Where, Oh Where Has “The Southern Voice” Gone?

For several weeks, I’ve been hearing from followers on both WordPress and Facebook, wondering where in the world I’ve been, and why I haven’t been blogging more often. I would like to take a moment to update all my followers with a long-overdue status update and outlook for the blog.

Most of the folks who follow this blog have been with me long enough to know that I’ve been in school on and off since the end of 2008. This past semester proved to be the busiest yet, with a full class load and a full-time job for the last month and a half of the semester. Nothing new for a self-financed college student, but this semester has been different.

The truth is, Facebook followers of The Southern Voice have an advantage over those who stick to WordPress. They’re in on the secret. And it’s a good one. That’s why I’m grinning like the cat that ate the canary.

Grinning like the cat that ate the canary
Grinning like the cat that ate the canary

There are many things that are cause for rejoicing. In the last year, I’ve gone from being unemployed, limping on a strained ankle, and without transportation to unrestricted ambulation (a medical professional’s term for walking normally, lol), owning a dependable, fuel-efficient vehicle, and working, not one, but two jobs.

But that’s not all.

After breaking my hip last June, I had to drop out of two summer courses at the school where I was enrolled. During the six months that followed, I spent a large amount of time reading, thinking, and pondering the ins and outs of life. It was during this time that a great number of this site’s post were written, including the series entitled, A Refreshing Pause. Instead of going off to Kings Point, New York, as planned, I stayed home, found work, and went back to school during the spring semester of 2013.

There are times in life when time seems to stand still, and nothing seems to be happening. The most amazing part of it is that these times are almost always directly followed by a time when life accelerates to a fever pitch, and everything begins to happen at once.

At the beginning of the semester, I re-enrolled in the math course I had been forced to drop, determined to follow through and finish the job this time. After sitting through the now-familiar orientation class period, I lit into the coursework with a vengeance. This time, I vowed, I would track the math down and kill it.

Okay, I’m becoming overzealous with my metaphors. Moving on…

I couldn’t help but notice that one of the tutors was a young lady about my age, but at first, I really didn’t think too much about that. I was fairly sure that she had a person of interest in her life, and I was preoccupied with school anyway, determined not to get distracted from my goal of finishing the educational course.

However, after two or three weeks in class, I began to notice that the young lady in question was not attached to anyone, as it were. Still determined to stay focused, I merely noted that fact and went on about my business. I could never have expected what happened next.

About two weeks after school started, I went into the math lab early to make up time for an absence. As I was sitting at the desk, with my nose in a book, I couldn’t help but overhear this girl telling another tutor about a “stalker dude” that was giving her trouble.

This “stalker dude” (he shall remain nameless, to protect the guilty) was nearly twice her age, and making all sorts of stupid comments, such that Hannah was feeling quite uncomfortable–indeed, threatened–while at her workplace.

At this point, I knew that I should do what I could to help, even if we never became more than acquaintances.

Having determined to do something, I “happened” to encounter Hannah in the hall later that evening. After a few nondescript pleasantries, I observed, “It sounds like you’ve had a rough day in the math lab today.” Her face fell. “Every day’s a rough day,” she said despondently. “I feel like I’m doing something wrong to draw that much attention to myself.”

(I should mention here that Hannah never did anything indiscreet that would have drawn attention to herself, and was always professional and modest, both in demeanor and attire.)

“No, not at all,” I told her, “It’s guys like that that are the problem. They paint targets on whoever they want.” She brightened a bit as she looked at me and asked, “Do you really think so?” I nodded, adding without hesitation, “I’m a guy, so you can take it from me: you are not doing anything to attract undue attention to yourself. Ok?” She nodded, and a smile crept onto her face as she answered, “Okay.” Then, just as suddenly, her face fell again. “That still doesn’t solve my problem…”

I nodded. “I know.” I knew that now was my only chance to take the plunge, so I drew a deep breath and bailed off, “If you want, I can walk you out to your car after work tonight.”

Her eyes widened; clearly, she was surprised I would even offer. “Really? That would be great!” “All right,” I said, “It’s settled then.”

If you have stuck it out thus far, thanks for your patience. I’ll move more quickly now.

