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

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The Old Paths: One Day When the Glory Comes

**This was originally published on Thursday, January 22, 2015, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

selma_posterAlthough my busy schedule doesn’t often allow moviegoing, I am a sucker for a cheap matinee. On rare occasions, I’ll choose to see the same movie again, but it has to be a doozy. I set a personal record with Facing the Giants and Pride and Prejudice—six times apiece in the theater. But normally I wait for the DVD.

Not so with Selma.

I started my Selma sequence with the hubster in early January 2015, then took four of my five kids to see it on the Friday before MLK Day to prepare them for that, and finally went with the fifth kid for the thrill of seeing it on MLK Day in a full theater. When my teary-eyed teenage son left the theater, he said, “Mama, everyone in America needs to watch that movie.”

I agree. If you could somehow edit out LBJ’s frequent cursing, you could even make it required watching for school children each January.

Selma is a movie that will make you think about preconceived notions—something we all need to do. So often we are locked into our iron stereotypes that first began to enchain us in our younger, more formative years. But typically, stereotypes are based on falsehoods whose fabric is actually more like gossamer-thin spiderwebs than the iron chains we perceive. They look scary, they are uncomfortable to deal with, but in the light of truth, they can easily be brushed aside. Selma indeed brushes aside some of those stereotypes.

The ultimate white racist would say “all black people are alike” and vice-versa for the black racist. It’s simply not true. Are we so simpleminded that we can’t see how ridiculous such thinking is? Where there was the young black man wanting to use violence against the militant whites in Selma, there was the somewhat older black man saying violence would accomplish nothing. Where there was the one black student leader practically idolizing Dr. King, there was another such black student criticizing the esteemed leader. All black people are alike? I think not.

Where there were vicious white people in the movie who used weapons to brutally attack the black protesters, there were other white people who watched the TV coverage of the violence and wept at the injustice. Where there were ignorant white people who taunted the nonviolent black marchers with heckling, middle fingers and overuse of that detestable “n” word, there were many other enlightened white people who thronged to Selma to march with Dr. King. All white people are alike? I think not.

People are people—some good, some bad and a whole lot in-between. Color of skin is meaningless in the reckoning of human hearts.selma-movie

As a white woman, I’ve often heard Dr. King degraded by white people who point to his alleged indiscretions. In the movie, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called Dr. King a “moral degenerate.” And no, the Civil Rights leader is not painted as a saint in Selma; his wife Coretta calls him out on the issue of other women, and he does not deny it.

So does this mean we don’t listen to a thing he says because he was a flawed human being in some ways? Oh, and you’re not? And I’m not? He who is without sin stand up and lead the way for us. Oh, wait—that wouldn’t work, would it? We would be without leadership. We certainly exalt the Founding Fathers despite some of their indiscretions. We don’t throw out the Declaration of Independence because its primary author, Thomas Jefferson, may or may not have fathered children by a slave woman.

I feel a disturbance in the Force, as Obi-Wan Kenobi said in Star Wars. The Ferguson events from a few years ago and similar ones since then seem to be fueling the fire for racial issues to once again take the forefront 50 years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. If you are one of the ostriches with your head in the sand who keeps saying, “Oh, there’s no racial injustice anymore. That’s past. Things are all better”—I would ask you respectfully to come back to reality.selma_poster-2

One thing we can do is to open up lines of communication and dispel ignorance through education and hands-on interaction. Dr. King once said: “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

I read a news story of a black man who encountered the Ku Klux Klan. Rather than direct hatred toward them, he decided that if the white people in the KKK could just get to know him, they would like him and thus change their worldview. He went out of his way to befriend some of the members, and it worked. Some of them eventually left the KKK after getting to know the black man. They admitted to the news reporter that their generations-old ignorance of black people had bred distrust in them and that the distrust had led to hatred.

Tools like the movie Selma, Black History Month each February, community-wide events like the STOKES STOKED Youth Rally I organize in my hometown of Walnut Cove, N.C., every August (where it isn’t just the few token black people at a white-themed church service or a few token white people at a black-themed service but rather a true mixture of different worship styles)—these are opportunities to open up meaningful dialogue and dispel ignorant stereotypes.racists-blood-the-same

It’s easy when you’re in the majority to purposely ignore and downplay the cries of the minority. From that vantage point, it’s convenient to point to the laws for equality that look good on the books. But when you’re a minority—whether black, Hispanic or perhaps a female in a male-dominated profession—it’s easy to see that there many legal loopholes that allow discrimination to still seep through.

Despite the fact that history has always been thus—even Jesus’ people, the Jews, have long been an oppressed minority—we cannot let up in this war for equality, understanding and consequently, LOVE. May those who fight for such justice become the true majority—a moral majority who believe that the war CAN be won.

