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WISDOM FROM A KENTUCKY FARMER

September 4, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one of these agencies. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, 899 S Pine St, Spartanburg, SC 29302, (864) 597-0699.

For most of human existence, people were hunter-gatherers. They lived a nomadic lifestyle, moving with the seasons to follow the food supply. As the glaciers retreated at the end of the ice age, plant life changed. The need to move so often became less essential. Hunter-gatherer societies would have known which crops were best to harvest in each season.

In his The Ascent of Man, a book and a thirteen-part television documentary, scholar Jacob Bronowski contends that an important factor in the transition to an agricultural lifestyle was the mutation of wheat. When the chaff separated from the grain, wheat could be planted in tilled fields rather than be blown about by the wind. This simple change allowed civilization to settle down. It promoted the development of art, literature, and other cultural expressions.

Archaeologists and paleontologists have traced the origins of farming to around 10,000 years ago, to somewhere in the Indus River Valley in northern India and in China along the Yangtze River.

According to the Hebrew scripture creation account, “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…. Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” (Genesis 2:8-9,15) So farming is identified as the oldest profession, even before sin stained the world. It only stands to reason that our agricultural endeavors should produce a good measure of wisdom.

An example in my experience is Stud Goings. Stud 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 up 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. A current copy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac was found in his coat pocket when he was apprehended. 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 the publication would feature climate indications rather than predictions from then on.

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 swarm of hornets is considerably faster than any farm 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.”

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

THE BLESSING OF ADOPTION

August 28, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one of these agencies. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Hope Center for Children, Post Office Box 1731, Spartanburg, SC 29304, (864) 583-7688.

A month or so ago, I spoke with a young couple by telephone about their futile attempts to have a child. They literally had tried everything from homeopathic treatments to fertility measures, all to no avail. Quietly weeping, the young woman said, “Our time to be parents is slipping away. We would like to consider adoption, but our parents object. My father says adoption is taking a big chance. You never know what kind of child you’ll get.”

“Your father is correct,” I said. “But that is also true for parenting in general. Parenting is always a risk without any guarantees. If you decide to adopt, the one thing that is somewhat certain is that you will get a child.”

 During the Civil War, Zachary Taylor Hutson fought in the Wilderness Campaign with Robert E. Lee. When the War ended, Z.T. Hutson was mustered out of the Confederate Army. He took a train south to Spartanburg. From there, he walked all the way to his family farm in Barnwell County. He made the 130-mile journey hobbling on a wounded leg and suffering from tuberculosis. The trek took a full week.

In time, Z.T. and his wife, Simpie Getsinger, had two sons, Willie and Joe.  Willie eventually took responsibility for the farm. He served as a representative from Barnwell County to the State Legislature.  Joe, the younger son, left Barnwell County and moved to the Upstate. He attended Getsinger Business School, founded by his uncle Joseph Jasper Getsinger. There he met Belle Haynsworth from Darlington.

Joe and Belle lived in Spartanburg. They were the parents of five sons and one daughter. Joe changed the spelling of his name from Hutson to Hudson. 

After his first wife died, Willie married Mollie Woodward.  Her father was Robert E. Lee Woodward.  Willie gained a stepdaughter from Mollie’s first marriage. Willie and Mollie had four sons and then a daughter, Louise. 

When little Louise was only six weeks old, her mother, Mollie, died. 

Joe and Belle traveled from Spartanburg to Barnwell County for the funeral.  Following the burial in the cemetery of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, Willie handed his infant daughter across Mollie’s grave to his sister-in-law, Belle. 

Willie said to Joe and Belle, “I don’t b’lieve I can raise this little girl on a farm with these four boys. I’d be obliged if you’d take her with you to Spartanburg. I’d ‘preciate it if you’d rear her as your own.” 

That baby girl was my mother.  Her aunt and uncle, Joe and Belle Hudson adopted her.  Because her adopted parents and her birth father were so closely related, she always regarded both families as hers.  In essence, she was the youngest of twelve children in the two families combined.  She had a good relationship with all of these older brothers and sisters of the two families throughout her life.  She thought of both Willie and Joe as her daddies, calling them Little Daddy and Big Daddy.

I knew my grandmother, Belle Hudson, as Granny. In her Last Will and Testament, Granny included these words, “And to my niece Louise, whom I have always regarded as my daughter, my desire is that she share and share alike with my other children.”

My mother wept tears of joy.

Granny’s estate was very modest. Her love for her family was extravagant.

My mother’s inheritance was not wealth. It was acceptance and a sense of belonging.