Since my math class was the last one on the schedule for the two nights I was there, it fell perfectly into both our routines for me to escort Miss Hannah to her car, and for a week or two, that was the extent of our contact with one another. As time went on, we began to spend a few minutes together before my class (it just so happened that was when her break fell in the schedule). One day, about three weeks after we had begun talking to one another, her father and brothers walked into the hall where we were talking. They said they had come to “talk to” the other fellow, the one who was bothering their daughter/sister, but Hannah later told me they had come to meet me, too.

I don’t remember much of what we said that night, but for some reason, her dad took a liking to me, and told Hannah that if it worked out that we became more than friends, that was fine with him.

That was nearly seven months ago. Not only is she my best friend, but she is the one person in the world I feel like I couldn’t live without.

Hannah and Me
Hannah and Me

Today, I am thankful for the way that the Lord worked in my life, orchestrating circumstances and locations so that I would meet Hannah just when I did, and be in the frame of mind that I was when I met her. Although I didn’t set out to find a “person of interest,” I firmly believe that the Lord moves people as He sees fit, and that He had more than just a wonderful friendship in mind for the two of us, long before last semester.

All that being said, where does that leave The Southern Voice? Well, there are other things afoot. My work situation is still in a bit of a flux, so I’m sometimes pressed to find time to post. At the moment, however, it looks like I’ll be able to post at least once a week. As time permits, I’ll continue to post on a more regular basis.

I would like to conclude this rather lengthy post by thanking my readers who have stuck with me throughout the course of the last year, through both showers and droughts of writing. It is your patronage that encourages the heart of this writer, and helps to motivate him to write posts for your reading enjoyment and mental provocation (After all, one of the things I strive to do is stimulate thoughtful contemplation of life.). Although I enjoy writing for writing’s sake, it is even more enjoyable to know that other people are reading what I write, and enjoying–and perhaps profiting–from what I have written.

Here’s to many more years of blogging together! Long may reading–and writing–continue in this forum!

For writing’s sake,


The (Happily Taken) Southern Voice Writer


Gun Owners Not Progressives, Refuse to Be Cowed By Psychological Campaign

[Owning] A smoking gun could be as bad for your social image as a smoking cigarette, if liberals have their way.

The Christian Science Monitor, the far-out publication of the Christian Scientists, has muddled the facts once again on an important cultural issue. The magazine, which recently classed Palestinian-funded terrorist attacks against Israel as “military action,” now insists that the way to curb gun violence is a public perception campaign designed to stigmatize gun ownership, much akin to the campaign that successfully stigmatized smoking.

Cogitating Duck’s Profile Graphic

(Visit Stigmatize gun ownership like smoking? on Cogitating Duck to read another interesting article on this subject.)

Recent surveys, however, may indicate that such attempts are doomed to dismal failure. According to Dr. Rob Spurgeon, holder of the chair of Aristotelian Professor of Logic and Co-chair of the Department of Farming (yes, really) at Real Life University in Western North Carolina, gun owners belong to the group of people who still evaluate any line of reasoning according to the logical merits of its arguments, rather than its emotional impact. “Those who advocate this line of reasoning aren’t thinking clearly,” Dr. Spurgeon explains. “The gun owners the progressives seek to embarrass about their guns are much more emotionally robust than their liberal counterparts. What the stigmatizers fail to admit is that many of those same gun owners are employed in professions that bring them face to face with the harsh realities of real life and the real world.

“Not every animal that is born on the farm lives to see the next spring,” Spurgeon continues. “There are many factors that contribute to a high mortality rate among the animal population of the average agrarian establishment: storm, disease, fire, predators, and yes, some of them are slated to give up their lives to feed the humans that maintain the grange.” But what does this have to do with the argument he posits against a “public shaming” campaign targeting gun owners? He explains:

“Because of the high investment in the animals in terms of time, an unavoidable emotional attachment will form as a result. Furthermore, a farmer’s great compassion for animals–despite the stereotype to the contrary–gives him a desire to see all prosper under his care. He is not overly concerned with his animals’ comfort, but neither does he neglect them. Instead, he looks most solicitously after them, for their well-being is directly tied to his own success. Thus the death of a six-week-old lamb due to complications of pneumonia is not an event which takes place in a vacuum. Unlike city-dwellers, whose primary concern is that the animals from whom the meat they purchase derives did not suffer during the ‘manufacturing’ process, these folks have deep ties to their animals. When one dies, it’s a very real and significant event in the lives of its caretakers. However, the real world dictates that the farmer–after an appropriate interval–must dry his tears, bury the dead, and get back to work.”

