Monday, February 10, 2014

Uncle Henry's Possum

 High atop Nancy Mountain in western North Carolina sits a lonely rude cabin. It’s a very basic structure: no paint, no frills, no porch, roughhewn logs with a single window, a door and a crumbling stone chimney. There are cracks between the logs that let in air in summer and cold wind in winter. The roof is barely hanging in there to even earn the name roof.*
Nancy Mountain is home to only two human creatures and many, many of God’s four-legged ones: brown and black bear, squirrels, rabbits, white-tail deer, small red and grey foxes, many beautiful birds, raccoons, and possum for a start. The pines stand tall and very green. The rhododendron (sometimes called laurel) and mountain ivy (also known as laurel) are everywhere – huge and in abundance. On this particular June day, the ivy is past its bloom but the rhody are filled with almost sinfully gorgeous blooms from white to blush pink to bolder pink to lavender and magenta red.

Uncle Henry and his pal Sam live off the land and go for days with no other human contact. Sam lives down the road apiece – that is, if you could call it a road. It’s actually more of a wide path.  Uncle Henry owns the only wagon on the mountain. It’s a rickety affair pulled by an equally rickety mule named Sam2! Sam2 is just about like his owner and his owner’s friend, Sam1 – ornery as they come!
Of all the creatures on Nancy Mountain, one of the most disgusting is the possum! Not that Uncle Henry and Sam would agree because they dearly love their possum. Uncle Henry’s possum recipe is famous all over Nancy Mountain and beyond. It’s mountain manna straight from heaven according to Henry and Sam!
On this particular June morning Uncle Henry got Sam2 out of the rough shed attached to the mountain shack and hitched Sam2 to the wagon. Henry planned to go into town for some provisions. Along the way, Henry kept his eyes peeled for whatever he might find.  Suddenly, he spied treasure – rigcht thar in the road!

But, that wagon and that darn mule were just going with a mind of their own lickety split down the mountainside. Bump! Squish! Roadkill feast!

Whoa! Whoa, Sam! Just sit a spell and I’ll be rit backatcha!  Uncle Henry, scrambled down from his rickety wagon as fast as his equally rickety bones would let him. He shuffled to the road in front of the wagon, stooped, and rose with a bit of icky fur in his hand.  Wait, it was ick and fur as there was plenty of pink skin showing. WHAT WAS IT? Disgusting to the max! BUT, Uncle Henry had an expression of adoration, wonder, and hope breaking the cracks in his weathered face! He pitched the thing into the back of the wagon and continued on his way…………
Some hours later Uncle Henry returned to his mountaintop. It was a rare really hot day in the little town of Rosman at the base of Nancy Mountain, and an even more rare hot day high on Nancy Mountain. As Uncle Henry moseyed home he smiled anticipating the feast he would have by evening!
Once he pulled up to the cabin he lumbered down and grabbed the pink and fur thing out of the back of the wagon where it had been getting warm and very dusty on his venture into town and back.  He shuffled into the cabin, leaving the wagon and Sam2 standing outside along with the provisions he had purchased at Jarriod’s in town. Uncle Henry exited the cabin again with a scary hunting knife in one hand and his pink and fur creature in the other. He knelt in the bare dirt and proceeded to scrape off all the fur until what he held was all pink if also a little more squishy. With one quick slash he slit the creature and gutted it, discarding the stringy guts on the ground for the flies. Once more Uncle Henry moseyed inside where he proceeded to get down to business for real.
He didn’t need a recipe. It was tattooed to the inside of his eyeballs:
Once you get your possum skinned out and cleaned you will need:
              8 Big Taters

