Monday, February 25, 2013

A Ballad for My Mother

We celebrated my mother's 90th birthday with a party at our church a couple of weeks ago. After each of her seven children had participated in a program to honor her, she thanked everyone and led us in singing this song that she wrote about her own mother. So this week I'd like to share her song as our Poem to Start the Week. I think it's a good song. I would like to record it one of these days.

A Ballad for My Motherwritten by Ruth Baird Shaw in 1983 
to honor her mother, Ieula Ann Dick Baird.

Author's Note: My mother lived to be nearly 89 years old and she had a philosophy of life as a Christian, not to worry about things that "could not be helped" and to take each day as a new beginning. . .

 Verse 1
My mother grew old. . . had lines etched in her face    Worked hard all her life. . . with uncommon grace    She lived by the Bible. . . And I'd visit awhile    She taught me her secret. . . of life with a smile

She said. . 

    Today is the first day    Of the rest of your life.    Don't borrow trouble    With yesterday's strife.    Take time. . . smell the flowers    That's what makes life worth while    Then pick up each new day    And love and a smile!

 Verse 2 
Widowed while young. . . Mama worked in the mill    Washed on a scrub-board. . . Brought wood up a hill    She sang as she labored. . . to stay out of debt    And taught me this lesson. . . I'll never forget (Chorus)
 Verse 3
One day I said, Mama,. . . Your life has been hard    You've buried two babies. . . Out in the church yard    You've known all the heartache of struggling for bread,    She smiled through her tears and these words she said: (Chorus)
 Verse 4
Her old fashioned tea cakes. . . We ate the last crumb    Her old fashioned flowers. . . She had a green thumb.    She lived by the Bible. . . each day and each mile    She taught me her secret. . . of life with a smile!        (Chorus)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Rev. Mr. Young Allen Bailey

Preacher Bailey

I suppose it may have been on my Dad’s first Sunday as pastor at Watkin’s Memorial Methodist Church in Ellijay Georgia that I met Preacher Bailey. You don’t forget meeting the Rev. Mr. Young Allen (Y.A.) Bailey for many reasons but most obviously because of his strange speech. 

I can perfectly mimic his speech  -- for short sentences. That’s about it. He spoke on inhalation rather than exhalation of air. It was a disorder he had developed long before, while serving that church in the forties, and I understood it had caused his early retirement. 

A short jolly man in his fifties, Preacher Bailey was married to a lovely and kind woman, Mary, a teacher, I think. They had lost a teenage son to appendicitis in the forties. Their home, if I remember correctly, was toward the end of a street that ran parallel with Dalton St. Just toward town from the Logan Funeral Home.

Preacher Bailey became a great friend of my father’s. I remember on one occasion driving with Daddy, Preacher Bailey, Al Bruce, and, I think, James Sanders?, to Kentucky for a pastors’ conference. I was a teen at the time and was appalled to have to share a hotel room in Somerset KY with a cacophony of snores emanating from four Methodist preachers.

Occasionally, Rev. Bailey would preach for my Dad at Watkins Memorial. His strange speech somehow enhanced his ability to maintain my attention.

As a member of the congregation he often, according to my memory anyway, would “rest his eyes” while listening to the sermon. I always suspected his brain was resting as well.

I believe I accompanied my Dad to a hospital in Atlanta when Rev. Bailey was sick in the late sixties after we had moved to Rome. 

I don’t know what brought this gentle and kind man to my mind last night, but being me, I typed his name into a search engine - Young Allen Bailey - and up popped his very familiar face, 45 years after his death. 

Do you have memories of Rev. Bailey or Mrs. Bailey you’d share in the comments?

Monday, February 18, 2013

PTSW: Sentimental Moment

Perhaps this poem by Brooklyn's Robert Herson will help my daughters understand me better. I know you are grown, but I also see those shining two- and ten- and sixteen-year-old eyes shining from your faces.

