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DAFFODILS: FLOWERS OF HOPE

February 27, 2021

Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering what, as you are able, to globalbike, a nonprofit organization supporting women-owned bike rental and repair programs in rural communities with concentrated poverty where women have not traditionally had the opportunity to work outside the home. Founded in Spartanburg and based in Tanzania, globalbike gives women the tools they need to grow their communities through entrepreneurship. Hillcrest Market Place, 1855 East Main Street #14, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29307, 301-920-0408, http://www.globalbike.org.

Last Sunday, I was pleased to see in the Spartanburg Magazine’s latest issue a fascinating article on daffodils for the Southern garden. These reliable bulbs deserve a place in every garden. They are low maintenance and add an artistic touch to the early spring landscape. Perfect timing! The daffodils in my garden are beginning to bloom, strutting and dancing in the cool breeze.

The daffodil symbolizes rebirth and new beginnings. It became associated with the arrival of spring because it is one of the first perennials to bloom after the winter frost. Though daffodils do grow in shades of white and orange, they are best known for brightening up the garden with their yellow hues.

The Latin name for daffodil is Narcissus. It is believed to be named after the son of the river god. The story of Narcissus comes to us from ancient Greek mythology.  Narcissus was a sixteen-year-old young man who became infatuated with his own reflection.  He spurned the affection of the beautiful maiden, Echo, until she was finally reduced to nothing more than her sad, pleading voice.

Narcissus was celebrated for his beauty, but he was arrogant. The goddess Nemesis noticed this and lured him to a pool where he fell in love with his own reflection.

Some sources say while he was staring at his reflection, nymphs transformed him into a narcissus flower to get revenge for how he treated them. Others think he drowned trying to capture his reflection, and the flowers growing along the riverbed were named after him. The blooming plant that bears his name is commonly known as the daffodil.

Some even liken the nodding heads of daffodil flowers to Narcissus, bending down and gazing at his reflection.

In England, daffodils are also known as Lenten lilies. They typically bloom between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

A.E. Housman, an English scholar and poet, wrote a poem entitled “The Lent Lily” in tribute to the flower.

And there’s the windflower chilly

With all the winds at play,

And there’s the Lenten lily

That has not long to stay

And dies on Easter day.

A dear lady, Helen Babb, lived in the South Carolina countryside between Greer and Gowansville. Mrs. Babb loved beautiful flowers. In the late summer, old-fashioned rose companions with soft silver foliage and deep red blossoms covered an area near the old barn. They reseeded each year, multiplying in number and in beauty.

In the early spring, Helen Babb’s yard featured bright yellow jonquils, the petite relatives of daffodils. They, too, spread each year, flowing like a graceful yellow ribbon down a gentle slope.

After Mrs. Babb’s death several years ago, her daughter knew that she would have to sell her mother’s home place. She wanted to save some of the heirloom flowers for her own yard in Spartanburg. In the fall, she dug up a box full of the jonquil bulbs, many more than she needed. She shared some with me.

On a rainy, cold November afternoon, I planted the bulbs on an embankment near the waterfall in my garden. Every February, the tiny flowers put on a magnificent display.

This is the season of the garden narcissus, the family of flowering bulbs that includes jonquils and daffodils. These cheerful blooms are harbingers of spring and symbols of hope.

Daffodils and their smaller Spanish cousins, jonquils, are the promise that spring is drawing near. Other flowering bulbs, like crocus and Dutch iris, along with pansies and Lenten roses, are welcome sights even in the snow. But once the daffodils bloom, there can be no doubt that seasons are changing. It is as if the nodding trumpet-shaped flowers herald the arrival of spring.

Some time ago, when I was younger and more agile, two of our sons and I took a backpacking trip during spring break along the Foothills Trail in the Dark Corner, the northwestern section of South Carolina. Somewhere between the Keowee and the Whitewater Rivers, we crested a hill and were greeted with the stunning sight of hundreds of yellow daffodils. An old homestead had long since disappeared and was now marked only by a crumbling fieldstone foundation and a collapsed chimney. The flowers that graced the mountainside each spring had survived and naturalized, spreading through a meadow and across the forest floor.

The English poet, William Wordsworth, immortalized the daffodil in lines penned in 1804.

