Saturday, August 22, 2009

Do your best to not give up until you cross the finish line

One of the greatest privileges of a pastor is to encourage people not to give up. Pastors do their best work not by chastising people for their sins but by inspiring them to overcome their failures.
When ministry is based on encouragement, rather than judgment, there is always plenty to do. All around us are people who are struggling with defeat. A business or a marriage has failed. Debts seem insurmountable. Alcohol and drug use is out of control. Dreams have been shattered. The ox is in the ditch and there seems no way to get him out.
When the bottom falls out people do not need a lecture; they need compassion. Not pity. Compassion is that rare gift that inspires people to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them. Compassion is staying with someone that everyone else has given up on. Compassion is snatching a friend from the jaws of despair and convincing him that he has what it takes to get out of the mess he has made.
A man praised his pastor for helping him recover from alcoholism. He said, “My drinking had put me in a deep hole. Nobody wanted anything to do with me. But my preacher got down in that hole with me and helped me to crawl out. His love helped me believe in the love of God.”
Compassionate caring can help people set goals for themselves and refuse to quit until they succeed. Such caring can call forth in others the willingness to persevere. Few human qualities are more important than perseverance. That is why most of our heroes are people who refused to allow adversity to deter them from their goals.
Winston Churchill, for example, is one of the great heroes of the 20th Century. He will always be remembered for his tenacious spirit, and that which he inspired in the people of England during World War II. When it appeared that Hitler was about to bring England to its knees, Prime Minister Churchill kept hope alive with his defiant words, "We will be victorious!"
Churchill traveled all over England motivating the people. He inspired workers in the factories and on the farms to work tirelessly for their country. He visited the troops and instilled in them the conviction that England would prevail.
Few stories are more captivating than that of Churchill's visit with the coal miners. Hearing that the miners were discouraged about their contribution to the war effort, Sir Winston surprised them by showing up in the dangerous underground tunnels where they worked.
They were astonished that Churchill would risk coming into the mines and stared in trembling disbelief as his words rang in their ears:
"We will be victorious! We will preserve our freedom. And years from now when our freedom is secure and peace reigns, your children and your children's children will come and they will say to you, 'What did you do to win our freedom in that great war?' And one will say, 'I marched with the Eighth Army!' Someone else will proudly say, 'I manned a submarine.' And another will say, 'I guided the ships that moved the troops and the supplies.' And still another will say, 'I doctored the wounds!'" Then, with persuasive power Churchill shouted, "They will come to you, and you will say with equal right and equal pride, 'I cut the coal! I cut the coal that fueled the ships that moved the supplies! That's what I did. I cut the coal!"
From that hour no coal miners ever worked with greater courage than the men who heard Churchill that day. They refused to quit. They endured, and helped England preserve its precious freedom. Though the German bombs continued to fall upon English cities, the coal miners were never discouraged again.
Many admire Churchill for his wit. And he desires our admiration. On one occasion Lady Astor said to Winston, “If I were married to you, I would put poison in your tea.” He replied, “If I were married to you, I’d drink it.” When someone criticized him for ending a sentence with a preposition, he responded, “This is the kind of tedious nonsense up with which I will not put.”
Though Churchill’s gifts and achievements are extraordinary, I am thankful most of all for his personal example of perseverance. Voted out of office he refused to quit and was later re-elected Prime Minister. He earned the right to encourage others never to give up.
One of his most memorable speeches is a brief one given to the boys at old Harrow School, which he had attended as a boy. Imagine how these words must have inspired the young lads at the school:
"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
So if today you find yourself struggling to carry on, allow me to encourage you to get up out of the ashes of your hardship and stay the course. Stay with it. Tie a knot in the end of your rope and hold on. Refuse to quit. Never give up. The finish line may be just ahead. Do the best you can until you cross it. + + +
When times are hard you can sometimes
smell the fragrance of the broken