Nor is farming the only profession which requires a realistic, grin-and-go-on mentality. Dr. David Crain, Sr., Vice Chancellor of Real-Life University, explains:

Our student body is unique. It’s diverse. There are many different backgrounds and origins represented. Many of our students are preparing for careers in business. Some spend their time volunteering in various non-profit organizations. Others feel the call to full-time vocational ministry. Whatever the course of study in which a student is enrolled, the core curriculum is the same…

We don’t discriminate, but we don’t worry about active recruiting (affirmative action) procedures either. We believe that the students who desire to study here will come of their own volition. If they don’t want to be here, telling them how great our campus is won’t change their mind, and neither will our curriculum. Does this mean that we don’t promote the University when people ask? Certainly not! That’s half of the mission of RLU…to engage with the culture and convince others of the truth of our beliefs and practices.

Basic Economics, Politics 101, Public Speaking, English Grammar, Critical Thinking, Logic, and The Fine Art of Growing Thick Skin are courses that are non-negotiable. Here at RLU, we believe that if our graduates are to succeed, then they must learn and apply to their everyday lives the principles imparted by the dedicated staff in these departments. Our purpose is not to educate people into uselessness, but to educate them in useful disciplines that will make them profitable citizens, informed voters, critical thinkers, rational parents, and stable adults…

Dr. Crain founded Real Life University in early 1997, at the time that his oldest son, David Crain, Jr. was in the 7th grade. “I knew,” he later reminisced, “that I didn’t want my boys going out into the world without understanding where the progressive professors in the state-run education system got their ideas, and how patently false the assumptions behind accepted modern thought really are.”

Operating on a shoe-string budget, and in spite of overwhelming disapproval from his peers, Dr. Crain hand-selected his own textbooks, supplemental reading, and spent countless hours writing and re-writing tests, quizzes, and course notes, many of which are still used today in the core classes at RLU. “Despite the many hours of sleep I lost,” he said in a recent interview, “the ultimate reward was in seeing my boys grow up to be clear-eyed, level-headed thinkers who, actively refusing to imbibe the pleasant (but mind-numbing) wine of progressive socialism, entered into debate with those who espoused the progressive worldview. Above all, it was a joy to see them do so–not arrogantly–but fearlessly, regardless of the academic or political stature of their opponent.”

On hunting down one of these boys, we found young Mr. Crain, a lanky six-footer with a ready grin and a shock of curly brown hair, to be as ready a commentator as his father. He took a full two hours in the middle of mowing a pasture to answer our questions and talk politics. Wearing faded Wranglers that were dark stonewashed when new, a Ford ball cap,  and a plaid flannel shirt, he jumps off the tractor and grips the author’s hand like a steel trap gripping a coyote’s paw.

“I grew up on the farm, and it’s easy to forget that not everybody shakes hands with country folk everyday,” he offers apologetically as Scribens rubs his tingling digits. A clear speaker, his voice is nevertheless tinged with an authentic Southern burr that softens the pronunciation of some words. His years of public speaking experience are evidenced by the overemphasis of certain syllables when he’s making a point, however.

“I loved living out in the country…still do,” he continued in our January 24th interview. “There’s an atmosphere of peace and safety that’s refreshing and comforting, and I’ve yet to be in a city where that same sense of security prevails. Of course, there are things that happen out here from time to time in the way of crime, but nothing like the big cities where people are stacked up in cracker-box penthouses and apartments. Out here, there’s a little more space between houses, and people are more relaxed.”

Broach the subject of politics as it relates to logical thought, and you’ll get a glimpse of what makes this young man tick. He sits up a little straighter, his voice grows a little stronger, and his eyes gleam, not with the wild light of the lunatic but the passion of an to informed man eager to guide others on the road to truth.

“Eisenhower said it, and he said it well: ‘Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.’ Granted, he was talking specifically about the military-industrial complex, but America has ignored the deeper and broader implications to her own peril.

