Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Moving Experience

While you may feel various emotions while reading this, the title isn't intended to mean that type of moving.  My neighbors across the street sold their home, and early this afternoon they backed an incredibily small U-Haul truck up to the garage door and began packing it up.

They moved here in the summer of 2003 from Vermont, and the reason I remember it is because that's the summer that Katie was getting ready to go to Mary Washington College.  I was distracted, but I made it over to welcome the couple to the neighborhood.  I invited them to church.  She showed me her new dining room furniture which looked like something from Southern Living.  At our house when we say something looks like it came from Southern Living, that is the epitome of the finest decor.  I felt a little out-classed by our new neighbors. 

Time passed.  Katie went to college, and we grieved.  She transferred to a different college.  Our neighbor retired.  He had back surgery.  Our dogs died.  Katie graduated.  The hamster died.  I had cancer.  I retired.  Through all of it, we just did not talk to our neighbors much.  When I belonged to Curves, she did, too, and we occasionally chatted while we worked out.  But Larry told me that the husband wouldn't speak to him when they were doing yard work at the same time.  If the neighbor were outside, he didn't even look our way when we came out.  I don't know that I ever heard the sound of his voice.

The neigbors often had get-togethers, though.  We knew there would be a party when the porch light went on in the evenings, and soon after cars pulled up in the driveway and delivered smiling people to the doorway.  I always imagined that she was an excellent cook who designed original, complicated menus.

When the "For Sale" sign went up in the yard, our neighbor to the right of us said, "They won't have anything to do with anybody except the people who go to their church."  Yeah, there's a sermon in that statement somewhere. 

I am terminally nosy, so I spent too much time this afternoon watching them load the truck.  I discovered that, from the rocker in my upstairs bedroom, I could look right over to the garage door and the back of the U-Haul.  I wondered if I could slip over there with that box of odd detritus I cleaned out of our attic?  They wouldn't notice it until they unpacked. Several of their friends came to help them. Those are the kind of friends I want:  someone who will help you move on a 90-degree day.  As the afternoon wore on, the sweat patches expanded on the men's shirts, and they kept going inside where I hoped they were getting plenty of water.

I don't know where they're moving or why they're moving, but I desperately want to know.  Are they moving to Florida?  Were they discouraged when they moved south from Vermont and found crusty cold winters?  Are they moving to Wilmington, NC, or to Johnson City, TN?  We often talk about moving to Johnson City.  Are they moving closer to their children?  Will they live in a retirement community with exceptionally low homeowner's fees and paths where you can drive your golf cart to Wal-mart? 

When I saw the neighbors working this afternoon, I anticipated that very same thing for us and whether it would be a happy event or a sad event.  When Larry retires, we may start looking, but we don't even know where we want to go.  It could be to a brand new house with no stairs and a beautifully landscaped patio.  To do that, though, we'd have to leave our beautiful kitchen we had remodeled last summer and our yard that we've spent nearly 20 years colonizing with heirloom flowers.  

I regret not knowing my neighbors better. I'm going to believe that they are making a happy move to a great house where they will be contented and fulfilled.  Whether it was by their choice or my lack of initiative, we weren't close friends, but I had a sense of loss when they started packing the truck this afternoon.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Smyth County Snake Revival

Ray Stevens sang once of the "Mississippi Squirrel Revival".  He told of sneaking a squirrel into a church service.  Said squirrel got away from him and ran up a man's pant leg.  When the man said, "Something's got a hold on me!", the church goers mis-interpreted his statement for a visitation of the Spirit, and the result was a great revival in which seven deacons and the pastor got saved, twenty-five thousand dollars was raised, fifty people volunteered for the Congo mission field, at least 500 rededicated their lives, and everybody got baptized whether they needed it or not.  Or so says Mr. Stevens.   

On Saturday evening Riverside Baptist Church had an outdoor gospel music concert, complete with a cookout and games for the kids.  Riverside sits in one of the most peacefully pastoral places I have ever seen.  On the banks of the South Fork of the Holston River, the church is surrounded by tall trees, fragrant flowers, and usually more than a few fishermen casting their lines in the river.

The people at Riverside are a welcoming, happy bunch.  On Saturday evening they were dishing out the hot dogs and hamburgers in the picnic shelter at the rear of the church.  Many of us were lined up out in the grassy area beside the river, just enjoying each other's company and the soothing ripple of the river. 

That's where the snake revival comes in.  Nothing turns people to God like a creeping, slithering black snake.  It's much more effective than a squirrel up a man's pant leg.  Intellectually I knew it was a black snake, and that it was not an immediate danger to anyone.  It was more afraid of us than we were of it.  Well, that was true of some of us. 

Even though I knew it was a black snake, I still didn't want it crawling across my foot, so I jumped from the grass onto the concrete floor of the picnic shelter, pushing up against the woman in front of me.  When I said there was a snake, the woman disappeared.  I never did find out where she went, but her husband said she was mortally afraid of snakes.  He went on to say that if snakes were shown on television, she left the room. 