As the theme song from Selma says:

“Now we right the wrongs in history

No one can win the war individually

It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people’s energy. . .

When the war is won, when it’s all said and done

We’ll cry glory, oh glory!”

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The Old Paths: It’s Snowing in Pinnacle!

**This was originally published on Thursday, July 14, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

southerners-and-snowIt’s snowing in Pinnacle. Those were magic words when I attended South Stokes High School. Even now I get a childlike, anticipatory feeling when I think about that phrase. Funny how some things become so etched in your psyche that years later they can still unconsciously elicit a certain response from you—like passing through the Mall and smelling a particular cologne which makes you suddenly remember your 11th grade summer romance and the boy who wore that scent. Or hearing a certain song on the radio that transports you back to junior high days when that song was in vogue.

“It’s snowing in Pinnacle” does that to me—brings back a feeling of being at South Stokes High School, laboring through the post-holiday January doldrums, seeing the school year stretch endlessly on with no break in sight—Easter vacation merely a dim mirage on the monotonous horizon.

Then suddenly the bell rings, you head for the lockers and someone whispers as you pass by, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.” The involuntary response is immediate—a rush of adrenaline, increased heart rate, goofy smile to the lips, a new spring in the step. You want to dive into the collective pool of eager anticipation, so as you undo your combination lock, you turn to the member of your homeroom just next to you. “Did you hear it’s snowing in Pinnacle?”

Pretty soon the buzz is swarming through the crowded halls. You go to your next class, and the poor befuddled teacher wonders where the sudden hyperactivity came from. Everyone is joking and laughing, just waiting for the intercom to click on and the principal to say that school will soon be letting out. It was a given—snow in Pinnacle, early dismissal.

snow-school-cancellation-ncSometimes people started the “snow in Pinnacle” rumor just to be funny, which wasn’t funny at all. Don’t mess with a bunch of bored high school students who have just completed two glorious weeks of Christmas vacation at home—sleeping late, watching TV and snacking on holiday goodies. Don’t tell them it’s snowing in Pinnacle unless you know for sure that winter weather is definitely in the area. You know what happened to the boy who cried wolf.

I distinctly remember the letdown on the occasions when we realized, “It’s not snowing in Pinnacle after all. You won’t be able to get out of that biology test in fourth period. You are stuck here for the long haul.”

But more often than not, the “snow in Pinnacle” rumor was true, and it was only a matter of time before the county office made that longed-for decision to close the schools for the rest of the day. As the Scarecrow says in The Wizard of Oz, “What joy, what rapture!”

You see, when snow was sighted in the northwest portion of Stokes County—namely Pinnacle—it didn’t matter if it was 70 degrees in Pine Hall or sunny in Walnut Cove. The powers that be had to make a decision based on the safety of each and every student, so the well-being of the Pinnacle students had to be considered even if the weather was clear in Germanton. There were times I went home early with nary a flake of snow where I lived in the far southeast corner of Stokes. I envied those lucky Pinnacle people who were probably sledding down their driveways, but I was still glad to be out of school nonetheless.

(When I write a column like this, I imagine the wrath of school officials who will say that I am encouraging children to dislike school. On the contrary, I personally loved school—so much so that I went on to teach it. But come on, people, admit it. Early dismissal for a weather-related purpose, as long as everyone stays safe on the roads, is an exciting thing for kids. Bear with me, and pretend you are 10 years old again!)

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For years, I’ve randomly gone up to fellow South Stokes alumni, especially in the heat of summer, and said, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.” Almost always I get a laugh and a comment that they, too, remember those magical words.

I’ve wondered for a long time just how far back this “snow in Pinnacle” thing goes. So, this past summer, I decided to take matters into my own hands by conducting an informal poll at Lion’s Park in Walnut Cove. I found people as far back as Class of ’72 who remembered the comment. I located some as young as Class of ’95 who chuckled along with me in remembrance. This distinctly South Stokes phenomenon spans many years.

I wonder if the North Stokes people had a similar phenomenon. And do the West Stokes folks have any such tradition? Is “It’s snowing in Pinnacle” still a relevant statement in the county schools today? When winter weather creeps in from Surry County to Pinnacle, I figure we still have to close all of the county schools, regardless of tropical weather in Sandy Ridge.

And so to all of you current Stokes County students, may your snow days be just enough to give you a needed break every now and then (but not so many as to tack on extra days in June), may your travels home after weather-related early dismissals be safe, and may you always feel those butterflies in your stomach the way I did when I heard the whisper, “It’s snowing in Pinnacle.”

happiness-snowflakes-tongue

The Old Paths: Election Disillusionment

**This was originally published on Thursday, November 8, 2012, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

election_resultsThank goodness the elections are over. As much as I appreciate living in a country where I have at least a token say in government, I despise election season. I hate the mudslinging by candidates, I cannot stand my beautiful Stokes County landscape being littered with signs, and I am disheartened by the enmity I witness between people of different political parties.

