, be yours this Valentine’s Day. 


Aunt Effie

As soon as I spotted the bag of soft peppermint in the candy aisle, cherished childhood memories of my Aunt Effie came to mind.  There were two things you could count on when visiting Aunt Effie.  The candy jar was filled with soft peppermint pieces and lemon drops.  And you would always find a small bowl filled with leftover ham and a cold biscuit sitting on the back of the stove.    

My daddy's sister, Effie Thrift, was a formidable and independent woman despite her petite stature. She was practical and hardworking, with a heart filled with compassion. Without a doubt, she was treasured and respected by all fortunate enough to know her.  

One of my earliest childhood memories was standing on the front porch with Aunt Effie and Uncle Bill, waving goodbye to my family as they prepared to return home after a Sunday evening visit. Crying, as Daddy finally placed me in the car, Uncle Bill reassured me I would come back another time.  

And I did, time after time, for the next 30 years.  

After Uncle Bill passed away in 1958, Aunt Effie continued to run their farm independently for many years.   It was not unusual for us to make a weekly visit.   

"We need to check on Effie," my dad would say. Then, the entire family would load up in our '57 Chevrolet and make the 20-minute drive to Riverside in neighboring Brantley County. 

Swatting yellow flies in the summertime, we would stand in the shade beneath the grapevine tasting the sweet, ripe grapes while filling a large brown grocery sack so Mama could make grape jelly the next day.

As we made our way back to the house, Mama would protest, "Effie, you don't need to fix anything for us- we have plenty at home." But it wasn't long before we were all crowded together on the wooden benches around the table in her small dining room.  

The summer months in Riverside brought the challenge of 'getting the tobacco crop in.' Harvesting tobacco was an exciting time for my sister, Phyllis, who worked as a "hander." At 16, she was the only one allowed to work in tobacco. 

Her job was to pull three leaves from the tobacco sled, hold them with the stems together, and hand them off to the stringer.  Her slim, youthful fingers, covered with the black gum, did not deter her enthusiasm for having a summer job.  

While she enjoyed her time with Aunt Effie, her social life soared during the summer. Many of the neighboring young teens would assist with the picking, stringing, and finally hanging the sticks of strung tobacco in the barn rafters for curing.  The laughter, the busyness, the camaraderie, and the unmistakable smell of aging tobacco filled those hot summer days.  

Younger children were allowed to watch the process from a distance but soon became bored and looked for more exciting ways to spend their time. We would hang over the fence top as we watched the new little pigs walk on unsteady legs. Little did we know of the horrific danger if we should accidentally fall into the pen with that mama sow. Counting eggs through the wire mesh of the chicken coop was always a challenge, as were games of hide and seek or chase. Eventually, we filled our time with complaints of total boredom while the diligent tobacco workers labored in the fields.  

A large dinner was prepared and served each day at noon. Aunt Effie worked in the field during the morning.  But at dinnertime, she was in the kitchen along with the women preparing vast quantities of food. One helping of any dish was never enough.   

Dropping temperatures signaled the arrival of winter and the necessary chore of butchering hogs, which was not for the faint of heart. We would arrive during the early morning seeing nature at her finest hour as the sun sparkled on dewdrops like faceted jewels. The sky would be pitch dark when we returned home. The stars, too, looked like diamonds against the dark, uninterrupted sky.

After the slaughtered hogs were cleaned, salted, and hung in the smokehouse for curing, cooking the pork cracklings was well underway. (Using the Southern pronunciation, we drop the g off the 'ing' and refer to them as cracklins.)

The tin-roofed shed sat just outside the old wooden frame house. The outbuilding was barely large enough to hold the cast iron boiler and the surrounding brick siding, which housed the roaring fire necessary for cooking.  

The boiler was filled to the brim with the pork cracklings. A ladle, affixed to a long splinter-free wooden pole, was used to stir the cracklins as they cooked and later remove them from the vat when done. The adults consumed a fair amount of the crispy and crunchy pork skins throughout the evening.

