When You Don’t Want to Smile

March 12, 1963 Keith, KY flood            March 12, 1963–Cumberland River Flood, Harlan County, Kentucky

 I left for the airport in plenty of time, but I wasn’t looking forward to this trip. After I had accepted the speaking assignment, the town where the event would be held had been hit by flooding. I had called the hostess to express my sympathy and offered to reschedule. She was adamant the event would go on. Then she added, “We need your funny stories.”

The problem was I didn’t want to be funny. My grandparents had been forced out of their home years ago when the Cumberland River in Harlan County, Kentucky jumped its banks. I knew about flood waters. I knew about the loss of precious family photos and family treasures. I knew about family Bibles with generations of history plucked from the mud when the brown water returned to the river bed. How could I possibly offer anything to folks who had faced that? Oh, Lord, please help was my constant prayer.

That prayer still was on my mind as I approached the automatic check-in. Just as I started to slide my ID into the slot, an agent called for attention.

“A storm is moving in, so we’re trying to get many of you out early. If you have a ticket for the 8:25 connecting through Chicago, please step over here for rebooking and immediate departure.”

Well, that was me. Before I knew it, I was in a group escorted through the express security line and onto what now was a packed plane. My seat was at a window in the back.

I always ask for an aisle seat as far forward as possible, so my new seat assignment assured me this trip was off to a bad start. Just as I settled in and leaned against the cold wall, my seatmate sat down.

“How ya doin’ today?” he said as he buckled up.

“Fine, thanks.” I was in no mood for chitchat.

“This earlier flight sure was a surprise, huh?”

“Sure was.” I reached for a magazine in the seatback pocket. Maybe if I read he would ignore me.

“You going to visit grandkids?”

Now I was irritated. What an arrogant assumption that any woman wearing slacks and having gray hair didn’t have corporate reasons for being on a plane.

“No. Business.”

“Oh. What do you do?”

I sighed. “I talk.”

“Oh. Really.” It crossed my mind he wanted to add, “Could have fooled me.” Instead he said, “What about?”

It was time for a show-down. “Look,” I said. “I’m known for my funny stories. I tell about goofy relatives and zany experiences from the School of Hard Knocks. But this time I’m going into a town hit by intense flooding, and I don’t want to be funny.”

He settled a flat pillow behind his neck. “Well, you can be grumpy after you speak.  Those people need to laugh for even a few minutes. They won’t be forgetting their pain. They’ll just be reminded good days will come again.”

I murmured a surprised “Uh, thanks” as he closed his eyes. Then I looked out the window and watched the ground rush by as the plane headed into the sky. God had answered my prayer for help. Just not the way I had expected.

(adapted from page 221 of The One Year Women’s Friendship Devotional by Cheri H. Fuller and Sandra P. Aldrich)

 

Posted in God's presence, helping others, humor, prayer

The Breathin’ Part

Mama 1966 - Copy

Nancy Bingham Farley

Years ago, when my beloved grandmother Mama Farley died at age ninety, my husband, Don, and I decided our then five-year-old daughter, Holly, and six-year-old son, Jay, would attend the Kentucky funeral with us. During the long drive, we talked about heaven and told our children that Mama—the part we couldn’t see—was already with the Lord.

Then I, a veteran of Southern funerals, told about the part they would see. She’d be lying in a big box, called a casket, and would be surrounded by flowers. A lot of people would be in the room, I said, and many would be crying because Mama Farley couldn’t talk to them anymore.

I talked about the sad hymns the people would sing, what the minister would say, and even about the procession to the cemetery after her adult grandsons carried the casket to the big car called a hearse. Then, most important of all, I asked if they had any questions. Jay wondered about practical matters, such as how they put the casket in the ground, but Holly just stared at me, her eyes round with silent wonderings.

When we arrived at the funeral home, we held the children’s hands and walked into the flowered area. I studied Mama Farley’s dear ancient face and thought of the godly example she’d been. Lost in my memories, I was startled by Holly’s whispered question: “Is she breathing?”

I hadn’t anticipated a question like that and it required more than just a quick “No, of course not.” Suddenly this business of explaining death to myself had become difficult. How could I help a child grasp what I couldn’t?

“Well, Holly. . . .” I stalled, searching for something both simple and theologically sound. Jay turned from studying the casket handles to face his little sister.