It’s done now, and I hope we can get back to normal life—or as Doc Holliday said to Wyatt Earp in the movie Tombstone, “There is no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just LIFE.” Then let us get back to LIFE.

However, my kids will tell you that I don’t waste any experience. Thus, I have learned some key things in the past few months:

1. BOTH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS STEREOTYPE EACH OTHER. Many Democrats picture Republicans as uptight, straight-laced, gun-toting, narrow-minded citizens who don’t care about the poor, the disenfranchised, the broken. Likewise, many Republicans have pigeonholed Democrats as bleeding-heart liberals with no morals, who care more about saving baby eagles than they do human babies and who cannot possibly be Christian.

Anything strike a chord with you? Did you Republicans say, “Absolutely right! Doggone liberal Democrats!”

And did you Democrats say, “But Republicans ARE everything you described, Leslie!”?

If so, then you are doing your fellow Americans a true disservice. As I’ve said before, I believe many Democrats are moderates who stand shoulder to shoulder with moderate Republicans—almost identical values and goals—just different parties for whatever reason.

A Democrat in Danbury labeled me a “compassionate Conservative,” and I liked that. Many Republicans (and Democrats) do care about the less fortunate, and many Democrats (and Republicans) are Christian. So I beg you to be careful with your stereotyping.

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2. WE HAVE NO MERCY OR FORGIVENESS FOR POLITICAL FIGURES. We tend to write someone off forever if they do even one thing that we think is wrong. Now I agree that if someone clearly errs and won’t admit their wrong, they don’t need to be given a second chance to lead until they humble themselves and pledge to reform.

But what about a politician who blows it and has great humility in the situation? Do we say that this person, even though they may have the wisdom and capabilities to help turn this country around, is never again allowed to lead?

Who hasn’t blown it in some way? Are we putting our leaders on a pedestal and daring them to totter? They are not gods but merely men and women with fleshly tendencies just like us.

I read last week that many Christian leaders who commit secret sins keep those sins hidden all of their lives because they know that if they confess and repent publicly, they will be mercilessly attacked by other Christians and never given another chance to use the giftings and callings God gave them.

What a mess this creates. There are few Christian leaders who haven’t blown it in some way, sadly enough. But they are nervously keeping these skeletons in the closet because they know they can’t count on forgiveness, loving guidance and eventual restoration to leadership. Even though transparency is so important, no one feels comfortable being transparent; everyone clutches their dirty little secrets to themselves. Our harsh judgment has created a vicious cycle of denial.

I believe the same holds true for politicians. Which of them hasn’t compromised at least a little? But few are brave enough to admit it, fearing that they will lose the next election to some other politician who still claims false infallibility. We have created a culture where being fake makes us much more successful than being REAL.

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3. PEOPLE STILL OVERWHELMINGLY VOTE ACCORDING TO RACE. I find this to be the most disturbing thing that stood out in the 2012 election. I guess as a person who considers herself color-blind, I keep hoping that people have mentally evolved enough to look beyond the color of a person’s skin.

Wrong.

I have white friends who would never have dared to vote for Obama, because he is a black man; their decision had nothing to do with values or goals—it was all about not having a black man in the White House. This in itself puzzles me, because his mother was white, which makes him as much white as black.

I also have black friends—staunch Christians who are anti-abortion, who don’t support a two-state solution for Israel and who have conservative personal values—who voted for Obama primarily because he is considered a black man. They were willing to look beyond values that are critical to Christianity so that a man of their own race could be elected.

I am troubled by both sides here, by any “race” (if there is such a thing) that sticks with their own no matter what. I guess we are still more bound by the confines of color than I want to admit.

vote-race

4. CHILDREN OFTEN ARE MUCH WISER THAN ADULTS. On Election Night, my son said he hated the fact that America has political parties. He passionately declared that we would be so much better off if we had no parties and every person simply ran based on his/her goals and values without anyone stuffing him/her into a party box.

Go ahead and try to argue with his logic and tell him how that’s not possible, how parties are needed. Meanwhile, I will pat him on the back and say, “I agree, son.”

People vote along party lines so often without even considering the values of the person they are voting for. If we had no Democrat, Libertarian or Republican parties, then maybe we would more closely examine what the candidate actually stands for.

no-political-parties

So when all is said and done, you might say that I am rather disillusioned by what I learned during the 2012 election. But I will put back on my rose-colored glasses, retreat to my old paths and keep believing—despite the failings of humanity as a whole (including my own)—that things will get better, that this country will still move positively forward, and that hope springs eternal in the human breast.

hope

Free Country, Ain’t It?

