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Author Archives: Sheila Ingle

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of America’s greatest poets. You may know him as the author of “Paul Revere’s Ride”, “The Song of Hiawatha,” and “The Village Blacksmith,” but he penned many other poems, novels and anthologies, as well as translating popular foreign works into English. The most famous of his translations was Dante’s “The Divine Comedy.”

Longfellow was born on February 27, 1807 in Portland, and upon his death was one of the few American poets to be recognized in the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey. The time in-between these events, as with most poets, was filled with plenty of writing, and quite a bit of tragedy. His first wife, Mary Potter, died suddenly while Longfellow was overseas. After a long and difficult courtship, he married Frances Appleton in 1843 and the couple had six children. “The marriage was an exceptionally happy one for both partners and brought Longfellow the domestic stability he had missed,” writes the Poetry Foundation. However, the bliss was not to last.

Fanny and her children, Charley and Emy.

In 1861, while sealing envelopes with hot wax, a flame caught Frances’ clothes on fire. “Henry had rushed to her aid and tried to smother the flames. But by the time the fire was out, Frances had been burned beyond recovery,” according to the New England Historical Society Longfellow fell into a deep depression after this event and threw himself into his work.Fanny

The beard covered Longfellow’s scars from the burns when he tried to save his wife.

Longfellow was a staunch abolitionist, something that was proudly reflected in some of his writing. So, when the Civil War came, his oldest son, Charley, was eager to do his part. As a Second Lieutenant, Charley fought in the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia, a nd narrowly dodged the Battle of Gettysburg by coming down with typhoid fever.He was back in the fight by August 1863, but Charley’s luck was running out.

Justin Taylor writes that “While dining at home on December 1, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade.” Longfellow’s son survived his injury and was brought home to recover.

Charley Longfellow above

Longfellow found himself staring down another Christmas season as a widower on Christmas Day in 1863, with five children dependent on him and now one child on the brink of death. Outside, he heard the Christmas bells ringing, but I imagine he could also hear the cannons and gunfire of war in his mind. The world was tearing itself apart. There didn’t seem to be much space for peace on earth or goodwill toward men.

And then Longfellow began to write.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet
The words repeat Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

“And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Print depicting a winter scene at Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Library of Congress

The theme of listening recurs throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair as he recounts to himself that God is alive and righteousness shall prevail. Knowing that Longfellow had hope in God, even in the midst of war and tragedy urges us to choose hope, also.

During this busy season of Christmas and celebrations, stopping to listen can be a respite. In front of the fire is my favorite place. The lights on the tree and the crackle of burning wood settles me in place, and sipping a cup of tea or cider completes this oasis.

If you would like see a snippet of his life and work, here is a short video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsKJom0yKnQ

Merry Christmas!

Thankful for Blessings

One of the hymns we used to sing in church was about blessings. The last lines were “Count your blessings. Name them one-by-one. Count your blessings. See what God has done.” At our Thanksgiving dinner table, we used to tell what we were thankful for. As children, footballs, books, and school vacations were at the top of the list. People were named when we were older, especially our grandparents.

I ran across a blessing list from the 18th century. The details are striking, as well as simple.

On Thursday,  November 21,  1793, 75 year old Samuel Lane of Stratham,  New Hampshire wrote.
Here it is,  in part:
As I was musing on my Bed being awake as Usual before Daylight;  recollecting the Many Mercies and good things I enjoy for which I ought to be thankful this Day;
The Life & health of myself and family, and also of so many of my Children,  grand Children and great grandchildren…
for my Bible and Many other good and Useful Books,  Civil and Religious Priviledges…
for my Land,  House and Barn and other Buildings,  & that they are preserv’d from fire & other accidents.
for my wearing Clothes to keep me warm,  my Bed & Bedding to rest upon.
for my Cattle,  Sheep & Swine & other Creatures,  for my support.
for my Corn, Wheat,  Rye Grass and Hay;  Wool,  flax,  Syder,  Apples,  Pumpkins,  Potatoes,  cabages,  tirnips, Carrots,  Beets,  peaches and other fruit.
For my Clock and Watch to measure my passing time by Day and by Night.
Wood,  Water,  Butter,  Cheese,  Milk,  Pork,  Beefe,  & fish, &c.
for Tea,  Sugar,  Rum,  Wine,  Gin,  Molasses,  peper,  Spice &  Money for to bye other Necessaries and to pay my Debts and Taxes &c.
for my lether,  Lamp oyl &  Candles,  Husbandry Utensils, & other tools of every sort…
Bless the Lord O my Soul and all that is within me Bless his holy Name…”

