Friday, June 24, 2011

Squirrels, Bacon, God and the Devil

One of the things I remember most about my grandmother was her sense of humor - and her stories. Even as a young girl I repeated them to any willing audience.

My mother cautioned me. “Marie, just because your Grandmother told you that, doesn’t mean you should repeat it.”

Now, my grandmother did not cuss. She was a woman of tremendous faith and to my knowledge never spoke or acted improperly, but my mother followed Emily Post to the letter. Bodily functions were never mentioned, and the particular story in question was a satire on Gone With the Wind...

“Mama, what happened to Daddy?”

“Well, son he is Gone With the Wind…”

 My mother was horrified.

Other stories described everyday experiences, told with a humorous twist, such as the two hunters determined to live off the land. After several days with no success, except one small squirrel, they argued over who would eat it.

“Tell ya, what.” Frank said. “Let’s go to sleep, and the one who has the best dream gets the squirrel.”

Howard agreed.

Both men lay down, wrapped in old, tattered blankets against the chill night air, and dreamed.

Early the next morning they compared their dreams while sitting around a small fire, bellies growling with anticipation.

Harold said, “I had the best dream by far. I dreamed I went to heaven on a sofa.”

Frank shook his head, “Naw. I had the best dream. I saw you going and I got up and et the squirrel.”

Another described a Russian and a German hunting in the high country. They had poor luck and their provisions were running low. Down to one slab of bacon, not quite big enough for both men, the Russian suggested a tug of war.

You bite one end, I’ll bite the other. The first to let go loses and the other gets to eat the bacon.” 

“Agreed.” The German replied.

The two men bit their respective ends of the slab.

Through clinched teeth the Russian asked, “Is you ready?”

The German replied, “Yah.”

Are you still with me? Or are you shaking your head and hitting the close button? Wait, the best is yet to come…I promise.

My favorite was the story of the two young boys picking walnuts on a very hot August afternoon. After an hour or so they managed to fill a brown paper sack full of the nuts. They left the orchard, walking toward home along a narrow, dusty road. The sun was hot, they were thirsty, and the overloaded sack was tearing. They passed a cemetery with huge shade trees and thigh high green grass.

The older boy said, “This bag isn’t going to hold all the way home. Let’s go in, sit in the shade and divide these walnuts.”

The younger one nodded. “I could sure sit in the cool shade for a while.”

They crossed over the fence using the stile (steps built over the fence to facilitate crossing from one side to the other). At the top two walnuts fell from the bottom of the bag.

The older boy said. “Let’s leave those and pick them up on our way back.”

“Fine with me. I just want to sit down in that cool grass.”

The boys walked several yards into the cemetery and collapsed beneath a huge willow.

Tearing the sack open the older boy divided the walnuts. “One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.”

A pair of Winos came down the road. They stopped beside the stile, leaned against its worn wood, and passed a bottle back and forth.

From inside the graveyard they heard a voice. “One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.”

One Wino elbowed the other. “Hey, hear that? That’s God and the Devil in there dividin’ up those poor souls.”

The other man’s eyes widened as he listened.

“One for you. One for me. One for you. One for me.”

Beneath the willow tree, the boys had finished dividing the nuts. The older boy said, “Well, that about does it for the ones in here. Let’s get the two out by the stile.”

When the boys reached the fence and collected the last two walnuts, the older one noticed the Winos. “Hey, look at them They’re running as if the devil was chasin' ‘em.”

If you aren’t giggling - or at least smiling - you have no sense of humor, at least not for old, maybe somewhat corny, jokes. God bless you, anyway.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Spice of Life

My palms were sweating, my breathing was rapid, and shallow, my imagination was running amok. The warning had been explicit: Do not walk around the compound at night without an armed guard.  I looked ahead. Twenty more yards to the chalet.