“We live in a nation today that is convinced that truth is something that can only be obtained by a renunciation of all that has gone before, and a disinterested search through the uncharted wilds of the relativistic ether for an equally elusive concept of relevant truth for this postmodern world,” he elucidates. “The classic interpretation of truth as objective and relevant to all ages is a concept that is no longer embraced by the culturally enlightened. Objective truth has gone the way of the dinosaur, and they hope it stays there. But only by a return to this paradigm, now a pariah in the very society that gave it its greatest expression, can we hope to turn this country back to its founding principles and documents.”

At this point I mentioned the Christian Science Monitor article, and asked him what he thought of the suggested “public perception” campaign to “stigmatize gun ownership.”

He laughed. “You’re kidding, right?” Then his grin disappeared and he looked thoughtful. “It’s going to take a lot more than that, quite honestly. I mean, they compare it to smoking, but that’s just foolish. Do I agree with the stigmatization of smoking and smokers? No. I believe there’s enough evidence to convince people of the harmful effects of smoking. I have personal reasons for abstaining that include (but are not limited to) the health concerns, but I don’t believe that the government should tell anyone: ‘Thou shalt not smoke,’ or, ‘Thou shalt smoke only here, and only under these circumstances.'”

“Before you stone me as being anti-health, stop and think about it for a moment. How consistent would it be for me to lobby for the government to restrict the choice of some folks to engage in activities that I don’t like, but don’t necessarily harm others, and then scream when those same people use that same government to take away certain of my rights with which they do not agree?”

“Now, I’m not equating smoking to bearing arms as a right; I’m just drawing a parallel. A much more equal comparison would be between free speech and bearing arms; or between right to protection from unreasonable search and seizure and bearing arms. These are all rights as granted by the Constitution and the Amendments thereof, and they are not, as the Second Amendment states, to be infringed.”

“So do I think the progressives will be successful in their campaign to stigmatize guns? No, I don’t. The people they seek to bully into cowering submission are largely well-educated, familiar with real life, accustomed to hardship, and are pretty set in their convictions on these matters. They’re not doing something that is harmful to their health, something that they took up years ago because everybody thought it was cool…that’s what smoking is for many people. But gun ownership is different, and ingrained in the DNA of every conservative father is the drive to pass on the safe use of, and love for, guns.”

“Despite any attempts to stigmatize the owners, guns are part of the American way of life. Their ownership is protected by our Constitution, their safe and responsible use is encouraged by countless thousands of conservative parents, and their presence–in the hands of well-trained civilians who know where and how to use them–is part of the reason my home town has a relatively low crime rate. Yes, evil men use them to commit evil deeds…but good men use them just as often to prevent evil deeds. In a gun-crime situation, the problem isn’t the gun…it’s the man behind the gun.”

“That’s the central message behind our stance on weapons and the Second Amendment.”

Text for this article is taken from interviews with the gentlemen listed and is the  proprietary intellectual property of Excogitatoris Scribens™.

Excog Profile Pic

(graphic credit)

© 2013, all rights reserved according to the copyright policy of The Southern Voice.

With Love, from Jon

I have a great family. I know a lot of folks that don’t get along with the people closest to them, but I get on quite well with my kinfolk.

My littlest brother is the most awesome fellow I know. This little gent, two years old, hit all the right notes this Christmas.


Here you see the guy in question offering someone (probably my sister) a flower. See? He knows what’s up. 😉

Given the large size of our family, it would be rather hard for everyone to get everyone else a decent gift. So to enable everyone to get a few nicer gifts (and to cut down on the post-Christmas clutter, I suppose), my Mom long ago hit on the perfect solution: we draw names from a hat. That way, everyone receives one (or two) nice gifts from another sibling, and Mom and Dad purchase one or two for each child. It means a smaller Christmas, but it works really well.

This year, my awesome little brother drew my name. Oh, one more thing about the drawing: we have to keep the names a secret. Whoever we get, we have to keep it to ourselves and do our own shopping. Normally, someone will be taken into confidence in search of outside ideas for gifts, but on the whole, a great amount of mystery pervades the atmosphere as Christmas draws ever nearer. Even when it came to picking his adviser, Jon had it all figured out. He went to Mom, and the scheming began. Most of my family is pretty good at keeping a confidence, but nobody’s better at it than Mom. She puts everything into the safe, and nobody can take it back out again.

