To My Reader in China – Part 2

I’m writing another letter to you because I remembered a story which I thought you might enjoy. First though, I should note that my blog recently had two views from China in a single day. I’m thankful my readership in your country has doubled and hope some untapped potential remains. Thanks for any help you can offer. Here’s the story.

A cherished memory from long-ago took place at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. My wife and I were in California for a bank convention of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia. We visited Chinatown one night with our good friends, George and Kathy Leverett. We bought gifts to take home to our children and strolled by a cleverly named take-out restaurant, “TA KE OUT E.”

That amusing signage has stayed with me, but we wanted a sit-down dinner so kept walking down the busy street. We found a nice restaurant, the name of which has long escaped me, and had an amazing meal. The food was splendid and the hospitality exceptional.

An elderly Chinese gentleman, who I assumed was the owner, came to our table several times to check on us. He was a gracious host, as was the young lady who served us. As we were finishing our meal he asked if there was anything else we might want. I have an incurable addiction to sweets but had not seen anything listed on their extensive menu, so I asked if they offered any desserts.

“Lychee nut ice cream,” he responded with a smile. “Very good.”

“Lychee nut ice cream?” I asked, having never heard of it before.

“Yes,” he affirmed. “Lychee nut ice cream. Very good.”  

I am a devoted fan of butter pecan ice cream and would commit certain misdemeanor crimes for a pint of the highly elusive black walnut. I was introduced to home-churned peanut butter ice cream in 1975 by Mr. Shelton Colson in Valdosta, Georgia. A hand-crafted version of that unique flavor from Leaping Cow Ice Cream in Atlanta is one of my present-day favorites. My expectations for lychee nut ice cream were, therefore, heavily influenced by a history of marvelous nut-infused varieties.

Our bowls of creamy vanilla were topped with large almond-sized lychee nuts. The nuts, however, did not look firm and were not sliced into small bites as we expected. Their appearance suggested a kinship with albino grapes which had been peeled and left to shrivel on a hot sidewalk.

“You got us into this,” said a skeptical George. “You should go first.”

As I bit into the rubbery tissue of a lychee nut I was unsure if I could continue but even more determined my friend George should be subjected to the strange taste and texture. So, I lied as convincingly as possible for a nonpolitician and told him it was the most exhilarating burst of flavor I’d ever had. George may have been suspicious, but curiosity easily overcame caution.

I’ll never forget the look on his face as he contemplated whether to keep chewing or swallow it like a raw oyster. There was a moment of uncertainty as he placed his napkin over his mouth, but he finally managed to get it down. Then he spoke in his usual low-key manner.

“It’s hard to understand,” said a knowing George, “how your lychee nut could have been so delicious yet mine was barely edible. What do you think could have caused that difference?”

“I don’t understand that either,” I replied. “Yours must have come from an old lychee.”

We hid the remaining lychee nuts so our kind host would not see them, then enjoyed vanilla ice cream topped only with humor. We laughed late into the night and over many years as we retold that story. The most special moments, I’ve learned, are often unplanned.

My friend George died of cancer in the spring of 2010 at age 58. I don’t guess he reads my column, but just in case I want him to know I still think about him sometimes. I still miss him.

Lychee, I discovered later, is an Asian fruit that when dried is referred to as a nut. Although I can’t claim an affinity for their distinctive taste, I’m thankful for the sweet memory they helped create. And should I ever see lychee nut ice cream on a menu, I will warmly remember my good friend George. Then I will order the plain vanilla.

Thanks again for reading Joiner’s Corner in China. That goes for both of you.       

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To My Reader in China – Part 1

Most of my readers come by way of a handful of Georgia newspapers which are gracious enough to carry my column. A few, however, read it on my blog at An interesting aspect of the blog is that it shows the country where views originate.

America is the source of almost every view, but there are occasional readers from various nations. China is frequently listed but with only one view per day. China is apparently a tough market for unknown authors based in rural Georgia. Today’s column is intended to thank my lone reader in China for his or her support, and to mention a few other things that are on my mind.

Growing Georgia, an online agricultural publication, carried a story on October 19th titled “China Purchases More U.S. Corn.” According to the article China is buying millions of tons of corn from America this year. I want you and the people of China to know we appreciate your purchases, and we hope you’ll think of us first for other products you may need.

