Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Turning Thanks"

On this Thanksgiving eve I am reflecting upon the anticipation and excitement I had for this holiday when growing up. We would get up early and make the two hour trip from our home in Georgetown, KY to my grandparent’s farm near London, KY. I always loved the activities of my grandfather’s farm. Upon our arrival we could find my grandmother busy at work in the kitchen. My grandmother was a wonderful cook. My favorite food she made on thanksgiving was cornbread dressing complete with onions and celery and spices and of course the giblets. For those of you who are unsophisticated, giblets are the edible inner organs of a foul typically including the heart, gizzard, liver and the neck. It’s the stuff you find wrapped up or bagged up and stuffed into the inner cavity of your thanksgiving bird. My grandmother always made the dressing into patties and then baked them and we would eat the leftover dressing patties all day as if they were candy. There was always fruit salad and for some reason my father received the task of cutting up the fruit. Usually we could find my grandfather at the tobacco barn where he would be stripping the cured tobacco leaves from the stalks in preparation for market. I would be there with him, helping, and enjoying the smell and the warmth of the fire in the potbellied stove. Since dinner was usually a little late on Thanksgiving we could get in a good half day of labor and work up a good appetite. Thanksgiving was one of the rare times my grandmother would get out her good table cloth and make use of her good silverware and china. It was one of the few times we had the privilege of sitting at the big table in the dinning room. My grandfather would take his place at the head of the table and we would each take the places assigned to us. My grandfather would then look at my father and say “Larry, turn thanks”. My father would pray and we would enjoy the feast.

This is the first thanksgiving in my 56 years that I will not be able to see or to make a phone call to my father. He will be at a different banquet table that I do not yet have access to. But when I sit down with my loved ones to enjoy our thanksgiving meal I am certain I will remember him when I “turn thanks”.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

I was six years old. I was in my first grade class room in the basement of the East Bernstadt School in East Bernstadt, KY. My teacher, Mrs. Wilma Griffith got our attention and told us the news. President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed. I do not remember much about how the class responded. Nor am I able to get in touch with the thoughts I myself would have had. I just knew that a bad thing had happened. I knew that my folks had not voted for Mr. Kennedy, though I think at least my mother would have liked to. But we were Baptist and in 1960 voting for a Catholic was a gulf that many, maybe most, Baptist could not span. Knowing what I know about the electoral preference of our county the president certainly would not have won the majority among the folks I lived around. Yet even as a six year old I sensed that people liked the president. At least they were intrigued with him. There was something fascinating about a young president with a winning smile and impressive family. It was a beautiful picture. Though people did not understand his background or his faith they enjoyed the glamour that accompanied him. Now he was gone. In one day he was gone, just gone.

This was before the days of the 24 hour news cycle but it would not have mattered anyway. We did not have a television. We got our news from the radio and the telephone and who ever might drop by to talk with us. Everybody was talking about it. The news sank in.

School was dismissed the day of the president’s funeral. My mother out of her own curiosity and probably because she wanted her children to have the educational experience made arrangements for us to watch the funeral. Our pastor, Rev. E. P. Whitt had a television. Pastor Whitt and his wife Sylvia lived in a house trailer in the back yard of the New Salem Baptist Church. Mother piled all four of us in the car and took us to pastor Whitt’s home. There sitting on the floor in the living room of a house trailer parked in the back yard of the New Salem Baptist Church we watched the proceedings of President Kennedy’s funeral. Now isn’t that something. A group of Baptist huddled around a television on church property watching a Catholic president’s funeral. Maybe that great gulf between Baptists and Catholics could be spanned.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Experiencing a Tornado

Today I experienced a tornado. The air was warm and it grew still. I heard the warning siren. I watched the weather station reports. I tried to track the storm on my iphone. Indeed the storm was in the area. I put my shoes on and grabbed my wallet and keys. We considered going down the street to a neighbor who had a basement. But it seemed the skies were clearing around us. The dark sky had moved to the north of us. Then the wind picked up and I heard the roar. Hurriedly we got into the bathroom. The lights went out. The moment was scary but did not last long. When we emerged from our cover the skies were clear. But trees were down and the yard was filled with shingles and other debris. Neighbors soon filled the streets to inspect the damage. There were no bodily injuries to report, just frayed nerves. We all seemed to quickly realize that we had dodged the bullet, or rather that the bullet had dodged us. As best I can tell the tornado cut a path that followed the street in front of my house. It did not touch the earth but snapped the trees off about 12 to 15 foot above the ground. Everything that could be loosened was scattered by its breath. Every tree in the church yard and my yard was damaged and will need to be taken down. The fence around my yard is partially destroyed. The windshield on my truck is cracked and there is dent on the front fender. We had a moment of fear. We have been inconvenienced. But we are alive and we are well. The same cannot be said for other communities scattered across Illinois. Six people lost their lives due to tornados in Illinois today. Hundreds have suffered injuries, some have been seriously hurt. Whole neighborhoods have been wiped out. Many people had a house they called home this morning. This afternoon all they had was a pile of bricks. Their belongings and memorabilia are blown away or ruined beneath the heap. So tonight as a lay my head down to sleep I will say a prayer for my fellowmen who have been stricken by great loss this day. I will ask God to comfort and walk with them as they grieve and as they recover. And I will be quick to say a prayer of thanks that the folks in my house are safe and sound.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Big Daddy

When I was growing up going on a vacation meant we went to visit family. We did not call it vacation we just went visiting. Vacations are something you pay for and visiting meant you got free lodging and free food. Not that we were free loaders because the same family would come and visit us and be treated to the same amenities. A few times we traveled to Indianapolis, Indiana to visit my uncle John and aunt Zuma and my cousins Rhonda, Richard, and Rozi. We were so excited when they moved to Shreveport, Louisiana because that meant we could travel to a part of the nation we had never seen before. So one summer we made our reservation. We loaded up the car and began the drive from Kentucky down to Memphis Tennessee crossing over the mighty Mississippi. We drove across Arkansas and marveled at the flooded rice fields. We drove south to Texarkana and crossed over into Texas just so we could say we had done it. From there we crossed into Louisiana and took note that for some odd reason what we called counties they called parishes. Finally we arrived at our destination where we enjoyed ourselves immensely sleeping on the floor, eating free food, touring Shreveport and just “visiting.” On Sunday we attended a Baptist church which gave uncle John and aunt Zuma opportunity to show off their visitors. It was Father’s day and as custom would have it the pastor recognized the youngest father present, the oldest father present and the father with the most descendants present. Then he announced that he was going to recognize the biggest father and asked all the dads over 200 pounds to stand up. Upon standing he asked them to come to the front where he proceeded to have each take a turn on the scales. My father was always a big man and he weighed in that morning at 237 pounds which made him the biggest daddy present that morning. My brothers and sisters and I thought that was the coolest thing ever and we dubbed our father “big daddy.” We could hardly wait to get home and tell this story. We told it to everyone in the family and to everyone in town and to everyone in church who would listen to us. At least I did. For years to come many of the people at our church affectionately called my father “big daddy.”

On September 5, just two months ago, my “big daddy” died. He was indeed a big man. He was big in stature growing larger than the 237 he registered on the scales in Shreveport many years ago. He required an oversized casket. But he was a “big daddy” in many other ways as well. He was big in integrity. You could trust him. He was big in generosity. Upon examining his checkbook register it was discovered that the last check he wrote was for a church building in Haiti. He was big in love. He was big in faith. He was big in hope. He was big in encouragement. He was big in helping others. It has been a long time since that trip to Shreveport. I think on vacations you are supposed to come home with a souvenir. But I came home with a “big daddy.”

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