So Christmas morning arrives and I have no idea what’s coming. We all wake up early and open the presents in our stockings, as usual. After a delicious breakfast  of apricot braid bread, we all gather in the living room to listen to my Dad read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke before we open the presents under the tree.

The story being read, the fun begins. Dad hands out the gifts one at a time. Suddenly, he tosses me a package from Jonny. I tear off the paper and find a pair of flannel pajama pants. Like I said, Jonny picked his adviser well. 🙂

But that wasn’t it. Five minutes later, another package from Jonny comes my  way. As I take it, it looks like a book; hefts like one. But when I open it, it’s a BIG pack of Stride gum! As in, 15 packs of it! 😀

I am a gum fanatic, and Stride is my favorite kind of gum. So it really made my day to get that from my awesome little brother. Like I said, he knew what was up, and he picked the right person to help him in his gift search.

I still have some gum left, and as I head into the new year, my flannel pajama pants are my favorite attire for relaxing around the house. Yep, I’m glad the two-year-old picked my name this past Christmas.

Who knows? I might even try to rig it where he draws it again this year. 😉

Christmas Time!

Riding through town, watching the traffic lights turn from red to green. Walking into store after store, striding past throngs of people, noting the expressions on their faces. Some happy. Some sad. Some harried. Some perturbed. All hurried.

It’s Christmas time.

Driving down Main Street, the older part of town, seeing all the shops closed. Lights are off, doors are locked, and only the traffic lights are working the holiday. Even the police and fire stations are quieter than normal. On the front lawn of the police station, a sign wishes all passersby, “Merry Christmas!” No one objects.

It’s Christmas time.

Tomorrow, the children will be up early at the Crain household. Have you ever known a child to sleep past seven AM on Christmas morning? 😉 They’ll tumble down the stairs, pell-mell, intent on reaching the stockings stacked along the steps. We always open our stocking presents first thing in the morning, and then open our other presents later, after breakfast and other traditional happenings.

One of our family’s traditions is apricot braid bread, made from scratch, rolled, shaped, braided, baked, and glazed by my dad and sister. When it’s finally ready, we all pull up to the table and set to with a good will. After demolishing two large loaves of the wonderful Christmastime treat, we all gather in the living room.

Perhaps my favorite tradition is the reading of the First Christmas Story from Luke chapter 2. All the kids, Mom, and Grandma sit in the large great room and listen as Dad reads the sacred text in his rich baritone voice. I’ve always loved reading, but I particularly enjoy hearing a good reader read aloud. There’s something magical about the cadence of a well-constructed story being read aloud, and this account is one of the best-written true stories I’ve ever read. Instantly, I’m carried back to the rocky traces of Galilee and Judea, seeing in my mind’s eye the couple making their weary way toward Bethlehem. I see the crowded streets, the bustling crowds of census observers, the packed inns and hotels. I see Joseph asking at hostel after hostel for lodging, a corner for he and his weary wife. Innkeeper after innkeeper turns him away altogether. Finally, perhaps at the last hotel in town, the innkeeper offers the stable. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing…

They turn the weary donkey toward the stable.

There, in the comfortably warm atmosphere of a cattle stall, the most important baby ever born comes into the world. His mother wraps him in swathing bands and places him in a manger full of hay. A brightly-robed angel brings the news to a group of shepherds outside the town that a special child has been born. Overhead, a bright new star shines; and, a thousand miles away, wise men notice this star and set out to seek the one of whose birth it speaks.

It’s Christmas time!

Tomorrow, the stores will be open again. People will be in Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and countless other places, standing in long lines to exchange the things they got but didn’t want for the things they wanted but didn’t get. Workplaces will be open again, and those who have not taken vacation time will be back in the ranks, working hard to make a living and get ahead. Christmas will be forgotten…or will it?

It’s Christmas time!

Merry Christmas!

Forgetting Your Wallet May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Monday evening, and it’s time for marketing class. I’ve been at school for most of the day, so I’m feeling a little less than enthusiastic about another two hours of instruction. Mr. Payne is a good teacher who does his best to make the material interesting as he presents it, and before long I’m involved in the class, listening intently to his lecture. At the same time, however, it’s much harder than it normally is for me to concentrate, and the doldrums settle again.