The nighttime air was bitterly cold as children played outside in the dark.  It was comforting to take a brief reprieve from the cold by easing our way into the warm but crowded shed. 

"Don't get too close to the fire," the adults warned as they opened the metal door and added wood to the already blazing fire beneath the boiler.  

Before long, we would dash back into the darkness, dimly illuminated with the single bulb hanging from the boiler shed rafter.  The appealing combination of wood smoke and pork filled our senses as we breathed the chilly night air. 

When the time came to grind sugar cane, we, along with other aunts, uncles, and cousins, again made our way to Riverside.  We watched as the willing horse, harnessed to the grinder, made his repetitious, circular journey while long, rounded stalks of cane were hand-fed into the grinder.  Bucket after bucket of sweet cane juice was poured into the boiler and cooked until it became a golden caramel color.  The adults carefully poured the sweet syrup into washed and rewashed old whiskey bottles and placed them on a shelf for cooling.  As the evening came to an end, Aunt Effie insisted that we take a bottle or two of the freshly prepared syrup, along with several jugs of raw cane juice.  

The years passed quickly, too quickly.  The old horse was replaced with a tractor.  The fields were no longer laden with tobacco plants or stalks of cane.  The large garden became relatively small. And the old hand pump, which sometimes needed priming, was replaced with a galvanized water spigot and green garden hose.  The shed where all those delicious-smelling cracklings cooked sat empty and deserted.  The quietness was deafening.    

Later, as an adult with a child of my own, I often accompanied my mother, who would say, 

"Let's ride over to Effie's for a while."  

As we arrived, she would step out onto the old wooden porch, as she had for the past 30 years, telling us to "come on in."  

On each visit, I walked through the familiar house into the kitchen.  Sitting on the stovetop was a bowl filled with a slice of fried ham and a couple of cold biscuits.  And the candy jar was filled with soft peppermint and lemon drops.

The old house is still standing, though the people who made it home have long since gone. Just today, I passed that way.  My eyes followed the solitary dirt lane leading to the house, remembering another time and the people I loved.  


The Remarkable Nature of the 5-Minute Work Break at Newell Lodge

On busy days, I argue with myself about the need for a break.

“I don’t have five minutes.”

The voice of reason counters, “Yes, you do.”

“No, I don’t.”  

And, on it goes.  On rare occasions, the voice of reason wins the argument, allowing a needed break.  

 It is quiet, and I am alone.  

This moment of complete solitude makes me uncomfortable and maybe, a little guilty.  The part of me that feels the need to push forward, do not stop, keep going raises its demanding head.  But for five minutes, I will refuse to listen as I enjoy this small slice of time.  

I will rest.  

In no rush, I walk beneath the old oak trees enjoying the unquestionable brilliance of nature.  The colossal oak trees, trickling with Spanish moss, have remained untouched for generations guarding untold stories. Would those long-ago tales of joys, struggles, accomplishments, and failures sound achingly familiar?  

The horses quietly graze in the fields, swishing their tails to keep the horseflies at bay.  The chickens roam freely, searching for their mid-morning snack, while three squirrels rush up the branches of a nearby tree. 

The quietness brings a sense of contentment all its own. 

A hoarse sound or cackle coming from a tree above me breaks the silence.  

Schur, schur, schur. 

“What is that?” I ask of no one.

As I look up into the tree, there he is.  With his crimson head and inky black wings, a beautiful woodpecker, sitting on a high limb, is partially hidden by the branches.  Quietly, carefully, I creep closer to get a better look.  

Neither of us moves nor makes a sound.  He turns his head towards me.  

“He’s getting ready to fly,” I think.  

He does not move, other than the turning of his head.  He continues to sit on his branch, watching me as I watch him.  I wait for his next move.  Long minutes pass, and suddenly, without warning, he flies away.  