Please be assured we’re trying to be fair about trading goods between us. The day after that article was published, I helped my son put up a digital antenna that was made in China. The instruction manual listed the company as Pingbingding. I know that sounds like a name I made up, but I checked the spelling twice to be sure. For a $50 purchase he now gets 15 television channels. That’s such a good deal I am inclined to send you an extra bushel of corn.

For the sake of honest conversation, I need to confess that in the second grade my good friend Rudy Maples made me laugh quite often with his repertoire of “Confucius Say” lines. That’s probably not politically correct humor, but I assure you neither of us meant to be disrespectful of Confucius or your fine country. If amends need to be made feel free to tell some jokes about Southern folks. The ones about Alabama are the funniest, but I hope you’ll refrain from using punch lines about their small gene pool. They are quite sensitive about that subject and understandably so.

COVID-19 is a tough problem for all of us. It reportedly started at an outdoor food market in your country where bats were being sold. Maybe Chinese bats are different from American bats, but I believe you would do well to take them off the menu. If there’s a shortage of meat, try raising rabbits. You can start with a single pair and before the wok gets hot you’ll have more drumsticks than chopsticks. I’ve never had a bite of bat, but I’m confident rabbit has a better taste and feel certain they are easier to catch.

Speaking of Chinese food, I want to thank you for adding such wonderful diversity to our American tables. We have an excellent Chinese restaurant in our small town of Vienna, Georgia. The hard-working family who owns it does an exceptional job of serving delicious food at reasonable prices. My favorite fare is General Tso’s Chicken with vegetable fried rice. Your General Tso and our Colonel Sanders would no doubt have enjoyed comparing secret herbs and spices.

When I attended Valdosta State College in the early 1970s, there was an exchange student from China named Robin Kwong who lived on our dorm hall for a while. Robin was a very pleasant fellow and was the first person from China I’d ever been around for a substantial amount of time.

The most distinct memory I have of Robin is when he brought his guitar into my dorm room one night. He sang a popular Glen Campbell song, “Galveston,” for my roommate and me. It was an impromptu lesson in why the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called music the universal language.

Robin confidently belted out a soulful rendition of that challenging tune. My roommate, Don, and I awarded him with hearty applause. And I realized something about Robin in that moment which I never shared with him. I knew beyond any doubt his destiny did not lie in country music. If you see Robin, tell him I’m just kidding about his singing, and let him know I hope life has been good to him.          

There’s one thing that’s weighing heavily on my mind. It’s a little embarrassing to have only one reader in a country of 1.4 billion people. If you can help me get a dozen or so more that would be great, but if you can’t, I will still appreciate your solo views.

On a serious note, I do hope you’re enjoying the corn. In case you’ve never tried it, cornmeal hoecakes go splendidly with fried rabbit. You may want to bat that idea around.

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An Inside Job – Part 3

I originally thought this series would end after part two, but I found some more notes which I made while painting the interior of our home. Here are three additional tips that have a slight possibility of usefulness.

First, a good painter keeps within the lines. That’s the same way it worked with paint-by-number pictures which were popular decades ago. My brother, Jimmy, completed a paint-by-number picture of a ship at sea when we were little. He’s five years older than me and his steady hand was obvious.

On the other end of the spectrum, I never mastered paint-by-number or even using color crayons. Filling in the elephant at the circus outline was beyond my meager level of talent. The pictures I colored had an aura of disarray because I didn’t stay within the lines.

There are several important lines in painting, such as where the wall meets the baseboard, crown molding, and window trim. Keeping within the lines in those and other areas can be challenging, but our home project turned out well. I know that’s true because it came straight from the lady of the house. Patience helped me stay within the lines as I learned to paint with smooth strokes instead of dabbing.

Dabbing is sometimes needed but not often. A television ad for Brylcreem, a hair product for men, aired in the 1950s and included a catchy song. “Brylcreem – a little dab’ll do ya. Brycreem – you look so debonair. Brylcreem – the girls will all pursue ya. They love to get their fingers in your hair.”

I tried Brylcreem for a while, but not a single girl ever ran her fingers through my hair or gave the slightest hint she wanted to. Perhaps I didn’t use a big enough dab, or maybe those little dabs of Brylcreem were rendered ineffective by residual traces of Butch Wax and Vaseline Hair Tonic. Sometimes I had enough grease on my scalp we could have had a fish fry.

