Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Other Stuff Table of Contents

Other Stuff, Table of Contents:

  • Joy in Washing a Car
    A little reflection on my grandson becoming a man.
  • Irene's Journey
    This is rough.  My mom wrote a summary of her life.  I just scanned the pages and put them in order.  It is a lovely account, though, well worth the trouble of dealing with the unpolished manuscript.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Tales from the Hogback, #13, Epilogue


I almost missed it.  To tell you the truth I'm not sure why I read the obituaries that day--I usually don't.  When I saw the name "James Robert Smedley" I just had to wonder.  It was he.  I had to look a couple of times; I'd never seen him dressed up, but clearly it was he.
I had listened to his tales over countless cups of coffee, yet I didn't even know where he had lived.  I thought, maybe a little selfishly, that I could find out about him from those who attended the funeral, that I could finally find out just where on the map Hog Back Ridge was located, that I could put a date to the beginning and end of Parson Smedley's ministry.
I guess it was at the funeral that I changed my mind.  The funeral director had asked me if I would mind helping to carry the casket.  No formal pallbearers had been selected, and the staff of the funeral home and I were about the only ones there who didn't look like candidates for the next funeral. 
What if he just made it all up--a lonely old man creating a past for himself and populating it with creatures of his imagination?  Maybe he was Smedley, Jim Bob, the preacher’s lanky son, but humility prevented him from revealing it.  Or, maybe there was no Hog Back Ridge, no little meeting house with a stop sign plugging the hole in the cellar, no mule-riding parson named Smedley.
I guess the whole thing had become too much a part of me.  I couldn't stand the thought of finding out that it wasn't that way at all.  Maybe when I'm older and braver I'll do the journalistically responsible thing, but for now all that I know about my friend is contained on a faded obituary that I carry in my wallet.  And, a bunch of wonderful tales that I carry in my heart.