As I continue my walk beneath the trees, I think of the woodpecker, wondering if maybe those were his five minutes of rest in a busy bird day.  

I return to work, relaxed and gratified. It’s remarkable what a five-minute break can do.


Same Thing, Different Day: Lessons A Classic Movie Offers For Coping With The Pandemic

Here in south Georgia, we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic. For more than a year, we’ve lived in a cycle of “same thing, different day.” Our perception of a passing inconvenience now has a life all its own.

The cycle of “same thing, different day” reminds me of one of my favorite old movies, the 1993 romantic comedy, “Groundhog Day.” In this romantic comedy, weatherman Phil Conner goes on location to the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the legendary festivities on that fateful day.

Then he ends up covering the same events over and over again day after day.

Tradition dictates that if the groundhog sees his shadow on this ‘historic’ day, he will return to his den. Then the rest of us will experience six more weeks of unwanted cold, dreary weather.  

It’s my belief that the pandemic has become our “Groundhog Day.” Like poor Phil, we’re stuck in a loop, unable to stop the ceaseless repetition.

We watch as those we love become embittered, cynical, dismayed, unnecessarily reckless, and self-loathing.

Some days, our patience wears paper-thin as each day mirrors the previous day. We learn that sameness takes a mental and emotional toll which colors our thoughts, conversations, and actions.    

Local and national news stations broadcast the Pandemic on our televisions. We witness the heartbreak and grim realities of the havoc while watching the devastation in real-time. We already know that we will hear the same sorrowful news tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. 

Despite a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, the Delta Variant reared its ugly head.  This is no friendly groundhog that is afraid of its shadow. Now, families all over the world watch helplessly as increasing numbers of children suffer from this deadly virus.

We now saturate our vocabulary with a plethora of pandemic words:    unprecedented, challenging times, social distancing, face masks, transmission, ventilator, self-quarantine, shutdown, isolation, essential business, and state of emergency.  

While we tire of the over-use of these words, we are better informed than we were before. A year ago, many of us did not even know that an N-95 mask existed.  Now we wear one.

The Pandemic is more than a health crisis.  It reminds us of the toll of genuine human suffering. We are learning to grieve. We are learning acceptance.

The Pandemic will eventually end.  History tells us so.  

In the movie, Phil Conner changed his reality by changing himself.  We can, too.

This reality is the only one we know until we decide to change things. From Phil, we learn that changes we want and need to see must come from within.

We cannot be afraid of our shadows and dwell in dread, fear, and uncertainty.

Instead, let us seize this day. Let us practice again and again to open our hearts and minds.

Let’s work together to create new opportunities, meet challenges, and renew our faith.

Our faith, our families, and our community of support will see us safely through.

Perhaps the light of our faith and love will dim the hold that the shadow of this pandemic has on us.

When the groundhog emerges from his deep burrow on Wednesday, February 22, 2022, I’ll be watching.

May his shadow be nowhere to be seen.


Laughter Is the Best Medicine for South Georgia Ladies Who Do Lunch

A cheerful heart is good medicine. - Proverbs 17:22

The heartless south-Georgia heat snubbed us as we stepped outside, daring us to breathe. Ninety-two degrees and rising. The overcast sky trapped the sun momentarily but brought little relief. The July heat was unrelenting, but our trio ignored the mugginess as though it was nothing more than an annoying housefly.

Ours was to be a working lunch.  The past three weeks had been a living nightmare, with software concerns, unresolved problems, and personnel issues. Each unfinished task had passed the critical stage and now rested in the bottom of the "black pit," as it was affectionately known.  

Robin, Lisa, and I, preoccupied in deep thought, walked the short distance to the Magnolia Cafe with the morning events spooling in our frazzled minds.  After taking seats near the window, the silence lingered. Then, finally, it was time to face the truth.  Our problems were just beginning.   The task ahead was bleak. Nonetheless, our sisterhood of coworkers was confident that combined efforts would bring tranquility to a chaotic workplace.  

