A Lesson on Forgiveness

During my college days, my church’s secretary called me up and invited me to speak.  Whoa, I thought. Surely they can’t want me.  But they did.  Every Wednesday night, the men and women split up, and each woman in the church got a chance to speak to the other women, and the men had the chance to speak to the other men.  It was a brilliant plan, both for the listeners AND the speakers, as we all learned and grew together.

Anyway, most of the topics had been covered by the time they got to me (I think I was somewhat of a last resort; maybe there were more “grown-up” men than women or something…), and I was given “A Woman and Her Worship” or “A Woman and Forgiveness.”  As the church pianist, I immediately connected with the worship idea, and I’m sure the secretary assumed I would choose that topic right off the bat, but wisely (for once!) I chose to pray about it instead.  Guess which topic God chose?

The next post or three will be excerpts and rewrites from that talk on forgiveness.  The lessons I learned from my experience shaped the direction of Trugars and taught me a lot about myself and my family.

Cake-in-a-Box

I’m currently delighting in Starbucks decaffeinated coffee with hazelnut liquid creamer.  Sacrilege?  I prefer to deem it eclecticism.  Sort of like making eggs benedict—complete with homemade Hollandaise sauce—one morning, while turning to boxed Matzo Ball Soup mix, an avocado, and a packet of guacamole seasoning for lunch the next day.  I can cook; in fact, love to cook and wanted (want?) to be a gourmet, but still I revert to pre-packaged foods with frequency.  I even started to make a cake out of a box this week (gasp!).  Granted, I planned to add sour cream, pudding mix (yes, gasp again if you will), chocolate chips, and a few other extras, but still, it would have been just as easy to make that stupid cake from scratch.  So I did, and it turned out amazing.  Chocolate cake with cinnamon and sweetened condensed milk, complete with the rest of the milk poured over the top.  Mmmmm.  And it took about five minutes.  Remind me of this next time I pull out the hazelnut creamer, and I’ll smile guiltily as I revel in my corn syrup solids, or whatever’s in there.

The Book Continues: A College Essay

Essay written in Advanced Article & Essay Workshop, Florida State University:Yellow spiral notebookTrugars

When my uncle Dana was a little boy, he started called his grandmother Big Mommie.  She was a mom, but not his mom, so she was the “big Mommie.”  The name stuck, and that’s what I call my great-grandmother today.  She turned 95 on Tuesday.  Big Mommie tells trugars.

I asked Big Mommie where trugars came from, and she said, “Well honey, the kids would always gather up and say, ‘Big Mommie, tell us a trugar!’  So that’s where they come from.  They’re just stories that are true.  Old-timey stories.”  She laughed.  “Them kids couldn’t wait for me to tell ‘em a trugar.  Their eyes would get big, ‘cause they couldn’t believe the things I did when I was a little girl.  ‘Big Mommie, we want another trugar!’ they’d say.”

Last week, I came home to find my three little cousins, Ben, Henry, and Hugh, sitting cross-legged or laying on the floor by Big Mommie’s feet.  They listened and giggled while she chattered away.  Her hands rested on her big tummy, and her legs crossed at the ankles.  She was wearing the new housedress she’d gotten for her birthday.  My aunt sat in a parlor chair nearby, pretending she wasn’t interested and laughing out of the corner of her mouth in a very adult way.  My uncle was laid back on the couch with one ankle propped up on his other knee, watching the scene with a huge grin, remembering when he and my mom were little, and Big Mommie used to tell them trugars too.  My grandma, cooking okra and tomatoes in the kitchen, threw in her own comments every now and then.  My grandpa hunched over papers at his desk, closed off to everyone else, probably calculating the rising cost of toilet paper.  I started to focus on Big Mommie’s story, and she was saying, “You just tie them down and split open their belly from their chin down to their crotch,” and she demonstrated that motion.  My aunt grimaced and shook herself all over as she laughed.  My uncle laughed at her and said, “I think we should try it.”  Big Mommie continued, “Then you pull out the intestines and gizzards and other insides, and some of them’s good eatin’ so you save ‘em.  Then you have to drain the blood out, so you hang them up from the roof of the barn.”

It was hog-killin’ time, 1919, and my great-grandmother was 10 years old.  She had watched her daddy fatten those hogs and get them ready for market, and now it was time to butcher.  It wasn’t gruesome to her; it was a means of eating and making money.  She told us about fresh sausage and salt pork and how you used to use lard back then instead of shortening.  We all imagined our hands in the mess and wished we could taste the fresh sausage on a biscuit too.

