Pew!

Nearly raised on a church pew, the hard kind, all scarred and damaged and oiled and polished nearly daily with Aunt Jane’s lemon Pledge, I knew just which ones clean enough to stretch out upon, and which ones to avoid, since Ricky Amos was wont to wet his pants every Sunday morning.  Then again, come Sunday night.

I was raised respectful and quiet.  I’d memorized the page numbers of most of the old hymns, and had some distaste for the newer choruses having no proper verses.  And don’t get me started on skipping any of those verses during song service.  I think not!  I think NOT!

Wasn’t my call, but since my Mama was the pianist come Sundays, I made my petitions known, make no mistake.

Nearly raised on a pew did not, however, preclude my mind from wandering.  I’d ask silent forgiveness from the Lord Almighty, staring hard at the portrait of Jesus, all tanned and smiling mysteriously like the Mona Lisa whist I prayed.  Me and the Lord, we had an agreement.  I wouldn’t close my eyes (I learned early on when I did, folks thought I was looking for salvation.  Again.  And again.  Not that I didn’t need a re-up every now and then, but all those loving pats on the cheek wore on me some.), and the Lord would listen even so.  

And once forgiveness was requested, I’d snuggle in just a little closer to my lavender splashed grandmama Lily and she’d get to work.  An silent agreement,  just like me and Jesus, Grandmama Lily would pull an well-faded, flower-dappled,  soft as a baby kitten handkerchief from her pocketbook.  Once upon a time, she’d let me rifle around in there to keep me occupied during the most dry of sermons.  Until I sent her Chapstick rolling down the center aisle.  

And that was that.

But this?  Our new solution satisfied all my needs for occupation and imagination.  With a little twist here and a little tuck there, a quick roll and a poof, why, in my hand would be the most glorious hanky baby-in-a-basket!  The first time Grandmama displayed this skill, I gave Jesus a quick look, thanking him for the miracle he’d wrought.  And he kept on wroughting–week after week.  Even when the Hell Fire was being preached, Grandmama would twist and roll and wrap and poof and once again, a hanky baby in a blanket was laid gently in my little girl hands.

Last I saw Grandmama, not so very long ago, now, she lay in a pristine hospital bed, sweet and little, bright white curls like clouds ’round her gentle face.  We’d all, all the cousins and kids and other kin once and twice removed, come to say our goodbyes.  And durned if my Grandmama, seeing my distress, durned if she didn’t twist and roll and puff and poof and lay a sweet little hanky baby in a blanket in my big girl hands.

My treasure.  My Grandmama.

 

**********

If Mama Ain’t Happy….

…..heck, you know the rest.

And rest assured, my Mama, she ain’t nowheres NEAR happy!  I been layin’ low since nigh on breakfast yesterday.  That there’s when Daddy, him and Grandpap, ‘long with Linc and Lawrence, the big boys, they headed off to the ol’ Smoot place, down in the bottoms, hour ‘way as the crow flies.

An’ why they deigned not to be takin’ me, Liam Goodwell, third son and fifth chil’ of the Denton County Goodwells, and durned best mushroom hunter this side o’ God’s own heaven, why I’ll never know.  I can fair sniff them delectables out half mile ‘way, I can.  Them brothers o’mine, why, they ain’t got the sense the good God give ’em when it comes to mushroom huntin’.  They be right now stompin’ ’round in they big ol’ boots, smooshin’ and smashin’ greens and growths what could be hidin’ the most succulent, delicious treat known to man!

Oh, they think they know.  Oh, they be sure of it.  But durned if my gleenin’s ain’t always near double theirs.  They do consider themselves blessed I willingly share once we get back to the house with our lip-smackin’ treasures.

