Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Gulf Hammock Thanksgiving

I've been fighting a cold and congestion for the past few weeks, and it just hasn't seemed to want to shake, so as Thanksgiving week was nearing, I began to wonder if I'd be going down to the woods a few days beforehand as we always have. Well, I went...and I mentioned something on my Facebook the other day about being down there and a former classmate of mine, Scott, reacted as though he was shocked about having Internet service down in Gulf Hammock as he too remembered the days of growing up and going to the woods at Thanksgiving, and the living conditions down there. For one thing...the Internet service was coming from my phone and not DSL.

As a child and going to the camp (and we aren't talking a bunch of tents), most of the time we usually stayed during Thanksgiving week at our old cabin (and I do mean old) because on Thanksgiving day, there was a time of fellowship in which what seemed like half of our small community of Williston would gather to enjoy a feast set up down at Fugate Camp, in which everyone brought a covered dish of some kind, and the meat would be any or everything from turkey to...bear? I say that because someone told me one year that I had put a piece of bear meat on my plate while going through the food line...? I have no clue if they were telling the truth or not, all I recall about it was that it was dark meat and slightly on the tough side. We had to take our clean water in igloo containers and drink the water out of a "community" tin cup because you didn't want to drink the water from the creek due to it being brackish water, and stunk to the high heavens. It looks like extremely dark tea. Bathrooms or port-a-potties did not exist, unless you call the outhouse your bathroom (forget tubs and showers at our place either). It was a chore to get up during the night to go to the'd literally have to grab a flashlight, a roll of toilet paper, socks, shoes, and a warm jacket. For years our outhouse was out in the middle of our camp, had a hole cut in a bench, and as time went on someone placed a toilet seat on top of the hole which really "modernized" it. A few years later, they did move the outhouse a little further back into the woods....then we were scared the varmints would "get us"....but as the commercial says it best, when the "gotta go, gotta go" strikes...then you gotta go.

When the family continued to grow and after I had my accident in 1981, rolling around from one camp to the other in a wheelchair made things very difficult...mud, holes, tree roots and rocks big enough to flip my chair if I wasn't going extremely slow and watched where I was going. Thus another camp location was erected (still at Camp C) when Daddy and his brother, Okra, purchased some land from the Whitehurst family and a couple cabins were built, one for Okra's and one for our (Wesley's) family....incidentally this was where a gator hole was once upon a time, then they brought in fill dirt and built up the land. We modernized things a bit more and we now have running water (still too nasty to drink for me), but charcoal filters were put in so that we could at least wash dishes and shower in the water. After a week of using this water, your fingernails are nasty-looking and one can't wait to get home to take a shower from all the showers you've had to take down there. And, your hair smells like smoke from sitting out at the campfire each day/evening. But hey, this is a female giving the can live like beasts and it not bother them. That's my version of modern-day camping. Daddy's cabin was built by Buddy and Hugo (and whoever else they got to help them), and a ramp and walkway was built around the entire front and north side of the cabin, which leads down to the creek...making it much more convenient for me.

Originally there were 4 bedrooms built, but in later years, they closed the front screened porch in and made 2 more bedrooms out of it. We've slept as many as 20-25 people in there at a time. Our cabin has always had a "damp" feel to it due to the fact it sits over some of the creek, especially at high tide.

The Monday before Thanksgiving arrives, and I'd already made up my mind I didn't feel like going to the camp on the next day because I was still not feeling well, and sitting out in the night air around the fire at night might worsen a cold and the congestion I had. On Tuesday I still didn't feel up to a Wednesday trip, so my plans were to take mama in on Thanksgiving being she hasn't felt too much like staying during Thanksgiving week ever since Daddy had passed away a couple years earlier. He was so much a part of her's (and our) trips down's still a little hard on her. Wednesday morning I got up with the same game plan, but mama "thought" I needed to go down there....I didn't know if she was planning a party or what, I just knew she wanted me to go down there. The rain came down in buckets the day before and that morning and it didn't look like it was ever going to quit. Getting around and in and out of the rain with a wheelchair is not my idea of a good time. Everything in the world seemed to happen to make things harder to get my stuff together, but I picked up my niece (her husband & 2 boys were already down there), and off we went. We were told some good soul had grated the road going in a few days earlier, making it a little better (haha), but the rain had turned it all around and only worsened it. Slip-sliding in the mud, and potholes the size of Texas. Upon arrival, all my servants emptied my vehicle and I took what I could carry inside. After putting my load of stuff in the cabin, and so thankful that the rain had stopped, I went out to where everyone sat around the fire. After a delicious supper of fried venison and fried turkey breast (killed earlier that day), I was already feeling better, attitude-wise. After supper, it was card time and my nephews (Tyler and Logan) taught me and another nephew, Andy, a new game of Uno called Firehouse was fun, only I didn't like getting my tail beat. About a dozen of us stayed down there that evening, and 9 others went out. Ginger and Erik took my vehicle back to Williston for my mother to have something to bring down the next day, on Thanksgiving. When I had first arrived at camp and other than taking my bags inside, I had never taken the time to unload my bags and noticed several things I had forgot to being my deodorant and toothbrush...but hey, someone always has some extras in the bathroom, and I also have a toothbrush I leave down there, so I really didn't worry.