Mr.Lane is grateful for all he has.

Reenactors portray a possible scene from the 18th century.

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving with these words.

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.”

Norman Rockwell famously depicted an ordinary family feasting on Thanksgiving. His title for this was Freedom from Want.

Yes, we will share our thanks for many things and many people this Thanksgiving. And as Amy Grant said, “Thanksgiving Day is a good day to recommit our energies to giving thanks and just givin

Happy Thanksgiving!

Reflections on Thanksgiving

Knowing nothing about the reality of the Pilgrims’ journey to America or those first years of deprivation and death, it was a fun holiday to celebrate during my younger years. At school, we would make Pilgrim and Indian hats and headpieces, eat vegetable soup and cornbread, and sing loudly, “Come Ye Thankful People Come.”

Reality for those Pilgrims was most different. Yes, they were thankful for land and their safe travel across the ocean. But uncertainty and fear of the unknown must have gripped their hearts, too. No one knew what the wilderness held.

After more than two horrendous months at sea, Cape Cod on the horizon must have been an extremely welcome sight for the men, women and children who had boarded the Mayflower on 16 September, 1620.

With many suffering from crippling seasickness – after battling strong winds and monstrous waves during their epic 66-day voyage across the Atlantic – few of the 102 on board would have cared about missing their planned destination of Northern Virginia, and the Hudson River (today New York).

The faces and body language in this painting show us a more authentic view of the Plymouth Rock that the Mayflower brought the Pilgrims to. Anxiety marks each one, even as they move forward.

They were committed to settling in this new country, and they were pledged to each other in community by signing the Mayflower Compact.

The Mayflower Compact – as it is known today – was signed by those 41 “true” Pilgrims on 11 November, 1620, and became the first governing document of Plymouth Colony.

It declared that the colonists were loyal to the King of England, that they were Christians who served God, that they would make fair and just laws, and that they would work together for the good of the Colony.

The men also chose John Carver as Plymouth Colony’s first governor. The women and “strangers” were not allowed to vote.

Leaving England nine weeks late, New England’s harsh weather fiercely threatened their survival. In December, the men built crude shelters for the winter; the women and children stayed on the ship. There is a melancholy tone in the journal entries for that winter:

“…Aboute no one, it began to raine…at night. It did freee &snow …still the cold weather continued…very wet and rainy, with the greatest gusts of wind ever we saw…frost and foule weather hindered us much; this time of the yeare seldom could we worke half the week.”

During that winter, more than half of the heads of households died. Five of the eighteen wives lived through the scourges of pneumonia, tuberculosis, and scurvy.

Starkness covers this possible scene of their going to church in the wilderness.

On March 24, a journal entry sums their situation up:

“Dies Elizabeth, the wife of Mr. Edward Winslow. N.B. This month thirteen of our number die. And in three mons past dies halfe our company…Of a hundred persons, scarce fifty remain, the living scarce able to bury the dead.”

What a courageous group of men, women, and children; there are no words to laud their fortitude. During the third week of March, the weakened survivors from the Mayflower rowed ashore to their new homes in New Plimouth in those huts that needed rebuilding.

They could have given up and returned to England. They could have thrown up their hands in despair. But their faith was in God, and they chose to not let the hardships make them bitter. Their trust laid the enduring foundations of our country America, and they were thankful.

