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November 16, 2014

Last Monday night I watched Cam Newton, quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, endure a brutal pounding by the Philadelphia Eagles. Newton was sacked nine times by the aggressive defensive line of the team from Philadelphia. As I watched Monday Night Football, I thought the team from the City of Brotherly Love was not so kind to the team from Carolina

When the game was over the beleaguered Panthers flew home to prepare for their next opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. My hope is that the team from Charlotte will fare better against a team with a different bird of prey as the mascot.

Then I recalled the historical importance of the Pennsylvania city. Independence Hall is a treasured location in American history. It was the site of origin for two of our defining documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell. The city was also the home of the patriot pictured on our one-hundred-dollar bills, Benjamin Franklin. He is one of the most famous Americans of his time, and he is considered to be one of our Founding Fathers.

Franklin helped to establish a new nation and to define the structure and function of American government.  The Philadelphia statesman played a major role in crafting our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.

Franklin’s inventions reveal a man of varied interests, many talents, boundless energy, and great curiosity. Ben had poor eyesight. Tired of constantly taking his glasses off and on, he cut two pairs of spectacles in half.  Putting half of each lens in single frames, he invented bifocals. I am grateful for his invention every single day.

My family and I deeply appreciate the fact that Ben Franklin founded the first public lending library. What a great idea!

Franklin learned much about ships during his eight voyages across the Atlantic Ocean. He suggested dividing a ship’s hold into watertight compartments so that if a leak occurred in one, the water would not spread throughout and sink the ship.

In colonial America, people warmed their homes with open fireplaces, a dangerous practice that burned a lot of wood. Ben invented a cast iron furnace that used less wood and allowed for warmer, safer homes. His invention is still called the Franklin Stove. In the same vein, Ben also established the first fire department and the first fire insurance company. Think of that the next time you see one of the big trucks rushing to a fire.

As Postmaster, Franklin mapped mail delivery routes. He invented a simple odometer. When attached to his carriage, it allowed him to measure the distance of postal routes accurately.

Inventor, businessman, writer, scientist, musician, humorist, diplomat, civic leader, international celebrity, and ladies’ man, Ben Franklin was a genius.

Like most brilliant folk, Ben Franklin had a few crazy notions.  The story of Ben’s famous kite is well known. Rigging a kite with wire and a brass key, he flew it in a thunderstorm.  Not a good idea. Because of him, meteorologists now refer to thunderstorms as electrical storms. Out of his hair-raising experiment came Ben’s invention of the lightning rod.

Franklin had many good ideas. He also had at least one very bad idea that could have altered the course of history and changed the celebration of Thanksgiving as we now know it.  Ben proposed to Congress that the wild turkey be designated as our national bird.  Thank goodness the distinguished group of legislators saw fit to overrule the patriot from Pennsylvania.  In their wisdom, Congress made the bald eagle our national bird, not the wild turkey.

Imagine how our lives might have been different if Benjamin Franklin had prevailed and the turkey, rather than the eagle, had become the symbol of our great nation. We can all be glad that Ben Franklin did not have his way. For those among us who look forward to the first day of April each year as the beginning of turkey hunting season, April Fools Day might be a  different kind of experience if the wild turkey had become our national bird as Ben Franklin proposed.

Other things in our culture would have been different, too.

  • Our coins might be minted with turkeys on the reverse side rather than with eagles. A flip of the coin might require a call, “Heads or turkeys?”
  • The Great Seal of the United States of America might display the image of a wild turkey instead of a bald eagle.
  • The professional football team in Ben Franklin’s City of Brotherly Love might not be the Philadelphia Eagles, but the Philadelphia Turkeys.
  • When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo 11 Lunar Module on the surface of the moon, we might have heard the radio transmission, “Tranquility base here. The turkey has landed.”
  • The Boy Scouts of America might never have become the character developing organization that it is today. Scouts might not be as motivated to make their way through the ranks if the highest award were the Turkey Scout Award.  To call a young man a Turkey Scout just doesn’t have the same ring as the honor of being an Eagle Scout.

I have a notion that Thanksgiving Day might be a different kind of celebration if families who gathered at Grandma’s house were praying over and feasting on our national symbol. We can be grateful that the eagle is on our coins and the turkey is on our tables.

Both ornithology and theology point to the eagle as a rare bird.  The eagle is a symbol of strength and achievement, representing the qualities of clear vision and vigilant protection.

