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HOMEGROWN TOMATOES

July 9, 2022

Last Friday, a visitor came to our door. She brought us a cardboard box filled with vine-ripe tomatoes grown by her husband. The man has a disabling disease that requires the use of a motorized wheelchair. He grew the plants in raised boxes on his deck. The tomatoes were just right, the best I have had this summer. Clare and I enjoyed tasty tomato sandwiches all weekend.

I usually purchase tomatoes from Bellew’s Market, a certified roadside stand located on Garner Road in Spartanburg. Cherokee purple is my favorite heirloom variety. But when good friends show up at our front door with homegrown tomatoes, we are especially thankful. July is the time of year when tomatoes are at their peak in color and in flavor.

Before I retired, I was often asked, “Preacher, do you have a vegetable garden?”

“No, I don’t,” I explained. “I have more fresh vegetables without a garden than I ever had when I planted my own garden.” 

Church members kindly shared the bounty of their gardens with our household. Sometimes we would know who to thank. At other times, these gifts were left anonymously on our doorstep. 

Dave Sikma is an Illinois farmer who plants two dozen or more tomato plants in his garden. Dave is our daughter Betsy’s father-in-law. He told me that the first time Betsy visited their farm, she plucked several bright green tomatoes from his plants and prepared fried green tomatoes for the family. Dave was not so impressed with this Southern delicacy. His opinion was that the fruit is best when left on the vine to ripen as the good Lord intended!

When Clare and I traveled to our family vacation at Pawleys Island, we often stopped for lunch at Thomas Café, one of our favorite eateries in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Clare usually ordered shrimp and grits while I selected flounder. Both plates were served with a side of fried green tomatoes.

A lifelong devotee of this distinctly Southern fare, I would search high and low for unripe tomatoes during our week at Pawleys. Green tomatoes are scarce as hen’s teeth at roadside stands in the summertime. In hot weather, even tomatoes that are picked green in the early morning soon start turning pink. Good fried tomatoes require using bright green fruit that is as firm as a potato. Absolutely no pink!

Here is my recipe for fried green tomatoes. Caution: these have a kick, and the preparation is messy. The flavor is worth it!

Kirk’s Spicy Fried Green Tomatoes is a classic Southern recipe. There are many variations. This is our favorite.

4 large green tomatoes (all green, no pink, hard as a rock)

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

Crushed red pepper flakes

Garlic powder

Coarsely ground salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper hummus

Jalapeño pimento cheese

Sour cream or goat cheese

Vegetable oil for frying

Dredging:

•          Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends, or better yet, eat them.

•          You need to use four bowls.

•          Into the first bowl, pour only half of the buttermilk and dip tomato slices.

•          Into the second bowl, put the flour only. Lightly dip tomato slices coated with buttermilk into the flour, covering both sides.

•          Into the third bowl, whisk eggs and the rest of the buttermilk together, and dip tomato slices covering both sides.

•          In the fourth bowl, mix cornmeal with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, coarsely ground salt, and freshly ground pepper, and thoroughly coat tomato slices on both sides.

Cooking:

•          In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and bring to medium heat.

•          Place tomato slices coated in batter into the frying pan in small batches, depending on the size of your skillet. Fry a few at a time.

•          Do not crowd the tomatoes. Give them plenty of room! They should not touch each other.

•          When the tomatoes are lightly brown, flip and fry them on the other side.

•          Drain them on paper towels.

Serving:

•          On individual plates, spoon a heaping tablespoon of roasted red pepper hummus.

•          Place the first fried green tomato in the hummus.

•          Stack the fried green tomatoes three or four high with a spoonful of jalapeño pimento cheese between slices.

•          Top with a dollop of sour cream. Goat cheese is also good on top.

We always enjoy delicious red tomatoes served in various ways. Some folks swear by tomato pie. Others prefer the summer delight in salads of many varieties.

My specialty is Neely Soggy Tomato Sandwiches. In our home, we always enjoy this favorite kitchen sink sandwich while tomatoes are in season. In years past, this was the sandwich of choice at the annual Neely Family Fourth of July Picnic.