And true, ain’t nobody I’d rather have rustle up these heaven-sent prizes than my Mama.  Now, ain’t possible to spoil a mess of them delights, but when they done right, it’s right spiritual.   ‘Specially when my Mama, she makes ’em.  All slathered in cornmeal, salted and peppered and fried crispy brown and golden, blackened a bit in the insides, poppin’ in fresh o’l in Mama’s biggest cast iron skillet.  Takes a big ol’ mess to feed a family big as us Goodwells, but my Mama, she’ll stand hummin’ at that ol’ skillet till they all be fried and crisped to perfection.  I note she always saves the extra done ones, fairly burnt black, off to the side, slippin’ her a taste ever’ now an’ a’gin.  Cain’t blame her none.  Them morels is hard to resist.

Law, my insides be turnin’ summersaults and the memory of that mouthwaterin’ woodsy flavor is leavin’ me faint.  I can smell ’em cookin’ and taste ’em as I sit here, itchin’.

These here tidbits o’ de-vine deliciousness I be pinin’ fer?  Why, they be wild morels, fer ain’t nothin’ in the worl’ like ’em, and I be roiled with certainty they be the food angels will be servin’ when I pass through them pearly gates!  Finger length perforated and pleated, they resemble little white Christmas trees some,  clusters o’ sprouts what pop up in the most unexpected wooded places come springtime.  Lookin’ like mini-a-ture done eat corn cobs with little stumps what keeps mice and such dry durin’ spring rains, these rapturous morsels, they blind me fer near an’thin’ else what’s set before me on the dinner table.  They only come on ‘couple weeks o’the year, and some years, law, they don’t show ‘t’all.   Ain’t no rhyme nor reason. No cultivatin’ nor plantin’ nor plannin’.   Pop up ‘hind that stand o’ trees yonder this year?  No sign the next.  But go look down to the river, by them mossy rocks, and they they be, playin’ hide ‘n seek with those of us who has mouths a waterin’ for a personal pile o’ golden fresh mushrooms sizzlin’ and teasin’ on tonight’s plate.

Gotta step careful, light.  Keep your eyes peeled and your nose to the wind.  And, ‘course,  know the diff’rence ‘tween good ones and bad.  That there’s where brothers Linc and Lawrence, they fail.  They got they heads in the clouds half the time, be it rodeo (that’d be Lincoln) or runnin’ off to do some soldierin’ an’ be a he-ro (that’d be Lawrence).  Either path you choose, they be steppin’ all over my mushrooms and I’m near fit to be tied.

An’ this year, why, all I kin do is set and wait ‘fer them all to darken the door.  An’ watch Mama fussin’ and flusterin’ at the stove, back stiff with exasperation and displeasure.

For my Mama, she loves her her mushrooms near on as much as me.   And that them fellers left me behind, why, she’s beside herse’f, fearin’ (an’ rightly so, by my thinkin’) they’ll come back empty handed.

‘Course, they woulda taken me, (me and Mama, we venture they shoulda!), had not Doc Allen been by the house ‘couple days ago, examinin’ me, stem to stern.  Mama coulda tol’ him, law, I my ownself coulda tol’ him, but after his checkin’ and proddin’ and pokin, he pronounced, to no one’s surprise, “Liam, son, you got yerself a fine case of the Chicken Pops.  Best you stay out the sun, best you stay inside and he’p yer Mama fer the next week or so.  Don’t want nobody else a gittin’ what you got.”

Well, for ’bout a minute and a half, that forced re-laxation sounded plumb like a va-cation.  Till I thought o’ how Miss Meadow down to the school would fluster herself gettin’ work home fer me to complete, how the horses out to the pasture would whinny and neigh, as I can fair speak their language, how I am the durned last of the Goodwells to suffer this malaise and would gleen the laughs and torment I bestowed on all my brothers and sisters whist they was spotted and runny.

So yesterdee at the breakfast table, when Grandpap ‘nnounced Raymond down to the Feed and Seed, he seen fer himself a mess growin’ out to his back forty, we all set right up.  

“We goin’, Grandpap?!  We goin’?!”  I sang out, joyous.

