Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bird Fight


This downy woodpecker became rather riled when the brown thrasher tried to run him away from the suet.  The brown thrasher, much bigger, seemed annoyed that the woodpecker tried to defend his territory.  The thrasher won, eventually driving the woodpecker away, but not before a glorious show of feathers.

Both are regular visitors to the bird feeders, but this is the first time I have seen a confrontation.

Sorry about the poor quality of the image, but it was taken through a window, and the birds were moving fast!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hardy Amaryllis


More than six years ago, before my baby boy married his bride, Rachel, she gifted me with a pot of amaryllis at Christmas.  Amaryllis bulbs are easily forced to bloom during the holidays. 


Because I am prone to kill plants in pots, after we had enjoyed the amaryllis blossoms, I put it in a flower bed outside, and forgot about it.  Apparently, it thrives on neglect.


I planted some comfrey for its medicinal qualities, and it has spread over the area where the amaryllis is planted.  This spring, the narrow strap-like leaves pushed through the comfrey, and then produced these blooms.


It brightens up the back yard like fairies in red dresses, and the bees love it.  Can you see the pollen?


From that single bulb, I counted seventeen blooms this years. (Yes, I count flowers.  Yes, I do have a life.)  The bulbs probably need to be separated, but I hesitate to touch them while they are doing so well.  I'll think about it next year.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dining Downtown: City Hardware


Our small city of Florence has some amazing restaurants downtown.  My two cohorts and I have eaten at them all, checking most of them out as soon as they open for business.  We have had a few less- than- perfect experiences, but most have been very satisfying. 


We tried City Hardware out soon after it opened in a lovely old building on Court Street, and it quickly became a favorite.  Hub and I had lunch there yesterday.



We started off with some bread and garlic butter.  I love it when bread is served while you are waiting for your food, especially when the bread is this good and your stomach is growling like a bear.


I had chicken with andouille sauce, mashed potatoes with caramelized onions, roasted Brussels sprouts,



with some Parmesan grits on the side. Yummy.



I have never had Brussels sprouts this good.  Hub, who has long proclaimed he hates them, ate at least half of mine.



For both of us, the bill was $17.38 before the tip, about the same as we would have spent at a fast-food place. We will definitely be going again soon. Very soon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Lily


I took a day to search for God, and found Him not;


 but as I trod, by rocky ledge, through woods untamed,



Just where one scarlet lily flamed, I saw His footprint in the sod.
~William Bliss Carman

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Garden Babies


Y'all know it doesn't take much to get me excited, and I was just tickled pink when I saw this.



These vines are loaded with teensy weensy little orbs that will grow into plump, juicy muscadines.



Last year, we spent quality time with our neighbors eating muscadines right off the vine.  Hopefully, we can do the same this year in October.  Of course, we will have to watch for little foxes and other creatures that like them as well as we do.


The tomatoes are still small, but they are looking good! Hub waters them faithfully when it doesn't rain.




That little squash is about an inch long, but squash grows quickly and we will be eating them in a few days.  There is about a hundred others about an inch long.  It always happens like that; there is just a few days between the time we are yearning for squash and the time we are tired of squash.

I am loving this beautiful spring we have been gifted with!

The world's favorite season is the spring.  All things seem possible in May.  ~Edwin Way Teale



Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day/Roy Robertson



It was a different world.

The people living in North Alabama in the late thirties lived simply. Working without ceasing, they had little time or opportunity to keep up with world affairs. When they began hearing talk, sometimes weeks old, about fighting in Europe, about a crazed Nazi killing innocent people, they agreed it was awful, terrible, but it had little to do with them. When the news came that the Japanese had bombed the naval fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Pacific, a place as far removed as the moon to them, they wondered what they would hear next, wondered if this evil could reach their sleepy little river town.



Roy Robertson, 28 years old, was content with his life on the small farm. He and Mary Elizabeth Sharp were married in 1939, and he and his young wife were building their future, starting their journey together. He had just finished his spring planting when he was drafted in June 1942. He reported to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for his basic training.