“No, Holly, she’s not breathing. Remember? The breathin’ part’s in heaven.”

Since that long-ago April day, I’ve stood before all too many caskets. But even with tears running down my cheeks, I am comforted as I remember a little voice confidently announcing, “The breathin’ part’s in heaven.”

 

 

 

 

Posted in a child's wisdom, aging, ancestors, Appalachia, children, confidence, encouragement, faith, families, funerals, grief, heaven, Kentucky

Warm Blackberry Cobbler for a Cold Day

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Most of the nation is enjoying spring blossoms now, but this morning I awakened to snow in my Colorado yard. Thus, a warm Kentucky cobbler is a perfect dessert for a day like today.

Large, juicy blackberries grow wild in the Appalachian mountains and are a welcome fresh fruit summer treat. Additional plump berries are preserved as jam or canned in glass jars for winter use.  The only drawbacks to the berry picking are the large thorns on the brambles and the snakes that linger under the low-hanging bushes. During my childhood when I picked berries with my mother and siblings, I was the only one who saw a snake at every picking. Thankfully, I saw only one each time. Once I saw the snake, then I could get serious about gathering the prized berries.

Zetta, the main character in my novel Zetta’s Dream, would have prepared meals on a coal-burning stove—like the other women in the early 1920s coal camp. When the women traded recipes, the final instruction would have been “cook until done.” Thus, when I collected the 29 authentic recipes for the book Zetta’s Coal Camp Recipes, I occasionally added modern cooking instructions and/or hints for cooks using today’s stoves. I hope you enjoy this modern version of a vintage dessert.

Zetta’s Blackberry Cobbler

5 to 6 cups blackberries (or any variety of berries or chopped large fruit—fresh or canned)

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ cup sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup cold butter

1 cup milk 

Topping:

2/3 cup sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

1 ½ cups boiling water

Arrange fruit evenly in the bottom of a 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-inch lightly greased baking pan.

In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; cut in butter until crumbly.

Stir in milk. Spoon batter over fruit.

Combine sugar and cornstarch; sprinkle over batter. Pour water over all.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.

Enjoy with cold milk or your favorite ice cream flavor.

Zetta’s Dream (http://bit.ly/Zettas-Dream) and Zetta’s Coal Camp Recipes are available via amazon.com

 

Posted in Appalachia, Book: Zetta's Dream, Coal Camps, Kentucky, old-time desserts

Zetta’s Coal Camp Christmas

Red Sweater

After a restless night, Zetta dressed quietly and slipped into the kitchen. The snow still was falling. She watched the soot absorb the flakes, then picked up an orange from yesterday’s school party and breathed deeply of its fragrance before cutting the fruit into twelve slices. Three slices went on each man’s plate and one each on hers and the children’s.

After mixing the biscuit dough, Zetta reached for her favorite skillet as Asa came into the kitchen and kissed the back of her neck.

“Christmas Gift, Mrs. Berghoff.”

Zetta put her hands on each side of his face. “And Christmas Gift to you, Mr. Berghoffer” she said. “Let me get you some coffee.”

Asa shook his head. “Let that wait. I’m gonna light the tree candles for Sister and Brother.”

But before Asa had finished lighting the candles, Rachel and Micah emerged from the bedroom. Asa pulled both children to the tree.

“Look at what Santy Claus brought,” he said. “This cradle is for your doll baby, Sister, and the dancing man is for Brother.”

As the delighted children reached for the new toys, Zetta heard the corn shuck mattress rustle as her brothers got out of bed. Soon Luttrell entered, smiling at the children. Loren followed, buckling his belt.

“You’d think you’d let a feller sleep on Christmas,” Loren said. “But instead you’re out here yammering enough to wake the dead.”

Zetta smiled. “Christmas Gift to you, too,” she said. “I swear you spent too much on these youngins.”

Loren held up his hands. “Those gifts are from Santy Claus,” he said.

Asa wrapped Micah’s little hand around the stick attached to the back of the dancing man and bounced the toy against the bare floor.

As Micah watched the swirling legs of the toy, Loren danced several shuffling steps then pointed to the mechanical bank under the tree’s branches.

“This is yours, too,” he said. “See? You balance a penny on the pig’s snout. “Then you push this level, and the pig kicks the penny into the man’s mouth.”

