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October 8, 2017

Last week as I walked into our regular grocery store I was greeted by a large chalkboard sign that read NOW SERVING PUMPKIN SPICE LATTE. This particular store houses a coffee shop inside the building.

I stepped to the counter and was greeted by a young barista who asked, “Would you like to try our pumpkin spice latte?”

“Just a regular coffee with half and half cream,” I responded.

I wonder about this current fad of flavoring coffee, beer, and even cookies with pumpkin spice. Later in the day a brief column in the October 2, 2017, issue of Time magazine caught my eye. Olivia Waxman reported on the trend.

Waxman revealed that in colonial America pumpkins were considered the food of last resort. It was seen as a primitive member of the squash family. The term pumpkin eater was a derogatory reference to a poor ignorant farmer, as in the nursery rhyme “Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater.”

According to Waxman the rise of the lowly pumpkin to a symbol of autumn occurred when nostalgia for farm life made the orange squash a treat in urban America. Then, in 1844, Lydia Marie Child wrote the popular poem “Over the River and through the Woods.” She concluded her verse with a cheer for pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins, and pumpkin cookies became seasonal favorites.

By the twentieth century farmers discovered that roadside pumpkin stands, pumpkin patches, and pumpkin festivals would draw the city folks out to the country. In 2016 sales of pumpkin flavored products generated more than $400 million, an all-time high.

Each year, Clare and I go on an annual pumpkin search. Four years ago we were late getting started on our venture. We wound up buying pumpkins from a grocery store. The next 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. In our town, St. Matthews Episcopal Church and Trinity Methodist Church have been preferred locations through the years.

Two years ago 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. This year we will again search for two large bright orange beauties for our front porch and seven smaller ones for 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 Great Pumpkin 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.  Across the country San Mateo County, California, hosts the World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off.  In 2013, Gary Miller of Napa, California, won the competition with a 1,985-pound pumpkin. A man from Rhode Island was the first grower in the world to produce a pumpkin weighing over 2,000 pounds, a feat achieved back in 2012. In 2014, John Hawkley, 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.

In 2016, another Rhode Island native took home the top American pumpkin prize when he weighed a 2,261.5-pound pumpkin at the Frerich’s Farm Pumpkin Weigh Off, the most prestigious pumpkin growing competition in America. However, the world record was set last year by an enormous 2,623.5-pound pumpkin. This monster was weighed and certified as the heaviest pumpkin ever grown at the Giant Pumpkin European Championship in Ludwigsburg, Germany. The record-setting grower was Mathias Willemijns of Belgium. I wonder how he transported the squash weighing more than a ton from Belgium to Germany. I’ll be interested to see if the record can be returned to the United States this year.

Pumpkins are actually a squash.  The variety usually cultivated for its massive size is the Atlantic Giant.  When asked his secret for growing the gigantic squash, one farmer 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 has always been 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.

By the way, I have on good authority that pumpkin spice latte actually contains no pumpkin at all, only the spice.



October 1, 2017

I have often seen posts on Facebook from friends telling of the death of beloved pets. These notices are often accompanied by a picture of the animal with words expressing the sorrow of the family over the death of their four-legged friend. I understand their sense of loss.

One of our grandchildren asked recently if I had ever had a pet. In fact, my first experience of grief was the death of a pet, a beautiful beagle dog.

When I was nearly seven years old our growing family moved to a larger house. I was the oldest of what would eventually become a family of eight children. Our new home was surrounded by open fields on three sides and deep woods in back. Our house was on a red dirt road with no neighbors in sight. Though Mama had her hands full caring for our family, Dad knew that it was time for me to have a dog.

My birthday was approaching. One Saturday morning Dad and I went the local feed and seed store to buy chicken scratch for our laying hens. As I walked in the door I saw a temporary cage with six beagle pups for sale. The handwritten cardboard sign read, “YOUR CHOICE $5.”

While dad got the sack of cracked corn for the chickens, I squatted down beside the cage. The tricolor puppies became excited, pushing and shoving each other with tails wagging. I put my fingers through the wire cage to pet them. One little beagle started licking my hand.