The next morning, we all ate a small breakfast of Pillsbury canned cinnamon and orange rolls, then everyone starts preparing their different dishes for lunch, when the rest of the family and friends would be down. I was excited that our long-time friend Maria Sresovich was going to be coming with Ginger and Erik for lunch.

(Sorry Maria, but for some reason, I can't get the image to go larger)

Maria and Ginger incidentally had grown up together and after viewing some Thanksgiving pictures another long time friend (John) had posted from earlier years of Thanksgivings, she was looking forward to seeing how we celebrate Thanksgiving, "Gulf Hammock" Style. After I finished putting together my macaroni and cheese, I went to my room to get dressed, after that I put on my "face" and headed to the bathroom to brush my teeth and look for the deodorant....and here's what I found:

My first thought...what in the world? No Degree, no Right Guard, no anything...? I have to put on a deodorant scent that attracts deer or keeps them from smelling me? If that wasn't bad enough, someone had thrown my toothbrush away and replaced it with who knows who's, I just grabbed "whoevers" toothbrush and used it. A community reminds me of what I read the other know a redneck invented the toothbrush....anyone else would have named it a teethbrush. :)

When I got in to my room, I looked and found some perfume to disguise the Hunter's Specialties Deodorant, so the next best thing I found tucked away in my toiletries bag was a sample perfume I like to have to keep from having to take a whole entire bottle of cologne anywhere. Price-wise, they don't give perfume/cologne away these days...surely it would counteract the other scent. So I used a little Sensuous, by Estee Lauder....the name itself is quite a contrast from the HSD.

I had to wet the back of my hair down a little from the bed head and borrowed Anneil's hair dryer to blow it dry. I left mine at home because with all the females that go down there, someone usually has a hair dryer to use. The airflow was so powerful, I probably would have been better off letting it air dry. I said, "Anneil, this airflow is so weak. How can you stand this each time you blow your hair dry?" She told me she thought it was powerful, but noticed lately every time she uses it, it smells like something burning. Hmmm...I can't imagine why.... When I took the back of it off and cleaned the lint from it, I was shocked. I've enclosed a picture with the amount of lint I could get from it with the tweezers I had, and there was about this much still left in it. It's compared to the size of a finger ring. I think Anneil needs a hair dryer for Christmas...

The noon hour arrived and to sample the different dishes would be impossible without filling your plate to overflowing with all of the food. Trust me, everything I ate was delicious, no room for seconds. It's always so fun to get to see kinfolk we don't usually get to see but once a year...and taste their dishes too!

In closing, we've all got so much to be thankful for and we need to have a grateful heart more than one day or month out of the year. I need to take a dose of my own medicine too, because that doesn't come easy. Easier said than done. I could have stayed home and had a miserable Thanksgiving, after all, its no fun being sick....especially away from home. As Christians, we are commanded to be thankful. Two particular verses I leave with you that doesn't exactly sound like a suggestion. The Apostle Paul wrote this to the church at Colosse when in chapter 3:15 it says: "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." In chapter 4: 2 says to "Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Smoky Mountain Fever...Again

I just returned from a trip to the mountains last week, and thought I'd write about it and give you a little taste of how it went while it's still fresh on my mind.

