Psalms

psalms tree

My sacred ground is a little clearing in the bottomland along a creek with no name.  I come here almost every day.  Sometimes I linger a bit.  Others I simply turn back toward a home on the hill.

The tree I call “Psalms.”  A water oak that has clung to the bank of No-Name for at least a hundred years.  Just a sapling when this bottomland was all corn.  Feed for the horses and mules.  A few barrels of meal and some roasting ears.  Maybe some traded to a family of famous bootleggers who still live over the ridge, the last now too old to do anything but piddle around the yard, tending fruit trees and flower beds.

Psalms will lose the battle with gravity one day when a hundred-year flood undercuts the bank.  I hope that I am not alive to see it.

Because this is sacred ground.

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

Two graves here, each covered with field stone.  One for a companion, a dog that I loved more than most people.  The second a sweet little lady who never was anything but.  I had her put down sixth-months ago, before the suffering of ruined hips became more than she or I could bear.

I have cried four times that I can recall in the last 40 years.  The first when I lost my dad.  The second when I found that some certainties are not.  The third and fourth over these two small graves.  Biblical crying.  Great sobs and blubbering.  Sorrowful moans worthy of sackcloth and ashes.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

He brought her here six years ago, because he is like me and this spot is sacred to him too.  Got down on a knee and asked her to be his wife.  A happy day, the kind that sticks with you forever.  Love that clings tenaciously to the bank of the river of your heart.

I came here today, as I am accustomed to do on a Sunday afternoon.  Two little ones riding along behind me in a pull-cart.  They look at trees and butterflies.  Ask a lot of questions.  Throw rocks and sticks into the creek.  My stony heart smiles.

It is written that an ancient Hebrew put up a stone on his sacred ground, a place where he met with God.

I have no stone, but I have Psalms.

Weeds

butterfly

The softness of twilight covers a multitude of sin.

A sunset ride through the open fields and along the woods trails.  Early spring growth hiding the depredations of winter.  A downed tree here.  Broken branches there.  Saplings leaned over.  Grass already knee-high, dappled with scatterlings of milkweed and thistle and flowers I cannot name.

My mount does not balk, but I must stop often to clear the path.  Unlike her namesake, she is reckless and her footing unsure.  Her name is Kawasaki.

These paths were clear last fall.  The grass was short.  My heart sighs.

Mother despises what we call neatness.  She will not tolerate it.  Tenderness is not in her vocabulary.

Establish.  Nurture.  Destroy with violence.

The Redhead despises what we call chaos.  She will tolerate, but not quietly.

Maintain neatness with equal violence.  Bush hog and drip-torch.

I will clear trails, fully aware that I will do so again and again and again, ’til death do us part.  Whether she or Mother, it matters not.

I will mow the fields even though I know what hides the rattlesnake also feeds the butterfly.

Because a thousand disappointed butterflies are better than one disappointed Redhead.

A Good Cup of Coffee

A Good Cup of Coffee

I made a semi-annual visit to my cardiologist a few days ago.  Semi-annual because my family tree has heart-rot, and this fellow has made it his personal challenge that I not die on his watch, at least of any cardio-related illnesses.  I sometimes think if I got hit by a truck it would take some of the pressure off him.

The worst part of these exams is the prerequisite blood work.  They are “fasting labs,” meaning that I am not supposed to let anything other than water cross my lips after midnight.  Doable except for one small detail:  they always schedule the blood-letting mid-morning.

I have mentioned here before that I am an early riser.  I can skip breakfast, but I absolutely require one thing.  Coffee.  Hot, black, strong, and now.

I always survive until the appointed time, but let’s just say I am not good company.

Blood-suckers satisfied, I always treat myself.  I head for the nearest Waffle House.

I was working on my second cup, waiting for a fried egg sandwich (take that cardiologist), when I glanced at the parking lot.  A lady was hobbling toward the door, struggling to manage the trip on crutches.  Her knee-high cast looked brand new.

I got up and opened the door for her.

“Oh, thank you so much.  I’m really scuffling to get used to these things.”

I told her it was no problem at all.  Glad to help.