2 big blobs of butter
1 big smack of sugar
A pinch or two of salt and pepper to taste
Put the possum in the pot with just a smidgen of water, cover with a good tight lid. Possums take longer to cook than taters so wait until your possum has stewed for about an hour before you add the taters to the pot. Place the taters along the sides of the possum and mix in sugar, salt and pepper to taste.
Every 15 minutes or so take off the lid and baste the possum with the juices. By now the possum’s own fat will have rendered. It will make some delicious possum gravy!
When the possum is tender and the meat falls off the bones mix a little flour to the water/possum fat and tater mixture. And, don’t let your tongue slap your brains out!
Henry put the meat in an old iron pot which he stuck in the oven of his wood stove, struck a match, and drew a deep breath before he settled his old bones into one of the few pieces of furniture in the room. There was a tiny rough table, one straight back chair with a broken-up rush seat, a lumpy bed stuck over in the dark corner and a wooden rocking chair. It was the rocking chair that now held Uncle Henry! He leaned back, shut his eyes, folded his gnarled hands over his rather substantial belly, and began to snore almost immediately.
Within an hour, Sam 1 came shuffling along the path. He spied the wagon and Sam2. Sam2 was busy flicking flies with his tail. Huh, said Sam softly. Somethin’ must be up with ole Henry for him to leave Sam2 out still hooked to the wagon! Then Sam sniffed. Ah! Heavenly smells were coming from the cabin! Sam peeked inside. Henry was sawing logs big time!
Sam crept over to the stove and quietly, quietly pulled the old creaky oven door open. Ahhhhhh! said Sam rolling his eyes and lickin’ his lips, POSSUM!!!  He darted a quick glance at Henry, and then very carefully and quietly slipped the iron pot from the oven and lifted the lid. He squeezed his eyes shut and smiled a totally ecstatic smile that showed off his rotten teeth to their full advantage! O, man, I’m just gonna take a little taste of ole Ma Possum here, said Sam inside his head. He reached into the pot and pulled out a meat-covered bone and sucked the sweet meat right off that bone. O, yum! Just one more…or maybe two and then I’ll be on my way!
Well, when you’re eating nectar straight from heaven, it’s hard to stop! Sam just couldn’t help himself! He just kept sneaking glances at Henry and sucking meat off bones. His fingers were dripping with possum grease and he was lickin’ and lickin’! At last, he stuck his grubby fingers into the possum grease one last time but there were no more bones, no more meat, ONLY grease and taters!
Sam, you’ve done it now! Henry is gonna skin you alive! You better go, boyo, before Henry wakes up! Sam thought as fast as he could. He glanced at Uncle Henry and could tell he was still dreamin’ deeply of possum. I know, thought Sam. I can fix this for the best of both worlds! I got me some possum, and I can fix Henry into thinkin’ he got some possum too!
Sam scooped up some of the grease and very carefully and slowly began to dribble the grease onto Uncle Henry’s hands and down his front, across his many chins, on his nose, across his cheeks and even dropping some into Uncle Henry’s open mouth!  Then, for the pièce de résistance, Sam put a few of the bare bones into Henry’s open hands. Then, he slipped quietly from the cabin and went on his way.
Meanwhile Uncle Henry’s dreams were penetrated by the delicious smells of possum grease and bones and meat!  Humpf! Uncle Henry shook himself, barely opened his eyes and slowly became aware that he could already taste possum. He licked his lips and tasted pure possum!  But, wait, thought Henry, My stomach is still arumblin’! Then he felt the grease dribblin’ off his chin and licked again.  He pulled himself up out of the chair and peeked in the pot on the stove, looking at the pretty well-licked clean bones in a pile beside the pot.
WOW! thought Henry. I taste possum. I smell possum. There is possum on my hands and on my chin and even on my tongue, but I swear I don’t think there’s a single string of possum in my belly!

*This story is entirely my creation except that my wonderful Daddy who went to heaven a little over a year ago used to tell us Uncle Henry stories especially on warm summer nights or cold winter days. All six of us would beg, Daddy, tell us an Uncle Henry story tonight! He always said he’d have to think, but he usually came up with another one! The idea for this story is entirely his, and this was actually his very first venture into Uncle Henry lore but his telling is so long ago and far away that I took that germ and put it into my own words! Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Never Been This Way Before!

On December 5, 1989 my grandmother went to heaven. She was 95 ½ years old. She lived a wonderful life but that’s a story for another day (and a wonderful story it is, I might add!)!  There were lots of us who came to gather at my parents’ home on their mountaintop in North Carolina as my grandmother had four children and 16 grandchildren. My mother had six children and 21 grandchildren (though all 21 had not been born in 1989). It was a family time! We celebrated life and the life to come! We sang The Hallelujah Chorus at the memorial service, and it was all good!
August 25, 1990 was a different kind of day entirely. It was the day my brother Ed went to heaven. It was startling and unexpected and out-of-time and sequence! It was the kind of life experience that jars one to the marrow of the bones! He was the kind of guy who charged out of the birth canal and never looked back! More or less all the same people plus a few showed up this time, but it wasn’t the same – not the same at all! Many things were the same like family. We sang The Hallelujah Chorus once again at the end of the memorial service. This time there was a Marine general and a whole planeload of Marines from Camp LeJeune, NC. There was a 21-gun salute over the flag-draped coffin. And there was a lot more life to pick up on the other side and just go on!

