My Southern Heart

Even after a rare thunderstorm last night – complete with thunder, lightning, hail and pouring rain – it is much too quiet here this morning.  After a wonderful visit together, it was time to drive Sharon (my niece who is two years younger than I) and Penny (my sister-in-law of 39 years) to the airport in Portland yesterday.  Their flight is on the runway as I type and they are departing for Memphis.  I miss them already…

They arrived on Tuesday, July 10th, in Eugene, Oregon.  It had been Penny’s first time to fly.  Thankfully, both flights were flawless and perfectly smooth the entire way…and she loved flying!   They immediately fell in love with Oregon and the incredible beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  They also couldn’t believe that it stayed “light” until practically past bedtime!  As we drove the one and a half hours to the farm, we talked nonstop as they took in the scenery along the way.  It was almost dark when we arrived home to the farm but they were excited to see everything.

When I awoke the next morning, I found them enjoying coffee and juice in the front porch rockers.  The front porch would be the place to enjoy many times over the next week and a half.  The sun was shining in an almost cloudless sky and the temperature was in the mid-sixties.  They had left 100+ degrees in Memphis and they were thrilled.

Over the  next ten days, we did everything!   On Wednesday, a “rest” day for them, we toured our small town and I showed them everything here (that didn’t take too long).  We went to a local nursery and enjoyed the beautiful  flowers there.  We stopped by Kruse Farms and picked up a freshly baked marionberry pie and vanilla ice cream.   We hiked down to the canyon with the macho logger tree farmer.  They enjoyed shooting the .22 with him at the shooting range.  They loved the farm life here.  Penny took over feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs.  Sharon assumed the duty of feeding the goats.  They loved it!  We spent a lot of time on the front porch enjoying the rocking chairs and our spectacular view – which they loved.

On Thursday, we drove to Grant’s Pass, Oregon, where we took the Hellgate Jetboat excursion to the large log lodge upstream for a barbecue lunch. They loved jetboating…especially on the return trip when the captain hotdogged the boat and we got soaked! We saw elk on the nearby elk preserve…and just wished they were closer. Thankfully, we had a zoom lens for photos.  Friday was another “rest” day with fun on the farm and the three of us in the kitchen.  I could get spoiled to that!

On Saturday, we drove to Florence, Oregon, to see the Pacific Ocean. So different from the Atlantic and the Gulf Coast which they are used to seeing.  We went down 600 feet into the incredible Sea Lions Cave.  On Sunday, we headed up to 5700+ feet to see the amazing Crater Lake.  We found a beautiful nearby waterfalls and took some memorable photos there.

 

 

At Sea Lions Cave…

On Monday, we headed back to the coast – this time to one of my favorite coastal towns:  Bandon, Oregon.  We also stopped by the elite Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, where Sharon’s husband wants to eventually play.  We picked up some souveniers for him.  We tasted practically all of the samples at the Cranberry Sweets store and they purchased some to take home.

On Tuesday, Penny and Sharon enjoyed playing horseshoes with Jim.  We spent a lot of time relaxing on the front porch.  Each evening, we enjoyed a movie after dinner.  It was all about the fellowship and time together.  They had fun playing cards on the front porch with the macho logger tree farmer.  No doubt, laughter could be heard all the way down to the valley.  They picked fresh veggies from the garden and we cooked a delicious dinner again.

Thursday came all too soon.  We drove to Portland where their flight was supposed to leave this morning at 7:55 a.m.  (Actually they are flying United so, of course, it is late!)  We took them to Sweet Tomatoes for a soup and salad lunch which we all enjoyed…and then it was time to get them checked into their hotel.

Saying goodbye is never any fun, but it helps that we will be having Thanksgiving in the South this year and I will see them then.  We miss you already, Sharon and Penny!

Today is my Daddy’s birthday and I’m missing him.  He was born on February 17, 1905…the youngest of seven children.  His father and grandfather before him were farmers in the rich farmland of the Mississippi Delta.  With a legacy bestowed by their Scottish immigrant ancestors, they had strong work ethics, Christian values and believed in the strength of family.

