The Southern Voice is finally in the 2010’s era. After lagging for far too long, the admin has finally downloaded the WordPress mobile app! *loud cheers greet this announcement*
I, too, am thoroughly excited about this development, because it will free me somewhat from the need to be tied to a computer in order to post updates. Having a mobile app will also encourage me to publish some shorter, more precisely-worded updates from time to time. *further cheers* HEY! I heard those cheers, and I’m offended!!
Just teasing…we all know I’m too wordy sometimes.
Ok, ok….most of the time.
All right! I surrender! All the time.
Anyway, the mobile app is now firmly ensconced on the writer’s phone, and will be on the “frequently used” list–soon and permanently.
Thanks again for your continued patronage of this blog!
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.
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.
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!
With summer school is in full swing, David is beginning to regret having signed up for both Math and English at the same time. The workload is nearly full-time…for summer school. However, he buckles down, determined not to let the work get the best of him. If I can’t do summer school now, he thinks, what will I do later, when things get really tough?
Afternoon classes are the order of the day, and he heads into his math class at three o’clock, ready to attack Introductory Algebra for the next two hours. It’s not that he doesn’t know it; it’s just been a while since high school, and things slip from your grasp when you don’t use them every day. Some of the concepts are harder to grasp than others, and when those come along, he sits down at the dining room table with Dad. The book and videos are usually helpful, but in this case they’ve let him down, so Dave calls in the big guns. They sit for nearly two hours filling sheets of paper with scrawls that are hardly legible to anyone else, but they know exactly what each squiggle means, and Dad is determined to help David understand exactly why each answer is what it is.
David is about to go into town, and Jed wants to ride with him. After putting on his sandals and strapping in his seat, they’re ready to hit the road. Jed chatters aimlessly for the first five or ten minutes as they ride down the road toward Ellenboro. As they get closer to the train track in town, however, a definite theme emerges from his verbal meanderings. “I like trucks, David, because they’re stronger and faster than trains.” “Really, Jed.” “Yeah, and they’re more faster than vans, too.” David nods approvingly…at least the kid has his heart in the right place. “That’s cool buddy…so what about cars? Do you like them too?” Jed nods as he states, “Yeah, but not more than trucks…they’re pretty cool though.” As the car bumps over the train tracks, Jed asks, “So where you have to go?”
“I’m going to make a payment, and then I’m going to Lowe’s,” David replies. Jed’s grin widens. “Lowe’s is my favorite store.” That’s my boy, David thinks to himself. The favorite store question settled, Jed returns to the truck theme. “I like Punch Bugs too, but they’re not stronger than trucks. Trucks are the strongest…except for little trucks. Even Punch Bugs are stronger than little trucks. See, cars are more stronger than little trucks, because little trucks are supposed to be cars, eventually.” At that, David explodes into laughter, and Jed cracks up at David laughing. For the next five minutes, as they continue toward Forest City, the boys laugh at each other’s laughter.
The lady who keeps the books where David bought his car is also an old friend of his mother’s, and she is truly amazed at how big Jed has grown since she saw them last, asking incredulously, “Wow, this is Jed?” “Yes ma’am,” Jed replies, “I’m Jed.” She smiles at David and then asks, “So he’s not the youngest?” David smiles in return. “No ma’am…Jonny just turned one last September.” Mrs. Sanney shakes her head as she writes out the receipt and hands David his copy. “Tell your mother I said hello. Y’all take care now.”
Later, they finally make it to Lowe’s. As they’re heading toward the checkout counter, David gives Jed the merchandise and tells him he can purchase it. Feeling like a big boy, Jed walks up to the counter and dismantles the clerk with a huge grin, then slaps the mower belt down on the counter. Playing along, the lady rings it up and tells Jed the total. Even at four, Jed is well aware of the immense power of plastic, and immediately reaches for the MasterCard, not realizing that that’s not how David intends to pay for this particular purchase. The clerk smiles covertly as David reaches down and shows Jed what to use: “Here buddy, give her the green paper there. Yeah, the cash…use that.” Jed’s eyes widen. “You mean they take that here?”
Jed gives the cashier the money, and she gives him the change. The boys walk out to the car together, and as they head home, Jed again regales David with tales of the greatest exploits that never happened. David just smiles—hey, I still remember being five years old and telling whoppers!
Dad and Josiah are still working nearly full-time at the farm, and they’ve once again enlisted (no, pressed—the kids didn’t volunteer) the younger children into helping keep the weeds at bay on the four acres of crops they currently have planted there. The sun is growing still warmer with every passing day, and the boys spend hours sweating profusely as they chop the weeds with their hoes, grumbling under their breath at the dust that rises from the parched earth. A cooling rain begins to fall, and Joseph and Nathan are delighted when Dad calls, “Okay boys, we’ve been rained out. Let’s pack it in!” Of course, the rain will soon stop falling, and the next day they’ll be back out in the field chopping weeds, but for now they are celebrating their freedom and dancing in the rain.
As evening comes on, David sits down with his computer and begins to go back over his essay for English. The teacher has complimented him on the style in which he wrote, but she also said that it was too long, so he’s got to figure out a way to cut a page and a half of material out without stripping it of all detail. It’s a ticklish task, and he’ll be up until after midnight, wracking his brain for the most concise way to state what he wants to communicate. At last, he finishes and turns his attention to other projects: letters, journal entries, and blog posts that are clamoring to be written. Before long, he’ll put the light out and go to sleep.
The crickets are singing in the tall grass outside the house, and from the nearby creek, a spring peeper trills as he searches for a mate. The cicadas will be out before long, and their raucous chirruping will add to the serenade of the night. Anyone who thinks the countryside is completely silent has never sat outside and listened to the night voices.
Up in downtown Ellenboro, a State Trooper pulls into the parking lot of a building—once a store—that is now for sale. He’s here to keep the peace, to establish a presence that will discourage would-be wrongdoers from breaking the law. He’s here to keep an eye on people passing through and make sure they obey the 35 mph posted speed limit. As he sits just on the other side of the second traffic light, he’s also waiting.
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.
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.