Mr. Tur-tell

Mr. Tur-tell

At last Sunday’s annual family reunion, there was–as always–enough food brought in to feed far more than the 76 people in attendance.  If there’s one thing we know how to do well, it’s eat. Another area in which some of us excel is in jokes, both the spoken and the practical. For instance, as we worked our way down the buffet line, I discreetly pointed out to my sister the warm crockpot filled with deep-fried, breaded turtle meat.  Call it a hunch, but I just sorta figured that Sis wouldn’t be hankering for any of that delicacy, yet she might not identify the crock’s contents in all the excitement of the day.  She waited until we’d parked ourselves at the table with her husband and our parents before casually mentioning that No, she really didn’t think she was ready to try eating turtle just yet.

With his fork paused in mid-air, my dear brother-in-law’s face was priceless.  “Turtle?” he rasped, in an almost choking voice; “there is turtle over there?” Then his eyes switched downward to his own plate of now partially-consumed food. “Is there some Here?”  Sweet as ever on the surface, but with just an undertone of orneriness, Sis let the question hang for just a moment, before assuring him that no turtle parts had crept their way onto his plate. His relief was obvious.

Some folks, however, actually look forward to a meal that includes snapping turtle, and apparently it’s been a long tradition in the May Clan.  (See last year’s post “Safety in Numbers”). When you’re struggling through the Depression with eleven kids to feed, you often eat whatever you can catch.  I know my cousin Jeffrey liked turtle, but I’ve never gotten up the nerve to try it, myself. I did stop the truck to snap the photo that I’m using with this post when I spotted one in the road on my way home recently, though, and looked up Snapping Turtles on the Missouri Conservation website. They’re legal to harvest (except for the Alligator Snapping Turtle, which is endangered and protected), as long as you have a fishing license. They consume fish, snails, bugs, birds, small mammals and some water plants, and have been known to turn up on the hooks of trot lines or jug lines instead of the catfish for which those devices are usually intended.

Getting back to the jokes, though, it’s difficult for me to look at a terrapin without thinking of a story my dad told us when we were kids, all gathered around the family supper table.  It involved three unlikely friends:  the proverbial tortoise and the hare (or at least cousins thereof), and a buzzard.  They were poor and barely scraping by, but they all got along just fine.  As time went by, the bunny was separated from his buddies, and was therefore not in on the windfall that resulted from their chance finding of some valuable commodity.  While the buzzard and the turtle moved onto a large estate with expansive gardens and uniformed servants, the rabbit struggled to survive by running a lawn care service. One day he was called upon to bring manure for the gardens at the residence of his old friends.

The rabbit’s knock at the handsome door was answered by a snooty butler. “Yes?” he drawled, looking down his nose at the humble bunny.

“Hey, is Ol’ Turtle around?” the rabbit asked.

“Mr. Tur-TELL is down at the well.” the haughty servant replied.

“Huh.  How ’bout Ol’ Buzzard, then?”

“Mr. Buz-ZARD is out in the yard” spoke the butler.

“I see” said the bunny, who by now had suffered just about all the pretention he could tolerate.  “Then would you be so kind as to inform Mr. Tur-TELL down at the well, and Mr. Buz-ZARD out in the yard, that Mr. Rab-BIT is here . . . (and here Daddy made a quick glance toward Mother, who had almost imperceptibly stiffened in anticipation) . . . with the Fertilizer!”

Thanks, Daddy, for always keeping us laughing.  You still know how to tell ’em.  Happy Father’s Day!

Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels

More than once I’ve seen a car with a bumper sticker that says “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly”. Sound advice, to be sure, and maybe good for a smile, but what if we’re not driving? Do they think our heavenly helpers just get to lounge around on meringue-flavored clouds, admiring their never-need-buffing nails, as long as we mere mortals are not mobilized? Believe me, I’m more of a challenge than that.

How many times have you done something that seemed like the right choice at the moment (or maybe the wrong choice, but you were doing it anyway!), and then afterward considered what the potential outcome could have been, and realized Divine Intervention was probably the only thing that had stood between You and Disaster. How many of us now, as adults, consider what a wonder it is that we actually lived past our teens? Welcome to the “do as I say, not as I did” years! But sadly, being a grown-up doesn’t exempt us from needing a guardian now and then.

I believe God often puts us in a position to act on behalf of those guardians, too. Last weekend, when the serpentine belt on my old Suburban snapped, it just so happened that this occurred one mile away from an exit ramp not far from where my cousin Brian lives, and that he was home and had the tools and the knowledge and ability to replace it, and that the parts store was open at the time.  Out of a 200 mile trip, this was the best possible place for that belt to give way.  (OK, so this is a “driving” example, but it’s the one that’s freshest on my mind!)  Thanks to my cousin, I was back on the highway for home in good time, and none the worse for the experience. Thank you, Brian May!

