Thursday, September 30, 2010

Folklife Friday: Settin' Up with the Sick

Last week, I wrote about settin' up with the dead. Today, the subject is settin' up with the sick, which should have come first. Fortunately, as far as I know, this blog is not being graded, so I guess that's okay.

Our world of quiet, sanitary hospitals has come a long way. In my childhood, if anyone went to the hospital, we knew they were in extremely serious condition. Doctor visits were mostly limited to obviously broken bones and injuries that wouldn't stop bleeding. It seems unbelievable now, but I have known people who sewed up their own wounds with a sewing needle and quilting thread. I have known people whose limbs healed improperly because they were set at home, sometimes causing a lifelong limp or disability.

Just like wakes, settin' up with the sick was a community event. The purpose was to help the sick and their family, but it was usually just an excuse for visiting. Families would help with feeding the livestock and getting meals together, and then they sat around the sick person and apparently watched them suffer.

I was probably about ten when Miss Lilly came down with the sickness that would eventually send her on 'that long black train'. Miss Lilly was ancient.
Her husband had passed away so many years ago that no one remembered him. She had lived in a little three room house (kitchen, back bedroom, front bedroom/living room) the whole time I had been alive. Her bedrooms were lighted with bare bulbs on ceiling fixtures that had short chains to pull them on and off. She tore strings from fabric and attached one end of the string to the chain and the other end to the bed frame so she could easily find the 'switch' during the night. At the time, I thought that was the smartest thing I had ever seen.

Miss Lilly received a small 'old age' government pension to buy her food and pay the taxes. She was known to be extremely frugal, and we all knew we might as well not stop there on Halloween. After her death, small medicine bottles filled with rolled up cash was found throughout her house. I wonder what she was saving it for.

When she took to her bed for the last time, she chose the bed in the front room. It was common at the time for beds to be in the living area; houses were small and usually, the only source of heat was from the wood burning stove in the living room. The bed was pushed against the wall to save space, so visiting with Miss Lilly could only be done from one side. Here, she was given water and soup and the pills from the doctor in town. She was prayed over, patted with unwashed hands, and tucked in with her best quilts.

My parents usually went without us children, but for some reason, I was taken along once when they went to minister to Miss Lilly. I recall Miss Lilly, pale and wasted, lying in bed with people surrounding her, standing along the walls of the small room because there wasn't enough chairs to go around. Occasionally, nature's call and the respect for Miss Lilly's privacy would cause the principal caregiver to shoo everyone out of the room while Miss Lilly relieved herself, only to have everyone crowd back in after a respectable amount of time.

I can't remember if we ever knew what actually killed Miss Lilly other than old age, which got blamed for everything if the person was past sixty. Whatever it was, it lingered. Perhaps a slow respiratory illness (I can remember coughing) or maybe congestive heart failure. She stayed in that bed for the longest time. The crowd would thin out until news spread that she was worse, at which time they would return in full force.

These people were doing what they could, what they thought was right, just the way they had been brought up to do. Our Lord teaches us to bear one another's burdens, so maybe they were attempting to do that. By bringing in their germs and viruses, they may have even hastened some of the sick to their sundown.

This little ditty will be read by some who know and love me, and by some that I have only met online. So, to my local peeps:

1. If you must come and see me when I'm ill or dying, just stick your head in and blow me a kiss. That's enough.

2. You can visit with my family in the waiting room as long as you want to. You can even bring them sandwiches and moon pies.

3. I understand the power of prayer, and please remember me if you are in Christ. You do not, however, have to stand by my bed to pray while I'm puking or pooping. If you believe in the same God I do, He is omnipresent and can hear you at home or in the waiting room just as well.

If we are smart enough and care enough, we can carry the burdens of others and respect their privacy at the same time.

Thousand Word Thursday

And it came to pass. . . .

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


It is fall--time for harvest!

Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous,
but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

Matthew 9:37-38 (KJV)

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.
2 Corinthians 9:10 (NIV)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time
we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Folklife Friday: Settin' Up with the Dead

From earliest recorded history, every society has had their rituals for burying the dead. From anointing the body with oils and herbs to mummifying it, these rituals were meant to honor and sometimes preserve the departed, and to provide a venue where the living could remember and show respect to the departed.

Back in the day in West Tennessee, comfortable air-conditioned funeral parlors were for the genteel town folk. People in the country took care of their own, washing and preparing the body, then laying the deceased out for the wake. Somewhere in the fifties, laws were enacted that required embalming the dead. After that, the body would be taken to town for the embalming and dressing process, then returned home to lie in state in the same living room where they had played and rested and taken care of business.

Friends and family would arrive early with fried chicken and apple pies and bowls of vegetables. They would ask if there was anything they could do, but there usually wasn't. After an acceptable amount of time in front of the coffin, the women would try to find a seat, and the men and children would slip out the door.