Loren pushed the lever, and the penny sailed into the mechanical man’s mouth. As Micah giggled, Loren slapped his thigh.

“That look on your face beats all,” he said. “Let’s see if I’ve got another penny.”

Asa shook his head. “That bank’s gonna have more money than you do. Why’d you go and spend all your wages?”

Loren balanced another penny on the pig’s snout. “Maybe I got tired of hearing about your pitiful growing up Christmases.”

Asa frowned. “Whoever said a fool and his money are soon parted sure knew you.”

Loren shrugged.

* * * * *

            (After a hurried breakfast, Zetta began to clear the table. Asa pulled her to the living room.)

“Let the dishes be,” he said. “The boys and me have gifts for you.”

As Asa steered Zetta toward a chair near the tree, Loren pulled a tortoise shell hand mirror from behind his back.

“Asa’s all the time bragging on your hair,” he said. “So I got you this.”

Zetta motioned for him to bend down and kissed him soundly on the cheek.

Luttrell held out a smooth board marked with black lines. A small bright blue cloth bag lay on top.

“I thought maybe you’d like to teach Rachel the Fox and Geese game,” he said. “I recollect how patient you was teaching me when we was little. Clarie made the pouch for the stones.”

As Zetta motioned for Luttrell to bend down for a kiss on the cheek, Loren came back into the room with his hands behind his back. Asa took the item from Loren and held it behind his own back.

“When Perton sent me into Hazard to pick up tools, I saw a woman outside the Beaumont Hotel wearing one like this,” he said. “I knew it would look prettier on you than it did on her.”

He held up a red sweater.

Zetta was startled but managed to say, “That’s pretty, Asa. Right pretty.”

When she didn’t take the garment from her husband, Loren laughed.

“What’d I tell you, Asa? I told you the woman you saw was a street walker,” he said. “Nobody but women like that wear red.”

Asa was bewildered, looking first at the astonished Zetta then the grinning Loren.

“But with Zetta’s dark hair, I just figured. . . .”

Zetta stood up and took the sweater.

“Asa, I’m right pleased you thought of me,” she said. “I can’t wear it just yet, what with the baby and all. But I will soon. Real soon.”

(This excerpt is from chapter twelve of Zetta’s Dream: An Appalachian Coal Camp Novel, available at http://bit.ly/Zettas-Dream. Merry Christmas! And may 2016 be filled with new blessings for you!)

 

Posted in Appalachia, Book: Zetta's Dream, children, Christmas, Coal Camps, families, Kentucky

Asking for Help

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For varying reasons, I often find it difficult to ask for help. Maybe you nodded at my confession because of your own previous requests that resulted in a scolding or rejection. But we all need help at one time or another. So where do we start now? First, we pray. After all, Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.”

As I’ve prayed for guidance over the years, especially when I was raising two children alone, sometimes our heavenly Father provided a creative idea that resulted in an immediate solution. Sometimes He sent me to a kind someone. I remember when my then 10-year-old son, Jay, had to wear a tie for his school’s concert. Neither of us had the foggiest notion how to tie a four-in-hand, so I asked a neighbor to teach him. The neighbor did, bless him, and Jay was ready for his concert.

But for those of us raising children alone, we usually have greater problems than neckties. When Jay turned 13, we were at Lake Michigan, and he came in one afternoon all excited about a new game he, Erik and Andy had of jumping out of a moving boat.

Horrified, I gave teary mother arguments about the danger of what he was doing. But he insisted they would be fine. So I launched into every lake horror story I’d ever heard.

Jay remained unimpressed. I was just worrying too much, he said.

Then I breathed the best one-word prayer any of us can pray: Help! And in a sudden burst of God-directed inspiration, I called the Coast Guard, explained the situation and asked if I was overreacting. The officer assured me I wasn’t and said the boys’ game was a good way to get killed.

I asked if he’d tell Jay that.

“Yes,” he answered. “I’m tired of pulling bodies out of the water.”

Jay accepted the phone grudgingly and with a teen’s greeting said, “Yeah?”

I heard the officer’s retort even though I couldn’t hear exact words. Immediately, Jay sat straighter.

“Uh, I mean, yes, Sir!”