Recently I read again about the accidental death of Maria Sue, the five-year-old daughter of Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman. That tragedy reminded me of a profound idea I had gleaned from an earlier story about this popular Christian singer.
The idea was capsulated in the phrase, “The fragrance of the broken.” The words came to Chapman during a walk in the woods. He had gone into the woods to pray, desperate for release from a drought in his soul. Pleading with God for a breakthrough, he gathered some rocks, stacked them into a makeshift altar, and began to pray.
While praying he began to smell cedar, so strongly that it distracted him from praying. Opening his eyes he soon spotted a little cedar tree that he had snapped in half by stepping on it. The broken tree was the source of the smell that Chapman felt was a sign from God. Quickly he wrote down the words, "The fragrance of the broken."
God does provide a "fragrance" that we may learn to cherish as we wrestle with our brokenness and that of our loved ones. Like the little cedar tree, it may not be easily recognizable. We have to look for it as Chapman did. Finding it, we begin to enjoy what may be called the "aroma of grace."
Each of us must learn to handle brokenness of one kind or another. How we deal with it determines whether we live well or merely endure life until it ends. Misfortune can make us better or bitter. The good thing is that we have a choice.
My friend "Miss Jimmy" was a poet. In retirement she became legally blind. But she declined to complain. Instead she chose to think of her blindness as a blessing. “There is so much I would have missed had my sight not failed,” she said.
“I had not bothered to read the Bible very much," she told me, "but when I became blind, I began to listen to the Bible on cassette tapes. Only then did I understand why it really is the greatest book every written." My wife and I enjoyed tea with Miss Jimmy many times. While we admired her poetry we admired her spirit even more. She was not a whiner.
Fanny Crosby and George Matheson were blind hymn writers but refused to complain about their blindness. Both composed beautiful songs which millions still enjoy singing. They refused to let their brokenness "blind" them to their opportunity to live useful lives.
Alabama’s famous Helen Keller became blind and deaf as a young child. Her attitude was profoundly inspiring. She regarded her handicaps as “mere impertinences of fate.” She said, “I resolved that they should not crush or dwarf my soul, but rather be made to blossom, like Aaron's rod, with flowers.” Can you say “Wow”?
A good friend made a trip out west one summer. He and his wife drove their motor home through Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and California to see the sights. He explained why, "I had been diagnosed with an eye disease which could result in blindness in a few years. I wanted to see all that I could see while my vision was still good."
He could have stayed home fretting about the question, "Why is this happeningto me?" Without complaining he began to adjust to the possibility of brokenness. Instead of whining he used his time to design a plan to cope with blindness if it happened.
Brokenness comes soon or late to us all. Whining about it, or asking "Why me?" gets us nowhere. Pain is inevitable but misery is a choice. As we face the pain with honesty and hope, something wonderful can occur. Character can happen. We can become finer people because we have faced our troubles with courage. Courage is contagious. Deal with your brokenness bravely, with a positive spirit, and your example is bound to encourage someone else.
Thankfully you have a choice. You can refuse to whine. You can find a way to smell the "aroma of grace" in your pain. Then the fragrance of your brokenness becomes a sweet perfume to all who savor the essence of your life. + + +