**This was originally published on Thursday, June 16, 2011, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

free-country-2

When someone tells me something I can’t do, I am sometimes tempted to spout off that familiar line many of us have used before: “Free country, ain’t it?!” (And yes, you have to use improper grammar to give it that defiant tone.)

Well, there were days back in 2011 that I wanted to shout out that defiant line.

You see, one of my heroes had been arrested. She wasn’t dealing drugs. She wasn’t driving while impaired or embezzling money. In fact, she’s one of the most God-fearing people I know.

Her crime? She had been compassionately and skillfully helping women in North Carolina have their babies at home. She had been by their side to support them, give them excellent medical attention, help them have their babies in an environment that was the only setting used for thousands of years—their own home.

“What’s so wrong with that?” you may ask. “Grandma had all of her kids at home.” Yes, your grandparents (and maybe some of my older readers!) probably delivered their babies in the comfort of their own beds. Thank God we still live in a free enough country that women are allowed to have their babies anywhere they like without fear of prosecution.

baby-feet

But North Carolina has a dilemma. Homebirth is legal, but having a midwife (one who operates independently without physician supervision) on hand to assist is illegal—not for the mother but for the midwife. Had my midwife friend been assisting with a homebirth in Virginia, it would have been legal for her. Such midwifery is also legal in Tennessee and South Carolina (our other bordering states). Yet North Carolina legislators have thus far refused to legalize this practice which is legal in 28 other states.

Let me clarify that Certified Nurse Midwives are allowed to attend homebirths in North Carolina IF they have a medical doctor willing to act as backup (sometimes a tough thing to find), but Certified Professional Midwives—who are also highly trained and usually very experienced—are not allowed to deliver babies at home.

I just don’t get it.

Before you jump on the bandwagon of saying all births need to be in the hospital for the safety of the mother and the child, I suggest you study the statistical evidence for midwifery in the U.S. Then get back to me.

When I am deciding on an issue, I study the statistical evidence, but I also like to talk to those who have been there, done that. Personal testimony is valid and crucial. So when it comes to the issue of having babies at home, let’s find someone who has been on both sides of the fence.

Hmmm, whom can we find? Oh. Okay. ME.

Yep, I’m coming out of the closet. I have had three children in the hospital and two at home in the very bed my parents bought for me when I was five years old.

Am I against hospital births? Absolutely not. I had some great experiences at the hospital—terrific nurses, a doctor I absolutely adored and relatively good care. I even loved the hospital food. So I’m not against hospital births.

I am, however, for the freedom to choose my birth experience.

freedom-sign

As I alluded to earlier, I could pick up roots and move a few miles up the road to Stuart, VA, and have that freedom. But since 1983, homebirth midwifery by CPM’s has been illegal in North Carolina.

I chose my midwife as my pregnancy/delivery/postpartum healthcare provider in 1997. She was a Certified Professional Midwife with extensive education in the field she had felt called to enter. Her experience was massive, her resume impressive.

I heard glowing reports of her skills, although I am sure there were some patients who had bad experiences with her. Lest we think such negative occurrences are limited to midwifery, let us remember that malpractice suits against hospitals and OB-GYNs are big business these days. Nobody who assists with the birth of a baby is going to be immune from what sometimes happens in this fallen world—occasional tragedy—OR what we all face as fallible humans—someone who doesn’t like us or what we do.

But I had nothing but the best experiences with my midwife. She was there in my bedroom when sweet Abigail was born in 1998, and she made it in the nick of time when Malachi made an abrupt appearance in 2004. However, it was not just the actual delivery in which she specialized.

I got prenatal care such as I never got from a standard physician’s practice. Month after month, I made trip after trip to her office where she examined me extensively each time—carefully monitoring my uterine growth, blood pressure, sugar, protein and all of the other factors that must be considered in pregnancy. When she questioned the placement of the placenta, she even sent me for a sonogram.

She made a home visit several weeks before my due date to examine the birth setting and make sure everything was in order, such as me having a birth kit readily available. When labor began, she was Johnny-on-the-spot and never left my side.

As much as I loved my OB-GYN, I labored alone for the majority of my time with my first three children. The doctor came in a time or two for a brief check before finally staying as long as necessary when the nurses said I was ready for delivery. I totally understand that in a hospital, nurses and doctors have many other patients and cannot be attached to a pregnant woman’s side. I am not complaining. But that is one of the perks of midwifery—a steady, comforting presence that is constant, which tends to make for a less stressful delivery.midwifes-hands

Had I been a high-risk case, my midwife would have been sensible and recommended that I deliver in a hospital. Midwifes are not stupid. They do not want babies or mothers to die. In the rare case of an unforeseen complication during labor, the midwife will call for medical transport to a hospital. Statistics prove that the typical midwife’s baby/mother loss record is lower than, or comparable to, that of the average OB-GYN.