The Bible includes multiple references to the eagle.  Turkeys, however, are never mentioned.

Perhaps you will gather with your loved ones on Thanksgiving Day to enjoy a turkey dinner.  Before the meal, take a moment to give thanks for two birds, the turkey and the eagle.  You might choose to read Psalm 103, a beautiful prayer about the blessings of God that mentions the eagle.   Or perhaps you would enjoy the words of the prophet Isaiah in one of the best-loved references to the eagle:


But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;

they shall mount up with wings as eagles;

they shall run, and not be weary;

and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31 KJV)


Each year the traditional Black Friday shopping frenzy encroaches on Thanksgiving Day.  True thanksgiving is as rare and as endangered as the eagle.

While turkey has become a thanksgiving tradition, I know that other fowl are sometimes substituted. One year just before Thanksgiving Clare and I were given two wild geese with directions about how they were to be cooked. We followed the directions and the birds were tasty. However, our children were not favorably impressed. The following year we resumed the tradition of turkey.

Some people prefer quail, Cornish game hens, or doves for Thanksgiving.

I recently heard a five-year-old child ask an interesting question. “Grandma, do we have to have turkey for Thanksgiving? Could we have fried chicken this year?”

I am glad Congress rejected Ben Franklin’s idea. I am grateful for both turkeys and for eagles. The truth is that Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the bird on our platter.  It has everything to do with the prayer in our heart.


November 10, 2014
Alvin York

Alvin Cullum York was born in a two-room log cabin near Pall Mall, Tennessee, on December 13, 1887, the third of eleven children. Alvin’s father was a farmer and a blacksmith. The York sons attended school sparingly because they were needed to work the family farm and hunt small game to feed the family.

When their father died in November 1911, Alvin’s two older brothers had married and relocated away from the family home. Alvin helped his mother raise his younger siblings. To supplement the family income, Alvin first worked in Harriman, Tennessee, in railroad construction and as a logger. York was prone to fighting in saloons and was arrested several times.

Despite his tendency to drink and brawl, Alvin was regular in church attendance and often led the hymn singing. His church had no specific doctrine of pacifism but opposed all forms of violence.

In a lecture later in life, York reported his reaction to the outbreak of World War I: “I was worried clean through. I didn’t want to go and kill. I believed in my Bible.”

On June 5, 1917, at the age of 29, Alvin York registered for the draft. He had to answer the question, “Do you claim exemption from draft?”

Alvin responded simply by writing “Yes. Don’t Want To Fight.” Read more…


November 7, 2014
Flag on Coffin ii

Several years ago, I conducted the funeral for a veteran of World War II. The day before his funeral, I visited with John’s family. His daughter said, “My daddy was a hero.” I heard the story of John’s service to this country. John landed on the beach at Normandy with his battalion in the Invasion that was a turning point in World War II. He served as a medic in the infantry. He marched across France, Belgium, Germany, and into Czechoslovakia. He was wounded three times, twice in the shoulder and once in the leg. He returned to the front lines by oxcart. He lost his hearing because of repeated exposure to the sound of artillery fire. Among his medals, John received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

John returned to Spartanburg County from the war and operated a service station. He was a pleasant man with a kind word and a smile for everyone. He enjoyed joking and teasing. He rarely talked about the war; never about his honors. He was an unsung hero, a man of peace and humility. Read more…


November 2, 2014

Last week Clare and I paid a visit to Strawberry Hill at Cooley Springs in the Upstate of South Carolina. As usual, James Cooley’s place of business was hopping. Pumpkins of every shape, size, and color were on display, along with several varieties of apples, pears, assorted jams and jellies, hot cider, and boiled peanuts.

I had the opportunity to speak to James, and I complimented him on the festive appearance of the peach shed.

“Yeah,” he said, “Our daughter Brandi does a good job decorating. I turned that part over to her.”

I stepped back to admire view. Dried corn stalks and bales of hay served as the backdrop.  Clusters of Indian corn and groupings of fall mums were mixed among the produce. The roadside stand was a feast for the eyes.

In the midst of the autumn colors were piles of brown sweet potatoes as dirty as the soil from which they were dug. Nearly all the customers, including Clare, grabbed a bag and selected some of the rough tubers. The piles were marked with large cardboard signs with one word written in rustic red letters – TATERS.