A cluttered desk is a beautiful thing

I hate an organized desk. On rare occasions I had one. It was my first day in a new office. But it never lasted. After two days my papers, folders, and books were everywhere. And I dared anybody to straighten up my desk.
People with an organized desk are disgustingly proud of the accomplishment. They are apt to say piously, “A messy desk indicates a cluttered mind. A neat desk suggests an organized person.” That is nonsense and I can prove it.
My philosophy is that a messy desk is a sign of a hard-working person who is good at multi-tasking. Why settle for mono-tasking when you can do several things at once? Doing one task at a time requires much less creativity.
I know the argument against multi-tasking. If you focus on one project at a time, you can get your work done more quickly. You will be much more efficient if you will concentrate only on one task – the one in front of you.
But that approach can make work rather dull. It removes the challenge of trying to do three things at once. We all know that the truly brilliant person is the one who while talking to you on the desk phone can put you on hold, talk to someone else on their cell phone, and at the same time carry on a conversation with a visitor in his office.
Now that impresses people, just as a cluttered desk convinces people that you are capable of working on five projects at a time. The clutter convinces people not that you are disorganized but that you have amazing creativity.
It takes a lot of skill to find something on my desk. I have piles everywhere but I know what pile to look in when I need to find something. Only a person with my kind of competence could find a lost document as quickly as I can. With me, hope springs eternal; nothing is ever lost. It is here somewhere so I keep rambling until it shows up. Sooner or later it will turn up. The lost will be found.
The best way for me to lose something is to file it. If I file it, I forget where it is filed. The other day I searched for the manual for my riding lawn mower. Since it is a John Deere, I looked under “J.” It was not there. I looked under “M” but no luck. Well, maybe I filed it under “G” for grass. Wrong again. Finally I looked under “L,” and there it was.
I gave up on filing cabinets. I prefer now to stack folders on the floor around my office. You can lose stuff in a filing cabinet. I came across some stuff the other day I had not seen in 44 years.
I am glad I am not looking for a pay raise. At my age pay raises are a joke. When my pay changes it goes down not up. A recent study reveals that most employers factor in an employee’s level of organization when considering annual reviews and pay increases.
One company even dispatches workers to look in the car window of an applicant’s car to see if it is clean while the interview is being held. If there is clutter on the car floor, this indicates the applicant does not have organizational skills.
That company would never hire me. My car is cluttered with papers I may need while I am away from the office. Ride somewhere with me and you will have to wait five minutes while I move my stuff to the trunk or the back seat.
Any fool knows that if you want to find a highly skilled, competent, hard-working person, you look for a messy car and a messy desk. The reason is obvious. The person with a neat desk does not really want to work. And inside the drawers of that neat desk are piles of paper that need attention. The person who thrives in clutter is the one who can get the job done.
Somewhere on my desk is a new book written by Dave Crenshaw. It is titled The Myth of Multitasking: How “Doing it all” Gets Nothing Done. I hid it under a pile of papers. I don’t plan to read it. He is entitled to his opinion. I am content with mine. A cluttered desk is a beautiful thing and brilliant people can do three things at the same time. That’s my story and I am sticking to it. + + +

Best way to handle a disappointment: just get over it

No one gets through life without having to endure bitter disappointments. We all stumble. We all fall. We all get our feelings hurt. We all have friends who let us down. And we all sometimes shoot ourselves in the foot.
In such miserable moments we experience anger, frustration with others, and even disappointment in ourselves. We want to kick ourselves. We should have done better. We may even wish we could die. Glum envelopes us like a cloud. Sometimes we have an overwhelming sense of embarrassment. We want to run and hide and never have to look another person in the face.
Since there is no way to undo the past, we have to find a way to handle the wretched feelings that come with our disappointments. We have to find a way to move on and regain some degree of normalcy.
The best solution is this: Get over it! Worry will not change anything; it actually makes matters worse. Bitterness will sour our spirit. Regret is useful only if it shows us ways we need to change.
To get over a bitter disappointment, whether in myself or someone else, it helps me to face reality. I must admit it if I have done wrong. I must ask forgiveness if I have offended someone. I must take responsibility for my own actions.
If I am embarrassed, it helps me to admit that I am a human being and thus capable of doing and saying stupid things. I can make amends. I can try again. I can improve my people skills and try to become a more sensitive, caring person. I can try to offer to others the kind of support and encouragement I wish they would offer me.
The death of a loved one brings on profound disappointment. We experience not only sorrow but remorse about what we failed to do before the person died. Such remorse can result in serious depression.
While grief is a normal and understandable occurrence, we must eventually get over it. Life does not stand still; it moves on. Sadness must give way to joy if we are to move on in a meaningful way with the flow of life.
In dark days we can learn to look for light where we can find it. The words of Thomas Carlyle are helpful: “The eternal stars shine out as soon as it is dark enough.” If we will gaze up into the dark sky long enough, most of the time we will soon see the stars shining. They are there, waiting to be seen, but it is hard to see them through our tears.
Realism demands that we admit that life is not all sunshine and sweetness. There will be sad and lonely days, but we have a choice; we can choose to overcome and get beyond our misery. The great American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow understood this reality:
Be still, sad heart, and cease repining,
Behind the clouds the sun is shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all;
Into each life some rain must fall, --
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Adversity is a great teacher. We learn more from our failure than our success. Success often leads to pride, and pride causes us to stumble. “Pride and weakness,” Lowell said, “are Siamese twins.”
When we fall, we need to ask what caused us to fall, and resolve to improve wherever improvement is possible. Only a fool continues to make the same mistake repeatedly. We can learn not to do certain things again. Unless we do, we will never be able to “get over it.”
Some people get ahead by stepping on others on the way to the top. It hurts when someone else gets the promotion you thought you deserved. When that happens, you have a choice. You can stew over it and complain bitterly. You can scream and cry that you were wronged. None of that will help. It succeeds only in making you miserable. The best response you can make? Just grab yourself by the nap of the neck and get over it.
To get over a disappointment is to rise above it. Washington Irving said it well: “Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune; but great minds rise above it.” He was right. We can refuse to be subdued by our defeats and become better people because of them.
Anger is a dead end street. Problems are never solved by tearing our hair out, though some people try it. Baldness will not soothe our sorrows. Though it is normal to become angry with those who hurt us, we must learn to calm down and get over the hurt.
When someone hurts us, we can never get over it until we are willing to forgive the person who has wronged us. Years are sometimes lost by holding on to hatred and in doing so we only hurt ourselves. Hatred is a chain that ties you to the person you hate. The only way ever to be free is to forgive. Forgiveness breaks the chain and sets you free.
If you are nursing a sorrow, hurt, disappointment, or failure, admit that you need to get over it. If you will get over it, you can move on with your life. Life will not be perfect, but it will be sweeter, and you will be able to share with your friends: “I’m over it!”
Remember too, the next time life falls apart for you, say to yourself, “Get over it!” Then, take a deep breath, two aspirins, and get over it! Until you do, you can never move on with your life. + + + +
It is best not to fret about things that are out of our control