I wander’d lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Gene was a dear friend who grew up on a farm in Cherokee County, South Carolina. His success with the family business enabled him to build a home on the family farm within a stone’s throw of the old home place.  The beautiful house had a wrap-around porch with big rocking chairs. Visitors approached by a long driveway, flanked on the left by with horse pasture and a weathered barn. Up a hill to the right is the foundation of the former home.  In the early spring, this hill is covered with bright yellow daffodils. Originally planted by Gene’s mother around the old farmhouse, the daffodils have naturalized, spreading helter-skelter down the hillside.  Each year the flowers bloom from late February through March. The yellow-splotched hill is a sight to behold.

A few years ago, after several months of increasingly severe health problems, it became clear that Gene was quite ill.  The diagnosis was a rapidly growing, rare form of cancer.  His death came quickly, far sooner than most of us had expected.  While his death was anticipated, it was also sudden, making the grief experience jagged and confused. 

In mid-March, Gene went home from the hospital. On a bright, warm Sunday afternoon, Gene asked if he could see the daffodils.  Surrounded by his loving wife, children, and several grandchildren, Gene was transported by wheelchair down the driveway near the barn.  He sat quietly for a few moments, taking in the sight of the hillside covered in delicate yellow blooms dancing in the breeze. 

Three days later, Gene died.

At the graveside in a country churchyard, the children and grandchildren each placed a daffodil, picked from the hillside, on the polished wooden casket.  Even though yellow daffodils bring to mind bittersweet memories, they will be a perennial symbol of hope for Gene’s family.

In his concluding lines in the poem, “Daffodils,” Wordsworth captures the wonder of these spring flowers for all who find in them a signal of hope.

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Jesus taught his followers how to deal with worry and anxiety. His counsel was to pay attention to birds and flowers.  For Gene’s family, as well as for many others, those flowers will always be daffodils.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor. He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

THE PRICE OF A HAIRCUT

February 20, 2021

Note to readers: During these difficult days for many people, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one charity. This week, please volunteer or donate, as you are able, to Piedmont Care, Inc., a nonprofit organization serving the Spartanburg, Cherokee, and Union communities by providing HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and advocacy. International Center, 101 North Pine Street, Suite 200, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302, (864) 582-7773.

Last week Clare said, “You are past due for a haircut and a beard trim.”

I looked in the bathroom mirror. I did have a distinct Neanderthal look about me. The COVID-19 lockdown had definitely taken its toll on my appearance. I called the fellow who cuts my hair. He gave me an appointment late last week.

Just walking into the shop brought back a memory from twenty years earlier. I recalled a time when former President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara came to Spartanburg to lead a fund-raising event for the Regional Hospital Foundation.

Back to that in just a moment.  Stay with me here. This is a good story.

When Clare and I lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I won a drawing at a Boy Scout fund-raiser. The door prize was styling at a local hair salon, Delilah’s Den. Though I had always gone to a regular barbershop, I decided to try it out since it was free.  The resulting haircut was just fine, but Clare quickly informed me that Delilah’s Den was forevermore on the blacklist of places to get a haircut. Delilah, the stylist, struck her as matching too closely the description of the Biblical Delilah, the one responsible for the downfall of Samson.

Samson had the most expensive haircut on record!

Contrary to the familiar refrain, “Shave and a haircut, two bits,” I have never paid less than fifty cents for a haircut.

When I was a freshman at Furman in 1962, one of the seniors worked as a barber out of his dormitory room. He charged half a dollar per customer for a haircut that conformed to Army Reserved Officer Training Corps standards.

 My dad used to give similar haircuts to my three brothers and me.  In our garage, using neither comb nor scissors, his only tool was an electric trimmer with a buzz attachment. The resulting hairstyle was just short of bald, allowing our mother to spot a black-legged deer tick at twenty paces.

My first flattop came from Bob Martin when I was in junior high. I used a product called Butch Hair Wax to make the unnatural arrangement stand up. Its effect didn’t last long. A flattop and a baseball cap are incompatible.

Nowadays, barbershops are diminishing in number.  Salons are replacing many. The folks who actually cut hair are no longer named Bubba or Sarge.  They refer to themselves as stylists rather than barbers. They may be people who speak with a foreign accent or women named Delilah. 