Sentimental Moment 

or Why Did the Baguette Cross the Road

Don't fill up on bread  
I say absent-mindedly
The servings here are huge
My son, whose hair may be
receding a bit, says
Did you really just say that to me?
What he doesn't know
is that when we're walking
together, when we get
to the curb
I sometimes start to reach
for his hand   
- by Robert Hershon

Monday, February 11, 2013

PTSW: Questions at Night

Louis Untermeyer's questions are from his Golden Treasury of Poetry which was a bedside mainstay when my daughters were small. We would sometimes make operettas of the poems in this book which Aunt Wilma had given Sheila, their mother, when more than thrity years before.

Questions at Night

WhyIs the sky?
What starts the thunder overhead?Who makes the crashing noise?Are the angels falling out of bed?Are they breaking all their toys?
Why does the sun go down so soon?Why do the night-clouds crawlHungrily up to the new-laid moonAnd swallow it, shell and all?
If there's a Bear among the stars,As all the people say,Won't he jump over those Pasture-barsAnd drink up the Milky Way?
Does every star that happens to fallTurn into a fire-fly?Can't it ever get back to Heaven at all?And whyIs the sky? 

by Louis Untermeyer

I've had a few questions at night myself over the years. It is interesting to me to think that I was dealing with such basic and terrifying questions as I did at five or six, but I know they happened to me while lying in the back window of our early fifties Chevy, on a starry, starry night, and a cold one, on the long trip between Georgia and Kentucky. Here is a prose poem I wrote about that experience.

Beyond Stars

A Prose Poem

Before seatbelts, infant carseats, and airbags, when I could sometimes drive in my Daddy's lap or ride with the security of his wing my only restraint, Mama and my sisters crowded with us into the long black 'fifty Chevy the one with the wide shelf under a sloping back window for the long drive to Kentucky.
We sang, laughed, argued and slept for three hundred winding miles through the mountains to the bluegrass.
As the sun set on our winter drive, the mountains bled red ice where the road cut the steep slopes. Then the dark wrapped our speeding little world up tight and we slept: the baby in Mama's arms; the toddler in the crook of Daddy's wing; my two older sisters on opposite sides of the big back seat, legs meshed in the middle; my next younger sister curled in a blanket with her arms folded across the warm hump in the floor; and my full length wedged into a private half-chysalis in the back window; young cheek pressed against the waking cold glass.
I didn't look up until I could arrange myself comfortably, a wadded jacket pillow under my head. I closed my eyes; turned them toward the black sky; let them adjust to dark; then peeked into the universe of stars.
A quarter inch of safety glass shielded me from a billion distant hellfires in the wide sky. I refused to avoid the terrible sight. I determined to think beyond the farthest, tiniest light. Then beyond that as far again, and again and beyond that, and beyond that. To the mind of God. And beyond that.
As my head inflated with the terrible expansion of thought I tore my tiny face from the window to the silhouette of my parents against the headlighted pavement rolling toward us and pulled my family around me like a blanket against a private winter.
Later, home in the top bunk, I waked, terrified by a dream of the Milky Way racing toward me like lighted pavement in the dark. I stumbled to my father's lap. He put down the book and held me and I slept.
Who will hold me now?

by Terrell Shaw

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I am a crime victim, hear me roar.

I am awake and ranting this morning because...  the same poor wretch who has twice before broken into our house, tried it again a couple of hours ago. He managed to get out without my actually seeing him. I heard him, and I smelled him, but I didn't see him. I honestly wish I could have gotten a shot at him. I would not have had great difficulty pulling the trigger had I gotten a bead on him. Of course I hope I would be responsible enough to know it was the guy and not my daughter or Sheila in my sights -- statistically they are in more danger from my gun than he -- but still I have a Constitutional right to self-protection and would exercise it if I had the chance.

BUT this experience just once again makes me want to scream at the idiots in the NRA who want to set up their straw men and condemn me, the President, "liberals", parents of those babies in Newtown, and other folks who want sensible limits on the types of guns private citizens can use, background checks, and systems to track weapons used in crimes. Otherwise sensible folk among my facebook friends talk of us "confiscating" their guns, "cold dead hands," and other such excremental language.