The truth is sometimes a tough pill to swallow, but we were committed to our cause. And what better way to ingest the bitter truth than with a tall glass of sweet iced tea, making any situation bearable?  

We placed our orders as the waitress quickly filled the tea glasses. The ice cubes twinkled in the amber liquid as the sugary substance worked its magic of immediate relief.  The conversation began with a recap of the morning's fiasco and lasted approximately 60 seconds. Quickly, the working lunch was officially over. 

After the usual array of topics, children, grandchildren, and husbands, was exhausted, the conversation took an unexpected turn.  Suddenly we were discussing mothers and squirrels.  

For those of you who are from other regions, you may not know that Southerners take great pride in their humorous anecdotes about crazy relatives, hunting, religion, and, of course, squirrels.  

Country music fans will recall the ever-popular, catchy song by Ray Stevens, “The Mississippi Squirrel Revival?” According to my best friend and coworker, Lisa, the truth is more entertaining than fiction.  She told this story, and for the next 10 minutes, it was 1970 in the United Methodist Church located in the deep southern part of Georgia.  

Lisa shifted in her seat. She looked around to see who might be listening. Then, with a mischievous smile, she leaned in to share the marvelous tale. 

"Y'all know my brothers," she said. "They were always up to some kind of mischief."

"One Saturday afternoon, they rescued a baby squirrel that had fallen from its nest.  He was a cute little thing, as far as squirrels go." 

She paused to take a sip of her tea.

"By nightfall, the squirrel had fully recovered from the fall, but my brothers were reluctant to set him free," she recalled. "They were having such a grand time with their new friend, they decided he should spend the night." 

She continued to unwind the story one sentence at a time. 

“Then it was Sunday-church day." 

Every Sunday morning, come rain or shine, the entire family marched, like little ducks, down the aisle of the United Methodist Church, where they filled a full pew. According to the family's weekly seating ritual, the two oldest girls went in first, followed by the two brothers.  

"As the youngest, my designated seat was next to Mama, who sat at the end of the pew," she says. 

Later, I understood that this particular arrangement offered her the unique view of the episode that was to come.

"Walking single file into the church on this fine Sunday morning, Mama did not realize that my brothers decided to bring a visitor to the morning services.

I squirmed in my seat a little as I could guess what was coming next. My other friend, Robin, shook her head from side to side. She, too, sensed what was coming next. 

Our worst suspicions were soon confirmed.

"Yes. They. Did!" 

Lisa’s voice rose just a little as she pronounced each word separately, one at the time. 

The poor squirrel was now a captive in the front pocket of Jared's Sunday pants.

Lisa's sweet and melodious voice captivated the diners' attention at the adjacent table, who were struggling to maintain their composure as she continued the tale.

 "As soon as we were seated, the squirrel put his escape plan into action,”

She  paused for effect. 

“My brother's bushy-tailed friend began to do what squirrels do best- nibbling, squirming, scratching, and clawing.”

We three, without volition, each squirmed a little bit in our chairs, too. 

“As he struggled to keep his newfound friend captive, Jared began twisting, turning, and sliding on the slick wooden pew in response to the squirrel's distressful actions.” 

Her mother simply looked at him and shook her head. She was oblivious to the impending disaster, Lisa recalled.

"We all began to giggle, Mama tried to settle us down with a stern look, but she was unprepared when the giggles erupted into snickering and a couple of snorts.”

She described the vain attempts to stifle their laughter. Then paused momentarily for our laughter to subside.  

"Then," she said, with amusement in her voice, "out of absolute necessity, my brother produced the squirrel on the second stanza of The Old Rugged Cross."  

"A look of absolute horror crossed my mother's face.”

Lisa’s voice was filled with sympathy for her mother. 

