Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Old Necklace Factory


The only vendors that came to my town’s farmers market this morning were folks like the artisan who makes clever items out of cedar and the lady who makes bread. But conversation among the visitors was great and even better than buying something, I think. Here is a sample of an earnest conversation between two women I overheard:

“Do people ever sell jewelry here? Some people wear necklaces that smell good.”

“Olfactory therapy.”

“Old factory?”

“Maybe I should say smell therapy. If you smell something pleasant, it makes you feel better. Like, for example, if you smell honeysuckle it makes you feel like springtime.”

“Do they make them necklaces in an old factory somewhere? I know that old chair factory is abandoned. I bet they make them necklaces there.”

“Keep that honeysuckle off my fence row, is all I can say. That stuff will take over. Did you ever pull the little stem thingy in a honeysuckle flower and drink the drop of nectar when it comes out?”

“What am I, a bee? Thai restaurants serve edible flowers with their meals sometimes. Or maybe it is just decoration, but I think people eat them. I have heard that people fry squash blooms and eat them. Cauliflower is really not a flower, is it? Where do they make them necklaces?”

“Back in the day of Gorgeous George, the wrestler, people used to refer to cauliflower ears because when you keep abusing your ears they get this wadded up look like cauliflower. Do you remember Gorgeous George?”

“Yes, I believe he was the precursor of pretty boys like Liberace and Elvis and maybe even Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim’s original stage name was Texarkana Tex. I don’t think he really had any connection to Texarkana, though. I bet they make them old factory necklaces in Fulton.”

“No they don’t. Back to eating flowers, I read that book ‘Alive’ back in the 70s about the Andes plane crash survivors and when they finally got below the snow line and saw wild flowers, they ate them. They were some hungry dudes after such long isolation up in there.”

“I love sunflower seeds. I bet you could make a necklace out of them. Ever see one?”

And so the conversation went at the farmers market. Don’t you love leisurely days when people start out talking about necklaces and end up talking about sunflower seeds? It is an exercise in associative thought. The funny part of it is that, at the moment of the conversation there is nothing strange about it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pig Show


The rains finally came. We had experienced a very long dry spell in southwest Arkansas so the sound of a long, slow summer rain was welcome that night. And the heavenly moisture continued steadily most of the next day, the day we were scheduled to watch our granddaughter show her pig at the Four States Fair. We took the back roads to Texarkana and enjoyed watching the pastures spring into appreciative greenness after the prolonged brown of drought. The creeks were full, the roads were wet and from time to time I felt the tug of potential hydroplaning.

We found a parking place, not an ideal one, at the show barns and slogged through the happy mud to the arena. After finding what passed for a restroom (yuk), we located chairs and watched the familiar process of a swine show. The judge was a kind of ringmaster and he relished describing what he was looking for in a pig. To the layman, it was surprising that there are so many attributes to consider. In most cases, the judge would say, “None of these pigs is perfect.” That probably goes without saying. If there were a perfect pig, the animal would doubtless be walking on gold. But apparently there were some porcine performers close to perfection. These were usually bulging-hipped, broad chested, full-bellied porkers, controlled by enthusiastic and very competitive handlers. The animals were their friends and they were eager to bring out the best side of their project.

The most gratifying part of the show, aside, of course, from our granddaughter’s exemplary performance in the ring, was watching the few children who were different from the majority. It was wonderful to see the support these special kids received from their families and it was particularly gratifying when they won well-earned recognition for their work with the animals.

Well, our granddaughter’s category began at 9 a.m. and we were in attendance shortly after then. She did not show until early afternoon. I am a lunch-lover and my wife has developed an appreciation for a noon-day repast as well. My stomach began to groan at about 11:30 but it was almost 2 p.m. before I could obey its prompting. We gave our granddaughter a fond and congratulatory goodbye and headed out in the rain. Being recreational eaters, we had already decided which establishment would be graced with two elderly people with large appetites. We enjoyed our lunch very much, discussing how wonderful the agricultural activity of showing animals is, how good it is for kids, how different it is from inner-city activities. It is so much better to show an animal than to act like one. (Now, I know that there are good clean activities in the city, too, and that many city kids do not act like animals and some country kids do. That needed to be said.)

We drove home in the rain and even went to sleep listening to the rain once again. Today, however, the rain is gone and the clouds have cleared. It is cool. Cool in more ways than one!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saint Gus and His List


We called him Saint Gus because he kept and kept up with his prayer list. He spoke at the church we attended often about the importance and function of regular prayer and, as an older retired gentleman, he practiced what he preached.