Stress can kill you. It almost killed me in my mid-forties. One morning I passed out from loss of blood. An ulcer had caused internal bleeding. But the frightening ride to the hospital in an ambulance was not as shocking as the doctor’s diagnosis.
After explaining that my problem was a tiny stomach ulcer, the doctor said compassionately, “Surgery will not be necessary. We can stop the bleeding with medication.” Relieved and thankful, I asked what causes ulcers.
I wished I had not asked. The doctor replied, “We are pretty sure that ulcers can be caused by stress. Ulcers may develop when we do not handle our stress very well. So I have asked one of our counselors to talk with you about this.”
That was the day I learned that anxiety can kill you. It was also the day I began asking God to help me learn to trust him more. Confession was necessary. Tearfully I confessed that all my life I had been trusting far too much in myself and not enough in the God I preached about. My confession led to new understanding and a renewal of my health.
After a week’s stay in the hospital, and two weeks out of my pulpit, I chose as the text for my next sermon these words of Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.” I admitted that I needed to learn how to stop fretting about things over which I had no control. I realized later how much it helped me simply to tell the truth about the poor way I had been handling stress. Becoming transparent about the condition of your soul can facilitate healing.
Since then I have made progress though I still have a way to go. Trusting God in all things is not easy. Like the common cold, anxiety keeps hanging around, waiting for an opening into the mind. To avoid catching the flu, we are reminded constantly to wash our hands. We should be just as concerned to prevent anxiety from gaining control of our minds. Like the flu, worry is also a killer. We are warned not to worry for a very good reason. When we worry excessively life gets out of balance and we can become dangerously ill.
Jesus told a story about a rich man and his barns. The rich man’s problem was not worry but greed. He wanted more and more to store in bigger and bigger barns. But abruptly his life ended just as he realized he had been a fool.
Jesus used the man’s covetousness to teach the disciples not to worry about food and clothing. The meaning of life is not found in these material things. As the rich man was a fool to wish for bigger barns, so are we foolish to spend time worrying about food, drink, or clothing.
Instead we should learn from the birds, the bees, and the flowers to trust God rather than worry. God feeds the birds and without worrying they enjoy his gracious provision. Flowers do not “strive” for beauty but simply enjoy doing what they were made to do.
The Bible teaches that God knows what we need and delights in meeting our needs. He provides for us because he loves us and he wants us live to please him instead of living to acquire material things. As we learn to trust him as our source of all things needful, we are able to relax and enjoy the world as a gift made for our enjoyment.
It is refreshing to stop our wheels from turning and sit for a spell outdoors. There we can enjoy birds and flowers – and even the pesky squirrels. Whenever I do this, I remember that I am not the center of the world. I become thankful just to be alive. In such quiet moments I laugh with the realization that God does not need my help to manage the universe. He is in control. Such reflection clears my mind. And one wonderful result is that I fret less over situations I can do nothing about.
Healthy living is the result of many wise decisions. One decision that is certain to help us is to stop worrying about things we cannot control. Only then can we relax and enjoy draining the sweetness from the cup that is in our hands. + + +