I never heard my Daddy raise his voice in anger or utter a curse word in my entire life.  He was a strong but gentle man.  As the father of four daughters, he was mellow and laid-back – I suppose he had to be.  With a quick and ready smile, he had a good sense of humor.  As children, my niece Sharon and I would get to laughing at the supper table and could easily get him to laugh.  On more than a few occasions, we were sent from the table until we regained our composure.

He and Mama spent a lifetime together.  After a severe stroke claimed her speech and altered her personality, he was kind and patient with her.  In the last few months of his life, one of his favorite country songs that he would listen to often was “I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You” by the Statler Brothers.  He loved her and us, his four daughters, with all his heart.  He also loved his grandchildren.  I just wish that he could have lived long enough to meet my grandchildren.  My oldest grandson has my Daddy’s olive complexion,  dark brown eyes and very dark brown hair.  My Dad was the only grandparent or great-grandparent with those features, and I love the fact that my grandson inherited them.

Daddy was an “old-time” Democrat, which my son says today would, most likely, be the Libertarian party.  He believed in searching for the candidate who would be the strongest leader…the one with the most integrity and character.  He was also not fond of “big government”.  I’ve wondered what he would have to say about the November election and which candidate he would choose.    I think I have an idea.

I’m truly thankful for the legacy that my parents left my sisters and me…

This little pottery bluebird makes me happy.  He sits in a safe place on the buffet and I see him everyday.  He reminds me of a happy memory.

It was August 2009 and I had flown home to the South for a three week visit.  This was a year before my sister Gerry was diagnosed with ALS.  She was still up and about even though her osteoporosis presented challenges.  She still happily presided over her kitchen where she created magic.

One day during my visit, Gerry, my niece Cindy, and I drove over to Merigold, Mississippi.  If you’re reading this post from the South, then you already know where we were headed:  McCarty’s Pottery.  Although, McCarty’s is world famous now.  We had a delicious lunch at their tea room and then browsed the gallery of wonderful pottery.  I would like to have purchased several items but knew I would have to take them back on the plane with me.  My sister bought two adorable little bluebirds – one for Cindy and one for me.  It is one of my treasures.

I decided he looked a little lonely one day and I ordered this handcarved little bluejay by Jim Shore to keep him company.  They make a fine pair.  I fancy the little bluebird is happy too.

For more about McCarty’s Pottery in the Delta of Mississippi, just google it!

A box came down from the attic today that I knew held some treasures.  There were letters from my older son and my daughter when they were away at college.  There were letters I had written to my parents after we moved to Kentucky.  There was a card to my older son at college written by my third grade son telling his older brother that he “didn’t like being an only child” and that he missed him.  The tears were falling, of course, as I continued to sort through these priceless treasures…

Then I spotted the envelope written in Mama’s hand.  On the front it read “Dianne McGregor.  Lock of hair from September 28, 1957”.  55 years?!  I took the envelope outside into the sunlight and carefully pulled out the lock of hair and the small 55 year old rubber band.   (For a moment, I felt just like Bruce Willis when he meets himself as a child in the Disney movie, “The Kid”.) 

I know now why my youngest has beautiful strawberry blonde hair  (besides the fact his two grandmothers did as well).  I held the proof in my hands.  My hair was clearly blonde.  Strawberry blonde.

A year or so ago, I tried having my hair a darker brown.  It didn’t feel right.  It didn’t feel like me.  Someone asked me, “what makes you think you’re a blonde?”  Besides my coloring and my memory?  I just knew.

So, today, I held the 55 year old lock of hair in my hands.  It is the exact same color hair as several of my granddaughters.  I was eleven years old on September 28th, 1957…the same age as one of my granddaughters.

