Popular Posts

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Grocery Shopping on Thursday, "Seniors Day"

On Thursday morning, April 27, 2017, I rose around 8:00 a.m. and decided to grocery-shop early, rather than wait until after exercising at around 2:30 – 4:00 p.m. at Gold’s Gym.

I shop at Harris-Teeter (HT) in Aberdeen, N.C., on Thursdays to get the Thursday “seniors day” five percent discount offered to folk over 60.  

So, “I washed my face and combed my hair and stumbled down the stairs to meet the day” (words from “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” a song by Kris Kristofferson).

Actually, I ate a bowl of cereal and “pilled up” (with legal prescription drugs, of course) after “washing up” and combing my hair. We have no stairs in our ranch-style house, but I identify with Kristofferson’s phrase: “stumbled down the stairs to meet the day.” I battle arthritis and neuropathy.

The HT parking lot was almost empty.

“I’m getting ahead of the madding crowd,” I thought, musing about times I shopped late on Thursdays and found “marked down” items had been scarfed up by old folk like me.

“Those selfish seniors,” I’ve thought, when I’ve seen empty shelves where bargain foods had rested. Old people can turn on each other when “savings” are involved.

I scurried, making good time inside the store. Near the milk, I took out my typed list of stuff Carol and I purchase. We don’t buy certain things every week, but, during my weekly grocery gathering, I unfold and peruse my listing of over 60 products we attempt to “keep in stock” at home.

I hadn’t forgotten anything we needed. I pocketed my list and headed to checkout.

“Oh, no,” I thought, when only two checkout registers were open and customers stood three-deep at each station. “No matter when you come here, they’re going to adjust the number of checkout stations to the number of people in the store.”

Waiting in line, I looked behind me and saw a gray-haired man I’d noticed at Gold’s Gym. We’d never met. Gym folk tend to go about their gym business and ignore each other. I remembered, however, that this man had smiled when we’d passed each other in the gym.

“Hi, I’ve seen you at Gold’s Gym,” I said.

“Yes, I haven’t been there enough, lately,” he said.

I learned that “John” (I’ll call him that) is 71, a year older than I am, and that he teaches college science courses.

“I retired from Gulistan Carpet as it closed,” I told him. “I have some arthritis and neuropathy, so I don’t do the treadmill, like I see you do at the gym. You’re doing well to be still teaching at your age.”

“Yes, they don’t want me to quit,” he said.

A large, decorated sheet cake lay in his shopping cart, and he held a bouquet of red roses.

“I’m organizing an honor society meeting at school,” John said. “It’s harder to get college kids together than it is high school kids, I think.”

By this time, my cashier had begun checking my groceries. John and I continued to talk. John had only given me his first name, though I had given him my full name. “Only giving a first name” is perhaps a way to seem “intimate” but retain some anonymity in “the information age.”

As my cashier continued working, a clerk from the store’s information counter motioned John to her station. He had only two items, so she hoped to help him process quicker.

John moved past me to the information counter. He and I finished our transactions at the same time.

“I’m sorry,” I said, as I pushed my shopping cart near to his. “I should have let you in front of me at checkout. I wasn’t thinking.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” he said, smiling.

“Good to meet you,” I said.

“You, too,” he said.

I was glad I’d shopped early and crossed John’s path. When I see him at the gym, I'll feel closer to him.  

Perhaps I’ll get in the habit of shopping early on “seniors day” at HT. Maybe next Thursday, I’ll rise with the sun and “wash my face and comb my hair and stumble down the stairs to meet the day.” 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A Bad Habit Is Hard to Break

This morning I drove to The Barber Shop in Aberdeen NC. My usual hair-cutter, Linda, was not there when I arrived at 10:30 a.m.

“She called and said she’d be in after lunch,” a young man-barber said. “She said she wasn’t feeling well this morning.”

Three barbers (two gentlemen, one lady) were unoccupied, waiting for a customer.

I thought, “Should I let one of them cut my hair?” I’ve done that before when Linda was absent. I think they’re all good barbers.