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Into every life some rain will surely fall

Every Sunday somebody tells me "a good one." A good story, a good joke, or an encouraging quote. So I go to church expecting to hear at least one or two good ones.

Last Sunday was no exception. One man asked me if I knew how severe the drought in Alabama had been. So I asked him how bad has it been. He said, "This bad: the other day I saw two grown bull frogs in a ditch and neither one of them had ever learned to swim!"

Not bad. It was good for a laugh. Laughter is always helpful in church, for strange things happen in church. People get angry with each other sometimes over the least little thing. One woman asked another woman to stop wearing a certain perfume; it made her sneeze in church.

A woman came storming up to me one day to insist that I tell a certain mother to stop disturbing church by taking her little girl to the bathroom. I resorted to my "grin and bear it" attitude by saying, "I’ll ask the Lord to help me figure out what I can do about it."

That means, "I don’t plan to die in that ditch." And usually the Lord passes on such stuff also.

My wife did have a solution for this problem when our boys were small. She told our sons to go to the bathroom just before worship. Then she reminded them that they would not be permitted to leave the church service. I think she didn't want our boys to disturb the folks who were sleeping while I was preaching.

If during church one of our sons said, "Mom, I’ve got to go," she simply said, "No, you don’t; go ahead and wet the pew. After church I will wipe it up with this towel in my purse." None of our boys ever wet a pew.

Troubles do develop in churches because they are made up of people, and people have problems. Sometimes they disagree about things. Now and then people can take up sides and manage to split a church wide open. That is always sad when it happens.

I hear about a church in Tennessee that split up over the issue of which foot should be washed first in the foot-washing service. Now I have heard there is a church in the Volunteer State called "The Left Foot Baptist Church." I guess they are the folks who quit wanting to worship with the folks who wanted to wash the right foot first.

Honest, I am not making this up -- and the story did say that it was a Baptist Church. I suppose it could have been a Methodist Church, but my guess is that the Methodists heard about this dispute and decided against the practice of foot-washing in church. If so, they were wise. It is just not smart to fight about some things.

Trouble in church reminds me of that old saying, "Into every life some rain will fall." How true that is. Life is not always sunshine and roses. Sometimes we all have to deal with storms and thorns. Life is not easy and my guess is that God did not mean for it to be easy.

Troubles do come, and troubles do go. Like the storms, they don’t last forever. In the midst of them our faith is tested. And somehow we become stronger through the testing. We learn to decide what is truly important. We often learn that none of us is always right, and at times we find that we must admit that we have been wrong. It usually takes that for a breach in friendship to be resolved.

The Japanese talk about an attitude they call the "bamboo perspective." They see the need to learn to bend, but not break, under the pressures of life. Unity with other people is usually not possible unless we are all willing to bend a little in our attitudes. Divisiveness thrives when no one is willing to bend.

We might learn a lesson from a story I heard about a brand new fifty dollar bill. The preacher held it up in church and asked if anyone wanted it. Every hand went up. Then he crushed the new bill in his hand as if he were wadding up a piece of paper. Again he asked if anyone wanted it. Once more every hand was raised. Next he dropped the $50 bill and ground it into the floor with his shoe. Now the bill was dirty and wrinkled. Does anyone still want it, he asked. As every hand went up again, the people realized his point. The bill was not worth any less because of the dirt or its wrinkled condition. It was still worth the same as a brand new bill.