If these few could fight, fall, and rise to fight again against wild animals, extreme weather, poor housing, and a starvation diet, I believe we should certainly be thankful this November, 2022.

The first winter was devastating for the people of Plymouth Colony, with the death of 51 of the 102 people in their community. The following spring the Pilgrims, along with help from their Indian friends, planted crops that yielded an abundant sprill and fall harvest.  On December 13, 1621, the Pilgrims instituted a three-day feast of thanksgiving to God and celebrated with their Indian friends.

William Bradford, the first governor of the Pilgrims said, “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many…”

An unknown Pilgrim wrote this prayer. “O Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards us, hast provided meate and drinke for the nourishment of our weake bodies. Grant us peace to use them reverently, as from Thy hands, with thankful hearts: let Thy blessing rest upon these Thy good creatures, to our comfort and sustentation: and grant we humbly beseech Thee, good Lord, that as we doe hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our soules may earnestly long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, Amen”

What a strong group of men and women the Pilgrims were. As we enjoy our own time on this national holiday next week, let’s remember those whose lives marked that first Thanksgiving.

The hymn, “Come ye Thankful People, Come” is now on my mind. We have much to be thankful for this year.

Happy Thanksgiving from our house to yours.





This and That

Fall brings a hankering in many of us for an apple. Along with so many businesses, our favorite apple orchard in Hendersonville has closed its market place. My family has been buying apples from this family for over fifty years.

So the other day, we headed for another one in Tryon. They didn’t have the Gala apples we love so much, but they did have peach cider.

John and I enjoyed a cup of peach cider on the porch this afternoon. With the light fall breezes waving the back door to and fro, the respite was peaceful. Holding the warm mug and savoring the tart, yet sweet, flavors was made better only by the ginger snaps I dunked in the mug. (My Nanna taught me this added bonus to savoring cider or hot tea. And the taste isn’t hurt if you drop part of the cookie in the cup.)

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, peach trees had naturalized so abundantly throughout the southeastern and mid-Atlantic colonies that John Lawson said they grew as luxuriantly as weeds: “we are forced to take a great deal of Care to weed them out, otherwise they make our Land a Wilderness of Peach-Trees.”

Cider was a favorite drink during the colonial period, and all ages enjoyed it.

Upstate South Carolina has always had an abundance of peach farms, and I grew up looking forward to peach season. From cobblers to peach preserves, Mother made sure that we enjoyed this fruit, both in and out of season.

As I inhaled the flavors from my cup, I realized that the combined smell of fruit and spices would have also beckoned everyone to the fireplace in a one room cabin. Good things in life don’t change, but we need to remember to choose them. A safe harbor of fellowship can be found on a porch or around a fireplace; the century doesn’t matter. It’s the people we are making the memories with who are the most important.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” C. S, Lewis

Read to a Goat

What an invitation! For several years, this has been on my list. Why? I have no idea.

Vhttps://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=664881747805263

Why would the Superintendent at Connemara, the home of American poet Carl Sandburg and his family ask the public to come to the barnyard to read to the goats? This National Historic Site in Flat Rock, North Carolina promotes this “Poet of the People” and his work.

These are descendants of Mrs. Sandburg’s goats at the farm.

Visitors to Connemara Farms can see dairy goats that are descended from Mrs. Sandburg’s famous herd. She raised three breeds of dairy goats; Saanen, Toggenburg, and Nubian. Each breed can be seen in the herd today.

Mrs. Sandburg owned and operated a premier goat dairy from 1935 to 1965. Here at Connemara the dairy became a Grade A operation, with milk being distributed to local dairies and sold in stores around the community.

I read to two Nubian kids. They were born this spring and were being weened from their mothers. The Superintendent told me they were fearful and a bit skittish. She kindly offered me her chair. Other than an easy raise of their heads from their grass-nibbling of tufts , they paid me little mind.