Keith – sitting in the first chair (by the door) of seven barber chairs in the shop – was tap-tapping on his phone, perhaps searching the internet. He’s part-owner of The Barber Shop, along with Kim, the lady who works three chairs away from him.

I sat in a waiting-area chair and looked through a section of “The Fayetteville Observer.” In a few minutes, I said to Keith, “I’ll try to come back this afternoon.”

“OK,” he said.

I drove to Granny’s Donuts, a block away. An apple fritter and a buttermilk donut “called to me,” “speaking” from the array of goodies displayed in a glass case.

I bought, for Carol, a cinnamon thingy cooked in the shape of a honey bun. I ate my two tasty “forbidden fruits” before I arrived at home.

“Carol, I brought you a cinnamon thing from Granny’s,” I said, closing our front door.

“I don’t want it,” she said.

“OK,” I said.

I poured a half glass of milk and ate the cinnamon-flavored pastry.Then, I sat at my computer and felt guilty for eating three things I didn’t need. (I had eaten a bowl of cereal before driving to The Barber Shop.)

I thought, “I’ve developed a bad habit – going to Granny’s Donuts after a haircut.”

I looked on the internet and read this about “bad habits”:

“Bad habits interrupt your life and prevent you from accomplishing your goals. They jeopardize your health – both mentally and physically. And they waste your time and energy.”

“Amen,” I thought, while musing about how I often agree that something is true, yet I seemingly can’t muster the will power to act on that truth.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Bear Ended Their Picnic

Pictured above are Frances Hawkins Crain (left) and Fred E. Crain. This photo was made in the 1940s.

(This story, “The Bear,” took place in 1946 and was told in 2015 by Fred E. Crain to Larry Steve Crain, his nephew.)

Fred E. Crain and Frances Hawkins Crain, who married in November 1945, took a trip to the mountains with some of Fred’s relatives. All these folk lived in the Sandy Flat and Mountain View areas of Greenville County, S.C. They drove to Gatlinburg, Tenn.

“Our trip was either in the spring or fall of 1946,” Fred says.

The group included Fred and Frances and his mother and father, Lillian and Carl Crain, in Fred’s car. Lillian’s brother, Hovey Parker, brought his wife, Genelia, and their only child, Marian (now Marian Lister, age 85 in 2015), in their car. Lillian’s sister, Lucille Langley, rode with her husband, King Langley, in their car with their only child, Sarah Jean (now Sarah Jean Talley, age 85 in 2015).

Newfound Gap is on the line between N.C. and Tennessee, Fred says.

“Newfound Gap (el. 5048 ft./1539 m.) is a mountain pass located near the center of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park of the southern Appalachian Mountains in the U.S. …Situated along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, the state line crosses the gap,” according to “Wikipedia.”

“Cherokee is on this side,” Fred notes, referring to the South Carolina side. “It’s 16 miles to the top from Cherokee and 16 miles on to Gatlinburg. It’s 16 miles to the top, each way.”

They stopped at Newfound Gap but drove another eight or nine miles, toward Gatlinburg, to a picnic area. The party was “in short sleeves,” according to Fred, and planned to eat at outdoor tables.

“I drove a 1940 Chevrolet, 4-door, black,” Fred says. “King Langley was driving a green 1935 Ford. It was polished. King worked at Southern Bleachery. He had his hair parted in the middle and was always neat. He called Lucille ‘Lude.’”

They all enjoyed a picnic meal and were talking as they continued sitting at tables.

“King saw a bear coming down a hill, toward us,” Fred says. “We all ran and got in our cars and watched as that black bear ate from our tables. When he finished, he made his way back up the hill. We all got out and cleaned up the picnic remains.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

If Jesus Came to Your House

Lois Blanchard Eades’ poem titled “If Jesus Came to Your House” touched me when I heard it on the radio in the 1950s.

Woodrow Wilson “Red” Sovine partially sang but mostly recited Eades’ poem on the 1956 recording I heard. Sovine died in 1980, after recording many sentimental “trucker songs” such as “Teddy Bear,” a tale about a crippled boy who lost his truck driver father in a highway accident and kept his father’s CB radio to contact truckers. Sovine recited the popular “If Jesus Came to Your House” with great feeling and with heart-rending, instrumental music playing in the background.