What is the point? If people throw dirt on us, or damage our reputation, our worth is still the same to God. If we stumble into mistakes, or make decisions of poor judgment, our value remains the same to God.

The lesson? Surely God wants us all to learn to think as he thinks, to love as he loves, and to forgive as he forgives. When we are willing to do that, even imperfectly, we may save God the grief of seeing his churches divided.

In the meantime, a little laughter over a few "good ones" will help us all.@

Now is a good time to let our friends know we care

Friends are as important as breathing. Healthy living is impossible without good friends. So it behooves us to take the time to deepen friendships that make a difference in our lives.
Two brothers lived nearby us in a dilapidated old house. I heard they had no friends and did not want any. When a neighbor told me they were both very sick, I went to see them on a cold winter day.
One of the men answered my knock on the door. He did not seem happy to see me. I said, “I understand you and your brother have been sick. I brought you some vegetable soup and cornbread. My wife prepared it for you.”
Instead of a rebuff, he softened and replied, “Come on in; my brother is in the kitchen.” To my amazement, debris covered the hallway. The path through trash was hardly a foot wide. Empty cans, bottles, boxes, and paper seemed a foot deep all the way into the kitchen.
After placing the soup and cornbread on the dirty kitchen table I asked how they were feeling. “We are better,” one said, “just a bad cold or maybe the flu.” Beyond that they had very little to say. I sensed there were as uncomfortable as I was. So I excused myself, inviting them to call me if I could help in any other way.
I never heard from them again. Apparently, long before I met them, they had decided they did not need other people in their lives.
Most of us realize we need people, especially a few with whom we can become good friends. There is a great truth in the words of a popular song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Most of us gladly affirm that thought. I know I do. I could have written that song.
I treasure a little plaque my wife gave me for an anniversary years ago. It did not cost much, but to me it is priceless. On it are two rabbits embracing. Beside them are the words, “We Need Each Other.” It meant so much for my wife to say with her simple gift, “I need you.”
Sometimes, when we are hurt by a friend or family member, we become angry. That anger can lead to depression. Then, nursing our hurt feelings, we may retreat into a shell of indifference, vowing that we do not need other people.
In so doing, we hurt ourselves more than others, allowing apathy to suppress our love. This goes against the grain of our nature, for we were made for love. When we refuse to love, we are resisting the very purpose for which we were created. To love is to live.
Loving others is impossible, of course, unless we are willing to forgive, and not once, but repeatedly. The fact that there are no perfect people makes forgiveness an absolute necessity in healthy living. Our family members, and our friends, will disappoint us, but we can forgive, and friendships can be restored.
During this journey called life I have had many wonderful friends. As I reflect on this, two strong feelings emerge. One, I feel such deep gratitude that most of my friends have not given up on me. Two, I feel much anguish of soul for having failed to express to my friends what they have meant to me.
One of my best friends was my roommate at Auburn. He was the best man at my wedding. We stayed in touch for a few years after college but eventually lost contact with each other. Then one day I got word that he had died following a pulmonary embolism. For some time I grieved over my failure to keep our friendship alive.
Perhaps in heaven we will have the opportunity to tell some of our friends what we neglected to tell them down here. In the meantime we shall be wise to find the time to let our friends know how much they mean to us. The opportunity to do so can vanish in the twinkling of an eye. + + +

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I Sat Alone

I watched the ageless sea,
With waves bursting on shore,
Their timeless constancy
Going on forevermore.

Once my children were here,
My laughing young boys.
Those days were so dear
Watching them play with toys.

For years I have come here,
Again and again I come,
Seeking release from fear,
And daily tedium.

Those happy days were to me
A very precious few,
But this day beside the sea
Is just as precious too.

Today I hear children,
The parade goes on by,
And I am left to dream,
And watch the sea and sky.

Dean Albritton

Copyright ©2000 Dean Albritton

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Have Done My Share
Could an evening star say to the moon,"I'm tired of shining so bright,I'd rather sail in darkness and gloom.Let another shine for my light."

Could a man say to God above,"I've come to the end of the road. I have given all my love. Let someone else carry my load."

Could a river say to the shore, "I'm tired of running to the sea, I don't want to run anymore. Let another run for me."