I am a crime victim who wants the ability to defend my home, even with deadly force, from creeps who would violate it. BUT I ALSO WANT "DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY" and I did not need an assault weapon tonight. I did not need a giant clip. I do not fear a background check. And my ballot is a much better protection against tyranny than any private weapon. If you want to claim an unrestricted right to ANY weapon I don't care to hear your argument: you are, at least in that regard, an ignoramus. Not even Antonin Scalia, the most right wing Supreme Court justice of them all, supports that interpretation of the Second Amendment.

There is too much gun violence in America and we need an adult conversation about ways to reduce it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Ruth Baird Shaw

We will celebrate my mother's birthday ten days early on February 9th -- this coming Saturday -- with a party at Trinity Methodist Church here in Rome. 2-4 p.m. Y'all come. 

(Edited February 10, 2013: We had a great day celebrating our mother yesterday. Each of the seven siblings took part in the program. Our brother-in-law Chuck Roszel added some heartfelt extemporaneous remarks at the end as well. I sang two songs, "The Love of God" during my remarks, and "Amazing Grace" with the congregation joining in, at the end.  Here are (approximately), my remarks.

My Mother is an amazing woman. 

I’ve always known that.

Ruth Shaw is a very active woman -- creative, determined, dedicated, caring, independent, and sharp as a tack -- who will turn ninety-years-young on February 19. 

And I remember her thirtieth birthday, when I would have been almost six. I thought that sounded sort of old then. 

I remember walking hand in hand with her at about that time down Main Street of little Mackville KY from the Methodist parsonage to the elementary school for my first day of first grade. I remember the comfort of that hand.

And I remember the utter shame of having to walk the long blocks from Fourth Ward Elementary in Griffin GA toward our little parsonage on South Ninth Street carrying a note from Mrs. Giles about my third grade misbehavior. I would have to present that evidence of my black heart to my wonderful mother. I no longer remember the particular sin, but I do remember that I did not want to disappoint Ruth Shaw. 

My mother read to us. I can see the Bible story book in my mind’s eye. One of these days I want to find that book and buy one to have at my house. I loved those stories. Even more I loved the one who read them to us.

I remember Mother walking me and Carol and Debbie down College Street to Griffin’s Hawkes Public Library to load up on Hardy Boy books, and Jim Kjelgaard, and boyhood biographies of Lee and Washington, and such, AND stopping by the bakery nearby for gingerbread men on the way home.

I remember the pride and awe of hearing her singing beautiful harmony with my Daddy --  “The Love of God” --  at a Sunday night service at Midway Methodist. So in honor of that but without the harmony -- unless some of you want to provide it and feel free! -- I’d like to sing that old song.

  1. The love of God is greater far
  1. Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
  1. It goes beyond the highest star,
  1. And reaches to the lowest hell;
  1. The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
  1. God gave His Son to win;
  1. His erring child He reconciled,
  1. And pardoned from his sin.
  • Refrain:
  • Oh, love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!

  • It shall forevermore endure—The saints’ and angels’ song.
  1. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
  1. And were the skies of parchment made,
  1. Were every stalk on earth a quill,
  1. And every man a scribe by trade;
  1. To write the love of God above
  1. Would drain the ocean dry;
  1. Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
  1. Though stretched from sky to sky.

We thought we’d arrived in heaven -- at least I did -- in 1958 when we moved from the modest little parsonage in Griffin to the brick mansion-in-my-eyes at Ellijay. On the day we moved Daddy pulled the car onto the shoulder along Highway 5 as we neared Ellijay to soak in an amazing sight. The white clouds in an azure sky had nestled onto and around the mountains, allowing those magnificent  summits to peek out above them. 

I have many good memories from Ellijay, but a terrifying one occured about 1960. David a toddler decided to spread the ends of a bobby pin and poke them into an electrical outlet. Luckily the circuit he completed was broken when the pin burned in two and dropped to the wooden floor where it burned a permanent record of the event. Mother handed the convulsing David to me to hold while she drove us down Dalton Street toward the doctor’s office. Her calm calmed us then and often since, even when she was the one suffering and we should have been the ones soothing.