Eventually I switched to Vitalis in a quest to be noticeably suave, then The Beatles came along and slicked-down hair went out of style. Anyway, dabbing paint is occasionally appropriate, but a little dab should do you. Smooth strokes keep paint within the lines where it’s supposed to be.

A second tip is to spend time on your knees when painting near the baseboard. My legs aren’t as flexible as they once were and staying on my knees isn’t comfortable, so I tried sitting on a low stool to paint. It didn’t take but a few misdirected strokes of the brush to realize that wasn’t working. A cushion made painting on my knees tolerable enough that I scored an A minus on the final exam. That’s not perfect, but if I had not spent time on my knees, my grade would have likely been a low C.

The third point, with which I’ll close, is the importance of painting in good light. I painted without enough light a few times, thinking it would be fine. And it was until the next day. Sunlight exposes flaws which darkness conceals. Good light revealed my errantly placed paint or those spots where a thin coat didn’t fully hide the previous color.

My trusty assistant offered to bring me a lamp on multiple occasions, but for a while I declined. It’s easy to grow accustomed to the dark, painting in the shadows while ignoring the need for good light.

I’ve now shared everything I know and then some about interior painting. The only thing left to cover would be to elaborate on our stairwell, a story I’m not sure I’ll get around to. Covering those high walls with paint was a task I approached with trepidation and finished with a sigh of relief.

Countless online videos are available for those who want to learn more about painting. A lot of them, in contrast to the author of this column, were done by people who know what they are doing. I don’t claim to have any expertise, but I heartily recommend the ideas mentioned today for making interior improvements. My tripod of suggestions has three legs: keep within the lines, spend some time on your knees, and be sure to stay in the light.

And if that’s too much to remember, then focus on the last point, staying in the light. All other means of interior improvement will fall into place, if we faithfully stay within The Light.   

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An Inside Job – Part 2

After honing my painting skills in our closet, I felt ready for the big time. With swelling confidence and unfathomable enthusiasm, I cheerfully began painting our bedroom and bath. Jane may not remember it exactly like that, but my standard for column facts has some flexibility.      

The paint fell steadily for forty days and forty nights as I jotted down tips for beginning painters and level three amateurs. If you’ve already advanced to level one or two, you likely won’t benefit from this information. If you’re at level four you should not paint indoors without supervision. Level fives should generally avoid painting, driving motorized vehicles, or operating heavy equipment.

Somewhere back in elementary school we read a short story titled, “Clothes Make the Man.” Why I remember that I have no idea, nor do I recall any details other than it was about the significance of how we dress. That title came to mind as I made notes about the importance of proper attire for painting.

My recommendation for warm weather indoor painting is to wear a 100 percent cotton tee-shirt with a pair of cotton shorts. I’m wondering, though, if shorts should have an s on the end. It seems a reference to one pair should be short. And I’m not sure a single short should be referred to as a pair. Maybe a pair of shorts should be called shortses to avoid confusion. Either way, wear cotton.

Cotton provides two distinct advantages for painters, the first of which is its unparalleled comfort.  Adam and Eve’s original garments were made of leaves. We don’t know what kind of leaves, but hopefully not poison ivy or Venus flytrap. My guess is they used the big leaves from an elephant ear plant, but scripture is silent on that matter. In Genesis 3:21 we learn that God later made them garments of skin. That was great in cold weather, but when summer came Eve probably asked Adam if he would like a cotton shirt. And Adam surely loved his shirt and was pleased with the woman God had created, although he remained skeptical of her fruit salad.

Another advantage of wearing cotton apparel when painting is absorbency. I’m not talking about soaking up sweat. We kept the air conditioner running along with a high-speed fan. The absorbency I found helpful was in cleaning my hands and dabbing specks of wayward paint. I kept a rag in my pocket for major catastrophes, those “Clean up on aisle three” scenarios, but cotton clothing works well for small splatters.

On a related matter regarding splatter, I strongly recommend using a drop cloth. Jane found a great bargain for twenty dollars at Sherwin Williams. She had gone there to purchase paint and on impulse bought a huge drop cloth for me as a birthday present. I had been using plastic to cover the floors, which initially seemed like a wonderful idea. A slick surface, however, is not ideal. Rather than droplets of paint being harmlessly absorbed, they patiently waited atop the impermeable plastic then discreetly attached themselves to the soles of my shoes which smeared them across the room.