On October 31, 2011, Clare and I became grandparents of two precious children, a brother, and a sister, adopted by our son and his wife, our daughter-in-law. These two children are counted among our thirteen grandchildren. We love and cherish all thirteen of our grands. Each is a unique individual; each is created in the image of God, and each one is a blessing in our lives.

In family court on adoption day, I saw a group of caring adults gathered around these children. There were smiles all around. The judge was all business until the legal proceedings were concluded. Then he posed for photographs along with adoptive parents and two sets of grandparents. Because it was Halloween Day, he offered our new grandchildren the first trick-or-treat gift of the day, Tootsie Pops.

When I shook the judge’s hand to thank him, he commented, “In family court, I hear many sad, even tragic, stories. A case like this, where two children are placed in their forever family, is what brings me joy. This makes my work worthwhile.”   

In our family, we regard adoption as a blessing, but it is not that way for some. At http://www.adoption.com, there are numerous stories of people for whom being adopted has been a painful experience. Nearly every person who has been adopted has questions about their birth parents. Many know that their adoptive parents have loved them and provided for them in ways that their birth parents could not have. However, for some, adoption carries a lifelong stigma.

In the church that I served for eighteen years, we were fortunate to have several adoptive families. It has been my privilege to dedicate children who are chosen through adoption at birth. I have baptized young people who were foster children and were later adopted by their foster parents. In these situations, adoption is a blessing to the child, the parents, and the church.

Those, like my mother, who are adopted, have a special place in the world. In a very real sense, they are the chosen ones. 

A list of famous people who were adopted includes people of diverse backgrounds and occupations. Moses, the biblical leader of the Jews, Lakota war chief Crazy Horse, and comedian Art Linkletter, are on the roll.

Among the politicians on the list are John Hancock and Nelson Mandela. Civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Jesse Jackson were adopted.

The list includes inventor George Washington Carver, naturalist John Audubon, Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s Restaurants, and Steve Jobs of Apple computer.      

Philosophers Aristotle and Jean Jacques Rousseau are included. Authors Edgar Allan Poe and Langston Hughes were adopted.

 The Associated Press published the story of Captain Scott Southworth of Wisconsin. Scott knew he would face violence when he was deployed with his Military Police unit to one of Iraq’s most dangerous areas. What he didn’t expect to find was nine-year-old Ala’a, a boy suffering from cerebral palsy. Ala’a, abandoned on the street in Baghdad, had been taken to the orphanage of the Sisters of Mercy founded by Mother Teresa. On a visit with his unit in 2003, Scott met the black-haired and brown-eyed Ala’a. The boy dragged himself to the side of the 31-year-old American Captain Southworth and won the soldier’s heart.

Over the next ten months, the unit returned to the orphanage several times. A bond developed between Southworth and Ala’a. The boy began referring to Scott as Baba, Arabic for Daddy.

Iraqi law prohibits foreigners from adopting Iraqi children. Immigration laws in this country are also prohibitive. Homeland security in the United States was another hurdle.

The process took several years. Undaunted, Southworth prevailed, and Ala’a became his adopted son.

Adoption is not without difficulties, but adoption is indeed a blessing!

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

TOBASCO SAUCE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER

August 21, 2021

During the difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Clare and I have been considering what we might do to help those in need. We have decided to continue our support for the charitable nonprofit organizations that are serving our community. Each week in this space, I will ask you to consider helping one of these agencies. This week, please volunteer, or donate, as you are able, to Habitat for Humanity of Spartanburg, 2270 South Pine Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina 29302, (864) 591-2221.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I had lunch once every three months with a group of friends who graduated with me from high school. The last time we met, seventeen of us, all members of the Class of 1962 at Spartanburg High School, gathered at a local restaurant.

It is difficult to imagine how old those former classmates have grown. Most of us hobbled to the table, examined the menu through corrective lens, and almost to a person ordered the same thing we ate the last time we were together. After a brief time of reviewing health issues, we enjoyed sharing stories and memories from the good old days.

When our food was served, I watched the friend across the table from me. He picked up a bottle of Tabasco Sauce and proceeded to turn his cup of crab bisque fiery red with the hot sauce. He shook copious amounts of the magic elixir on his hamburger and his side salad as well. I asked the waitress to bring him more water. He laughed and said dryly, “Tabasco Sauce makes everything better.”

I was reminded of one of our treasured family stories.  The first time my mother shared a meal with my father’s family was on a Sunday after church.  The event occurred two years before my birth.  I’ve heard the tale and repeated it so often I feel almost as if I was there.

