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Scorcher of a day! Despite the miserable heat and the children’s occasional whining, we had a memorable afternoon.

We were in the bookstore across the road from the temple, Nephi’s Books, when Colton spied a small ceramic tree with a couple of bluebirds resting beneath it. As I stood beside him, he sounded out all the words and then looked at me with a smile. I’m paraphrasing, but the gist of the message was, “I’m so happy to be perched on this family tree.”

We stood in the aisle talking about what perched meant, and then I pointed out a limb where he was possibly located. That led to a discussion about families and their many members, some past and some present, some here and others “there,” in California, Virginia, South Carolina, and Utah.

“Just because you can’t see them, it doesn’t mean they’re not on the tree,” I said as he stared at the bluebirds and pondered my statement.

“In fact,” I continued, “In a few minutes we’re going to ride over to a different part of Columbia so we can visit Sarah Beth, one of your cousins.”

“Have I ever met her?” he asked.

“Sure, plenty of times.”

“Have we played with her?” he asked, glancing at his siblings.

“I don’t think so. She’s older. And really, she’s your second cousin.”

Realizing that was more information that he needed, I said, “Come on, let’s go find Mama and go see Sarah Beth’s new house.”

Twenty-five minutes later we seven, Carrie’s crew and I, tumbled out of the van and rang the doorbell. Sarah Beth took us on the grand tour, including a visit to the backyard. There in the far right corner stood a structure, a garage without doors, much like the one that had stood in my parents’ backyard. I knew Carrie would notice and remark on it. She didn’t disappoint. Sarah Beth said it was the first thing she’d noticed too

We walked back inside and checked out the layout of SB’s house, her huge laundry room, the itty-bitty closet in the guest bedroom, and the screened-in front porch. While we were standing in her dining room filled with unpacked boxes and a vibrant orange chair, one of the grandchildren said he wanted to have Thanksgiving there. Sarah Beth laughed that cool laugh of hers and said she had to find a table first.

We sauntered outside, and one of SB’s friends who happened to be visiting agreed to take our picture. Hot and bedraggled but happy to have shared some special moments together, we all smiled. Except for Seth, that is. We said our goodbyes, and moments later we were in the van headed towards Trotter Road.

Once there, the girls and I lazily walked over to some rocks and sat down to enjoy the scenery, including some beautiful trees flowing in the gentle breeze. Two loud helicopters buzzed over, momentarily disturbing the peace.

Beep, beep, beep I looked at my iPhone to see a message from my sister. “It’s official. We will have a new son-in-law soon.” I shared the message with Carrie and told her how auspicious it seemed to get the news while together in the temple parking lot.

A scorcher, yes, but what a day! One niece showed her cousins and aunt a new house, and another niece became engaged. Braden gave me a book, Brooke experimented with some light pink lipstick, Emma climbed a tree, Colton became better acquainted with his family tree, and Seth in his five-year-old wisdom instructed me on how to fasten his shoes.

We ate sweet vanilla ice cream, took turns sitting in Sarah Beth’s blue velvet chair, and said Cheese for the camera. But the activity on, between, and within the branches on the family tree is what sustained us.

 

 

I love Cookie. Who doesn’t? She always has a kind word and smile for everyone she meets, and that kind word is always just the right one. Last night as we stood in the lobby of Regal Cinema 16 in Sandhills after viewing Union Bound, she said, “I thought of you while watching it and was reminded of how important it is that we keep a journal.”

Cookie’s right. As I watched Union Bound, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other stories took place during that historic period of United States history and how unfortunate it is that we will likely never hear them. How many stories are playing out today that future generations will never know because no one is writing them down…or even taking the time to tell?

But first, here’s my take on last night.

We scarfed down our burgers at Five Guys and sauntered over to the theatre. Although it was thirty minutes until showtime, there were already a dozen or so people standing around in clusters, talking animatedly. We joined one of the groups and chatted a little about the event we had come to see, Union Bound. Excitement was in the air.

This wasn’t just any war movie. No, this one was based on an ancestor of a local person known to many. Although I don’t personally know the woman whose ancestor the movie was based on, I know two of her brothers-in-law. I also know that her husband is a Camden High grad of 1968. Go Bulldogs! That might not seem close enough of a connection to get the hubs and me out on a Wednesday night, but, well, it’s not every day that you get to see a local’s family represented on the silver screen.

According to the community newspaper, the Chronicle Independent, Bill Jay has always been a history buff, and knowing this, his father-in-law entrusted Bill with the diary of Joseph Hoover, his wife’s great-great grandfather. Intrigued by what he read, Bill transcribed the diary, and he and his wife Pam felt it would be a great film. They were right. Produced by Michael Davis, owner of Uptone Pictures, the story of Hoover’s escape from a prison camp in Florence, SC and his subsequent journey  North was riveting.

