HONEYSUCKLE NECTAR

The week brought warm weather; in fact, it was downright hot. Mother’s Day weekend found my family in the pool and cooling our heels and enjoying each other’s company. Anyone who was outside and who had a nose could smell the sweet scents of honeysuckle. Even at work, the blooms filled the air with perfume and reminded my friend Roy Thomas of things from the past. We talked about the wonderful tastes that come with this time of year.
Roy asked if I ever enjoyed tasting honeysuckle sap. I shook my head yes as my mind raced back to childhood. The vines were thick in the woods behind our house and on the barbed wire fence around the field next to us. Jim and I would walk to the blooms and enjoy the smell; it still signals our birthday is close at hand. We’d pick blooms and then pull those little strings from the blooms and suck the nectar from them. Not many desserts made by moms are any better. The problem is that too little sweetness comes from each flower.
At other times, we’d search for those little yellow flowers that came in bunches in our yard. I think the name is oxalis weed, also known as yellow sorrel. At any rate, we’d find those tiny flowers and munch of them. They were sour but tasty. The heat of the summer days quickly baked them until they disappeared.
Although they weren’t things to eat, the stems that a group of boys pulled from bales of hay made excellent chewing items. We’d sit on the bales in Mr. Long’s field and goof off or hold our club meetings. Each boy would select a straw from the bundle and gnaw on it. The only times they came out of mouths were when spitting was necessary.
Some things weren’t eaten, but they did manage to wind in our mouths. One of the worst was the puff balls that towered above dandelions. What should have been a fun activity of blowing the seeds into the air became a choking event when a boy took in a deep breath to close to the ball. At other times, we boys played baseball games, and our panting with mouths opened usually ended with gnats stuck in our teeth or throats.
Before long, fruits began to hang on limbs and vines. We were fortunate enough to have grapes vines and apple, cherry, and pear trees. Also, Daddy put out a strawberry patch. Jim and I ate grapes while standing at the vines, at least we did until wasps and bees arrived to battle us for them. Any memory of strawberries wasn’t necessarily positive because of the back-breaking, sun burned work of
weeding the plants. Yes, we ate our shares of half-ripe apples, and we lost some of baby teeth with bites into rock-hard pears. Those young fruits proved to be excellent ammunition as grenades in imaginary play as soldiers fighting Germans and Japanese. I remember the taste of those cherries and, to this day, still try to find the same flavor in ones I buy.
The best taste of all during the warm-weather season comes from blackberries. Mother took us on several excursions. I fretted over snakes that might appear or the thorns that left scratches on any uncovered body part. More concern should have been devoted to the chiggers that always found several places to burrow under my skin and bring on an itch that couldn’t be scratched.
Still, those blackberries were prizes. We’d pick one and eat one. Mother always doubled our output because she stayed busy and didn’t spend time scrarfing them down. The cobblers and pies and jars of jelly that came from the berries kept us fed throughout the coldest days of winter.

Yes, Roy, I remember the nectar from honeysuckle. Thanks for reminding me of it and for all the other delicious things that Nature gives us when spring appears and as summer wears on. Warm weather is my favorite and so are the things that tasted so good then and now.  

