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THE LIFESAVING STATION

June 14, 2018

In 1928, a case came before the courts in the state of Massachusetts.  It concerned a man who had been walking on a boat dock when he tripped over a rope and fell into the cold, deep water of an ocean bay.  He came up sputtering, yelling for help only to sink again, obviously in trouble.  His friends were too far away to reach him, but a young man in a deck chair sunbathing on another dock was only a few yards away.  The desperate man shouted, “Help! I can’t swim!”  The young man, an excellent swimmer, turned his head to watch as the man floundered in the water and disappeared forever.

The family of the drowned man was upset by this display of indifference and sued.  They lost the suit.  The court ruled that the man on the dock had no legal responsibility to try to save the other man’s life.

It was Cain who asked the cynical question after his brother’s death, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).  Perhaps we have no legal responsibility to care for others, but the law of God is different.  “Love your neighbors as you love yourself,” taught Jesus quoting Hebrew scripture.  Jesus himself demonstrated this: “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Read more…

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THE OLD GRIST MILL

June 10, 2018

Thirty or so years ago, I stood with Dr. Lewis Jones on the bank of the North Tyger River. The beloved professor of history at Wofford College pointed to Anderson Mill. “This place is living history,” he said. “It needs to be preserved.”

I looked at the old building covered with corrugated metal, marred by graffiti. Wisteria and honeysuckle vines were creeping up the old stone foundation. The two waterwheels were rusted. My unspoken question was, Why in the world would anyone want to save this old place?

I remembered as a boy coming to this place to picnic with a church group on a hot summer day. On a big flat rock across from the old mill we spread gingham tablecloths, ate ham sandwiches, and drank sweet tea. Then we slid on the rocks in the river rapids. In the 1950s this was our water park. Little did I realize then the historical significance of this spot on the Tyger River. Read more…

LADYBUG LEGENDS

June 3, 2018

Several years ago, our daughter, Betsy, presented me with a necktie for Father’s Day. Bright yellow, the tie was adorned with a colorful assortment of ladybugs.

“Wear it with a light blue shirt,” Betsy advised. “The ladybugs are cute!”

Even beyond the world of men’s apparel, the bright red beetles with black spots make a fashion statement.

As some of you know, I occasionally try my hand at painting. My children encouraged me even though I am colorblind. Because I do best with bright colors and simple subjects, I decided to paint a lady bug. I made the background a bright yellow petal of a gloriosa daisy. The insect needed to be large than life to capture the details. When the painting was completed Clare liked it so much that we hung it in a bedroom where our grandchildren take naps and spend the night with us. They, too, appreciated their grandfather’s creation.

My painting pales in comparison with the real thing. In fact, the tiny insect is yet one more example of the delicate, miraculous hand of the divine Creator.

Ladybugs stand out in the coleoptera family whose members are usually black and brown,

The proper name for these fascinating insects is the ladybird beetle. Over time the name was shortened to lady beetles.  In the United States they became known as ladybugs. The colorful beetle has been named the state insect of South Carolina.

Myths about the ladybird beetle abound. One myth is that if you spot one in your home, it means prosperity and good fortune. Another is that the number of ladybugs in your home indicates how many of unexpected guests you are soon to host. Mercy!

During the Middle Ages, hordes of voracious insects descended upon the fields and orchards of central Europe. Fearful that all their food crops would be destroyed, people prayed to the Virgin Mary for help.

According to legend, red and black beetles appeared, making a feast of the invading insects, thus saving the crops. People called their winged rescuers the beetles of Our Lady. Their red wings were said to represent the Virgin’s cloak. The black spots were symbolic of her joys and her sorrows.

Lady beetles are among the most helpful garden predators.  The brightly colored insects picnic on aphids and mealy bugs. One tiny ladybug can polish off a hundred aphids in a day!

More than 4000 species are found worldwide. In the United States the hard shell is usually red with black spots. During flight, the shell opens, allowing the wings to beat up to eighty-five times a second.