  • Something amusing—Before the movie began, we watched twenty minutes or so of snippets from other movies, and one included a youthful Matthew McConaughey. My friend Jeannette leaned over and said something like, “I really like him. “Me too,” I said. I then turned to my husband and reported our conversation. His only reply was, “Why?” Why???? Was he serious?
  • Something heartwarming—The turnout for the movie’s screening was wonderful. Not only was there a lot of support for the Jay family, but there was also a good bit of socializing and catching up among the movie goers.
  • Something I learned (or was reminded of) from the movie—We’re all in this together, and it’s our duty to be fair, loyal, and helpful.
  • Something reinforced by Joseph Hoover’s diary—We all have a story that needs to be told.

What’s your story? And when are you going to start recording it?

 

 

My Grandmother Padgett was a marvelous cook. Even now, I drool at the thought of her walnut pound cake and the dark chocolate covered coconut candy she served. And it wasn’t just the sweet treats she excelled in. Her roast beef, chicken and dumplings, and angel biscuits were unsurpassed.

My other grandmother, Grandmother Clyburn, was my mother’s mother, and her cooking must have been fair (like mine?) because I never heard a single person brag on it. In all my years of knowing her and being in and out of her home, I don’t recall ever tasting any of her kitchen creations except toast and eggs. She broiled the toast after smearing it with real butter, and I loved it.

I’ve come to realize that I’m a mediocre cook at best. I can do it, but I don’t look forward to it like some folks. In fact, the idea of preparing a delectable dinner with several dishes is daunting to me, and I’m wondering if that’s why I’ve gravitated towards hosting holiday drop-ins with tasty finger foods for the past couple of years.

Last week as I began putting Christmas paraphernalia away, I came across three sets of Christmas china, none of which I had used for a “sit-down” meal,” a good old-fashioned family event. What is wrong with this picture? I asked myself.

Knowing I was going to see two of my three children over New Year’s weekend, I decided to prepare a traditional meal that included black-eyed peas, greens, and cornbread. We set the time for late Sunday afternoon, and I was filled with anticipation and honestly, a little bit of dread. What if my plans for around the table sighs of gustatory delight backfired?

My daughter Elizabeth, always organized, helped me plan and gather what I’d need. With ham, rice, cornmeal, buttermilk, green beans, and spinach, we felt good confident about the meal.

That’s when the self-doubt came to call.

I felt like something was missing, so we dropped by the Piggly Wiggly  at Market Commons. They have the best deli in South Carolina, and I chose a loaded baked potato salad, a Waldorf salad, and a small chef salad to supplement our Sunday feast. Armed with the essentials for a memorable New Year’s meal, I was content.

But here’s what happened:

  • The rice that I had so cleverly prepared with chicken broth was a solid, gummy mass of goo. Apparently, I forgot to burn off the burner.
  • The ham was incredibly salty. Also, I had heated and added a glaze that was much too spicy. Live and learn, right? I won’t be doing that again.
  • The Waldorf salad had too much celery, and I removed each tiny piece of it and then added a sliced banana for that mellow taste. Everything was fine until little Ethan announced that he didn’t like the “white things” on his apples. Despite his mother’s reminders that he liked coconut, he couldn’t be persuaded to eat one bite.
  • The green beans in the steamer bag were so green that they looked almost artificial. They were waxy and chewy and tasteless, the latter because  because I forgot to add seasoning.
  • The loaded potato salad that looked and tasted so good after being warmed in the oven for a few minutes became a soupy mess after being forgotten for another half hour.
  • The cornbread was so-so without my mother’s cast-iron frying pan to bake it in.
  • The chef salad that was supposed to add some texture and color to the menu remained uneaten in its festive bowl. Without a drop of salad dressing in the house, the dish was unappealing.
  • The Star Wars cookies Elizabeth made were colorful and yummy.
  • I had planned to prepare spinach, but well, why waste the time?

My idea of having a traditional around the table meal panned out. We used plates that had once been my mother’s, and we decorated the table with Christmas items that had not yet been put away. The scene was pretty. But the food. Well, it was so unappetizing that the experience has helped me come up with my word for the year: IMPROVE.

Improve in cooking, writing, loving, painting, teaching, helping, and every other area of my life. Vying for first place was learn, but since that’s something I already make it a point to do every day, improve wins the day.

Has anyone else decided upon a word to guide behavior, thoughts, and feelings this year? If so, what is it? And why or how did you decide on it?

In my previous post, I mentioned an object lesson from one of Sunday’s classes that made such an impression on me that I went to Wal-Mart in search of some children’s wooden blocks. Someone on Facebook asked what the blocks demonstrated, and I told her I’d follow up with details later.

Later is now. Now is the time to share what the significance of the blocks. But first, here’s part of the original post.