After about an hour, we take a short break, and the ennui evaporates as I mosey outside to soak up some late afternoon sunshine. Daylight savings time just kicked in, so even though it’s seven o’clock, the sun is only just setting. I kick off my slides and stand barefoot in the springy grass under the oak tree, reveling silently in the evening breeze that whips the oak’s branches and ruffles my hair. It’s good to be alive and outside, but I really don’t want to go back into class. Ah well…I shuffle back into the classroom for another hour and a half of torture…er, instruction.

Finally, class is dismissed, and we walk outside in groups, discussing our group projects which will be due at the end of the semester, now only a few weeks away. As we stand around the front door, one of the guys in my class, knowing my transportation situation (my car died three weeks ago), offers to give me a lift to the coffee shop just down the road. I accept gladly, thinking I’ll get a cup of coffee and wait in comfort until my brother comes to get me.

Well, that would have been nice.

Arriving at the coffee shop, I thanked my friend for the ride, went inside and ordered a cup of coffee. All was well until I reached into my back pocket for my wallet. Which wasn’t there.

“Crud…I left my wallet.” The barista stared at me like I was strung out on something, and I repeated my statement twice before he heard (or comprehended). “Dude, that’s terrible…” “Yeah,” I cut in, “but thankfully, I know where it is, and I’ll be able to get it tonight.” I left the coffee shop at a brisk walk, silently thanking the Lord that it was only about a mile back to school, and not ten.

Walking along a busy road at night, for those of you not fortunate enough to have had that experience, is not exactly the most comfortable activity. Before long, I was more than a little nervous about the cars whizzing past just on the other side of the white line. One girl in particular made me nervous, because as she passed, I could see that she was watching her cellphone and not paying very close attention to the road. How I wished for an air horn right at that moment! But alas, I had none. The serial texter went her way, and I continued on mine, thankful that she hadn’t run me over…this time.

Shortly after this near-miss, I saw a police car coming towards me in the middle of a stream of cars. I knew I wasn’t doing anything against the law, but a guy walking alone at night might be cause for concern, particularly in a small town like Forest City, where most people retire to the house behind locked doors as night falls. Night life is non-existent here in Small Town USA, and even the bowling alley closes before midnight on weekdays. But he continued on, not even touching his brakes, and I was now at the school, thankful for arriving without incident. My brother arrived a few minutes later, and we went home, a few minutes later than I would have liked. As we arrived home, I thanked the Lord again for a place to call home, where I could lay down and sleep in safety, far from the busy street and rushing cars driven by blondes who watch their phone more than the road.

News from Ellenboro 4/13/2012

Josiah is getting ready to go to market, and Jed is going with him. It’s a farmers’ market where people go to buy veggies and meat raised on small farms in the area, but Jed is still excited. “I’m taking my money, Siah,” he declares exuberantly. “Cool, dude, whatcha gonna buy?” The response is instant and confident: “A gun.” “A gun?” Josiah is skeptical, but Jed affirms vigorously, “A gun.” “Well, how much money do you have?” Jed answers as he spills some coins onto the table, “Hundreds and hundreds of dollars.” Josiah tries to explain to Jed that he only has a few hundredths of one dollar, but Jed remains unconvinced. “No, Siah, I’m gonna buy a gun…A shotgun.”

When you’re young, everything is bigger. The small things are larger than life, and the big ones are gigantic. An oak tree with a bend a few feet off the ground becomes a castle’s tower, or a mountain to conquer, or the bow of a mighty sailing vessel. For hours you stride along the seven feet of almost-level trunk, directing epic sea battles from the for’rard deck of your flagship. You stand in the topmost turret of your castle, barking orders that are obeyed instantly by hapless minions fearing death should they incur your displeasure, and then Dad appears and his head is level with the top of your 200-ft. tower –“Time for supper,” he says—and you’re a kid again and leap, howling with delight, into your father’s mighty arms.