When have you felt the presence of your Guardian Angel, either celestial or earthly? Leave a comment and tell us about it. Even Angels need a sincere “thank you” now and then!

DSCN0487

O Tannenbaum!

O Tannenbaum!

The following is a reprint of my Christmas holiday post on the Goodreads site from last year.  The sentiment remains! 

Everyone’s been busy with their holiday preparations and celebrations. Christmas is my favorite holiday, without doubt. The carols and cards and candles, the wrapping paper and (more recently) gift bags, garlands and bows and ribbons and wreaths and the spirit of giving, the Cookies!  And let’s not forget the Reason for the Season! But through all the years, almost every Christmas season, one of my favorite activities is decorating the Christmas Tree.

My siblings likely recall a few more fresh trees than I do, from the Boy Scouts’ sale corral on the parking lot at our church when we were young. By the time I’d turned 10 our parents had an artificial tree, which meant no one had to crawl underneath the sappy, pokey branches to put water in the bowl of the stand, and Mother didn’t have to battle so many pine needles in the living room rug. Even better, we could usually sweet-talk Daddy into bringing in the box that held the tree the evening of Thanksgiving, so that the holiday decorating could begin. Most of the year this box was balanced across boards in the open-ceiling area of the garage, so the extraction of it involved at least one ladder, some tricky balancing, and no small amount of dust which inevitably tried to halo Daddy’s head for his trouble, but choked his nostrils and dang-near blinded him instead. The air was blue from it afterward. . . or maybe from the comments it elicited in the process.

Once the box had been wiped off and brought into the house, though, the fun began. Sorting and assembling the branches, shaping them to look just so, disentangling the lights and testing bulbs on the strands that weren’t working, and then the Main Event: the ornaments. These days there’s a tendency toward “theme” trees, where all the decorations are coordinated to appear matching or complementary and quite lovely. Not me; I’m a sentimental traditionalist all the way. Almost no ornament is too shabby from age or humble in its design to pass muster for my tree.

I’ve often said that for only raising one child, we got a heck of a return on our investment: four grandchildren! Yesterday I really hit the jackpot when they helped to move things around to clear out a corner of my living room and put up the nine-foot tree that brushes the ceiling of this old farmhouse. As we opened the boxes and took out particular ornaments they heard the provenance for so many of them: “This one we bought as a souvenir on our first family trip to Colorado to visit Papa’s folks; this one was sent to your mama when she was just a baby; that stocking was mine when I was your age; these were made by your Great-Grandma; those came from the set my parents bought in 1955!” and so on. And yes, there were a few tears when I located the sack that contained a few more, including the last one that Larry had picked out himself, the memory of that occasion clear as a bell. The children and I agreed that Papa would be pleased to see us getting the tree up to enjoy and hanging that ornament while thinking of him.

And so, new memories are formed. My hope is that some day down the line, these precious ones will be decorating their own trees with the families they raise, and will cradle a delicate striped glass bulb or a hand-sewn stuffed felt dove in their hand and maybe relate something about it to their own little ones. If not, at least to see the old familiar bits mixed in with their own newer collections, and feel the family love that they symbolize, along with God’s love for us all. (see John 3:16)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

On the Origins of Thanksgiving

For one week in October of 2013, I was fortunate to be able to travel–with my particular friend Peggy R.–to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  (That’s “particular” as in the old usage, meaning “very good or close”.  I read it in Patrick O’Brian novels, pertaining to Captain Aubrey and Doctor Maturin, and have been ever after enamored of the phrase.  But I digress).  We found a small local motel that was located smack dab in the middle of everything, so to speak, and walked all over that town.  There are so many historical sites to visit there, and we absorbed as much information (and fresh seafood!) as we could in the time we had.  The impressions are vivid memories, even after more than a year.

I learned that the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower were made up of two groups:  Separatists from the Church of England, who wanted the freedom to worship as they saw fit, and other folks who were simply willing to take a chance on the opportunities the New World might provide.  A group of English merchants helped fund the expedition, with the understanding that the travelers would work hard and (in the future) send back to England things from the colony that could be sold for a handsome profit.  It was a business arrangement, not religious charity.  The two groups were rather suspicious of each other while aboard the Mayflower.  Upon dropping anchor on December 16, 1620, however, in facing the vast wilderness, the reality of just how much effort it was going to take simply to survive sort of kicked in to the consciousness of all parties involved, and they agreed to work together as one community.