“In the final meeting of the day, the teacher shared ideas about making homes places of order, refuge, protection, and holiness. I was already familiar with everything she said, and yet there was something about the spirit in the room that caused me to sit up and take notice.

“Throughout her lesson, I kept looking at a collection of children’s building blocks that she had on the table. What was their purpose? 

“Anne, the teacher, built a wall with the blocks, an object lesson that literally rocked my world. I told my husband about it last night, and something in the story prompted him to wash the dishes! I shared it with my daughter Elizabeth, and even she, a teacher, was impressed. I’m going to buy some wooden blocks and carry out he activity with my grandchildren soon. It was that good!”

Anne asked the class what kinds of things a person could do to add a sense of order, refuge, protection, and holiness to her home. At first, there were customary answers of prayer, Family Home Evening, and keeping the Sabbath holy. Each time someone spoke up, Anne added a block until she had four lined up in a straight row.

As the moments passed, the responses reflected more of the day-to-day living that takes place in a household. For example, someone said that attitudes, both good and bad, were contagious and that if a person made more of an effort to smile instead of pout or complain, that might help the overall spirit.

  •  “And what about having more of an attitude of gratitude? It’s really irksome when I prepare a meal and people complain about it.”
  • “I encourage the kids to share–and to just spend more time with each other.”
  •  “Things would be better at my house if my children did what I asked them to do the first time. By the time I’ve  asked them three times, my patience is wearing thin, and I just about lose it! That can’t be good for creating a refuge, much less a place of holiness.”
  •  “We don’t watch R-rated movies, not because we’re prudes but because we don’t want that spirit in our home.”
  •  “We have dinner together whenever possible.”
  •  “Music. Beautiful music wafting throughout the house, that’s what we do.”
  •  “What I think makes things smoother is when we help each other out with chores. Without being asked,  sometimes one of the kids will empty the dishwasher or set the table for a sibling.”
  •  “How about just saying something nice, something complimentary to a family member?”
  •  “Since we’re talking about it, everyone likes to hear ‘I love you.’”
  •  “We limit TV time.”

Each time someone made a comment, the teacher added another block. Within a couple of minutes, she had four rows of horizontal and vertical blocks, a structure that resembled a wall. As the class looked at this simple design, Anne added that if each person did the things that had been shared, we could all have a wall of order, protection, refuge, and holiness between our homes and the world.

There are bullies, pornography, drugs, rejection, disappointment, heartache, meanness, evil, and Satan enticing you with “a silken thread,” but that wall can help in a myriad of ways. I’m not sure that I’m always successful in this endeavor, but I earnestly do try to make our home orderly, welcoming, safe, and yes, even holy.

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking about my mother more the last few days She’s in my heart and on my mind every day of my life, but lately I’m even more aware of her influence—the things she taught me and my siblings, the way she lived her life, her beautiful singing voice, the love she showed to all within her sphere, the adoration and downright awe she felt towards her grandchildren, her ability to turn a house into a home, her love of the twittering little birds, and the list goes on and on and on.

Not to say she tolerated any misbehavior or slackness on our part. “You better straighten up and fly right, “ was something I often heard directed towards me—and my brother, Mike, too. Ann and David were either less mischievous than we were or they were masters at appearing that way. It never occurred to me that Mama’s expression was weird; I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Here’s another phrase my mother tossed my way whenever I didn’t want to do something she thought would be good for me, something that involved getting out of my comfort zone. “Don’t be so backwards,” she’d say. While I didn’t mind the flying right phrase, I detested the backwards one, maybe because I knew she was right.

I’ve been thinking of that “nudge” from my mother today while preparing for a lesson that I’m teaching tomorrow. It’s on the scriptures and just how powerful they are in helping us live better lives. When I say “better,” I mean dozens of things like getting through grief, showing love, not being offended, having courage, being kind, turning the other cheek, and realizing the power of choice in overall happiness or miserly.

This morning, I reread something I wrote about Queen Esther in Eve’s Sisters a few years ago.. Esther showed such courage in her young life, and her boldness saved the Jewish people. I like to think of her posture, chin up and back straight, as she said, “If I perish, I perish.”

We might not have the power to save our people on such a grand scale, but we all have people we can help. We can all fast and pray and get more in tune with the Spirit. We can all fight the good fight and be assured that no matter how scary things appear, life can “turn on a dime.” In less than a week, Esther went from being a pampered recluse who hadn’t been summoned by her husband in thirty days to becoming Queen Esther with a capital Q.

I hope that somehow my mother knows I took heed to the things she taught by word and deed. For the most part, I stand straight and fly right. And I’m a lot bolder now, more willing to shed the backwardness and step out of my comfort zone. I love listening to little birds too. And I’m in awe of my children and grandchildren.

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