Carter Hall: A Standing Stone For My Children

~Tonight Andrew cues up an
80s Smash Hits! playlist on a
Sherwood S-7100 receiver found
In the warrens of a junk store.

He plays the first evocative
Bars of every song,
Just the first, a medley of
One after another.

They take me back to 19.
To Carter Hall. ~

Josie vacations far away in a
Raspberry beret. Under pressure, she
Goes ahead and jumps. A happy jump, a
Go-for-it jump, because she
Builds a city on her music,
And blesses the rains in Africa.

I smell Carter Hall, to its bones, and
Feel the power and uncertainty of 19.
I assume in the unspoken places
That everyone else belongs here and is
Tearing college up. They are the real
Students. And I am flying
Just under
The threshold of adequate.
My professors must see me
Clearly,  “She’ll make a good wife.
Won’t write a book or cure cancer.”

I probably will make a good wife
Because I have a happy mother. But
Anthem songs talk about taking someone’s
Breath away. Life is a little too
Flesh and blood, too long-term for that.
Besides, it’s hard to be
Breathtaking in L.L. Bean Gum boots.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
Unique to this place
Break through all that and turn me around.

An Ed Kellogg painting hangs in the chapel lobby –
A cow (all of life redeemed, Amen). We joke
About the redeemed cow, but it is powerful,
And we are beginning to understand
“Far as the curse is found,”
And Ed’s greens are so real my teeth
Hurt when I look at them.

May Term and it’s cold and warm and
Campus is deserted and we have class on
The boulders outside The New AB Building that
My children will someday call Sanderson Hall.
It’s a Wildeman class so we get excerpts from
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Creative writing on those boulders in the Spring
Is seminal.

Belz Hall is its own lone ranger of a tower,
A mystery to me architecturally and genderly.
The art barn shelters behind it in the woods.
Professors live in Flintstones down the road.
If there is a Mac Scholarship,
I know nothing of it.

The other day we woke up and an 18 wheeler
Bringing our food had jack-knifed on the
Narrow delivery road behind
The mail room and the cafeteria.
We all watched from our windows,
Which double as refrigerators, cooling
Water and fruit and yogurt.
We take these snacks from the Great Hall,
Keep them cold on the window ledge,
And Mel is okay with that.

One soccer player doesn’t use sheets.
At the end of the semester a filthy outline
Of him is visible on the mattress. As I said,
Men are a mystery to me.

It is hard to stay awake in chapel. We
Give-and-go when we need to. I’ve
Done that once and felt a scalding dishonesty.
I wasn’t bored; I was dead sleepy.

Rumors abound of nooks and crannies
Wherein couples have been caught –
On a mythical catwalk high up
In the chapel, in maintenance tunnels,
Attics, water pipe closets, unused classrooms,
Practice fields, bluff trails, the tiny bathroom
In the chapel lobby that I never knew was there,
And power-line clearings.
We always tell these tales with envy and censure.

A girl from Indy says she wore her overcoat
To the RP church across from the gym.
Just her overcoat.  And a slip.
She was conducting an experiment to see if
In the winter
Dresses were really necessary
And she concluded no.

We arrived here in a preppy upsurge
And have been ambushed by
Cyndi Lauper’s fishnets and bangles.
The mountain has its own walk and talk
And style, too – its plaids and cardigans
And cotton tights,
So it gets muddled up.
We aren’t sure what we are.

But we do know we are temporary here.
We learn that truth as sophomores when these
Kids just out of high school in Maryland
Or Florida or Michigan,
Unload on Carter’s portico
With a fresh wind of complete ownership.
Bluster as we will and we do,
Our clock has started ticking
And we don’t ever not hear it again.
Freshmen children are the landowners and
That’s hard to swallow.

But every now and then, beauty and truth
In an assigned reading, a journal article,
Break through and eclipse me.

Foundations, Sire and Blamire.
They wake me up. The readings are
Devotional. My Fourth South, four-man
Corner room looks out over the chapel lawn
And also toward the overlook and
Chattanooga’s lights. I sit in these windows and read.
I think big thoughts, and define life,
But I also worry that
One morning I might look down and see
A body dashed on the flagstones below.
People have their problems, and
It is a real worry.

~Andrew keeps the hits rolling
On the Sherwood with its maple console
And its warm, red sound. ~

I ask him to Kilter Night as he sits
With Mark Jones in the Great Hall,
His back to the night-dark windows.
He’s already been asked, but, quick on his feet,
He invites me out for the night after. And that’s
Pretty much our whole story. We know,
Just as everyone always says you do.

