Things I Love About Fall

James Whitcomb Riley wrote his love for fall in his poem “When the Frost Is on the Punkin.” He concluded that fall is the best time of year to take in angels for boarding. I share his preference. These are some of the things I love about the season:

•    The view of my across-the-street neighbor’s tree out my office window [see opening picture]
•    College football [which is even better if Ole Miss and Baylor are winning – This year half is better than none.]
•    Baked sweet potatoes
•    Cool, crisp  temperatures
•    Sweet potato pie
•    The first fire in the fireplace
•    Communities of butterflies visiting my fall flowersButterflies have trouble with the "stand still" command, but I finally got this one.
•    Candied sweet potatoes
•    Acorns pinging on the tin roof of my husband’s workshop
•    Asters and chrysantheums
•    Sweet potato casserole
•    Raking leaves and pine straw [really!]
•    Turkey and dressing; chicken and dressing; dressing and cranberry sauce; leftover dressing…

passalong chrysanthemums from my mother and asters from sister GwynSouth Mississippi isn’t quite like Riley’s Indiana. Frost comes late in the season, and I expect his turkey would have stuffing rather than dressing. We see more sweet potatoes than “punkins” and there’s not a lot of fodder in the shock. Still, if angels want to come for vacation, I can’t think of a better time.


Who's the Favorite?

We make jokes about who is the favorite family member. At least, I think we are joking. My sister Beth introduces herself as “the favorite aunt” to prospective spouses of nieces and nephews. I follow by introducing myself as the “good enough aunt.” Our daughter signs her correspondence with “your favorite child.” The attitude appears to be contagious since I recently got an email signed, “your favorite daughter-in-law.”

Katherine Paterson pulls a favoritism phrase from scripture for the title of her book Jacob Have I Loved. The protagonist’s perception of favoritism for her twin sister makes for uneasy relationships among the people who inhabit one of my favorite books.

A true answer to the “Who is your favorite?” question is hard to come by, but I think I have stumbled upon it. When I say I have taught kindergarten, second grade, and junior high, I’m often asked, “Which was your favorite?” My honest answer is, “The one I was teaching at the time.”

Carrying the idea further also seems true. In the many places I’ve lived, first as a country preacher’s daughter and then as an Army wife, my favorite place was the one where I was living at the time. My favorite friend, sister, child – or daughter-in-law – seems to be the one I am with at the time.

Follow this chain of logic and see if you can figure out who is my favorite blog-reader.

--- I think you’ve got it!


Hard Reading

Night by Elie Wiesel is this month’s book choice for the Classics Book Club at Oak Grove Library. I thought the reading would not be so hard since I had read it several years ago. The problem is not its length [120 pages] nor the difficulty of its vocabulary or the complexity of its structure. Rather it is that the simplicity and sparseness of its language conjures up mental pictures far beyond the words on the page. This second time through was even harder than the first as I found myself anticipating the horrors to come. I remembered our visit to Dachau when we were in Germany and vivid pictures of the concentration camps inserted themselves into his story.

 The first time through I took his description of the mad woman on the train leaving their village at face value. This time I saw the foreshadowing of the crematoriums in her cries of “Fire! I see a fire! I see a fire!!” I waited for the command “Men to the left! Women to the right!” that would take his mother and sister to a place where he would never see them again. I waited for the brutality, the starvation, and his father’s death only days before they were liberated.

I’m still waiting for the satisfying ending. By the time Elie Wiesel was free, he was alone, looking in the mirror at what seemed to be a corpse gazing back. His words in his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech come nearest to giving closure as he uses what happened to him to cast light on others whose human rights are nonexistent. “Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.”

The words in his speech hark back to his opening of the book, “Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

I recommend this hard reading in the hope that we, too, shall never forget.


Watch Out for Gobble-uns! [AKA Goblins]

For six Octobers in kindergarten, fourteen in second grade and seven in junior high, I began the month with James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay, An’ wash the cups and saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away...” Every class enjoyed the poem, but the second graders were the most persistent as they pled, cajoled, and bargained for yet another performance.

  • “If we’re really good…”
  • “If we get our work done…”
  • “If we get the room clean and pack up early…”

They could have saved their bargains if they’d only known how little it took to get me started or how much I enjoyed their anticipation of the Gobble-uns. I hated to see the season end as much as they did when they joined me in the now-memorized chorus for the last recitation at the close of the Halloween party on October 31.

Since leaving the classroom, I have not once missed core curriculum standards, test preparation, lesson plans, or report cards. But come the first of October, I do get a twinge of nostalgia for a class of wide-eyed students anticipating the Gobble-uns “that’ll git you ef you don’t watch out!”


Rules Are for Following?

Mama believed in rules. She had lots, and she found them in many places. There were house rules, school rules, rules in the Bible, traffic rules… I thought Mama believed in all rules until one day when I was eight years old.

Mama, my sisters, and I were getting on a Trailways bus to return home after a visit with my grandfather. I noticed some strange panels hanging down on either side, dividing the front section of the bus from the back. I asked her what they were for.

I don’t remember her words, but I distinctly remember my two reactions. The first was that I might prefer to sit in the back rather than the front. At eight years old, I was smart enough to know that a rule that prevented one group of people from sitting in the front also prevented me from sitting in the back.

The second reaction was even more startling. Somehow I knew, even as she explained it, that Mama did not believe in the rule. The great rule-maker, rule-teacher, rule-follower thought this rule was wrong. I never forgot.

Thank you, Mama.