Granted, my husband did have certain skills ( he was a police officer and big game hunter), but those skills didn't mean much since he wasn’t carrying a gun. The man with the gun was back at the lighted (safe) enclave with the rest of our group, enjoying his glass of sherry. Bill had drained his in one gulp, and hurried me with mine. He wanted to go back to the chalet to “wash up” before dinner and did not want to wait for the rest.

Five more yards.

The reason behind the warning was valid. Two weeks prior to our stay, two people were mauled and killed by lions - inside the electrified, fifteen foot fence. The older gentleman was attacked just a few feet from his chalet (probably just about where we were), and his wife was killed when she came searching for him.

With no moon or outdoor lights it was dark, really dark. I could see only a few feet in front of me and almost nothing behind. What was that? I distinctly heard something behind me. I turned and squinted. Couldn't see anything, but that didn't mean something wasn't there...

At last we reached our chalet. I looked at the inky black space behind the staircase.  Anything could be hiding there. I envisioned huge, clawed paws reaching out and grabbing my ankles.

Ten steps. Five steps. The deck. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Bill made a beeline for the restroom. Then I understood his urgent retreat from the group. All the rich food had finally tipped the sensitive balance of his digestive system, poor guy.

Our room was opulent, and it wasn't even one of the Presidential suites. The bed was huge, draped in mosquito netting, and piled high with comforters and pillows. The rest of the room glowed with rich wood, elegant drapery and cushions. We had our own mini-bar stocked with assorted cold drinks - and something new, a basket.

Tied to the handle by a tiny, blue ribbon was a card. It announced the basket was a wedding gift from the lodge staff. Nestled inside amid colorful tissue were two bananas, a couple packages of nuts, some individually wrapped chocolates and two bottles of sparkling water.

Bill exited the restroom. “Okay, let’s go eat.”

I looked at him, and then the door. The dinning room was across the compound, through another vortex of heart pounding, palm sweating, dark. 

"Sweetheart, it'll be fine. No lion is going to eat us."

"Right. You heard what the manager said."

"They've reinforced the fencing since then. We'll be fine."

"Yeah, just like all those people in that book you gave me to read before we came."

"Death in the Long Grass is a hunting classic."

"Uh huh. All about man-eating lions."

"A little fear adds spice to life."

"I don't need any spice, thank you."

Bill held the door open. "No lion is going to eat us on the way to the dinning room."

Against my better judgement, I stepped out the door and into The Gauntlet.

We we made it to the dinning room without sight, and thank you, Lord, no sound of any lions. Even the pride milling around at the entrance gate were silent. Had one roared I am not sure if I would have become the fastest woman alive (alive being the key word here), or if I would have remained frozen, rooted to the ground, unable to move, and become a statistic.

Our brave dash across the dark compound was for nothing. The dinning room was locked and dark. It seemed everything was dark that night, especially my mood. 

Bill peered through huge window.  “I know dinner is usually served earlier, but I was sure they'd offer something to us after the game drive."

I agreed. "At least sandwiches."

As usual Bill handled the situation with grace and immaculate aplomb. “Oh well, one missed meal won’t ruin our trip. I’ll be okay until breakfast, how about you, Sweetheart?”

“Well,” I replied, “There is a gift basket with snacks in the chalet....”

I looked back toward the chalet. It lay past a long, long stretch of black, inky compound. I prayed the old adage “three times is a charm” didn't include lions.

Five heart-pounding minutes later we were back inside the chalet, sitting opposite each other in the plush wicker chairs, staring down at our evening repast. We each had a banana, a small package of nuts and a few  chocolates pieces. Oh, and a bottle of sparkling water.

I offered Bill a bit of sage advice. “If you chew slowly it fills you up quicker.”

Bill stared at his portion, entirely cupped in one hand. “Right.”

We crawled into bed, tired, cold, and hungry, but I am sure I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

The dinning room was packed during breakfast. We were greeted with smiles and nods. 

I whispered to Bill, “What's going on?”