Kilter Night is in February, and an ice storm
Encases all the mountain.
We go out anyway because ice is nothing
When you’re 19. We leave from
The far doors, not the main ones under the
Stained glass Covenant window
Near the switchboard.
Andrew slips on Carter’s icy front porch
And slides several feet flat on his back past
Pillars and iron porch chairs.
We laugh at this beginning and head down
The mountain to see The Color Purple.
I cry hot tears at this heartbreaking story
But am embarrassed in front of a first date.
So I don’t wipe the tears lest I call attention to them.
They course and collect in my lap.

We stop at TCBY for yogurt. And even if we don’t
Quite know, we know.

Josie is still on her vacation.
A piece of rebar pierces the
Tire of my Buick Skylark right where
Someday an Alumni House will stand in
Which both my daughters will work,
(Daughters! Breathtaking!)
The same spot I will tell Andrew
I love him as we part for
An eternal four-month summer that I will measure
On the calendar in inches,
The same place I will later have my maiden and
Married name on a brick, a standing stone.

We load our cars in Carter circle,
Where some students park permanently,
Their daily ticket flapping in the
Brisk wind.

And we go.
We carry with us Sire and Blamire and
Schaeffer and Anderson and Clark and
Hesselink and Kaufmann and Graham and
Dodson and Mueller and Voskuil and
Gallagher and Ed’s redeemed cow and the
Parking tickets and Weltanschauung
And the memory of all that old doubt
and Eileen in the mailroom and
Scandal in the tunnels and the
Ancient paths taught us for our children
And the smell of
Carter Hall
To its bones.
~

(Photo cred:  Colin Nottage, Covenant College, Carter Hall 6/12/17)

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Merried

In June, our daughter and her love will be
Merried! We attendants will merry them as they
Promise to
Merry each other
‘Til death does them part.

As busy as I’ve been, working toward the merry day,
It wasn’t real to me until my friends
Gave a tea and
Made it so –

Sabbath afternoon, when mind and body
Long only for green pastures and still waters,
My church sisters,
In high heels,
Decorated and celebrated my daughter’s
Merriment.
With me. For us.

I’ve been to teas and showers, and the
Stuff on the tables is fascinating
In the abstract.
Oh, what a beautiful painting by Anna.

But these things, this painting,
This towel, were for my daughter
(six-weeks-old in her pink onesie, surely)
In her St. Elmo home.
With her husband. Her husband.

It’s very different.

The groom’s grandmother Mary,
While carrying a table, asked
‘Could I be part of the second load going home?’
Adding even more muscle and sacrifice.

There is nothing fragile about tea-givers;
They are giving life
More than I ever understood
Until my own child was the merried one.

My friends. They make me merry.  ~

           
Tea-givers                                                             A guest of honor

              
Lovely touches

 

 

How I Love Him!

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One day
Long ago
On a one-lane
Wooden bridge over
Railroad tracks,
Near McGriff Tire,
We sat in our
Plymouth Voyager,
White with wood panels.

Will was a baby and when the
Train came underneath us
And the world tottered with the
Roar and fumes and horn blast,
He screamed the terror of the
Helpless.
Instead of unbuckling him, I crouched
Over him and he clutched me in a
Grip and buried his face
(How I love him!) in my
Neck.
His breath condensed on my blue
Shirt into a big wet spill.
And he hung on.

When I do that to
My Heavenly Father,
Who is also the God of this whole Universe,
He always answers with
More
Comfort,
Protection,
Affection,
Than I asked for.

How I love Him!

It Was The Kind Of Day . . .

~ It was the kind of day when every dog on my running route barked, not with the joy of being a dog, but AT me.

~ It was the kind of day when I had a technological success that I can never repeat because I have no idea how I did it.

~ It was the kind of day when the crepemyrtles were one scant day past their perfection.

~ It was the kind of day to buy Adirondack chairs at the new Walmart and then place them in a neighborly, Joanna-Beatty-Taft way in the front yard, recline, sip tea, and glimpse through the hemlocks the back of the new Walmart.

~ It was the kind of day when a friend told Andrew to send something to her phone and he responded that he didn’t have a Smartphone because he is a luddite, and she said yes she knew what a luddite was because she looked it up on her Smartphone.

~ It was the kind of day to regret never mastering algebra and calculus because I have to teach kids in a few weeks how to score high on a test that includes both, but also a day to pull myself up by my bootstraps and resolve that any woman with a grain of sense can ‘simplify a cubed root with variables’!  It isn’t rocket science.  It’s a recipe for cooking down an herbed rutabaga stew.