Ladybugs hibernate during the autumn and winter in logs or piles of leaves. Sometimes they find shelter beneath the siding of a home. As the spring sun warms them, they may emerge inside the dwelling, causing considerable consternation among residents. Our friends in the pest control business report that the problem is annoying but not serious. Ladybugs are attracted to light-colored houses, especially those having a clear southwestern sun exposure. Older homes tend to experience more problems because they lack adequate insulation.

The ladybugs enter through small cracks around windows, doors, and siding, searching for a warm, comfortable spot during cold weather. They congregate in groups during hibernation; so if you see one, you will probably find more. If you can locate their entry point, caulking the small cracks will keep them at bay.

Ladybugs do not eat fabric, plants, or paper. While in the house they live off of their own body fats. They prefer a little humidity. Because homes generally have low humidity during the winter, most of your ladybug guests will eventually die from dehydration. Occasionally, you might find one in your bathroom getting a drink of water. Smart lady!

The best way to eliminate the unwelcome guests is with a vacuum cleaner.  Use a clean bag and release them outside. The nursery rhyme “Ladybug, ladybug fly away home” was supposed to charm the insects into departing.

Many folks in various cultures consider the presence of a ladybug as a herald of good luck.  Killing one is said to bring sadness and misfortune.

The French believe that if a ladybug lands on you, any ailment you have will fly away with the insect.

In Belgium it is said that when a ladybug lands on a young woman’s hand, she’ll be married within a year. The black spots on the back of the insect indicate the number of children the couple will have.

When Swiss children ask where babies come from, parents tell them that ladybugs deliver newborn infants.

In Norway romance will surely blossom for a man and a woman who spy a ladybug at the same time.

People living in Victorian England believed that a ladybug alighting on your hand predicted that you would receive a new pair of gloves. If one landed on your head, a new hat would soon come your way.

In some cultures ladybugs were thought to have divine powers. According to a Norse legend, Thor sent the ladybug, riding on a bolt of lightning, as a gift to earth. Some Asian cultures believe that ladybugs understand human language and act as interpreters for the gods.

Many legends in this country harken back to pioneer days. Finding a ladybug in a family’s log cabin during the winter was considered a good omen. Ladybugs even played a part in pioneer medicine.  Ladybugs secrete a fouling smelling fluid to make themselves distasteful to birds.  In the 1800s, some doctors treated measles with that same secretion from the insects.  Physicians also believed that placing a mashed ladybug onto an abscessed tooth would stop throbbing pain.

Farmers say that seeing a large number of flying ladybugs during the spring months is a harbinger of bountiful crops. Folklore suggests that the number of spots on a ladybug found in your home reveals how many dollars you will soon find. Making a wish, while holding a ladybug in your hand, brings good luck.  Watching the direction it flies off your hand indicates the source of this luck.

Legends notwithstanding, the ladybird beetle is beneficial to home gardeners and commercial farmers.

In the 1880s a destructive scale insect was killing large groves of lemon and orange trees. The California Citrus Growers released thousands of ladybugs into the orchards. Within two years the infestation ended, and the trees began to bear fruit again.  Ladybugs saved the entire citrus industry.  Since then, ladybugs have been employed around the world to help control outbreaks of pests.

On one of the first warm days of spring, I was walking in my garden, examining various plants that were off to a fresh start. I paid particular attention to the climbers – scarlet honeysuckle, several varieties of clematis, and the rambling roses. Ordinarily, I will find a few aphids on some of the tender shoots of these vines. One clematis vine in particular was heavily infested with these tiny sucking invaders.

Later that day I purchased a bottle of insecticidal soap. When I returned to the affected clematis, I discovered the plant was covered in ladybugs, feasting on the aphids. I put the spray bottle away, allowing them to dine to their hearts’ content.

Master Gardener Joe Maple taught me that if you kill a beneficial insect, you inherit its job.  When it comes to ladybugs, my motto is borrowed from highway construction crews.

“Let them live. Let them work.”

BURYING GROUND: REFLECTIONS FOR MEMORIAL DAY

May 26, 2018

The most expensive real estate in Spartanburg County rarely changes hands once the property is occupied.  These small tracts of land are cemetery plots.  A friend of mine worked for a local cemetery.  I often teased that he ran his business into the ground.  Just after Easter, fifteen or more years ago, he made me an offer too good to refuse.  The cemetery was planning to develop a new section.