Last night one of my sisters sent an email telling how much blessing God has poured out on her family moving them from despair to hope!
This past year we have prayed and struggled to hope, trust, rest, walk forward in the God who IS and you have been there with us. God never deserted us although we wondered. He provided every day's needs even when we couldn't see it. And He encouraged us through His Word and His people of whom you are each a very precious part. Thank you for praying, caring, reaching out. ………….

As I received her email I was just finishing the Children’s Page I write every week to go along with my husband’s sermon for A Restoration Church, Pittsburgh. I shared what I had written with my sibs because it just fit. The sermon today was on Joshua 3 especially vs. 3-4: When you see the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.

So, like we do, we began an exchange of emails and love each weighing in to love and encourage each other. If you want the link to the children’s page, it is:
Then, this morning (Sunday) another sister who is also a pastor’s wife very uncharacteristically weighed in. She would have responded later, but for her to take the time on Sunday morning was significant. This is what she wrote (in part):

I must be crazy to spend the time on a Sunday morning to email, but I just have to respond to this. You're amazing, AA, in all that you get into a children's page! What a blessing!  Joshua 3:3-4 have been memorial stones to me ever since Ed died. I was reading through Joshua right after that, and these verses just jumped off the page at me. I was reading the NIV at the time, so those are the words that are special:  When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.  THEN you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.
As I'm sure was true for each of you, I felt completely untethered by Ed's death and struggled to find my footing again - not doubting God at all, but not knowing what to do with the grief in my heart. Josh. 3:3-4 were and are memorial stones to remind me that whenever I feel confused and lost, if I will just keep my eyes on the Lord and trust Him to lead me through the waters, He has promised to show me the way, even though I have never been this way before and have no idea how to navigate it. I also clung to Psalm 139:16, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." That was my answer whenever someone would say to me, "It's so sad that his life was cut short." I was very sure that his life had not been cut short by one minute, but that he had lived very fully the life that God had counted out for him before he was ever conceived. That was very comforting, but his death just took all of us completely by surprise because God had certainly not let us know ahead of time how many days had been counted out!

Never been this way before! Yep, that’s about the size of that day – August 25, 1990 – and many days since! It was surprising and, then again, not so much to discover today that we all floundered trying to find our way in a way we’d never been before. Whoa! This was not the same as the previous December’s loss. This was another level of loss! We had never been this way before!  We all have struggled over the years with the adjustments Ed’s death brought to our family and particularly to his wife and children. And, the bottom line for all of us came to be that although we had never been this way before the One who had was walking with us every step of the way!

Monday, February 3, 2014

2 Feet, 6 Feet, Many, Many, Many Feet!

Children’s Page

2 Feet, 6 Feet, Many, Many, Many Feet!

Joshua 3 - 4

One feet…two feet….red feet …. blue feet … orange feet … green feet … old feet … new feet!  

This one has a little star. This one has a little scar.  Say!  What a lot of feet there are!

Yes, some are red. And some are blue.  Some are old and some are new. …

Here are some that like to run. They run for fun in the hot, hot sun.

Oh me! Oh my!  Oh me!  Oh my!  What a lot of funny things go by!

Some have two feet and some have four. Some have six feet and some have more.

Where do they come from? I can’t say. But I bet they have come a long, long way.

We see them come.  We see them go. Some are fast and some are slow.

Some are short and some have toes!  Not one of them is like another!

Don’t ask us why! Go ask your mother!                 -- One Feet, Two Feet, Red Feet, Blue Feet with apologies to Dr. Seuss

God has brought His people out of Egypt and all the way across the desert. Now they are ready to go into the land God promised to Abraham many, many, many years before. God promised to give them every single piece of ground their feet touched. There were at least several million people following God. That’s a lot of feet!
Walking into the land God was giving them wasn’t like taking a walk down the street. There were bad people in this land. There were scary giants! God told His people and especially Joshua, Be strong and courageous!   DO NOT BE AFRAID!  I am with you every step you take!

Joshua and all the people came to the bank of the Jordan River. It was spring, and the river was flooded. It might have looked like they’d have to wait a long time to go across, but God had a plan. God told Joshua what to do, and Joshua told the others.
God told Joshua to tell the priests carrying the Ark of God to step into the water. The Bible says that as soon as their feet touched the water the water in the river started to stand up in a heap upriver away at a town called Adam. The priests carrying the Ark of God were to walk half-way across and then stop and stand there holding the Ark while all the people walked by and across to the other side of the Jordan River. The Bible says the river bottom dried up right away so their feet didn’t even get wet. WOW! That’s really awesome, isn’t it?

