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Can You Go Home Again?

It’s said you can’t go home again, but I did. I sat on a pew on the right side of the church sanctuary beside the middle window. Where as a child I sat between Mom and Dad every Sunday morning for church services.

Byrdstown First Christian Church in Pickett County celebrated its centennial anniversary and invited former members to Sunday service. When I stepped inside church, my shoulders relaxed and I exhaled. The same wooden pews. Light oak pulpit, front and center. Song books in pew racks. People welcomed me and greeted me by name.

The same tall bulletin board displayed the number of church attendees the previous Sunday: 79. But on anniversary day, every pew, even the ones added with a recent addition, was filled. The following week the number posted will be over 200.

The opening hymn, “The Church in the Wildwood,” reminded me ‘No lovelier place in the dell. No spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the dale.’ Mine is a red brick building with white porch columns, where I memorized the 23rd Psalm and Mrs. Crouch required teenagers to recite a Bible verse at the beginning of Sunday school class.

Bob Emmert, the minister in the 1970s, preached. “I’m just a small thread God has woven into the tapestry of this church,” he said. Aren’t we all? A recent pictorial directory includes pictures and lists of past ministers, deacons, elders, song leaders, trustees, pianists, organists, trustees.

Dad, Taskel T. Rich, was an elder. Many Sundays he made announcements and he taught the adult Sunday school class. Early Sunday mornings at home he sat at the kitchen table holding coffee in one hand, his Sunday school teacher’s book in the other, and his Bible lay open.

As stories were told, my cousin Tootie remembered sitting on the front pew with my older brother Roger during a Christmas Eve service. After the children’s play portraying the birth of Jesus, Santa Claus walked down the aisle offering peppermint candy canes to all. While Santa stood beside Tootie, Roger pointed toward the floor and said, “He’s wearing Daddy’s shoes.” I was probably a toddler, never knew Dad as Santa, and can only imagine my skinny 6’ 2” dad saying “Ho, Ho, Ho.”

Martha remembered Mom as her Sunday school teacher. Mom told the young children to close their eyes and hold out their hands because she had treat. Martha felt something touch her hands and when she opened her eyes, she was so happy to have vanilla wafers. “Ruth always brought something for us,” Martha said. Mom gave. Sometimes a simple cookie, and most often a bouquet of flowers for the sanctuary.

For a few hours, I was home where I was baptized and married. Where I grieved for my grandparents, my parents. Where, as the current preacher said in his welcome, “Over the years, the names have changed, the hearts haven’t.” But some church members are third generation and they welcomed me home.

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Straight Line Winds Hit

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 7.18.16 AMLast Saturday night, most of us were carrying on normally, not expecting damaging weather. Husband and I hosted our supper group, friends who have gathered around each other’s dining room tables for decades. Lightning flashed. We heard, and ignored, the rain and the wind.

The lights flickered and then darkness. Of course, someone kidded that we should’ve paid our electric bill. We waited for the lights to come on. “Well, this is a first. We’ve never eaten in the dark,” someone said. I made a mental note to always use candles as part of the table decorations.

Eventually, someone turned on the flashlight on an iPhone. Using it, I found the box of candles stored under a bathroom sink. Christmas red glitter candles, white candles, fall candles. Some tall, some short. Each set on a glass plate and lit. Two under glass globes brighten the dining table.

“Luckily, I turned on the coffeemaker before dinner and we can have coffee with dessert,” I said. We cut pies, scooped ice cream, and poured coffee in the glow of candlelight. All seemed well as we talked and told stories of past times the power went off.

And then a text was received from a someone’s adult child. “Are you okay? Trees and power lines down everywhere.” The message was read aloud three times before we all listened. Another adult child sent a similar message. “Stay put. It’s bad out here.” We were being told by our children to not go out of the house. That was a turnaround from years past.

Twenty minutes later, through phone texts, we all confirmed that our children and grandchildren were safe. By candlelight, we cleared the table, scraped dishes, divvied leftovers, and took our children’s advice.

We settled on the sofa and comfortable chairs and someone told a joke. And that reminded someone of another joke and another. And soon, jokes were just a few words: “Remember that one about the train.” We laughed hard. We reminisced funny past group experiences. Hee-hawing and cackling.

During a moment of quiet, someone said, “So if we’re asked what we did Saturday night when the lights went out, we’ll say ‘Just sat around and told jokes with old friends.’ ” The evening ended. All got home safely, detouring to avoid blocked roads.

Through the night, the city employees and volunteers worked to restore electrical power and clear roads. And Sunday morning, like so many people, Daughter and Son-in-Law and their children discovered their yard covered with large limbs, branches, and twigs. They called a friend and asked to borrow his truck. He brought his truck, his chain saw, and his children. Two other families pitched in. The dads sawed, big kids carried big limbs, little kids toted branches. Hours later, the yard was cleared.