There’s a picture of three hog carcasses hanging from the rafters of a wooden building, and a little boy stands there, holding one of the hoofs.  The back says, “J.L. with Hog Killing.  Dady always had real fat hogs to kill.”  J.L. was Big Mommie’s brother.  She gave me the picture, along with a stenobook full of trugars she had written down for me.  “You’re a writer, you see, and you can put the memories down so people can read ‘em.”

One morning, Big Mommie announced, “Honey, we’re makin’ biscuits for lunch.”  So we did.  Two cups of flour, two teaspoons of baking soda, a teaspoon of salt, a blob of shortening the size of an egg, and a half cup of milk.  If we were at her house in Arcadia, we would use the turquoise and white coffee mug with the broken handle.  At my house, we used a real measuring cup.  “Then you have to roll the raw dough in flour and tuck them under, just so, and lay them on a cookie sheet.  They bake at 410 degrees until the tops are goldy-colored.  Now before you put them in, honey, you have to brush the tops with oil to make them bake right.”  Apparently I didn’t put enough, because they didn’t turn as brown as she wanted them to.  I thought they tasted pretty darn good.

The best biscuit I ever had was at a cane-grinding.  Big Mommie took me and my siblings there because she wanted us to make our own trugars.  “You’ll remember this all your life, honey, and then you can tell your kids how you went to a cane-grindin’.”  Her teardrop-shaped eyes wrinkled around the edges while she smiled.  One man hooked up his tractor to a press, and another man fed sugar cane through it to flatten it and make the juice come out.  The tractor had to go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round to keep the belt moving.  In the old days it would have been a mule going in circles instead.  We tasted some of the cane juice that they collected in a Styrofoam cup.  Then the men boiled that juice forever it seemed, but I kept watching while the little kids got bored and climbed a tree.  One of the men handed me a cold biscuit.  “Poke your finger in there and wallow it around to make a cave.”  I did, and he poured some of that boiling syrup down in the hole.  “Be careful now; it’s hot, and you don’t want it to touch your skin.”  But man, was it good.

Big Mommie wears a pair of scissors around her neck on a red ribbon.  She sits and makes napkin caddies out of plastic canvas and yarn, and she’ll tell you that, “there’s a lot of work in one of these things.  It takes more than two-thirds of a day to make one.  But the Lord told me to see what I had in my hands to do for people, so I make them and give them away.”  She’s probably given away over a hundred.  Or she knits dishrags.  “I’ve made a many a one of these, honey.”  And while she does it, she’ll pipe up, “One day my daddy was driving to town with me and my sister.  We were riding on the back of the wagon while he drove the horses, and we were letting our legs dangle off the end, trying to touch the dust with our toes.  I fell off, but my daddy didn’t notice until my sister yelled.  Then he stopped and waited for me to catch up.”  And then she goes back to her yarn.

Trugars still happen.  Like Hurricane Charley.  It blew the roof off Big Mommie’s house, even the rafters and everything.  The ceiling tiles were all over the floor, the beds were drenched, and the carpet was destroyed.  Honestly, I was thankful about the carpet.  It was a green that’s almost brown.  The Mennonites came and rebuilt her roof for her, even put new tin on it.  But there’s still a lot to do.  My cousins loaded up a U-haul with all the furniture that survived, and for now Big Mommie lives with me.  That’s another trugar in and of itself.

At Thanksgiving last year, I told Big Mommie that I wanted to write a story about her.  I wanted my first book to be a biographical novel about her life, and I wanted to call it Trugars.  She was so proud.  “Reality is life, honey; reality is life.  You want to touch them.  You want to show them reality, and that’s wonderful.”  I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but I guess she’s right.  I do want to show people reality; I do want to touch them.  I think her life is a good way to do it.  So she sent me the stenobook and a bunch of pictures, and now I have a starting point.  But how does one really go about conveying the essence of a trugar?  How do you introduce people to a Big Mommie?