Dad asked, “Kirk, you want a dog for your birthday?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“You know the dog will belong to you. You’ll have to take care of it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dad paid for the sack of chicken feed, a bag of puppy chow, and the beagle dog. The clerk told me to pick out my dog. I choose the one who had licked my hand. I named her Katie.

Katie was an outside dog because that was the only kind Mama would allow. The beagle’s favorite pastime was chasing other critters, mostly rabbits and squirrels, and occasionally a raccoon or a possum. She was smart enough to give hissing cats and coiled snakes a wide berth.

Katie and I enjoyed hunting together though I never took a shotgun. We would just walk down the dirt road or along a path through the woods until Katie scared up something to chase. But Katie didn’t need me along to go hunting. Many a morning I was awakened by her hound dog howl as she ran a rabbit through a cornfield and into the woods.

Just down the road and around a bend from our place was a dairy farm. The farmer depended on contented cows to give sweet milk. When Katie could not scare up a rabbit for her early morning run, she was always able to find a cow or two to pester.

Early one spring morning, I heard my dog’s baying far off. Then there was a rifle shot, followed by silence. Worried, I quickly dressed and hurried downstairs. Dad already had found Katie, unable to walk or run, dragging her hind legs. She was injured and bleeding. We thought maybe she had been hit by a car. Her eyes looked so sad, like she had been crying. When I saw a tear in Dad’s eye, tears started to run down my cheeks. We got Katie settled in a cardboard box on an old towel.

In the truck, I held the box in my lap as Dad drove. We carried Katie to Dr. Ed Brown, a family friend and veterinarian. Dr. Brown, whose son Tommy was my age, examined Katie and then took my dad aside while I stayed in the room with Katie.

Dr. Brown told Dad that my beagle’s back legs were paralyzed. He said that my dog had been hit alright, but not by a car. She had been shot. Dr. Brown told dad that Katie would have to be euthanized.

When the two men returned to the room where I was with Katie, I saw a tear in Dr. Brown’s eyes. He assured us that Katie was not in pain. His advice was that I take my dog home for a few days so I could pet her and have a little time to say goodbye. She never left the cardboard box. Her beagle eyes were sad; her tail could no longer wag.

A day or two later, Dad said, “Kirk, you know Katie is not going to get well.”

I knew, and I cried. Once I pulled myself together, Dad said, “We need to let Dr. Brown put her to sleep.” I knew that was the right thing to do.

Together my dad and I took Katie in her cardboard box back to the vet. The reality and mystery of death confronted me for the first time. It is something I’ve never forgotten.

When our children were young, we often had pets, several at a time and usually a variety. One Saturday morning, we discovered that one of the fish in the aquarium in our den had died. Together the children and I removed the dearly departed swordtail from the tank, carefully placed him in a matchbox lined with tissue, and ceremoniously took the contrived casket to the flowerbed. We dug a hole, sang “Shall We Gather at the River,” had a prayer, and buried the box.

Back inside, we discovered another fish had gone belly up. This time, there was less ceremony. We wrapped the second swordtail in a tissue, with none of the reverence afforded the first, and deposited him in a shallow grave.

Upon our return to the den, we found yet another dead fish. It seems one of our sons had discovered that pecans would float in the fish tank. No doubt, the pecans shells had been treated with a pesticide, and we were suffering a fish kill in our aquarium.

This third death called for even less ritual. Our seven-year-old reasoned, “Dad, this fish has lived in water all of his life. I think we should bury him at sea.” We flushed the third swordtail down the toilet.

The plain truth, gently and lovingly told, is best when speaking with children about death. Trying to soften the reality with clichés is usually more confusing than clarifying.

A fellow pastor and good friend shared with me an experience from early in his ministry in a rural church.  It seems an eight-year-old boy had a pet beagle, Barney. Each morning Barney followed the boy to the bus stop. Barney met the school bus every afternoon.  The boy and his dog played together each day after school.

One winter morning, after the school bus drove away, the beagle followed his nose into the highway and was killed by a dump truck.  The boy’s mother, concerned about her child’s certain grief, asked the young pastor to be at the farmhouse when her son returned from school.  Inexperienced, but eager to help, the pastor did all of the talking, far too much talking.