He shrugged and headed for the buffet table. I followed, still wondering why we seemed to be the center of every one's attention.

The lodge manager walked over. “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Pulliam.”

“Good morning.”

“How are you?”

“Fine.” Bill replied.

“Everything okay?”


He hovered, obviously something on his mind. “We missed you at dinner last night.”

“Well,” Bill answered, “we came down to the dinning room, but the doors were locked, all the lights were off and we didn’t see anyone around. Figuring we somehow missed dinner we went back to our chalet.”

The manager sighed. “We waited for a half hour and then realized you had left the group before I  announced dinner was to be served in the Boma, not the dinning room.”

Boma was an African word meaning eating place. It was an open space surrounded by a fence, filled with dinning tables, an open fire and a long buffet table. My mouth watered as I pictured a whole lamb, pig or half a cow roasting on a huge spit - sizzling, and savory. I envisioned the buffet covered with salads, breads, soups, potato dishes, pasta dishes, vegetables, and deserts.

The manger continued. “We sent a tracker to escort you to the Boma, but when he arrived at your chalet he couldn’t see any lights, and well, knowing you are newlyweds, he was unsure whether to knock or not.”

I could see the poor man shuffling his feet outside the door, debating on whether to disturb us or not, while Bill and I were busily inhaling our snacks.

Bill laughed. "Please don't worry about it. It was just an unfortunate misunderstanding. If missing one meal is the worse thing we encounter on this trip, we will be very lucky.”

Obviously relieved, the manager wished us a good day and moved on to other guests.

I elbowed Bill. “I told you to turn on more lights.”

“Well Sweetheart, I didn’t see any need to burn every light in the place in order to eat a handful of snacks.” With a wink he added, “And, it was sort of romantic, wasn’t it?”

Romantic? Standing in a darkened room, shivering from cold and shattered nerves, starving, and so tired my bones ached, was not my definition of the word.

I looked down at my ring. Now that was romantic. We bought the ring at a South African diamond emporium in Johannesburg. It was simple, elegant - perfect. Seven diamonds sparkling in a white-gold, scalloped band. Back to our room at the Bed and Breakfast, bill slipped it on my finger,  re-vowing to honor and cherish me for the rest of his life…

Bill raised his glass of sparkling wine. “Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart.”

“Happy Anniversary, Honey.”

“I can’t believe nine years ago today we were in Africa.”

“I know. The years have just flown by.”

“Nine of the happiest years of my life.”

I nodded and cuddled closer. “Mine too.”

“Sweetheart, I think it’s time we went back.”

“I’ll go in a heart beat, on one condition. Don't spice it up too much.” I put a finger to his lips. “Don’t say it. I don’t care what Winston Churchill said. I’m not an adrenalin junkie like you. I don’t want to feel the thrill of being shot at and missed – or stalked, but not eaten.”

Bill's eyes twinkled. “I have just the book for you to read.”

“What? Another Death in the Long Grass? Thanks, but no thanks.”

“This one is really good. I know you'll enjoy it.”

“Really? Where does this one take place? Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya? Is it a pride of man-eaters or just a single lion stalking and devouring anyone it comes across?”

“South Africa. Kruger National Park. Several prides...."

All storytelling aside, today is our ninth wedding anniversary. There was a card standing on the top of the coffee maker this morning, addressed to me from Bill. The card states he wishes he could write a book with separate chapters for every reason why his life is warmer, brighter, better and a thousand times more fun because of me. Well, ditto, Honey. In truth, I will follow you anywhere. My home is wherever you are, whether it is in Argentina, South Africa, or Boise, Idaho. I love you with all of my heart. Happy Anniversary, Honey.

Friday, June 10, 2011

And Another Thing

It wasn’t fair. How could they do this? (Fill in any situation – most would fit.) I was so angry I could barely wait to tell my bus mates and co-workers. I vented, I raved and I justified – until the next morning. At five am Jimmy Cricket extolled the virtues of Wishing Upon A Star. I wasn't in the mood for a Pollyanna wake up call and wished I’d changed my alarm to something more like I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.