"But then, being the practical and resourceful woman she was, Mama made a split-second decision. She snatched that squirrel from my brother's hands, unsnapped the clasp on her black patent leather pocketbook, shoved the squirrel inside, and closed it with a loud click!”

Our waitress, the tea pitcher in hand, made no effort to curb her laughter, along with other diners who were now entangled in Lisa's squirrel narration.  

"When we weren't trying to smother our giggles, we were holding our breaths."      

Lisa's audience grew, as other diners turned their chairs in our direction for better hearing.  Lisa never faltered as she neared the end of the squirrel saga.  

"Throughout the singing,  praying, and preaching, we watched anxiously as Mama's pocketbook squeaked and made sudden, short jerky movements on the floor of our pew.” 

Every so often, Mama used the pointed toe of her high-heeled shoe to pull the pocketbook back beneath her feet, she noted.

"Finally, the congregation sang the last song, and the deacon closed the service with prayer.” 

Her Mama led the way, her black patent leather pocketbook and the bushy-tailed squirrel in tow, and all the children in single file, straight out to the car There, her Mama quickly set her Sunday pocketbook on the ground and released the clasp.

"The squirrel flew from the depths of that pocketbook as though he had acquired wings during the preachin',” Lisa said. “Not only did he fly out, but with him came a multitude of confetti.” 

The shreds bore an uncanny resemblance to the contents of Mama's pocketbook. 

“There was nothing left of Mama's checkbook nor her pocket pack of tissues."

No-one, she said, spoke a word, not even her Mama. The same could not be said for the roomful of eavesdroppers. 

"The squirrel made a mad dash for freedom, never looking back.  We watched him go.   Silently, one by one, we climbed into the car and headed home for Sunday dinner."   

In closing, Lisa alluded to the last line of that infamous Ray Stevens song.

"And that was the day that a South Georgia squirrel joined the congregation of the United Methodist Church." 

My friends and I, along with the other diners within hearing distance, did not attempt to contain our hysterical laughter as we finished our meals. The laughter was infectious and uplifting, cementing our relationships with joy, adding sparkles to our workday. The morning stress was gone, and our hopeful demeanors were restored, despite the sweltering heat. We were ready to tackle the afternoon.  

Undoubtedly, laughter is the best medicine for ladies who do lunch.  


The Piano Lessons

Several unconstrained dogs lived between our house and Mrs. White’s.  I was wasting my breath as I begged my older sister, Sue to slow down as we walked to piano lessons.  I was deathly afraid of strange dogs.  Justifiably, my begging was sincere, prolonged, and truth be told, annoying.  

My whining lasted the entire 15-minute walk.  

“Wait.  Stop leaving me,” I begged. “Slow down.”

Then pleaded. “Don’t leave me. Please.”

Complaining, “You’re walking too fast.” 

You get the idea.  

Sue looked back over her shoulder at me and uttered two words through clenched teeth.        “Shut up.” 

Sue had left home in a temper because she hated taking piano lessons.  Evidently, the angrier she became, the faster she walked.  We covered the five blocks to Mrs. White’s house in record time.  

Unfortunately, this scenario was a weekly occurrence.  Why our mother insisted that Sue take piano lessons surpassed the logic of my nine-year-old mind.  The piano confrontations went beyond just taking classes.  As beginning students, Mrs. White recommended that we practice 30 minutes a day.   

Both Sue and I objected to the practice time.  We had more exciting ways to fill that 30-minutes.  I practiced without complaining but with a standing objection.  Sue, on the other hand, refused.

The recurring battle of wills over piano lessons ensued.    

After serving my 30 minutes, it was now showtime for Sue.  Mama would lead the way into the living room, where she stood beside the piano stool, waiting.  And, waiting.  And, waiting.  Finally, Sue appeared, literally dragging her feet, trying to run out the clock before practice began. Who was she trying to fool?  Our mother?  Ridiculous.  Give credit where credit is due.  She tried.   