Tales from the Hogback #12, Blue Ribbon: Rewards, True & False


Really there were much easier ways to get to the Jefferson County Fair, but as Smedley walked through the woods down the big mountain he was thoroughly enjoying himself.  He could have waited and gone with Flora Jean on the Jones's wagon.  It was piled high with quilts and carefully wrapped jars of prize preserves not to mention Joneses, but there was still plenty of room for Smedley.  For that matter he could have ridden Sairee.  In fact Smedley felt a little bad that he hadn't brought her.  He always felt a little foolish for thinking so, but he was convinced that she enjoyed the trip to the fair.  "Reckon she enjoys bein’ with her kind as much as we do with our'n." he reasoned.  Even if he was determined to walk he could have walked on the road and avoided the briars and occasional rough places, not to mention the spring branches he had to cross.
The parson prayed as he walked along.  Like a child at the dinner table he prayed with his eyes wide open thanking the Lord for whatever met his gaze.  "Lord, I thank you for the blue sky, and the clouds with the promise of rain.  But Lord I thank thee thet it ain't rainin' today, cuz it sher would ruin this beautiful time.  I thank thee Lord fer givin' that song to Mr. Bob White over in the thicket an' fer sendin' that gray squirrel to gather nuts along as I'm travlin' to town.”
It was a grand day, and Smedly, who was "about peopled out," was enjoying it immensely.  Just enjoyment, though, wasn't what motivated him to take this route to the fair; every once in a while he would spy evidence of the real reason he came this way.  No one else would have noticed, but here and there Smedley would notice the print of a cloven hoof in the soft ground.  A few times he saw some hair caught on a briar.
"Looky there," Smedley crowed to the crow in the tree, when he came to a patch of torn of up ground, "Looks like Mahershalalhashbaz is living right up to his name.  Sorry Mr. Squirrel, Ol' Maher got some a' yer acerns and ches'nuts, but if it's any consolation to ya, the hog thet et your dinner is the finest hog in Jefferson County.  He's gonna win a blue ribbon fer my boy."
Mahershalalhashbaz was the hog Jim Bob Smedley had raised.  He had hauled slop from three different neighbors to keep him supplied.  The Smedleys didn't have the money to buy corn to fatten the hog so every evening Jim Bob would take him to the woods where there was a good supply of chestnuts and let him root and eat his fill.  It was while watching him hasten to the spoil that Smedley suggested his name.*  Everybody that saw the hog told Jim Bob that he was a shoo-in for the big prize at the fair. 
Since the Smedley's didn't have a wagon and since the hog was tame as a dog--better than many--the Smedley clan came up with a plan for getting the boy and pig to the fair.  They'd leave a day early and just meander along.  Maher would have ample opportunity to feed and young Jim Bob would have plenty of time to get him all spiffed up once they got there.  It was kinda' an odd way to get a hog to the fair, but it worked out all right.
The next day the activity at the Smedley campsite began early.  Flora Jean had to get her quilt to the judging, and the younger children had new friends to make and adventures to get into.  Jim Bob & Smedley set in to make sure that Mahershalalhashbaz didn't live up to the reputation of his kind.  They washed him and cleaned his hooves with a scrub brush.  The ring in his nose shone in the morning sun.  It seemed the big porker must have known that something important was up, because he put up with it all pretty well, for a hog anyhow. 
By the time the cleaning operations were completed a considerable group of on-lookers had gathered to admire this fine specimen of swinedom.  Smedley and Jim Bob were particularly interested to see Jake Reardon admiring the Smedley entry.  Jake was the farm manager for the Widow Winstead, about the richest person, and owner of the finest farm, in the county, maybe the state, for all the parson and his son knew.  Jake had a reputation for having an eye for stock, second to none.
"Fine lookin' hog you got there, boy,"  he said to Jim Bob, with a wink.
"Yes sir," Jim Bob replied, trying to look calm.  But when Jake was out of sight Jim Bob couldn't resist slapping his dad on the back and hollering out loud.  "Didja hear that?  Didja hear what Jake said about Maher?"
"Now, jest calm yerself." Smedley admonished, though he was about as excited as his son, "It ain't over 'til it's over."  I'll stay here & keep ol' Maher outa' trouble.  You go & git yerself cleaned up so you kin show him."
When that boy and that hog left for the show ring there wasn't a prouder man on earth than Parson Smedley, and he had a right to be.
Smedley was used to seeing the typical mountain hogs that existed on what slop was left from the family table, which the way most folk lived in those parts wasn't much, and what acorns and chestnuts they could root out in the area available to them.  They often had worms, and were just, well scrawny.  The beasts that met Smedley's gaze at the fair were gigantic, but for size and form none were the equal to the animal standing next to his son. 
"Ladiiiies and Gent-le-men," the chairman of the county fair committee intoned.  "I am glad to recognize as the judge of our swine competition the honorable Rueben C. Galepoke." 
The crowd tried to suppress their shock.  Rueben was the County Commissioner and it was appropriate that he receive some honor at the fair, but the only thing that he knew about pork was that ham and eggs were good for breakfast. 
Smedley's heart sank.  But as each handler brought their entry into the ring Smedley noticed something that revived hope in his breast.  As Rueben circled each hog, pretending to look at it, he would glance up at Jake Reardon, who was sitting next to his boss in the front row.  A slight nod or lift of the eyebrows from Jake would follow some of the glances while at other times Jake's face showed no response.  After he circled each hog Rueben made marks on a piece of paper he was carrying.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the chairman again held forth, "our honorable judge, Commissioner Galepoke has chosen the following entrants as finalists in the competition."  As the names were read from Rueben's notes the crowd murmured its approval.  "Maybe the licker dealer, turned politician knows more about hogs than we thought." one gnarled old farmer commented.  Now Smedley was sure.  Jake Reardon was the real judge in this competition and now hope burned bright once more in the parson's heart.
"Quiet, quiet," the chairman hollered, as you know, by long standing tradition, Winstead Farms has made a standing offer of one hundred dollars for the blue ribbon hog in this competition.  Mrs. W. W. Winstead has asked me to announce that in honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Winstead Farms, founded by the late W. W. Winstead, that this year Winstead Farms is offering two hundred dollars for the winning hog."  Near bedlam broke loose in that arena, but finally the crowd settled for the big conclusion. 
Rueben followed the same procedure for the five finalists that he had earlier.  Smedley lifted his gaze from Jake Reardon only enough to see which hog Reuben was circling.  Jake's weather beaten face betrayed no emotion, until Rueben circled Mahershalalhashbaz.  Just the slightest lift of an eyebrow said it.  Rueben officiously made some marks on his paper and started back to the chairman when someone else caught his eye.  Sam Morrison the editor of the Mt. Elmo Star, looked Reuben right in the eye and patted something he had stuck in his jacket pocket.
After conferring with the chairman for a moment Reuben took another look at the hogs.  The behavior from Jake Reardon and Sam Morrison was just as before.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that the winner of the yellow ribbon is Jasper Peters, for his hog Bluebell.  The winner of the Red Ribbon is James Robert Smedley, for his hog, Maher . . ."
Before the announcer could finish the name the crowd sighed, people looked at one another in wonderment and began to murmur, most didn't even hear when the winner was announced as Elmer Morrison of Mt. Elmo for his hog El Prezedente'.
The trip back home was much different than the trip down the mountain of just a few days before.  Jim Bob was trying not to cry and trying not to let any one see when he couldn't help it.  Smedley was wondering, "Why a man who runs his mouth fer a livin' cain't think a nuthin' to say to ease his own boys hurt?"  Flora Jean with her usual skill was keeping everything running along.
Life got back to normal after a while.  Oh sometimes Flora Jean and Smedley would think about that $200, but they tried not to.
They were reminded about what really matters a few days later by two items of news.  Mrs. W. W. Winstead died.  "Says here in the paper thet all the heirs is in an uproar over whose gonna git what.  The Lawyer came n' locked up the whole business 'til they kin git it sorted out."
"An' looky here, Says Reuben C. Galepoke was arrested last week fer sellin' illegal whiskey in his store."
The Winstead estate was tied up in court for years.  Jim Bob had forgotten all about Mahershalalhashbaz when it was finally settled.  When all the papers were finally cleaned out a letter was found in Mrs. Winstead's old roll top desk.  Eventually it found its way to Private First Class Robert Smedley, Fort Campbell Kentucky.