I hope such fierce winds never hit again. It’s a time Husband and I will never forget and Daughter’s family won’t either. We’ll remember the winds, the darkness, the damage, and most of all, the friends.

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The Joys of Five-Year Old Grands

downloadI don’t like that two of my Grands are having birthdays. Elaine and Dean, born one month apart, and a thousand miles from each other, are turning six. An age when some imagination and excitement wanes.

Elaine creates a family out of everything, anything. She lined up crackers on her lunch plate. “Look, Gran. It’s a daddy and mommy and three kids.” They went on an adventure in the park. They played ball and ran through a creek. The littlest kid fell and hurt his knee. “It’s okay. His mommy put a Band Aid on it,” Elaine said.

She likes to take a bath at my house to play with the yellow rubber ducks. (Those same ducks I wrote about once before.) “Do you know how a daddy duck drinks water?” my Grand asked and then she held the biggest duck’s head under water. “He gulps really big!” The mommy duck gulped just a little. “The baby can’t gulp. The mommy has to help him.” Elaine held two ducks close together, bill to bill.

Dean plays balloons. “Gran, let’s play find the balloon! I’ll go first,” he said. I closed my eyes until he shouted, “Okay, look now!” I searched his family’s living room and named places as I searched for the red balloon he had hidden. Not under the couch. Not on the table. Not in his ear. Dean laughed. I sat on the floor and pretended not to notice his jacket over the balloon beside my foot. “Gran, look!” he shouted.

“Give me a clue,” I said. He opened his eyes wide and pointed toward my foot and giggled. I lifted my foot, shook my head. Dean fell on the floor and laughed.

“Gran!” He jerked his jacket off the balloon. “I win!” he said.

Then the balloon was a ball. “Let’s count how many times we hit it,” Dean said. How many times could he and I hit it and keep it up in the air? Each time the balloon touched the floor for the next twenty minutes, my Grand said, “Let’s try again.”

Elaine and Dean are easily entertained. Read a book. They shout out words they know. Build a skyscraper with blocks or Legos or rocks. They show off their ability to count to 100. Dig in the dirt. Look for worms and bugs. Draw silly pictures with funny faces. Line up matchbox cars to race. Sort cars by color and size. Learning is fun.

And no one giggles about underwear like a 5-year-old. “Gran, don’t look. I’m taking off my underwear,” Dean said and giggled. I stood in the bathroom to supervise his bath. Another time, Elaine handed her dirty clothes to me after her bath and said, “Did you know my underwear stinks? Smell!” She snickered and ran from me.

Last week I gave Elaine her birthday present, she hugged and thanked me and then said, “Gran, did you know I’m six today?” And Dean will be in June. Shucks.

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Gran’s New Game

search-2“Mom, Gran has a new game and it’s really fun! Bingo! Have you ever played?” My 11 year-old Grand stood beside Daughter, his mother. She raised her eyebrows and looked at me. I smiled and nodded. Daughter’s five children, ages 2 – 11, had spent a half day before Christmas with Husband and me and then I took them home. We stood around Daughter’s kitchen island.

“Well, yes. A long time ago, I played,” Daughter said.

“Did you have a metal ball and twirl a handle and little white balls came out?” Lou, age 9, asked.

“Did you get peppermint candy when you won?” Five-year-old Elaine liked the candy better than the game.

“Did you put little colored circles on the numbers on your card?” Ruth, age 7, had lined up different colored markers for each column of numbers.

“I said Bingo the loudest!” Elaine said. “And Jess (her 2 year-old-brother) screamed Bingo and got candy, but he just played with the little circles.”

“Sounds like you had lots of fun with Gran’s new game. Maybe she’ll let me play,” Daughter said.

Whew. Bingo made this first cut. I had bought it to play when everyone got together at Husband’s and my house for Christmas. Eight children, age 11 and under, and their parents: Daughter, Son, and spouses. Outside is the perfect place to give everyone space. But we’d be spending some time inside. Trying out new toys. Opening gifts and eating and visiting and playing, and eventually, all would be tired and some would be cranky. I hoped Bingo would be the perfect inside game. Everyone could play and I had a big collection of prizes.

I had prepped Daughter and Son that we were ending our day with Bingo. So when the Grands began whining and fussing about whose toy was whose, I whispered, “Shhh. Anyone who’d like to win a prize come sit quietly at the dining room table to play a game.”

The five Grands who’d help me try out my new game were the first ones to the table. “Come on, you all. It’s a really fun game!” David encouraged those who were dilly-dallying. Parents teamed up to help pre-school age Grands. Toddler Grands were given only colored circles. Cards and markers were passed out.

“I’ll call a number and if it’s on your card, cover it with a colored circle. When you have a straight line of circles, say ‘Bingo.’ Then you get a prize,” I said.

