MORGANTON, N.C. (Oct. 6, 2019) – I was hoping to see chrysanthemums on the altar at church this morning, it being World Communion Sunday. I wanted an easy connection to this chapter. But no such luck—just some candles, a cross, white linens, gluten-free bread and grape juice.
Our pastor reminded us that Christians around the globe began observing World Communion Sunday last night, first in China where followers of Jesus had to meet in secret to avoid arrest. I bet those folks had some chrysanthemums on their altars, because that’s where the “golden flower” came from.
The chrysanthemum is symbolic in China. According to FTD.com, the flower represents vitality, long life and good luck in Chinese homes, as it possesses cleansing properties. Also, on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month—Monday, Oct. 7, 2019—the Double Ninth or Chrysanthemum Festival is celebrated.
As I write this passage on Sunday evening, it’s almost 8 o’clock on Monday morning in Beijing, China, where people are preparing to observe the traditional festival by visiting the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects, by eating chrysanthemum cakes, and by drinking chrysanthemum wine. They will also go for long walks and, if possible, climb a mountain. All are symbolic acts, like communion.
BOONE, N.C. (Oct. 2, 2019) – As autumn leaves begin changing from green to gold and pompon-like chrysanthemums bloom everywhere, old friends and acquaintances gather around unnaturally lined and numbered viridian fields to reminisce about times past.
In other words, it’s October—you know, homecoming time. So go pick up some red or yellow mums on sale outside the nearest Food Lion and a big yellow-and-red carton of fried chicken at the Bojangles on this side of town, and then head on over to the tailgate party outside the football stadium. The old gang will all be there.
To many of us social creatures, that’s what October represents—homecoming. And, in turn, our idea of homecoming has taken on a particular meaning that revolves around high school and college reunions at the biggest attraction those educational institutions can muster—a football game, either under Friday night lights at high schools or slanted rays of the yellow Saturday afternoon sun on college campuses.
I purposely used the word muster in that last sentence because football is, after all, our most militaristic sport, with its offenses, defenses, bombs and blitzes. So what does that make us spectators? Are we like the Washington socialites who assumed the Civil War would last only one afternoon and spent it picnicking on a Manassas, Va., hillside overlooking a stream called Bull Run? Alas, I digress.
I can proudly say I never heard Grandpa utter those three dreaded syllables. But I behaved at his house so that I wouldn’t hear his mother of all curses. I’d heard all the stories, and I had been warned, mainly that if I ever did hear those words, to take cover.
Lester Clark wasn’t someone you wanted to anger, not unless you were ready to fight. Some of those stories involved him getting rowdy and ending up in the county jail. He and one of my uncles worked together and spent most lunch hours fighting. Each other. For fun. And they liked each other.
I’m not sure how Lester and Uncle Glen handled fellows they didn’t like. But my point is that Grandpa knew how to fight and wasn’t afraid to put someone in their place. I also don’t know who won most of those lunchtime brawls—Grandpa didn’t say—but I wouldn’t have bet against him. He was one tough cookie.
BOONE, N.C. (Sept. 25, 2019) – The question has always been: Does the Truth really matter? Not just now. Not just for the past three years. The Truth is eternal. But, with a nod to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay A Few Good Men, do we want the Truth? And can we handle it?
That military connection—if you’ve seen that particular Tom Cruise legal thriller—is apt here. With Michaelmas, the Feast of the Archangels, only four days away, I’ve been thinking about four older men, all unrelated to me, whose lives and messages guided my own path. I remember all four as angels.
Without going into angelologies of various religions, Michaelmas celebrates the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and Uriel. The holy day, which falls just after the autumnal equinox, also marks the end of the growing season and, in some countries, serves as a day when accounts are settled.
The aster is the flower of Michaelmas, with one variety even called the Michaelmas daisy. The star-shaped wildflower blooms in September as harvests come to an end. In some regions, another similar wildflower thrives with goldenrod in fall fields and ditches. It is the white doll’s daisy or false aster.
BOONE, N.C. (Sept. 18, 2019) – A couple of months ago when I asked Timberley what flowers bloom in the fall at our houses, she listed the aster as one of several. What do asters look like? I asked. Her description didn’t ring any bells, so I looked up the tiny flower on Wikipedia—the greatest information resource on Earth, despite what English teachers say—but I still couldn’t recall seeing an aster in either yard, on or off the mountain.
According to Wikipedia, the aster’s name comes from the Greek word for star, in reference to the small bluish blossom’s star-like shape. The aster makes our world a more productive and beautiful place, as it is food for butterfly and moth larvae. The aster is a hardy plant that can grow almost anywhere.
Now I see asters everywhere I look—in the yard, along the creek, by the driveway, in the pastures and ditches along the highway between our house and town. They’re everywhere. And they are so beautiful—so small, so easy to overlook, but so, so beautiful.
Some people are like that.