2 vine-ripe tomatoes

Duke’s Real Mayonnaise

6 slices of white bread

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

•          Take six slices of white bread. Don’t use anything that is good for you – just plain ole white sandwich bread.

•          Slather Duke’s Real Mayonnaise heavily on all six slices. Use about twice as much mayonnaise as you ordinarily would. Only use Duke’s.

•          Grind fresh black pepper on all six pieces of bread.

•          Stack thinly-sliced, vine-ripe tomatoes three layers deep on three pieces of the bread.

•          Salt the tomato slices.

•          Mash – not lightly press – the remaining three pieces of bread, mayonnaise side down, on top of the tomatoes.

•          Turn the sandwiches over and mash again.

•          Cut the three sandwiches in half. Let them come to room temperature.

•          Stand over the kitchen sink to enjoy these juicy sandwiches.

More than a hundred years ago, some people thought the tasty red treat was poisonous. The mistaken idea that tomatoes were poisonous probably arose because they belong to a strange plant family. A nightshade plant, from the Latin word solanum, it includes the matura, mandrake, and belladonna, all considered poisonous. It was grown exclusively as an ornamental garden plant before it was deemed fit to eat.

Close relatives are paprika, chili pepper, potato, tobacco, and petunia. The unpleasant odor of tomato leaves and stems contributed to the idea that the fruits were unfit for human consumption.

Tomatoes originated as wild plants in the tropical foothills of the Andes Mountains of Peru. Gradually, they were carried north into Central America. Tomatoes were grown in Mexico by the sixteenth century. Because of the highly perishable nature of the fruit, the tomato was slow to be adopted as a cultivated plant by Native Americans. Mayans used the fruit in their cooking. The Pueblo people believed that those who ate tomato seeds were blessed with powers of divination.

Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century introduced the tomato to Europe. Italians were the first Europeans to grow and eat tomatoes. Later the tomato was grown in English and Spanish gardens, not as food but as a curiosity. The French gave it the name pomme d’amour, translated as love apple in English.

The earliest reference to tomatoes being grown in North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in South Carolina. They may have been introduced to our area from the Caribbean. By the mid-eighteenth century, tomatoes were grown on numerous Carolina plantations. Even then, they may have only been of ornamental interest.

Thomas Jefferson learned of tomatoes in France. The progressive Virginia farmer grew them at Monticello as early as 1781. Due to French influence, tomatoes were grown as food in New Orleans as early as 1812.

Tomatoes are now the most common garden vegetable in our country. Along with zucchini squash, the plants have a reputation for out-producing the grower’s needs, encouraging the sharing of garden bounty.

Tomatoes are regarded as one of the healthiest foods in our diet. Rich in vitamins A and C, tomatoes contain lycopene, a chemical that gives them, and watermelons and red grapefruit, their color. Lycopene, an antioxidant, helps reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.

 Although the tomato is technically a fruit, a member of the berry group, it is also considered a vegetable. In fact, it is the state vegetable of New Jersey and Arkansas. Health experts claim that we need five to ten servings of vegetables and fruits daily. At this time of year, we should all take advantage of local homegrown tomatoes to meet our daily quota.  

Tomatoes are my special favorite. Several years ago, I wrote these lines expressing my gratitude.

God is great. God is good.

Let us thank Him for our food.

By His hand we all are fed.

Give us, Lord, our daily bread;

Wholegrain bread, rye, or lite,

A sourdough loaf, or just plain white.

And please, dear Lord, some Duke’s mayonnaise,

And homegrown tomatoes for these summer days.

Add lettuce, and bacon, or maybe cheese,

But especially, Lord, I ask You, please,

For vine-ripe tomatoes, sliced thick and round,

To make the best sandwich I’ve ever found.

On days that grow weary with muggy heat,

A soggy tomato sandwich just can’t be beat.

With a tall glass of something cold to drink,

I’ll eat my lunch over the kitchen sink.