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT

The lightning streaked across the sky, thunder roared, and in an instant, the power went out. It flickered a couple of times in feeble attempts to come back on, but not until sometime later in the night was the power restored to our house and community. Good things happen when “the lights go out.”
One thing that is welcome is an early bedtime. Too often, we sit glued to the television to watch some program that adds nothing to our lives. When the power cuts into those shows, folks decide to take advantage of the extra rest. The next day, they rise better rested and ready to take on the tasks that await in a busy world filled with machines sucking electricity.
Lying in bed without a single light on or any noise from TV’s or radios is pleasant. Rain falling is hypnotic for some people. Out in the country, the frogs croak during the spring and summer; a dog carries on a discussion with another pooch in the community. Cars swooshing down the roads lull a weary soul to sleep.
If a storm knocks out the electricity during the day, the perfect activity to pass the time is reading. A covered porch with a rocking chair is an inviting setting. Before long, the back-and-forth movement of the rocker makes eyes heavy and the print in the book blurry. An afternoon nap takes precedent over all other activities.
I like the dark that comes with a power outage. When I was a boy, Ball Camp nights were black. It was difficult to see anything in front of my face, even my hand. These days, subdivisions have sprung up, and the hillsides and fields are now flooded with house lights, flood lights, and street lights. A return to dark is a welcome thing for us native Ball Camp residents.
I miss my children when the lights go out. They used to be scared, and it was one time when daddy could be a hero. I’d light candles and have them sit with me on the couch. Both of them would snuggle with me, and we’d wait for the storm to pass and the lights to come back on.
These days, people don’t enjoy time with no power. Technology brings no end to attention-grabbing devices. Yes, the lights might be out, but as soon as they go, people quick-draw their cell phones. Then they wait out the power outage by playing games, texting, or yakking with friends. Some people hop in their cars to find places that survived the storm with lights. It’s as if they are somehow afraid of being without electricity and the conveniences of life.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want the power to be out for extended periods of time. Still, it’s nice to escape all the trappings of this life that come with electricity. The following morning, I want my coffee; I have no desire to take a cold shower before heading to work. Neither do I want to risk driving through intersections where red lights don’t work.
I am as addicted to electricity and appliances and televisions as the next person. Still, an occasional outage is a welcome break in the routine. Those who know me will find it hard to believe, but at times when the lights are out, I enjoy sitting quietly and listening.

The next time a storm disrupts life, don’t fight it. Put away that cell phone or video game. Don’t hop in the car in search for a lighted place. Don’t fight the dark. Instead, sit back, accept the situation, and enjoy the peace and quiet. There’s not much of it left anymore.

MOTHER BIRD

In the crook of the gutter at the corner of our deck, a robin worked diligently until she built her nest. Its position kept if out of the rain, and she found her place and began the process of hatching the eggs that held her babies. I’ve watched her for a couple of weeks now and am fascinated.
The momma bird has sat still for hours upon end. At first, she flew away every time Amy or I walked out the door, but she decided that we posed no threat and stayed put. That patience will pay off before long, and then she’ll have other duties.
Robins are protective of their babies. A mother will make itself a target as it escapes in hopes that a would-be predator follows her and leaves the newborns alone. Sometimes a mother bird buzzes a
person who gets too close.
This new mom will stick around when the babies are born and will work nonstop to feed them. She will rarely eat herself because the small ones come first. At some point, she’ll teach them how to fly, and soon they will take off to a life of their own. I wonder if her heart hurts when that happens.
My mother was much like the robin. She watched out for us, and no one ever cooked better food for her children than she did. That’s why we both were round as boys. Mother spent Saturdays washing piles of clothes and ironing things.
Mother wasn’t an overtly affectionate person. She held back with floods of “I love you’s,” but we boys knew how much she cared. Sometimes she’d scratch our backs until we fell asleep. After Daddy died when Jim and I were 13 and Dal was 17, she proved how much she loved us by always providing a home for us and helping us with the cost of college.
 One of Edna Rector’s favorite songs was “Til I’m Too Old to Die Young.” We lost her much too early, but the wish in that song came true for her: “Let me watch my children grow to see what they become…” Yes, I’d say that my mother was just as good a mom as that robin.
My wife Amy has always been a good mother. She gave love and care to Lacey and Dallas from the first seconds that they drew breath. To this day, she still frets over them and says prayers for their well-being.
Amy has worked since her freshman year in college. When the children were small, she would race home from across town to begin supper. In addition, she washed loads of clothes, helped them with homework, and played referee when arguments broke out.
Yes, she played disciplinarian too. A mother’s look can stop all sorts of misbehavior by children and husbands alike. Amy’s patience only stretched so far, and when its end was reached, daughter and son searched for cover.
At the same time, Amy was a good listener. She paid attention to the children when they had troubles in life or with their dad, and unlike me, she refrained from giving advice unless or until it was requested. She gave up her children, too, when they entered college and made lives of their own in other cities.
Now Lacey is a mom. She watches over Madden like a guard dog. She also encourages him to try new things and to develop interest in sports, books, and other hobbies. I watched her hackles rise not long ago during a flag football game. The other team’s coach stressed some rather unsportsmanlike things during a game, and Madden was squashed a couple of times from illegal acts by the opposing players. She set her jaw, put on her “Rector lips,” and paced up and down the sideline. That is one trait of her dad that occasionally creeps up in her, much to Lacey’s dismay. Madden is lucky to have a mom who loves him so much and who is his greatest champion.
Mother’s Day is a time to honor our moms. It’s not enough. Mothers are special folks who spend the majority of their lives taking care of their children, as well as their childlike husbands. Make sure to give yours a hug and something special. I wish I could.