A strong man who had hunted most of his life, Roy excelled in training, getting numerous badges and listed as a 'Pistol Expert'. Fort McClellan was less than 200 miles from his home, and while Roy was willing to do his part for his country, homesick and heartsick, he found a way to sneak home on occasion, staying until he was escorted back by military police. In October of 1943, he departed Fort McClellan for war-torn Europe. He said afterwards that once he was in Europe, he couldn't sneak back home, so all there was to do was 'soldier'. And what a soldier he became!



The following is part of an article published in a local paper in April, 1945.

Staff Sergeant Roy Robertson, the "one-man mortar squad" who won the Bronze Star medal for heroism in the Battle of the Bulge, is coming home to Waterloo, Alabama, for a 30-day furlough under the Army's rotation plan.

Qualifications for the coveted rotation furlough include length of foreign service, length of combat time, wounds and decorations. Except in the matter of wounds--he has come through a lot of flying scrap metal without a scratch--Sergeant Robertson was the best qualified man in his outfit, Company "M", 112th Infantry.

The Waterloo doughboy came overseas with the 28th "Keystone" Division in October, 1943, and landed in France shortly after D-Day. He was with the "M" Company mortars when they first were committed to action in the St. Lo breakthrough, and pumped hundreds of rounds into the Falaise pocket, where the 28th Division was part of the force which cut off the German Seventh Army.

Moving fast out of the Normandy hedgerows, Robertson and thousands of other Keystone soldiers staged their famed "tactical parade" through Paris on August 29, 1944. While the Parisians cheered in a delirium of joy over the capital's liberation, the doughboys were actually hounding the heels of the Germans as they hiked over the miles of cobbled streets. Next day, Robertson was again dropping mortar shells on the fleeing supermen.

He was on hand when the Yanks took Compiegne, where the first Armistice was signed, and in November he was "zeroing-in" on targets in the dank Hurtgen Forest, scene of one of the bloodiest battles of this war. After Schmidt, where the 28th Division stood off a reinforced Panzer division and two infantry divisions until forced back by sheer weight of numbers and metal, Robertson had a brief respite from battle. For a while the 28th occupied a portion of the "quiet" Belgian front and the men rested--until Von runstedt began his historic counter-offensive.

It was during the 112th Infantry's stand near St. Vith that the Waterloo heavy weapons expert distinguished himself. Operating a mortar alone while his buddies were pinned down by enemy fire, he dropped shells at dangerously closes range and captured a 'hornet's nest' for an estimated 150 Nazi casualties. (The lengthy article continues here with details of other battles.)
When he heard that he had been selected for furlough, Robertson had just completed a gruelling 12-hour march through enemy territory as the 28th Division played its role in the First Army smash across the Rhine. None of Sergeant Robertson's furlough time will be wasted in travel. The deluxe trip, with a stop-over in Paris, is thrown in extra. The 30 days won't start officially until he is almost home on his farm on Route 2, Waterloo.



Roy did make it home on that furlough, exhausted, bone-weary of battles and blood. After digging foxholes in frozen European soil, Roy was delighted to feel the warm, red Alabama soil beneath his feet. He just stayed home after the furlough officially ended. I suppose the military police just didn't have the heart to come and get a hero. They sent him an honorable discharge on October 9, 1945.

After he returned home and life settled around him, he was reluctant to talk about his metals or battles. To him, he just did his duty the best way he knew how.

He never left his farm or community again as long as he lived.

He and Mary raised two daughters and two sons. They had a granddaughter, followed by five grandsons. Illness came to Mary at an early age, and Roy buried his sweetheart in October 1976. He was never the same again.

In October 1979, Roy died suddenly of a massive brain hemorrhage. An American flag was presented to his 9 year-old grandson, our firstborn. The flag was new, the kind presented at military funerals, and it is treasured today. It is just like the flag that flew with the troops on the beaches of Normandy, in the snow in Korea, in the jungles of Viet Nam, and the deserts of Iraq. God bless that symbol of freedom, now and forever.