I added several people to Saint Gus’ prayer list and saw results each time. If you placed someone on it, be sure that Gus would ask you about the person from time to time. For example, after initial small talk, he would say, “By the way, Dan, how is so and so. Are his needs being met?” Or, if it was an illness, Saint Gus might ask, “Is so and so healed yet? Has she shown improvement?” And so it would go. Well, I had occasion to put a very troubled person on Gus’ list one time.

I was teaching a sophomore English literature class. The first day of class, I always look at each person when I call his or her name, trying to connect their faces with the names in my roll book. It usually takes me four or five meetings to do so. The first day of this sophomore English class, I was looking at each student until I came to one young lady, I will call her Mandy. When I looked at her, I had never seen such a drawn up, depressed, desperate-looking countenance on a young person. Without thinking, I said, “What’s wrong?” I embarrassed myself by drawing attention to her and hurried on with the rest of the roll call.

After class in the hall, I heard a female voice behind me saying, “Dr. Ford, I need help.” I turned and it was Mandy. I invited her to follow me to my office and she came in and poured out her heart. This single mother had a serious alcohol problem and her mother had kicked her out and would not allow her to see her small child. She said, “I have nowhere to turn, no place to stay, no money, no friends, nothing.”

I called the local shelter that took people like Mandy in and made arrangements for her to stay there. Then I called my wife and told her I wanted to bring her by our house, which, of course, was fine with her. I asked Mandy if she was a Christian and she didn’t seem too sure of that. I asked her if she had a Bible and she said she did not. I gave her my leather bound Good News Bible with my name embossed on it. I was very fond of that Sword because of the little line drawings in it I had embellished with silly stuff. For example, I had the drawing of a donkey in there saying, “I feel like an ass.” To make a long column shorter, at my home my wife ministered to her and once we got her settled at the shelter, I got her on Gus’ prayer list. From then on, Gus would ask, “How is Mandy doing. Still sober? Did she get a job? Is she reconciled with her mother?” You see, he truly prayed and deeply cared.

One little sidelight to round this off: The day after I gave my Good News Bible to Mandy, a colleague of mine came to my office and said, “Dan, Ouachita Baptist just sent us a whole crate of Good News Bibles, do you want one?” When I said, “Thank you, Jesus,” he looked at me funny and I did not explain. I also did not mess with the little drawings this time.

Gus passed away a while back and we miss him…and his list.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Teaching


Labor Day we took some ribs, potato salad and beans down to the wise old man at Hillsboro Manor. We packed an extra plate for Juanita, the head nurse, too. It was not a bribe, but Juanita tends to treat us nicer when we take her something. She told us the wise old man had been hanging out in the chapel for the past few days doing a study. I knew his habit of meditating on scripture, so I did not want to disturb him, but I really wanted at least a short visit with him to catch up. Mainly I wanted him to know that I had retired and would be able to come see him more often.

My wife and I stuck our heads in the chapel door and found him in the front pew with a couple of Bibles, a Big Chief tablet and a bunch of note cards which he had arranged on the pew and on the floor. He didn’t even notice us until we sat in the pew behind him. He seemed truly delighted when he turned around. “What’s that I smell,” he asked.

“We brought you some cookout, sir, I said.”

“Let me gather up this stuff and we will go to the day room. I am as hungry as a female coyote with a big litter,” he laughed. We joined Juanita at a table in the day room. She had already torn into her plate and was full of compliments and questions, especially about how to prepare my wife’s delectable potato salad.

As the two of them ate, I said, “I have retired from teaching.”

“Sure enough?”

“Yes, sir, and I don’t miss it a lick.”

“Interestingly, Dan, I have been doing a study of teaching in scripture. Did you know that the teaching-learning enterprise is mentioned 15 times in the Book of Titus alone? And, Dan, listen to this verse from chapter 2 of that book: “Encourage your students to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about you.”

“I don’t remember reading that,” I said.

“Well, I changed a bit of the wording to make it fit today’s education, but it’s mainly NIV. Dan, don’t you see that the education problems we face in the 21st century would fade away if students could control themselves and if teachers led exemplary lives and taught with integrity, with no frivolity, leaving behind the inordinate fixation on sports activities? And what about ‘soundness of speech’? I am afraid many teachers today have picked up the jargon and triteness of the youth they teach instead of setting an example of accurate and beautiful language. I have heard teachers start sentences with “I’m like,” and over-use the word “amazing” and “absolutely,” haven’t you?”

Feeling a little guilty, I replied, “Often teachers need to get down on their students’ level to truly communicate. You know, be cool.”

The wise old man took a bite of potato salad then and chewed it a long time before replying. “Or, Dan, they might consider coaxing the students up to their level.”