The woman who would become my mother was the sweetheart of the man who would become my dad.  He took her to Sunday dinner at his family home, the very home in which Clare and I now reside, the home where we reared our own five children.

My dad was one of nine children.  The dining room table was large enough to accommodate the entire family. My grandfather, who I called Pappy, asked the blessing and then grabbed a bottle of Tabasco Sauce, shaking the contents all over his salad, a lettuce leaf topped with a pear half, filled with a dollop of mayonnaise, and garnished with grated cheese, and a maraschino cherry.

My mother, seated across from my grandfather, was stunned when she saw her future father-in-law dousing his pear salad with pepper sauce.  Noticing her surprise, Pappy quipped, “Louise, if you get ahold of something you don’t like, change it to something you do like.”

Tabasco sauce will change the taste of anything. Some folks, like Pappy, vow that the hot condiment makes everything better

Edmund McIlhenny, who invented Tabasco sauce, was a banker from Maryland who had moved to Louisiana around 1840.

McIlhenny was an avid gardener. A friend gave him seeds of red peppers from Mexico. At his home on Avery Island in south Louisiana, Edmund sowed the seeds and nurtured the plants to maturity.  The peppers they bore were a delight.

McIlhenny created a pepper sauce to add spice and flavor to food. Selecting and crushing the reddest peppers, he mixed them with salt, aging the mash for a month in crockery jars. McIlhenny then blended the mash with white wine vinegar. Aging the mixture another thirty days, he strained and bottled it.

It proved so popular with family and friends that McIlhenny decided to market his pepper sauce. He grew his first commercial pepper crop in 1868. The next year, he sent out 658 bottles of sauce to wholesale to grocers around the Gulf Coast, particularly in New Orleans. He labeled it Tabasco, named for the state in Mexico from which those first seeds came.

McIlhenny secured a patent in 1870, and TABASCO® Brand Pepper Sauce began to set the culinary world on fire.

Labeled in 22 languages and dialects, sold in over 160 countries and territories, it is the most famous, most preferred pepper sauce in the world.

Tabasco Sauce is still made on Avery Island, Louisiana, at the very site where Edmund McIlhenny planted his first garden. Half of the company’s 200 employees live on Avery Island. Their parents and grandparents worked and lived there as well. The current president of the family-owned company is a sixth generation McIlhenny.

Until recently, all of the peppers were grown on Avery Island. The bulk of the crop is now grown in South America, where weather allows a more predictable supply.

Following tradition, the peppers are handpicked. Peppers are checked with a little red stick, le petit bâton rouge, to determine ripeness. Those peppers not matching the color of the stick are not harvested.

Peppers are ground, mixed into mash, and put into old white oak whiskey barrels to age for three years. The bright red mash is so corrosive that forklifts are reported to last only six years.

In addition to the original red Tabasco Sauce, several new types of sauces are now produced under the brand name. In addition, the company has cashed in on its name by licensing apparel including neckties and boxer shorts.

The hot sauce is used to season a variety of foods. It has been used to change the taste of desserts and even pear salad. NASA put Tabasco Sauce on the menu for Skylab, the International Space Station, and shuttle missions.

The spicy sauce has made appearances in two James Bond movies.

The official Web site of the McIlhenny Company, http://www.tabasco.com, has nearly 200 pages of stories and comments from Tabasco afficionados. Among the entries are suggestions for alternate uses for the hot sauce.

  • Sprinkle Tabasco on flower and vegetable plants to repel pests, especially deer and rabbits.
  • Can’t get your teenager out of bed to get to school on time? A drop of Tabasco on their lip will awaken them.
  • Use a spoonful of Tabasco as a cough remedy.

These comments are included.

  • “When I was much younger my grandmother put Tabasco Sauce on my fingertips to stop me from chewing my nails. Half a century later, I still bite my nails, and I love Tabasco!”
  • “When I was little, if I talked back to momma, she would put Tabasco in my mouth. Soon, I started having a smart mouth on purpose because I loved the taste! To this day I’m just as sassy, and I love Tabasco even more!”
  • “My kitchen is full of Tabasco memorabilia. I even named my dog Tabasco!”
  • “My husband loves Tabasco Sauce so much, he asked me to get a Tabasco tattoo. He thinks it’s hot!”

Following the tradition of my grandfather, one of my cousins uses Tabasco on almost everything. I’m not sure if his wife has a Tabasco tattoo or not.

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