I took her to church with me one week.  The pastor asked all first-time visitors to stand, and sure enough, she stood.  “I’m Louise.  I’m a hurricane victim from Arcadia.  Charley blew off my roof and ruined everything, so now I’m up here until they fix my house back up.  And I’ve got a preacher that lives with me, Brother Clyde, and he used to know you when you were the preacher at Port Charlotte.  He’s such a blessing; we just have such a sweet relationship in the Lord together, a good spiritual communion one with another.  Audrey’s my great-granddaughter, playing the piano up there, and she started playing because I bought her a piano for two hundred dollars from a concertist, so I knew it was a good piano, and her daddy came and picked it up with his trailor.  Would you look at her talent today because of me?  I’ll be ninety-five on Tuesday, praise the Lord, and my family is just so sweet to me,” and she would have kept going if the pastor hadn’t thanked her for coming and moved on.  Everyone met Big Mommie.  I think that’s how the book would work too.  She’s just the kind of person you know, whether you realize it or not.  And anyone can settle back into the past with a trugar.  It’s just a matter of doing them justice.

It’ll probably take me months to decipher Big Mommie’s handwriting in that stenobook, but it’ll be interesting work, unraveling my heritage.  One of the pictures she sent fascinates me.  It’s Big Mommie’s family piled into a Model T, and on the back, she wrote, “Dady and family a.m. of World War I end    on our way to town to celebrate – 1918    ate breakfast at Morrie and Fanul Hollingsworth in Arcadia.”  If only I could squeeze snapshots like that into my pen and out on the page.  How do I show people the reality that Big Mommie talks about?  Sometimes I just want to shake the world by the shoulders and say, “Wake up!”  If trugars will waken them, then so be it.

“Honey, I thought of another trugar I haven’t told you yet.  One night I went outside the house to see if squirrels feed at night.  Whenever I take my shotgun out, this one cat would follow me, ‘cause he knew he’d git himself a squirrel.  So then I saw two convicts from the prison creeping around the edge of the 30-foot travel trailer in my yard.  They were bent over at the waist, trying to keep anybody from seein’ ‘em, so I snuck around close and yelled, ‘What’re you doin’ around here.  You better git goin’, or I’m gonna shoot your guts out!’  Then I shot my rifle in the air, and boy they took off in a hurry.  They went on to take some bread and milk from some people who wasn’t home, and one of them stole a motorcycle and wrecked it under a bridge, so he got caught, but the other got into Georgia and went away.”  I told her I would have been scared too, and she said, “Oh honey, I wasn’t scared; I had my rifle.”  I bet she scared some reality into those crooks that night.

I think reality is all we really want out of life.  In “Joe vs. the Volcano”, Meg Ryan tells Tom Hanks, “My daddy says the whole world is asleep, but the few people who are awake live in a constant state of amazement.”  That’s what trugars do.  They bring back the amazement to life.  Instead of pig intestines, you start to smell savory fresh sausage.  Instead of living without electricity, you start to see the magic of ker’sine lanterns.  People say life was simpler back then.  Maybe so.  But really I just think more people were awake.

He Owns the Clocks on a Thousand Hills

Learned something revolutionary at church today: God has not required anything of me for which He has not already provided, or will provide, abundant resources for its carrying-out.  I have always known this to be true within the financial realm, but lo and behold, He’s also in charge of other resources…like time.

I used to be a neat freak.  Oh yes.  The line drawn between my half of the room and my sister’s half was plain to see.  Not a tape line, or a chalk line, or even a line of string, but rather the point at which there were no longer clothes on the floor or barrettes on the dresser or pretty much anything lying around.  My bed was always made; hers was always rumpled.  I even had a drawer designated as the catch-all for odds and ends I wanted to be rid of.  The contents of that drawer were periodically set on display for my siblings to peruse, and then I’d play salesman.  Trades were the order of the day, until Mom was informed by some remorseful buyer.

Anyway, I was neat.  Not so anymore.  My poor husband called me into the living room today to show me what was underneath the couch cushions (he was vacuuming for company).  A pile as big as my hand of Cheerios, Kix, raisins, cracker crumbs, pretzels, and who knows what else.  A pile as big as my hand of EACH of those wayward snacks.  Plus a Peanut Butter M&M wrapper.  Gross.  I mean, I love Peanut Butter M&M’s, but a 3-month-old wrapper is really a bit much.

Like I said, we were having company.  Unexpected company.  And for the first time in a long time, the house was already clean (except for the couch cushions).  So we finished tidying up in plenty of time without any stress, and it was lovely!  And as soon as they left, we tidied up again, and now I’m ready for more company.  What a delicious feeling.  There are more chores to be done, sure, but the last couple of days have been refreshingly simple, with merely small touch-ups here and there.

