Saturday, September 26, 2009

Love Is the Theme

A diverse gathering of folks from 23 states brought musicians, teachers, university administrator and professors, prison teacher, doctors, housewives, preachers, nurses, sales people, office workers, farmers, banker, dentist, computer specialists, journalists, social workers, and no telling what else together again. Most are now retired or semi-retired. Hugs, the loud chatter of nearly 100 voices catching up on news with friends, beautiful music, a few tears, and lots of laughter for two days is both exhilarating and exhausting. Despite our diversity, we were unified by our love for each other and for Jesus and his teachings.

Our 87-year-old leader was there with short curly hair from her recent chemo. She said the illness might have slowed her down physically but mentally she was still in good shape. Most significant to us, her incredible sense of humor was functioning in top form. Maybe I should say her outrageous sense of humor. Only Helen Green Galloway could get away with the constant quips, digs, barbs, and quick-witted responses that she serves up in her unique style each year. I am sure the young man across from me at the supper table was as amazed by her as we all are when he described her master-of-ceremony style as fabulous. Her humor makes it easy to forget the hours of hard work (physical and mental) she has done for all of us for the past seven years after she replaced the late Maurice Swinford as president.

We were gathering for the annual reunion of alumni from Southern Illinois University Carbondale from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s who once upon a time participated in the activities of what then was called Baptist Student Union. This event started with four or five couples who somehow got together one morning over donuts while someone had a garage sale. That story always includes the explanation that the late Bob Hastings passed on the donuts to eat Rinnie Spencer’s cornbread left over from the night before. They had so much fun that they decided to meet annually. The crowd soon outgrew their homes. This year we met in Carbondale, and Thursday evening was in the Baptist Student Center to acquaint us with activities available for today’s collegiates.

Helen plans for the opening gathering to be a fun evening. This year featured four clowns who had us laughing hysterically as we sang along with them. We did sober up for serious and inspiring remarks by Chase Abner and Linda Auxier although Helen could not resist flirting with good-looking Chase. We enjoyed the lovely music by the Korean Singers under the leadership of Yunduk Kim, and we were also rewarded with the annual vocal selections by Jim and Rosie Robinson.

The next morning we met early for breakfast and more visiting at the University Baptist Church. There we were greeted with recycling bins in the back parking lot. Signs on the hall walls pointed the way to the food pantry, the clothing closet, the library. Folks were coming and going to reap those benefits, and our group joined in directing people to the help spots. Mid-morning we moved to the dignified sanctuary with windows of blue and red and bits of yellow that I remembered from my college days. On the outside, the windows are quietly dark and subdued; I had forgotten how lovely that sanctuary was with light flowing through those windows.

Now we were treated to a concert directed by Rayford Raby by the New Chapel Singers. Their music always seems incredible since they have only two rehearsals during our reunion. But Rayford is a director with both extraordinary ability and good-nature, and many of the singers are gifted musicians. Rayford’s wife Martha helps make sure everything goes smoothly for the group, and Helen Ruth Dillow accompanies with grace and talent. Don Dillow made us think deeply as we commemorated those who had died this past year, and Doris Taylor Bush filled the sanctuary with her gorgeous piano medley as we reflected on lives well spent.

During our two days, we listened to our fellow attendees tell stories of a mobile feeding unit working near ground zero for eleven months in New York City, teaching GED classes in the inner city, teaching college classes in a women’s prison, helping clean up after storms, taking medical care to other nations, roofing homes of needy folk, and, of course, how delightful their grandchildren and great grandchildren were--with photos to illustrate.

After a bountiful noon meal, we heard an inspiring sermon by Nate Adams urging us to be the conduits of God’s love flowing down from the mountain top to thirsty humanity. Then we had to say goodbye.

Next year we will meet at the First Baptist Church of Vandalia since Helen recruited Ginger Wells from there to be our new president. Helen does intend to continue the newsy website she started for us. Her servant mentality reflects what we were all taught by parents, leaders, and pastors long gone from this earth, but who were brought to mind as we met with those we’d shared our youth with. Gerald will be relieved as secretary-treasurer by Rosie Robinson, Ginger’s college roommate, so Ginger said they knew they could work together. Helen also has the ability to get others to do what she wants them to do. Hence, I am blogging about our reunion again this year.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Summer's Ending

Our neighbor’s tall green wall of corn lining our lane became variegated some weeks ago. The green separated the brown top tassels from the three feet of brown on the bottom of the stalks. When we got back from Georgia, the wall was all brown. Before we even returned to Woodsong that evening, Gerald had to drive up to Brian’s fields to see if the soybeans were brown, and they were almost there. Some farmers have started harvest, and Brian and Trent were down to their camper this weekend preparing for that event soon. The tomato plants are still producing, but not so much that I have to fill bags of tomatoes to share as I did a few weeks ago. School is well underway, and sweaters are needed some evenings as autumn approaches.