Bright and early Thursday morning at 3:45 my alarm went off....ughh....that's so early, but that's how long it takes for me to get my stuff together and ready to leave promptly at 5:00. Following along with my niece Danielle, riding with her were her two children, Hadley and Hagen, and her mother/my sister, Anneil. We set sail and arrived in Valdosta for breakfast at Cracker Barrel, there the 5 of us enjoyed a good meal to start the trip off; I was needing coffee really bad anyway as I could feel my eyes getting very heavy an hour before we stopped. When we left Cracker Barrel, Hadley decided to ride with me since I had been riding by, she brought everything but the kitchen sink with her. Since my vehicle isn't loaded like most all of the new SUV's & vans, she even brought her portable DVD player. I know why they've equipped the vehicles with them that you don't have to hear the kids ask hundreds of times on trips, "When will we be there?" Hadley only did that the last couple of hours of the trip up there; she didn't like watching the movie too long, so she got her dry-erase board out and we played hangman. Yes, driving and playing hangman... She kept the board in her lap of course, but I had to keep looking over from time to time and guess a letter....never got hung either. I have found someone that talks about as much as her grandmother, Beba...aka Anneil. Stopped and filled up around Macon and Hagen came alive and wondered why he couldn't ride with Aunt Becky also, I got his picture while filling up...

We met Wes and my sister-in-law Darlene at the Walmart parking lot in Ellijay since I had a few things to give him that he had asked me to bring up (they had left 3 days earlier than I), we followed them over to Chick-fil-a and had a quick bite, then headed up to mama's place in Warne where she and Meister (our dog) awaited us. My niece, Brooke, and her mother (and another sister of mine) Pam, were on their way up from Cumming and bringing the two kids, Camden and Kinsley. Kinsley's another one that talks about as much as her Aunt Anneil.... In other words, this was not going to be a quiet trip. The temps were cool out, so the big pot of homemade vegetable beef soup my mother had had simmering all day really hit the spot.

Day 2/Friday: Instead of my alarm, I was awakened by the sound of a particular child that learned to whisper around a jackhammer in use. Kinsley informed us all when she arrived that Thursday afternoon that, "I've been sick with a cold." Every time you saw her, she had a Kleenex in her hand. Now her brother Camden is a different story, a little boy with few words...which may be because his little sister does all the talking. He was so looking forward to his cousins, Cade and Coye to get there, and they were to arrive around noon or so with their mother Aubrey (my niece) and Aubrey's younger sister, Chelsea. Both were riding up with their father, Greg. We stayed around the house this day (because we were tired from the trip up), so in between watching TV, we sat out on the front porch and took in the beautiful view-but drab colors- in anticipation of eating and celebrating my Mama's 75th birthday at a really nice restaurant down in Hiawassee, GA called The Oaks...a part of The Ridges Resort.

It was flooding outside when we got to The Oaks, but the evening turned out well until we got our bills.

Day 3, Saturday: Game day, and in between everyone going here and there, we stayed close to home. Mama and I went to the grocery store and purchased stuff for tomorrow's lunch...Sunday lunch at Mema's....a regular each week, only this time the location had changed. We had the DISH man come by to replace a couple of receivers, and he left us in a bind. A cold front was moving in today, but unfortunately he left some snow on the downstairs TV that was not fun to play in. He told me he could come back later that afternoon when he got a few more tools, but I was afraid he would leave us without a TV to view the Gator/Mississippi State he said he would come back the first part of the week. The menu would be BBQ tonight, so we loaded up and headed down to what we thought was pretty early (5:30) to Rib Country and it was packed. We waited in line for 45 minutes, then finally got seated in time to inhale our food and rush home for the football game....another nail-biting game, but the Gator's pulled through....thank the Lord, cause I'm not big on watching games like that with FSU fans.

Day 4, Sunday: Got up and read my bible & devotions, then had my coffee and a small breakfast with family. This alone feels funny, because at home (except for when we were children) we never eat breakfast together just because getting ready for work puts me in the kitchen at a different time than when mama is in there. That's one thing we do in the mountains, most everyone of the grownups are up and about and we usually eat breakfast together, whether it's cereal...a sweet roll...or one mama has prepared of sausage or bacon, eggs, grits & toast. Afterwards, the breakfast dishes were cleaned up, then I prepared a big pan of macaroni and cheese to bake later for be served with roast beef, rice and gravy, fresh turnips, fresh green beans & potatoes, rolls, sweet tea and homemade peach cobbler for dessert. Very filling. After lunch we sat out on the porch awhile (like pigs basking in the sunshine), and then got ready for the first half of the crew to head back on the road for home. Took a few snapshots of the use to be you had to face into the sun for your best snapshots, so I just told everyone to close their eyes and on the count of 3, look at me to keep from being blinded by the sun that was shining so brightly this day. It was still cold even with it shining.