Grandpap turned his clear as the sky blue eyes to mine, blinkin’ only once.

“We goin’, Liam, but boy, you shore ain’t.  Not with them specks you got.  Doc said sunshine might make you blind.”

Don’t mind.  Don’t care.

“But Grandpap!”  I began, stunned.  Felt Mama step behind my chair, hands on my shoulders, “Now Daddy,” she begun, but Grandpap, he held up a firm hand, bade us both be silent.

“Won’t have it, won’t have none of it.  Liam, ” he looked me dead on, “Son, we’ll miss you, boy, but it’s ’bout time somebody else in this clan learn to sniff out them ‘shrooms.”

And with that, it was done.  Linc and Lawrence, they gathered they kit fer an overnight, and stomped out to the back porch, screen door slammin’ ‘hind.  

And so, I got me the Chicken Pops, and covered in oozin’ speckles and itchy like a house a’far, I ain’t s’posed to see the light ‘o day, ‘ccordin’ to Doc Allen.  So here I set, me and Mama, hopin’ and prayin’, but fair knowin’ we”re likely bound to be waitin’ till nex’ Spring.

That be be yesterdee.  This be today.  And me and Mama, we ain’t neither of us happy.

I am a’itchin’ in more ways’n one, I tell you what.

***********

Be Prepared!

Arms browned, like wide upper branches, wrists tanned and thick, large head covered in silver white prickles, eyes of blue china, dark denim “overhauls”, and a laugh coming from so deep from his insides, we could just breath in the joy, that was Grandpa.

He always said he’d lived more lives than “Carter’s has pills.”  To this day, I have no idea what that means, nor do I care.  It means a heck of a lot in “Grandpa-speak” and I’m fine with that.  Grandpa boxed in church basements, he rode the rails and slept with hobos in those camps written up in history books.  He was a selfish man, he always said, before he was “slain in the spirit,” was “washed in the blood of the Lamb,” and gave his life to the Lord after living a life of sin and sorrow.

Every morning, before he went out to work the farm he loved more’n anything except the Lord God and Grandma, we’d gather in the front room.   Grandpa would read a selection from his Bible and we’d then kneel and pray for the day ahead.   We were a strong Christian family, but Grandpa took it heights we could only observe.  He gave thanks for every drop of rain and every ray of sunshine.  He marveled at the Lord’s work in the very seeds he planted.  He sang hymns at the top of his voice while baling hay and milking cows.  He lived his faith and we never doubted one iota he considered his every day blessed.

As he lived through his years, his only job was toiling the land.  To this day, I’ll swear on a stack of Bibles (we never did believe in swearing, and never, EVER, put anything on top of a Bible….even another Bible!), being a farmer requires the most intelligence and resilience of any profession out there.  He’s a horticulturist, he’s a chemist, he’s a mechanic, he’s a whiz at animal husbandry.  He’s a carpenter and a builder and a plumber and a tree-trimmer, and a hunter, and a dog handler.  He’s a vet,  he runs a dairy, a slaughterhouse, and has to keep the books so the whole thing comes out ahead so he can do it another year.

My Grandpa could do anything.  Anything at all.

And of all the grandkids, why, he loved me best.

He’d never admit it, no, that would be wrong.  But I knew it.    And he knew it, too.  Maybe it was because we shared the same blue, blue eyes.  Maybe because I could stand toe to toe with him, arguing my feelings about secular music or why I wore blue jeans instead of a proper dress.  Maybe it was because I could shoot and drive a tractor before I was in double digits.

Maybe it was because I could make him laugh his down deep belly laugh.

Didn’t much matter then, doesn’t much matter now.  My Grandpa sang German songs his Mama taught him when they come across Kansas in a covered wagon.  I sang them to my kids, too.

