Over the Mountain with Mom

 

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Libby was busy, determined, and quick.  A petite whirlwind, she took care of us with high speed devotion and pretty much wore herself out doing it.  She wanted us to be good, to be accomplished, and for heaven’s sake- to look nice!   I attribute my relative indifference to fashion to Mom’s fixation with it, but that is beside the point.

She sewed all of our “Sunday” clothes- matching suits for my brothers and fluffy dresses for me.  The dresses were beautiful, but I was mostly ungrateful.  It’s not that I disliked dresses- I liked to twirl as much as the next girl- but to achieve the right amount of volume, Mom had to add some kind of netting underneath.  And it made me itch.

And then there was the hair.  I had long dark hair, as unlike Shirley Temple’s as possible, but Mom spent forever winding damp sections of it around her fingers so that I would have ringlets.  She knew that my hair held its shape, and the shape she wanted was cylinders.  So while she meticulously molded my tresses into chocolate slinkies,  I waited in sullen rebellious pouting.  Depending on the degree of  rebellion, she’d either ignore me, or pop my twitchy little butt.  By the time I was five, I’d had enough of the Shirley Temple treatment, so I sneaked Mom’s pinking shears,  did a zigzag pattern across my forehead, and lopped off the side hair.  That was the beginning of the “pixie” cut era.  So long Shirley!  Hello freedom!

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Mom eventually gave up on movie star hair, and by the time I took my first dance lesson, it was long again.  Dance lessons were necessary because Southern girls had to be graceful as well as attractive.  So on Tuesday and Thursday nights, she packed me and my brothers in the car, and drove to downtown Birmingham, so that I could unclumsify myself. At that time, we lived in a village planted on the northwest face of Shades Mountain, and the trip up could be either picturesque or perilous.  One night we encountered thick fog.  Mom piloted our Plymouth up the mountain, creeping through the cloudy atmosphere.  She knew (and knew that I knew) that somewhere to the right of us earth gave way to air.  I remember how tightly she gripped that steering wheel, how she watched the road’s center line,  and how cheerfully she sang.  Somehow, her singing became more substantial than my fear, and the scary  world was manageable.

Normally, we expect people to remember our strengths, so it’s odd that Mother’s singing made such a strong impression.  She liked to sing of course, but she certainly wasn’t a soloist; her voice was small and her range was limited.  No, it wasn’t how she sang that made it memorable; it was when.  Her habit of singing through the darkness revealed her faith.  Better than dresses, better than dance lessons, my mother gave me a more powerful gift; she gave me a triumph tune to sing in the night.

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of His glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised

 

 

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Old, But Not Done (with thanks to the Olivers)

 

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I have really good friends- the kind who will keep my gelding for me when my fences have gaps in them; who feed him chopped up, organic carrots; who let him pick fruit off their little apple tree, and who injure themselves fixing up a shed for him.  Why any horse would want to wander away from digs like that and people like that is beyond me, but a week ago, he did it.  Frolic discovered an open gate, hauled his bony behind up the long hill to my house, and followed his nose to the garage where we keep his feed.

I was shocked to find him there, but it was a much greater shock to my border collie puppy, who must have thought the ancient Welsh pony was Horsezilla.  Seamus bravely planted his little feet in the instinctive “prey stance’ and froze.  I didn’t expect him to make a sound – he was much too busy sizing up his enemy- but the other three dogs  were barking their heads off.  Unconcerned, Frolic, shifted from foot to foot,  and swished his tail, patiently waiting  for me to make a plan.

Eventually, it was done.  The bony pony was imprisoned in his old stall, quietly slurping up geratric formula, shifting from foot to foot, and swishing his tail.  The puppy was calm and crated,  chewing on a toy.  The disappointed adult dogs  had wandered off to bask on the back porch.  And the menagerie owner was seated at the breakfast room table, sipping hot tea, resting her knees and thinking.

How is it that an old horse, gaunt, arthritic, and lonely, can find motivation to trudge up a long, steep hill, ignore the threatening sounds of prey animals, and patiently wait for his owner to arrive and provide for him?  If I weren’t old and arthritic myself,  I might not even be wondering – but I can identify with the pain in his knees,  and  marvel at his perseverance.  At 32, he still cares about grass,  feed and water.  At 32, he still follows his nose wherever his legs will take him.  Does he remember better days, when he jumped hurdles, took trail rides, and grazed with a herd?  Who knows?  What I do know is that every time I ask the vet whether he’s suffering too much, she says, “No, he’s still got spunk; he still cares.”

When the Israelites were conquering Canaan, an old man did an amazing thing.   At 85, he began to conquer the hill country of Hebron.  Having fought alongside his brothers for many years, helping them to claim their inheritance, he started off on a quest of his own.

“Now behold, the Lord has let me live, just as He spoke, these forty-five years, from the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, when Israel walked in the wilderness; and now behold, I am eighty-five years old today. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in. 12 Now then, give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day that Anakim were there, with great fortified cities; perhaps the Lord will be with me, and I will drive them out as the Lord has spoken.”  Joshua 14: 10-12

What motivated Caleb to begin a new quest on his 85th birthday?  What kept him adventurous and inspired him to climb steep hills in pursuit of his goals?  I think the text tells us:  “…the Lord has let me live…”, “the Lord spoke this word…”, “give me this hill country about which the Lord spoke…”, “perhaps the Lord will be with me…”, “I will drive them out as the Lord has spoken.”  Apparently- God had something to do with it.

I don’t think Frolic worries about his life. In meandering through the pasture, searching for clover and flicking flies, he is content.  The fact that life is harder than it used to be doesn’t seem to matter to him, because he knows instinctively, what humans can only know through faith- that as long as we live, we have purpose.