“We’re running a special for a limited time only,” he said.  “I’ll sell you two cemetery plots for the price of one.”

I talked with my dad, who always kept an eye out for a good land deal.  Each of us purchased two plots in acreage still undeveloped.

Several years later, my friend called again.  “We’ve exhumed a body that is to be reburied in Tennessee.  Four adjoining cemetery lots are available near the graves of your grandfather and grandmother.  If you and your dad would like to have them, we’ll swap even.”

Occasionally this expensive real estate does change hands.  My dad and I both agreed to accept the offer.  My mother had qualms about being buried in a previously occupied plot, so my dad and I decided that she and Clare could have the new ground and one of us would gladly accept the used grave as our final resting place.  Now that both mama and dad have gone to heaven, it is clear that the used grave will be mine.

Two observations strike me as both odd and appropriate.  Cemeteries have become popular places to walk.  A cemetery is certainly a peaceful place to exercise for good health.  Perhaps striding past the graves of the deceased provides motivation to walk more briskly.

As student drivers, our children used the narrow roadways of a cemetery to master the skill of maneuvering an automobile.  While negotiating the circular loop around multiple graves hardly prepared our teenagers for interstate driving, it was relatively safe.  Perhaps the setting is a good reminder that driving can be hazardous.

I have spent a good bit of time in cemeteries. Funerals are a regular part of pastoral duties. After fifty-four years of ministry, the last thirty-eight in Spartanburg, I have spoken words of committal in burying grounds all across the Carolinas. From green mountain graveyards in Cherokee, Weaverville, and Spruce Pine to quiet country churchyards in Anderson, Rock Hill, and Hartsville, I have stood with grieving families saying goodbye to loved ones.

I usually linger a few moments reading the names and the epitaphs on the tombstones in each place. At Fishing Creek Presbyterian Church in Chester County, I found a graveyard filled with Neelys. At Nazareth Presbyterian Church on the Tyger River, a part of the history of Spartanburg County is etched in stone.

On a trip to middle Tennessee in 1985, Cousin Emory Tucker rode with me to find a cemetery at the base of Short Mountain near Fosterville, Tennessee. Emory’s grandfather and grandmother, my great-great-grandparents, were buried in a small family cemetery that had been untended for years. On a gravel road, we crossed a railroad track and stopped at a barbed wire fence. The enclosed land had once been a pasture but was now overgrown with high weeds.

Eighty-eight-year-old Emory, who walked with a cane, remained at the car. Spreading the rusted barbed wire with my hands, I climbed through the fence. I searched the ground and found a big stout stick. Using it to clear my path, I made my way through the weeds and insects, toward a grove of oak trees some two hundred yards away. Beneath the oaks was a tangled mass of bramble briars and poison ivy.

Wielding the stick, I fought my way into the thicket. I hacked away, finally clearing a small spot of ground. Then, I nearly stumbled. At my feet was a pile of bleached bones. After a moment of stunned disbelief, I identified the bones as the skeleton of a horse.

I caught my breath and rejoined the battle against twisted vines and vicious thorns. Then suddenly the stick hit something solid – a tombstone engraved with the name WEBB. I tried to shout the news of my discovery to Emory. Alas, he was not only lame, but also hard of hearing. Retracing my steps, I walked almost all the way back to the car before I could make him understand what I had uncovered.

“That’s it!” he said excitedly. “That’s the grave of Cousin Joe Webb. Grandpa and grandma are buried right next to him.”

Using the stick to separate the barbed wire, I helped Emory through the fence. I made my way back to the grove of trees. Emory followed at his own pace. Returning to Joe Webb’s marker, I continued my attack on the enemy tangled vegetation. There were no other tombstones.

Exasperated, I jabbed the stick into the ground. The resulting sound was a clear thud. Using my hands to clear away several inches of earth, I found another stone, and another, and another. This was a true burying ground; even the grave markers were buried!

Clawing with my bare hands, I scraped the dirt away from each fallen stone. Like an eager archeologist, I uncovered the names:  M. H. NEELY, N.A. NEELY, and W.M. NEELY.    I had discovered the graves of Emory’s grandparents, Major Hugh Neely and Nancy Aylor Neely. They were my great, great-grandparents. I had also found the grave of my great-grandfather, William Morgan Neely.