Time marches on, though.  Grandma passed away, quietly, happily, gentle woman that she was.  Dogs came and went and new ones came and went, too.  The favorite was always the once just passed.  The farm began to look a little ragged around the edges, and the fence rows became tangled with weeds and brush.  But Grandpa’s faith never waned.  He knew he was inching closer and closer to the Promised Land and since he couldn’t get out to profess his Gospel like he once did, he found himself a new way to advertise and, yes, proselytize, too.

Driving up the lane one fall afternoon, our car rolling up and down the lazy Missouri hills, green and brown grasses waving in the ditches either side of the two lane road, we spotted the never-changing profile of the house and the barn from the valley below.  Looked the same my whole life through.  As we got closer, the house and barn came into better focus and we could see the shape of Grandpa in his rocker on the porch, just like always.

It was when we slowed to pull into the white gravel drive, my Dad hit the brakes hard, slamming we back-seaters back and forward into the bench seat in front.

“Would you look at that…..!”  Wonderment in his tone.

We kids tumbled to the left side of the car, noses to the window.  There, hanging from the mailbox by the side of the road was a sign….

“Prepare to Meet Thy God.”

Oh, Lord.

Couple of us kids got the giggles, it was Grandpa, after all.  But Daddy and Mama looked stern, opening their car doors with purpose and slamming them with force.

“Daddy?”  Mama crunched across the gravel, undid the wire loop holding gate closed, and marched up to the side porch.  Grandpa waved grandly, giddy grin across his face, “Hey, Beppy!” Twas his pet name for Mama.

“Daddy, what is that?”

“You like my sign?  Got it over to the market this week, hung it just yesterday.  Purty, ain’t it?”

He was proud.  We kids then and there decided which side we were on.

“Now Daddy, you oughtn’t put something like that out for everybody to see.  Folk’s’ll think you’re touched!”

Crestfallen, Grandpa’s smile faded.  We kids rushed through the gate, and hung on his knees and the sides of his chair.  We’d were committed.

“Beppy, you know I love the Lord with all my heart.  I want others to know it!”

Mama tacked a different direction.  “Daddy, it hardly sounds like you want to save souls.  It sounds a little more devilish.”

Well, Mama should have chosen her words more carefully.

“Pop,” inserted my Dad, “Folk’s’ll think you’re laying wait with shotgun!”

Well, Daddy should have thought before he spoke.

Grandpa rose from his chair, shedding children, standing tall and strong.  “l tell you what, I’ll not be removing that sign.  It’s a light in the darkness, a beacon for the weary.   I am proclaiming my Lord to the world and I shall not be deterred!  And that’s all I will say on the matter.”

We kids all nodded.

And that was, indeed, that.  The sign stayed.

And the mailman wouldn’t deliver mail.

And the sign stayed.

And the man delivering the gas stayed on the road running a hose to the tank.

And the sign stayed.

And neighbors called instead of stopping by.

And the sign stayed.

And it rusted and needed repairing after a storm left it hanging by  one corner.

And the sign stayed.

And Mama fussed and Daddy pleaded.

And the sign stayed.

 

And Grandpa passed away, out in a field, surrounded by the sky and the crops and the sound of the birds, his last moments resting in the land he believed the Lord had given him.

And the sign, still rusted and tattered, is now behind museum glass and surrounded by mahogany and leather, enjoying a place of honor in our home.

And there the sign will stay.

 

 

 

An “Honourable Gentleman”

(Please use your most haughty highbrow British accent in your head as you read….my word is selected from “The Wicked Wit of Winston Churchill.”  A wink in his honour may be apropos, as well.)

 

An ivory envelope, oversized and addressed in large spidery hand arrives at the Yorkshire Club, central London.  A haven of old school, elderly statesmen and peerage.  Only the rustle of the old school newspaper mar the quiet, and the soft pat of footfalls on the thick carpet,  until the Butler, Mr. Salvers, entered the doorway of the library, coughed a quiet cough, disrupting the silence of nearly 400 years.

“Sirs,” he said, newspapers dropped to laps in unison, readers aghast at the inappropriate interruption, “Sirs,we have a letter of some import.”  He looks at the letter lying on the silver tray in his hands.