Legislation has been introduced in Raleigh several times to legalize midwifery, but thus far, no cigar. The 2011 arrest of my midwife prompted friends of midwifery—including some OB-GYNs, thank God—to speak up once again in favor of this ageless method of birthing babies.

At the time of the 2011 arrest, I empathized with my midwife’s patients who were on the verge of delivery. My Abigail—expected on March 29, 1998—was already four days overdue when my midwife was arrested on April 2 of that year. My panic was not something a pregnant woman needs to experience. Thankfully, my midwife was released on April 4, in time for Abigail’s birth two days later.

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Abigail is 18 now, and little Malachi recently turned 12. As I taught him about midwifery today, he was astounded to learn that general midwifery is illegal in our state when so many other states have legalized it and are seeing great success with it. He looked down at a picture of the beautiful and caring midwife who helped me give birth to him and then at a picture of me holding him in my bed just minutes after his birth. When he looked up at me after that, his eyes were full of fiery determination.

“Mom,” he said very solemnly, “when I grow up, if midwifery is still illegal here, I WILL take it to court and change the law.” I pray things turn around before then, but if not, I do not put it past my amazing son to find a way to successfully reverse this unfair law.

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I worry that physicians who oppose legalizing midwifery are primarily looking at their personal financial picture or feeling that nasty spirit of control which can overtake any of us in any profession. If they argue that it is a case of safety, I will gladly put the statistics for OB-GYN practices and midwives side-by-side and say, “Case closed.”

My first child born in a hospital suffered respiratory distress and complications, due to negligence on the part of the OB-GYN (not my regular one who was on vacation), which resulted in long hospitalization and unnecessary expenditures. My second child—hospital-born—very nearly went through the same traumatic experience. My third child—again, birthed in a hospital—would have had a surgery performed on him accidentally had I not caught the error.

My point is that bad things can happen no matter where you give birth. I do not understand these women I have read about who knowingly chose homebirth, and then when something went wrong for them, blamed the midwife and began lobbying against homebirths. Should I lobby against all hospital births and say all OB-GYN’s should not deliver babies just because things went wrong with my hospital births? How ludicrous.

Since Eve, women on the old paths have been bearing their babies in the comforts of their own homes. Yes, there were losses, but midwifery healthcare has improved by leaps and bounds since those times. Why not let women have the birth experience that they choose—whether it be in a hospital or at home with a dedicated midwife by their side?

Free country, ain’t it?

Or is it?

To read more, check out:

Parents Ask State to Legalize Midwives

The Old Paths: Late Summer’s Lament

**This was originally published on Thursday, September 4, 2014, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column may be updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

summer-wiped-out-by-waveIt was the red leaves in late August that got me. All around, the landscape screams, “SUMMER!” but there is something in the atmosphere that whispers, “Fall.” The green leaves that abound can’t quite screen out the occasional reds that are appearing. Golden flowers are flourishing on the roadside—a sure sign of summer’s last hurrah. In my yard, the sweet birdsong of spring and early summer has been replaced by the raucous cawing of crows.

I don’t like it.

Go ahead and tell me how much you love autumn. Try to convince me with the promise of community chicken stews and church Brunswick stews. Tempt me with the lure of vivid blue skies free of summer’s haze and a morning nip to the air. I’ll even agree that I love the fall foliage, football and hot spiced cider.

But I always miss summer once its swan song is sung.

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Perhaps it’s that touch of claustrophobia that sometimes threatens me. It makes my toes cringe to think of surrendering their flip-flop freedom to the confined spaces of boots and tennis shoes. My skin does not want to give up the bareness of shorts and sleeveless shirts for the smothering enclosure of thick jeans and heavy sweaters.

I guess I just don’t like to be confined in any way—not even in my house. Due to my career as a writer, I’m already chained indoors to my computer too much. At least in late spring and summer, I can occasionally retire to the lawn chair on my deck, the trees providing me with shade as summer’s breeze brings relief on all but the hottest d
ays.

Although autumn in the South still provides enough nice weather for outdoor activities, the barefoot early mornings on my deck will soon be a memory. The late nights of lying on the trampoline to stargaze with my little boy will be relegated to the old paths as autumn’s chill gradually sneaks in. I start to see myself searching for a coat to wear even to the mailbox, my warm breath making “smoke” in the frosty air.summer-over-charlie-brown

I suppose one facet of why I hate to say goodbye to summer is that I know autumn is just a brief fling with cooler but still-comfortable weather before the harsh winter cold sets in. It’s hard to enjoy the good magazines in the dental waiting room when you know you’ll soon be called to the back for your root canal. What awaits us often mars the joy of what currently surrounds us.