It was an unusual visit to a very special burying ground. The cemetery has since been reclaimed, fenced in, and is now properly maintained.

All burying ground is holy ground, a treasure to be preserved.

Just past Mary Black Hospital, about where Skylyn Drive becomes Cannons Camp Ground Road, are two cemeteries:  Sunset Memorial Gardens on the right and Lincoln Memorial Gardens on the left.  In my thirty-eight years as a minister here in Spartanburg, I have conducted many funerals at Sunset, but not even one at Lincoln.

These two cemeteries reflect the segregation of this community along racial lines from times past.  While the two tracts of land are in close proximity to each other, they remind us of a time when schools, lunch counters, restrooms, and even water fountains were symbols of discrimination.  Other than Sunday morning worship in most of our churches, hardly any other facet of our community remains so segregated.

On a recent sunny afternoon, I drove into Lincoln Memorial Gardens and walked among the markers, reading the names and dates of birth and death of those buried there.  I noticed that some were born soon after the Civil War and tried to imagine the discrimination they encountered.  On the surface, the granite markers in that cemetery look exactly like the tombstones of my deceased loved ones.

The back road of the Lincoln cemetery borders the Spartanburg Police Hunt Club.  Near that road is a large white marble image of Christ with his hands outstretched. The statue has been discolored, or maybe I should say colored, by time and the elements.  Beneath this Christ of color is an engraved scripture: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them” (Revelation 14:13).

On this Memorial Day weekend, I am reminded that all burying ground is holy ground. In every cemetery, the graves of fallen soldiers have been watered by the tears of sweethearts, wives, and mothers; fathers, sons, and daughters.

Eventually, every cemetery plot will be a used plot. The final resting place for everybody, red, yellow, black, or white, is precious. My prayer is that prejudice and discrimination will pass away and be laid to rest, not only in the life to come, but also in our life together this side of heaven.

TRAVELING A BLUE LINE HIGHWAY

May 19, 2018

Clare and I enjoy driving along the back roads through the country when we travel. Leaving the four-lane interstate highways and passing through small towns give us an opportunity to slow our pace, talk with each other, and enjoy local lore. We took a pleasant jaunt down South Carolina Highway 261, the oldest route in the Midlands.

The road is named King’s Highway because it spurred off the 1300-mile trek between Boston, Massachusetts, and Charleston, South Carolina. Originally a Catawba Indian trail, the highway is located east of the Wateree River. In 1753 it became a public connector between Charleston and Camden. Also referred to as the Broad Road, the Great Road, or the Charleston Road, Highway 261 is a delight to travel.

Beginning near Boykin in Kershaw County, the old blue line road ends 117 miles south in Georgetown County.  The last Civil War battle in South Carolina, fought April 18, 1865, was waged at Boykin Mill. Located a few miles south of Camden, the unique village was named for William Boykin, who settled the town in 1755.  William’s son, Burwell, dammed Swift Creek in 1792, creating a 400-acre pond, which provided power to a grist and flour mill, as well as a sawmill. The Boykin family is also responsible for the breeding of the Boykin spaniel, the state dog of South Carolina.

Further along Highway 261, travelers pass the ruins of Home House Plantation, the summer home of General Thomas Sumter, a Revolutionary War hero. British General Cornwallis nicknamed Sumter, the Gamecock. General Sumter’s impressive monument marking his grave is nearby in a small public park.

High Hills Baptist Church, founded in 1772, is located near Stateburg. General Sumter granted a plot of land to the congregation. The church became influential under the leadership of Reverend Richard Furman, the pastor from 1774 to 1787.

Stateburg missed being selected the new capital by one vote when the state capital was moved from Charleston in 1786. According to tradition, the United States Military Academy, now at West Point, considered Stateburg for its location.

Just to the south in the High Hills of the Santee stands the historic Church of the Holy Cross, also known as the Holy Cross Episcopal Church. General Sumter donated the land on which the church was built. The remarkable structure is a notable example of Gothic Revival design, featuring a cruciform floor plan, corner towers, and pointed arches. The walls were constructed of pisé de terre or rammed earth.  Inside is the original Erben pipe organ, installed in 1851.

