Friday, July 29, 2016

Our Home in the Heavens

     We once lived in a two-story house so high on a hill that you could almost reach up and touch the clouds.
To get there, you had to drive around and around a hillside on a narrow road – nearly meeting yourself coming back in one spot – and when you finally reached flat land, you were in front of our house – except you still had to look up to see it! It sat on top of another hill and had 30 or 40 steps leading to it.
Higher and higher you climbed until you were on the front porch, which was the full width of the house and had a porch swing at one end. I enjoyed many summer evenings swinging on that old squeaky swing with my children.
Inside the house, there was a large living room with a fireplace on one side and a flight of stairs on the other. On the second floor, there were three bedrooms and a large bathroom.
In the master bedroom, on the front of the house, there were three windows, side by side. Looking down from the windows almost made you dizzy. You could see the hillside that you drove ‘round and ‘round on to get all the way up there.
This had to be about as close to Heaven as one can get without dying.
We moved there in midsummer – a spectacular time! With copious blooming flowers and trees, cultivated by the previous owners, surrounding the house, it felt surreal – like another world – and yet, in only five minutes, you could be “off the hill” and back into civilization.
Winters were beautiful, but difficult. It was nearly impossible to drive the hill in the snow and walking it was not much easier. However, when snow covered the abundant foliage and long icicles hung off roof edges, it was a lovely sight to behold and felt even more otherworldly than summer.
The children played on the hillside that was our front yard. Although it was practically a prerequisite to have one leg shorter than the other, they adjusted and had a wonderful time. One saving grace was the concrete patio at the back – right outside the kitchen door. It was the width of the house, giving our daughter, the youngest at the time, plenty of room to ride her tricycle. We bought a six-foot long redwood picnic table where they enjoyed sharing their summer lunches with ants and bees. J
Family picnics were great there, too!
Our two sons started school during our time on the hill. Oh, how I worried when they left in the mornings to walk down the many steps that took them off the almost vertical hillside and then, several blocks to the school they attended. Fortunately, our next door neighbors had a daughter, a few years older, who agreed to look after them both going and coming. In those days – people helped each other without expecting anything in return.  J 
That trudge to school – even in wintertime – is still a good memory for both sons.
After four short years, we were forced to move when we learned our family was growing but our house, which had exactly enough room, was not.
Moving day was sad. None of us wanted to leave our home in the heavens. But God always provides a pleasant memory to ease the pain of a bad experience.
Unbeknownst to us, our youngest son sneaked a kitten into the moving van just before its doors were closed. Hours later, when we unloaded and found a hungry black kitty meowing at us – and learned how it got there – we shared a good laugh and Cleo had a good home until she died many years later.
“Beautiful memories are the glue that holds families together.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Oh, No! Not That!

Twelve-year-old Chase had been a little disrespectful lately and his mom was  losing patience.
“Get some clothes together. I’m taking you to Maw-Maw’s,” she told him. ”Maybe you’ll know how to act after a few days with her.”
A single mom who had to hold down a job, take care of a house and two children, she often felt overwhelmed, especially since the kids were getting older and were sometimes unruly.
When she got overtired and short of patience, she threatened them with me as a way to get them in line. She was certain I’d apply the same strict rules to her children that I had to her growing up, but she didn’t quite understand that it doesn’t work the same with grandchildren.
And we never told her. (Smile)
I always knew when Chase was coming, of course, and was ready for him. His room was clean, special foods bought and meals planned to his liking. His visits were fun for me as I had few responsibilities and sometimes got bored. A few days with him was the shot in the arm I needed to get me on track again.
He was just like me – a night owl! Staying up some nights until two or three a.m., we’d sit at the kitchen bar, he at one end and I at the other, playing on our computers and making conversation. I’d bake cookies to snack on or we’d have vanilla ice cream drizzled with my homemade chocolate sauce.
Sometimes we’d change things a bit by playing a few games of gin rummy – for pennies. Chase’s money-making instincts surfaced early in life. He wouldn’t even consider wasting time on cards if money wasn’t involved.
When we finally went to bed, we slept as late as we wanted since neither of us had a pressing reason to get up. Summer months were no problem and in winter, his homeschool hours were flexible.
After breakfast, we’d sometimes take a walk around the neighborhood or watch a little TV or just get right back to our computers. Nothing was scheduled. It was all fun and games.
He’d usually stay for three or four days before his mother phoned and said, “Are you ready to come home?”
“I guess so, he’d answer.”
“Do you think you can act right now?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
Truth was, he really wasn’t ready to go home. Why should he be?
But he packed his bag and waited for “Mom” to pick him up. Then he’d sheepishly drag along beside her to the car, faking a pout that implied he’d learned his lesson the hard way.
This went on for a few years before his mom realized he didn’t need to go to Maw-Maw’s for a realignment anymore.
Mission accomplished!
Though we never discussed it, Chase and I have an unspoken agreement that what happens at Maw-Maw’s stays at Maw-Maw’s!

