This blog is where I can pour out my heart with my longing for God.

Archive for July, 2012

The Old Paths: Kenny Loggins was right–the heat is on!

Photo taken by my friend Billy Payne of Sandy Ridge (Buffalo Ridge Imaging on Facebook)

Yep, Kenny Loggins could’ve been singing about us here in the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina this week. No, I don’t believe he was talking about record-breaking July weather when he sang “The Heat Is On,” but nonetheless, if the song fits, sing it.

It officially hit only 96 today (the “only” is in reference to the 100+ degree heat we had a few weeks back for a string of days). My friend Ben just posted on Facebook that the heat index in Raleigh where he works is 107 degrees. Tomorrow, it should be about the same–“Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a whole lot worse.”

When I walked outside a while ago to talk to my friend Lori on the phone, the sultry summer atmosphere assaulted my senses. When I re-entered the house, the cool air felt like a Colorado mountaintop.

For a few minutes.

Then my body acclimated itself to this inside air that is not cool enough despite the AC system that runs incessantly outside my window, ensuring that Duke Energy will feast on many of our hard-earned dollars next month. Now I feel uncomfortably warm even inside my house. Another friend of mine complained that her thermostat is set on 72 but that the temperature inside her house is 83.

Photo taken by my friend Michael Mullins of King

I personally love the heat of summer, but is that because I don’t work outdoors? My father-in-law fights this heat while working outside building houses, putting on roofs, etc. I feel guilty about daring to complain about the heat when I think about him or those I’ve seen recently doing highway work on freshly poured, steaming asphalt. Makes even my tobacco priming days seem tame.

And I also must question if I’d love this heat in the absence of air conditioning. What did we do in the pre-AC days?

I asked that question in the Danbury Public Library one day. A lady I didn’t know, Sharon Brown Craddock, said that growing up, she went swimming in the river nearly every day up in Sandy Ridge off Amostown Road when the heat was on. Nora Lankford, the Danbury librarian, chimed in that they swam in the river, too, on hot days but only after the day’s work was done.

I don’t even like heating up the oven on days like this due to the intense heat it generates. If I had been raised with my friend Mable Booth of Westfield and her nine siblings, I wouldn’t have gotten hot food on a sizzling summer’s day. Booth recalls how her mother would get up at 4:30 a.m. each morning to fire up the old woodstove and cook a big meal.

The large family would work all morning in the fields before returning to the house to eat whatever their mother had cooked in the early dawn hours, even though it was usually cold by then. Supper would consist of lunch leftovers, with perhaps a new pone of cornbread added.

You see, using the woodstove in the middle of an oppressively hot summer’s day created entirely too much heat in a house with no AC other than occasional breezes through open windows and doors. Sharon remembers that her family often cooked out at the river for this very reason.

As I chatted with the local folks one day about the old paths of summertime, a lady I didn’t know joined our conversation. Linda Gallagher of Brooklyn, NY, interjected that when she was growing up in a row house in the big city, her mother wouldn’t dare use the stove on midsummer days. She would make salads, often with fruit, to feed her family and preserve what little coolness they had in their house.

Photo taken by my friend Eric Barr of King

I remember working in tobacco on these kinds of days–the sheer exhaustion that would result after hours of pouring sweat like running faucets while suckering or topping the ‘baccer. Mable told me that on such days, her older relatives would pick oak leaves and layer them inside of their hats to provide further insulation from the heat. Once the day’s work was complete, they would sit out under the shade trees in the yard.

Photo taken by my friend Michael Mullins of King

Nora, too, recalled that everyone simply hunted for whatever shade they could find. That might explain why most old homeplaces have stately trees in the yard–unlike these suburban wasteland lawns with merely grass. Indeed my most vivid memories of Grandpa and Grandma Bray involve them sitting out under the massive oaks, shelling peas, shucking corn, talking to neighbors. Sometimes, they even sat out there after the blessed darkness dropped a veil of relief over the heat-oppressed land.

Back in the day, not only yards were different due to heat, but also houses which were sometimes built differently. Nora remembers reading and/or hearing how very old houses often had a hallway running through the middle of them, from the front door to the back. This would ensure that, with both doors open, a draft would pull moving air from front to back to provide a natural AC system for our ancestors.

On stiflingly hot days now, I notice that, as a rule, houses are shut up tightly with all windows and doors closed. We wouldn’t have seen this 50 years ago. Windows and doors were thrown wide open on hot summer days to allow for a current of air. Shutting up a house in those days could mean certain misery, and even danger, for indoor inhabitants.