The drop cloth deal got even better when I learned it’s made of duck fabric from Pakistan. I don’t know how the duck was involved and I’m not sure I want to, but it’s 100 percent cotton. Jane has a sewing machine upstairs and the heavily weaved duck cloth seems perfect for cold weather garments. Its mauve color, with specks of light blue paint which I generously added, could work for shirts or dresses.

Tip number three is, “Don’t paint past supper.” When patient, I did a pretty decent job, carefully trimming out borders and leaving paint mostly where it was intended.  A few times, however, my painting outran my patience. It happened when there was a small section to finish, or a dab of paint in the bottom of the can which I was determined to use rather than reseal. Painting past supper sometimes caused me to hit speeds faster than I could handle. Splatter happens with impatience.

The rest of my interior painting tips will have to wait until next week’s column. I need to stop writing now and go cut that drop cloth into sections which are manageable for sewing. Jane hasn’t told me what size pieces she wants, and she’s been rather evasive about garment plans. I guess she hasn’t decided on a pattern yet. Or maybe she wants to surprise me.              

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An Inside Job – Part 1

In 2016 I wrote a short book titled “Lessons From The Ladder.” It’s a somewhat whimsical account of painting the outside of our house after I retired from banking, plus it includes some lessons I learned while nervously clinging to the ladder. Within those brief chapters it’s obvious I shared more than I know about exterior painting. For reasons which may never be fully understood, I felt compelled to do the same for my recent undertaking of an inside job.

Self-publishing another book would have been tempting, but our hall closet won’t hold an additional set of such boxes. So, I condensed my reflections on interior painting into three columns. Just between us, if you need advice on this subject you should skip today’s musings and talk to a real painter, a term which reminds me of a story.

A couple attended an elegant art show in a renowned New York gallery, a black-tie event which featured several highly acclaimed artists. As they paused to view a rendering of a serene landscape, the man said to his wife, “Look dear, the pastels are quite similar to our last work.” His wife nodded in agreement and noted how the faded colors of autumn’s leaves were complimented by a blue sky speckled with fluffy white clouds.

The gentleman who had painted the lovely scene was standing nearby and was intrigued by their conversation. “Did I understand correctly that the two of you paint together?” he asked.

 “We do,” said the lady, “and have for almost twenty years.”

“That’s amazing,” responded the artist. “I’ve never seen that technique. What do you paint?”     

“Whatever needs it,” said the man. “We finished a kitchen remodel on Friday. We’re starting on a doctor’s office next week.”

With that bit of nonsense out of the way, we now return to the main feature, a story which began in our bathroom closet. My experience painting sheetrock is limited and was from over a decade ago, so beginning in an inconspicuous place seemed prudent. Since our walk-in closet is not very big, I stuck with my brush after trimming it out rather than switching to a roller. Jane suggested I might want to roll the second coat on, explaining the rolled texture is what she preferred in more visible areas.

“A brush is all I need,” I assured her. “You won’t be able to tell the difference.” 

Jane was fine with those two brushed-on coats since it was a closet, but even I could not deny it was a bit splotchy. During my voluntary third trip around the room with a roller, I saw what she meant about the difference in texture. It also occurred to me – and please keep this in confidence – there’s a slight possibility I don’t always know as much as I think I do.  

There are several lessons that came from painting our closet. My first suggestion for those whose rusty skills need honing, is to begin interior projects in a low visibility area. Bumping the white ceiling with peach colored paint is far more acceptable in the closet than the den. Trust me.

A second point is that a roller is much faster than a brush. I thought sticking with the brush was saving me the aggravation of switching back and forth between tools, but rolling the walls was a lot easier than brushing. And I found that tightly wrapping my brush or roller in a plastic bag for later use works fine for a day or two. Wrapping is more efficient than the frequent washings I’m prone to do. It’s possible I’m obsessive about cleaning the bristles. My paint therapist is doing an analysis.     

Lesson number three was a little about texture, but mostly about listening. Things I know and things I think I know sometimes get comingled and solidify into opinions. That’s not a big deal when painting a closet, but it’s a good reminder of the value of listening with an open mind and of being respectful toward those whose opinions may differ from our own.

The benefits of listening come not only through what we learn but also by opening the door to civil conversation. There seems to be a shortage today of dialogue which is honest and amicable. Maybe that’s because it’s hard to listen with so much shouting going on. But I don’t claim to be an expert on such matters. I’m just a man who now better understands the texture of rolled-on paint.