Dear James,

For over twenty five years it has been the practice of Winstead Farms to pay top dollar for the finest hog produced in Jefferson County.  My foreman informs me that though I have purchased the hog that won the blue ribbon, I have not obtained the best.  If you will be good enough to bring your animal by, my bookkeeper will write you a check for $200.

Mrs. W. W. Winstead

Jim Bob just smiled.  "That was mighty expensive bacon we et."

[* The name of Jim Bob’s hog is taken from the book of Isaiah, 8:3.  It very roughly translates as one who is quick to grab up what he can.]

Previous Tale  --  Epilogue

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Irene's journey

This post is pretty rough, but it is what it is.  
My Mom, Irene Hargrove Merrell died this past Monday, September 30. 2013.
You can see the dates on my mom's little autobiography.  The only form in which I had it was as typed pages.  I simply copied them here as images.  
Since Mom's record ends 13 years ago, I added an addendum.  I haven't edited it, so again it is what it is.  I just wanted to get some stuff down while it was on my mind and the rest of the families.
I hope reading about my mom will bless you, as knowing her has blessed many.

Added by Howard:

Until about 2007 Mom's life continued in the same pattern.  She enjoyed living in her little apartment that is attached to my house.  She enjoyed visits from the other kids and from the grandkids who were now out on their own.  Christopher, her oldest Grandchild gave her the name Gooma.  I think it was because in Christopher's world all the regular names for a grandparent/great-grandparent had been used up, so "Gooma" it was.  The other greats followed along & soon even we adults referred to mom as "Gooma."

The situation where mom lived was ideal.  She was very close to Kathy and I, yet on her own.  She had her own kitchen, laundry, car.  Half of the garage was hers.  She parked her car there and had shelves for storage.  She even had a "backyard."  It consisted of a small deck, a little table with two chairs, a couple of planters and a bench, where she would often sit in the sun.  The warmth seemed to help her arthritis.

As mom indicated she had suffered with various ailments most of her life.  I was amazed at the level of health mom enjoyed at this point in her life.  She often went to Texas in the winter time to visit my brother and avoid the worst of the cold and snow.  She enjoyed meetings with a quilting group, outings with the Senior Saints, and all things related to her church.  I'm glad to say that, while she had days that were made hard by sickness and pain, and she never really got over missing Dad, she was quite happy.

Kathy and I began to notice, however, that Mom was more forgetful.  We were concerned that she wasn't taking her medicine properly, things like that.  One day, unknown to her, I followed her to Walmart, to see if she could still drive.  She passed, and stayed on the road for a few more months.  After eye surgery the doctor told her not to drive for a time. She planned to drive again.  Kathy and I had our doubts.  She had allowed one of our sons to use her car while she was grounded.  It needed some work.  She wanted it fixed, so we had it fixed, probably spending more than it was worth.  As the time approached for her release from the doctor, Kathy and I were sure mom shouldn't drive any more.  We talked to my siblings and they agreed.  I dreaded the conversation, but a day or two before her medical release she and I were alone at church.