When I drove into our village on Thursday, I was surprised to see flags flying up and down the roads. I tried to remember what holiday it was since volunteers only put the flags up for special events. As I drove further into the heart of the village, I saw yellow ribbons on the flag poles and in people’s yards. Then I remembered reading on Facebook the night before that Jeremy Truitt, one of our Crab Orchard young men, was safely home from Iraq. Sure enough there was a large banner in front of one business welcoming Jeremy back home and giving a date for a celebration at the school in his honor.

I do not know Jeremy or his family, but I was touched with the love the community was showing, and it was easy to imagine the gratefulness and relief his family knows that he is back home. By the time I reached the Methodist church where I was to speak on the Trail of Tears to the lunch bunch there, I was wiping tears away and having to get my emotions under control. Today I learned young friends must drive to St. Louis tomorrow to meet their nephew coming in for his great grandmother’s funeral and also for a last leave before he ships out for Iraq. I know this young man and remember how he worked with younger children in Vacation Bible School just a few years ago before their family moved to the East. All is not well when our young people must be initiated into adulthood by going through such terrible dangers and deprivations.

It seems to me that there is also an unusual amount of surgeries and illnesses going on in our community—so much so that I can hardly keep the events in my head. My sister’s daughter down in Texas had surgery while we were away. The day before we left, my brother and wife came by briefly. They had come down the night before because both her brother and her sister were seriously ill in an area hospital. By now her sister will be back in the hospital for surgery. Our beloved oldest member of our congregation was to have back surgery and tonight we have learned that first she must have gall bladder surgery. Our neighbor from the farm across the road phoned from the hospital last night, and at that point I realized that the date for her scheduled surgery had come while we were away. And I just learned that another further away neighbor, who had done well for years following a stroke, is not doing well now. While some folks are old enough that we can expect their health to begin to deteriorate, many on our church prayer list for cancer and other illnesses are young.

Because we have such material abundance in our nation, it is easy to forget that without good health, the wealth means nothing. Although I mention material abundance, I am not forgetting that so many of our citizens have lost their jobs that they feel anything but wealthy right now. And I know there are way too many people in our nation living in shelters or even on the street. Yet in comparison to a large proportion of the world’s population, our people are still rich with electricity, plentiful running water, indoor plumbing, and community food banks. Nevertheless, if you have no job or hope of one and you are afraid of losing your home and having to move in with relatives or to a shelter, the mind must focus on what you do not have or how to cope with an uncertain future. You will probably be more likely to worry about how to pay the electricity bill than to appreciate having electricity.

How do we handle all the misery all around us? I heard a psychologist on television today point out that we humans often turn away and deliberately do not see unpleasantness because it is so painful and upsetting to see the problems around us. I know that I do. Not seeing is one way of coping. Are there better ways?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Softball Players Wear Pink for a Cause

We left Georgia in the rain this morning, and Gerald had rough driving off and on throughout the day as rain stopped and started. Sometimes it only sprinkled, and sometimes the downpour and fog in the mountains made visibility quite a strain. We are glad to be back at Woodsong, reviewing the mail, emails, and answering machine messages and happy the roofer completed the repair necessitated by the May dere

A final day in Georgia was extremely rewarding. Gerald and I drove up to Dahlonega, where the first gold rush in America occurred. We visited the beautiful 1836 courthouse built on the square there in the middle of Cherokee land after Georgia had given the land to whites through gold and land lotteries. The Dahlonega Gold Museum is now in this ancient courthouse building that was used by Lumpkin County until 1966 when a new courthouse was built. Even the locally manufactured bricks used for the building have flecks of gold clearly seen on the unpainted bricks leading to the attic. The friendly knowledgeable guides shared a great deal of local history as did the film we saw sitting on beautiful ancient metal chairs once used by the young military trainees at North Georgia College.