Over the next couple of weeks I plan to write about six individuals who have been stars in my life but never did anything flashy enough to merit their own Wikipedia articles. You could probably guess who they might be—two grandfathers, a former co-worker, an old boss, a namesake and an old soldier, all of whom were my heroes even though I never told them so.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Sept. 8, 2019) – The first time I noticed an open seed pod on our crapemyrtle, I thought it was some kind of wooden flower. It was just an empty shell. But it was beautiful.
To be completely honest, I had never looked so closely at that tree before—or at any other plant, for that matter. Until I started taking so many photos of our flowers with my cell phone, I had never seen their stems, leaves and even blossoms in such detail, except in a Georgia O’Keeffe floral painting.
I guess that’s one reason I like flowers so much—because of our abiding love for the work of O’Keeffe, our favorite visual artist. Like the particular types of music and literature I’ve come to prefer, O’Keeffe’s style of painting is deceptively simple. It is line, shape and shade of light.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Sept. 4, 2019) – There’s nothing gracious about a minor-league baseball fan who thinks he’s getting stiffed at the concession stand. But then, the weather here is still too hot and humid, the crapemyrtle in our front yard is covered in hard little balls that are splitting wide open to expel their seed, and some of us hardball lovers are about to explode, too, if we don’t get some relief.
It’s early September, and Crawdad season is drawing to a close. Of course, I’m not referring to the little buggers I used to catch in the creek down at the Park with Granddad, the freshwater crustaceans that he said would pinch me and then hold on tight until lightning flashed and thunder clapped. The Park—and that’s all it was ever called by my family—was heaven on Earth when I was a child. It was a picnic area that my grandfather built in a wooded hollow on his farm in the Hopewell community near Morganton. A good-sized creek with a sandy beach in one spot wound like an S through the beech-shaded grounds. When a family reunion or church social was held there, everyone came.
No, I’m talking now about the Hickory Crawdads, our area’s Class A South Atlantic League baseball team. The ‘Dads made the playoffs this season, but win or lose, the 2019 campaign is as good as over, with no fewer than two games and no more than eight games comprising the Sally League post-season for our team. If the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise, the whole kit and caboodle will end no later than September 14th, about the time some of the Major League pennant races really heat up.
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 28, 2019) – Forget about Where the Lilies Bloom and Where the Crawdads Sing. When the crapemyrtles stop blooming on Morehead Street, summer is almost over.
Here in North Carolina, there are two Morehead Streets that are both important to Timberley and me. Our preferred Morehead Street—the one I’m writing about today—is where Timberley grew up in Morganton and where we set up true house-keeping as newlyweds about 35 years ago. That rambling, two-story house, where her grandparents had lived for a time before us, was across the street from her smaller, more humble homeplace, where her father lived alone then. The proximity made visits easy either way.
The other Morehead Street—this one in Charlotte’s historic Dilworth neighborhood—has been our reluctant home away from home since the spring of 2017 when Timberley was diagnosed with a rare bladder cancer and referred to Levine Cancer Institute at the Carolinas Medical Center, now called Atrium Health, on East Morehead Street. There she underwent cancer surgery and three separate but related hospitalizations before the end of that summer. We still return to Levine every 4-6 months for tests.
I called Charlotte our reluctant home, but we are forever grateful for the life-saving care we got there and for the support we now receive from our doctor, physician’s assistant, nurses and other healthcare personnel—even the ladies in the CMC cafeteria and the gentlemen who work in the parking garages—who have made the time we’ve spent there bearable and the time we can spend anywhere else possible.
MORGANTON, N.C. (Aug. 25, 2019) – No one can tell me there’s anything better to eat than a plate of pinto beans sprinkled with diced onion, a steaming slice of cornbread topped with a thick pat of melting butter, and a large, cold glass of whole milk. Collard greens are optional. No dessert is necessary.
And that’s the God’s honest truth. Right? If you don’t believe me, then you ain’t from around here, and you probably don’t like those crusty little slabs of heaven called fried livermush, either, but that’s OK. Tar Heels from the Piedmont are too polite to push good vittles on folks who don’t know no better.
So what foods feed your soul? (Even though that is a rhetorical question, feel free to post your answer in the comments below.)
BOONE, N.C. (Aug. 22, 2019) – It’s easy to reel off the names of people whom we have hated or who have hurt us. Those folks are hard to forget. It’s often much harder to acknowledge the loved ones who have affected us in positive ways. The explanation is complicated.
That was the object lesson our pastor, Dana McKim, assigned to congregants a couple of Sundays ago at First United Methodist Church in Morganton. “Who do you hate?” Dana asked to begin his sermon. And later, “Who loves you?” instead of the more obvious “Who do you love?” Along with those first two questions, he offered suggestions of people or groups that might fall into either category.
They weren’t rhetorical questions, not really. He did want us to list—in our heads at least, not out loud—the objects of our antipathy and, on the flip side of that record, the names of those people who have let us know in some way that we are objects of their affection. Remember, love isn’t always obvious to the loved, nor is it always requited.