The first men to gather usually found the makings of a bonfire, and the crowd gathered around that. First, they would speak respectfully of the dead. No matter what sort of past a man may have had with the deceased, he could always find a tidbit of something nice to say, like "He sure did keep that garden clean" or "He checked on his mama every day she lived". Then, the conversation would turn to amusing things, like that time he broke his arm jumping off the chicken house. After an hour or so, the deceased was forgotten as the men discussed politics, religion, and the price of corn. About this time, some good ole boy would pull a pint bottle from his hip pocket and pass it around, causing things to liven up considerably.

The children played until their bedtime. Tired, they drifted to the house to find their mama, who gathered them up and went home. The men, however, stayed all night. It was just not done--leaving the deceased or his family alone the night before he was put in the ground. They threw more wood on the fire and passed the night. With the new morning, women would return and cook breakfast for the family and those who had spent the night. After breakfast, the men would go to the cemetery with their picks and shovels to dig the grave.

Small communities had to work together to survive. They were soberly aware that the next wake might be at their house, and they trusted their neighbors to take care of them when it was their time. A real man did his part.

My daddy told us this story about a wake he had attended many, many years ago. A thirty-something wife had died suddenly, and the whole community was there for the wake. The grieved husband drifted out to the fire where the men were standing around. Although he wasn't a very popular person in the community, all the men were sympathetic, patting his back and listening to his laments.

"She was a fine woman, a wonderful woman. We never had a cross word."

Someone spoke up. "You mean to tell me you were married for several years and never had a fight?"

The widower rubbed his chin, remembering. "Well, once, we almost had a fight. I came home tired and she didn't have supper ready. I gave her a little push and told her this had better not happen again. She picked up a piece of stove wood and hit me across the head, knocking me out the back door. Yessir, that was the closest we ever came to having a fight."

Bless his heart.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thousand Word Thursday

He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty. Proverbs 28:19

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thousand Word Thursday

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil: my cup runneth over. Psalms 23:6

Friday, September 10, 2010

Folklife Friday: Polkberries

They are ripe now.

The plump, purple berries that insure Phytolacca Americana will continue to grow as long as the Earth spins are ripe. I wrote about the young plants here: Folklife Fridays: Poke Salet.

As children, we would have been excited that our paint was ready and the search for long idle brushes would be on. After a few hours of painting, our monochromatic masterpieces would emerge, the same color as our hands and whatever we were wearing.

In the long gone days when cotton was 'king', we would have boldly splayed our names across the top of our pick sacks to stop any confusion about which was whose. By season's end, the names would be faded, but by that time, everyone knew their pick sacks by the way that fit around our neck and shoulders, our own being the only one that had molded to the shape of our bodies in an almost comfortable way.

Local country wisdom says that anything animals eat is safe for humans, wisdom born of days when our fathers lived off the land and gathered fall's bounty. This is not true for pokeberries. The purple berries contain phytolaccatoxin and phytolaccigenin, both toxic to humans. The berries are prized by birds, which can be proven by the magenta droppings on your car's windshield that have been mostly white all summer. The berries don't harm birds because the seeds pass through their digestive systems intact.

A friend swears by a home remedy for arthritis using pokeberries. He puts ripe berries in a quart jar and covers them with gin. After a few weeks, he eats five berries a day. He says it brings temporary relief with no side effects. I am NOT recommending this; you're on your own if you try it.

Another friend recalls her mother using the juice of pokeberries as a remedy for poison oak. She says she stayed red most of the summers in her youth.

Civil war soldiers used the 'ink' from the berries to write letters home. The letters that have been preserved appear to be written in brown ink.

Pokeberries can be found easily in most areas; just look along roadsides and the edges of fields and pastures. Keep your eyes open as you go out and about this weekend.

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:12

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Beautiful September!

You bring us nights with raised windows, snuggling under quilts in the wee hours.

You mark the time for sweet potatoes and cotton and corn harvested.

You remind the hummingbirds that they will have to migrate soon, over a thousand miles to places with warm winters. They know they will have to be fat for the trip, so they fight for the feeders, flashing their ruby throats for our amusement.

You sober us with the knowing--summer, the time for growing and gathering, for swimming and playing, for travel and iced tea, no matter how wonderful or fruitful it has been--summer always ends.

September. So beautiful, you strengthen us during the transition; help us face the winter that will surely come.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Beautiful feet

holy experience

She had beautiful feet.

Her lot in life was simple.
She embraced it, gave it all she had.

A farm wife who never had a real "job",
who never earned any money of her own.

Her house was unadorned, basic furnishing made by her man.
Her floors, always clean, were covered with the cheap linoleum that
drummers brought once a year.

Her house was filled with laughter, comfort.
One always felt welcome entering there, gratified.

Ratty-haired little children who came to her house were offered
kindness and gentleness, something they rarely saw.
She told them about the Lord, that He loved them,
that they were important to Him.

Some of the seeds she sowed fell away, were lost.
Others struggled with the knowledge.
Some fell in love with the Lord and served Him with all their heart,
reproducing from the seed she had sown many years before.

No make-up, her gray hair always in a bun, a tad overweight.
She would not have been picked out of the crowd for her physical beauty.

As she aged, her legs and feet became riddled with blue and red;
varicose veins that distorted and weakened.
She couldn't always wear her shoes.

She had beautiful feet.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" Romans 10: 13-14