Warm weather means it will be swimming season soon, and the kids walk down to the creek to “wade.” Invariably, someone “falls in,” “accidentally,” in such a way that—even though the creek is only two feet deep, at most—they’re soaked up to their neck. Joseph and Nathan hatch a plot to pull the wool over Mom’s eyes (“Nate, you push me in, and I’ll say such and such happened, then we’ll dunk you and say…”), and it works. Mom doesn’t suspect them, but simply orders them to take a shower, and they laugh about their cleverness—quietly, of course—but big brother heard them conspiring. As Joseph is taking the mandated shower, big brother steps into the laundry room and turns off the hot-water heater, (one of those tankless, on-demand, gas-powered contraptions) and the resulting icy deluge almost kills him, but leaves enough life in him that he can loudly express his displeasure. He storms out after his shower, demanding to know WHO would DARE! …but everyone’s laughing and nobody’s talking, so Joseph has to let it go.

It’s April, and the garden bug bit Dad in January, so he’s had plant fever for about three months now, and the garden plots are full of green shoots in neat rows. Raised beds of potatoes occupy all of one plot, and the other is half-filled with more elevated beds containing leaf lettuce, carrots, beets, carrots, and greens (spinach, kale, collards, and mustards among them). Already there have been several salads made with homegrown lettuce—character-building opportunities for the kids (“See here, Jed, it’s either eat salad or go hungry,” Dad tells him, and Jed digs in like the salad is cupcakes with sprinkles and icing on top)—and everyone eagerly anticipates fresh kale to go with pork chops and corn bread. There’s ham in the freezer, for black beans and ham (with rice and coleslaw), and a package of sirloin tip for beef stew, also served over rice. A perennial favorite is Southwest Soup: tomatoes, corn, black beans, and ground beef, served with tortilla chips and sour cream. And then there are eggs, bacon, grits, oatmeal, whole grain cereals, All-Bran (looks just like bran pellets they give to horses), and all sorts of other good and wholesome food. Eating is not something the Crains take lightly; it’s serious business, providing the means to survive and work another day, cooperating with their overall goal of a healthy lifestyle…and yes, they enjoy their food, too!

Mom is in the kitchen, about to grind wheat in her WhisperMill that sounds like an airplane on final approach (“It’s the quietest one on the market,” she says in her gentle way as the mill gears down to convert the hard red wheat into wholesome flour), and the plane lands, taxies to the terminal and shuts off its engines—the turbines take a full minute to wind down. But there’s fresh bread for supper, and the whole family spreads butter on the piping-hot slices, and thanks the Lord for the Whisper(Loud)Mill. They also thank Him that Mom knows how to cook so well.

Dad and David take a trip to pick up a piece of equipment for the farm, and the journey begins at six AM…after breakfast, of course. Dad hooks the trailer to the truck, and the two of them journey four hours east to get this disc. CDs are rapidly going the way of the 8-track tape, but this disc was made before either of them were around—it’s a disc harrow that breaks up the sod and readies the soil for planting—and although it’s old, it’s definitely usable. On the way home, they share a Subway sandwich and reminisce about Florida, the state where Dad grew up, and how much the eastern part of NC reminds them of it (“It’s almost like somebody copied and pasted the landscape and vegetation,” David observes to himself). Arriving home in the mid-afternoon, they slide gratefully from the truck and stretch their legs—“That truck gets smaller as the trip gets longer,” Dad jokes—and they’re greeted with shouts of welcome from the family and yelps of joy from Ivan, the ninety-pound Boerbel that loves to see his people come home from anywhere. After a nutritious meal, the family gathers in the living room to hear Dad read from the Bible and a Ralph Moody book. Moody writes about life as it was at the beginning of the last century, and everyone loves to hear Dad read about the interesting experience Ralph had in Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, and the Southwestern United States.

Well, that’s the news from Ellenboro, where the roads are never straight, the stores are small, the people are friendly—and the traffic lights are so close together, if you sneeze you’ll run ‘em both.

News from Ellenboro 4/6/2012

Spring has sprung!

