Last Sunday it was my privilege to preach at First Presbyterian Church. Holt Andrews opened the service with a hymn sing. Members of the congregation requested their favorite selection from the hymnbook, and we all sang a verse or two. Several of the hymns were quite familiar: “All Hail the Power,” “Blessed Assurance,” “Shall We Gather at the River.”
Sunday afternoon I reflected on the experience. It brought to mind so many times in the past when I sang hymns and gospel songs with my family or with a church congregation. I recall sitting in the shade of a wide wraparound porch of the Barnwell County farmhouse where my mother was born. Hutson uncles and cousins brought at least one banjo, guitars, harmonicas, a mandolin, a bass made from a washtub and a broom handle, kitchen spoons, and a scrub board played with finger picks. We sang “You Gotta’ Walk that Lonesome Valley” and “Precious Lord, Take my Hand” as if we were in a revival meeting.
I remember my large Neely family gathering around an old upright piano singing from memory to the keyboard accompaniment of an aunt. We sang “The Old Rugged Cross,” “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” and “By and By When the Morning Comes.”
This kind of experience is still available every Wednesday morning at Dolline’s restaurant in Clifton #2. Folks gather around to sing the old hymns to the rhythm of a guitar. Read more…
Some of the stories in this column will appear in the forthcoming book, Splinters: Tales from the Lumberyard, by Kirk H. Neely.
My good friend John Faris is working on a new book, We’ll Do It Tomorrow: Southern Hunting and Fishing Stories. I have had the good fortune of fishing with John on numerous occasions. He has many stories to tell as do I. In fact, John and I get almost as much enjoyment sharing fishing stories as we do fishing. In his new book John recounts adventures fishing for bream and bass on small farm ponds as well as fishing for spot tail bass and tarpon in salt water. I’ll let you know when John’s new volume is published later this year. It will be a page turner you will not want to miss!
Recently, I spoke with a man at the Beacon Drive-In. He and a friend had just returned from a fishing trip. He still had his boat in tow behind his pickup truck in the parking lot. He insisted on showing me his catch. He had landed several large striped bass, now on ice in a big cooler.. Bragging about the day’s catch, he said, “We just wore them out!” Read more…
My friend, Father Rob Brown, and I recently conducted the memorial service for Joe Crook. Prior to the celebration of Joe’s life I said to the family, “I can’t imagine having a memorial for Joe without humor. He enjoyed a good story and a good laugh as much as anyone.”
Some find humor at a funeral to be inappropriate. I personally think humor in the face of death is a tender mercy and a gentle blessing. Folks who have experienced deep grief know that comic relief is a welcome shift. If all we do is cry, bereavement quickly becomes tedious.
Of course, there are times when death by violence renders humor completely misplaced. The deaths across this country and around the world this week are tragic examples.
Recently, a church member sent an e-mail containing tombstone inscriptions collected from old cemeteries. One of my favorites from the extensive list was this one.
From East Dalhousie Cemetery, Nova Scotia
Here lies Ezekial Aikle
Only the Good Die Young
After more than fifty years of pastoral ministry, I have accumulated an interesting collection of graveyard stories.
Some of the stories in this column will appear in the forthcoming book by Kirk H. Neely, Splinters: Tales from the Lumberyard.
Last Tuesday morning, I hurried through a sudden downpour to my truck. Dark gray clouds filled the sky as the drops slanted from above. I jumped into the driver’s side door of the pickup and slammed the door. To my amazement, a dragonfly hovered before my eyes just on the other side of the windshield. I stared at the curious insect as the fluttering wings held the dragonfly in place as if he or she was staring back at me with large compound eyes. I waited a moment, turning the key in the ignition after the interesting visitor had flown away. Having a close encounter with a dragonfly early in the morning brought back memories of other times when I was taken captive by this fascinating creature.
The dragonfly is an aviation marvel. The Boeing Corporation in Seattle, Washington, has filmed dragonflies in flight. After taking a close look at this small insect, engineers were astounded at their aerodynamics. They concluded that the dragonfly is a highly-perfected flying machine.
Each one of the 6000 varieties of dragonflies is unique. Some fly at speeds up to sixty miles an hour while the average cruising rate is about ten miles an hour. They fly backwards, dart from side to side, stop in mid-flight, and hover.
The secret to their agility is the two pairs of wings that work independently of each other. The front two wings simply churn the air, creating disturbance, while the back two wings provide stability. Read more…
As we anticipate the July 4 celebration of our nation’s independence, permit me to give you a two-part quiz.
- Can you quote from memory one sentence from the Declaration of Independence?
- Can you name the four South Carolinians who signed the Declaration of Independence?
Students in a sociology class designed a research project. They printed out the words of the Declaration of Independence and placed copies of the document on clipboards. Without identifying the document as the Declaration, the students invited people at a shopping mall to read and sign it as a petition. Most people refused to sign their name. They protested that the wording was inflammatory. Some said the students were just trying to stir up trouble.
Many Americans recognize some of the words contained in the famous document laying the foundation of our nation; sadly many others do not. Perhaps the most familiar sentence is found in the first lines of the second paragraph of the Declaration. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were committing an act of treason against King George III. Though the names Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson are familiar, few residents of the Palmetto State can name the four South Carolinians who placed their signatures on this document. Read more…
On Saturday June 18, Clare and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Clare specifically requested that on our special day we spend time with each other and with our children and grandchildren. That is exactly what we did.
As this special anniversary approached, we talked together about our marriage. After fifty years we are still married, and we are also best friends. Clare and I enjoy being together.
We are certainly aware that marriage can be fragile. Few extended families have escaped the pain of separation or divorce. Clare and I have several good friends and dear family who have suffered through the dissolution of marriages.
Both Clare and I had parents who were married to one person until death separated them: mom and dad for fifty-eight years and Clare’s parents for forty-two years. Our parents set a good example for us. Read more…
Stonewall Jackson Long served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. He changed his name before he enlisted explaining that he preferred to be called Jackson S. than Stonewall J. His friends called him Jack. I called him Mr. Jack. He was Clare’s father, my father-in-law.
Like many soldiers who served during World War II, Mr. Jack rarely spoke about his experiences. But one thing that was never in doubt was his devotion and loyalty to the country he served. It was only fitting that the flag of the United States of America should be presented to his family at his funeral. We still have that flag.
Each year, just before Memorial Day, we display Mr. Jack’s flag at our home. The large casket flag is draped on the wall on our front porch. We leave it there until after Independence Day, July Fourth. It is a reminder to our children and our grandchildren of the heritage that is ours as Americans.
June 14 is celebrated in the United States as National Flag Day. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on that date in 1777 by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day; in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. While Flag Day is not an official federal holiday many Americans mark the day as our family does by displaying the flag.
The early flags of the United States of America were all hand sewn. Each flag has a unique story. For this special day, allow me to share three. Read more…