Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I Heard the Bells of Christmas Day....

I heard the bells on Christmas Day...actually, 'twas the Third Sunday in Advent, but who's keeping track.  Earlier that morning, the angelic host had proclaimed  "Gloooo-ria in Excelsis Deo". Well, perhaps they were more energetic than angelic...Either way, a joyful noise was made.
Maybe even a little "yee-ha" before the shepherds arrived to tell the good news...
..and we dismissed to breakfast pizzas for the kids and Snickers and Butterfingers for everyone else.

There may not be snow on Christmas. Juggling the permutations of our big family means we may not open packages on Christmas. We may not always be together on Christmas. But there should always be music on Christmas.  Joyful, exuberant, waiting-for-this-all-year music.
This year there is snow...perfect cold crisp snow...an unsullied expanse for kids and puppies to destroy....
And the rest of the family is nearby the fire; there are packages stacked haphazardly like the aftermath of an avalanche and shoes and boots thawing under the radiator.  The food that won't fit in the refrigerator is stored the old fashioned way: on the frozen back porch.  My Granny used to store her Christmas cookies in cookie tins and coffee cans on her back porch; one family friend used to come in that back way, eat himself full of cookies, and then go around the front to knock on the door for a visit!

Tonight there's  a fifty degree temperature differential between back porch and kitchen.

"Their old familiar carols play.
And loud and deep, the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men..."

Out of nowhere, out of imagination and energy and the Spirit of Christmas and the sweetness of grandchildren toward grandparents, Aaron and Lizzie, Gabe and Abbie, Josh and Levi, have concocted the Redbarn Christmas concert this Christmas Eve (produced by the kids, with help from the adults says one sign)...
...Produced by the kids (with help from the Moms)
  For the adults (but mostly for Grandma)...
says the sign affixed to an empty wrapping paper roll and waved about like a heraldic flag by Joshua.

And in case we don't get the message, Levi is announcing the concert in stentorian tones , with a death grip on Lizzie's karaoke mike.  You can run, but you cannot hide....

Last Christmas, my mom and dad were up here in Tarkio for the first time in many years. This year we remember my mom's Christmas birthday with a bouquet of flowers.  Two years ago, the great grandkids listened to their grandpa play in a Christmas concert down at the Lake of the Ozarks; they marveled at the bass clarinet and tried spreading their fingers over the keys of his clarinet.
This Christmas, they decide celebrate his decades of music the very best way: by singing and playing together unselfconsciously, generously, filling the rooms of our house with big sound and big singing and being rewarded with hearty applause and proud smiles from everyone in the audience.

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

How I wish my folks could hear their great-grandchildren's songs this Christmas.  Their hearts would have been touched: I can hear my dad say, "Yeah!"with an approving smile and see my mom grin with delight.

For everyone who is celebrating this Christmas with an empty place in their heart, there is cheer in unexpected gifts like this spontaneous concert, a grace note, a hug from your Father, a reminder that He understands our hearts better than we....
The First Noel, Abbie and Lizzie on Piano and Vocal
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

May we all be granted the eyes to see and ears to hear the blessings that are around us.
May we be granted wisdom to give thanks for them.
Let the love of your Savior and Friend be your comfort
And His words your blessing...

Christmas Blessings for this day and days to come....

God Bless the Music Makers...for they shall bring Joy!

Lasting Impressions....

“A smoldering sexuality that spoke to me almost immediately.  When he first spoke, his masculine baritone moved my soul.  His eyes sparkled with intelligence, his smile was like a secret shared just between the two of us, and his shoulders were broad and strong.  I was smitten, and have never failed to feel my pulse race and my heart pound in his presence, even 40 years later.  This was the man I wanted to father my children!!!”
Had I known all this passion and purple prose boiled just under the surface of the guy with the 1970s hair and black rimmed glasses I had just met in Hatch Hall that summer of 1975, Blake's career path might have been so different!
And we, these forty years later, would no doubt be lounging on a sunny deck somewhere with a water view thanks to his long and wildly successful career as an author of one-a-year bodice rippers….under a nom de plume, of course.  
But, no, instead, what I saw was a fairly serious guy deeply involved in a book...a guy who turned out to be a teller of tales, a baseball fan, and someone who was never boring.  Turns out this was indeed someone I could grow old with, someone I could sit on a front porch with, surrounded by grandkids.  Blake always envisioned himself dispensing grandfatherly wisdom to an audience of upturned and adoring faces, but the grandchildren of real life don’t sit still long enough for long speeches.  And they’ve learned the same lesson I have...that Grandpa would rather spin a good yarn than tell the gospel truth…..