Clare picked out a few of the sweet potatoes. Two days later we had five of our grandchildren in our home. We all enjoy warm sweet potatoes with butter. Read more…


November 1, 2014
All Saints Day

Though I am not a golfer, I enjoy watching an occasional round of golf on television. In April of this year, I watched a little of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course. The best players in the world make golf shots possible only in the dreams of weekend duffers.

In the final round of the Masters, the television cameras follow the player who seems destined for victory. Walking up the fairway on the 18th hole, the apparent winner is welcomed to the final green by cheering fans. Striding up a hill of green grass surrounded by blooming azaleas to the applause of a crowded grandstands, the victorious golfer knows that he is only a putt or two away from receiving a Master’s jacket and a large check.

I imagine that the victory walk up the 18th fairway at the Augusta National Golf Course may be somewhat like the entry into heaven. In my mind’s eye, that final approach must certainly be beautiful and thrilling. I can picture a welcoming host of people cheering those recently arrived. The Bible puts it, “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1) Read more…


October 26, 2014

When I was a boy, back in the days before the Grinch stole Halloween, October 31 was one of the most anticipated evenings of the year. My friends and I looked forward to the carnival at the elementary school we attended. Halloween was second only to Christmas Eve when excitement, for kids, permeated the night air. No sooner had the sun gone down, than costumed kids of every age flooded the streets of the neighborhood, knocking on doors and shouting “Trick-or-treat!”

Parents escorting their children stood a few yards away, guardian angels watching over small gremlins and goblins. The trick-or-treaters carried plastic jack-o-lanterns or paper bags to collect their bounty.

My friend Rusty always dressed as a pirate, carrying a large pillowcase to stash his booty. He stuffed a second pillowcase into his pocket, just in case the first one reached capacity. Rusty’s Halloween range was far greater than mine. He worked his neighborhood of Ben Avon before dark and then came to my street about the time I walked out of my house dressed as a hobo.

We ventured from one house to the next collecting treats. Rusty carried a spray can of whipping cream as he made his rounds. If the treat he received at a home was particularly generous, Rusty marked the driveway with a whipped cream star. A full-sized candy bar – Hershey, Snickers, Milky Way, or Three Musketeers – merited a star. Those were the houses he returned to later in the evening.

Occasionally, we would have meetings with other trick-or-treaters to discuss which houses gave out the best goodies. Rusty was like a crafty angler, concealing his best fishing hole.

Sometimes Rusty would trade treats with other consultants. He always came out on the better end of the deal. I saw him trade three packs of Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum for a Hershey Chocolate Almond bar and a pack of Topps Baseball cards. The pack had both a Mickey Mantle and a Willie Mays card inside.

I am not sure when the innocence of the holiday was lost, but, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, the Grinch tried to steal Halloween. Due to the general malice of some people, trick-or-treating turned violent. Vandalism replaced tricks. Some treats even became serious threats. Needles and razor blades were hidden in candy and in apples. Read more…


October 19, 2014

Each year, Clare and I go on an annual pumpkin search. Two years ago we were late getting started on our venture. We wound up buying pumpkins from a grocery store. Last year our quest led us to James Cooley’s Strawberry Hill peach shed.

Our preference is to buy pumpkins from a church group that uses the proceeds to fund mission endeavors. St. Matthews Episcopal Church and Trinity Methodist Church have been preferred locations through the years.

Last Friday we found ourselves in Simpsonville on another errand. Quite by accident, as we crossed the railroad tracks, we happened upon the pumpkin patch operated by Holy Cross Episcopal Church. The workers there told me the proceeds would go to Habitat for Humanity. We came home with four large bright orange beauties and six smaller ones. On Tuesday night we delivered pumpkins to our in-town grandchildren.

Every October television brings us the now classic animated film, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Late in the month, the Charles Schultz cartoon character, Linus, begins his annual search for the most sincere pumpkin patch. Linus is the one and only true believer. He steadfastly clings to the hope that on Halloween night the Great Pumpkin will visit the selected pumpkin patch bringing Halloween gifts to boys and girls who really believe.

The Great Pumpkin, as Linus imagines him, combines the characteristics of a large pumpkin, a scarecrow, and Santa Claus.  Each year Linus, clutching his security blanket, skips trick-or-treating in order to wait patiently for the enormous benevolent fruit to rise from the pumpkin patch.  Each year, his undying faith subjects him to ridicule by his peers.