So not to startle them, I read softly, as if to children. One became nosy and came to sniff at me and the book. It was a short sojourn, and obviously I was not interesting.

It was a beautiful day in the mountains. A bit cloudy, but quite comfortable. I was quite taken with the peace in the barnyard, even to the rest of the herd who were safe behind the fence. For only a few minutes on that morning, I chose to savor a different agenda. There was no herding clock, only soft sounds of a day on a farm reading to the goats.

“Of the three breeds in the Mrs. Sandburg’s Chikaming herd, Nubians were the Sandburg family’s favorite breed. The Nubian breed is distinguished by long, drooping ears; a convex nose; and a variety of color patterns. The Nubian is a relatively large, proud, and graceful dairy goat of mixed Asian, African, and European origin, known for high quality, high butterfat, milk production. Mrs. Sandburg once wrote “Somehow their faces seem more expressive than those of any other breed. I find the Nubian nose and ears very picturesque”. Mrs. Sandburg and her family truly enjoyed the taste of the Nubian milk, which is high in butterfat. The Sandburg’s bought their first Nubian doe in 1936, the second breed of goats added to their herd. This breed was added as an experiment and Mrs. Sandburg was very impressed by the breed. By 1941, just 5 years after purchasing her first Nubian, she decided to keep equal numbers of Nubians and Toggenburgs in her herd. This breed gives lower quantities of milk than the Swiss breeds, but she felt that the good flavor of Nubian milk could help overcome public prejudice against goat milk. She considered four quarts of Nubian milk, with its higher butterfat content, equal to five quarts of milk from the Swiss breeds. The Nubian breed was less than 50 years old when Mrs. Sandburg added them to her herd, so adding them to the herd was a risk. By the time the herd was dispersed, they were a premier breed.” (from the Connemara Farm web site)

Carl Sandburg said, “Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me.”

That was my experience at Connemara reading to the goats. I invite you to visit their barnyard.


Summer Memories

Thoughts are rolling in my mind of week-long vacations at my grandmother’s farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, Mirror Lake Farm’s name came from a small lake, shaped like a looking glass, in the front cow pasture. We used to stand on the fence and watch the herd meander in the mornings to the field and in the afternoons back to the barn.

Each day was slow paced, and no one was in a hurry.

Daddy only had one week’s vacation for a lot of years, and we always went to Kentucky.

It was a week full of visits with relatives, a day trip to Calumet Farm in Lexington, and lazy days of doing nothing. Picnics under the trees in the front lawn were fun. A night at the county fair was exciting. We made daily walks to the milking barn, and I was never successful at the task of milking a cow. Looking back, I believe that swishing tail intimidated me.

Daddy would drive around the Lexington farm on the back roads until he found a field of horses. Then he would take a handful of apples and his knife and head for the fence. Critt and I were right behind him. Calling the horses to come over for a visit, he rewarded them with apple pieces. We loved patting them and feeding them.

The Calumet Farm continues to be a place to visit. https://www.calumetfarm.com/videos/

Education was important to my grandmother Lulu. Before she married, she was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Lawrenceburg. She homeschooled her four children until they reached fourth grade. Through storytelling, she taught her grandchildren about their family history, as well as United States history.

This morning I read several articles about another Kentucky educator, Mrs. Cora W. Stewart. In 1911, she started moonlight schools in Rowan County. The goal was to “emancipate from illiteracy those enslaved in its bondage.” In the same classrooms their children attended during the day, their parents and other adults sat in the same seats and benches at night. Volunteer teachers led the classes. It was the moonlight that led them to these schools at night; hence the name.

“It was expected that the response would be slow, but more than 1,200 men and women from 18 to 86 years of age were enrolled the first evening,” said Stewart of the initial 50 schools in the program. “They came trooping over the hills and out of the hollows, some to add to the meager education received in the inadequate schools of their childhood, some to receive their first lessons in reading and writing.”