Here are some of the words in that poem:

“If Jesus came to your house to spend a day or two, if He came unexpectedly, I wonder what you’d do? Oh, I know you’d give your nicest room to such an honored guest, and all the food you’d serve to Him would be the very best.  

“And you would keep assuring Him you’re glad to have him there, that serving Him in your home is joy beyond compare. But when you saw Him coming, would you meet Him at the door, with arms outstretched to welcome in your heavenly visitor?

“Or would you have to change your clothes before you let Him in, or hide some magazines and put the Bible where they’d been? Would you turn off the radio and hope He hadn’t heard, and wished you hadn’t uttered that last loud nasty word.

“Would you hide your worldly music and put some hymn books out? Could you let Jesus come right in, or would you rush about? Oh, I wonder if the Savior came to spend a day with you, would you just go on doing all the things you always do?”

In her poem, Eades asked if the listener would talk his usual “talk,” if Jesus was sitting in the living room, and she asked, “Would you find it hard each meal to say a table grace?”

Eades continued, asking “If Jesus came to your house, would you sing the songs you always sing and read the books you read, and let Him know on which things your mind and spirit feeds? Would you take Jesus with you everywhere you planned to go, or would you maybe change your plans, for just a day or so?”

Eades ended “If Jesus Came to Your House” with these thoughts: “Would you be glad to have Him meet with all your closest friends, or would you hope they’d stay away until His visit ends? Would you be glad to have Him stay forever on and on, or would you sigh with great relief when He at last was gone? It might be interesting to know the things that you would do, if Jesus came in person to spend the day with you!”

When I first heard that poem, I was nine years old and pictured Jesus walking up the driveway of a typical 1950s house. I imagined Jesus with a dark beard and wearing a light-colored robe and carrying a shepherd’s staff. I thought of his image as being right out of the “Sunday Pix” illustrations I had seen in Sunday school.

I imagined the lady at that 1950s home looking out her window and seeing Jesus headed up her driveway. I could mentally see and hear her say, “Have mercy!” Then she began scurrying and hiding magazines and books and turning the radio dial from a station playing “Your Cheating Heart” to one playing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

I imagined that she cautioned her young son and daughter to be on their best behaviors. I wondered if she hoped her husband wouldn’t return from work until Jesus left, because hubby wasn’t too humble and might let slip a bad word. I felt sorry for the bedraggled woman that I imagined.

Today, as I recall (maybe in a more spiritual way) Eades’ “If Jesus Came to Your House” poem, I envision Jesus visiting the “house” of someone who has not accepted him. I imagine Jesus standing at the door of that person’s “house.” That “house” is that person’s “heart” (the place of deepest meaning, thought and emotion in each individual). I think of Jesus’ words found in Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup (eat) with him, and he with me.”

If you have truly accepted Jesus as Savior, he is already inside your “house,” and he wants to live in every room of your “humble abode.” Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Milk and Bread When Snow is Forecast?

With snow predicted for Friday night, I hit Harris-Teeter in Aberdeen, N.C., on Thursday afternoon. Serious, snow-scared shoppers had scooped up bread and milk. As usual, those products “get gone” when snow is in the news.

Ohio songwriter Josh Woodward penned a song called “Give Me Milk and Bread.” Here are some lyrics: “Within a day, I will be dead / The snow is falling on my head / So gimme milk and bread.”

I guided my buggy here and yon in search of our usual staples. I considered buying pecans.

“Might be good for munching during icy weather,” I mused.

Price: $8.99 for a 10-ounce tray of shelled pecans.

“No way,” I thought.

Years ago, we used to throw sticks and knock pecans out of a tall tree at Ma Crain’s farm. We had all the pecans we cared to eat. Old-timey pecan pies sure were good.