More amazing to me, however, was a framed letter on the wall written to local residents Daniel and Rachel Davis on January 1, 1838. It was written by their son Martin Davis, who was a supply officer on the Trail of Tears. Full of facts, the letter was written from Jonesboro, Illinois, my home town. As soon as I find out what detachment Martin Davis worked with, I will know which detachment suffered the blow-up of the Golconda steam ferry, something I have wanted to know. That explosion injured many and killed one white and one Cherokee, the letter explained.

After the very satisfying visit to Dahlonega despite the heavy rains throughout the day, we phoned Watkinsville to see Geri Ann’s game was cancelled. It had not rained there, and the game would go as scheduled at 5:55. (Evening games must start before six o’clock.) We got back to the high school park in plenty of time. Pink balloons were flying, and all the team were wearing their pink shirts as part of their benefit game to fight breast cancer. Many of the adults wore them also.

I’d already put in my donation on the admission table where a basket was waiting. The coach motioned us to the fence to whisper that Gerald might want to get his camera because our daughter-in-law Vickie was chosen to throw in the first pitch. Typically, Vickie had not told us she was being honored. She threw a great pitch and her youngest daughter Geri Ann was designated to catch it.

We had rejoiced with Vickie recently that she was through her last chemo and had been allowed to ring the bell in celebration at the hospital. She is an excellent poster girl for breast cancer because despite the March surgery and all the unpleasant treatment she has been through since then, she has not missed a beat in taking care of her daughters, her husband, her home, her dog, or her grandsons. She amazes us and fills us with pride at her upbeat attitude and calm confidence. She looks and acts great.

The rain had now arrived at Watkinsville, and the early sprinkles kept increasing until fans were seeking shelter, and I was grateful for the umbrella put up on my chair. Geri Ann was scheduled to pitch this game. Since it was with a regional team (conference team we call it in Illinois), everyone wanted the game to finish, but it had to go for five innings to be considered a complete.
We were soon far ahead and the coach was letting players have a chance to bat, who do not always get to do so. When it thundered in the fourth inning, we held out breath lest lightning call the game to a halt. We kept successfully batting and the rain became harder and harder. Finally the fifth inning arrived with the score 8-0 with the guest team batting last. Oconee High quickly shut the guests down, and Geri Ann was able to complete a perfect game.

We met up at the house to dry off and go to dinner at a local steakhouse before we visited for the final evening and retired to rest before our return trip to Woodsong this morning.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Visiting in Georgia

Kudzu-covered trees line the roadways with leafy green cathedrals. Eye lids close against our will against our will in the heavy September heat and we shake ourselves back awake. We are in
Georgia to watch grandaughter Geri Ann and the Oconee High School softball team.

Two opening games Friday at the annual Veteran Memorial Park Invittional were comfortably cool, but the three Saturday games were played in more typical sun-burning weather. Thanks to the large umbrellas Gerald has attached to our game-side chairs, I avoided the red face I saw on many by the end of the day.

The invitational hosted by Oconee North and Oconee County was not a traditional tourney with winners, but rather an opportunity for fourteen high schools attending from throughout the state to each meet five other teams at the four-field complex there on the outskirts of Watkinsville and Athens. For us it was an opportunity to acquaint ourselves with this year's team and to see Geri Ann's two home run bombs on Friday evening. And it was great seeing Courtney and Geri Ann pitch again.

After winning our first four games, it was a disappointment when our team lost the fifth game. We ended seven scoreless innings only to have Effingham's Lady Mustangs break the tie 2-0 at the end of the eighth inning. Our girls' desire to win was strong. As the loss sunk in and our girls realized what those last few minutes of play had wrought, there were some misty eyes and sagging spirits. We felt all those same emotins with our team. Nevertheless, Gerald and I have watched enough softball to not only feel girls' pain when they lose but to know our hurt has provided happiness to the other team, whom we would love too if we had a chance to know them.

That night the girls shrugged off the loss and gathered at the home of one of the players to watch the University of Georgias Bulldogs play South Carolina. Gerald and Gerry hurried to the stadium to join over 90,000 seeing the game there, and Vickie and I watched on the screen in the comfort of home. The day in the heat caused me to do as much napping as watching, but I saw the exciting ending with UGA winning 41-37. I was glad the Oconee girls had a winning game at the end of the day when Vickie left to collect Geri Ann. By now we were able to remember the four games won by a large margin as well as the final loss.