Some still walk those old paths today. My neighbors Steve and Olivia Shelton of Danbury live in an older home that they have remodeled and which has no central AC. An attic fan and ceiling fans help to keep the rooms cool, while a gazebo graces their lawn to provide a more comfortable place to spend summer evenings.

Still, Olivia says, there are summer days when she has to take a fan even to the gazebo.

Photo taken by my friend Peggy Woody of McLeansville

We’re talking electric fans–not those funeral home fans that we used during summer church services when I was a youngster. Nora recalls making her own accordion-pleated fans out of paper when all else failed–anything to get the air moving when the heat was on. But the problem with all of these manually-operated fans was that it took energy to wave them back and forth–energy which created more body heat and sweat.

“Can somebody please turn off the heat?” you plead.

Perhaps I’ll remind you of our complaints when December’s cold is bold, January’s gales assail and February’s chill is shrill.

Photo taken by my friend Denise Coe of Walnut Cove

For now, I’m going to enjoy the sizzle from inside my somewhat air-conditioned house, wishing I was shucking corn under the old oak trees with Grandma Bray once more. . .when the heat is on.

The Old Paths: Mired up in “Dog Days”

It may not be midsummer by the calendar (that would come about August 5), but it’s midsummer nonetheless to those who must get back into the school routine in just a month or so. And at this climax point of the season, we talk about being in the “dog days.” What exactly does that mean?

I first remember hearing the phrase “dog days” when I was six years old and cut my foot at a little creek off Highway 65 on the way from Walnut Cove to Germanton in Stokes County, North Carolina. I can remember that accident as if it were yestiddy (as Andy Griffith would say).

When Mama told me I couldn’t have another cookie, I walked backwards into the creek, still begging her to give me just one more sweet treat. Suddenly my foot touched something smooth and rounded in the creek bed. As I ran my toes over that lovely-feeling, glassy object, I was quickly shocked by the abrupt slicing and dicing my foot got from the jagged edge of that broken bottle.

I bear the scar from the stitches to this day. But I also bear something else—the memory that this bad thing happened to me because it was “dog days,” so said either Mama or Aunt Audrey.

From then on, the phrase “dog days” sounded foreboding to me. I had this mental picture of beginning each summer as a resident of a joyful universe which somehow slithered slowly and purposefully toward the ominous pit of dog days. . .a time when things go wrong and midsummer’s haze makes faraway things shimmer, mirage-like.

For me, dog days meant an atmosphere laden with the potential for trouble–that oppressive feeling just before a storm, the “something wicked this way comes” premonition. I don’t remember anyone ever explaining to me what dog days really were. I only knew that some time in August they ended, and life was able to move at its regular pace and in harmony once again.

A couple of years ago, I decided I had been in the dark about dog days long enough. I went to that most modern source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, which told me that dog days are the “hottest, most sultry days of the summer. . .a time period. . . that is very hot or stagnant or marked by a dull lack of progress.”

The name comes from Sirius, the Dog Star, and dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. To appease the wrath of Sirius, ancient cultures often sacrificed a brown dog during this time. In 1813, a writer penned these words about dog days: “[It is a time] when the seas boiled, wine soured, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid, causing man burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies [sic].”

But dog days are not universal. They do not occur in the southern hemisphere because Sirius is seen much of the year there. However, in the northern hemisphere, the Dog Star is invisible most of the year, surfacing in early July to mark the beginning of the days of foreboding. During dog days in ancient times, Sirius rose and set with the sun. But no more–the universe has changed since then.

How long must we suffer through these sultry dog days? Traditionally, they last around 40 days, but the dates vary according to the source. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says they run from July 3 through August 11. The Common Book of Prayer (1552) says July 6-August 17. Some European countries call this approximately 40-day period “the rotting month.”

As an impressionable child, for me, the distasteful phrase dog days conjured up the image of rabid dogs. I still connect dog days to that scene in “To Kill A Mockingbird” when the mad dog comes stumbling down the dirt road in that sleepy, stifling, summer atmosphere where Boo Radley lurks out of sight just down the street. But what a disservice this idea does to dogs, which have absolutely nothing to do with the term dog days. (Many people, however, connect the two because dogs indeed seem to be lazier in the oppressive heat, but hey, who doesn’t?!)

Myths connected with dog days are abundant. Supposedly, dogs can go mad for no reason, hunting dogs won’t hunt, fish won’t bite, sores and wounds won’t heal, snakes go blind and strike at anything that comes near, etc. Women, be prepared; supposedly men are too burnt out at this time of year to want anything to do with you. Men, beware; traditionally women, being cooler by nature, crave more of your attention during dog days.

My hubster–born on July 6, the first official day of “dog days”–gathers in his harvest during this misunderstood season.