Originally they had set out in two ships, but the smaller Speedwell leaked like a sieve (possibly due to the captain’s decision to over-rig her), and after turning back for repairs twice, the decision was made to cram as many people as possible onto the Mayflower, and proceed on their own.  So by the day they arrived here, time and tides had worked against them, Winter was already in full force, and their stores of food were dwindling quickly.  Add to this the scavenging they did in some deserted Indian villages where the former inhabitants had all died of disease shortly before, and it was a recipe for disaster.  Of the 102 passengers transported, only 51 of them were survived that first Winter.  Can you imagine losing half of the population of your tiny group, just when you’re all struggling to build a town?

Incredibly, they hung in there.  They received help from some local Native Americans, and everyone worked hard to make the venture succeed.  The First Thanksgiving was a celebration upon the completion of their first harvest, and an opportunity to show their gratitude.  They celebrated basic survival, and the many blessings of this new land.  They celebrated hope, and freedom.   They celebrated unlikely friendships, and the satisfaction that working together toward achieving common goals can bring.

It seems like the Americans of today could take a lesson from those early Pilgrims.  I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was one of many blessings.  And I wish for us all, an Attitude of Gratitude.

IMG_1453

Nuts to You!

Nuts to You!

Please don’t take that title as an insult.  It’s really a compliment; let me explain just why.

Fall harvest means many different things to many people, but to most consumers here in middle-America, it’s the season when we start seeing big bins of nuts in the stores.  Usually they’re featured front and center at the head of the produce aisle, right there where God and everybody will be sure to see them.  Nuts in the shells, sorted by type and then mixed, loose in the bin with a big scoop you can use to shovel them into the waiting bags.  Shelled nuts in one-pound bags (or sometimes 12 ounces:  see my earlier post called “Size Matters”).  Almonds, English Walnuts, Peanuts, Hazelnuts (aka Filberts), Brazil Nuts, Pecans . . . probably the only common nuts I don’t find here are the pistachios and the cashews.  Is that because they’re purchased so often during the rest of the year as snacks that the Nut Society doesn’t feel the need to promote them for the holidays?  I don’t know.

While it’s true that bags of shelled nuts are available in the baking aisle year-round, there’s something special about those open bins of nuts in the shell.  It’s probably a tradition thing.  As I was growing up, our family had the ubiquitous Walnut Bowl (complete with varnished bark around the rim!) made from a three-inch slab of wood cut from a log and hollowed most of the way through into an open container for nuts.  It had a little spool in the center with drilled holes to hold the metal nutcracker and picks that helped us open and extract the hidden treasure from within those shells.  From Thanksgiving through New Years, that set was out on the coffee table in the living room, and Mother kept it filled and available for anyone who chose to crack and snack.  It was a treat of a tradition that followed me into adulthood and was carried forward into my own home.  I still smile when I remember Larry telling me (and Lily showing me) how–too small to grasp or squeeze the nutcracker–she had figured out how to use one of the curved-end metal picks to insert very specifically into a strategic spot at the top of the shell of an English Walnut, and then carefully wiggle and lever it just so until the shell popped open in two perfectly boat-shaped halves and the goody was exposed for her to eat.  She was two!

Speaking of boat-shaped halves, who else did the grade school project where they stuffed clay into the open Walnut shells, then stuck a stick mast upright into the clay, upon which was impaled a bowed paper sail with a Spanish cross to mimic the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, and floated them in a container of water while learning about Columbus and his discovery of the New World?  Or how about spreading glue on the interior surfaces of those halves and sticking them back together with a loop of yarn or rick-rack coming out of the top, then spray-painting them silver or gold to use as Christmas ornaments?  The possibilities are probably endless.

Nuts are neat.  Whoever figured out that the stuff inside those hard-covered things falling off certain trees were edible deserves a medal.  And from what many reports are saying, they’re good for us.  So believe me, I’m truly wishing you something pleasurable when I say:  “Nuts to You!”

Sunset Cruise

Sunset Cruise

Yesterday was eventful. Two years and nine months (almost) after the passing of her Master, a good friend assisted me in loading the Two-Wheeled Mistress onto a trailer and hauling her to the HD dealer in Sedalia, where they will sell her on consignment. Going through the saddle bags and the tool pouch and the shelf of supplies the night before was brutal, but seeing two ol’ boys drooling over her as we drove out of the parking lot helped. Here’s hoping she finds a new owner soon, and that he (or she) will enjoy the bike as much as we did.

Thankfully, Cousin G had invited me to visit with himself and Cousins K & B at the Lake Place, which is about a 45 minute drive from my house. We enjoyed dinner on the screened-in porch, meaningful conversation, and a perfectly relaxing Sunset Cruise on the pontoon boat. It was exactly what I needed.