The Grands’ parents deserve Academy Awards. They smiled and laughed and wished for B7 and O64. They applauded and cheered when anyone shouted, “Bingo.” They oohed and ahhed when Husband brought out the basket filled with prizes. Slinkies, stickers, decorated kitchen towels, notepads, mechanical pencils, key rings, Matchbox cars, and such.

For now, it’s Gran’s new game. Someday, I’ll tell everyone about my granny taking me to the American Legion Hall on Saturday nights to play Bingo and the prizes were money.

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Clowns – Not all Bad

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-7-10-38-amI’m sad about what’s happened to the image of clowns. I like clowns – those happy, smiling, white faced, bright red-mouthed clowns. Clowns that make people laugh and clowns that touch the heart’s soft spot.

            I know that sinister, evil clowns have appeared throughout history. All the way back to ancient Egypt to the Joker, the archenemy of Batman, and characters in Stephen King’s bestsellers. I avoid scary, evil clowns. Don’t read the books or see the movies.

During the Middle Ages, clowns, known as court jesters, performed for royalty. In the 19th century, three ring circuses travelled around the country, and sad, hobo clowns became popular. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bozo and other silly clowns entertained children. And that’s when I grew up.

Maybe it was Red Skelton that first made me like clowns. My family didn’t miss his weekly television show that began in the early 1950s, and we especially liked when Skelton took on one of his comical characters. Clem Kadiddlehopper, a big-hearted, singing country cabdriver who was a bit slow witted. Sheriff Deadeye with his thick bushy mustache and eyebrows and wearing a fringed western vest.

Freddie the Freeloader, a tramp with a blackened chin, white mouth, crushed top hat and who chewed on a cigar was my Dad’s favorite. He laughed as soon as he saw Freddie and by the end of the skit, Dad had bent double, slapped his knees, and laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks. I laughed as Dad did this week when I googled Red Skelton and watched Freddie on YouTube. And Skelton ended each show saying, “Good night and may God bless.”

Before her birth, I decorated our firstborn’s nursery with clowns and bright primary colors. I sewed curtains from fabric printed with circus clowns riding bicycles, balancing balls on their noses, rolling huge hoops. Husband painted a wooden rocking chair bright blue and the crib yellow. There was even a clown lamp and a matching light switch cover.

When our children were young school age, Husband, Son, and Daughter marched as clowns in Cookeville’s Christmas parade. They smeared Zauder’s superior Clown White on their faces and necks and painted huge red mouths. Husband wore a multi-colored wig and blue jean overalls. The kids wore traditional one piece, long sleeve, and two-colored clown outfits.

That was about the time I started a clown collection. One of my favorites is a Norman Rockwell porcelain figurine entitled The Runaway. A clown wraps his arm around a young boy’s shoulder, holds him close with one hand, and wipes his eye with the other. A black dog sits at the clown’s knees. It’s a feel-good piece. A runaway child cared for by a stranger.

Because family and friends gave me almost every clown that sits among the books on our bookshelves, I like them all. The Emmett Kelly, the traditional sad faced hobo who became one of the world’s most famous clowns, is a reminder of the depression years. I treasure a two-inch unpainted clay clown that Daughter created and the tall blue and white one blowing a horn and the cow clown. After only a few years, I announced my collection was complete. Twenty-five was enough.

The current clown panic means there probably won’t be any kids wearing clown outfits thrown together at the last minute and shouting, “Treat or Treat!” this Halloween. I agree with Stephen King’s recent tweet as reported in The Week magazine, “Time to cool the clown hysteria – most of ‘em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”

Leaving and Taking

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-6-35-24-amHusband and I are moving. Leaving the house we built. The yard we cleared of brush and saplings. The home where we raised children and welcomed Grands. Moving a short distance, only a mile. To a yard that’s much smaller than the 2.3 acres we cleared thirty-something years ago. To a house a bit smaller and making it our home.

It’s a good move. A move we’ve talked about for several years. A move that’s our choice.

We’re leaving our snow sledding hill.   Where the Grands learned to sled, learned to lean left to avoid hitting a tree, learned that their sledding turn wasn’t over until they pulled the sleds up the hill for someone else to have a turn. We’re taking the buyer’s promise that our Grands are welcome to sled anytime the hill is covered with snow.

We’re leaving the basketball goal. The goal set up on the concrete driveway before the house walls were painted. The goal that our children and Grands spent hours shooting a basketball through. We’re taking the ball and we’ll buy a portable goal.

We’re leaving the wedding steps. The outside yard steps built fourteen years ago so wedding reception guests could easily walk down our steep hill to celebrate with Daughter and Son-in-Law. We’re taking the memories and pictures of a long line of family and friends who visited as they slowly made their way down the steps to wedding punch and cake.