I’ve battled for years with time management and organization, but it is freeing to know that God has given me the time I need to do the things He has called me to do.  His time is sufficient; in fact, abundant, and I am eager to use it to honor Him and bless others.

Including my sweet husband, who even now would greatly appreciate my leaving you to be with him.  Good night!

The Book Begins

Peace RiverPeace River.  Arcadia, Florida.  Every year for the whole week of Thanksgiving.

Smoked turkey, roasted turkey, grilled duck, fried squirrel, honeyed ham.

Collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greans, stewed okra, fried okra, pickled okra.   Green beans, mashed potatoes, dumplin’s, macaroni.  Glazed carrots, fresh salad, buttery rolls, sweet potato casserole.

Brownie’s, Reese’s squares, oatmeal cookies, pumpkin pie, apple pie, guava cobbler, peach cobbler, coconut cake, chocolate chip pound cake, fudge with nuts, fudge with no nuts, lemon meringue pie, coconut meringue pie, chocolate meringue pie, butterscotch meringue pie, peanut butter pie, cupcakes, red velvet cake, chocolate chip cookies, Rice Krispie cookies, fresh strawberry pie, whipped cream.

Family.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas, grandpas, great-grandmas, great-grandpas, step-kids, step-parents, first-cousins-once-removed, third-cousins-once-removed, second-cousins-twice-removed, mamas, daddys, babies, children.  Friends.

Trees.  Forts.  Rivers.  Swimming.  Fishing.  Eating.  Praying.  Talking.  Eating again.  Roasting marshmallows.  Watching the fire go down.  Resting.  Waking up early to make sure you get breakfast before it’s gone.  Camping in tents.  Camping in RV’s.  Camping in the back of a truck.  Camping inside Big Mommy’s house.  Staying in a hotel because of the snakes and bugs and no air-conditioning.

Big Mommy.  Sitting.  Watching.  Telling stories…trugars.Big Mommy at ThanksgivingIt was in this context that my great-grandmother inspired me to write a story about her stories.  A meta-trugar, you might say, encompassing not only the trugars she’d told us all those years, but also the trugars that we had made for ourselves, inspired by her and carried out by us.  I told her as we rode down the dirt road in her white Buick, bumping along on the faded blue seats without springs, “Big Mommy, I’m going to write a book about you.  And do you know what we’re going to call this book?  Trugars.  And you have to help me write it.”  She, pleased as punch, assured me that, “Honey, you’re the one with the talent for writin’, but if you can turn all this mess into a story, God bless you for it.”  I, pleased as punch, responded, “Okay.”

This post is linked to Favorite Memories Friday at Mom’s Toolbox

Random Convergences

Lately it seems that the idea of convergence has dominated my life. No matter what the topic, somehow it converges with everything else that’s going on. For instance, my husband and I have had difficulty with our daughter in church recently. She is almost ten months old, and such a happy baby that her bursts of laughter or her constant chatter are irrepressible. It’s hard to get much out of a sermon while striving to “not disturb” those around us. I know, we could take her to the nursery. But that means that someone else is sacrificing their worship time with their family in order to care for my child. And the whole point is to worship as a family, right? So either way, it seems we’re defeating our own purpose. But where does the convergence come in, you ask? Well, my dad was talking about getting more out of his Sunday school class or small group time than he was during the main service at their church, and the thought I had had was that if we were doing home church, my daughter could crawl around to her heart’s content without disturbing anyone. Why do we have to make things so complicated? But then, both of us are feeling connected and enjoying the churches of which I speak, so neither of us have the inclination to leave and do something different…. What IS the answer?

Another convergence: I keep meaning to post pictures for my family to enjoy on Facebook, and finally went to do so, and lo and behold, pictures for which I had given up hope (thinking they had been accidentally deleted) were there waiting for me! Thus the lost is found. God is good.

Speaking of God being good, a friend of mine posted that on Facebook as her status, and my immediate reaction was, “Why?” And then it dawned on me that perhaps there doesn’t need to be a why. Why can’t we rejoice in His goodness just because He is good. Upon inquiry (I am nothing if not a nosy, need-to-know, relentless question-asker), I found out there was a particular reason for this particular post, but that’s beside the point. The point is, God is good whether we can come up with a reason or not.

But I have many reasons.