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A Big Day in Pinehurst

Bill Horne, a native and longtime resident of Pinehurst, Georgia, told me something several years ago that I found amusing enough to remember. He had once asked his mother, the late Mrs. Sara Horne, what was the biggest thing that ever happened in their little hometown.

Miss Sara was known for her quick wit and answered without hesitation. “The biggest thing that ever happened in Pinehurst,” she said, “was when Cab Calloway’s sister, Blanche, came to Americus. Everybody left town to go see her. The streets here were empty!”

That mass outing to Americus was in the 1930s when Pinehurst was booming. Blanche Calloway was a popular jazz singer and bandleader of the era, a lady who paved the way for many others.

In September of 2020 Pinehurst had another big day, one that brought people in instead of taking them out. Miss Sara would be pleased that one of her descendants played a key role.

Luke Horne, 16-year-old great-grandson of Miss Sara, lives on their family’s farm just outside the city limits. His uncle, Dewel Lawrence, called me a few weeks ago to ask if I’d heard about his nephew winning 40 vehicles to give away. I wondered for a moment if Dewel’s cough syrup had fermented, but he sounded believable enough that I kept listening.

That conversation with Dewel was the first time I’d ever heard of MrBeast, a 22-year-old YouTube sensation. Now I’m hoping he’ll come this way on a regular basis.

Due to COVID-19, Luke and his family have spent more time than usual at home this year and have often relied on the internet for entertainment. Luke’s younger brother, Ben, is a fan of MrBeast, an energetic fellow who loves spreading money around. Ben convinced Luke to subscribe but had no idea he would hit the magic 40 million mark. When you’re the 40 millionth subscriber to a show which gives things away, you know something good is likely to happen. And it did.

Jimmy “MrBeast” Donaldson got in touch with Luke to congratulate him. He told him there would be a celebration but offered no details. MrBeast brought five car-haulers of vehicles to Luke’s home, had them parked on the lawn, then presented Luke with a challenge. He told him if he could give all 40 vehicles away in 24 hours, a 2019 Tesla Model 3 would belong to him.

Family and some friends got cars as did a few people Luke had never met. A young man from Surcheros in Cordele made a food delivery to Luke’s home and left with the best tip of his career. One of the happiest recipients was a fellow who was driving by and had no idea why a crowd had gathered. They flagged him down and gave him a yellow Ford Ranger.

MrBeast and Luke pulled into the drive-through window at Zaxby’s and surprised a youthful fast-food worker with a Nissan. A man walking through the parking lot at Walmart was given an Infiniti Q50. The day after her sixteenth birthday, a classmate of Luke’s celebrated with a Kia Forte. One of Luke’s football coaches got a Chevy Cruze to replace a vehicle he had wrecked.

When I asked Luke which car was the most fun to give away, he told me how much he enjoyed surprising his grandparents, Bill and Grada Horne, with a 2019 Nissan Sentra. It’s not often a grandchild gives a grandparent a vehicle. That’s a wonderful idea which I hope catches on quickly.

The 40 vehicles included some nice ones as well as several clunkers. Two that looked junkyard ready came with $5000 inside. If you want some lighthearted entertainment, you can watch Luke sharing his good fortune on YouTube’s MrBeast 40 Millionth Subscriber episode. I don’t know much about Jimmy Donaldson except he gets a kick out of making money so he can pass it on. In a world where the norm is holding tightly to all we can, it’s great to see someone who’s passionate about giving.

Luke now owns a classy gray Tesla, which I’m guessing is the first self-driving car with Pinehurst as home base. Forty other people are wearing smiles of gratitude. Millions more have enjoyed taking an amusing virtual trip to Dooly County.

I wish I could airmail this column to Miss Sara. She’d be tickled about Luke’s great adventure, but would no doubt strongly suggest he keep his hands on the steering wheel. And she’d be delighted to know there’s been another big day in Pinehurst, a day when the streets of the little town she loved dearly, were for a while busy once again.   

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Chasing a Turtle

Entry from my private journal – “Saturday, September 5, 2020. I chased a turtle for a half mile early this morning but never caught him. It’s possible he was a ninja who found it easy to evade me. A more likely explanation is he had too much of a head start. I also realized late in my pursuit that the turtle and I were going in opposite directions. After considerable reflection I now believe that was a strategic error too significant to overcome.”