That's when the bravest woman I have ever known said, "It's only a black snake.  It's not going to hurt anybody," and reached down and picked up the snake by the back of its neck.  The last I saw of the snake, it was wriggling in her tight grip as she carried it back down to the river.  I thought, "That would make a great picture," but the camera never made it out of my pocket.  In my panic I could only respond, "Camera?  What's a camera?"  The photo op of the year passed, and I missed it. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Great Canned Corned Beef Conspiracy

Since I've retired, I'm the one who's responsible for cooking dinner.  Hey.  Not a problem.  I'm not a fancy cook; I like home-style cooking, as in corn bread, steak and gravy, potato salad, and pork chops.  Not necessarily all at the same time. 

After almost six months of kitchen duty, the menus are getting repetitive.  I'm not opposed to trying a new recipe, although I think Larry shudders when I start clipping little squares from magazines.  This week Larry has provided me with a good menu suggestion every morning.  This morning's idea was Reuben sandwiches, which doesn't sound all that appetizing at 7:00 a.m., but the first three ideas worked out great, and by 5:00 p.m. I'm usually hungry enough that even fried chicken livers look good. 

If you've never had a Reuben sandwich, it's made by putting corned beef, sauerkraut, and swiss cheese on some Jewish rye bread and grilling it in some butter.  It's a deli staple and is usually accompanied by a big scoop of potato salad.  I don't keep rye bread and corned beef in the "pantry", so this dinner required a trip to Food City.

I picked up the cheese, the kraut, the bread, but when I got over to the canned meat aisle, there was no corned beef.  There was beef hash, canned chili, canned turkey, beef stew, but no corned beef.  You know the kind I mean:  the crumbly mystery meat that's usually "Packed in Brazil".  On to Plan B.  Since Chilhowie only has one grocery store, and the next nearest one is in Marion, about eight miles away, I thought I'd run by the Dollar General Store. 

Was there a Plan C?  Next stop was the Family Dollar Store.  How can it be that there is not even one can of corned beef in Chilhowie?  I made other plans for dinner and vowed to find out what had happened to the nation's supply of canned corned beef.

It didn't take much of a search to find out that in January canned corned beef started disappearing from store shelves.  January?  I read a newspaper every morning, watch TV news way too much, listen to radio, read magazines, and continuously surf the Internet like a huge great white looking for krill.  This nugget of news has not been mentioned. 

The cause of the shortage occured in Brazil where a major producer of corned beef has been banned from shipping its product to the United States.  Banned.  According to walletpop.com, two hundred tons of cooked beef products were recalled last year by Sampco, Inc., a Chicago company who imports meat from Brazil.  The meat processed by this Brazilian company was found to have high levels of an animal drug, Ivermectin, which is used to treat parasites in animals.  Yum-yum. 

Grocery companies, like Wal-mart, refused to comment on the ban for the story on Walletpop.  I suppose they thought no one would notice the empty shelves where canned corned beef used to be found.  Why the secrecy?  It appears that not only are we dependent on foreign sources for petroleum, we are also totally dependent on foreign nations for canned corned beef. 

Let's see.  We have Brazil, a fatty meat product, a Chicago company.  In true Chicago style, perhaps Obama substituted the petroleum-producing agreement with Brazil to accomodate the loss of the corned beef sales.  Plus the US government was able to eliminate yet one more tasty, unhealthy, cheap food product that many people depend on. 

You know what this means, don't you?  NO CORNED BEEF FOR YOU!  (Sorry, soup Nazi.)

Monday, May 16, 2011


If I were a betting woman, I would have lost big on April 28.  In the event of the rare tornado here in southwest Virginia, we might see what amounts to a strong wind storm.  The power goes out, tree branches litter the roads, and some shingles blow off the roof.  When we have a tornado watch, it's usually all right to go on to bed, because tornadoes are quite rare.  The odds were against us this time.

Early on that Thursday morning, in the middle of the night, during an extraordinary outbreak of tornadoes across the South, an EF-3 tornado changed the lives of people in Glade Spring and Chilhowie, changes that will take a generation to overcome.  People were killed, homes destroyed, trees sheared off, and fear was permanently instilled in survivors' memories.

Then came the beauracrats from Washington, DC, to further attack those who were still figuring out how to begin rebuilding.  Yes, they were from the government, and no, they were not here to help anybody. Across the border in Tennessee, victims of the same series of tornadoes were granted assitance from FEMA.  Virginia was not.

The news stunned Virginia residents. FEMA's reasoning, you see, is that state and local resources were sufficient to cover the losses.  That's fine, unless it's your house that has just disappeared.  People are living in tents.  Our church is helping one man rebuild his garage, where he plans to live until the rest of his house is rebuilt.  People have moved in with relatives or made whatever arrangements they can until their lives can be restored.