"Mom, the other kids and I don't think you should drive any more."
With barely any hesitation she replied something like, "OK."
It took another thirty seconds to discuss what to do with her car.  I suggested giving it to one of her granddaughters who was going away to school.  She thought that was a good idea.  In less than two minutes the dreaded conversation was finished and she never complained afterwards.

I'm not sure if mom's mind went back to the days when I was four and five, and we lived in a small apartment in Harvey IL, maybe.  The apartment, back then, had poor heat, especially in the kitchen, so to warm the space mom would sometimes light the oven and open the oven door.  The apartment she lived in a few years ago, had a little electric range.  She got in a habit of turning it on for heat, sometimes forgetting she had done so.  We also found a strange odor in her apartment one day.  Investigation revealed that she had put some chicken in her stove one day, and forgotten about it.  If I remember correctly it wasn't even cooked.  After a few days, the stench got pretty bad.
About the same time she began to mix up her medicine.  We had been using one of those seven day pill boxes for some time.  Maybe on Wednesday, mom would notice that Monday and Tuesday were empty, so she would take pills from Wednesday- Saturday and put them in the empty compartments.  On a couple of occasions she found some pills she wasn't even taking any more and supplemented several day's stock.
We turned off the breaker to her stove, and found all her medications and took them to our house.  We would give her her meds. three times a day.  As long as she was in the apartment she was still able to make coffee, and work the toaster.  She would get her own breakfast most days.  It might consist of toast with chocolate pudding on it, but she got breakfast.  We would eat one meal together, either in her apartment or at our house, and for the other meal we would bring her a plate.  Several times she mentioned to Kathy, "I think something is wrong with my stove."
Kathy would go over and appear to fiddle with the controls, and announce, "You know, I think there is."
Mom would again forget for a while.  Kathy was glad she never lied to her, or had to have an unpleasant confrontation.

Shortly before mom moved out of her apartment, Kathy and I planned to take a trip to Texas to see our son and his family, and my brother.  We took mom along.  It was her last trip (other than the final move she made to Indiana.).  Her inability to adapt, her obvious lost-ness in unfamiliar surroundings, and some struggles with personal hygiene made it absolutely clear that she needed other living arrangements.  My sister, Judy, had recently become an empty-nester.  She had room and wanted mom to make her final home with her.  Since her twin sister, Carol, lives about a half mile away, the situation was ideal.  Mom had a very nice two room suite, with her own bath.  For most of the time she was there she was able to come to the table and get her meals.  At first she helped with simple tasks like folding laundry or helping with meal preparation.  As her mind deteriorated she would "straighten up her room" which consisted of taking all of her clothes out and replacing them in new locations.  Finding them provided my sister with excitement.
Fairly soon Mom forgot her old home.
She couldn't name any grandkids.
Ted, Becky, Kathy and I became unknowns, though it appeared to me by some of her gestures that Mom knew we were someone who belonged.
She began to confuse Judy with Carol, and then couldn't remember either of them.
One of the most difficult times for my sister were the times when mom would cry with confusion.  She couldn't remember who she was.
Finally, her mind dulled to the point that she wasn't confused, just, mostly, blank.  I likened her life to looking out of a moving vehicle through a narrow slit.  She saw nothing of the past, or future, just the immediate present, which I am glad to say still had moments of joy for her.  Probably her chief joy involved little children.  She enjoyed meeting Fiona, my brother's older grandchild and Gooma's seventh great.  She was able to meet number eight, Ava Rae, via Skype.  My Brother and I were at moms for a visit.  Mom reached out her hand and tried to touch the babies face that she was seeing on the computer screen.  For that moment she was happy.

For quite a while whoever was feeding mom would have to repeatedly remind her to take another bite.  A few weeks ago, those reminders became ineffective.  She stopped eating, and then stopped swallowing liquids.  Hospice came to help.  In her emaciated condition, bedsores appeared.  Thankfully, they were controlled, but with no nourishment it was clear that mom would soon die.

In a flash of clarity that my sister will treasure for all her life.  Mom looked at her and told her, "I love you too."
A couple of days later Mom died.

What a privilege it was to know her and be a part of her family.

HM, October 5, 2013

Other Stuff, Table of Contents

Friday, February 24, 2012



  What I don't want is for him to look back and say, "Dad didn't do what he thought was right."