I can see those lamps flickering and bobbing in the dark as the new students walked to school. For some, only the moonlight opened those paths up. Their faces must have been intent on their mission of learning to read and write.

Moonlight School

This movement gained momentum nationally and internationally. You might want to read more about this pioneer educator. Here are two books about this phenomenal and visionary teacher.

Cora Wilson Stewart: Crusader Against Illiteracy by Willie Nelms; Cora Wilson Stewart and Kentucky’s Moonlight Schools by Yvonne Baldwin

As John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life: education is life itself.”

I salute those teachers who are preparing to go back to school and thank you for all you do to change lives, as well as our world. What a privilege you have!

A Collector of Stories

It was a small house on Kanuga Road, and the dining room table took over that room. It was wide and long, and many chairs and stools always crowded around it. Sometimes there were several high chairs in the mix. Whether it was for Sunday dinner or only warm, pound cake and cold, sweet iced tea, it was the gathering place at Granny and Pop’s home.

Sitting around the dining room table at my great grandparents’ house in Hendersonville, North Carolina was a privilege I didn’t realize when I was young. What I remember now was the smiles and laughter as Granny encouraged various family members to tell their stories. Most would begin with “Do you remember….”  She even included us children in this time by asking questions about school, church, or friends. I can remember her nods and sparkling blue eyes, as she listened to all of us.  It was obvious that she loved stories, particularly family stories, and closely paid attention to the details.

Eudora Welty, a Southern storyteller said, “Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.” I believe this about myself and other children, even as we quietly continued to play.

Besides listening to the family stories, I vaguely remember Granny sharing stories, too. She shared about the boarders she took into their home at Laurel Cliff when my great-grandfather lost his money during the Great Depression.  Many were summer boarders that visited year after year. Granny served three meals a day, plus afternoon tea.  Her eight children talked about her hospitality to anyone who came to the door. Hobos were always served, just like her paying guests, and all enjoyed her Southern cooking.

Laurel Cliff, 1905

Minnie Ethelene Hefner Justus (1877-1970) went to a small women’s college in Asheville and always set her crowded table with china and cloth napkins. Flowers from her yard spread their scents around from the center vase. A blessing of thankfulness began each meal, and woe be to any that did a taste test before the food was blessed. Boarding-house-reach was frowned on by all the adults, but especially Granny. Her eyes paid attention to all seated as her guests. Coffee and dessert completed each meal, and her baking skills were excellent with pies and cakes, as well as biscuits and cornbread.

If we were there close to Mother’s Day, there would be some of her pink peonies on the table. Usually she put them in a bowl or teapot, rather than a vase. Often petals would drop off on her linen tablecloth, but no one minded the disarray.That sweet scent is now in my back yard from her yard. They should be ready to cut and bring in next week, and I will savor their beauty. I am the fourth generation to enjoy them.

Though she wore her house dress and full apron at home, she dressed up for church. She and Pop attended a country church called Pleasant Hill. This white frame church had steep steps going up to the entrance. If you remember the song, “Church in the Wildwood,” that church was brown, but Pleasant Hill comes to my mind when I hear it. Someone always rang their church bell to call people to worship.

Granny owned a seal skin coat that she would let me try on and parade around the house, but it was furs that she chose for Sundays. She looks stern here, but that is the way they posed for snapshots back then. I only remember her with a smile.

There was always a myriad of minutiae that she shared that helped me to picture what she was reminiscing about. Granny painted pictures with her words, and oh, how I want to do the same, whether with my writing or telling stories around my own table.

As I weave facts and oral tradition in my writing about heroines of the American Revolution in South Carolina and other women who made a difference in our state, I have seen the importance of those stories passed down from one generation to another. They keep a family alive and connected to the past.

Whether it is with family or friends, strangers, or in the office, we should share our stories, because those stories are who we are.

As Rudyard Kipling said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” And we continue to read his stories of animals that talk to people or other animals, never blinking an eye.