I've read that FEMA is dealing with budget cuts due to the financial constraints our government is experiencing.  The http://www.weather.com/ (The Weather Channel) site describes the problems FEMA will face as Congress looks for places to cut the budget in 2012.  But the article goes on to say that FEMA is currently fully funded.  
"FEMA has plenty of disaster recovery money for now. But the Obama administration only requested $1.8 billion for the budget year that begins in October, less than half of what will be needed to deal with recovery costs of past disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and the massive Tennessee floods of last spring even as the next wave of bills come in. Authorities are beginning to assess the damage and don't have estimates of recovery costs."

So what is the deal with granting assistance to some disaster areas and not others?  Don't make me say that politics are involved.  If everyone's needs can't be met, then FEMA should be defunded, and the individual states can take care of their own emergencies.  Don't depend on FEMA.

In Glade Spring needs are being met.  Local emergency responders and agencies picked up the baton.  Churches are feeding people, clothing them, and helping them clean up while providing a shoulder to lean on.  This is not an easy, nor a quick, fix, and the people of southwest Virginia are the ones who will rebuild their homes and businesses. 

Our pastor told us Sunday evening about the Hall family whose home was one that was destroyed.  When the storm hit, the bedroom window shattered, sending hundreds of shards of glass into the air.  Mrs. Hall is still being treated for the dozens of wounds she suffered from the glass.  The roof blew off the house, and in the dark and wet aftermath, Mr. Hall made his way to the yard where he met a Virginia state trooper.  Mr. Hall was worried about the couple who lived in a trailer behind the house.  As the state policeman and Mr. Hall made their way to the trailer, a third man joined them. 

Mr. Hall said that even though it was pouring rain, the stranger didn't seem to get wet.  When they arrived at the trailer, Mr. Hall and the policeman struggled to lift debris, while the stranger effortlessly raised up pieces of the trailer with one arm.  The couple were rescued, and when Mr. Hall looked for the third man, he was gone. 

"I lift up my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from? . . .The Lord will keep you from all harm--he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."  Psalm 121: 1 and 7.  Both now and forevermore, your life here on this earth, and your life beyond this existence. 

Look for help from someone who has the capability to provide it and loves you enough to do it.    

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Princess and the Tornado

Do you want to believe in fairy tales? Years ago a book was published that was titled The Cinderella Complex; it explained how women secretly want to be rescued from a life of drudgery and fear by a prandsome hince; I mean, a handsome prince  (My tribute to Archie Campbell and Hee Haw). I can understand that.  Instead of scrubbing out the hearth and washing the dirty tea cups, I will be swept away by a tall, virile, athletic heir to the throne who worships me and provides everything I could possibly need with his extraordinary wealth.  I will be the center of his life.

Who wouldn't want that?  Oh, well.  There is no escaping the need to get those dirty dishes washed up because I have no servants to do that or to do the laundry or to dust the dresser.  And there is no princely fellow pulling up in the driveway, just a working man who is wondering what I've fixed for supper, after which he'll go outside and mow the grass. 

The wedding of William Wales and Catharine Middleton last week delivered the Cinderella complex on the doorsteps of millions of women.  If it can't happen for us, we thought, at least this wedding proves that it is possible.  It is not just a fairy tale.  As my daughter pointed out to me as she described watching the wedding, when Wills and Kate stepped through the door to the church, bells pealed, just like in the Disney film, Cinderella.  Oh.

I think the world was ready to put on a pretty dress and have a good time.  Earlier in the week I vacillated about getting up at 4:00 a.m. to watch the wedding as it happened.  I did that when Charles married Diana in 1981, but I'm older and less excitable, and the early morning sleep seemed to be winning out over the wedding fol-de-rol.  As it turned out, I needn't have spent so much time worrying about it.

Forever I will associate the gallantry and romance of a royal wedding with one of the most devastating disasters to occur in our region, a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe.  I was not able to watch the wedding from London early Friday morning because in the wee hours of Thursday morning, a ruinous tornado sliced through small towns and farms near our home. 

From late Wednesday night through Friday evening, we had no cable, internet service, or telephone.  Only a short time earlier we had seen our electricity come back on and started receiving cell phone service again.  People were killed in the tornado.  Homes, businesses, churches, and schools were destroyed.  When I saw the area for the first time Saturday morning, the only image I could relate it to were photos taken during World War II of bombed out German cities.  The tornado struck at night, after the tornado watch had expired.  The landscape will never be the same again, and lives of those who lived through it will forever be re-shaped by the terror of that night.

The miracle is that so many people survived. 

The tornado and the wedding are somehow twisted together in my mind.  Absolute bliss in London, cheering crowds, pealing church bells, and the clop of horse hooves.  Sheared off tree trunks, houses with only walls left standing, sections of metal roofing wrapped around power poles, and trailer trucks bent in half.  The memory becomes both real life and the fairy tale, the desolation and the exuberance.