I picked up a loaf of “Country White Bread” produced by Arnold. Carol and I also like “German Dark Wheat” made by Pepperidge Farm. She likes that dark bread with Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

I passed up some products that need to be refrigerated because snow sometimes causes pine trees to fall on power lines. Pine trees all over the place in our area. They don’t call our town “Southern Pines” for nothing.

We have enough stuff in our fridge, right now. And we have canned goods. We keep plenty of cans of soup, mostly Campbell’s Tomato Soup and Progresso Vegetable.

Our residence is all-electric. I never have bought gas logs, though there’s a copper tube in our fireplace that’s ready and waiting for gas logs to be hooked up. We have no generator. I keep a broken-down charcoal grill in our garage, and I’ll use it to warm soup if, as the old folks say, “worse comes to worst.” We rough it if the electric goes out.

I bought one gallon of milk instead of two, as I usually purchase each week. I was thinking still that the power might go out and a second gallon would be wasted.

I placed items in my buggy – cheddar-flavored potato chips, snack foods, cheese, a good-sized bag of M&Ms, etc. – and headed for checkout. I don’t usually buy M&Ms, but comfort food might be needed if the TV went down.

“Some of the shelves are depleted,” I said at checkout. “People are gearing up for snow, I guess.”

“It’s been busy,” said a middle-aged, slightly graying checkout lady. “Yesterday was busy. Today, we’ve had every cash register running all the time. Maybe it won’t be as bad as back in 2000. We had 17 inches of snow, then. My power went out, and I took milk out of our refrigerator and put it in a hole in the snow.”

“I remember that snow,” I said. “My wife and I were without power for five days. One night, the temperature got down to six degrees. It was just as cold in our house as it was outside. I let the pipes drip so they wouldn’t freeze.”

As I loaded groceries into the trunk of my car, I laid that large bag of M&Ms on my car bumper, thinking I might take them with me into the car and eat a few – just a few, mind you – on the way home. A 30-something lady passed by, smiled, and said, “That’s all you need – M&Ms.”

I grinned and said, “You’re right!"

She caught me with my comfort food. Funny, how we who harbor a weakness for comfort foods will look for any excuse. But, hey, who wants just plain old milk and bread when snow is forecast?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Working Out

On Tuesday, around 2:45 p.m., I drove to the gym near my home in Southern Pines, N.C. I hadn’t been there since Saturday. I’ve lately been going three times a week to Gold’s Gym. I seemed to lack time to get there four times a week, as I used to.

I sometimes wear earplugs to help keep out noise of the music Gold’s plays. I think there are a few talk-free stations gym attendants like, and one station plays “heavy metal.” Increasingly, the young lady clerks at the gym front desk seem to tune to that station. That’s why I’ve begun wearing plugs while in the gym.

I found some foam earplugs in my dresser drawer. They were left over from my carpet manufacturing plant days. We were supposed to wear earplugs in noisy areas of the Gulistan Carpet manufacturing plant. Yarn-winding machines generated lots of noise – a steady hum, sort of like thousands of bees working, working, working. The huge yarn-winding room was a place I would not want to spend eight hours a day in. I’d have felt trapped in a prison of white yarn and humming “bees.” I imagine that workers in that area wanted to get to quiet rooms with couches when they got off work. Well, that large room is silent now. No machines sit there. The Gulistan plant lies sprawled like a vacated city – a city long ago evacuated because the people fled from an enemy. Yes, there was an enemy that rose up against Gulistan. That enemy was “debt Gulistan incurred because of the 2008 recession in the U.S.” The company groaned and tried to survive, but the doors (the gates of the city under attack by an economic downturn) closed as company citizens left to find other ways to survive economically. The fellowship of kindred carpet minds was disrupted. The bond that held together about 400 Gulistan associates dissolved as the year 2013 began. People who had workplace bonds said their “so long, it’s been good working with you” kinds of things and drove away from a worn Gulistan parking lot.

So, I had some earplugs left over from those carpet-making days, and now I use them at Gold’s Gym to help shield me from heavy-metal music. The earplugs don’t hold out all the sound, but the plugs muffle vibrations enough that I can stand the mind-afflicting “music.”