I’m grateful for corn, that good Silver Queen,

For cantaloupe, peaches, and fresh green beans,

For squash, okra, and small red potatoes,

But nothing is better than homegrown tomatoes.

God is great, and God is good.

Let us thank Him for our food.

I know His kindness never ends

When given tomatoes by special friends.

Several years ago, I preached a summer sermon on Psalm 34:8 “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” The sermon focused on the goodness of God in simple things like homegrown tomatoes. The following week we received an abundance of fresh tomatoes from our congregation.

A couple of weeks later, our son Erik said, “Dad, it’s about time for a sermon on sweet corn!”

_______________________________________________________

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

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Miracle Hill Rescue Mission, 189 North Forest Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29301, (864) 583-1628

FREEDOM FROM FEAR

July 2, 2022

This weekend Americans will again observe Independence Day. In 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence. The American colonies officially separated themselves from the authority of England.

Independence Day celebrations were observed soon after the nation’s birth. In 1793, Moravian settlers chose the name Wachovia for the land they received by grant in what is now North Carolina’s Piedmont region. The Moravians of Salem were among the first to mark Independence Day with a torchlight procession around the village square singing “Now Thank We All Our God.”  The celebration was a reverent expression of gratitude for freedom. When Clare and I lived in Winston-Salem, we took our children to Old Salem every Fourth of July to experience the reenactment of that simple celebration.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were the first to observe Independence Day west of the Mississippi. On July 4, 1804, traveling along the Missouri River through what is now Kansas, the expedition stopped for the night at the mouth of a stream. They fired a cannon at sunset and distributed an extra ration of whiskey to their men to mark the day. Independence Creek was named in honor of the event.

It was not until after the War of 1812 that the holiday became a nationwide celebration. Parades were part of the festivities. Politicians used the occasions to give rousing speeches. Events like groundbreaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads were scheduled to coincide with July Fourth celebration.

My mother, Louise Hudson Neely, was born July 4, 1922. Had she lived in this world long enough, she would be one hundred years old. Though Mama will not be with us, the family plans to celebrate her birthday and Independence Day with a picnic, a family parade, and a prayer of gratitude.

When I was a young boy, I was impressed that everybody took the day off on Mama’s birthday. The lumberyard was closed, and the entire Neely family gathered at Pappy’s farm near Walnut Grove. We enjoyed a picnic featuring fried chicken, soggy tomato sandwiches, Mammy’s coleslaw, potato salad, deviled eggs, and blackberry cobbler. We went swimming in the pond. Some tried fishing, but the mosquitoes bit more than the fish. After a supper of leftovers, we watched as our uncles put on a fireworks display.

Because it was Mama’s birthday, it took me a while to realize that all of the festivities were not in her honor. Instead, we were celebrating the birth of our nation.   

When I was a student at Cooperative School, now E. P. Todd School, one of my teachers required the class to memorize a brief passage from the Declaration. At the family picnic on July fourth, we pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. My grandfather led us all in a blessing, not only for the good food and our family but also for our country. Those who had memorized the selection from the Declaration of Independence repeated it by heart.

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.

In the State of the Union Address, delivered to the 77th United States Congress on January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enumerated four fundamental freedoms that should be the rights of human beings everywhere in the world:

  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom for every person to worship in their own way
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

“The Four Freedoms” speech inspired a set of four paintings by Norman Rockwell. They were printed in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, accompanied by essays on the Four Freedoms.

Freedom from fear is rare. John Kenneth Galbreath called our time the age of anxiety. We live in a world dominated by fear. We start our day with morning headlines that are alarming. The 11:00 evening news sends us to bed distraught. We live with constant angst. Few of us enjoy freedom from fear.

Since the atrocities of September 11, 2001, America has been on alert. Terrorists took possession of four commercial jet planes, converting them to weapons of mass destruction capable of attacking structures that had stood as symbols of strength. Our anger and fear have been magnified. Rarely in our history have we felt so vulnerable and so violated. The apprehension created by daily life pales in comparison to the distressing events of our world.