“But the autumn leaves are so pretty!” you say to me, thinking this will convince me to welcome fall with open arms. Why, yes. Yes, they are. But they last all of two weeks before they litter the ground with what will become winter’s compost pile—their vibrant reds, oranges, yellows subdued into one monotonous brown to be trampled underfoot.

red-leaf-in-fall

Then we stare at bare trees for months….and months….and months.

Spare me your speeches and “Lion King” songs about the circle of life. I learned that in Mrs. Mildred Cromer’s first-grade classroom. I get it—I really do….not that there’s anything I could do about it if I didn’t. The cyclic seasons are as muchme-in-snow a part of this life as the gravity that possibly sent an apple hurtling down to Sir Isaac Newton’s head.

I accept that, and I honor my Creator’s marvelous plan. And contrary
to what you may think after reading this column thus far, I DO appreciate the beauty of every season and am thankful for it. My Facebook friends especially know how I love snow; when they are tiring of it, I am hoping for yet another snowstorm.

I realize that sometimes things must change for us to appreciate what we had/have. Even I would tire of a constant spring or an endless summer. “Variety is the spice of life,” they say. Well, THEY are certainly correct.

So I roll with the punches of the ever-fluid calendar and know that I will more richly revel in the resurrection of nature in the spring BECAUSE I have been through the barren winter. I will savor summer’s warmth in June BECAUSE I remember the frigid cold of January. Bare feet in newly-plowed garden soil, green shoots springing up from the ground, new leaves unfurling on hitherto bare branches—these pleasures are more poignant because of their long absence.

summer-where-did-it-goBut for now, please humor me in my lament for the passage of summer. As long as the calendar says August, I can still imagine that I’ll finally make it up to Hanging Rock to swim, that I’ll take that tubing trip down the Dan River, that I’ll head to the beach once more to sunbathe. But as soon as I turn the page to September, I sense the finality of those unmet goals. Summer’s slow, lazy pace lulled me through June, July and August, fooling me into thinking I’d have time to relax and do summertime things once my busy schedule calmed down.

I fell for it again. And now it’s time to get out the school supplies and put away the bathing suit that I didn’t swim in a single time this summer. Let me revamp Jimmy Buffett’s song and say, “It’s my own dang fault.”

I’m making the transition from Seals and Crofts to Sinatra—from “summer breeze makes me feel fine” to “my fickle friend, the summer wind.” Summer, you have less than three weeks left, so I bid you adieu and hope to see you next June 21. I will console myself with hot chocolate, steaming chicken stew and warm hoodies, but remember, you still have my heart.

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The Old Paths: I Miss Mayberry

**This was originally published on Thursday, July 12, 2012, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column is updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog. I had blogged about this subject in July 2012, using some of the material from this column. However, much had been changed during the transition from the column to the blog, so I am now blogging the original newspaper column to preserve it for history’s sake.**

Andy in HeavenSummer always puts me in a nostalgic mood. (Yes, I know—I’m ALWAYS in a nostalgic mood but even moreso in summer.) I think it’s the fact that summer takes me back to the old paths of my childhood when days were longer, lazier and brighter somehow.

My childhood was the era of “The Andy Griffith Show,” long summer breaks from school, working hard but laughing a lot in the tobacco field, making homemade ice cream down in Grandpa Bray’s yard, listening to Uncle Sam pick the guitar while my daddy and his brothers sang “Uncle Pen” or “Let Me Be Your Salty Dog.”

It was Sunday afternoons under the shady old oaks while relatives sat in lawn chairs and talked about the weather, their ‘baccer, what all they had put up for the winter. It was swimming in the creek to stay cool on hot July days. It was  playing in the woods with the cousins ‘til Mama called us in.

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I’m the littlest girl, wading in the creek….long, long ago…..

Those days are long gone. Summer vacation ends earlier in August now, I haven’t touched a tobacco leaf in a lot of years, Pa Bray is dead and the extended family only gets together down at his old farm a couple of times a year. Nobody has time to sit in the yard on Sundays—too many ballgames or practices. Indoor air conditioning has long replaced creeks as the cooling method of choice, and there are too many crazy people in the world today to let your kids hang out in the woods all day.

There is really only one constant still left from my childhood days—The Andy Griffith Show. I can turn on the TV every day at 5:30 p.m. and see faces from my childhood—Ange, Barn, Thelma Lou, Aunt Bee, Opie. That show aired years before I was even born and probably has been on the air somewhere every year since.andy, barney, gomer.png

When I watch it, modern life ceases for me. I retreat to a black-and-white world where Barney advises me to “Nip it in the bud!”, Andy strums the guitar on the front porch, Opie shares his heart with “Paw” and Aunt Bee keeps them all well-fed.