It is 8:30 on prom night and I'm not feeling so good.  No, it's not that I'm having a bad date.  I'm not having a date at all.  I'm 43; I have never been to a prom and at this point I don't intend to go.  My son, though, who is 17, tall, good-looking, very popular, an all-state runner, and excellent student, very much wanted to go, but he didn't go either.  Right now as I begin to put my thoughts into the computer he is at his girl-friend's house, looking at her dress. 
In a way that is appropriate for a 17-year-old he loves her and she him.  She is a nice girl, cute in a pixie sort of way.  Except for the difference in height--if Chris lays on his back, his toe comes up to Nancy's waist--everyone says that they make a perfect couple.  But everyone knows that their difference in altitude is really not important. 
If anyone other than my hard-drive ever reads this article, by the time they get to this point they will be crying out, "Why?"  As I read these words on the screen I wonder if even some chip in this machine--built on logic as it is--is going to suddenly flash a message on the screen,

Does not compute.  Please provide justification.

The feeling in the pit of my stomach asks the same question, "Why?" 
It's not that I don't trust him.  I do.  A few weeks ago we showed the film, Sex Lies and the Truth, at our church.  At the end of the showing I asked the kids to sign a pledge card promising to maintain a standard of sexual purity.  He signed, and later told me that a week before, he and Nancy had been talking and had come to the point where they had made those promises to one another.  When he told me that, there was this little guy in my head pumping his arm, saying, "Yes, yes, YES!"
As you can imagine my son and I have had several conversations about tonight.  I wrote him a letter.  He was around for some of the conversations that I had with his older brother (Who is at the prom.  I'll explain in a minute.), when I tried my best to explain my reasoning.  Neither of them were impressed.
"Why?" you say, "Why are you doing this to him?"  I have asked myself the same question over and over.  I have problems with the sexual overtones of the modern dance, but can't say that I am absolutely opposed to dancing.  I know David and Meriam and others in the Bible danced.  Though I am sure that what they did is far different than what my son's friends will be doing tonight.  I pastor a church that has an official postion that says that those in positions of leadership are to abstain from dancing, and several other taboos.  I have gone on record as saying that that clause should be removed from our constitution.  I am quite sure that if my son went to the prom he would do more sitting than dancing.
Likewise, I have trouble with the music, mostly with the words to some of the songs.  Though my conclusion is that music itself is a neutral vehicle, I realize that some of the songs use that vehicle to push buttons that I don't want pushed in my son or his girl.  Still, I have realized long ago that I cannot isolate my sons from the "sounds of the world."  He can, and probably does on occasion, “tune it in,” dance or no dance.
The local school has done a good job of promoting an alcohol free event, and even if it were served I don'think Chris would drink any.
I have surveyed my mind again and again.  My background is one that matches the mentality of our church’s constitution--dancing is one of those things that Christians simply don't do.  I think I have pretty well sorted out my past, keeping the good stuff and throwing away the junk.  But, have I?  Could I be making my son pay a price because I am holding on to some vestige of my tradition?  I know that there are those who would look down on me if I were to let my son go to the prom.  There are those who would try to feed me some of my words spoken at a time when talk was cheap.  Again, I honestly don't think that is the reason.  In fact I think those who look down on me because of my present position out number my hypothetical detractors should I let him go.  It hurts me to think that Nancy, her parents, my older son, and who-knows-who-else think I am wierd.  I find myself almost getting paranoid about it.  "Are they talking about me?"
I still haven't answered the question, “Why?”  I don't have any one single reason.  I can't point to any absolute that I would violate if I let my son go or he would violate if he went.  But when I put the whole thing together I just couldn't say, "Sure, go ahead and go."  I wanted to.  A part of me regrets that I did not. 
Chris has returned from Nancy’s house; he’s out running.  He needs to get his training in, but I am not so foolish as to think that the only reason he is running is for the benifit of his legs and lungs.  Maybe I am wrong, but it was my call to make and I believe that I would be wrong to not call it the way I see it, even if I don't see it as clearly as I would like.
In less than a year when Chris turns eighteen, unless he does something really stupid in the mean time, I will turn over to him some of the decisions that I have been making for him.  I did that with his brother.  I have no doubt that when I tell Chris that the prom is his decision that he will do just as his older brother has done.  He will go.
I don't expect him to always make the same decisions that I would make.  I only expect him to carefully look at the situation, examine the scripture, pray and then do what he concludes is right, even if it is hard.  If I had done anything else tonight I would have failed in setting that example for my son.  I can stand for him to look back and say I think dad was wrong.  I don't want to be wrong, but I know it is inevitable that on occasion I will be.  What I don't want is for him to look back and say, "Dad didn't do what he thought was right."
That is why my son is out running instead of dancing.

Growing Pains, Table of Contents