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~ It was the kind of day to visit the girls – and allied children I claim as mine – and marvel at who they are.

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13702396_1106462936094388_954237630_oAdrienne, Eliot, Mad-Dog, Abby, Eliza, Justin, Callie, Will, Sarah

~ It was the kind of day when a dollar bought a squeeze bottle for soap at the kitchen sink, because pretty matters.

~ It was the kind of day to discover that if I lay on the left side of the bed, I can see the mountain as I read the Bible – “Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee. How great Thou art!”

It was that kind of day.

~

Thanking You, Right Here In The Middle

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Before the celebration is over, right here in the middle of it, I want to thank the Lord, the Giver of all these blessings.

Thank you for hearing my request years and years ago for Christian education for our children, and for providing it. We had to sweat for it, but You said, ‘Yes!’ Thank you.

Thank you for the layers of love my children’s grandparents supply. They are a fountainhead, a safety net, an extra covering, a heritage, givers of chocolate and family stories.

Thank you for the end of the school year and a chance to be reminded how much I love my students. And, for that matter, thank you for 16 – 18 year olds. Wow! What precious creations.  What energy and zeal. What ability and talent. What generosity and compassion.

Thank you for spring beauty, for setting sun turning green leaves gold, for the recent graduate, headphoned and playing soccer in the backyard.

Thank you for the college girl heading back to the mountain to work for the summer, rolling north and east on a full tank of gas from her Memaw and Papaw and on a new set of tires from her dad. I can’t orchestrate everything perfectly for her, but she has a job and a home and money for groceries. And she knows we love her. Thank you!

Thank you for the first born, the working girl, office clothes on a hanger in the car, heading back early, early to get to work on time, and for the chance for me to fix her coffee and boxed lunch complete with napkin-note reminiscent of elementary school. Thank you that we don’t really have to say goodbye to their childhood years – we can live them in little ways their whole lives! Thank you.

Thank you for Mom on the couch beside me, here for a long visit. Thank you that we speak the same language. Thank you for the way she loves all her children and grandchildren. Thank you.

Thank you for our church that has loved and raised our children alongside us, going far beyond the vow they took at the children’s baptisms to “assist the parents in the nurture of this child.”  Thank you for each face and each soul and that you knew we need each other.

Thank you that tomorrow morning, you will meet me on the back porch for the luxury of an unrushed quiet time. If that is all I had to be thankful for, it would be enough.

Thank you for whatever lies ahead for the graduate.  And for your word preached this morning reminding me that this will be a chance to trust you in new ways, to choose your way, to expand your kingdom by planting our feet in new places and claiming those places for you! Whatever that looks like, thank you for the privilege of being a warrior in the grandest of battles – pushing back the fall and spreading your glory to the ends of the earth.

Thank you for beauty and for the urge and time to create it. Use me!

Thank you, Lord.

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind, 
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.
Psalm 107: 8, 9

Honey Rock Farm

I grew up in Louisiana in a house with a name.  The McClendons built the house under a canopy of Spanish moss and named it Honey Rock Farm.  When they moved up the hill and built farther back in the woods, we bought Honey Rock, chickens and all.

We were not farmers of any kind.  In fact most of our time was spent passing one another on the six miles of Lee Road heading into town to our fast-food jobs or to Campus Life events or to endless school days in the portable trailers on Three Rivers Road.

But if a farmer is one who loves his land, then we were farmers of a sort.  Every one of us looks back at Honey Rock days with a sigh.  They were 13 acres of beautiful. This poem was written in 1991 shortly after we left Honey Rock:

Around Honey Rock Farm

The gravel track
Runs past the barn and scrabbling chickens,
Just past the oaks along a bygone fence,
And forms an ellipsis.

The brown house, though on stilts
Against the rain, rocks low
Under an arch of oak and pine.

Brown boards on the walkway, gone
A permanent dust-yellow from pollen,
Lead on around the house.

Tall pines ring the pond
And hide the scrubby island
And the square, wooden duck house.

Sweet olive scent slips around
The back porch and relaxes, crepe-swathed
On a wrought-iron chair.

The green swing on its oak-driven pegs
Brushes the wood pile
And sways in an azalea breeze.

And the gravel track
Runs past the barn and scrabbling chickens,
Just past the mailboxes,
And joins with the blacktop.