But it isn’t all sunshine and flowers. Barney sometimes sneaks off to call Juanita down at the diner while poor Thelma Lou sits at home. Opie tells occasional lies and has to confess to Andy. Aunt Bee’s pickles taste like kerosene and sometimes she can’t seem to beat Clara Edwards at anything. Ernest T. Bass is ever chunking rocks through windows while Otis just keeps getting drunk.

Even the paradise of the fictional Mayberry has its occasional thorns—just like real life.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched old clips of Andy Griffith on YouTube and even posted a short one on my Facebook page. It was the familiar scene—Andy with his guitar on the porch with Barney by his side. Andy was singing “The Church in the Wildwood” with Barney adding the harmony.

The episode was called “Man in a Hurry.” The contrast was marked—Andy and Barney peacefully singing, Barney stretching lazily and saying, “Well, I think I’ll go home, take me a nap then head on over to Thelma Lou’s to watch some TV” (emphasis on the “T”), while the man in a hurry paced back and forth.

That same theme is often on my mind: how can we modern folks with cell phones, social networking, email, video games and more TV channels than you can shake a stick at slow down our lives to savor the simple things we recall from childhood?

…..Like catching lightning bugs and putting them in pop bottles instead of playing the Xbox. Sitting on the porch while the moon rises instead of watching “Criminal Minds.” Playing the piano for the family to gather ’round to sing instead of viewing the latest music videos on YouTube.

Truth be told, I’m too busy to do any of that.

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But “The Andy Griffith Show” reminds me that life was probably better when we had the time, or rather TOOK the time, to do these things. Andy was a busy sheriff on call 24/7, but he managed to take Opie down to the fishing hole. (Whether or not they whistled while they walked is undetermined!) Sometimes he and Helen Crump spread a blanket on the grass and enjoyed a picnic.

There was a sense of community that few of us still experience. Neighbors visited. Men gathered down at Floyd’s to talk. Goober and Gomer were never too busy down at the garage to lend a helping hand.

“Wake up, Leslie! It’s a fictional town on a TV show!” you may say.

Is it? I seem to remember living a similar life when I was a kid. We had a community club where the neighbors had Rook tournaments and potluck dinners. Mama invited ladies over to quilt. The Bray cousins and I would wander through pastures, climb cherry trees, swim in Belews Creek before the lake existed.

So maybe that’s why we still watch a show created in 1960—a show with no real relevance now in many ways, a show that belongs to the days of yesteryear…..because it reminds us of so much that was good and that we wish could be again. And because the true values of the human heart haven’t changed much at all since 1960—love for family and friends, a need to be part of something meaningful, a yearning for simplicity.

i miss mayberry chorus

Imagine my shock when I had been pondering these Mayberry-esque issues of life and then heard that Andy Griffith had passed away. It seemed unreal. How could Sheriff Taylor be gone? Shouldn’t Ange have lived to at least 120?

Before I knew it, I was unexpectedly bawling like a baby. I had had no idea Andy Griffith’s death could possibly make me cry.

But you know why I think it did? Not just because I loved Andy. But also because it seemed to be the end of an era. There had not been a minute of my life that Andy wasn’t figuratively sheriff of Mayberry.

Losing Barney, Aunt Bee and most recently Goober was sad, but losing Andy—the figurehead of the show—is much tougher. It somehow makes the Mayberry world he created retreat even farther into the shrouds of the past. It makes me feel more detached from childhood.

It’s been a long time since I really was a child, but “The Andy Griffith Show” makes me feel that young again. I’ll keep watching it as long as it’s in syndication. And I’ll remember…..and I’ll treasure it…..and I’ll keep wishing I could make my life that simple again.

I miss Mayberry.

andy and opie walking

The Old Paths: What about the children?

**This was originally published on Thursday, September 26, 2013, in my newspaper column, “The Old Paths,” in The Stokes News. Due to a website change a few years ago, the publishing company broke all links to our old articles which were archived online. This was a tragic mistake and resulted in the loss of thousands of newspaper articles. Little by little, I am putting my old columns on this blog so that they can be preserved. Each column is updated to reflect present times when transferred to this blog.**

Little did I know in early September 2013 when I penned a newspaper column about time healing our hurts that our county would suffer several horrendous hurts that very week. I had used the example of Sonia Luster—the 16-year-old killed in an automobile accident on her way to North Stokes High School in 2008—noting that she died the day before the Stokes Stomp, our county’s signature festival.

NSHS--Dee Luster

Sonia Luster’s mom, Dee, at the North Stokes High School graduation the year that Sonia would have graduated—wearing a shirt with a picture of Sonia graduating from an earlier grade.