Keifer and Ziva are Australian Shepherd mix siblings adopted by K & B last year. They’ve grown up spending many weekends at the lake, and they trot excitedly down the ramp, across the dock, and onto the deck of the pontoon with no hesitation whatsoever. The tradition of a Sunset Cruise is obviously something they relish, and watching them post themselves as lookouts at the front of the boat was fascinating. Keifer kept a sharp eye out for blue herons, ducks and geese. Ziva–for the first time ever–jumped up and sat down on the upholstered seat next to Cousin G, taking in the view from a higher vantage point, but acting as though it was something she did every day. As the sun dropped slowly toward the horizon, the temperature of the air cooled accordingly, and the evening was as perfect as it could be.

As the song says: “I get by with a little help from my friends”. And with gratitude for the loving kindness of those friends, I do more than just get by. I really live!

IMG_0831

Meant to Be

Meant to Be

June 13, 1954, was one of the hottest days anyone in the little town of Middletown could remember, for being so early in the summer.  It was also the day my parents stood up before God and Everybody, gazed lovingly into each others’ eyes, and said “I Do”.  It was the day they officially began the journey that has brought them to the present, and now they’re celebrating 60 years together.  What a milestone!

And you know what?  It’s just like the preacher says:  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others . . . they’ve done all of that, and continue to do so.  Anyone who claims their life has been nothing but rosy and never a cross word has passed between themselves and their partner is either deluding themselves or lying, at least in my opinion.  A successful marriage isn’t built on a lack of conflict, but rather on working through the disagreements, holding each other up through the hard times, and loving each other in spite of everything that might get in the way.  It’s a partnership and a commitment, a devotion to each other by two people who just won’t give up.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Mother and Daddy, I am so absolutely proud of you both.  For the example you’ve set for all of us over the years, for the family life you provided, for the type of people you were, and are, and are yet to become.  Congratulations and Blessings to you on your 60th wedding anniversary, and beyond.

With love and respect,

-J-

photo credit:  Charlie May

photo credit: Charlie May

 

Safety in Numbers

Safety in Numbers

Birds of a feather flock together, they say.  There are numerous names to reflect examples of this; a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions, a pack of wolves, a school of fish, a colony of bats, a parliament of owls.  And then there’s the family of my maternal lineage:  The May Clan.  From the Oxford dictionary online:  Clan  noun a group of close-knit and interrelated families (especially associated with families in the Scottish Highlands).  That’s us.

Stanley Stanton May and Peirrie Belle Lieurance Steele were born within 8 days of each other in early January, 1889.  They married, settled on a farm, and began their family with Charlie David, my grandpa.  Next they had Selma Carolena.  Years later Grandma Peirrie would tell my mother:  “I had my boy, then I had my girl, and I thought Alright, I’ve got my family.  And then I had nine more!”  With a total of seven boys and four girls the household was anything but dull.  And as those children grew up, chose mates, and started families of their own, the legacy grew, and the tradition continued:  of their thirty-three grandchildren, Stanley and Peirrie could boast twenty-nine boys and (again) four girls!  The family developed a habit of getting everyone together for a carry-in dinner/family reunion at least once a year.  Because of the size of the group a local community building or meeting hall was arranged, with everyone pitching in what they could to cover the rent of the venue.  Sometimes in the summer a homemade ice cream social was held.  But for as many years as I can remember, the May Reunion has been the second Sunday in June, and I gladly attend, every time I am able.

By the time Grandma Peirrie died in 1981, she had over one hundred living descendants.  This isn’t counting the husbands and wives, just the direct bloodline.  The procession of cars from the funeral home in Wellsville to the cemetery in Middletown stretched for miles.  My uncle David had flown in from Southern California for the service, and afterward Mother and I rode with him on the drive back to the airport, squeezing in every last moment we could, to visit.

“What do you think will happen now?”  he asked us.  “Will the May Clan fall apart without their matriarch to draw them together?”

“Oh, no!” we assured him, aware that the geographical divide occasioned by his career path had prevented him from witnessing the annual or semi-annual exposure to the group that we enjoyed.  “No, we’re a tight-knit group.  That won’t change.”

And indeed, it has not.  Today’s reunion was attended by at least 77 people.  (We have sign-in sheets by the door, in an attempt to keep track!)  The delicious spread of food could have satisfied a battalion.  But even better than all the fantastic food was simply the time spent in the company of my family . . . to feel safe, and accepted, and loved by so many people.  That’s what the word “clan” means to me.  To see the lines of Grandpa Stanley’s face echoed in Uncle Norman, and to notice reflections of Grandma Peirrie’s cheekbones in several cousins.  It’s a pleasure, and a blessing.  We are their legacy.  We are their Clan.