Joel Roberts Poinsett is among the many 19th century South Carolinians buried in its cemetery. A physician, statesman, and botanist, Poinsett served as the first American ambassador to Mexico. He brought us the familiar Christmas flower the poinsettia from that country.

Near Pinewood stands Millford, a two-story Greek revival mansion.  Nathaniel F. Potter of Providence, Rhode Island, built the home for John L. Manning, Governor of South Carolina from 1852 to 1854. It features six carved Corinthian columns and a spectacular circular staircase rising in a domed cylindrical chamber.

Union troops threatened the residence near the end of the Civil War. Their commander’s intervention, however, actually saved the plantation from destruction. The conversation between Brigadier General Edward E. Potter of New York and Governor Manning was recorded.

Potter: “This is a fine structure.”

Manning: “Well, the house was built by a Potter, Nathaniel Potter, and it looks as though it will be destroyed by a Potter.”

Potter: “No, you are protected. Nathaniel Potter was my brother.”

When General Potter spared Millford, he did not know that Manning had a copy of the Articles of Secession in a desk drawer.

Clare and I meandered through the quaint towns of Wedgefield, Pinewood, and Paxville. Along the way we noticed road signs with interesting names: Burnt Gin and Buttermilk.  The highway passes Poinsett State Park, travels through Manchester State Forest, and parallels the Palmetto Trail.

We continued our wanderings by making our way into the picturesque town of Manning, South Carolina. The owner of a hardware store gave me directions to McCabe’s Barbecue. “Look for all the pickup trucks parked outside. You can’t miss it.”

The McCabe family is known for pit-cooked barbecue that uses a simple vinegar-pepper sauce. The restaurant’s ample buffet features other good victuals from which to choose, including fried chicken, downhome vegetables, hash, and dirty rice.

Highway 261 continues to Kingstree, originally named Williamsburg and founded during colonial times. King George claimed as his own an unusually large pine tree found there along the Black River. Since tall pines were ideal for use as ship masts, the monarch’s arrow mark placed upon this tree prevented anyone from felling it. That tree, which was never cut, is the only one claimed by King George in the South.

Over time, the county kept the name Williamsburg, but the county seat became known as the King’s Tree, giving the town its name, Kingstree.

Clare and I usually take US 521 out of Manning, travel south through Greeleyville, a town having fewer than 400 residents, and continue into Salters, located in the middle of cotton country. By late summer and early fall, the cotton is high and the bolls are bursting with white. Two miles away is Cooper’s Country Store, owned by Adalyn and George Cooper.  The store peddles everything from whole country hams to shotguns.

Andrews, South Carolina, is actually the consolidation of two separate towns: Rosemary and Harpers Crossroads.  Those small towns were settled along the Georgetown and Western Railroad line, which started operation in 1886. Almost a decade later came the addition of a Seaboard Air Line Railroad route through the area and the building of a sizable maintenance shop.

In 1909, voters agreed to incorporate the two towns into a single community, which they named after Colonel Walter H. Andrews.  An employee of the Atlantic Coast Lumber Company, Andrews played an important role in the incorporation process and served as the mayor for two decades.  Musician Chubby Checker and comedian Chris Rock call Andrews home.

Our trip ended in Georgetown, the third oldest city in the state.  Located on Winyah Bay at the confluence of the Great Pee Dee, the Black, the Waccamaw, and the Sampit rivers, Georgetown is the second largest seaport in South Carolina. In the colonial period, large rice plantations were established on the rivers around the area. By the time of the Civil War, Georgetown was producing one-half of the total rice crop in the United States. The city was the largest rice-exporting port in the world. Wealth from Carolina Gold rice enabled planters to build stately homes, several of which are now preserved as historic treasures.

If you decide to follow this blue line route through the state, Clare suggests you travel during daylight. At night the road is dark, and the deer run rampant.

Be careful and enjoy the drive!