            I remember the barbershop as a house of mirrors. Opposing mirrors in front of and behind the row of chairs created a series of reflections extending to infinity. The barbershop was a place filled with clouds of cigar smoke mingling with the fragrance of talcum powder and shaving lotion. A barber from my teenage years chewed Brown Mule Tobacco. His brass spittoon would now be considered an antique, a tarnished relic from a bygone era.   

The local barbershop is among the last of the all-male institutions to fade from the American scene. A barber pole and the cigar store Indian were, for years, symbols of welcome refuge for the American male. No more.

The first time I remember a woman entering a barbershop, the intrusion brought a pall of silence settling over the establishment. It was as if we had experienced a close encounter of the third kind.

She was a mama who wanted to be sure the barber treated her none-too-happy son gently and, at the same time, cut the child’s hair to suit her.

While she was in the shop, there were no jokes and no fishing stories. There was no banter and no barbershop quarterbacking. The lady did most of the talking.

After the mother and her child departed, a whole lot was said!

Now, if I enter a barbershop where I am known, I am often greeted with, “Hey, Preacher!” followed by the same awkward silence.

After fifty-five years as a pastor, I recognize the alarm when it is sounded. Barbers and patrons alike are immediately on guard. Language is sanitized. The best barbershop jokes are censored. It is too high a price to pay for a haircut!

Once I decided to dash into an unfamiliar barbershop for a quick trim while Clare did some shopping.

When I next saw her, she was horrified. “What happened to your hair? It looks like a lawn mower ran across your head!”

That was the day I finally lost the privilege of choosing my own barber.

I used to get a haircut at least once every three months, whether I needed it or not.

Since Clare started making the decisions about where I am allowed to get my trim, I have a standing appointment with the same stylist who does her hair. Jeff is a great friend. He gives an excellent haircut. His price is more than fair. Best of all, Jeff is a Green Bay Packers fan who enjoys talking football.

He comes from a long line of Georgia barbers. His fine heritage is evidenced by a pair of his great uncle’s straight razors framed in a shadowbox on the wall of his shop. When I visit his place of business, the magazines are Vogue and Cosmopolitan. There is not a Field and Stream or Sports Illustrated in sight. That is a high price to pay while waiting for a haircut.

Several years ago, while Clare was shopping in historic downtown Inman, I strolled into a barbershop around the corner. The customer in the only barber chair had an Elvis-sized head of hair. The barber worked on the shiny black ducktail while exchanging turkey-hunting stories with the next fellow in line, a man who was almost entirely bald.

As the first man paid the usual amount for his haircut, the bald man took his seat in the chair. “Surely, you’re not going to charge me the same thing you charged him?  I should get a discount!”

The barber responded with a line he must have used many times before. “Yes, you’ll get a discount for the haircut, but I’ll have to charge you a finder’s fee.”

Sometimes the price of a haircut is just too high!

The truth is, nobody wants a bad hair day.

The salon where I get my hair cut and where Clare has her hair styled, are one and the same. Their telephones ring constantly. Making appointments, changing appointments, doing whatever must be done to accommodate the clientele is the nature of the business.

Here is the story about George and Barbara Bush.

            One October day in 1997, Pam returned a phone call. A regular customer wanted to make an appointment, but this time it was not for herself.

            “Pam, former President, and First Lady, George and Barbara Bush, are in Spartanburg. Could you do Barbara Bush’s hair tomorrow?”

            Pam agreed. After the call, she blurted out to everyone in the shop, “Y’all, I’m doing Barbara Bush’s hair tomorrow!”

            For the rest of the day, the shop was buzzing. Everyone who came in had a comment about the former First Lady.

            “I just loved her book about her dog, Millie’s Book.”

            “You know, she’s a grandmother. In fact, she’s everybody’s grandmother.”

            “The thing I like about her is she speaks her mind. She’s just a plain person like all of us.”

            Later in the day, the telephone rang. Pam heard the same voice again. This time she answered immediately.

            “Pam, since you’re coming to fix Barbara Bush’s hair, would you have time to give the former President a trim, too?”