After a winter that was more like a continuation of autumn (minus the falling leaves), spring has stepped out and thrown a verdant blanket over everything in sight. The weather, already unseasonably warm, has grown still warmer, and temperatures that seldom appear until late June are boldly strutting forth. Already, the thermometer has topped out over eighty degrees several days, and the older residents shake their heads and grumble to each other, “Never seen it this warm in April.” It was almost this warm last year in May, but the intervening winter weather wasn’t cold enough to make them appreciate hot weather; so they spin the dial on their home thermostats and grumble. “Never seen it so hot this early…shut the door, Frankie! We ain’t coolin’ the whole outdoors, for cryin’ out loud!” Five-year-old Frankie, startled by Grampa Jim’s sudden command, hurriedly slams the door on three of his fingers. Loud wails ensue, and Grammaw rushes to console him with an orange creamsicle. Grampa settles deeper into his leather armchair, grumbling to himself, “Even the kids are grumpy, it’s so hot,” and he turns the TV up so he can hear, which means anybody else trying to talk has to shout over the newscaster’s voice blaring from the set.

It’s been warm all month, but some of the good ol’ boys are shaking their heads about the unseasonably warm weather. The dogs lie panting in the shade cast by the trucks, and the fellas stand around with their boots (well-worn, muddy Justin, Red Wing, & Irish Setter) on the running-boards, muttering about record temperatures, high and low, spitting tobacco juice and expressing uncertainty about the weather holding. “I dunno,” one proclaims around a chaw of Red Man, “This warm this early…we’re liable to have a late cold spell here directly.” (In rural NC, “directly” means “in a short [but unspecified] amount of time,” not “in a direct manner.”) “Quit your yammerin’, Blake,” grumbles Ken, “I’ve already got my garden in.”

It’s been hot, but the rains have been regular, and everything’s growing like weeds. At the Crain house, the garden is growin’ to beat the band…and the weeds are growin’ to beat the garden. Dad walks through the garden, noting the growth of veggies and weeds, the faithful and the interlopers, and at the supper table that night, he announces that tomorrow is weed-pulling day (“There will be a family-wide weed-pull tomorrow, from 8AM-until; bring a hat, a hoe, and a good attitude…”) to a stifled, collective groan.

Weed-pulling means scratching at the dirt with hoes, cultivators, sticks, fingers…in short, anything that allows for digging out of weeds—roots and all—without harming the vegetables. It means crawling up and down—on dirt that is like an iron skillet, it gets so hot—beside row after row of tiny veggie plants, ousting the vile weeds, and before long the boys make a game of it. The good plants are their army, and they’re the mighty generals in command (except mighty generals don’t crawl on hands and knees through the dirt, they ride astride fine horses, wearing fine uniforms and wonderful hats; they look calm and aloof, and say wonderful, grown-up things like, “Now, what are the consequences of going through with this endeavor?” that’s what generals do) and then Mom calls from the deck, “Lunch!” and the boys clear the chest-high chain-link fence in a single bound, they’re so hungry.

Lunch is good, and there’s plenty of food for everybody, but Joseph & Nathan always ask for more. “Please, Mom, may we have some more, please?” Dad looks up from his first helping, “You can wait…some of us haven’t finished our firsts yet. Besides, you won’t starve to death if you don’t have more.” Joseph—feeling somewhat bold since Dad is 10 feet away and there are three people between them—starts grumbling, but Josiah shushes him in a hurry: “Whatsa matter witcha, ya got a death wish or somethin’? When I was your age, I ate like a pregnant moose…but I worked like a horse.” Then dinner’s over and the boys march back out to the garden to finish weeding, thinking on the way of horses that eat like pregnant mooses (meese? moose?) and sound a lot like Josiah.

It’s hot, and everything’s growing, and the boys’ pants get shorter in the leg as if by magic (“It’s like they’re drinking Miracle-Gro,” Mom sighs). Dress shirts get tight in the shoulders, and shoes pinch so they kick them off every chance they get.

Josiah is leasing a parcel of land just down the road, and he & Dad sit in the living room, after meals and until long after bedtime, talking farm names, plants to grow, fertilizer-to-acre ratios, and what sort of animals to raise and how to grow the food for them. “We have to grow our own forages,” Dad states emphatically, “because non-GMO foods are prohibitively expensive,” and Josiah nods in agreement, while the others scratch their heads and wonder what GMO is, anyway.

Well, that’s the news from Ellenboro, where the roads are never straight, the stores are small, the people are friendly–and the traffic lights are so close together, if you sneeze you’ll run ’em both.