Yesterday we worshipped together singing our desire to embrace praise and justice. We rejoiced that love and grace comes flowing down from the One whose hands and feet were nailed to a tree. Then the pastor taught us we were made in the image of the Creator. He had made us wonder that we have to keep the doors of our cars and homes locked to keep out our fellow man created in God's likeness. Then he abruptly ended his sermon and the service with a question to ponder the rest of the day: What went wrong?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Holiday's Over

Our weekend was indeed special with the Archibalds, Taylors, and Leslie and her boyfriend Michael visiting. It was not as good as it would have been if Katherine had been well enough to come out to the farm or if Vickie and Geri Ann had been able to come visit Gma Shirley as planned, but that trip from Georgia was not to be. A last-minute softball practice for yesterday was called, and that reduction in the weekend ended their plans to drive up. Everyone was bummed, but I am sure the unexpected weekend at home was more restful than the long trip up here from Georgia.

Yet I know Vickie and Geri Ann wanted to see everyone—especially Gma Shirley (Vickie’s mother) as well as Geri Ann’s sister Tara and husband Bryan and nine-month-old Maddux and three-year-old Aidan. We all felt bad for Shirley since she can’t travel to Georgia and other places because she is so conscientious to take good care of her very sick little sister Janice. Shirley now stays next door with Janice since their elderly mother died in May.

When Gerry and Vickie were dating, Vickie’s family and her grandparents and Janice lived in adjoining homes on down the road from us and around a corner and down that road—not close enough to be called neighbors even in a rural community—but still close to us. In fact, during high school days, Gerry sometimes visited and courted Vickie and her entire family by riding his horse down to their place on a Sunday afternoon. So when Gerry and Vickie come up from Georgia, it is easy to see both families during the same trip. But sadly, only Shirley and Janice remain in the two-home family compound that had eight back then in those high school days. Nevertheless, Shirley had Vickie’s brothers and families in for her famous chicken and dumplings for Tara’s family even though Vickie and Geri Ann could not come. Aidan played baseball with his cousin Drew, a high school athlete, and he felt big indeed, and Tara caught up on the Johnson clan news. And everyone got to take turns holding and loving on Maddux, who Tara says is the lover in the family.

Although he can cry if disturbed enough, Maddux is usually smiling. He immediately stole Gerald’s heart when thet arrived Saturday by not only by smiling and cuddling continuously with him but by reaching up his little mouth to repeatedly kiss his great grandfather.

Gerald had been so excited to know Aidan would finally have time to dig in the lime pile here at Woodsong. He had bought Aidan a little digger after their last visit. That time Aidan wanted to work, and he kept the whole crew of grown-ups busy. He dragged shovels and hoes out of Gerald’s shop to put people to work on that lime pile. When his mother showed up and there were no more shovels, he dragged out the heavy post hole digger and handed it to Tara. “Here,” he said, “You use the nabdabber.” No one was sure where he got that name for that tool, but somehow it seemed to fit. After he wore all of them out and they began sneaking away, I came outside and he had us climb into the “mule.” He wanted me to drive it, but I honestly told him I had forgotten how. He snorted disgustingly, “Well pretend.” And pretend we did for the next half hour.

So in preparation for this visit, Gerald had our little red wagon, the new Aidan-size shovel he had bought him and the digger all ready for Aidan’s use. Despite the rains throughout the weekend (especially heavy Saturday night), there were sunny spells that allowed Aidan to use the tools Gerald had ready for him, and I suspect Gerald enjoyed the play even more than Aidan.

Leslie and Mike arrived right before midnight on Saturday after being in a church retreat in Nashville all day, so we were pleased Sunday morning to be able to hear Leslie sing a new song she had written at church. Leslie cautioned us not to ask Mike to play guitar because he would want to so badly, but he cannot right now because of tendonitis. Weight lifting and guitar playing had done a number on him, and he is in therapy to regain proper use of his arms for his passion for guitar.

The Taylors were down from Waggoner for a late Sunday dinner, and we had a relaxing afternoon and evening. When Tara’s family returned from Gma Shirley’s, Aidan was fascinated by teenage Trent’s Stitch hat, which he entertains us with at holidays. (Maddux thought it was scary.) Trent was wonderful giving Aidan lots of stories and attention, and Brianna played Candy Land with Aidan. Everyone wanted their turn with Maddux.