So, yes, to continuing to collect stories and putting them to paper. Let’s all tell our stories over and over again.

March Madness

March Madness and St. Patrick’s Day are here. In the South, March is certainly a fickle month, as to weather. As one of my favorite authors described it, “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” Charles Dickens

When I was in the sixth grade, we had snow every Wednesday for four weeks! Can you imagine? Daddy would take us to Shoresbrook Golf Course to sled and sled on those hills. That has been over 60 years ago, and those snowfalls have never occurred like that again.

Some famous people were born in this month, e.g. President Andrew Jackson, singer James Taylor, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, Albert Einstein, and Dr. Seuss. Women’s History Month claims this month as its own, and daffodils are its flowers.

“Beware the Ides of March” is a familiar phrase to those who have read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. These were the Soothsayer’s words to Julius Caesar on his impending death in the play, and on March 15 in 54 BC, Caesar was assassinated.

Another dramatic event happened on this date in 1917.  Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicated his throne, ending a 304-year-old royal dynasty.

Centuries apart, two rulers lost their thrones and places in history, one with a knife and another with a signature

On March 15, 1765, Andrew Jackson was born in the Waxhaws of South Carolina. For the first fifteen years of his life, he lived in this Scots-Irish community. His widowed mother, Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson, made sure that her three sons received a good education and religious training. She was a Patriot and believed in the American Revolution, and she modeled for her sons a life of determination to do the right thing, in spite of the odds. I wrote about her life in “Brave Elizabeth.”

March was my grandmother’s favorite month. She lived on a dairy farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and winter weather had its own staying-power there. The blooming daffodils in our yard were usually about three weeks ahead of hers. Lulu would call my mom with the definitive morning when her daffodils opened their sunny blossoms. Sometimes they were covered with snow, but Lulu was ecstatic to see those harbingers of spring.

I am pleased that my daffodils, transplanted from where I grew up, survived the cold nights from last week. Some are limping along and hardly raising their heads to the skies, but their cheerful, yellow stands out in the brown and dreary yard, a welcome sight.

Also, my sixth grade teacher had us memorize a poem to recite to the class every month. “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” was her pick for March.

Oh, let’s enjoy the daffodils!

“I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”

William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed—and gazed—but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

St Francis and the First Live Nativity

Yes, it is December, and Christmas lights are everywhere. As C. S. Lewis said, “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Whether in a church service or in a Sunday School class, many of us put on a blue shawl or a fake beard to act out the Christmas story. Sometimes parents and grands watched us with smiling faces.

Children and Family Ministry Christmas Pageant - Kenilworth Union Church

In our town, at least one church transforms its parking lot into a live nativity telling the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. It’s amazing how well the animals behave.

7 Tips for Planning a Successful Live Nativity Scene - Outdoor Nativity  Store

And most of us have at least one set of figures that we set up on a table during the holidays. My Fontanini set is my favorite. I have always had at least one for children to play with. One year, Scott added a dinosaur to the scene. And, yes, it stayed.

Fontanini 16 Piece Nativity Scene with Wood Stable | Yonder Star Christmas  Shop, LLC

Have you ever wondered where this tradition began?

The year was 1223. The place was a cave in Grecio, Italy, a small mountainside village overlooking a beautiful valley. Inside the cave was a live ox, donkey, and manger surrounded by hay. This was the setting of the first nativity creche scene, created by a young monk, St. Francis of Assisi, for midnight Mass on Christmas. Francis was concerned about keeping Christ in Christmas, and he believed this live visual would make an impression.

Candles and torches, carried by the people, lit up the night, and they were greeted by Francis kneeling in front of the manger. When they celebrated the midnight Mass, they gazed on this scene of Jesus’ birth.

Yes, they had heard of the story of the nativity, but now they saw it for themselves. As Francis said, he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.”

During these Middle Ages, Catholic church services were held in Latin, and most of the common people could not understand this language. To help with presenting the stories in the Bible, the clergy acted out Bible stories like Adam and Eve or Noah. Of course, the visual demonstration made the unknown language come alive.