            No chance that Pam would be speechless!  “Oh my gosh! I would be honored!”

            When Pam arrived at the Milliken Guest House, she was nervous. The Secret Service Agents didn’t ease her trepidation.

            Pam had on a new outfit. Barbara Bush wore a terrycloth bathrobe.  As Pam styled Mrs. Bush’s lovely snow-white hair, they talked about their children, just as any two mothers would do.

            Pam had almost completed Barbara’s hairdo when the former President came to the door wearing a matching white terrycloth robe.

Pam said the former President put her at ease. “As I cut his hair, I remember thinking, these are just ordinary people.  There was no air of superiority about them.”

George Bush reached to pay Pam. Pam declined, saying it was her honor. The former President insisted, paying the usual fee for both Barbara’s styling and for his haircut.

In that case, the price of a haircut was just right.

Pam asked if I would write her story. I am always open to a good story, so I agreed. I entitled her story “Trimming the Bushes.”

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

OCTAGON SOAP AND THE SEASON OF LENT

February 19, 2021

Octagon soap used to be indispensable in Southern households. From scrubbing dirty work clothes to lathering hands that had come in contact with poison ivy, the yellow lye soap with eight sides and scented with lemongrass had multiple uses.

My mother, who had a strong aversion to dirt, always kept a bar of Octagon soap close at hand. She expected us to wash our hands up to our elbows before meals, whether they needed it or not. We were allowed to go barefooted after the first day of May, but that required additional foot washing. If we made an ugly comment about another person or uttered a bad word, she washed our mouth out with the same yellow soap.

When I went fishing with my grandfather, I usually picked up a few choice phrases to add to my lumberyard vocabulary. My mother employed my own toothbrush and yellow Octagon soap to scrub Pappy’s colorful language from my mouth.

“I want you to enjoy being with your grandfather,” she said. “But I don’t want you to talk like him.”

She almost cleansed me from all of Pappy’s profanity, but not quite.

I have found that whenever I wash my hands in a public restroom, trying to dry them with an automatic dryer is annoying. Those machines never get my hands completely dry.  Have you ever exited a restroom after using one of those machines, only to meet someone who wanted to shake hands?  Meeting the public with water on your hands is embarrassing.

Meeting the public with blood on your hands is incriminating.  Pilate, the Governor of Judea, washed and dried his hands in public, attempting to rid himself of any responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Scripture records, “Pilate … took water and washed his hands before the crowd saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood…'” (Matthew 27:24).  Nice try, Governor.

Even Octagon soap would not have washed away his guilt.  No amount of washing could wipe his hands clean of the death soon to occur on Golgotha, the place of the skull.  

Simon Peter made a bold vow on the night of Passover, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death” (Luke 22:33). By dawn the next morning when the rooster crowed in downtown Jerusalem, Peter had asserted three times that he didn’t even know Jesus. Scripture says that he punctuated his denials with cursing.

My mother would have certainly washed out his mouth with soap.

Before the Last Supper on the night he was betrayed, the Gospel says that Jesus “poured water in a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet…” (John 13:5). All twelve disciples were there for the foot-washing – Peter, Judas, all of them. Maybe the Lord should have used Octagon soap. The scrubbing was not enough to clean up the act of Peter, Judas, or the rest of them.

As a boy, I knew nothing about the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday was the day to clean out the fireplace. Lent was what we saw in cotton mill workers’ hair or what we found in our own belly buttons. For many Christians, and now for me, these days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday are set aside as a time for reflection and self-examination, acknowledging our sins, repent, and seeking forgiveness.  The season is a time to come clean with God.

Have you tried to wash your hands of responsibility like Pilate?  Have you denied Jesus like Simon Peter?  Have you betrayed the Lord like Judas? The cleansing of Lent is not only about hands, mouths, and feet. The purging we need is the deep, inner cleansing of our hearts.

David phrased it well, “Create within me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). Christians affirm that the one who died for our sins offers forgiveness and pardon. If we confess and receive, by faith, his mercy, and his grace, our hearts will be clean. That is the reason for Lent. It is cleansing that goes far beyond the reach of Octagon soap.

Kirk H. Neely is a freelance writer, a teacher, a pastoral counselor, and a retired pastor.

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com