Could a man say to God above, "I've come to the end of the road. I have given all my love. Let someone else carry my load."

Could a tree say to a bird, "I'm tired of being your nest, Go where you cannot be heard. I need a little more rest."

As long as stars shine and rivers run, And trees give birds a nest, Man's work is not done, Nor can he cease doing his best!

Dean Albritton
Copyright ©2000 Dean Albritton
The kids say grandma can tell some mighty tall tales

My grandchildren roll their eyes toward heaven when my sweet wife starts telling stories about how some of her people used to live. Grandma Dean can reel off story after story about her mother’s mother and her stories are very interesting.
Grandma Emma raised nine children in the backwoods of Tallapoosa County, Alabama. All of them lived into their nineties until all that lard Emma fed them finally put them in the ground. Too much fat will kill you eventually.
Cool water in a creek near the house served as their refrigerator. After all, the only running water they had was the water that ran by in that creek. Indoor plumbing was only a dream. Like most families they had a well worn path to the outhouse. Pouring in a sack of lime occasionally helped only a little with the nauseating stench.
When the cows were milked, the milk was poured into earthenware jugs and carefully placed in a shaded, shallow place in the creek where it stayed until mealtime. Other items, like bottles of “soda water” and other perishables were also cooled in the creek. The water was clean and safe enough to drink. At least they believed it was safe.
Butter and buttermilk were obtained not with money but with muscles – churning the milk in those old churns that are now on sale in every flea market. Churning was one of the chores assigned to Emma’s girls. The older boys were spared from churning; it was their job to care for and feed the livestock. Younger lads would sometimes take their turn at the churn but they always grumbled that it was “women’s work.”
Grampa finally grubbed enough off the land to buy Emma an icebox. What a blessing it was not to have to walk back and forth to the creek. The only trouble was, the ice soon melted. Now, instead of trips to the creek, they had to make frequent visits to the Ice House in town to purchase blocks of ice. Naturally Grampa complained about how expensive it was to own that icebox.
Years later, not long before she died, Emma swapped her icebox for a fancy refrigerator. Her wood-burning stove was another matter. She continued cooking on it until they put her in a nursing home. She simply did not trust those electric stoves.
Emma had her doubts too about the refrigerator. She and Grampa had used a smokehouse for years. They were sure it tasted better than that “store-bought” meat. When the men killed a hog, they took the meat to the smokehouse while it was still warm. There it was salted and stored away for the curing. My wife remembers some of Emma’s children said they used black pepper, red pepper, and molasses, along with plenty of salt, to cure the meat. Of course the smoke also helped.
Emma never bought three pair of socks for five dollars at Wal-Mart. Instead she knitted socks for the whole family with her own knitting needle. When a hole was worn in the socks, Emma patched the hole with her busy needle.
Flour was sold in large sacks in the old days. The sacks sometimes had a pretty design on them, pretty enough for the sacks to be made into colorful dresses for the girls. That custom lingered on for many years; my wife can remember that she and her sister also wore flour-sack dresses.
Grandma Dean feels a strange kinship with Grandma Emma. She can imagine her sitting by a winter fire, cooking and sewing for her large family, and telling stories since there was no television to watch. Dean enjoys her fireplace in our home. She has refused to let me put in gas logs. She likes to sit like Emma once sat, pondering life before burning logs. A fire mesmerizes her soul, inspiring thoughts like these:
“I sit by the fire and think of people long ago, and people who will see a world that I shall never know. But all the while I sit and think of times that were before. I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.”
Most of us would like to make the world a better place. We can, but only if we recognize that our legacy reaches back thousands of centuries, all the way to the folks who made the first wheel.
Countless generations have come and gone, each leaving a precious deposit of memories and achievements. The progress of civilization depends upon each of us doing what we can to make life better for our heirs. We are stewards of the past with the opportunity to add to our rich heritage.
One day I hope to meet Grandma Emma and sit on a cloud for a hundred years listening to her stories about churns and ice boxes. I am indebted to Emma because my wife inherited some of her genes. Dean’s strengths make me think that she and Emma would have been good friends, and goodness knows the stories they might have shared around a roaring fire. + + +