After we said our goodbyes, we decided to ride in to Hiawassee. Hagen was now the only kid with 4 grownups, and to keep him from being sad they told him they'd get him something from Fred's Dollar Store...he liked it so much that he fell asleep before we got there, so me & Anneil sat out in the vehicle while they went inside. With it being cool, Anneil thought it'd be a good time to go to this nice little coffee shop for some of their specialty coffees...Pumpkin Spiced Latte's...well, that's all we got to enjoy of them were the thoughts of it, because it was closed on Sunday. Went home instead and had a cup of coffee from Mr. Maxwell's House. We had a Chinese stir-fry for supper.

Day 5, Monday: We headed back down into Georgia about an hour or so to Wes and Darlene's today, since Wes told Mama he would grill something for her birthday. I wish I could describe to you the ride into his place, but take it from the horse's was treacherous if you aren't use to it....and that I wasn't it. The house is 2 story and has a creek running in the front of it. You can enter in and park at creek-level, but then you have to go up about 15 steps or so...I didn't want to be pulled up those steps, let alone put everyone through pulling me up them as it would probably rupture their backs. So...Wes has a back entry that brings you in on the top level (main floor) of the house. I didn't take a picture of the drive from the top down since I was driving, and Mama was too scared to open her eyes to take a snapshot as you come down it, so I took a picture from that level looking up, which doesn't do it any justice. (If you're interested, take a look at Annie Whitehurst' Blog Post and check out her (Oct) Leaf Looking 2009 post. In this she shows one particular picture of a driveway when her and her family went on a little walk through the woods when they were up there the week before. The rest of her blogs are great to read also.) My first picture is of the driveway looking upward (and trust me, it looks like a piece of cake). The rest of the pictures were in or around the house, and looking down at the creek view. It's so odd how just an hour away the terrain can change to where you think you're out west with the tall aspens..only they had plenty of tall hemlocks, a type of evergreen tree.

Wes had been marinating the meat all morning and put them on the grill while I was there and it turned out sooo good...moist and tender meat to go with the sides and dessert Darlene had prepared. Cherry-glazed pork tenderloin, apricot-glazed chicken wings, twice-baked potatoes, baked beans, spring mixed tossed salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing and homemade apple tarts with vanilla bean ice cream and hot caramel sauce on top.

We were in no shape to eat anything once we got back to the Mama's house, but drank a cup of coffee for warmth. Overall it was a good day. Time is starting to click on by and it will be Friday before we know it.

Day 6, Tuesday: Stayed around the house today since it started raining, and Anneil and Danielle went to a few shops in Hiawaseee. The Dish man came back to try and correct his mistakes of whatever he did on the weekend...he blamed it on the TV-which was working fine before he ever came. Some men....can't own up to saying they don't know what they're doing sometimes. We had leftovers tonight from Sunday's meal to try to clear out the refrigerator before the end of the week.

Day 7, Wednesday: Woke up to clearer skies rain, but plenty of clouds scattered about. It looked as though we were riding in an airplane up amongst the clouds. After filling up with fuel, we headed over to Franklin NC today and spent a little more money in a couple of stores. The ride over that way is always so pretty with colors because you're going into a higher elevation, which is usually a few days ahead of Warne in color. The closer we got, you could tell they had already reached their peek, probably over the weekend, but I got a few snapshots anyway.

We shopped a little bit, then ended up at Big Lots before leaving Franklin and at one point in the store came upon some lazy stragglers.

Got home and rested up a little while then decided to treat the last remaining of us to The Oaks for a last meal together as tomorrow Anneil, Danielle, and Hagen would leave to go back to Florida. It gets sad as everyone starts to leave...we all said we'd like to just move up there...such a relaxed atmosphere, no one gets in a's just plain fun. we head to The Oaks, and this time we have a much smaller crowd in tow (which was the only reason I treated), and we're not having to fight getting in and out of the rain. We all tried a different dish tonight, and I started us off with the baked brie cheese and crackers for an appetizer, then I got the fresh pecan-encrusted mountain trout with the side of spring salad, seasonal vegetables , garlic mashed potatoes, and homemade bread. You can't resist their homemade desserts, so we (Anneil and I) decided on the Cherries Jubilee...and with fresh apples in season, Mama decided to get their apple pie la mode, but changed her mind and decided to get the same thing we got....especially since me nor Mama had ever tried it. Anneil was describing the flaming cherries in a syrup with vanilla bean ice cream served atop a crepe. I've seen some of their little S'Mores for Two come out with the little fire going, so I'm looking forward to this dessert they rave over. To get the flame I know you've got to add the cooking wine and I know the fire burns off the alcohol, so I don't feel as though I'm consuming any alcohol to try to get intoxicated in anyway... Our waitress brings out two flaming desserts and sets mine and Mama's down at the table and goes back to retrieve Anneil's. Before the fire/flame goes out I decide to get a picture of it (which you cannot even tell there is a flame because it is so low due to the AC vent blowing on it).