Even though I know that all of this has no foundation in the Word of God, due to my upbringing and cultural biases, dog days DO seem to be a period of holding my breath, feeling the need to whisper or sleep or simply wait until dog days are over and life resumes its rhythm and color. But things aren’t what they seem, are they? Strip away the old wives’ tales and this midsummer period can be a fruitful time of gathering in the garden harvest, enjoying the beauty of nature and using our leisure time to seek the Lord and do His work.

And if truth be told, my dog is perfectly sane and doesn’t hunt anyway, fish rarely bite for me regardless, the sore on my leg is healing nicely, I plan to avoid all snakes anyhow, and my hubster is paying me loads of attention–thus disproving those old wives’ tales of dog days. So I’ll go on with life as dog days creep by and soon are gone, and I’ll enjoy these lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer before they too are all gone. . .

The Old Paths: Mayberry is my state of mind

I’ve been a little more sentimental lately. (I wasn’t even sure that was possible since my children avow I would have a lock on the “Sentimental Sap” award every year.)

But it’s true.

I’ve been more conscious of the passage of time, the loss of simplicity in American life, the need to go back to the restful old paths (my most common theme). Last week on June 28, I even posted a short clip from The Andy Griffith Show onto my Times of Refreshing Facebook page with a status that read: “This little snippet from the Andy Griffith show fits my mood today. We are too much in a hurry! Watch how this harried man becomes calm as he hears Andy and Barney sing an old hymn. Come on and watch it and agree with me that we need to slow down and find the old paths of life.”

I even posted the clip on my personal Facebook wall, with the status of “I became calmer just watching this. See how walking the old paths brings rest to our souls (Jeremiah 6:16)?”

The clip was from an episode entitled “Man in a Hurry.” This man who cannot enjoy life for always being in a hurry begins to find a measure of peace as he hears Andy strum the guitar on the front porch, singing “Church in the Wildwood,” accompanied by Barney’s tenor harmony. The contrast is marked as the man paces back and forth while the restful singing goes forth.

As I was choosing the YouTube clip, I also watched one in which Andy plays the guitar and sings “There Is a Time.” That one made me so sad regarding the passage of time that I quickly exited it.

Well, today, I posted that one on my wall. Because today, Andy Griffith died.

I heard the news about mid-morning as I logged into Facebook and saw a status that read, “R.I.P. Sheriff Taylor.” I gasped and cried out to the hubster, “Oh no! Andy Griffith is dead!” I suddenly began to cry, and the hubster came rushing over to the couch to put his arms around me and comfort me.

I was shocked–not only that Andy had passed away, but also that I was so shaken. If you had told me last week that I would be sobbing over Andy Griffith’s death, I would’ve looked at you strangely. Become sad? Maybe. Actually shed tears? No way.

But when it actually happened, my grief was very real. I went back and watched the clip I posted last week and cried some more. I posted the “There Is a Time” clip, watched it again and cried even harder. A couple of hours later, I posted the song “I Miss Mayberry” by Rascal Flatts with a video tribute to The Andy Griffith Show. And I boohooed a little more.

Call me a glutton for punishment, but a few hours after that, I posted a short clip of the episode in which Andy persuades Opie to let his caged birds go free. When the following dialogue took place–Opie: “Cage sure looks awful empty, don’t it, Paw?” Andy: “Yes, Son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full?”–I broke down yet again.

Now maybe it’s hormones today, but then again, maybe it AIN’T.

I’ve seen a similar reaction all over America as news of Andy’s death spread like wildfire. One local TV news channel devoted all day to remembering Andy Griffith. Specials on his life abounded. I saw grown men cry as they were interviewed for news specials.

Why did Andy’s death affect us this way? He was 86, he had lived a good life, he seemed ready to go by Christian standards. Why are we unable to let the good Sheriff Taylor go gently into that good night?

Because I believe his death signified the ending of an era–an era that represented to us a simpler time of our existence, that reminded us of our childhood, that is rapidly fading into the mists of yesteryear. As long as Sheriff Taylor was alive, Mayberry seemed to still exist somewhere. There was the hope that we could somehow regain even an iota of that peaceful lifestyle.

The Mayberry state of mind crosses gender, race, culture. The Andy Griffith Show was all about white people, yet I saw countless black people interviewed today–all of them lamenting Andy’s passing. Women today primarily work outside the home and wear jeans like the men–unlike most of the Mayberry women who stayed home, wore dresses and lived to cook for their families–yet these modern women shed tears today at the loss of Mayberry’s native son.