On Tuesday, I wasn’t in much of a mood to “work out,” nor felt physically attuned to working out, at Gold’s. But I continued plodding from machine to machine and lifting weights and levers and handles on weight machines. My feet hurt badly because of neuropathy. I just had to keep on working out on one machine at a time. After 50 minutes, many of my muscles had stretched and tightened until I felt a sense of accomplishment. I felt good that I had “done” my Gold’s Gym routine.

Day by day our lives are lived, and sometimes we just have to be pleased to daily accomplish some little thing. I often think of this Chinese proverb: “Many things you do are not important, but it’s very important that you do them.”

I thank the Lord for each day’s tasks and the strength to do them.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Ma's Milk and Butter Route

Pictured (top) are my paternal grandparents, Carl and Lillian Crain, with twin calves in 1951. The second photo is of my grandparents dressed for church.

 Pictured are my grandparents in 1961 with their Guernsey cow and her twin calves.  

My paternal grandparents ran a Saturday milk-and-butter route in Greenville, S.C., in the early 1950s. I was then a child and loved the adventure of riding along to deliver moo juice and butter to a few city dwellers who wanted milk products “straight from the cow.”

My grandparents “on Daddy’s side” lived near Mountain View, a rural section of Greenville County. My parents, my younger sister, and I lived nearby. Most of our kin lived within 20 miles of each other.    

My tall, thin, black-haired Grandmother Lillian didn’t like being called “grandma,” so, to me, she became “Ma.” Granddaddy Carl became “Pa.”

A carpenter and farmer, Pa was thin till he threw his last pack of “Camels” way out into his cornfield when I was a kid. After that, a “bay window” grew onto his 5-ft. and 8-inch torso. Biscuits, ham, sausage, grits and red-eye gravy put pounds on Pa after he parted ways with “Nick O’Teen.” After quitting smoking, Pa fit in better at the Pentecostal church our families attended.

Pa tried factory work three times  – during which he labored evenings or nights at Woodside Mill (textiles) in Greenville, S.C. – but Ma worried and couldn’t stand Pa working second or third shift. They had sons – J.B., my father, and my Uncle Fred – but Ma wanted Pa home at night, because she’d hear things howling after dark, and she’d get “all tore up.”

Ma’s father, a farmer, had told her about a time when he was riding horseback on a dark night and a “painter” (a cougar or puma) “got after him.”  

“Daddy heard that painter running behind him,” Ma told me. “He rode hard to home, jumped off and run in the house. He saw that painter come in the yard. It scared the horse but didn’t bother him before he left.”

Ma had a melancholy temperament. She’d play her guitar and sing tearful tunes such as “Take Me Back To Renfro Valley” by John Lair. That song contains these words about Renfro Valley, Kentucky: “I was born in Renfro Valley / But I drifted far away / I came back to see the old home / And my friends of other days / Gone are old familiar faces / All the friends I used to know / Things have changed in Renfro Valley / Since the days of long ago.” 
Lillian Crain plays her guitar in her later years. 

My grandparents’ tin-roofed house sat about 100 yards off a paved road. It had no underpinning and rested on rock pillars. Two beagles, Mack and Tillie, lived under that abode.

Ma and Pa raised two hogs each year and kept chickens, two mules, and two cows. Pa preferred Guernsey or Jersey cows. “Their milk is richer than Holsteins,” he said.

Pa milked twice a day, and Ma strained the milk. She let it sit for a while and then poured off the top creamy part of the milk. Most of the milk went into the refrigerator and was used for drinking. The creamy milk went into a hand-operated churn in order to separate out the butter. Sometimes, I churned for Ma – moving a plunger up and down inside a large, brown butter churn.  

Ma strained that churned milk and butter and consolidated the butter into a mass. The milk that went through the strainer during that process was placed in the refrigerator and used for buttermilk. “Buttermilk is the liquid left behind after churning butter out of cream,” according to “Wikipedia.”

Ma cooled the butter with ice and placed part of that butter into a wooden mold. She held the mold over a plate and slowly pushed down on the mold’s plunger handle. The butter eased out as a “cake,” with a decorative design embossed (by the mold) on the top of the cake. Ma wrapped each of several cakes of butter in wax paper and stored them in the refrigerator.