Sue took the piano stool after glaring at the piano in disgust.  Mama sat on the sofa as she checked her watch and noted the time.  Let the framming begin.  Looking back, why I stayed in the room is a mystery.  Even more mysterious is that Mama fell asleep while Sue banged away on the innocent keys.  

Suddenly, the playing stopped.  Sue turned around and realized that Mama was dozing.  I nervously watched as Sue prepared to leave.  But not before covering her bases.  With nerves of steel, Sue tiptoed over to the sofa where she gently lifted Mama’s left arm and advanced the hands on her little black Timex watch.  

Watching her in action made me extremely uneasy.  I wanted no part of this.  And then she looked at me and said in her most menacing voice, “You better not tell, or you’ll be sorry.”  Being sorry could mean many things when dealing with Sue, who could be both scary and convincing when making threats.  

“She’ll know.  You’re going to be in trouble,” I said in a timid voice.  

She whispered.

“No, she won’t.  Unless you tell-and, you had better not.” 

She left.  

I immediately shook Mama awake and gave a play-by-play of what had transpired as she slept. Then, of course, I mentioned the dire threats which were utmost in my mind.  Looking at the small grandfather clock which sat on the top shelf of the bookcase, Mama re-set her Timex, assured me Sue wouldn’t hurt me, and headed to the kitchen to cook supper. 

Sue never went back to piano lessons again.  The battle was over.  I continued to take classes for the next couple of years.  Although, I practiced for 30 minutes, at least twice a week, I never became a great piano player.     

Frequently, my granny would ask me to play from an old worn Baptist Hymnal - “The Great Physician” and “In the Sweet By and By.”  Both hymns were challenging for me, but I tried.   I played, and Granny sang.  We were quite the pair—me, with severely limited piano skills, she with a worn singing voice.  But the misplayed keys and a voice that could no longer reach the high notes were of no significance to either of us.   So today, when I think of my granny, these times of making “a joyful noise, unto the Lord,” immediately comes to mind.  

Often, it’s the small and seemingly insignificant things in life that shine through with clarity in later years that reaffirm that every single moment of our lives has meaning—even piano lessons.  


Try, Try Again: Remembering Daddy’s Patience and Lessons of Love

The Carter Girls: Grace, Sue, Kathy, me, and Phyllis Anne with their father, Clarence, and mother, Gladys, about 1957.

The memories of my father, Clarence Carter, remain as clear as though they were yesterday.   When I think of him, patience is a word that immediately comes to mind.  Back in those days, our household consisted of my parents, my four sisters, my grandmother, and cousin Gloria, who came to live with us after her mother died.  Eight women, my dad, and one bathroom. Yes, he was a patient man.  

But there were many occasions where his patience was especially apparent.  

Daddy's patience was unmistakable as he taught each of his five daughters first to ride a horse and later drive a car. We learned to ride a horse while he led us around the pasture countless times.  Our job was to hold onto the saddle horn and not fall off the horse. Eventually, we were encouraged to ride using the reins instead of the saddle horn.   Because of his countless steps in that pasture, he instilled the confidence and courage to ride, even though we were afraid to try.   

Learning to drive a car was "A horse of a different color." As we each turned 16, our driving education began on rural back roads in our 1957 Chevrolet.  Our instructions went something like this. "Slow down," he would say. "Don't go too fast."  "Always give the right of way to the other fellow, even if he doesn't deserve it." "Watch out for young’uns on bicycles.  You never know which way they'll go."   

According to my mother, he possessed that same patience when he taught her to drive after they married in 1942. She loved to tell that story!  

He would remark, "I wish you would stop telling people I taught you to drive. It doesn't give me much credit because I didn't do a good job." 

Daddy thought she drove too fast (which she did), tended to slam on brakes (which she did), and claimed the car would jump 10 feet as the vehicle left the driveway as she headed for work (which it did) As with each telling of the story, she would laugh and laugh.  

He would just smile.  