As I finish taking the picture the lady is bringing Anneil's and setting it down, and I look over at Mama, who has just bit into her dessert and I wanted to see her reaction of, "ummmmm good." I did not see this reaction, but a "look to kill" in which she rolled her eyes as if to silently say, "This is some wicked alcohol-tasting-cherry-something." (You've got to know this place, it's not a roached-infested greasy spoon, but a very nice, fresh, chef-prepared establishment that would probably be the nicest place in this area.) So, I knew by that she tasted alcohol...and I took a bite of mine and you'd have thought someone tripped and spilled a whole bottle of rubbing alcohol into my bowl. As long as I ate a cherry alone, or the ice cream, I didn't taste it....but never got to enjoy the crepe part because it was soaked in the liquid also. The lady kept trying to light it, but it wouldn't stay lit. Needless to say, we got a good laugh about our dessert...but Mama was fit to be tied. On the way home, we rode by a little place on the mountain next to us (Mt. Pisgah, but different than the Mt. Pisgah next to Cold Mountain which is where the movie was made) that the last few years daddy was alive would "most of the time" and at the "right time" of the evening (as the sun was going down), it wasn't unusual to see deer grazing. We didn't see any, so we turned around in someone's field and going by the same place we had just ridden by 1 minute before, it now had a couple doe's out there. They looked up and just stared at us, then continued eating. I went ahead and told Anneil and them goodbye tonight as they would be leaving at 5 a.m. in the morning and I didn't want to wake up to tell them then.

Day 8, Thursday: The next crew got off and it was just Mama and I left at the house, so we did what cleaning was needed and stayed around the house today. I don't know why, but I don't mind cleaning my bathroom & bedroom (as much) up there as I do here. On our way to eat supper that evening, we left early enough to go take a load of garbage to the dump, then went the backway and through one of the golf courses in to Hiawassee and saw some trees that were just turning colors.

We ate at Daniel's Steak House, a place that Mama and Daddy use to love to eat at when they would come up because they always had a delicious buffet. Unfortunately, the management must have changed hands because our meal was nothing to write home about. I had a young man wait on us that really got on my nerves for one thing, he seemed to be a little too cool...or so he thought. We made our way to the salad bar, then to the main entree which was fried chicken, and that I must say that was really good...but that's all I can say as the rest of the stuff was fresh alright....fresh out of the can or frozen bag. The desserts (that came with our meal) looked as though my little niece had prepared it. Coconut Cake with Hershey's Syrup drizzled all over it....and something that looked as though they were trying to make a chocolate delight with a layer of crushed up cookies, canned pudding with Cool Whip...then someone spilled Hershey's chocolate syrup all over that. It was pitiful. I told Mama we needed to mark that place off of our "top list of places to eat while in the mountains". I'm sorry, but I think my Mama's good cooking has spoiled us all. We rode up on the mountain again this evening to see if we could see any deer and did not, but found a beautiful sunset instead.

Day 9, Friday: We left at 7:30 a.m. and thank the Lord there was no fog, but a beautiful sunrise.

We first stopped off in Blue Ridge to try out a new Apple Warehouse, Mercier's. Wow....they not only have the fresh-picked apples, but a deli-bakery with to-die-for fresh pastries of every fritters (flat, but the size of a 8' pizza), butter-pecan fritters, apple-cinnamon bread, fried apple pies, etc. We were loaded when we left there...Mama and our dog in one vehicle and me in the other. It's difficult at times to have another car to keep up with, but I led us southward and toward home. Of course you'd know as we were coming into Atlanta at 10:30 in the morning, it was bumper-to-bumper due to an accident...that of which I never saw, and right in the heart of Atlanta it started raining...which brought back flashbacks from last year's trip. The further south we got around Macon on, the traffic started getting worse as there were many cars that flew around me as though I was a turtle....all decked out with their Georgia Bulldog banners and flags flapping. We pulled off in Cordele to try and find a Chick-fil-a, but there was none to be found, so we moved on the down the road a little more. It was funny, but within 15 minutes, a Chick-fil-a SUV pulling a U-Haul came around us...I figured it may have been heading to the Georgia/Florida game. Our 8 hour trip turned into 10 hours again, and we arrived in Williston around 5:30. Always nice to get away, but wonderful to get back home. I got unpacked, and I was in the bed around 8:00.