Thank you, Papaw, for your sacrifice and courage. Thank you for having the fortitude to do your job when fire and bullets were falling around you. Thank you for being an example of strength, strength that is now seen in your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We remember you with joy.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Scripture: Blessed


Blessed are you when people insult you, 
persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
                              ~Matthew 5:11-12

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Elvis

What if....


Elvis didn't really die that sad August day so long ago?


Would he still look handsome?
Would he still be selling out giant arenas?
Would he dye his hair and struggle with his weight?
Would he have shown up Wednesday for music in Wilson Park?


We have to stop and be humble enough to understand that there is something called mystery.
~Paulo Coelho




Friday, May 23, 2014

Strawberries

The middle of May come never come soon enough for us.  First, and most important, it marked the end of the school year, and the beginning of freedom.  It also meant the strawberries were ripe.


There was  a strawberry farm just a few miles from where we lived, with acres and acres of strawberries.  The owners, having about a two-week window to harvest all the beautiful strawberries, hired everyone who was willing to help pick them, including ratty-haired little younguns. We were paid five cents a quart, and on a good day, we could make two dollars. We were free and needed cash, so we were excited to go and start picking.



The excitement lasted until after lunch time.  Having coins in our pocket, we went to a nearby country store for lunch.  We would get RC Colas, not because they were better but because they were bigger. We could buy a bologna sandwich (bologna was sold by the slice; you could get a thick one if you were willing to pay) and some Ding-Dongs.  Paying for these delicious goodies usually took all the money we had made that morning.


We came home from our first sunny day in the strawberry fields with pinkish hands and a sunburn.  No one had heard of sunscreen, so we just endured it and moved on.  We had all had fun (our friends picked, too, so it was primarily a social event) and some of us had funds to spend the next time we went to town.


I pick my strawberries at Sam's Club now.  I can't pick up a container of red goodness without thinking about those days on the strawberry farm. Yes, I miss those days, but things change, and we can still have our strawberry pie.




Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rite of Spring: Wilted Lettuce

Thankfully, we live in a world where fresh produce can be obtained all winter, but it wasn't always so.  My mom talked about how tired her family grew of canned vegetables with nothing fresh to eat.  Her family loved the first green vegetables of spring. She always planted early lettuce and onions for spring salads that we called wilted lettuce.  It wasn't really spring until we had one.  

We had wilted lettuce Tuesday for lunch.  Just in case you have forgotten how, this is the way I make mine.


Bacon.  This just won't work without bacon.  The amount I use varies with how much I have in the refrigerator.  I usually use more than this, but I was in no mood to go to the grocery store Tuesday morning.



Chop it up fine, then put in a skillet and cook it slow and low until it is crisp and there is a good amount of bacon fat.



This is deer tongue lettuce from our garden.  We usually plant black-seeded Simpson lettuce, but someone sent me these seeds so that's what we have.  This is a good hand full (how can you measure lettuce?). Try not to make too much, because it is really not that good after it gets cold.


I would estimate 2 or 3 cups once it is chopped up. 


In the meantime, keep stirring that bacon!


Chop up two or three green onions, including the green parts.  I kindly asked Hub to go to the garden to get some onions.  He brought them in the kitchen, clean with all the green chopped off.  Of course, I kindly asked him to go back and get some more with the green blades on!  

 After Hub and I had been dating a while, he was invited to eat with my family on  occasion.  One time, in the spring, we were all enjoying green onions and he was sure there was going to be a mass extinction of the Stricklin clan.  He had been taught that the green blades were poisonous, and had never eaten one.  His world  broadened considerably when he met me. However, some forty-five years later, he is still inclined to cut the green off. But I digress.


Chop the onions small, like this.  Add them to the chopped lettuce and mix it all together.


Pour the delicious bacon bits and fat all over the salad.


Now, ain't that purty? I'm getting hungry all over again.


Toss well, coating every shred of lettuce and onion with that heavenly bacon grease.



Just add some cornbread and whatever you can find in the frig. Tuesday, it was grilled chicken leftover from Sunday.  Grab some iced tea and you are good to go.  Enjoy.  



Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Stories from my Daddy


Storytelling is the oldest form of record keeping.  Most of what we know of ancient history is from oral telling of facts and events, with each generation passing them on to the next.

Stories are the most important inheritance we have to pass on.  ~ Donald Davis

I cannot remember a time when my Daddy wasn't telling stories.


He told them while we worked, at the supper table, before bedtime.  In the summer, when the heat from the tin roof and wood cook stove drove us out of the house, we sat on the porch with a gnat-smoke in a metal half-bushel tub and Daddy told stories: Stories about hard times, violent deaths of people we didn't know but had allegedly shared DNA, war stories, and mule stories. They included tales about his siblings, which amazed me because his subjects were now elderly people with children of their own, and it was so hard to imagine my sweet aunts jumping fences while running from snakes.

Daddy told stories of favorite milk cows, of coon dogs, and years when cotton had to be picked in the snow.  He remembered walking to church, and things that happened on the way that had not an inkling of spiritually about them. He told of homemade toys, some quite dangerous, and the perils of moonshine stills in the woods.  He could quote complete sentences, usually embarrassing lines that someone had said without thinking, years after the speaker's hair was gray and much water had run under the proverbial bridge.

All his stories were true, or at least, based on the truth.  Stories have a way of changing with each telling, and the last time you hear it is sometimes far removed from the first time. After the years dulled his recollection of facts, his most common stories were just repeated over and over.  We didn't care if we could quote the lines before he said them, because it wasn't about the story.  It was about the telling.

To tell a story, one has to slow down, to focus, to share, and care. To absorb a story, one has to stop and listen.  When we do this, there is a bonding; a bonding to our history, to our people, to who we are. Stories change our world. Stories change us.

My daddy was not a formally educated man, but he was smart.  Like most farm boys during his youth, he left school when he was big enough to work on the farm, after third or fourth grade. He may not have walked through the school house door after that, but he read. He listened and observed, he noticed and paid attention.  He remembered.

When his life was done, Daddy wasn't able to leave us thousands of acres of Tennessee hills or antebellum mansions down by the river. We didn't have to fight over the cars or stock options.  What he left us was so much better--an inheritance rich with knowledge of who we are and where we came from.

If there is a scintilla, an iota of storyteller in me, I owe it all to my Daddy.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Storytelling

Beginning in the  early seventies, country comedian Jerry Clower made us all laugh with his tales from his hometown in rural Mississippi. I was honored to meet him in the eighties when he came to UNA to perform to a packed house.  While working as a fertilizer salesman, Mr. Clower became known for his funny stories with which he entertained potential buyers.  The right person heard him and offered him a record contract, and Mr. Clower stopped selling literal fertilizer for a living.

Jimmy Neil Smith, a journalism teacher in the tiny town of Jonesborough, Tennessee, was listening to his car radio one day and heard Mr. Clower tell about hunting in Mississippi (knock 'em out, John).  Mr. Smith loved storytelling, and wondered if the city of Jonesborough might start a storytelling festival.  In 1973, on a sparkling October day, the first National Storytelling Festival was held. That October weekend birthed the renaissance of storytelling, and more than forty years later, it is still growing.

Kathryn Tucker Windham was from Alabama.  I read her books about ghosts long before I heard her tell stories, then was privileged to hear her speak many times. She was a sweet, beautiful woman who made everyone feel special.  Her stories were simple but profound; each one could make you laugh and cry and think.  One of my favorite stories is one where Ms. Windham tells of craving a tomato sandwich in Paris and the way a friend found one for her.  She will always be the 'mother' of storytelling to me.  She was scheduled but unable to come to the first University of North Alabama Front Porch Storytelling Festival due to declining health. She passed away a few weeks after the festival, and all of Alabama and the storytelling world mourned.

I love and appreciate Mr. Clower, Mr. Smith, and Ms. Windham, and I'm so thankful for what they have done to make our lives better.  But none of them is my favorite storyteller. 

More tomorrow.
*Images from Wikipedia, National Storytelling Festival.