“I’ve been advised upon delivery to read it to the membership assembled.”

Bowed head, certain his fate would lead him out the door and to the gutter, for what respectable gentleman would hire him now after so despicable a miscalculation, he waited.

Just a few too many moments passed, then the youngest of the elderly whitehairs nodded his way.

“Get on with it, then, Salvers, for pity’s sake,”  dismissively waving a bony hand.  “Get on with it.”

Salver’s own hands, covered in handsome white gloves,  shook as he retrieved an aged silver letter opener from the nearest desk, then stepped back to his spot in the middle of the double entry doors to the library.  For future reference, he noted the difficulty of opening a letter while it lay on a tray needing balancing with both hands….in front of a hostile audience eager to have his head on the same platter.

The deed, ultimately, was done and he slipped the heavy ivory pages from out of their cover, again, waiting.

“Get on with it!”

“Yes, Sir Elmingbird, yes.”

So in a clear voice, louder than history had ever witnessed within these sanctimonious walls, and knowing these may indeed be his last words, he began:

 

 

My Dearest and Most Respectable of Colleagues,

(And you others may listen, as well)

The days of  my life, nee the moments of my days, are resplendent with nattering and chattering, gathering words and phrases and tossing them about like seeds in a field.  I nurture them, water them, even fertilize them with less than appropriate matter and watch them sprout into new and tantalizing words and phrases of a newer more evolutionary ilk.

That old chestnut, “Action speaks louder than word,”…. which reminds me of “Monkey see, Monkey do,”…. but I digress….

Ahem.

That old chestnut, “Action speaks louder than word,” is the foolish bollderall of the incompetent and incoherent.  The world, as I see it and as should you, is held together not with string or baling wire or sealing wax, nor with loyalties built of battle or breeding, but the word, written, spoken, suggested, or reflected upon during contemplative introspection.  To speak is to inspire and perspire.  To communicate is to convince and connive.  To express is to declare and decide.

The most fortunate of you there, listening with pretentious piety, should consider yourselves honored and yes, fortunate, to be gathered at just this moment,  you quasi-pseodo gentlemen scattered here and there, noses lifted and mouths tight with indignation.  Let not the unsavory fact of my ownership and solitary leadership of this most monumental of brotherhoods and the building in which you now rest your prestigious rear regions mar my message.”

 

 

Here, Salvers went silent, eyes bugging fairly from his head, searching for respite  or salvation or even dismissal in the faces of the gentlemen seated heavily, and sinking deeper it seemed,  in the deep leather chairs.  Pleadingly, he found Sir Elmingbird, “Sir, shall I…..?”

Sternly, this time, “Get on with it, Salvers.  There must be a point.”

Moistening his lips, Salvers searched for his spot, then with a solemn intake of breath, he went on.

 

“That the men assembled here, as for the last 400 years, have pretended and precluded their importance to the furtherance of prosperity in our world and to the farther reaches of our influence is nothing if not admirable…and abomidible.   To that end, I should like to communicate and express my most sincerest of reflections in the company of like-minded men.

I regret I am unable to attend and pontificate my concerns personally but health and a heavy dose of pomposity preclude my darkening the door.  Suffice it to say, lucky man Salvers shall do my bidding, as I have requested.  Do with him as you will….”

 

 

Salvers’ voice quavered here, losing some of its robustness, but knowing he must push on, push on he did.

 

“…Do with him as you will, for while not colluding with me in confidence, nor having any prior knowledge of my actions, he is a solid man, sound and sure and loyal, and shall retain a place of priority in my employee should you see fit to turn him out.”

 

Salvers swallowed.  All eyes on him now narrowed.  At once.  He must push on.

 

“Whilst my concerns and considerations affect the bulk of the bulkage in the room, I shall limit my comments to barely a few, and not even the most infamous.  The remains and unmentioned should not, however, make the grave assumption they are free of my comment.  I shall, as they say, save it for another day.  In anticipation is born trepidation, great trepidation!