The gist of his fifteen-minute explanation was, “Barney was in the road. A dump truck ran over him.” The young minister, compromising and confusing his own beliefs, concluded, “Jesus has taken your dog to heaven.”

The pastor finally paused with, “Son, do you have any questions?”

The boy thought for a moment, sniffled back his tears, and inquired, “Preacher, what does Jesus want with a dead dog?”

The lad asked a great question! Death is indeed a mystery!

As a pastor for more than fifty-three years I know how deeply people grieve for their pets.

Dr. Billy Graham has a syndicated weekly newspaper column in which he answers questions from readers.

One person wrote, “Dr. Graham, our pet dog died recently. Will my dog be in heaven?”

Theologians differ in response to questions about animals and eternity. I have found Dr. Graham’s answer to his reader to be a good one.

Dr. Graham replied, “If having your dog in heaven is what it takes to make you happy, then I believe he will be there.”

With all the wonder and joy that heaven holds, I’m not sure that the presence of our pets will be a part of the glory to be revealed.  But I can say this. When I reach the pearly gates I look forward to a grand reunion with many loved ones. And if I hear a baying hound in the distance, and I am soon greeted by a flop-eared beagle dog, I won’t be a bit surprised.


September 24, 2017

Among the fall visitors to our garden in the early fall is a small winged creature that I have always called a Carolina skipper. I have recently learned that the correct name is the common checkered skipper. This butterfly is easy to identify by the distinctive white spots on her dark gray wings. True to its name the diminutive insect skips from one flower to another. While others of her kin will linger for a longer sip of nectar, the checkered skipper moves quickly to the next bloom.

Residents of South Carolina might assume the checkered skipper would be the state butterfly, but that honor goes to the eastern tiger swallowtail. This is among the largest of the butterflies common to the Palmetto State. The eastern tiger swallowtail was adopted in 1994 with the approval of the South Carolina General Assembly. Interestingly, it is also the state butterfly of North Carolina and Georgia.

Swallowtails are named for the long portion of their hind wings which resemble a swallow’s tail feathers. Each of the forewings of the eastern tiger swallowtail has four black stripes resembling a tiger. Males are yellow with black stripes, while females can be either yellow or dark gray with the same striped pattern.

Adult butterflies do not eat solid foods as they did in their larval stage. Instead, they sip nectar using a proboscis – a long, tube-shaped tongue.

As I worked in my yard last weekend, a spicebush butterfly was my constant companion.   While I stooped to pull weeds, the tiny creature fluttered past time and again.  When I stood to stretch, my beautiful visitor danced in circles close by.  I felt unusually blessed by its presence.

Pausing from my labors, I marveled at the delicate, black butterfly, marked with iridescent blue.  Most gardeners in these parts know that by early fall there are precious few blooms on our tired summer plants. I stopped for a moment to admire the graceful visitor to our garden.

I mopped perspiration from my face with an old, faded bandana and tossed it aside as I continued working.  Moments later I noticed the spicebush butterfly perched on the flowered rag as if sipping nectar.  I realized that my own salty sweat had attracted the butterfly. Read more…


September 17, 2017

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma many of us have seen the destruction across much of the south, from Florida to Texas, caused by these massive storms.  We have witnessed interviews with victims who lost all of their earthly possessions. Like many of you, Clare and I have prayed for people we know and those we do not.

After watching the national news I commented to Clare that the emotions of the victims were, on a much larger scale, the same shock and dismay I have seen when our children built sand castles at the beach. If you build a sand castle you do so with the full knowledge that it will not last. Even so, to see it destroyed by the incoming tide evokes a sense of loss.

When our children were young Clare insisted that the toys and books we purchased for them be things that would endure. Over the years many of the items our children enjoyed have remained almost as good as new. Now our grandchildren play with the toys and read the books that have been preserved in good condition by their grandmother.

Two of our six-year-old granddaughters were enchanted by a vintage Fisher-Price toy hourglass. The sturdy toy features yellow plastic endcaps, clear plastic funnels, and an orange handle made to fit a child’s hand. When the toy is flipped hundreds of tiny multicolored plastic beads drain from one funnel to the other. The transfer takes all of five seconds.

The toy could not be used an hourglass. It will not even time a three-minute egg. It certainly can’t be used to time a thorough toothbrushing. I remember miniature hourglasses that served those purposes. The purpose of the toy is to dazzle and fascinate a child. Perfect! Read more…


September 15, 2017

Some years ago, I officiated at a wedding on New Year’s Day. At the rehearsal the evening before, I commented on how the alignment of the days would make it easier for the groom to remember his wedding anniversary. The bride said, “Not only that, but January 1st is also my birthday. We’ll have so much to celebrate on one day!”

My calendar shows that Wednesday, September 20, 2017, is the Jewish New Year. The Festival of Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown and continues through September 22. In a sense, Rosh Hashanah is not only the celebration of New Year’s Day in the Jewish calendar, but it is also a birthday and a wedding anniversary. It is a day to remember the birth of all creation. In scripture that is followed by the marital union of Adam and Eve. It is a day of new beginnings, a day filled with reason to celebrate.

For ten days, our Jewish friends and neighbors will be observing their High Holy Days. The importance of this season to their faith is akin to the importance of Holy Week for Christians and Ramadan for Muslims. While it would be inappropriate for non-Jews to borrow these holidays, we can certainly strive to understand their significance. We may also find in them spiritual values that we all share.

Rosh Hashanah emphasizes the special relationship between God and humanity. We are all dependent upon God as our Creator and Sustainer, and God depends upon us to make his divine presence known and felt in the world. In the Jewish community, it is the day to honor God as sovereign.

Rosh Hashanah observances include eating a slice of apple dipped in honey to symbolize the desire for a sweet new year. It is a time to bestow a blessing on others with the words, “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” As with every major religious holiday, candles are lighted, prayers are offered, and thanksgiving is expressed with the symbols of wine and Challah bread.

On Rosh Hashanah the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, calls the congregation to worship and to repentance.  The tones of the horn are similar to the trumpet blast heralding the coronation of a monarch. Rosh Hashanah marks the first of ten days of repentance, or Days of Awe. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, marks the conclusion of this period of repentance. This year Yom Kippur will be Saturday, September 30, 2017.

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting. The high holidays often includes the concept of a book of life, the sefer chayim, in which our destinies for the coming year are recorded by God. Whatever is negative can be avoided through prayer, repentance, and charity.

In the late afternoon on the day before Yom Kippur, honey cake is eaten in acknowledgement that all people are intended to be recipients of God’s goodness.  Gifts are made to charity in the prayerful hope for an abundant year. Jewish families celebrate by enjoying a meal, blessing the children, and lighting memorial candles as well as holiday candles.  Then families attend an atonement service at the synagogue.

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, is a day of closeness to God. Scripture defines the purpose of the Day of Atonement:  “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God” (Leviticus 16:30). Faithful Jews fast from food and drink and abstain from other activities in order to have time for repentance, prayer, and reflection.

For the Jewish community, Yom Kippur is the most solemn day of the year, yet an undertone of thanksgiving is a part of the observance. Joy derives from the confidence that God will accept the repentance of His people and forgive their sins. Hope for a year of life, health, and happiness is an integral part of Yom Kippur.

Many of us learned as children a simple table blessing that begins with the profound affirmation, “God is great, and God is good.”  Perhaps that is an apt summary of the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and the days between.

God is great, and God is good. A great God created and sustains all of life. In greatness, God presides in sovereign majesty over the entire world. A good God has provided for us all things necessary for life compelling us to share with others. In goodness, God, through grace and mercy, accepts our repentance and forgives our sins.

God is great and God is good.

Let us thank God; all of us.


September 9, 2017

This far into summer I notice that when I take a few minutes to sit quietly, I invariably become aware of a faint humming sound. It might be emanating from my car. The source may be my computer. The sound could come from a home appliance. Humming sounds can be natural occurrences. Whales and dolphins beneath the ocean, many varieties of insects, and even the pulsating of heavenly bodies can produce distinctive hums. Some people hear a constant hum caused by the flow of their own blood in the small vessels of their inner ear.

We might well ask, “What is that humming sound?” This time of year it could be a hummingbird.

The last week of August brought a few days of blessed relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of our dog day afternoons. On Monday of last week, Labor Day, I enjoyed a second cup of coffee with Clare on our screened back porch overlooking the flower garden. Hummingbirds provided the entertainment while we read the newspaper. The tiny, feathered creatures put on quite an aerial display as they competed for the sweet nectar of the flowers and the sugar water in our feeders.

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, Clare and I again sat on our own back porch.  We were treated to an amazing air show.  As we enjoyed our supper, we witnessed an incredible display of aerobatics.  Agile flying machines were buzzing our yard, staging mid-air combat maneuvers that would impress even Air Force top guns. Late summer is the prime season for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are always interesting to watch. Their activity increases as the summer days grow shorter.  Their excited pace and almost perpetual motion are at once fascinating and wearying to the observer.

From late August through much of September, the tiny birds become frantic in their feeding habits and combative toward all competitors.  Earlier in the spring and summer, two or three hummingbirds might share the same feeder, but in early autumn they become territorial and will attack any intruder, even fellow hummers. Like feisty siblings squabbling over dessert, the diminutive birds quarrel with each other over which one will have the next turn at their sugar water treat.

The flight of the humming creatures with tiny wings provides enthralling entertainment. Hovering, darting, and diving, in their heightened frenzy, they put on quite a performance.  These warm days are the most active time for hummingbirds as they prepare for their long migration to Central and South America.

A friend who welcomes hummingbirds to her garden with feeders and blooming plants wanted to put fresh flowers in an arrangement for a dinner party at her home.  She cut several late- blooming red gladioli from her cottage garden.  As she did, what she thought was a large buzzing insect began to bother her.  The pest attacked from the rear, moving up her neck underneath the tresses of her new hairdo.  The well-mannered lady ran, clutching gladioli tightly in one hand, swatting wildly with the other.

She stopped when the buzzing nuisance confronted her at eye level.  It was a hummingbird, clearly annoyed that the lady had cut the flowers from which it had been feeding.  The woman held the red gladioli at arm’s length, as if making a peace offering.  The hummer moved from one blossom to the next in the handheld bouquet, drinking its fill, before flying off without further conflict.

A hummingbird in flight can be easily mistaken for a large stinging insect. The hummingbird’s tiny wings move so rapidly they make a buzzing sound.    This flight pattern, filmed in slow motion, reveals their remarkable ability to speed forward, to hover, and to reverse directions.

Hummingbirds are attracted to a variety of blooms.  Fiery red salvias, cup-shaped hibiscus, and even the common trumpet vine provide nourishment to these tiny creatures that are constantly in search of a meal.  Their frenetic activity demands a continual supply of sugary food.  They sip nectar and can be enticed into view with feeders filled with fresh sugar water.  A mixture of one part sugar and four parts of water meets the dietary requirements of these small birds.  It is best for the health of hummers if we do not add red food coloring.

Accounts of close encounters between human and hummers abound.  The tiny birds are frequently trapped in garages and on screened porches, usually drawn into these unfriendly confines by something bright red in color.  A red toolbox or a red fire extinguisher can lure a hummingbird into an open garage.  One was even seen attempting to extract nectar from a red plastic bicycle horn.

Several years ago, a ruby-throated hummingbird, attracted by a cut flower arrangement, entered a large sunroom in a nursing facility.  The patients all suffered from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.  Most of the patients were in the final stage of the illness, sometimes known as the living death.  The nursing staff was unaware of the hummingbird’s presence until they noticed something they rarely saw.  Several of the patients were smiling, some for the first time in months.  With the aid of a towel, a nurse was able to capture the tiny bird and release it outdoors.  The bird flew away but not before bestowing a gentle blessing on a room full of people who needed tender mercy.

If you pay attention, you may hear a humming sound.

It may be a hummingbird bringing a special blessing just for you.


September 3, 2017

Stud Goings was a tobacco farmer in Monticello, Kentucky, in the mountains near Lake Cumberland. He had a small tobacco allotment and raised Kentucky Burley.  His beagle dog, Luther, was constantly by his side. Stud’s backyard featured an old Ford pickup truck propped on concrete blocks. A bare dirt path meandered to his dilapidated barn. Along the way, a small vegetable garden flourished in the sunshine. Two dozen or so free-range chickens and a covey of Guinea hens skittered to and fro.  Under a white pine tree oozing sap were two oak nail kegs, turned upside down, intended for sitting.

“When things become too burdensome,” he explained, “I just sit here in the shade.  I call this white pine the tree of life.”

It was in that shady spot that Stud rested after he had worked his garden or stripped tobacco. There he swapped stories with his neighbors.

The only time I ever worked with a tobacco crop was when Stud was short of help. I happened by his place one Saturday afternoon. A thunderstorm threatened. He was in a big hurry to strip burley leaves and get them on racks in his tobacco barn. I rolled up my sleeves and gave him a hand.

When we finished the work and the storm passed, we sat on the nail kegs beneath the tree of life. We drank refreshment from Mason jars. My jar was filled with cool well water. I suspect Stud’s jar contained something stiffer. Stud smoked a cigar. “This is where my tired body and my weary soul catch up with each other,” he said.

Stud consulted The Old Farmer’s Almanac every day.  His single-occupant privy had a copy of the yellow magazine hanging by a string from a well placed nail. Not only was the Almanac good reading material, but the pages provided an emergency supply of toilet paper.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac is a popular reference guide for country folks. It is the oldest continuously published periodical in America, initially printed in 1792 during George Washington’s first term as President of the United States.

The magazine is best known for its weather predictions. The first editor, Robert B. Thomas, closely observed nature. He used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a climate forecasting formula. It produced uncannily accurate results, said to be 80 percent correct. His secret formula is still kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.

In 1942, a German spy was arrested in New York City by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Landing in a U-boat, the spy had come ashore on Long Island the night before his capture. When he was apprehended a current copy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac was found in his coat pocket. The United States government speculated that the Germans were using the Almanac for weather forecasts, which meant that the magazine was supplying information to the enemy.  The editor of the Almanac decided that from then on the publication would feature climate indications rather than predictions.

Stud relied on the weather indications. He also used the astronomical calendar as a guide for planting his crops and for other farm chores.

Not long ago I received from a friend a clipping from The Old Farmer’s Almanac. As I read it, I immediately thought of Stud Goings. These were things he might have said.

  • Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight, and bull-strong.
  • Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.
  • Life is simpler when you plow around the stumps.
  • A bumblebee is considerably faster than any tractor.
  • Words that soak into your ears are whispered not yelled.
  • Meanness doesn’t just happen overnight.
  • Don’t corner something that you know is meaner than you.
  • It doesn’t take a very strong person to carry a grudge.
  • You can’t unsay a cruel word.
  • Every path has a few puddles.
  • When you wallow with pigs, expect to get   dirty.
  • Most of the things people worry about aren’t ever going to happen.
  • Silence is sometimes the best answer.
  • Don’t interfere with something that isn’t bothering you.
  • Timing has got a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance.
  • If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.
  • The biggest troublemaker you’ll ever have to deal with watches you from the mirror.
  • Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
  • Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier than putting it back in.
  • If you think you’re a person of influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.
  • Live simply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.
  • When you quit laughing, you quit living.

As far as I know, Stud Goings didn’t attend church with any regularity. He did know the Bible, and he did pray on occasion. For the most part, he kept his faith to himself. I realized early on that he didn’t want a preacher prying into his private religion.

Stud and I were fishing for white bass back in a cove on Lake Cumberland late one afternoon.  Out of the silence between us, he spoke, “I need some time like this every now and then, some time when my soul can be restored.”

He reeled in his line and lit a new cigar. After a couple of puffs, he put a fresh minnow on his hook, spit on the wriggling bait, and cast into deeper water. “Yep,” he repeated. “This restores my soul.”