Chances are some of my friends are thinking the turtle outran me, but I assure you that wasn’t the case. For the sake of accuracy, may the record reflect I wasn’t really chasing that turtle, but merely following the longest turtle trail I’ve ever seen.

I’m not a morning person and never have been. Before I retired from banking, I awakened each workday to music from my bedside clock. Hitting the snooze button rewarded me with seven minutes of soothing melodies suitable for slumber. A second tap added seven more and took me to fourteen. A third tap continued the music, but at the fifteen-minute mark a horrendous buzzing noise seriously interrupted my tranquility. That’s when I got up.

Thanks to the effects of aging it’s gotten easier for me to wake up in the mornings. Or perhaps I should say it’s more difficult to sleep, which reminds me of a moment on our family farm from thirty or so years ago.

It was harvesting season and I had taken a week of vacation from my bank job to help pick peanuts. I decided to surprise my father, a consistently early riser, by being there when he walked out of the house that Monday morning. The surprise was mine, however, as I was too late. The next morning, I arrived fifteen minutes earlier, only to again find him already on the job.

That night I set my alarm clock so I could get to the farm well before daylight, expecting to find Daddy at the breakfast table. As I pulled into the quiet driveway, I saw the slight beam of a flashlight near the diesel tank. In the predawn darkness Daddy was filling up the tractors with fuel.

“I’ve been trying to get here before you came outside,” I confided with a grin. “But I’m giving up on that. I wish I enjoyed getting up early as much as you do.”

That’s when Daddy said something I’m just now beginning to appreciate. He said, “I don’t particularly enjoy getting up early. I just wake up and can’t go back to sleep. I’d rather get up and do something than lie there in bed and be miserable.”  

It had never crossed my mind he didn’t choose to be a morning person, but now I’m having some of those same unplanned awakenings. That’s why I was walking Dude the dog on a Saturday morning just as the sun was beginning to rise.

The two of us headed east on Coley Crossing, the dirt road beside our home. A county road-scraper had been there the day before and there had been no traffic since.  Etched into a canvas of smooth sand was the trail of a large turtle. His route was clearly defined for a half mile until it veered into a cotton field.

Dude the dog is good company but not much of a tracker. He showed little interest in leaving the road and I was already short on incentive. Jane doesn’t have a recipe for turtle soup and I’m allergic to row-crop rattlesnakes. So, we abandoned the mission and stayed on the road to our turnaround spot at the railroad track.

On our return trip home, I realized the turtle had been going west while Dude and I had been eastward bound. I could have followed that trail until my hair turned gray and would not have caught him. Although my efforts were not successful, I was reminded of a couple of old lessons.

The first lesson is that it’s best to start early. Even a slow-moving turtle is hard to catch if he gets a big lead. Secondly, it’s critical to make sure we’re going in the right direction. Speed and determination don’t help if we’re running the wrong way. Those two observations can be useful whether we’re after a turtle or chasing a dream.

There’s one other thing I’ll suggest. If you ever chase a turtle and don’t catch him, it’s probably best not to admit that or even note it in your journal. Just lay low and hope no one finds out.

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New Words

My friend and neighbor, Dewel Lawrence, recently introduced me to a new word. That’s not hard to do as my vocabulary is pretty slim, especially for someone who poses as a columnist. This is at least the second time Dewel gets credit for expanding my personal dictionary. The first word he taught me was cavalry, a term I once knew but had for decades incorrectly substituted with calvary.

I don’t remember which column it was, but months ago I mentioned the calvary in one, thinking I was referring to those soldiers on horseback routinely featured in old westerns. Despite watching a fair share of such fare in my youth, I had been using the wrong word for ages. I’ve seldom had reason to say, write, or even think about the word cavalry, which helps explain how my error went unnoticed for so long.

In the unlikely case there is someone reading this who has made that same mistake, here’s the gist of it. Calvary is the place where Jesus died on the cross. Cavalry refers to soldiers. Both are pertinent to the rescue business but there are substantial differences. The cavalry’s relief is temporary and for specific situations and people. They are one of many avenues for physical deliverance. Calvary, on the other hand, paved the way for spiritual deliverance. It offers the path for eternal salvation and is available for all who will accept it.

When I say my vocabulary is limited, I’m not being modest. The Vice-President of the proof department at Joiner’s Corner returned a draft to me not long ago for a column I was working on. Penned in red ink across the top was a note, “Congratulations on a new record! You used “it” 17 times and “its” twice.” She had underlined the numbers showing a total of 19, and graciously added a big smiley face on the side. Not many proof departments add smiley faces and sometimes a heart.