There's something about getting away to the mountains that just does something for me on the inside. It always makes me wonder why so many important things in the Bible took place on top of a mountain....God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on top of Mt. specific time the devil tried to tempt Jesus was while he was up on a mountain, he showed him all of the splendor one can see from on top of it...and Jesus got away from everyone and went up on a mountain to pray before he made one of the biggest decisions he made while he walked on this earth, the choosing of his 12 disciples. Just being in the mountains or on one makes you see things a little differently...makes my problems sure seem smaller when you see the size of them (mountains) and know that if God created them by just speaking the word, he can also speak to the seemingly mountain-size problems in my life and help me through them, or remove them. So if you've never been there, you don't know what you're missing....its well worth the trip though.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Mountains and Bumper Cars

Ok, the leaves will soon start turning colors and falling off. Fall is my favorite time of the year because not only is it Gator football season, but mountain time also. I'll soon start packing my suitcase and car for another road trip. October is such a colorful time to be in the mountains; not only are the leaves turning, but it's apple time up there and you can purchase any and everything edible in the apple line...doughnuts, pies, cakes, breads, pastries, juices, ciders, or just plain ole bags of fresh picked apples, every flavor & variety you can think of.

This blog is really about last year's trip, but the pictures I'm posting were taken over the past few years.

Last year, Mama had just bought a brand new car and our annual trip was a perfect time for her to try it out. She left on a Monday (a little earlier than I), and even though she knows the route like the back of her hand, she followed along behind Wes and Darlene, my brother and sister-in-law. Wes exited at Ellijay where he has a house, and mama kept going on to Warne, NC just an hour away.

My plans were to leave on Friday morning with my niece Chelsea riding as far as Alpharetta, a suburb just a little north of Atlanta. My niece (and Chelsea's sister) Brooke, Wayne, Camden, and Kinsley had all previously moved up there, so this was the perfect time for her to visit them and check out the area they were living at that particular time (they now reside in Cumming). I'll tell you what, if you don't have one, it's well worth the money spent to purchase a GPS because it took us right to her front door. From their apartment, I left (in unfamiliar territory) and used my GPS to get me back to 575 so that I could get back into more familiar surroundings, and find the fresh apple donuts in Ellijay that mama had asked me to stop in and get on my way up. She had it all planned out, had called the people to set a box aside since I would be there within the hour. Of course by the time I get there the truck hadn't made it with their delivery of the fresh batch of donuts, so I chose to move on down the road...doughnuts were the last thing we needed.

The week of relaxation spent in Warne was as usual...smells, colors, temperatures, little shops, and good eats are all wonderful...wish I could go up more often as I have nothing but good memories any time I've ever been to the mountains...any time spent with my family and friends is a good time to make a memory.