On Saturday mornings, Ma and Pa loaded their car with milk products and we headed down Hwy. 253. We turned left onto Poinsett Hwy. in Greenville and passed Bruce’s Auction Barn where folk sold cattle, horses and mules. We drove on a tall bridge, and below us lay a railroad track and a giant junkyard. I often saw a steam shovel moving crushed cars. The scene reminded me of an illustrated children’s book Mother gave me: “Stevie the Steam Shovel.” I liked that book because Mother called me by my middle name, “Steve.”

Our first milk stop was in a cul-de-sac. A thin, brown-haired woman bought a gallon of fresh milk. A lady across the street took some of Ma’s butter and milk. We made other stops, but I especially recall this one:

One Saturday, we trekked up stone steps to an old house where a lady lived with her near-grown son, Steve. She invited us in and showed us some of Steve’s oil paintings. Steve met us but didn’t say much. One of his works depicted an antlered elk standing tall among mountain trees. I thought, “Someday, I’d like to paint like that.” The son’s artwork stirred me, and his name, “Steve,” seemed to confirm, in my young mind, a kind of “brotherhood.” I later became a high school art teacher. I liked to draw before I saw Steve’s painting, and there were other art influences that came later into my life, but there was something special about seeing Steve’s elk painting and finding out we had the same name. One never knows what inspiration one may find on a milk-and-butter route.

Mr. Robertson’s house was next in our usual routine. He lived high up off the street, across from Holmes Bible College, then located in downtown Greenville. Mr. Robertson (Mr. R) worked with the railroad as an engineer, I think. He was self-confident and liked Ma’s milk and buttermilk. His wife was quiet. Mr. R asked about hunting quail on Pa’s farm, so Pa invited him to his farm. One Saturday afternoon, Mr. R showed up in the latest hunting gear: hunting vest, hunting hat, and tall boots. I’d never seen an “in the flesh” man dressed like he came out of an ad in “Field & Stream Magazine.”

Mr. R did some shooting out among Pa’s 26 acres. The only problem was that Uncle Jim, one of Pa’s younger brothers, lived down the road. When Mr. R started shooting near Jim’s house, Jim, who wasn’t one to hold back opinions, quick-walked up into Pa’s field.

“You’ve shot up every bird around here,” Jim told Mr. R. “I think that’s about enough.”

Mr. R ended his bird-blasting and high-tailed it back to the city, where Uncle Jim thought he belonged.

Our last stop on Ma’s milk-and-butter route was near Mr. R’s residence. We walked from his house to reach the backdoor of a small, old house. A fenced-in alleyway lay behind the house we approached because city garbage-collecting trucks drove behind that house and others to make pick-ups.

I remember one Saturday when we moved through two gates and knocked on the back door of the small house.

“Well, hello,” an elderly lady said to Ma. “I see you have the little fellow with you, today.”

I often had seen the two little sisters. They wore print dresses and kept their gray hair in buns. Their thin ankles, slightly rounded middles, matchstick arms, and small noses caused me to think of them as birds flitting around inside a little birdhouse.

The more talkative sister took a gallon of milk and two cakes of butter from Ma and said, “We have something for the little fellow.”

From her kitchen table, she took a small cloth bear she and her sister had made by hand. He was light teal in color and had embroidered black eyes, a black nose, and a smiling red mouth. He had padding (stuffing), but was no more than a half-inch thick. He measured 3.5 inches wide from extended arm to extended arm and 4.5 inches high from bottom of leg to top of his head, not counting his ears.

I still have that bear. He’s been with my wife, Carol, and me through the raising of two daughters who played with him. We’ve  always called him “Little Bear.” He’s pretty worn, but he sits in a small rocking chair on a box on our kitchen table. One look at that bear and my mind goes back to many wonderful Saturdays I spent with Ma and Pa as we rode along on Ma’s milk-and-butter route.  

  Pictured is the little stuffed bear I still have.