Memory teaches.  The Word teaches.  Honey Rock got its name from this morning’s reading:

And with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”  Psalm 81:16

If I let Him, He would satisfy me, fill me, with the honeyest of honeys.  He is the honey-giver, the mead-maker, and He sighs, “Oh, that you would believe me!”  I try other honeys.  They do not satisfy.  The honey that satisfies, the honey He offers, is His voice in my ear:

How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth”  
Psalm 119:103.

Lord, today I open wide my mouth for honey from the rock.  By your Spirit let this prayer cover me until this day’s sun sets.

I believe You.

~

 

You Only Go Around Twice

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I’ve heard of couch potato husbands, easy chair husbands, procrastinating, junk-eating, ball-cap-wearing dumbos who sloth from bed to couch to chair to bed and moan about working for the man.

But I’ve never met one.

The husband I live with, the preacher, is never still, never without an odd little project going.  At 8:30 in the evening, when I am curled in a cold ball on the couch, incoherent and done contributing anything of worth to the world, he will walk through with electricians tape and a power drill.  I don’t ask.

Why not now?” is his motto.  The whir of the coffee roasting equipment – a hot-air popcorn popper he got at the thrift store for a dollar and tricked out with a soup can chimney – assails my nodding off under a quilt.  10 minute down time?  He thinks he can re-wire a lamp, hang a shelf, felt-tab the chair legs, or, like last night, clean out the hall closet that has been headquarters for supplies for one of his hobbies that he decided to move in its entirety to the garage attic and take a break from.  Many a door slamming in and out to the garage that task took.  Door-slamming is part of the satisfaction of a project well engaged in for him.  But soon enough the closet was emptied and the contents of the top shelf was now my project.

26 years of pictures:  loose pictures, albums both chronological or made for specific events, albums still in good shape, albums falling apart and gappy, framed pictures, weddings, births, baptisms, teeth, bikes, birthdays, vacations, grandparents and babies and friends and all the years piled out of order.

Ok.  Plan of attack.  What would Pinterest do?  Alright, never mind that.  What would Julie Kinworthy do?  Stacks? Yes, I hear you. By year? . . .but look at this picture!  It is Will in a southern boy’s required infant lace get-up, except he’s holding a football and pointing.   I had forgotten about the football.

And here is the castle we built out of refrigerator boxes for Adrienne’s 7th birthday and named Tintagel after King Arthur’s birthplace.  I feel the temperature of that cold October day, and remember that I had had to take Eliza to the doctor earlier and she was lying inside sick. So I was back and forth between castle and sick child, but didn’t the castle look great?  We painted it and hung real ivy over its crenellated walls.  Wow.  When did we do that?

Here is Eliza in a plastic swing in her bathing suit, hunched sound asleep and with a band aid on her right foot.  The band aid!  It is taut over her foot chub.  I want to kiss it.

Here is a table set for a holiday.  The dishes are a set I had forgotten, a set given to me by my grandmother when I moved into my first apartment.  Seeing them calls up that odd twinge in owning my own dishes.  Red table cloth, Cornish hens and wild rice.  It worked!

Here is Baby Will on the hardwood floor in the hallway, yes the very hallway I can see from the chair I am sitting in.  Why does it seem like another house?  How can the 6’ 3” whiskered teenager loping in just now from basketball practice like a happy Golden Retriever be the same person as this pictured dumpling with moist lips and dewy eyes and silk hair?

And yet, at the same time that I am immersed in hyper-detailed memory, I have this feeling that I am seeing it all for the first time. Actually paying attention this time.  I was in the picture, smiling on that day, but I wasn’t kicking back admiring our triumph of a homemade castle. I was thinking ahead to the clean-up, to the next and the next and the next.  Did I live all those years with my head in tomorrow? Looks like it.

And, worse, I was constantly thinking about how I looked, placing myself at the low end of the ‘beautiful and skinny’ spectrum.

The bad news is that I spent too much of the first time around feeling fat, ugly, tired, and worried.  But the good news is the handy-man husband saved the day and pulled it all down so I could live it again.

In the end the only plan of attack that emerged was this gem:  Just put it all back up there.  Neatly.  So that’s what I did.  Actually that’s what the preacher did.  The project was mine, but as I mentioned, he relishes a project and with such a juicy, desperate, and available one, he jumped in with vigor.

I sat on the couch and enjoyed the life of the pictures – the food on the holiday plates, the ivy covered castle, the fat baby hand pointing – free of the worry I had the first time around.  It was great.

“I will restore to you the years the locust has eaten.”  Joel 2:25