Somehow the old worn-out Sorry game was found; and after the kids got it out, all the men (Brian, Bryan, and Gerald) ended up at the dining room table playing Sorry. Tara was there for part of the game when she did not have to stop and take care of Maddux or talk softball on the phone with Gerry. I had not seen Gerald play Sorry since Erin was a preschooler, when we played many a game at the old farm house under her directions. Bryan was as competitive at Sorry as he was at football. He was a stickler for the correct rules and Gerald griped. However, after he won, I figured he may have liked the real rules better than Erin’s changing rules—which I think probably let her win most of the time. Everyone was missing Erin since her birthday is coming up. They wanted her at the farm to celebrate, but she was in class yesterday as Texas A&M did not take off for Labor Day.

People slept as late as they wanted yesterday and had cereal and fruit or whatever they could find as they came to the kitchen table. Some fished, rode the mule, took paddle boat rides, or texted friends. And there was plenty of time to visit. At noon there were 10 of us at the dining room table for ham with biscuits and gravy, fresh corn-on-the cob and garden tomatoes and all the left-overs from previous meals. (Brian was not at the table because he was up on the other farm spraying with his fancy new spray rig. He came in mid-afternoon sunburned but happy.) After dinner the packing of cars had to begin. Sweet corn was bundled up to return with them to the city. By late afternoon everyone was gone again their separate ways. Woodsong was so quiet.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Busy Week

The first Wednesday of the month is always busy for me since it is senior citizens day at Krogers and I try to do as much of my shopping for the month as possible in order to get the discount they give us old codgers. I usually bump into someone I have not seen in a long time and that is both a pleasant bonus but also a time user. Then I have to put all those groceries away or at least carry them in the house and make sure the freezer and fridge items are taken care of properly. (The others sit in bags on the kitchen floor if the cabinet top becomes full.) Then the first Wednesday also usually brings our board meeting for the Illinois Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, which usually means a trip to nearby Carbondale but sometimes car pooling up to O’Fallon with other members to make the traveling more fair for the two members north of here.

This was a Carbondale month (most are), so I found myself cramming in a couple other tasks that day. One was finishing a project in the preschool room at our church house. I needed to do that in order to get supplies out of the trunk of my car, so I could fill the trunk with groceries instead. Gerald is always a little amazed at how I collect things in the car, but there is always logic to what I carry in an effort to be more efficient. (Why carry things into the house to clutter the house when the stuff is going someplace else? Why not carry things I need to take some place just in case I find myself traveling by where the stuff needs to be taken? I try not to make extra trips to recycle since I assume any extra traveling might cancel out the advantage to the environment that I am trying to gain by recycling. I did finish both extra projects on Wednesday, but I did not get books back to the village library or the other four or five errands on my to-do list. I had to finish them yesterday and today. (I just phoned the library to renew the books.)

Yesterday with help I got the garage cleaned out, which made me feel good since it had been a couple years since it had a thorough cleaning. The lady who helped me could not refrain from commenting that I was like her daughter—I saved everything. Yes, the teacher in me can’t resist saving things I may use to teach with or to have when grandchildren say, “Grandma, we need jars for catching fire flies.” Or frogs or whatever.

I put away a few groceries yesterday and today, and in a minute I will go finish putting the rest away. By now I have bought more from other stores. I bought the last fresh peaches the stand had—all five of them. Gerald has brought in apples from an orchard and fresh corn that he shucked for us awhile ago into a huge bowl. I put the watermelon in the downstairs fridge, the two cantaloupe from Posey County, Indiana, in the tiny fridge in the garage, but I have no idea how I am going to make room for all that sweet corn. But I will. I have roasts thawing in the fridge to put in the oven in the morning. All the beds have clean sheets.

Four sets of family company are coming. Some may arrive tonight. Some may start from Chicago area in the morning. One car is arriving at midnight tomorrow. The Taylors are coming and will probably sleep in the camper at the other farm—except I am sure Brianna and Geri Ann will want to sleep together here and catch up on their giggling and high school news. I am not sure who will be eating here or when as they visit other family members, but I am ready with luncheon meats and ideas to make sure no one goes hungry. Busy weeks are good weeks. And the weekend will be good as well.