I know a little about navigating with crutches.  Surgeries on both feet and a knee.  My first go-round was interrupted when I fell down some stairs.  Broke my right wrist and my left elbow.  The surgeon said, “you are not supposed to go down stairs on crutches.”

Thanks Doc., I kind of figured that out.

I helped the lady get seated at a booth and went back to my coffee.

When I finished my third cup and sandwich, I went to the front to settle-up.

“It’s been taken care of, sir.”

It didn’t register.  I just stood there.  I think I even offered the money again.

“No, your bill has already been paid.”

Dumbfounded, I was nearly outside before it registered.

“You didn’t need to do that ma’am.”

“My pleasure.  Now you have a blessed day.”

I did have a blessed day, mostly from a renewed faith that there are still some very nice folks hobbling along in an increasingly self-centered, broken society.

They say that coffee isn’t good for you.

I think they are wrong.  It was good for me.

The Narrow Gate

The Narrow Gate

I have driven past the church hundreds of times.  Perched on top of a little open spot in the woods, it hardly merits a glance, unless of course you like to look at old wood-framed country churches.

I do.

Today is a Saturday, and I’m in no hurry to get back to a never-ending series of projects at the homestead.  The roof is leaking again.  A rotting facia board needs to be replaced.  Bare ground where holly and yaupon have been ripped out of the front flower bed, awaiting azaleas and camellias that haven’t even left the nursery.  Seems like a fine time to stop and give this church a more thoughtful consideration.

It is well-kept.  Not a blemish to be found.  Not even any peeling paint.  I have stopped to look at a lot of these old structures in my travels across Alabama, and this one may be the best-maintained I have ever seen.

A sign out front tells a story.  Back in 1905, a group of nine Presbyterian pilgrims left a brush arbor to build a sturdier place of worship and a cemetery on this site.

I have driven by here on Sunday before.  Nine members look about right.  Maybe three cars and a couple of old pickup trucks in the parking lot.  If Preacher Calvin was correct, it would seem the Good Lord hasn’t done a whole lot of “choosing” in this spot over the last 113 years or so.

I walk around back to the cemetery.  Like the building, it is neat as a pin.

I am captivated by the two columns at the entrance, which the sign indicates were added in 1930.  Tallapoosa field-stone, probably gathered from a congregant’s field not too far down the road.  Angels carved from Sylacauga marble, the quarry a day’s wagon trip if the mules had a pleasant disposition and momma didn’t dawdle among the sundries at the dry goods store.

I step for a closer examination.  I am transfixed.

angel

The finger is pointed at me, left hand beckoning through the gate to the markers beyond.

“Come on in traveler.  There’s a quiet spot right over there.  Enter and join the community of the dead, those who lie in wait of ‘The Shout and the voice of the archangel.'”*

I consider the proposition for a moment, then I’m back in my truck, boot heavy on the accelerator.

All of a sudden those chores at the homestead aren’t looking too bad.

 

*From The Holy Bible, 1 Thessalonians 4:16.

The Time in Between

sunrise 2

Sunrise at the homestead.  The best time of day.

I walk out on the back porch, as I do every day.  I am a daybreak riser.  My two bulldogs are not.  I get no acknowledgment.  Nary a lifted head.

I reckon some are just not morning people — or morning dogs, as it were.

I like to pause for a minute, even if it is just a minute.  A lot of years went by since I could appreciate this.  No man-made noise.  A turkey gobbles on the next ridge.  On a really good day, I can hear two more respond to his challenge.

I can’t stay long.  Miles to travel.  Things to get done.  Bills to be paid.

sunset

Sunset at the homestead.  The best time of day.

I walk to the back porch.  The bulldogs show their better nature.  The oldest moans like a broken-hearted man.  The other just smiles.  They know intuitively that they are going to get a jaunt down to the creek or get fed.  It is a win-win, either way.

This has been a long time coming.  Dark soon.  No man-made noise.  A coyote howls on the next ridge.  On a really good night, I can hear two more respond to the challenge.

As I write this, it occurs to me that it is the space in between these two times that kill a man.  They call it “stress” today.  In the olden times they just called it “livin’.”

A friend recently asked me if I had a “bucket list.”  I said I didn’t.  She looked at me as if I had shot her horse right out from under her.