Terrorism literally strikes terror in the hearts of victims. Fear is the purpose of terrorist activity. It is not a new thing. For centuries, those who sought to control others have utilized fear as a means of domination. From Attila the Hun to Adolph Hitler, from the Christian Inquisition to Islam’s evangelism by the sword, from the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution to the Bolshevik Revolution under Lenin and Stalin, from vigilante groups in the Wild West to the Ku Klux Klan in the postwar South, merchants of fear have attempted to control others by terror. The war in Ukraine is yet another example of the power of oppression.

Fear is rampant in our world and in our country. Mass shootings in schools and places of worship have intensified the horror. On January 6, 2021, American citizens stormed the Capitol building hoping to overturn our democracy.

The COVID pandemic has resulted in more than one million deaths in our country alone. Fear abounds in our world, in our country, in our families, and in our lives.

How can we secure freedom from fear in a world like ours?

I have only two suggestions. You may dismiss these ideas as “preacher talk” and cast them aside. These are what I believe to be the truth. Please pause for a moment to consider these ideas.

First, the ordinary circumstances of life often cause anxiety. Every day holds uncertainties and unexpected situations that are part of living. Watching a child learn to swim or helping a teenager drive can be scary. Sending a young adult into military service or putting an older adult on hospice care can fill us with dread.  

My mother, who had eight children and fifty-four grandchildren, had many reasons for worry. Mama had a favorite scripture verse that she wanted us to memorize. II Timothy 1:7 reads, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” The One who created us does not intend for us to live in fear. We were created in the image of the Maker who loves us. So even when we face the ordinary crises of life or the greater terrors of famine and disease, war and death, we can be sure that we are not alone. We are surrounded by love. An elderly apostle wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Second, we are often afraid of other people. In his book, The Nature of Prejudice, Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport identified fear as the root cause of prejudice. Our fear of people who are different from us leads to bias. Discrimination, in turn, intensifies anxiety and leads to acts of violence. From Allport’s perspective, fear breeds greater fear. In other words, there is a cycle of fear.

Fear is the primary emotion at the root of terrorism and war. The more afraid we are of other people, the more we react with suspicion, prejudice, and violence. No wonder freedom from fear is so rare.

In his call for a declaration of war following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He was right!

The master teacher instructed, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Mark Twain’s twist on that was, “Love your enemies. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” It is a difficult concept, but love is the only way toward freedom from fear.

Howard Thurman, born in 1900, was the grandson of slaves. He grew up as a sharecropper’s son. He was a contemporary of Martin Luther King, Sr., and a mentor to his son, Martin Luther King, Jr. He told a story about the time his family moved into a farmhouse that shared a back border with another sharecropper family. Soon after the Thurman family arrived, the neighbor cleaned out his chicken house, dumping all of the manure over the fence into the Thurmans’ backyard. Howard was furious, convinced that the act was racially motivated.

His mother spoke calmly, “I know what to do.”

For weeks, Howard’s mother did nothing. Young Howard seethed. The pile of chicken manure rotted in the hot summer sun. In the fall, Howard’s mother took a potato fork and turned over a plot of ground, working the chicken manure, now fertilizer, into the ground. In the spring, she planted the seed. By the following June, nearly a year after they had moved in, the neighbor had not spoken to the Thurmans, not even once. 

Then, one day Mrs. Thurman took Howard by the hand. They gathered fresh vegetables and flowers from the garden to fill a basket. They walked around the side of the fence and onto the neighbor’s front porch. Mrs. Thurman knocked on the door. The man who had dumped the manure into their yard opened the door. Mrs. Thurman said to the surprised man, “You were so good to share your chicken manure with us last summer. I wanted to share our vegetables and flowers with you.”