We’re leaving the creek. The shallow, narrow creek that’s perfect to wade in and build a dam across. To throw a leaf into and watch it float, to throw rocks into for a big splash, to gather smooth rocks, to dig in the mud. We’re taking the buyer’s welcome to come play anytime.

We’re leaving the dining room. The room where Son and Daughter-in-Law opened wedding gifts the day after their wedding while those who love them best sipped coffee and nibbled cinnamon rolls. Where Happy Birthday has been sung dozens and dozens of times. Where my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary supper and their teenage grandchildren wanted to eat and run and go to their high school’s football game. Where friends eat whatever is served – soup and cornbread or steak and shrimp. We’re taking the dining room table, the china, the silver, and making plans for family Christmas breakfast at our new home.

We’re leaving the very best ever next-door neighbors. Neighbors who watched our house and collected our mail when we vacationed and brought treats on every holiday. We’re taking their friendship.

We’re leaving trees. White oak, sycamore, tulip poplar, dogwood, maple. Trees we marked with yellow plastic strips to save from chain saws. Trees that drop brown and yellow and orange leaves. Trees where squirrels build nests and run along their branches. Trees I love. We’re taking memories of our children and the Grands jumping in just-raked leaf piles. Memories of the last yard clearing, for the year, on the day after Thanksgiving when family time was spent using leaf blowers, rakes, and huge tarpaulins to haul leaf piles to the woods.

We’re leaving a basement garage. We’re taking our cars to a main level garage.

We’re leaving one home and taking our beds, our clothes, our books, our coffeepot, and our welcome mat to a new home.

Oh, how I wish I could wave a wand to pack, move, unpack and be sitting with my knees under my writing desk. The move is good. The moving, not so good.

Special Delivery

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-15-56-pmAs Husband and I drove 1295 miles west, we wondered how much it would’ve cost to ship everything in our van. Son’s stuff that been stored at our house all his life and a few of his and Daughter-in-Law’s things. Now we were spending two and a half days travelling in a van packed to the hilt. Picture albums, quilts, treasures from grandparents, Daughter-in-Law’s great-grandmother’s desk, a Civil War rifle, a handmade cedar chest, and so much more.

For days, Husband and I gathered and wrapped and packed. We prayed for travelling mercies: good weather, safety, a sense of humor and all went as planned. We arrived at Son’s home in time to greet our five-year-old Grand as he stepped off the school bus. Dean’s eyes grew big when he saw his parents and us. He jumped down the bus steps, almost fell, and ran to my open arms. “Gran!” he shouted and threw his arms around my neck.

“What’s in your van?” Dean asked when saw it in the driveway. Things that belong to your daddy and mommy. “Any toys?”

The next day after breakfast, Husband opened the van’s doors and Son and Daughter-in-Law were surprised to see how much we’d brought. The best way I could help was to take the two younger Grands for a walk. Neil, age 3, rode his balance bike, and I pushed sixteen-month-old Annie in her stroller.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-16-38-pmWhen we returned, the van was empty and Son’s office was piled with treasures. Sitting on the floor, Dean plucked the strings on a guitar that lay across his legs. Son tightened the strings, showed Dean how to hold a guitar, and admitted he never learned to play when he got it as a young teenager.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-15-02-pmNeil grabbed a stuffed Benji, Son’s sleeping buddy when he was a toddler. Then he found two other Benjis and hugged all three. “These are mine!” Neil announced.

Chests that my dad had made were carried downstairs. The toy chest was filled with dress up clothes in the playroom; the cedar chest set at the end of a bed for guests. “It’s perfect here and I want to store quilts we aren’t using in it,” Daughter-in-Law said.

Dean discovered an orange and tan quilt that my grandmother had made and dragged it to his room. He yanked a quilt off his bed, threw it on his brother’s bed, and pulled the orange quilt onto his. “Here, Neil, you can have my old quilt,” he said.

Annie rocked in the toddler-size rocking chair that my dad made for Son almost 40 years ago. It fit her perfectly. Several times during the four days Husband and I visited, Son ‘went missing.’ He unpacked and unwrapped and reminisced, and he didn’t try to send anything back with us although I predict some things might be donated or tossed.

After we left Son’s house, he texted a picture of a 1940’s porcelain white chicken candy dish that was his grandmother’s. “Just found the little white chicken. It’s great! Some things old are new again.” I wiped sentimental tears.

When we got home, Husband found a box we forgot to take and two weeks later, I found a box in our storage closet labeled with Son’s name and “School stuff and more.” He’ll be surprised when UPS delivers a box on his doorstep. I hope he reads the autobiography he wrote when he was in the 8th grade and I wish I could be there when he opens that box.

Driving 1295 miles wasn’t just about delivering stuff. Hugs and kisses and playing can’t be measured in dollars.