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!!!! 

TRAINS

Unlike many people, I’ve never moved far from the place where I grew up. Mother gave us a parcel of land behind her house on which to build the house where we live. Since then, 1978, Ball Camp has changed in so many ways. Subdivisions galore fill fields where we played and boys hunted. Some roads have grown to four lanes while others remain narrow; Ball Camp Pike daily carries thousands of vehicles that race toward destinations but
come to standstills when traffic becomes too heavy or when a school bus stops to pick up or deliver children. Even with all of the changes in this rural community, the constant throughout the years is the train.
My first memories of the trains that ran through our neighborhood came as my brother and I played outside. The tracks were across the street behind a field and house, but we always had an unobstructed view. We’d run to the edge of our driveway and watch as the train passed. Our hope was that the engineer in the engine and the conductor in the caboose could see us and return our waves.
Seeing special cars was common. Many trains pulled passenger cars, and Jim and I wished we could take just one trip in them. Cargo of all kinds followed the engines tugged them up the hills or zipped them down straightaways. Coal was on many of them, but the most exciting items were the new cars. Back then, the new designs for cars were kept under wraps until September. Trains ferried new automobiles in partially veiled cars, or the vehicles were covered with tarps.
As we grew older, our friends met us, and we camped out in Chuck Mier’s back yard, which was close to the tracks. We’d set up tents, build a fire and knock around for a while. Eventually, we’d settle in for the night, but no matter how tired we were or how ready we were for sleep, the continuous roar of trains not more than fifty feet from our campsite kept us awake.
Sometimes, people would dare to challenge trains. They’d try to “beat” the train in cars. On too many occasions, drivers lost the challenge with devastating results. One tale tells of a car that raced to the tracks, hit them, and became airborne. It flew toward a store on the other side and clipped a huge sign on a pole. 
A moving van tried crossing the tracks, but its trailer’s bottom scraped and then caught on the tracks. A group of us was waiting for the school bus to high school, and we ran up the tracks trying to stop the approaching train. It was a foolish attempt, and the engine plowed into the van and pushed it a quarter of a mile down the track. Along the way, someone’s worldly possessions were scattered and broken in all directions.
At some point, residents of the community stopped hearing the train. It became so much a part of daily life that the conscious mind didn’t register the arrival or the blaring horn that preceded the
snaking line of cars. That wasn’t the case with visitors to our home. My in-laws made regular trips to our house when Lacey arrived. Our house was small, and they rested on a sleeper sofa. Each morning my father-in-law swore that he didn’t sleep at all. The reasons for his insomnia were trains he declared sounded as if they were coming right through the middle of their room. He never got used to the noise of trains.
Today, the trains that run through Ball Camp are more of a nuisance to folks. They run on schedule, but those times coincide with the ones when schools let out or when folks are trying to get to or arrive from work. A long line of traffic runs both ways on Ball Camp Pike, and clearing the intersection can sometimes take several minutes. Tempers flare as people wait to move and resume their trips.

I don’t hear the trains anymore. In some ways, that’s sad because it signals that my awe over the simple wonders in life is dulled. When I do wake up and take time to listen, I can hear a train’s horn echoing through the hills of Hines Valley. It’s just one more thing that offers security and contentment to this small corner of the world.