Over the next few centuries, the nativity tradition spread throughout Europe with varying artistic interpretations. It became particularly popular in Italy, with almost every Catholic church hosting one. Eventually the tradition evolved to have statues represent the nativity characters versus real people.

Churches had sets made of life size figures made of terra-cotta that were displayed all year. Then families wanted them for their homes, so artisans made the figures smaller and out of wood, clay, and wax.

Whatever the material or the number of figures included, the nativity scenes of today are all about remembering the “babe of Bethlehem,” just as St. Francis did so long ago.

Nativity Scene Quotes. QuotesGram

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving Ramblings

“One day a very wealthy father took his son on a trip to the country for the sole purpose of showing his son how it was to be poor. They spent a few days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.”

Kaufman County's 'poor farm' being restored and turned into historical park

  “After their return from the trip, the father asked his son how he liked the trip.

‘It was great, Dad,’ the son replied.

‘Did you see how poor people can be?’ the father asked.

‘Oh Yeah,’ said the son.”

  “’So what did you learn from the trip?’ asked the father.

The son answered, ‘I saw that we have one dog, and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden, and they have a creek that has no end.’”

“‘We have imported lanterns in our garden, and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard, and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on, and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.’”

“‘We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them.’

The boy’s father was speechless.

Then his son added, ‘It showed me just how poor we really are.’”

This story puts what we own and what others own in perspective, doesn’t it?

Next week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a national and family holiday in our country. We will gather together for fun, food, and fellowship. But will we be thankful for what we have? Will we count our blessings? Name them one-by-one, as the hymn says.

“All across America, we gather this week with the people we love to give thanks to God for the blessings in our lives,” said President George W. Bush.

Even publications remind us to give thanks.

November 15, 1815

“Harper’s Magazine,” 1874

“Saturday Evening Post,” 1959

November, 1948

I was telling a friend today about one of my best memories of spending the night with my grandparents in a two bedroom, one bath apartment on Wentworth Street in Charleston.

Nanna would fix pallets for Critt and me on the floor of the living room. There were several quilts to sleep on and sleep under and at least two pillows each. We would laugh and talk about our day. Whether it was at the park or playing at Folly Beach, it was always fun. Listening to the street noises, we finally closed our eyes. We thought it was wonderful to sleep on the floor, and we always looked forward to it.

When we said our prayers, we always said thank you for pallets.

“On Thanksgiving Day 1793, 75-year-old Samuel Lane was thankful for:

  • The Life & health of myself and family, and also of so many of my Children, grand Children and great grandchildren; also of my other Relations and friends & Neighbors, for Health peace and plenty amongst us.
  • for my Bible and Many other good and Useful Books, Civil & Religious Privileges, for the ordinances of the gospel; and for my Minister.
  • for my Land, House and Barn and other Buildings, & that they are preserv’d from fire & other accidents.
  • for my wearing Clothes to keep me warm, my Bed & Bedding to rest upon.
  • for my Cattle, Sheep & Swine & other Creatures, for my support.
  • for my Corn, Wheat, Rye Grass and Hay; Wool, flax, Cider, apples, Pumpkins, Potatoes, Cabbages, turnips, Carrots, Beets peaches and other fruits.
  • For my Clock and Watch to measure my passing time by Day and by Night,Wood, Water, Butter, Cheese, Milk, Pork, Beef, & fish, &c
  • for Tea, Sugar, Rum, Wine, Gin, Molasses, pepper, Spice & Money for to bye other Necessaries and to pay my Debts & Taxes &c.
  • for my Leather, Lamp oil & Candles, Husbandry Utensils, & other tools of every sort &c &c &c.”

We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, don’t we?

“Thanksgiving Day is a good day to recommit our energies to giving thanks and just giving.” —Amy Grant. 

Happy Thanksgiving, 2021!