The late Murphy Head deserves credit for teaching me an interesting word years ago. Murphy, who was affectionately called the walking man’s friend, sold used vehicles and all sorts of home furnishings. Nobody ever left his place on foot if he could help it. When he stopped by my office at the bank one day, I politely inquired, “How’s it going, Murph?”

“Everything’s copasetic,” he said with his usual grin. I had never heard the term copasetic before, so Murphy explained it meant okay, lovely, or jam up and jelly tight. It’s odd how little moments like that stay with us and sometimes become an ongoing part of our conversations. For years afterward Murphy would ask me if everything was copasetic, or I’d ask him the same. That one word gave us a thousand laughs and I just added another to the count.

The new word which Dewel shared with me in September is discommoded. His casual inclusion of discommoded in an email seemed a ruse to slyly introduce a made-up word. But Dewel works a lot of crossword puzzles, so I knew it was possibly something he’d stumbled across or found going down.

Discommoded, I reasoned, must be the opposite of commoded, which is obviously something a nurse and doctor might discuss in a hospital setting. “Nurse, do you know if Mr. Lawrence in room 308 has been commoded?”

“Yes, doctor. He was commoded just before the shift change for the third straight day. The second shift discommoded him and several of the staff are threatening to quit if it happens again.”

My conjecture seemed logical, but I also checked with Google. Discommoded reportedly means “to cause (someone) trouble or inconvenience.” The example sentence provided was, “I am sorry to have discommoded you.” Apparently, that can be said by either the patient or the nurse.

I don’t expect to embrace discommoded as heartily as I have copasetic. I am, however, now mildly inspired to expand my vocabulary and have set a goal of learning one new word per month. I considered a weekly challenge but decided the stress might cause me to feel more discommoded than copasetic.   

Ol’ Murph would get a kick out of reading this, so maybe St. Peter will show him the column. The walking man’s friend is spending time now where every day is far beyond copasetic. I can say that with confidence, because Murphy was confident in what happened at Calvary.

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The Mask of Silence

Masks are all around us these days. Most of the ones we see are designed to deter the spread of COVID-19. Some masks, however, are intended to hide someone’s identity. Christians seem increasingly comfortable donning a disguise that requires no physical material. We put on the mask of silence which conceals the tenets of our faith.

This isn’t a new problem. The mask of silence has a long history, even in the relatively young life of our country. An early example is the treatment of Native Americans, Indians as they were first called, tribal people who lived here long before our ancestors came.

Native Americans are near the top on the list of people who’ve gotten raw deals. They were driven without mercy from their land. It was justified and deemed legal since they didn’t have deeds to their property recorded at the courthouse. Their plight was predictable as arrows were no match for bullets. The atrocities suffered by Native Americans were horrendous because too many people of faith wore masks of silence. It was easier to stay quiet than to face ridicule or risk being ostracized.

Slavery is another matter we can look back on and see the terrible cost of staying silent. There’s no way a civilized society could justify slavery, yet it flourished for years. People were abducted from their homeland, loaded on to slave ships, and traded like merchandise. There was no question it was cruel and sinful, yet people of faith wore masks of silence. It was easier to stay quiet than to stand alone and risk perilous attention.

The voices of many Christians today are silent on issues we find difficult to discuss. One notable area is moral depravity. Immorality is widely embraced by the entertainment industry, much of society, and even within the realms of organized religion. Clearly stated Biblical principles are commonly scorned, as are people of faith who openly share their convictions. So once again we take cover behind a mask of silence rather than face criticism, condemnation, and litigation. We avoid honesty in our conversations in fear of others taking offense or accusing us of insensitivity and bigotry. It’s much easier to stay quiet.   

I’m not advocating that people of faith engage in rude or demeaning behavior. But our lives should give evidence of beliefs which are based on God’s Word rather than social norms and celebrities who merchandize licentiousness. As Christians we should be prepared, willing, and unafraid to share God’s Word in a loving Christ-like manner.

Isaiah 6:8 relates how God extended an invitation for Isaiah to be His spokesperson and how the Old Testament prophet responded. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking: Who should I send? Who will go for us? I said, Here am I. Send me.”

There are two things I find inspiring about Isaiah’s response. One is that it was immediate. He didn’t hesitate and ask God to give him a few days to think it over. He didn’t delay by mentioning things he needed to take care of at home or the office. Isaiah was ready to answer the call.