PINK BATS: MOTHER’S DAY AND BASEBALL

May 12, 2018

On Mother’s Day, 2007, Bill Hall of the Milwaukee Brewers slammed a walk-off homerun, using a pink baseball bat. His mother was seated in the stadium, cheering for him. A year later, Ken Griffey, Jr. hit a pink-bat homer, and Tory Hunter hit two pink-bat homeruns. Major League Baseball allows the use of pink bats only on Mother’s Day.

This Sunday, for the thirteenth season in a row, more than three hundred major leaguers will step to the plate and take their swings with pink bats. Going to Bat against Brest Cancer is again the theme of the baseball effort to raise awareness and to raise money for the fight against a disease that affects thousands of women. Many of the players have mothers, grandmothers, wives, and girlfriends who have fought the good fight against breast cancer.

The Louisville Slugger Company has colored hundreds of their white ash lumber bats pink for Mother’s Day. Hundreds of the brightly colored clubs are rolling off the manufacturing line. Fans can also purchase custom pink Louisville Sluggers at sluggercustombats.com. For each custom pink bat sold to the public, $10 will be donated to MLB charities to support breast cancer fight.

In addition, each of MLB’s 30 teams will have an honorary bat girl who is a breast cancer survivor on Mother’s Day. One in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer. More than 266,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year. More than 40,000 women die each year from the disease. This annual effort by Major League Baseball has raised millions of dollars for the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

For some of the players, this hits close to home. Just five years ago New York Yankees’ first baseman and former Atlanta Brave, Mark Teixeira, stepped to the plate wielding a pink bat in honor of his mother, a breast cancer survivor.

Baseball and Mother’s Day have a longstanding connection.

Bob Feller, born in Van Meter, Iowa, became a Major League pitcher for the Cleveland Indians. The son of a hardworking farmer, he joked that shoveling manure and baling hay strengthened his arms and gave him the ability to throw as hard as he did. In his twenty-year career, Feller recorded three no-hit games and twelve one-hit games. Nicknamed the Van Meter Heater, the big right-hander’s blazing fastball mystified opposing hitters and eventually carried him to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Bob Feller was scheduled to take the mound on Mother’s Day, 1939, as the Indians played the Chicago White Sox in the Windy City.  Feller gave his mother a train ticket to Chicago and a ticket for the game. She had never before seen him pitch a Major League game.  She would finally get to see him pitch in the big leagues!

Mrs. Feller was seated in a box seat just above the Indians’ dugout, enjoying the game, when things went terribly wrong during the fourth inning.  Bob Feller hurled a fastball over the outside corner of the plate. White Sox third baseman Marv Owen fouled a line drive into the stands.  The ball struck Mrs. Feller between the eyes, breaking her glasses and knocking her out cold.  With seven stitches in her face and two black eyes, Bob’s mother spent the next two weeks in a Chicago hospital.

Sometimes Mother’s Day can be really hard on a mother.

I will never forget the year my mother received a surprise package for Mother’s Day. My dad presented Mama with a shoebox-shaped package wrapped in pink paper with a big pink bow on top.  Mama put the package aside until we had eaten the fried chicken, green beans, and rice and gravy she had prepared for her special Mother’s Day meal.

After the meal, my sister encouraged my mother to open the gift.  Mama sipped her iced tea and handed the package to me.  Smiling, she asked me to open her present.

I tore through the paper and the ribbon, opening the gift.  I could hardly believe my eyes when inside I found a brand new pair of baseball shoes, exactly my size!  My mother neither wanted nor needed baseball shoes.  I was the one on a Little League team. My old tattered Converse All-Stars were not suitable for me to be the All-Star third baseman that I hoped to become.

That gift of baseball shoes for Mama has become a symbol to me of the kind of mother she was.  Not everybody is blessed with a good mother, but many of us have enjoyed the advantages that come from a mother whose love was unconditional and self-sacrificing.  It is the reason someone has said, “A mother’s love is a reflection of the love of God.”

By the way, Bob Feller played in nine Major League All-Star games.  I did not make the All-Star game as a Little Leaguer, even with new baseball shoes. I doubt I could have done any better with a pink bat.

The Lanyard – Poem by Billy Collins

May 10, 2018

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the ‘L’ section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand
again and again until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.’ she whispered.
‘And here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’
‘And here,’ I wish to say to her now,
‘is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.’