The part of the story I'm really writing about is to come though...the trip home. Due to the fact several family members left on different days to go up to NC, there were 3 cars following each other on the return trip home. We never fail to pray for God’s hand of protection on our travel wherever we go, so as we pulled out that morning to head back home to Florida, we had already been prepared by the Weather Channel that we more-than-likely would have bad weather to drive through. We just didn’t realize it was going to be a combination of driving in a monsoon, hurricane-like, and tornadic weather. We left at 8:00 that morning with our windshield wipers on, along with our headlights, and I also had a set of walkie-talkies for my mother and I to use to keep from using our cell phones so much. I find myself engrossed in the phone conversation rather than concentrating on my driving when I talk on a cell phone at the same time I'm driving (my mother and oldest sister are ones that feel the need to get on the phone as soon as they get in the car). Well, add trying to hold on to a set of hand controls with one hand, and your other one on the steering wheel. A Bluetooth and speaker phone comes in handy for me, but I didn’t have my Bluetooth charged on this particular day since we were going to use my walkie-talkies. The only time our headlights went off was when we stopped for breakfast at Cracker Barrel north of Atlanta. Back in the car again, and the headlights didn’t go off until we arrived in Williston 8 hours later. The usual 8 hour trip from home to Warne, NC turned into 10 hours. When we weren’t riding with the windshield wipers on high speed, they were on a quick delay. Closer into Atlanta (and also the quickest route), we have to merge onto I-75 and into mannnny more lanes of traffic. I thought of my mother when merging, as she said she never fails to ask God to "open up" an area for her to get into, and if I know my mama (the mother hen), I knew she was praying that morning for her children traveling behind her to get safely on also. Sure enough, we merged ok and I smiled and said to myself, “Thank you Lord”. The closer we got to Atlanta, the harder the rain fell. Now for someone that's been used to driving down the 2 lane back roads of Levy County all of her life, anything too much over that can get a bit hectic, if the traffic’s bad (Gainesville and Ocala I would consider minor). Since mama and daddy had the house built up there, my family has made this same trek numerous times in the past 8 years and know full well if you don’t move along, you could get ran over while driving through Atlanta (or any other big city for that matter). So here we are moving at about 60 mph with all lanes of traffic full, zigzagging in and out, brake lights, rain, and then some more rain. I kept an eye on mama and from time to time she’d brake, I’d brake, and my sister & her husband behind me would follow suit. At one point I looked in my rear view mirror for a mere split second, then looked back down to see mama’s brake lights on and how quickly she’s made a complete stop behind several more cars. I had enough time to hit my brakes and hear the loud squeal of my tires as they slid on the wet pavement. In a matter of about 1 - 2 seconds, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to come to a stop, so I squinted my eyes and prepared for the crash….and I hit the back of mama's brand-new car, and braced for the hit that I knew would come from behind from Greg and Pam, but it never happened. My walkie-talkie flew to the floor, as did my cell phone that was on the seat next to me. My first thought was, I do hope no one decides to call me because I can't reach down and find the walkie-talkie or my phone. Pam did call me a minute or so later, but I couldn't answer it. My suitcase and other things came off the back seat and hit the floor in between the seats. In a matter of seconds the traffic started back up, and so did we. People probably thought, "What are those crazy people doing leaving the scene of an accident? We pulled over into a rest area about 45 minutes later, and the amazing thing…there was not one scratch or dent to either my car or my mother’s car. No other explanation except the Lord cushioned the hit and protected the cars and ourselves from any damage. Obviously, the devil didn’t like it when I thanked the Lord for helping us onto I-75, so he probably thought, “I’ll show her…” Don’t get me wrong, I did question why it even happened in the first place, but the more I thought about it, I realized it could have been much worse and someone could have been injured, or even killed.

Trust me, God’s hand of protection is around us each day. It would be so easy for me to wonder where he was in 1981 when I had my accident that left me paralyzed, but I'm alive and well today, so that's what I've got to be thankful for. If you look hard enough you can find something positive in whatever situation you find yourself in. I truly believe I don't have to be thankful "because" of my accident, but have a thankful attitude regardless, after all, that's what it took for me to look up, as all I had my eyes on were myself (whatever it took to make me, myself, and I happy). Ephesians 5:20 says to Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus.

In closing, the other day I put bumper guards on Mama's car (factory-made, not homemade). Seems as though she scratched it on the brick wall when she was up there some months ago. Thing is she didn't even feel the bump until someone told her later that evening they saw her slowly back into it. This year's fall trip is right around the corner and I'll be praying beforehand, while there, and on the trip back home for God's hand of protection. In the meantime, I'm thankful to be alive to enjoy a part of God's creation...the Smoky Mountains in particular.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Good Hand Workout

Living in the country or in a small town, it's just neighborly to share the fruits of your labor. My daddy loved to do this with the vegetables he grew in his garden each year, and the same thing many others do with not only the things they harvest, but sometimes with the "catch of the day" (as I've mentioned before in an earlier post). Well, such was the case last week when the neighbors from down the road shared some of their harvest of grapes...Duane Aaron that is. Since Mama is the one that puts up most of the fruit and vegetables in the family, the bag was turned over to her...all ten pounds. Duane Aaron had told me his Daddy is the one that prepares the grapes before his Mama puts hers up. Oh my...somehow I sensed I was fixing to be suckered in on this grape project.

A few days later at church that Sunday, Duane Aaron asked had we put the grapes up yet? I said, "No, WE'LL probably do that tomorrow (Labor Day). What'd I tell you?
With it being a holiday, I do get to sleep in an hour later than any other day, but it's nice to get up and not have to put on any makeup, or fix my hair. Might look like road kill, but it sure does feel nice. I drink my coffee then tell mama that if she wants me to help her, I want to get started immediately as I didn't want to spend my whole day working on my day off.
How many of you have seen the "I Love Lucy" episode when Lucy is stomping the grapes in the wine vat? Check it out on YouTube, if you haven't. Too funny. Of course in my physical condition I couldn't stomp the grapes, and rolling over ten pounds of grapes with my wheelchair would be uncalled for...especially since what happened to me Saturday. (I had rolled out to the clothesline to hang up a load of clothes. The fertilizer I had my nephew throw out on our lawn back in the spring had made our grass so nice and thick, and slightly wet with dew, made it a little harder to roll in, plus hide a little deposit from my dog right down the path I chose to roll in. Of course I didn't notice it till on my way back to the sidewalk. Trust me, I scrubbed my tires and hands, and would have shot my dog if a gun were nearby.) But that's another story...