He tried to teach her to ride a horse.  She had no knack for riding, but he tried and tried again.  Finally, my mother gave up the dream of riding, much to the relief of both them and the horse. 

When he tried to teach her to swim, he finally said the best thing  for her would be "to stay in shallow water." 

In addition to our ponies, we had a milk cow, a steer, and a few chickens.   Each evening, we would be on Daddy's heels as he headed to the barn to "feed up" and milk the cow.  As we crowded into the tiny stall behind him, he would say, "Don't get behind the cow.  She’ll kick." 

So, we naturally moved in closer to him, waiting our turn to try milking. Of course, knowing we would never become proficient in milking,  he allowed us to try, day after day. That's patience. 

He was an amazing father who loved his daughters. But it was the love he shared with my mother, the kind of love that lasts forever, that I remember so well. And his patience.    

Happy Father's Day.  May your day be filled with treasured memories like mine.    


Do You Live Above or Below Georgia’s ‘Gnat Line?’ Here’s What You Need to Know

Having lived near the Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia my entire life, I’ve never given much thought to gnats. A seasonal nuisance, gnats are dealt with similar to the arrangement I have with yellow flies:  I swat, slap, spray, fan, wave, and complain. In short, I hope to eliminate a few of the bothersome pests before they carry me off. 

 Unfortunately, our sweltering summer months, sandy soil, and excessive rains serve as a welcome mat for gnats. They travel in moving gnat clouds, a pretty way of saying “swarming droves of gnats.”

When you live below the Georgia Gnat Line, gnat sightings such as these are inevitable. 

For the uninformed, please know that the Gnat Line does exist and roughly follows the Georgia Fall Line, that imaginary line from Columbus to Macon and Augusta. The Fall Line marks the end of red clay and the beginning of the sandy soil so beloved by gnats.

How do you determine your gnat tolerance?  It’s all about “where you’re from.” Your primary residence will affect your gnat rating. Now, do you live above or below the gnat line?

  •  If you sit on the porch, are you immediately swarmed by gnats?
  •  If you leave the back door open while bringing in the groceries, do gnats come into your home uninvited? 
  • Do you live south of Macon? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you definitely live below the Gnat Line, and your gnat rating is likely excellent. Congratulations! 

Folks who live above the Georgia Gnat Line have often mistaken a gnat for a flea, fruit fly, or “some kind of black bug.” Unfortunately, they do not have a proper understanding of these pesky insects, so their gnat tolerance may register as a low-level rating. 

Here are a few suggestions for folks from above the gnat line while visiting friends below the gnat line.

  1. Make a gnat trap.
    My husband creates a gnat trap made with apple cider vinegar. Mix a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a few drops of dish soap, and a tablespoon of sugar in a bowl.  After mixing, set the bowl where gnats seem most prevalent.  The sugar and vinegar attract the gnats. The soap traps the gnats causing them to drown eventually.  Simple, right?  Not for my husband.  Instead of making a few bowls for the house, he mixes it by the gallon and places the solution in large plastic hanging bags to eradicate the entire outdoors gnat population.
  2. Clean the drains.
    Another favorite is to pour diluted bleach down the drains. Undiluted vinegar also works.
  3. Crash and burn tactics.
    Partially fill a candle holder with water, light the candle, turn off the lights and watch your gnat friends swarm to the flame, where they will meet their demise.
  4. Avoidance.
    Local athletes swear by eating raw sweet onions like apples. I haven’t been able to get past the “like apples” part. And I’m pretty sure gnats chug insect repellant for fun.
  5. Grin and Bear It.
    Some days, I just grin and bear it without the grin. By grinning, you may inadvertently swallow a gnat, which is one gnat too many.

In the end, it’s probable that the most sensible approach if you have a lingering gnat infestation is to contact your pest control service to deal with these uninvited guests. Meanwhile, I’ll stick with the tried and true methods of swatting, fanning, spraying, waving, and complaining.