So, the first thing the people had to do is FOLLOW THE ARK OF GOD! When you see the Ark of God start moving, follow it!

Since the priests carrying the Ark of God were to stop and stand half-way across, God told Joshua to tell the people to KEEP THE DISTANCE!  The Ark of God was the place where God’s presence was in the tent church God told them to make. It was important to give God great respect! So, the people were told not to go up and touch the Ark.
The priests carried the Ark of God right to the center of the riverbed. Then they stopped and just stood there until every single person, sheep, cow, and whatever else had crossed over to the other side of the river.  All of God's people walked right across the Jordan to the other side and didn’t even get their feet wet!
ALL the people knew that God was with them. They knew God had promised to never, ever, ever leave them!  Remember that the waters were heaped up at the town of Adam.  Well, they stayed in that heap as long as God said so!

This is a picture some children colored. Then they pasted another picture of the priests in their white robes carrying the Ark of God on top of the first picture. Notice the priests couldn’t touch the Ark of God either. They carried it on poles on their shoulders. The Ark of God was gold, but it had a special cover to keep it clean when they were moving it from one place to another.

 After all the people crossed over, then the priests carried the Ark of God to the other side. Joshua told 12 strong men to gather stones and put them down in the river bed where they crossed as a reminder of what a wonderful thing God did that day for His people!  These are memory stones!  Joshua told the people, When your children see the stones in the water and ask you what they are, be sure to tell them they are memory stones!   God did a wonderful thing for His people that day. He wanted them to remember what happened, and that God had done a miracle for them! 

Joshua 4:24 says, Yes, God, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as God, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong God’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold God in solemn reverence always!

You could take a stone and write a verse or something about God that you want to remember on it. Joshua 4:24 is a great verse to be on a stone of remembrance! 

He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.

Use the crayons to draw a picture of the Jordan River, the Ark of God, the four priests, and all the people.
Put yourself in the picture if you want to. Be sure to draw some stones of remembrance!
©Ann Holmes, 2/2014  All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Guess Who’s Coming to Tea!

I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day! When I was six years old, I wanted to give a Valentine Tea. I made and sent invitations to some of my mother’s special friends.

I used Mother’s silver teapot, creamer and sugar bowl. I put her lace tablecloth on the dining room table with lace trimmed napkins and pretty china. I made special tea. I made heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I put them on a pretty silver tray.  
The invited guests all came. Some even wore hats and furs to make it special. They drank the tea and ate the little sandwiches and declared it was a wonderful time! Through my six-year-old eyes, it was magical!*

Once (ages and ages hence as Robert Frost said) I planned another Valentine tea. I invited a bunch of moms and daughters to another Valentine Tea. I went all out with decorations, food, planned activities including making each little girl a special apron to wear to decorate the heart-shaped cookies I had ready.

This time the invitations were fancier. There were many more invited guests. I polished my own silver teapot, creamer, and sugar bowl. I cleaned and decorated my house. I put on a pretty Valentine sweater and waited for the guests to arrive. The time came and went, and no one came! Finally one mom and daughter showed up. No one else came. No one else even called. That was it! We had our tea for three instead of 23.

What if my six-year-old self had made and sent the invitations, set the table, polished the silver, made the heart-shaped sandwiches and put on my prettiest dress all ready for the guests to arrive? What if no one came?

The truth is that only one of the other 10 moms and daughters who were invited even bothered to contact me after the fact to say something came up not any emergency – just something trivial.
WHAT IF NO ONE had come to my second Valentine Tea?  What would I have done then?  WHAT IF I had picked up my phone and started making phone calls to the invited guests?  WHAT IF one mom after another gave an excuse especially some silly excuse WHY she and her girl couldn’t come? WHAT WOULD I HAVE DONE THEN?

A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”

18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

19 Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”

20 Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

21 The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

22 “Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.”

23 Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.     – Luke 14:16-23

About that second Valentine Tea, I’m wondering how those guys in the group home a few blocks away would look in cute little Valentine aprons? OR how some of the guys and gals at the City Mission would take to heart-shaped sandwiches? Well, maybe not so much, but maybe I should plan for them the next time! Just sayin’ – You just never know who might be coming to the Tea Party!

*I have a very, very special mother who was willing to allow a six-year-old who thought she was pretty grown-up to attempt a Valentine’s Tea mostly on her own. It was the kind of freedom and encouragement that largely made me the grown-up person I have eventually become!