The grapes are washed real good. To be on the sanitary side I wear gloves, and for the next hour I am squeezing grapes. The gloves were also a safeguard to keep from staining my hands since I had to go somewhere later that evening, I didn't want to have purple-stained hands, looking as though I didn't take a bath. (The purple is the outside skins, and the pulp is the green stuff.)

When we "use to" diet around the house, we had a scale for measuring portions, but since it's been so long since we've dieted we couldn't find that scale, so mama would trapes back and forth to her bathroom scales to weigh out three pounds each batch called for. I proceed to squeeze the grapes, while Mama gets her canning jars down and gives them a good wash, then places them in the oven on warm to keep them hot for what she'll be placing in them.

Each batch was then boiled down (grape hull, pulp, and all) along with half a cup of water. The grapes were so pretty and purple, we were in hopes that the juices turn this same color, but they didn't. We had to create our own purple color with a few drops of food coloring to give it that grape jelly affect. This grape mixture was later drained through a sieve and the juices collected into the next pot.

Before she starts the cooking process, she arranges her hot pads, tongs, funnel, and the magnetic stick that she uses to pick up the sterilized lids for sealing the jars. The grape juices were then cooked down with only 7 cups of sugar, and when it comes to a full boil, she adds the pectin for thickening. It looks good...

Don't get in Mama's way when she's in the canning process, or she'll run over you. Well, I could think of nothing worse than her tripping and scalding me with a whole pot of the grape jelly juices, so I move out of her way. She places the funnel over each jar and pours the hot grape-mixture into each jar, one at a time. As she completes each pouring, she wipes each jar off to make sure nothing interferes in the sealing process once she places the lid on, then she turns each jar upside down, to keep everything hot (around the lid area). When she finishes pouring the grape jelly into her last jar, she turns them all right side up. When she completes this process, you know what she does? She prays. Yes, you heard me right, she prays. She prays that each one seals. Then she turns a fan on and lets it blow on her jars. Over the next thirty minutes or so you hear pop, pop, pop, as each lid seals. And with each pop goes a "Thank you Jesus." We were able to do this whole procedure two times with a little left over, but not quite enough to do a third batch.

It kills me, Mama gives away more jelly or preserves than what she keeps. Not that we're selfish people, but Mama would always (and still does) make up a batch of peach and strawberry preserves and when Daddy was living he would ask, "Who is that for? I know it's not for us because you'll give it all away before we get to try any." And Mama's reply, "I'm the one making it, and if I want to give away every jar, I'll do it." We'd get a jar though. As I left for work Tuesday morning, you know what Mama said? "Now take this jar of grape jelly to the office this morning in case Duane Aaron comes by." I wasn't out there 10 minutes when the phone rang and it was Duane Aaron asking if we made the jelly. I said, "Yes, I squeezed all ten pounds for her." He asked if she could use any more and I knew she could use about two pounds to put with the little bit she had left over...but first I wanted to make sure she felt up to it, so I told him I needed to call her first to find out. You know what her comment was? "Yes, tell him I sure could use some long as I've got you to help me squeeze the grapes." So I called him back and told him. I just shook my head. I know when it's all said and done though, ohhh the finished for use (consuming it, that is).

To me, making jelly is in many ways like the life of a Christian. When Jesus was invited to do so and came to live inside of me 28 years ago, he washed away my sins and made me like Mama did her mason jars...a clean vessel. Much like the grapes, the day to day pressures of this life are enough to feel like the life is being squeezed out of us, the heat of troubles and trials are enough to nearly kill us or knock us down real low. Though it doesn't feel like it at the time we're going through these, they can make us stronger, and in turn, with the help and comfort we receive from our Heavenly Father, we're able to help and encourage those that go through the same "stuff."

After 28 years, I can still honestly say Jesus has filled my life with his treasure, and placed a seal on me to preserve it.
II Corinthians 1: 22 says: He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
I like what II Corinthians 4: 7 - 9, 16 - 18 has to say also: But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed...... Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Not because of anything I have done, but because of all He has done for me...I am His finished for His use.

In closing, Duane Aaron came to pick up his jar of grape jelly yesterday, and bless his heart in return he brought 2 bags of grapes......but I must give credit where credit is due, his daughter Pricilla informed me her mother Linda had been out picking all those grapes.
Somehow I think I know what I'll be doing Saturday morning.