I rolled out of bed, shuffled out to the kitchen and made coffee. While it brewed I stared out the window. Light was just showing in the eastern horizon. Clear sky, maybe we’d finally have a sunny, warm day.

The scene faded, receding behind a thin veil. I saw Jesus on the cross. As I watched, He transposed His face over my perceived enemy, for the second time. The first being right after my divorce.  I was being reminded, once again, of God’s opinion of anger - even justified anger.

Justified. That was exactly what I had done - justified my action, my decisions, at the expense of another’s reputation. It didn’t matter that I had told the truth. It was wrong to broadcast the negative situation. My face reddened when I remembered a story I had recently told someone else.

A Christian missionary in China discovered a thief had stolen all of the mission’s blankets. The woman said nothing, demonstrated no outward anger, and went about her daily routine as if nothing had happened.

A Chinese solider staying with the missionaries questioned her behavior. “Why are you not angry with this thief?”

The woman replied, “First, God provided those blankets, and He will provide more when we need them. And secondly, the thief obviously needed them more than we did.”

Her words and behavior so impressed the solider he converted to Christianity, becoming a priest.

I sank to my knees, asking God to forgive my un-Christian-like behavior. I vowed to ask forgiveness from every person I had ranted to. Granted it would be hard to swallow my pride and admit I had been wrong, yet I had to somehow set the record straight.

My morning devotions confirmed my guilt. The Greatest Commandment was quoted in my first reading. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Remorse pounded my heart, crushing me into a black hole of shame.

The meditation continued with the gentle reminder that repentance, true repentance - coupled with the desire to change and not repeat the offense - wipes away our sin. There was no need to hang my head in shame or plot horrific punishments.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
                                                       Psalm 103: 10-12

Halleluiah. Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Life’s Embellishments

My devotion, God’s Little Lessons on Life for Women quoted Sherlock Holmes. Holmes said flowers were not necessary to life. They were an embellishment given to us from a compassionate God (from The Adventure of the Naval Treaty by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle).

After owning and managing a flower shop for ten years, flowers were not an embellishment to my life. They were a means to an end and represented the stress that accompanies small business ownership. I did not see beautiful blooms or notice their sweet fragrance. They represented hours of standing ankle deep in floral debris creating Something Spectacular while answering phones, taking orders, organizing deliveries and assisting walk in customers. When the holidays ended, I did not want to celebrate anything except the chance to shower and go to bed.

The last Valentine’s Day I owned the shop began in the usual way with aching back and feet, allergies running amok from too much exposure to all the pollen, and panic over cash flow. My bank balance was still short of enough funds to cover the rose shipment. Too tired to expend the extra energy to worry, I gave the issue to God.

At ten am the FedEx truck pulled up to the door and the driver pulled out box after box of flowers. My only recourse was to write a check and pray the receipts came in before the check made it to the bank.

I greeted the delivery man with what I hoped was a smile. “So, how much do you need from me today?”



“Yeah, it’s really odd. The box with the invoice got bumped because of excessive weight in the cargo hold. Usually that is the first box they load. Anyway, without the invoice I can’t take payment.”

“Well, how long before the other box shows up?”

“It was bumped only one flight, so I’d say tomorrow or the next day at the latest.”

Well within the parameters of a fresh, saleable product. I hummed songs of praise all day long, and ironically, my feet didn’t hurt as much, my back ached less and we had one of our best holidays.

The next morning the other box showed up, right along with enough deposits to cover the C.O.D - and the most pressing bills. I glowed all the way to the bank.

I have been out of the floral business for six years, and now have the benefit of hind sight. While working in the shop I was surrounded with beauty, but I saw mostly thorns. I failed to understand that the blossoms are much larger than the thorns, and if we stand in the right position – in faith and trust in Him – we won't see the thorns at all.