Well why not for goodness sake?

Just don’t.  Never given it that much thought.

I think, though, that I may change my mind.

I think I would like to see the best time of day as many times as I can.

 

Tender Age in Bloom

dafodils

Too soon.

Redbud and plum, a scattering of color along the roadside.  Daffodils in clumps,  revenants in the side-yard where someone once lived.  Red, the ugly cousin of Sugar, right behind.  Sweet yellow jasmine draped over yet-bare limbs, the witch’s apple to awakened bees.  Tender buds swell — buckeye, gum and poplar.  Sap rises, the pump that fuels the engine of life.  Soon muck-bottoms will no longer hold a boot print.

Easy for a man to walk along, whistling Satchmo:

When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbin’ along, along
There’ll be no more sobbin’ when he starts throbbin’ his old sweet song

Wake up, wake up, you sleepy head
Get up, get out of your bed
Cheer up, cheer up; the sun is red
Live, love, laugh, and be happy

Too soon.

February is not the time for these things, even in the Heart of Dixie.  What comes in like a lamb goes out like a lion.

Mother is hard on the tender things.  She entices and devours with the same toss of her head and a crooked smile.

The promise will be broken.

Purple and yellow blossoms scattered on the ground.  .

Irish Eyes

mayme ballentine george

I rather like this old photograph.  A portrait of a young Irish girl taken in the 1880’s.  Something familiar in the expression, especially in the eyes.  A touch of melancholy.

Her name was Mary Ellen Ballentine, but everyone called her “Maime.”

Census records show that her father John and mother Anne Kelly arrived on separate ships during a time the Irish called “The Great Hunger.”  Anne Kelly was only two years old, so her memories of the Emerald Isle were little more than the songs and poems of her homeland:

When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood,
God bless’d the green island and saw it was good;
The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone,
In the ring of the world the most precious stone.
In her sun, in her soil, in her station thrice blest,
With her back towards Britain, her face to the West,
Erin stands proudly insular, on her steep shore,
And strikes her high harp ‘mid the ocean’s deep roar.

Perhaps Anne passed this lyrical tradition to her daughter, Maime.

The 1880 census shows that John and Anne were married in January of 1869.  They settled in the little town of Whistler, Alabama.  He was 34 and she was 21.

A young bride might make a man whistle on his way to the blacksmith shop in Mobile.

Maime would follow a path much like her mother.  She married a man 15 years her senior, a carpenter named Anguish George (no easy delivery, that one.)  Anguish gave her three children, but didn’t hang around long.  Dropped dead in his yard from a heart attack before they called them heart attacks.

Maime moved across Mobile Bay to Fairhope.  Most Alabamians know the place.  A quaint little tourist town inhabited by writers, artists and those who have more money than God.

But I’m guessing Fairhope wasn’t quite that way in 1920.

Maime was a single-mother with three young children.  Tough row to hoe in any day.  She became a telephone operator with AT&T.  Probably the first on the east side of Mobile Bay.  She continued to raise her little family by herself.  The oldest child would someday graduate from the University of Alabama, an unlikely debutante.   The second daughter died in a horrible accident as a child.  The third, a rather boisterous, mischievous boy, would test her patience.  But he turned-out well, a baker and bread-delivery man with a love for bawdy little songs, poems, and limericks that would make a Baptist openly cringe but secretly smile.

Maime spent her days trying to make ends meet with her day job.  But she liked to write in her free time.  She was a member of a Fairhope ladies’ group, “The Scribbler’s Club.”

I’ve read her journals.  They ramble.  A poem here.  An observation there.  Writing from some undefinable need.  Writing for the writer.  Readers not necessarily the end-game.

You learn a lot about yourself when you start turning over the stones of your past.

Ancestry.com took my DNA and showed me that I’m 48% Irish, and not English as I always presumed.

The story of my great-grandmother Maime showed me why my mother feels a need to write, and I as well.

So here’s another post in a little blog about nothing, indelibly linked to some yellowed journal-pages from the past.

I hope someone out there enjoys the read.

If not, that’s okay.  It’s in my DNA.

*The Emerald Isle, by William Drennan, the first known usage of that phrase to describe Ireland.