Like every Southern family at the time, our extended family members were not unanimously accepting of the tumult of the day. I remember with pride my bashful Mother defending Martin Luther King in some family discussions -- well before it was the popular thing to do.

I could go on and on. 

I love my mother not just for herself, but for those who loved her enough to guide her toward the person she has become. Those include my grandmother Ieula Ann Dick Baird, who as a widow raised her eleventh child to revere the father, Wilson Baird, she lost when she was only nine, to love the God who had guided him, and to love Ieula’s own grandfather, Bogan Mask, who had shown kindness to mistreated slaves and bravely stood for his beliefs as a licensed Methodist exhorter and took in Ieula, her siblings and her widowed, pregnant mother when Charles Ervin Dick died at 35. 

I love her for the the quiet bravery, dedication to duty, and love of God exhibited by her brothers and sisters, and the love of a young husband and his band of precocious, mischievous brothers, gregarious Daddy Shaw, and determined Mama Shaw.

I love her for my inspiring siblings, whom she reined in when needed, but to whom she gave the reins when they were ready.

And of course there are the “lemon fluff” frozen desserts she made in ice trays, snow-cream during our Kentucky days, the cinnamon yeast rolls on Christmas mornings, and the traditional little bottles of Welch’s Grape Juice in our stockings, banana pudding on other special occasions, the cornbread dressing with the big Butterball turkey at Thanksgiving, date-nut cakes on my birthdays... my mouth is watering.

Which brings us to some verse I wrote for Mama many years ago now. 

Dandelions in a Milk Carton

Thank you, Mama, 
For nursing me and diapering me,
for a dry set of sheets when I wet another,
for the Bible story book and Uncle Remus,
for all five sisters and my little brother,
And all the good eating stuff
Like biscuits from wooden bowls
and datenut cakes and lemon fluff,
and Russian tea and yeast rolls 
For Jesus-loves-the-little-children and Deep-and-Wide,
For walking to school that first day by my side
And for your loving smile when I came in a run
with dandelions in a milk carton for all you’ve done.

I remember with pride how as a widow in her early sixties my mother followed her heart, her calling, and her conscience, despite her bashful nature, to take over my father’s ministry, complete seminary, become an outstanding preacher, and successfully minister to several churches and many hurting people in the years since. Many times this was while she heroically faced one of the most debilitating and painful diseases known to mankind (Trigeminal neuralgia) and its resulting brain surgeries and medications -- and later facial surgery and cancer.

Everyone has always assumed Mother to be younger than her actual age as long as I can remember, and she still seems much younger than what the calendar indicates. I have always believed my Mama the prettiest, smartest, and kindest one around -- and, of course, also the best cook. Still do.

Happy birthday, Mama

Monday, February 04, 2013

PTSW: Paul Revere's Ride

Listen my children!

I get to teach my fourth-graders American History from, I like to say, "The Beginning of Time till the Civil War." The Revolution is my favorite part of that history. The high ideals and noble aims, acute intelligence, and deep historical and philosophical understanding of those men (and a woman or two) who led us into and through those years, are so inspiring. They were mortal. They made mistakes. Some of them held slaves: how they could square that with the ideals they espoused is so hard to understand! But their bravery and democratic fervor cannot be missed. Forty or so examples are the guys who, on April 18, 1775, were ready to risk life and limb to warn their fellow Minutemen that British General Gates had sent troops to take the stored guns at Concord and to try to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The most famous is Paul Revere, but William Dawes, Samuel Prescott, and Joseph Warren probably deserve at-least-equal billing.

Paul Revere’s Ride

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, — "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light, —
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm." 

Then he said good-night, and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somersett, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge, black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide. 

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack-door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore. 

Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade, —
Up the light ladder, slender and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all. 

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still,
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay, —
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats. 

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely, and spectral, and sombre, and still. 

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat. 

It was twelve by the village-clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.

It was one by the village-clock,
When he rode into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon. 

It was two by the village-clock,
When be came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning-breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British regulars fired and fled, —
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load. 

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance, and not of fear, —
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow