Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ancient Southerners

My son-in-law, an associate pastor of a great and well-known body of believers in De Queen, Ark., said something interesting after supper last night. He had come to our house along with our daughter and granddaughter to help with some furniture issues. We finished our project and went out for barbecue at a local eatery. My son-in-law, we will call him Bobby, was sampling some fried pies after supper and, as is my practice, I tried to ruin his pleasure by saying, “Fried food isn’t good for you.”

Oh, man, did that statement touch a nerve! He said in his most persuasive ecclesiastical tone, “Where did you hear that nonsense? Southern people have been eating fried foods for thousands of years without negative consequences.” Even though his temporal view of Southern history is at odds with my own, and with everyone else’s I know, his point was very boldly and articulately made.

Since Bobby pluralized the millennia that Southerners have been chowing down on fried goodies, his word “thousands” must mean at least 2,000 years, right? So, 2,000 years ago would be about the time of Christ. I envisioned Southerners over here on this continent gorging on fried catfish whilst the disciples were having fish roasted on an open fire at the Sea of Galilee, you know, the big catch cookout. Southerners were frying okra whilst Peter was dreaming of eating unclean stuff on the rooftop in Joppa. Southerners were feasting on fried chicken whilst the disciples were twirling wheat heads between their unwashed hands, to the chagrin of the goody two-shoes Pharisees.

But, what if Bobby meant more than 2,000 years—say 2,500 years. Southerners were making hot water cornbread whilst Daniel and his companions were eating stewed beans. Or, 3,000 years ago David was having bread, dried figs and raisins that Ziba brought him whilst Southerners were saying, “Pass them peach fried pies, y’all.”

I won’t go all the way back to Cain, who never fried pumpkin patties or Able, who never thought of frying a leg of lamb. Because, all kidding aside, there is a lot of truth in what Bobby implied, even though the vehicle for his point was historically flawed. I remember old man Swilley in El Dorado, who peddled groceries all over town in a cart till he was in his 90’s. He would stop by our house for, you guessed it, a hefty hunk of fried cornbread. Every Sunday at Mr. Swilley’s house, fried chicken was served in abundance. My mother’s favorite meal all the way to her death in her 80’s was fried chicken. And no one could fry it as well as she could.

Moderation is the answer. Serving sizes have gotten out of hand, haven’t they? Restaurants should follow the example of the historic restaurant in my town. They offer a regular plate and a small plate. The small plate is just about right in terms of serving size. You get two decent pieces of fried chicken tenders and a little dab of two sides along with bread.

One question for Bobby, did Southerners say “fixing to” in, say, the year 1066, as in, “Are you fixing to fry that squirrel, Betty Sue, or make mulligan?” (I know the answer to that one and so do you). I’d better acknowledge that Bobby knows history. He also knows hyperbole.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jubilee House

Last month, the day after our 49th anniversary, my wife and I closed the deal on our new dwelling place. Biblically speaking, this is the beginning of our Jubilee year, after seven periods of seven years each. The 50th is a year of freedom, new beginnings and forgiveness of all that is past. We call our place “Jubilee House” as most houses here in Washington, Arkansas have a name. Maybe we will put a sign out front saying “Private Residence of the Fords—JUBILEE HOUSE—c. 1918.” I doubt if we will actually do that, but it’s tempting.

The main reason we estimate the building of this place as 1918 is this: At the Southwest Arkansas Archives there is a photograph of author Claud Garner, who built the place, standing beside the garage with a “Tin Lizzy” parked in it. Another reason is that the man we bought the house from said it was built around 1918. Anyway, what I wanted to say here about Jubilee House concerns its location in Washington.

The place is next door to the old Methodist Church, across the road from the 1874 court house, in front of the old jail and next door on the other side to Pioneer Washington Foundation. These buildings that have us hemmed in tell a story of what makes America great.

Contrary to some thinking, for example, we are a Christian nation. The church next door bears witness to the perseverance of that institution locally, both in structure and in the body of staunch believers that worship there. The court house across the street, though it has become a museum and a visitor’s center, bespeaks a people with a strong sense of justice. The civic business that took place there until the county seat moved to nearby Hope (with the railroad) demonstrates unrelenting traits of fairness and legality stamped on the souls of citizens who came before us. The jail behind us has long since become a bed and breakfast…wait a minute, that is what jails are anyway, right, bed and breakfasts. That facility carried out the sentences given at the court house. The Pioneer Washington Foundation is dedicated to the preservation of the best of our humble local history.

So, those four entities that surround us are bastions of just what the scriptures say God wants of his people: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The whole of Washington, Arkansas is on the National Register of Historic Places. The State Park here is unique in that it mixes historic structures with normal citizens. Dare I call myself normal? Yes, I dare. So, here we sit, surrounded by historical representatives of what makes America great. It is enough to make one feel a little patriotic.

We want to dedicate our lives here at Jubilee House to the principles that surround us—Godliness, justice, mercy and historic preservation. Not only that, but the best place to experience the Jonquil Festival is from our front porch!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Radio Parody

There is a time for everything under the sun. My friend Ken and I were in demand as a comedy team from about the ninth grade all the way through high school. We performed our shows at church gatherings, teen dances, high school assemblies and house parties. We just dressed up funny with a variety of hats and did parodies. One of these was of Western radio plots, which were popular in the 1950’s. I played the narrator and Tex and Ken played his sidekick, Duke and any other characters that spoke. One of our routines, as I recall, went like this:

Narrator: We take you now to the windy plains of Texas, where we find Tex on his horse Prince and Duke on his donkey hombre. They are high on a ridge, overlooking the wide expanse of austere desert below them. There appears to be a stagecoach high-jacking by some bad guys in progress.

Tex: Looks like a raid, Duke.

Duke: Sure does, Tex.

Tex: That fellow that crawled over to the rock after the bandits saw us coming and left. Looks like he’s hurt.

Duke: Sure does, Tex.

Narrator: Tex and Duke ride rapidly over to the dying man beside the rock. (Horse and donkey sound effects).

Tex: Say, old timer, are you hurt?

Old Timer: (Ken’s voice) Boys, I think I’m cashing in my chips. That’s my daughter over there by the stage coming this way. Honey, honey?

Girl: (Ken’s voice) Oh, Father, where did you hide the will?

Old Timer: (Ken’s voice) It’s in the…it’s in the… heahheah. (The old timer dies).

Tex: Ma’am, sounds like he said he hid the will in the heahheah.

Duke: Sure does, Tex, and ma’am.

Tex: Let’s ride over to the heahheah and see can we find the will Duke.

Narrator: Lifting the girl to a position behind him on Prince, the threesome ride across the plain to the heahheah.

Tex: Well, Duke, and ma’am, here we are at the heahheah.

Duke: And there’s the will right under it.

Girl: (Ken’s voice) Oh, Tex, I’m reading the will and right here it says Father left me the ranch and all the vast sums of money. Must you go?

Tex: Yes ma’am, we got to be moseying on.

Duke: Sure do, ma’am.

Narrator: So our knights of the Texas plains ride westward, as the sun sets and the girl waves wistfully. Tune in next week for the adventures of Tex and Duke as they, well, as they pass up more good deals and doggedly avoid good fortune. Our program is brought to you by Percy’s prescription for peculiar people.

After Ken and I got out of the military and went to college, we tried to reprise our act at student gatherings, but it had lost its luster. I think our sense of humor had matured. There is a time for everything under the sun, just as scripture teaches.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tree Frog Tongues, A Villanelle

You heard the tree frogs speak in tongues today

& suddenly got the gift of interpretation.

“Rain but more than rain will fall,” they say,

As scales start shedding from all eyes; away

Will be that blindness to one’s own transgression.

You heard the tree frogs speak in tongues today:

“Hear, oh boggy swamp’s odd family,

You willful, backward cousins, don’t delay,

For rain but more than rain will fall today.

The croak has come at last & you must pay

What’s due to Him beyond your habitation.”

You heard the tree frogs speak in tongues today,

“Not one tittle, not one jot will fade,

So proclaim a fast throughout your swampy nation

For rain but more that rain will fall,” they say.

That’s what the tree frogs uttered in the glade,

So heed the amphibian’s holy admonition,

For you heard the tree frogs speak in tongues today,

“Rain but more than rain will fall,” they say.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Poetic Wisdom

There is a lot of wisdom in poetry. For example, Robert Frost utters a couple of very profound lines that seem to come out of nowhere in “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” The narrator says his ambition in life is to unite his vocation with his avocation as his two eyes make one in sight. Isn’t that a wonderful way of saying that we ought to strive for doing something pleasurable for a living?

Both of my brothers were pilots and they each talked about what a wonderful job they had. They couldn’t believe someone furnished them an airplane, let them fly it and paid them for doing so! They had united their vocations with their avocations. Though the phenomenon is getting rarer these days, I have known teachers who love their work so much they would do it for free. And, what about actors? They obviously enjoy their work and are remunerated generously.

What about you? Do you awaken in the morning dreading going to your job or do you say, “Hot dog, another day to do what I love”? A worthy ambition would be to do something for a living that makes you glad to wake up in the morning.

Another wise thing that is said in poetry comes from John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Don’t ask me, “What’s a Grecian Urn,” or I might reply about $10 an hour on average, and you would not laugh, just as you are not even grinning now. I know, you are moaning at the pun, because that’s how you are supposed to react to a pun. But, digression notwithstanding, the line of wisdom from Keats is, “Thou shalt remain in other woe than ours a friend to man.” He is speaking of a work of art. The art will be preserved to speak to our human condition down through the years to people with other troubles and problems than we have now. Here, Keats gets at the central purpose of art, to address the human condition in a “friendly” fashion.

The penultimate bit of wisdom from a poet; this one, from the poet who signed himself “e.e.cummings” is somewhat unusual. He wrote, “pity this busy monster manunkind.” He does not refer to the human race as mankind, but manUNkind, punning on the “kind” part of the word. He apparently does not see anything kind in mankind. But rather than condemn or lament the human condition, the poet asserts that we should show pity. In a way, that is a Christian worldview. Even though we are redeemed, we still have the “sin nature.” That is as pitiable as it is lamentable. But, without choices that could go wrong, we would be no more than automatons. God apparently didn’t want a bunch of robots going around saying “I love you, Lord” because they couldn’t say anything else, right?

Finally, the great Shakespeare wrote that we are, like a piece of charcoal, consumed by that which we were nourished by. I have seen ash in a fireplace that looks dead, but there is a little bright red hot thing in the middle!