I love the study of genetics.  The link from one generation to the next.  The circle of life…

We were enjoying a classic Christmas movie in front of the fireplace when there was a knock at the front door.  We live in the country on the side of a small mountain in the Callahans with no close neighbors, so we wondered who was out on such a cold, dark night.  We turned the front porch light on to find the FedEx delivery man with a package in his hands.  It was addressed to me.  I thanked him and he left us to drive on up to our neighbors house with a delivery for them.

The package was from Country Curtains (one of my favorite places) and I couldn’t wait to open it.  It was a gift from my precious sister Eunice.  I carefully unpacked it and found the adorable rosebud vases that I had loved so at her house.  Five little glass cylinders on a black wire pedestal.  Hers had been filled with the beautiful red “double knockout roses” from her garden.  I couldn’t wait to see them filled with roses here…but, obviously, I would have to wait.

The next day, the macho logger tree farmer walked in with beautiful pink rosebuds from a local florist…a nice surprise.  I had washed and dried the glass cylinders and they were ready.  I placed them in the kitchen window where I could see them all the time with an “angel” on either side of them.

Thank you, my dear Sis!  I will enjoy them and think of you…

 

Above:  When I was home in the South in October, I fell in love with my sister Eunice’s beautiful roses and adorable rosebud vases.  She has an amazing “green thumb” and a gorgeous “double knockout rose bush” which was loaded with these exquisite red roses. 

Photo below:  my niece Sharon and my sister Eunice.  Sadly, there are just the two of us sisters now as our sister Gerry is spending her first Christmas in Heaven with our parents and our sister Dot.  Oh, how we miss them all.

The macho logger tree farmer sat at his desk yesterday afternoon and hammered out his handwritten Christmas letter in less than an hour.  It was one-page, pleasant and to the point.  I edited a couple of grammatical issues and typed it for him.  He addressed the envelopes to his family and put them in the mail this morning.  Amazing.

There’s a blank computer screen in front of me with “Christmas 2011” at the top.  I stare at it but the words don’t come.  The last multiple-page-with-photos Christmas letter I sent was dated 2003.  Eight years?  Life presented too many twists and turns during that span of time.  Each year that rolled faithfully around, I committed to write “the Christmas letter”.  To be honest, I’ve received emails asking me if I’ve removed the sender from my letter list?  No, I wouldn’t do that.  I just didn’t write one.  So now, the stark white screen stares back at me and I am resolute.

So, I think about this past year and take some mental notes…

2011 brought great joy.  My youngest child and his precious wife had their first-born…a beautiful baby girl named Maggie.  I loved her before I met her.  The second I held her and her big blue eyes met mine, there was a bond formed that will last a lifetime…hers and mine.  We will play hide-and-seek and bake cookies when she is old enough.  I will read her lots of stories and sew cute little dresses.  For now, I will hold her, love her and talk baby talk every chance I get…

 

2011 brought deep sadness and grief.  My sister Gerry lost her courageous battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and went home to be with the Lord on October 13, 2011.  I rejoice that she is in Heaven and I will see her again.  I know, in time, the tears will stop…just not yet.  I miss her more than words can say.

2011 provided the opportunity to check one of my heart’s desires off the proverbial “bucket list”: Alaskan Cruise.  Cruising through the Inside Passage, the scenery took my breath away on more than one occasion.  As the ship meandered closely to a cove of ancient glaciers, I was thrilled by the sight of the blue ice and knew that, literally, I was seeing the tips of the iceberg.  When we traveled by vintage train up to the Yukon in a parlor car with a pot-bellied stove, I was seeing history and incredible beauty.  I treasured the views for I knew I might not see them again.

 2011  I became a “goat herder” and the proud owner of six adorable full-blood Boer goats.  I’ve also had to fight the same predators in these Callahan Mountains that the pioneer women fought.  A cougar killed three of my goats – half of my herd.  The macho logger tree farmer came to the rescue and built a cougar-proof enclosure and “sleeping shed” for the goats at night.  Hopefully, we can now rebuild our herd.

 2011  We added to the farm:  a 6 acre pasture, an orchard, a greenhouse, a barn, a fenced in raised-bed garden and a secure nighttime area for the goats with a new sleeping shed for them!

 2011  We’ve enjoyed traveling this year (some together and a few by myself) – three times to Seattle for visits with Jim’s daughter and her family, once to Iowa to visit my daughter and her family, once to Kentucky to visit my older son and his family, once to Chicago to meet my precious Maggie and visit my son and his wife and twice to the South.  Sadly, the last trip South was for my dear sister Gerry’s homegoing service.  I will be forever thankful for the visit I had with my sister Gerry in June…making memories.  In September, we met my daughter and her family at Yosemite National Park where we rented a house in the park and had a wonderful time together.  During the first long weekend of November, we flew to Boston for a visit with Jim’s younger daughter and her husband.  We toured the historical downtown and I saw Boston for the first time.  This sounds like a lot of traveling, but the truth is:  the months between seeing my grandchildren pile up much too quickly and it is much too long between visits.  I miss my children and grandchildren so much!

Hmmm….now, all is have to do is transfer these ideas to the blank white screen, insert a few more family photos, print them off, address all the envelopes, stamp them and mail them!  Thanks for listening.  Maybe I can write this Christmas letter after all…

The painting above by portrait artist, Gaye Frances Willard, is one of my favorites. Every knee shall indeed bow to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ! May you have a blessed Christmas!

Treasured card created by one of my granddaughters when she was about four or five.  They were living in the Andes Mountains of Peru at the time where my son was a missionary doctor and the girls were learning to think in Spanish!

My younger son called me on “Tango” over the weekend (it’s like Skype) so that I could “see and hear” my beautiful two and a half month old granddaughter.  Maggie makes my heart sing!  Maggie is healthy and happy.  Maggie is beautiful!  Thankfully, her Dad has a wonderful promotion that allows her Mom to be a “stay-at-home-mom” with Maggie.  True, it meant leaving their beloved Chicago for Dallas, but they are blooming there.  We are so blessed and I am thankful.

If you were around me very long and asked me about my family, first I would happily fill you in on all the details about them.  I’m blessed with three amazing children – two sons and one daughter and nine incredible grandchildren.  THEN, I would probably whine a bit…well, okay, I might even tear up and whine a lot…when I told you that they’re scattered – many miles from me and from each other.  (My younger son keeps reminding me that I gave them “roots and wings”).  With my children scattered and family in the South, it means that I fly frequently; but with many months between visits, it isn’t enough.  Not nearly enough.  But I am thankful.  I am so thankful for healthy, happy children and grandchildren…every single one of them.  I am thankful for all of my family and friends in the South. 

Each morning,  I pour myself a cup of coffee and take in the view of the foothills of the Cascades across the valley while I enjoy it.  Every single morning is new and different.  Some mornings, there is a bank of fog so deep that I can barely see the first line of Doug fir on this 58-acre conifer tree farm.  Then, the fog settles in between the hills in the valley below and it looks like a big lake.  Some mornings, the sun is shining so brightly that it seems I can see forever.  I am thankful for the farm and my polar opposite, my macho logger tree farmer husband.  I am thankful for the livestock that goes along with having this farm:  two kittens, eleven chickens and three sweet Boer goats. 

 

To be honest, this Thanksgiving is a difficult one.  This has been a season of great loss and sadness.  I am working at being thankful.  I want to be thankful that my Father God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, protected my sister by taking her home to Heaven when He did.  As a nurse, I’ve seen what the end stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) looks like.  I thank God she didn’t have to go through that.  I’m trying hard to imagine life on this earth without her in it.  It isn’t easy.  The tears come and then I remember – I will see her again.  Four sisters…two now in Heaven…but we will all see each other again.  I am thankfulI am thankful for our parents and the sweet, rich heritage they gave my sisters and me.


These are two of my favorite photos of my sister.  In the photo above, we were boating on Grenada Lake.  I must have said “hey, Sis!”.  She glanced around and I snapped the photo with my little Kodak Instamatic.  It was August 1961.  She was 31 and I was almost 16.  She was beautiful even when she was boating!  The photo below was taken in the late eighties at Mama’s 4th of July birthday party at my sister Dot’s house.  Gerry was about 58 in this photo.

I wish each and every one of you a Happy Thanksgiving  filled with the joy of making memories!

It had truly been an emotion-packed two weeks away from home.  First, the pure joy of meeting my beautiful new granddaughter and then the profound sadness of losing my precious sister.  Laughter and tears.  There were both tears and laughter at my sister’s homecoming service and the reunion of family I had not seen for quite some time.  My sister would have loved the laughter…

As I watched the plane’s descent into Portland from my window seat, I had been remembering everything and was trying hard to hold back the tears .  As the plane dropped down out of the bank of clouds above Portland late Saturday afternoon, I was greeted with an amazing sea of green.  The rainy season had begun while I was gone.  The  grass and trees were alive with a multitude of shades of my favorite color.  (It took a while to get used to the fact that in Summer here – the dry season – the grass is brown!) 

The macho logger tree farmer met me at the airport with smiles and a warm, sympathetic hug.  We stopped for dinner and then began the three hour drive home.  When we arrived home, it was dark but he needed to secure the goats in their new safe sleeping quarters.  The lights from the car were shining on to the goats’ area and I followed him into it.  It was still dark and I wasn’t familiar with the layout.  I missed one step and took a flying leap backwards…hitting my head hard against the step.  I grabbed on to the gate which is probably what saved me from breaking something.  I know now that I probably had/have  a mild concussion but was absolutely too tired to get back into the car for the long ride into town to the E.R.!   I spent all day Sunday lounging around in my pajamas and nursing a headache.  It’s better today but a slight headache continues.  This morning was MY first day to “let the goats out” into their pasture (since Jim leaves before sunrise) and I managed to do so without breaking my neck again!

My heart and head are filled with memories and I continue to have bouts of tears…I’m sure I will for a while.  I know that my sister is now pain free and joyful in Heaven.  I rejoice in that fact, but I still miss her.  My prayers now are especially for my sister’s husband, daughters and son and their families…

On Friday before I flew back to Oregon on Saturday morning, two of my nieces, my great-niece and I drove to Mississippi for the day to visit my precious sister Eunice and her sweet husband. She had cooked a delicious pot of Taco soup and served it with cheddar cheese, sour cream, chips and my favorite sweet tea. Maxine’s Moist Cake was the wonderful dessert. After lunch, we wandered out to the pasture to visit with Cherokee, their beautiful quarter horse. He ate a whole package of shredded carrots out of my hands! I wished I could take him back to Oregon with me. Enjoy the slideshow below of our day together…

 Photo:  my niece Sharon and me.  I forgot to check the setting on the camera and consequently the quality of the photo below isn’t the best, but it’s the only one of my niece Sharon and me together. We were about to leave for the drive to Mississippi for my sister’s homecoming service.    

In memory of my sister, Sarah Geraldine “Gerry” McGregor Harden.  

August 1, 1930 – October 13, 2011

I was in Chicago when the sad news came.  My sister had lost her courageous battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  She was, at that moment, in Heaven…surrounded by a host of loved ones who’d gone before.  The Bible says “absent from the body, present with the Lord”.  Praise God!

I changed my reservations and flew South.  My plans had been to travel South on Sunday and spend the week with my sister…but Heaven needed her sooner.    On Sunday, we celebrated the amazing life of my beautiful sister at her homecoming service in the church she has attended for 50+ years. There in the midst of the beautiful stained glass windows and an exquisite blanket of Autumn flowers, a host of family and friends met to remember and grieve together. I was reminded of the song “Thank You for giving to the Lord” for that is what she did.  Because she loved her Saviour, she gave so selflessly…to each and every one of us, her family…and the very long line of friends at the church. We love you and miss you, Gerry, but we’ll see you again in Heaven. How I thank God that I am so blessed to have called you SISTER.