Imagine my horror at the 2013 Stokes Stomp when I heard the tragic news that three other Stokes County youth had just been killed in auto accidents—one the night after I wrote my column, two others the night before the Stomp. My heart felt like lead as I was told the heartbreaking details of the wrecks that affected every high school in the county.

One victim was a West Stokes High School student, another a South Stokes High student, another a recent graduate of Meadowbrook Academy in Stokes County. One driver, who survived but was charged with DWI and two counts of felony death by motor vehicle, had attended North Stokes High.

I had left the county fair in King on Wednesday just an hour or so before the first wreck occurred on nearby Meadowbrook Road. On Friday, I had left a prayer meeting in Walnut Cove just an hour before the second wreck; it happened on Highway 89—the very road I traveled to get home. Being so near the accidents, both in place and time, made me strangely affected, although I knew none of the victims.

Not knowing them didn’t matter anyway. Mothers lost sons those nights. I am a mother of two sons, so this was heart-wrenching to me.

What was also devastating was the fact that alcohol was involved in both accidents. One driver was of legal drinking age, the other was not. Legal or not, no one should drink and drive. Why is this a problem? And why does Stokes County have one of the highest rates of alcohol-related crashes in the state?

Years ago, I sat on a committee that had received a grant to study the high incidence of alcohol-influenced wrecks in the county. We spent hours searching for the root of the problem and how to resolve it. We even brought in teenagers to help. An initiative was launched to lower the number of these accidents.

And still they happen. Why?

There are many reasons: lack of fulfillment in people’s lives that leads to alcohol abuse, that youthful feeling of invincibility which results in the skewed thinking of “It can’t happen to me,” too little awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, etc.

One of the age groups most affected is youth ages 16 to 25. We can argue that we are not training up our children in the way they should go, that peer pressure to consume alcohol is strong, that irresponsible adults are purchasing alcohol for underage drinkers.

But I will also argue that there aren’t enough worthwhile activities for youth in Stokes County, especially on weekend nights. If you’re in King, it’s a little better; you are near Highway 52 which will take you in a flash to Winston-Salem where there are multiple things to do, such as bowling or going to the movies. In King itself, there may not be too much to do except eat at a restaurant that stays open late. The Stokes Family YMCA is located there, but it closes at 8 p.m. Friday night and 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Late at night in Walnut Cove, you can go eat at a couple of restaurants. That’s about it. You can’t even do that in Danbury, Pine Hall, Lawsonville or Sandy Ridge.

There are those of us in Walnut Cove dedicated to helping local youth prosper through education, recreation, service, a move of God; we are lobbying for a recreational center in town. We argue that kids need a place to shoot basketball, have space for games/seminars/tutoring, watch movies, hold Christian youth rallies and functions.

There are not even any real parks for children. There is an outdoor public basketball court in the London community of Walnut Cove—not ideal late at night or in freezing weather. There is Fowler Park—a lovely place but one which has no bathrooms or playground equipment. What kid wants to just sit under the picnic shelter or walk around the short path? At Lions Park, there is some rather outdated playground equipment, but again, no bathrooms unless baseball games are going on nearby.

So if you are a young person in Walnut Cove on a weekend night, you can either hang out in the Food Lion parking lot or hang out in the Food Lion parking lot. And repeat.

How do we get what we need for the youth? Community involvement is a start. We need more people to care about this issue. Most adults either have children, will have children or have/will have grandchildren who need a place for wholesome recreation in town. So you SHOULD care.

Some of you have lots of money that you can’t take with you. (Yeah, I said it.) Some of you know where to find money/grants, even if you don’t have any money personally. Some of you have land that would be a perfect place to locate a rec center. Some of you have skills that could be used to construct and outfit such a place.

So what’s stopping us? I say we can have a place in Walnut Cove (and other towns) that will give our kids somewhere to go to do something constructive. Would you rather see your kids at the local rec center playing handball, basketball or Uno late on a Friday night or out on back roads drinking illegally and then driving around because there’s no place to go?

If you are willing to put your hand to the plow to make this happen, contact me; I will be glad to welcome you to the group that is pushing to provide something for our youth in this town. My heart is to bless the children. I know the Town of Walnut Cove needs revenue; that’s why the leaders push for businesses to come to Town. But can you imagine how blessed Walnut Cove would be if Town leaders would get behind the effort to bless the Town’s children? Revenue would follow, per God’s promise that if you seek first His Kingdom, everything else you need will be added.

We don’t need any more young people killed on our roads because alcohol was an easy answer for “What is there to do?” That “easy” answer often turns into something hard for all of us to bear. We’ve had enough of that. It’s time to redeem this next generation. Who’s up for the task?

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