The good folk of Allardt, Tennessee, host an annual Great Pumpkin Festival.  Located just northwest of Knoxville, the small town, on the weekend of the festival, swells in size, not unlike the pumpkins that are entered in the contest that give the event its name.  In 2004, Wallace Simmons won the weigh-in with a mammoth 852-pound entry.  Wallace hauled his prize pumpkin over the Smoky Mountains from his home in Canton, North Carolina. The 2005 winner was also grown by Simmons on his farm in Canton.  It set a new festival record at 854 pounds.

Across the country in San Mateo County, California, Joel Holland of Puyallup, Washington, won the 2004 World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off.  His Atlantic Giant pumpkin, grown on the Pacific coast, tipped the five-ton capacity scales at 1229 pounds.  In October 2005, Holland again won the event at Half Moon Bay, California.  This year’s entry weighed exactly the same as last year’s winner, 1229 pounds.  The prize money is calculated at five dollars per pound, so Joel Holland was awarded $6,145.

Last year, 2013, Gary Miller of Napa, California, won the competition with a 1,985-pound pumpkin.

This year another resident of Napa broke the North American record for heaviest pumpkin with his prize-winning behemoth of 2,058 pounds at the annual Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off. John Hawkley won $13,358 — $6 per pound for his pumpkin plus $1,000 for a California record. His pumpkin was shy of the 238 pounds needed to break the current world record-holder in Germany at 2,296 pounds.

The California drought played a role in this year’s competition because pumpkin growers had to contend with state water restrictions. Most growers planted fewer pumpkins in order to comply with the restrictions.

The pumpkin weigh-off begins a week of events culminating in the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. The celebration includes a Great Pumpkin parade, pumpkin pie-eating contest, costume contests, and a pumpkin carving competion.

Pumpkins are a kind of squash.  The variety usually cultivated for its massive size is the Atlantic Giant.  When asked his secret for growing the gigantic squash, Joel Holland credited specially prepared soil, abundant fertilizer, copious watering, and meticulous hand pollination.  Then he added, “I saved the seed from last year’s pumpkin.”

In our family, the main pumpkin activity was not growing large squash; it was carving jack-o-lanterns.

The name jack-o-lantern dates from seventeenth century England, when it literally meant a man with a lantern or a night watchman. By the early 1800s, jack-o-lantern had also become the popular name for a turnip lantern. Thomas Darlington in his 1887 volume The Folk-Speech of South Cheshire described the jack-o-lantern as “a lantern made by scooping out the inside of a turnip, carving the shell into a rude representation of the human face, and placing a lighted candle inside it.”

Irish immigrants brought the custom of carving jack-o-lanterns to North America. Because pumpkins were more available, they were used instead of turnips. In the nineteenth century pumpkin carving became a Halloween tradition all across the United States.

Our five children enjoyed the artistic endeavor each year even after they were self-conscious teenagers. The tradition continues even now that they are adults with their own families.  We usually purchased several large orange, well-shaped pumpkins and reserved a family night for the project.  Design sketches were drawn and redrawn until consensus was reached.  Adult supervision was required for the actual carving. After the seeds were removed from the pumpkins, Clare would toast the seeds on a cookie sheet and serve them with milk as our family night snack.

One year, Betsy asked, “Daddy, can we carve a girl pumpkin this year?”  Her four older brothers had been the chief designers in earlier years.  We all agreed that one of our pumpkins should be a girl.  We selected the largest, most perfectly shaped pumpkin. Betsy led the design team creating a drawing including puckered lips, long eyelashes, arched eyebrows, and earlobes with earrings.  The detailed pattern required a smaller, sharper knife, so the actual carving was up to me.  Carving a jack-o-lantern had always been a slapdash job for me.  Triangle eyes, triangle nose, crooked, snaggled-toothed smiling mouth, and slashed eyebrows were less than precise.

Betsy’s girl pumpkin took much longer to fashion than usual. We carefully cut away small pieces until the pumpkin had an unmistakably feminine countenance.  The project was successful, and the Jill-o-Lantern took her place on our front porch, illuminated from within by a votive candle.  Betsy dubbed her creation The Great Girl Pumpkin.

As Halloween approached the following year, Betsy asked, “Hey, Daddy, we need to have another Great Girl Pumpkin this year.”

Remembering the effort that went into the Jill-o-lantern the year before, I teased, “Betsy, I didn’t save any seed.”

“Daddy, even if you had saved seed, we couldn’t grow a pumpkin that was already carved. Besides, Mama toasted the seeds, and we ate all of them. But I’m not worried, I know you can do it again.”

Like Linus, our daughter is a true believer.


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