It would be almost unAmerican to say you were unaffected by Andy’s death. Don’t we all recognize the opening theme just as soon as the first bar is whistled? Who hasn’t tried whistling that themselves? Don’t we all laugh when Barney says, “Nip it. Nip it in the bud!”? At one time or another, haven’t we all tried to mimic Goober’s Cary Grant impression of “Judy, Judy, Judy”?

It hits us in the collective gut of nostalgia to hear Andy is no more on earth. Who’s gonna make sure Barney keeps that bullet in his shirt pocket? Who’s gonna lock up Otis for public drunkenness and bring him some of Aunt Bee’s good cornbread in the jail cell? Who’s gonna catch Ernest T. Bass when he’s chunking rocks through storefront windows? And for that matter, who’s gonna sit around and pick and grin with the Darlings?

The days of my childhood are long gone. No more Sunday afternoons under Grandpa Bray’s shady old oaks while neighbors and relatives drop in to sit in web-design lawn chairs and discuss if the blue mold’s taking the ‘baccer, how many quarts of green beans they’ve put up for the winter, how hot this July weather has been. No more swimming in the creek with the cousins after we’ve wandered through Grandpa’s pastures and picked blackberries. No more catching lightning bugs and putting them in pop bottles on summer evenings while Uncle Sam played “Uncle Pen” or “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog” as my daddy and the other uncles sang along.

But there is one thing that remains from my childhood days. The Andy Griffith Show. It was on the air before I was born, and it has never once gone off the air since the last episode was filmed in 1968. I can click on my TV every day at 5:30 p.m. and catch it on a local channel even now. It is one of the last existing ties to my childhood. I have never known a day of life without Sheriff Taylor.

Until today.

Yes, I know The Andy Griffith Show will probably run until I’m long gone. But losing Andy somehow makes the show seem even farther back in time, even more removed from modern life.

We strain a little harder to reach back to a time when Aunt Bee was pleased as punch to keep her Taylor boys well-fed, when Opie always had his “Paw” to confide in, when Andy strummed his guitar on the front porch while Barney stretched and said, “Well, I think I’ll go down to the corner and get me a bottle of pop.” Pause. “Yep, I figure I’ll mosey on down to the corner and get me a pop.” Another pause and stretch, “That’s the plan. Head on down to the corner and get me a bottle of pop.”

Lest life seem overly perfect, Mayberry had its thorny issues. Aunt Bee faced pickling problems and was ever challenged by her bosom buddy Clara Edwards. Opie sometimes told fibs and had to confess to “Paw.” Barney often sneaked off to call Juanita down at the diner and serenade her while poor Thelma Lou was at home alone. Ernest T. Bass turned up with his violent ways at all the wrong times. And Otis just kept a-drinkin’.

But still, Mayberry life seems ideal to us today in our rush-rush-hurry-hurry work-a-day world. There was a sense of community that we are lacking. Neighbors took time to sit on the porch and visit. Floyd’s Barber Shop was a hangout for the men. The Pyle boys–Gomer and Goober–were ever-present when a helping hand was needed.

Andy’s job of sheriff kept him on call around the clock. But he somehow found time to spread a quilt on the green grass to picnic with his best gal, Helen Crump. He took Opie down to the fishing hole and maybe whistled while he went. He made time to play his music with the Darlings, complete with a gen-u-INE jug instrument.

You skeptics are thinking, “Get a grip, Leslie. Mayberry is a fictional town on television, for goodness sake!”

Yes. Yes, it is. But Mayberry is more than a made-up town. It’s a state of mind, I’ve heard people say. And it’s most certainly MY state of mind.

Because I remember those times. I was part of the Forest Chapel Community Club where we had potluck dinners with the neighbors, and where grandmas, uncles, aunts, cousins played against each other in Rook tournaments. We had three TV channels, no cell phones, no computers, no video games. My social networking involved bouncing the basketball loudly in the yard in hopes that my neighbors across the road would hear me and come out to play “HORSE.”

THAT’S why we cry over Andy’s passing. Because many of us still long for the Mayberry state of mind where life flows peacefully and seems to move in slow motion compared to the jet-fast pace of modernity. A place where Ange is patiently advising the Barneys among us, licking his lips saying “Mmm, Mmm!” over Aunt Bee’s pork chops, calmly counseling a penitent Opie, singing and playing for us at the end of a hectic day.

The faster we move through life, the more we yearn for the old paths of life. Andy was representative of that rustic, slow-paced way of living. And now he’s gone.

Nope, we’re not just mourning the passing of Andy. We’re mourning the passage of an era that will never come again.

Thank God that way of life, as well as Andy, will live on through reruns of his show. We’ll continue to tune in and reminisce and laugh and wish it could be that simple again.

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