Therefore, my advice? Step lightly, Sirs.  Step lightly.  I have much to say.”

 

 

Salvers gently put the first page aside, hoping against hope the silent tension in the stuffy room would be cut by the old men turning into an angry, white-headed mob, caning him over the head and depositing him outside on the grand front stairs.

This was not to be, but he could no longer lift his eyes.  He’d push on, read on, then flee to the outer world and never once look back.

A sound plan.

And on he pushed.

 

“To the Grand and Exposed General Francis Waldencoop Horsinghouse:

My dearest and nearly oldest of friends.  A grand leader of men during war and endeavor.  Standing resolute, ever pushing onward, you’ve spent your life sacrificing the lives and service of others, standing proudly on their accomplishments, shouting your praises near and far to all who would listen.

You, my friend, are NOT and Honourable Man.”

 

The General stirred, “Here now, what’s this?”  Stomping his walking stick on the floor next to his leathered chair, he harrumphed, “Blasphemy!  Cease and desist this instant!”

But Elmingbird, the newly self-proclaimed spokesman, feeling free of attack or accusation, urged completion, “General, the writer is clearly attempting to circumvent some needful issue in his own circumstance.  Let’s us hear Salvers out, for amusement’s sake, if nothing else.  I for one, had nothing more pressing planned for the next bit.”

The General, not pleased, and so obviously dissatisfied, mumbled, grumbled,  and sank deeper in his seats, holding tight to his stick, should he its need arise.

 

“To my never so faithful and most unpleasant of acquaintances, Reverend Horace Billingchuck Upton,

Arrogance and pride have never a part of your constitution.  Friends, parishioners all, worshipped at your feet, loving you for your humility.  Fraught with open arms and grasping hands, your beneficent countenance hid your most ultimate of desires.  To that end, those poorest of the poor in our spiritual care, they gave and gave.  Of their bounty and their lack thereof.  You so graciously and kindly accepted their gifts, selling them blessings in Everlasting Heavenly Bliss, without a solitary thought to their lot in the life, nor whether there was food on their tables to feed the empty tummies of their tiny children.  Your loving, kindly demeanor implored them only to give more, pushing them to the sharp cliff of poverty and the painful beyond.  You, Sir, live the life of a King, gilded with gold and fed with the finest of fare.

You, Sir, are NOT an Honourable Man.”

 

Somewhere near the fireplace, hidden from view, someone blew heavily into a handkerchief.

 

“To my Grandest most High of Fellows, Baron Fiedler Foosterfund of Sussick,

Tracing your line near back to the Darkest of Ages, you have steadfastly and with courage purported the exploration and intrusion of the Realm to the farest reaches of polite society. You’ve maintained an iron fist while serving your country in policy-making at the highest of levels of government, whilst ignoring or abusing those in your own household.   Your haughtiness in the presence of those of less clear lineage borders on laughability, if only one less noble were allowed such levity.  That you’ve insulted and embarrassed men and women of kindness and goodwill, those who serve you to the best of their limited resource appalls all those at hand. And yet, aware of your singular focus on Kingdom and Country, they remain, true.

You, gallant Sir, are NOT an Honourable Man.”

 

Salvers once again, delicately settled the page on top of the previous.  Last page, only one, and his time would be up.  Push on, Sir, press on. A new life awaits.  Perhaps one without gloves.

 

“And so, Gentlemen, consider this the first of a succulent series of opines from my poisonous pen.  We, not one, are devoid of wrongdoing.  Yet we muster and fluster and putter and find ourselves above and beyond,  hiding our precious selves in this golden palace for protection from the mean reality we see in the faces of those outside.

Rest assured, Hallowed Men, we are none of us above reproach, not one.  And rest assured, furtherly, you shall hear from me again in the morrow and beyond.

For, like you, I am NOT an Honourable Man.”

 

**************