It’s a cool Spring day here…in the mid-sixties.  There’s a sweet mountain breeze blowing in all the open windows.  No doubt Summer will officially be here soon…in fact, on my youngest baby’s 31st birthday to be exact, June 21st.    In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this weather.

I thought I’d take advantage of what may be one of the last cool days to make a pot of soup…delicious Navy Bean Soup.  Every time I make this soup I’m reminded of years ago when my family and I lived in Indiana.  Each year, there were festivals in the small towns around us, usually in the late Summer or early Autumn and we loved going to all of them.  One of my favorites was in Bridgeton, Indiana, the Covered Bridge Festival.  Among all the tasty foods at the festival, there would always be an enormous black kettle of navy bean soup cooking and a long line of those wanting to buy a bowl!  For a reasonable sum, it was served with sides of hot corn bread, pickle relish and chopped onion.  Navy bean soup is also a favorite in our nation’s capital.  This soup is so good it has been served in the U.S. Senate cafeteria for years.  This is my version of Navy Bean Soup.

Navy Bean Soup

1 hickory smoked ham slice

1 sixteen ounce package of small white navy beans

1 can or box of chicken broth

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (or Crisco oil)

1 sweet vidalia onion, chopped fine

2 stalks of fresh, tender celery, chopped fine

2 carrots, peeled and diced

3-4 small cloves of garlic, minced

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of fresh rosemary, washed and chopped (this came fresh from my garden this morning)

a light sprinkling of dried parsley flakes (or fresh if you have it, I didn’t)

a light sprinkling of dried Thyme leaves (these weren’t ready yet in the garden)

Kosher salt (you will be seasoning to taste – start with about 1 teaspoon)

Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper (I love this stuff!) (again, season to taste – start with about 1/2 teaspoon)

Start the night before (unless you have a pressure cooker…I don’t).  “Pick” and rinse the beans.  Cover with water, several inches above the beans.  Cover the bowl completely with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter overnight.  The next morning, empty the beans into a colander and rinse.

Saute the onion, celery, garlic and carrots in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (or Crisco oil if you don’t have EVOO) in a dutch oven.  Pour the beans into the dutch oven/pot.  Cover the beans barely with water.  Add the 1 can of chicken broth.  I just used Campbells.

Add all your spices.  Season to taste with the Kosher salt and Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper (great stuff).

Now for your ham slice:  trim all the fat and the little center bone away and cut into bite size pieces.  Brown lightly in separate small skilled in a smidgeon of butter and then add to your soup.

Bring your soup briefly to a boil and “skim” off any “foamy” stuff.  Don’t let it boil on high long at all.  Then turn the heat down to low or semi-low, cover and let it cook for several hours.  After it’s cooked for a while, taste it to see if you need to add more salt or pepper.  When the beans are good and tender, it’s done!  Remember to remove the bay leaf before serving.  Serve with hot cornbread and enjoy!

The soup just started cooking here…a few more hours on low and it will be scrumptious!You must add your cornbread to go with your soup…this makes the combination a complete “amino acid” protein and delicious!

 

It has been cooking about an hour here but still not done. Looking good and tasting delicious.

When I went to the garden this morning looking for fresh herbs for the soup, look what I found growing so beautifully!  Recognize it?  I know you Southerners know what this is…it’s TURNIP GREENS!  My first time to grow them ever and I’m not sure how much longer before I pick them and cook them but I can’t wait!

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My Southern Heart...the Stories blog is about my life growing up in the South in the fifties and sixties. It was an amazing time...a time of falling in love, getting married, having a family. A time of history in the making, political unrest, rock and roll. Come along on my life's journey. It's a chronological story, so be sure to start at the beginning. It will make a whole lot more sense that way. Check out: My Southern Heart...the Stories