The decision to love our enemies is not an easy one. Refusing to return evil for evil, meanness for meanness, and violence for violence takes great courage that is often confused with cowardice. The wisdom of the ages teaches that it is only by love that we can overcome hate. Only by love can we break the cycle of fear. It is the way to secure freedom from fear for ourselves and our world.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu prayed, “Goodness is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death; Victory is ours through Him who loves us. Amen”

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

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to SAFE Homes-Rape Crisis Coalition 236 Union Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302, (864) 583-9803.

A SIMPLER LIFE: PAUSE, PRAY, PIDDLE

June 25, 2022
Author Portrait of Kirk H. Neely 2022

The Hebrew prophet of old declared, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31) Since March 2020, I have learned the truth of this passage again.

My cousin Candy Neely Arrington is a well-established Christian author. Her award-winning book, published this April, is Life on Pause: Learning to Wait Well. Candy rightly observes the impatience in our lives. “Life pauses seem negative, and we chafe at having our plans and pre-arranged schedules brought to a halt.” Then, she raises an important question, “But what if waiting is beneficial? What if pausing can ensure protection, provide time for preparation, or develop patience?”

One reviewer writes of this book, “I’ve waited for the dawning of a specific answer to prayer for five years now, and I don’t see even a glimmer of light on the horizon. This book mixed practical advice with soul-searching questions in my time of waiting that helped me so much.’”

Candy’s book is available through many reputable booksellers.

Dr. Eric Berne was a psychiatrist best known as the creator of transactional analysis and the author of Games People Play. Berne identified the various ways in which people spend time. One of those is pastimes. As defined by Berne, a pastime serves to make time pass agreeably, a pleasant means of amusement. A pastime differs from an activity in that a person is not emotionally invested in a pastime. For example, knocking a tennis ball around may be a pastime until you begin keeping score or working on your backhand. Then it becomes an activity.

According to Berne, we spend far too much of our lives engaged in activities. The Psalmist David said we need time for our “souls to be restored.” We need time for our engine to idle.

I heard a story about a big game hunter who set out on an African safari. He gathered all the needed supplies and employed a team of porters to carry the equipment into the interior of the Congo. His guide advised the hunter that they must reach and cross a river by nightfall because of the rising water. At flood stage, the river would become impassible.

The group broke camp at first light and pressed through the heat and humidity of the tropical forest. After traveling more than twenty miles, they arrived at the river and crossed to the far side ahead of the flood and nightfall. Porters set up camp. Cooks prepared the evening meal. The weary travelers slept through the night.

The following morning dawned sunny and bright. The hunter was ready to continue the journey. He instructed the guide to break camp and prepare to leave.

“Sir, we cannot travel today.” The guide said.

“Why not?” asked the hunter in a concerned tone.

“The men say they will not move today.”

The furious hunter demanded, “They will travel, or they will not be paid.”

“Sir, they will not travel today.

“And why not?”

“Sir, the men say they worked so hard and traveled so far yesterday that they must take a day to let their souls catch up with their bodies.”

We also need time to let body and soul catch up with each other.

The quest for simplicity is tedious. It takes time and requires difficult decisions. Try cleaning out that drawer where every odd and end, every broken part, even loose change accumulates. Then move to your calendar and begin thinking about which commitments are essential and which can be eliminated. Our lives so quickly become cluttered.

Dr. David Emory Shi is president emeritus at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. He is the author of several books focusing on American cultural history, including the award-winning The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture. Dr. Shi writes, “Our current less-is-more impulse may have contemporary trappings, but the underlying idea has been around for centuries. From Puritans and Quakers to Boy Scouts and hippies, our quest for the simple life is an enduring, complex tradition in American culture.”

Shi finds that nothing is simple about our devotion to the ideal of plain living and high thinking. “Difficult choices are the price of simplicity.” Our efforts to avoid anxious social striving and compulsive materialism have been essential to the nation’s spiritual health.

The issue of spiritual health is at the heart of waiting and simplicity.