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Bob White and Other Friends

 Confession time:  I am baffled by the current fascination with chickens as recipients of human affection.  I don't get it.  When I look into a chicken's beady little black eye, I see and feel nothing better than indifference. I understand the fascination with incubating eggs, watching them hatch, and hearing the slightly endearing peep peeps of the little chicks.   When I see the results of chickens' behavior toward their kinfolk.....no tail feathers and the like..I'm tempted to say, "With friends like these....?"
On the other hand, there are lots of little birds I am quite fond of: the wrens, aggressively protective from a safe distance,  hectoring  and scolding one moment and the next pouring out a glorious liquid melody from the hidden corners of the yard. The finch family, whistling to each other while they flitter from the seedy buffet of the coneflowers and rudbeckias. Though I don't mind a nest or too in the fern baskets on the front porch, I do get annoyed when they are so neighborly as to build in my porch lights or above the fan....or on the front door.....

It used to be a big deal to see a turkey.  Not long after we moved out to the farm, the dogs treed a hen turkey high in the elm in the front yard.  It was the first wild turkey I'd ever seen; her pictures are in the photo album from that year.  I will swerve to avoid a pheasant...we don't see them that often anymore and the birds are more beautiful than brainy.
I love to hear the quail calling from hillside to hillside on summer days while I am watering the mum lines. When I was growing up,  'bob white' seemed to echo continuously along the gravel road to our farm. Even our next door neighbor two miles down the road was named...Bob White.

I was still in my quixotic horsey phase when the Whites decided they wanted to sell their riding pony.  I arranged to walk over one day and take a ride on the pony and try him out.  As I remember it, the two of us did just fine for a while, until all of a sudden, the pony took a wild hair to dash off the track into the woods, jumping a couple of fallen logs along the way!  Fortunately, I managed to hang on, and eventually delivered the perverse creature back home, but the experience pretty well cured me of my flirtation with horse ownership.  Guess I'll just stick with the Clydesdales...

Then there are the animals best experienced as scenery...peacocks, for example...pronghorn antelope on the range....decorative cattle like Belted Galloways and Red Angus.  The prime example of scenic beasts is the American bison,  majestic by itself, artistic and evocative spread across a hillside, the cows and calves powerful even when pastoral.

But our stories, our sentiments, our reminiscences are all about the animals we name, we raise, we talk to,  we hug.  They can be sounding boards, or silent companions. Sometimes they are footstools; sometimes pillows.  

And while these faithful friends in our family have mostly been dogs,  I do want to pay homage to one cat from our past that was as devoted as any dog and had the same disdain for any notion of personal space.  She showed up unannounced, like all our pets did on the farm.  One day she followed me into one of the greenhouses where I was watering poinsettias, leaped onto the benches, and, with no warning, sprang onto my shoulders and wrapped herself around my neck like a purring furry stole.  There she stayed, riding along as I maneuvered between the benches.  Cats in the greenhouses are pretty well verboten because no one wants to find a surprise in their potted plants, but one never left this little cat behind. She was small, a black calico with wide yellow eyes and we just called her 'Baby'.  She always jumped up on my shoulders and never once scratched me even when I removed her...she was just companionable in the extreme and very sweet.

The current farm dogs are a lovable though eccentric bunch, and in that they carry on a tradition going back more than three decades from Bob who ate fireworks to Mister who danced, Dunkin who chased reflections, not shadows, and Juno, patient, quiet, and gentle despite her Doberman/German Shepherd heritage.

This Christmas season I can't help but remember the day a young, scared and very pregnant black Lab turned up in the driveway.  We took food and water down to the old shed and sure enough, the next day, we found her there surrounded by seven wriggling puppies.  My first thought was to name her Penelope, but that didn't stick so Mama Dog she was for the rest of her life.  She never became a truly friendly dog; she didn't like noise or crowds and disappeared when there were lots of little boys around.  But whenever we were alone on the farm...working on a greenhouse or watering lines or pulling weeds....we would see her keeping watch from the top of a terrace or from the shade of a propane tank. It was a sad day when Blake and I came to work and found her cold body...she was faithful and true.

Ike was one of Mama Dog's puppies.  Matt adopted him and shortly thereafter, Ike moved with Ann and Matt to their home in Kansas City.  Ike loved all kids, had a sensitive stomach, and had no idea he was a dog.  He was happy at the farm, but would wear himself out trying to keep track of all his people...no napping on the job for Ikey!  His successor is Griswold, who falls all over himself each morning wanting to ride, to go; soon and very soon, he will be a farm dog himself.  Lee and Ryan's compatriots are Elvis of the soulful eyes and Gibbs, an enormous mound of hair and paws.  Gibbs thinks he is a lap dog and no one has managed to dissuade him of the notion. He is a lover, not a fighter, that will indeed bark at a strange noise or a disturbance....from under the front porch or the garage.

These are some of the good guys of the animal kingdom, the ones we love, who meet our eyes with their great brown ones and bridge the gap between man and beast.

P.S.  And then there are the animals I'm not so fond of....

Alligators and crocodiles...cold, cold malice.

Goats....destruction that jumps

Tomato hornworms....it's  personal.....

very large tobacco hornworm

Image result for tomato hornworm