For the next several minutes, Jay listened, and occasionally nodded. Finally, he signed off with “Okay. Thank you—Sir.”

I never heard details, but as far as I know, the boys didn’t play the game again.

That call may have saved young lives. Yes, sometimes we have to do the difficult thing for the future good of a youngster—whether it’s calling a counselor or the authorities. I wish all of our needs were as simple as asking someone to teach our son how to tie a necktie for the school concert. But if your children—or you—need help, pray. Then make that important call.

(An excerpt from Heart Hugs for Single Moms: 52 Devotions to Encourage You)

Posted in children, prayer, Psalm 46:1, rescue, single mothers, single parenting, single-parent families, widows

Trusting in Another’s Help

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As a friend lamented her estranged son’s absence, I remembered a time when I had protected someone else’s child. I promised to pray for the same help for my friend’s son.

Years ago I was in Jerusalem’s Old City, marveling at the narrow stone streets where tiny shops displayed spices, goat meat, camel rugs and wood carvings. Ahead of me was a young Palestinian mother cradling a baby in her left arm while she steered a little boy about three with her right hand. Even though her gray-green dress and white headscarf announced a different culture, I thought of earlier days of shopping with my two little ones.

Then a collective groan went up as people flattened against walls as a garbage tractor inched forward. The streets already were crowded. How was the driver going to get the vehicle through?

But I moved with the crowd, muttering meaningless English “Sorrys” as we flattened ourselves—four deep on each side—against the storefronts and each other. The tractor’s oversized tires were only millimeters away.

Suddenly someone was kicking my ankles. The little son of the Palestinian mother was trying to fight past me–and into the path of the tractor. I grabbed his shoulder and looked to where I last had seen his mother. She, like the rest of us, was trapped against the wall and holding the baby up to keep the child from being crushed. But while she was protecting one, her eyes were darting over the crowd for the other who had been separated in the pushing.

Still gripping her son’s shoulder with one hand, I waved to her with the other while the child kicked my ankles for all he was worth.

“He’s here. I have him!” I shouted.

Her bewildered stare told me she didn’t understand English, and all of us were pressed too tightly for me to pick up the child. All I could do was point down and nod, hoping she understood her son was safe.

At last, with the tractor past, I steered the child to his anxious mother. As he recognized her skirt, he clutched it, sobbing with relief. I touched his dark hair and looked into his mother’s brown misty eyes as she nodded her thanks.

I wanted to tell her about my own two children. I wanted to tell her I understood. But we merely looked at one another through tear-filled eyes. I touched her little boy’s head once more and slipped back into the throng.

I had been there for that child during a crisis. And I would pray someone would be there for my friend’s son as well.

(An excerpt from Heart Hugs for Single Moms: 52 Devotions to Encourage You)

Posted in children, helping others, Jerusalem, prayer, rescue

A Perfect Rainy Day Dessert

Dosha's whole buttermilk pie

I hope you are enjoying a lovely summer. But where is the time going? Here we are heading toward the end of July already. Lately, Colorado has been experiencing more than its share of thunderstorms, so I often have to turn off my computer. That just gives me an excuse to bake another Appalachian dish from Zetta’s Coal Camp Recipes that’s due out later this summer.

For those of you who have read Zetta’s Dream: An Appalachian Coal Camp Novel, you know the young wife and mother, Zetta Berghoffer, spends long hours cooking for her miner husband, Asa, and her two miner brothers, Loren and Luttrell. Her plump red-haired neighbor, Dosha Conley, enjoys cooking for her husband, Jack—and sharing her wonderful buttermilk pie with friends.

During a recent storm, I baked Dosha’s simple but yummy pie. Now I want to share the recipe with you. I hope you enjoy the rich dessert as much as I do. And if you prepare it, please let me know what YOU think. Hugs across the miles! #SAldrich_ZettasDream.

Dosha’s Buttermilk Pie

3 eggs beaten

1 cup sugar

1 stick butter, melted

1-1/2 Tablespoons flour (high altitude cooks will add 3 Tbs. flour)

½ cup buttermilk (or add a dash of vinegar or lemon juice to regular milk)

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pinch of salt

Unbaked pie shell

Blend first 7 ingredients together.

Bake in unbaked pie shell at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes or until firm. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Appalachia, Book: Zetta's Dream, Kentucky, old-time desserts