Waiting can become Sabbath time, an opportunity to ponder and reflect. At its best, it is the practice of the presence of God. It is praying with eyes wide open even amid the frantic activity swirling around us, the deafening cacophony of the world, and the distracting noise of our hearts. Spiritual guides like Roman Catholic monk Thomas Merton and Quaker friend Richard Foster call this attentiveness contemplative prayer.

An early Shaker tune puts all of this succinctly, ‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free.”   

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg writes a regular column for Southern Living. In the February 2012 issue, Bragg reflected on an obituary he saw in the Birmingham News.

Ellis Ray of Moundville passed away Saturday.

He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather

who loved to fish and piddle. He will be greatly missed.

The obituary prompted Bragg’s “Southern Journal” column, “The Fine Art of Piddling.” He calls piddling “The act of passing time, without waste or regret.” What Eric Berne called a pastime Rick Bragg identified by its more common Southern name, piddling. Piddling is not to be confused with work. It is not changing the furnace filter or sharpening a lawnmower blade. It is neither spreading mulch nor washing dishes. A person piddling never breaks a sweat.

Neither is piddling to be regarded as goofing off, killing time, or wasting time. It cannot be done kicked back in a recliner. It is a first cousin to puttering. While the Urban Dictionary (http://www.urbandictionary.com) gives other meanings for the word, in its purest form, piddling describes an integral part of our Southern heritage. Piddling is a cultivated art.

Piddling never involves a clock or a watch.

Piddling may require tools, usually no more than a pocket knife or a screwdriver.

Piddling is not on a To-Do list. It is never planned. As Bragg points out, we just meander into piddling.

I tried to think of some of the ways I piddle. These came to mind.

I sharpen the hooks on old fishing lures though I never intend to fish with them again.

I sort bent nails and old screws though I reach for a new one when I have a repair project to complete.

I doodle when I take notes. I usually end up with more doodles than meaningful words. Come to think of it, piddling may be a way of buying time rather than spending time. It keeps my hands busy while my mind is preoccupied with weightier matters.

For Christmas several years ago, our son and daughter-in-law enjoyed a lovely red cedar tree in their living room. After the holidays, their beautiful tree was laid to rest on the curb. One day while visiting, I noticed the discarded cedar. As we were pulling out of the driveway, I stopped, hoisted the tree, and threw it in the bed of my pickup truck.

When Clare asked, “Just what are your plans for that dead tree?”

“No plans,” I answered. “I just like the smell of cedar.”

I took the red cedar tree home and tossed it on the wood pile. Occasionally, I would cut a few dried branches off to use as kindling in my chimenea. Finally, nothing was left but the trunk.

When I had a little time to spare outside at night, I whittled on the aromatic wood. I singed the small loose shavings away from the trunk. Over time the cedar became smooth to the touch.

Clare wondered, “What are you making?”

“Nothing. I’m just piddling.”

One of these days, I’ll probably rub a little linseed oil on the piece of cedar. I already use it as a walking stick when I roam around the backyard. It is especially useful in steadying myself on uneven ground.

One night before the pandemic, I was out under a full moon. I walked down the railroad tie steps that descend the hill near our waterfall. In the moonlight, lying on the warm path, was a small garter snake. Using my cedar stick, I gently flipped the critter up on the bank under a hemlock tree.

Tending the geraniums on the front porch, Clare heard the disturbance and called out, “What are you doing?”

“Just piddling,” I said. “Just piddling.”

May I encourage you to pause, pray, and piddle?

It will be good for what ails you.

____________________________________________________________

Some of the stories in this column will be in the forthcoming book

Splinters: Tales from the Lumberyard

By kirk H. Neely

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

He can be reached at kirkhneely44@gmail.com

Over these past months, I have asked that we contribute to our local charitable agencies. Thank you for all you have done. I will continue making suggestions because I have learned that these nonprofit organizations are quickly forgotten unless they are called to mind. Please know that I respect your freedom to choose agencies that are meaningful to you. One way to measure the strength of our community is to observe how we respond to those in greatest need. Please continue with your kindness and generosity. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 172557, Spartanburg, South Carolina, 29301-0062, (800) 725-2769.