Life Lessons at Big Mommy’s

Big Mommy's HouseA little jumble of a white house sits in the midst of the orange groves of south Florida.  Rooms stick out on every side, and the house has a friendly, homelike look.  Two giant palm trees guard the front door, and a dying cactus in the backyard takes its last stand.  In the background, cows peer over a dilapidated wooden fence while a mother cat nurses her kittens.  Two swings hang from the limb of an old oak tree, and bees buzz around the sweet, white orange blossoms.  Cars zoom by on neighboring Highway 72, but life at the little white house flows by as tranquilly and simply as a forest stream.  This is my great-grandmother’s house, the place where I go to learn about life.  My family visits this prime vacation spot several times a year, and our stay is never long enough.  My great-grandmother herself, the meals we share, and the simple lifestyle at the little white house have all played an important part in who I am today.

Children, and even some adults, call my great-grandmother “Big Mommy,” a name coined by my uncle when he was a little boy.  Big Mommy is ninety years old, but she is still a farm woman with strength, stamina, and plenty of spunk.  This amazing woman drives her own car, cooks her own meals, and finds time to can five bushels of tomatoes each summer.  My great-grandmother has determination and drive, but her heart is big and soft enough to mother the whole world.  Big Mommy is generous with her time, possessions, and advice.  She always thinks of others before herself and does whatever she can to make people happy.  From watching my great-grandmother’s example, I have learned that true love gives of itself and puts others first.  Big Mommy has taught me to respect and love people for who they are.

Mealtimes are very special at Big Mommy’s house.  The honey-glazed ham, the hot, fluffy, buttery biscuits, and the collard greens fresh from the garden are enough to make any normal southern mouth water and perhaps cause a fearful case of indigestion.  However, at Big Mommy’s house, the food comes second to family love and friendship.  My family gathers around the old dining room table, and we all join hands to pray.  After the blessing, the room is a hubbub of chatter, advice, and even a few friendly arguments.  Around Big Mommy’s table, we become a closer-knit family group, and our camaraderie helps me realize how important family is.

Big meals are only part of the farm experience.  The young and agile folks catch cows and milk them.  I squirt warm, white liquid on my cousins’ faces, and we try to make our own butter.  Some braver souls might decide to instigate a cow-patty fight.  Sometimes Big Mommy sends me to the orange grove or garden to pick fresh produce for the next meal, which is always in progress.  The littlest children usually want a tractor ride, so my grandfather hooks a thirty-year-old trailer to an even older, rust-covered tractor.  My cousins and I all ride into the pasture with buckets of rotten oranges to feed to the cows.  At Big Mommy’s house the words “worry” and “rush” do not exist.  I learn to take life slowly and simply, one moment at a time and realize that I do not need to be busy to be happy.  I can sit on a porch swing and just think, while the hurry of my normal, busy life fades away.

Many places in my childhood stand out in my mind, but the little white hodgepodge of a house in south Florida is the dearest to my heart.  It was there that I learned how to truly love others, bond with my family, and live life simply and fully.Kids on tractor at Big Mommy's house

Freshman Essay

My first writing about Big Mommy surfaced in the spring of 2000, when I was a freshman at the local community college.  I wrote about “Life Lessons at Big Mommie’s” in an impromptu exercise, later revising the essay to submit with my final portfolio.  Friends and family requested copies of the story, so perhaps this is old hat.  Nevertheless, it truly starts the writing process of “Trugars,” so it must be published herein and will soon follow this post, perhaps tomorrow.

In the meantime, a note about the use of “Mommie” or “Mommy”: When I was younger, I insisted on spelling my great-grandmother’s title with an “i-e,” perhaps because I think I had seen her write it that way once.  Since then, I’m sure I’ve seen her write it with a “y” as well, and most of my relatives refer to her as “Big Mommy,” so unless I am copying something I previously wrote with the “i-e,” all references will be spelled, “Big Mommy.”  :)

The Beginning

“Trugars” are stories that are true.   My great-grandmother, fondly remembered as “Big Mommy,” coined the phrase as she spun her tales of yesteryear to my mother’s generation.  I heard her stories, er, trugars, too, and now I want to pass them on to my children.  In the meantime, I’m also creating my own trugars to tell someday.

The fifth generation of trugar-telling!!

The fifth generation of trugar-telling!!

“My heart overflows with a good theme;
I address my verses to the King;
My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”
~  Psalm 46:1

Some time ago, I read about an author writing his book online. I’m not exactly sure how he accomplished that, but I plan to embark on a similar scheme, albeit in my own fashion. You see, my great-grandmother completed the story of her life here on earth November 25, and the time has come for me to complete the book version of that story.