Saturday, July 9, 2016


It was a sizzling July morning when my father phoned to tell me the most incredible news. My mother had just delivered a baby girl. I had a sister!
“How can that be?” I said. “If Mother were pregnant, she would have told me.”
“I’m sorry, honey,” said my dad. “Nobody knew. With the oversized clothes she wore, she fooled everyone.”
“But why?”
“She wasn’t supposed to have any more children after you and we knew she most likely wouldn’t carry it to full term. Didn’t want to get everyone excited until it was a sure thing. Sure enough, the baby was more than 10 weeks premature.”
Weighing in at a pound and a half, little Ann Marie lived only nine hours.
When the doctor broke the news to Mother, she cried pitifully for a long while and then clammed up. She turned her face to the wall and wouldn’t talk to anyone.
Any responsibility she might have felt for Ann Marie’s last rites were shifted to Dad as she lay in the hospital trying to appear grief-stricken for two more days. Dad went to a nearby funeral home and made arrangements. The infant’s tiny body was placed in the smallest casket I’d ever seen.
For a considerable amount of money, the funeral home provided a car and two men in black suits to accompany Dad and me and Uncle Ed, Dad’s brother, to the family cemetery, about thirty miles south of our home.
When we got there, the small grave had already been dug and the men who had dug it waited in their truck to close it after we left. It was a short, lackluster service, but I suppose there’s not much to say about one whose whole life lasted only nine hours.
The two men from the funeral home carried the small casket from the car to the open grave and placed it over the opening. We gathered ‘round with bowed heads. Suddenly, the sky opened up and unleashed a torrential downpour. The men from the funeral home scrambled to hold big black umbrellas over us in a futile attempt to protect us from the driving rain. Gray clouds hung low overhead and there was no hint that sunrays might find their way around or through them any time soon.
Competing with deafening thunder, Dad raised his voice significantly and said a few words. I’ll never forget them:
“Dear Loving God, giver of all good gifts – thank you for letting us have this little one for a few hours. Though the time was short, our hearts swelled with love as we prayed for her survival. Sometimes we don’t understand why You do things, but we trust You and accept that You know best for all concerned.
So... for as much as it has pleased our Almighty God to take out of this world the soul of our beloved child, Ann Marie Harrison, we therefore commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. May she always feel our love and know that we will one day join her in Heaven.
In Your beloved son’s name...

(This is an excerpt from my next book, All About Jenny.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Southern Hospitality

     A good friend, whose job takes him to the far corners of the state, recently got a taste of a well-known West Virginia attribute – southern hospitality – when he went to check on a client. If anyone out there has any doubt about our state possessing that quality, this should dispel it.
Lucas pulled up in front of the modest frame home, put his car in park and got out. “This must be where Jesse lives,” he said aloud, though there was no one around to hear him.
Walking up to the gate, he opened it and strode toward the front porch. He knocked on the door and an older looking woman opened it, smiling.
“Hi,” he said and before he could state his business, the woman flung open the screen door and said, “C’mon in. I’ve got a big batch of fried chicken and a pitcher of sweet tea. Would you like something to eat?”
Lucas couldn’t help but stare at the woman. She was the spittin’ image of his Great-Aunt Martha, a matronly looking woman he remembered from his childhood. Aunt Martha insisted that everyone who entered her house have something to eat and drink. Food was always cooking and there was plenty for whoever showed up at any given time. Her look-alike wore a blue-flowered cotton housedress covered with a full bib-apron; her gray hair was pulled back in a bun, and on her feet were unattractive brown oxfords.
“No thank you,” he said. “I’m not hungry. I just came to see Jesse.”
“Oh, honey,” the woman said, “Jesse doesn’t live here.”
Looking at the small piece of paper in his hand, Lucas said, “This is the address I was given. I was told he lived here.”
“Well, you see,” said the woman, “we’re all related here in the holler and sometimes people get mixed up. Come over here to this window and I’ll show you where Jesse lives.”
Lucas went over to where she stood at the window. She pointed and said, “You see that house way over there to the left with the purple roof?”
“Yeah,” said Lucas.
“That’s Jesse’s house. He’s probably home. He never goes anywhere.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’m sure he’s expecting me. I’d better go on over there then. Thank you for your help.”
“You sure you won’t eat before you go?” the woman said.
“Yes ma’am, I’m sure, but thank you for offering.”
As Lucas turned his car around, waved at the woman standing on the porch and drove toward the house with the purple roof, he thought, Gee, that fried chicken sure smelled good!

When he knocked on the door, Jesse opened it, offered his hand to Lucas and said, “Come on in. We’ve been waiting for you.” An attractive dark-haired woman appeared from another room and Jesse said, “This is my wife, Joann.” Smiling, the woman said, “Nice to meet you. We were just about to eat. Would you like some pinto beans and cornbread?”

Hesitating a moment as his mind flashed a picture of his Great-Aunt Martha, Lucas finally said, “That sounds real good, Ma’am. A small helping would be nice.”