The second thing I admire about Isaiah’s reply is he didn’t add any restrictions. He didn’t question the details of what God had planned for him. He didn’t look for excuses or seek an easy path of service. God gave him a difficult task and told him in advance the people wouldn’t listen. But Isaiah was ready to do what God wanted him to do.

God still uses people to help convey His Word. As it was during Isaiah’s time, many won’t listen and will reject it. We can’t control the response of others. We can, however, choose to faithfully share and defend God’s message with boldness and compassion.

Our challenge as Christians is to speak the truth in love. Our challenge is to be like Isaiah and go where God leads us without hesitation or restrictions. Our challenge is to answer God’s call and say with all our heart, “Here am I. Send me.”

I’d love to think countless believers will meet those challenges, but I believe that’s unlikely. I understand the dilemma far too well, as my convictions are often more robust than my courage. So, I wear the mask of silence sometimes, knowing it’s much easier to stay quiet.  

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After the Store

I don’t remember how long I worked for Uncle Emmett at Joiner’s Store, but my guess is between six months and a year. I was eleven when I started and twelve when I quit.

Uncle Emmett had a dry wit and was fun to be around most of the time. He could, however, be grouchy on occasion and was a perfectionist in some matters.  His excellent penmanship is a good example.

I’ve never known anyone else so meticulous and artistic with their writing. He carefully formed each letter as if the words needed to be suitable for engraving.  My hasty scribbling, on the other hand, was barely decipherable. Our variance in style and effort was never an issue at work, but perhaps was indicative of how our approaches differed elsewhere.

He wanted every can, jar, and box on the shelves neatly aligned and consistently spaced with the labels facing directly forward. My freestyle approach was to stack them quickly and hope they didn’t tumble off. The prospects of my having a long- term career at the store began with a low probability which continued to decline.   

One day Uncle Emmett was grumbling more than usual about something I’d done. I’ve long forgotten the details but have no doubt he had good reason to complain. That incident helped me decide I could get by without the dollar a week he was paying me. We apparently parted on good terms, as he later surprised me with a substantial gift for which he offered no explanation. He gave me a used Allstate Compact motor scooter that he bought from Mr. Bruce Poole. It originally had a three-speed transmission, but Mr. Bruce’s son, Bill, had worn out first gear.

The scooter was fine for me. My legs were long enough to help push off in second, or sometimes I’d run beside it a few feet then make a photo-worthy jump into the saddle. Although the start was a bit slow, once I shifted to third that bike rapidly topped out at a remarkable 42 miles per hour. That may not sound impressive to bearded guys in leather jackets, but that was probably more speed than a kid with no helmet or driver’s license needed.

Uncle Emmett never told me why he gave me that motor scooter. I believe he just wanted to do something nice, a gesture perhaps to let me know things were okay between us even though I’d quit working for him.   

My mother’s father, Alger Hill, died in July of 1964.  His small farm had been in a government conservation program and was overrun with kudzu. That fast growing pest had once been heartily embraced by soil conservationists who introduced it to farms and roadsides. Kudzu no doubt seemed like a good idea at the time. Some things, however, are seen more clearly in the rearview mirror.

Daddy began farming the land after Granddaddy’s death, with the first order of business being to harrow the kudzu. That was a perfect job for a somewhat careless unemployed twelve-year-old boy. I began harrowing the Hill Farm shortly after quitting work at Joiner’s Store. We had a little gasoline powered Ford tractor that I pulled a small harrow behind until everything in its path was chopped to smithereens. Kudzu, however, doesn’t give up easily.

Getting rid of those pesky plants in the field was no problem. The kudzu, however, had crept beyond where the harrow could reach and found a place in the edge of the woods, a place where it would sometimes be noticed but mostly left undisturbed.      

Kudzu is like sin in some respects. The big green leaves can be reduced to tiny fragments, but unless the root is destroyed the vine keeps coming back. Dormancy in winter makes it easy to forget, then summer comes and climbing tentacles resume their relentless quest. They reach outward and upward, claiming more territory, always in search of opportunity.

Fifty-five years have passed since I first harrowed that land, and tangled webs of kudzu still grow where the field meets the woods. Every summer the green invasion reminds me there’s something which remains undone. And I know without question what it takes to eliminate the problem. I have to get rid of the root.

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