I’m sporting a red bruise high in the middle of my forehead that Mikhail Gorbachev would envy. Friday, after throwing a log on a fire in the middle of the field, I raised up and whacked my head on a low-hanging limb. More about that below.
Wednesday, at Alpha Cottingham’s funeral, evangelistic singer (and her husband W.O’s cousin) Ronnie Cottingham provided special music and told a story about this wonderful pastor’s wife. “Miss Alpha called to ask if I could come and do a full one-hour concert. I told her I could if the preacher invited me. He did and we worked it out. The night of the concert, I came in and got set up and started singing — but Alpha wasn’t in the crowd. I checked and discovered she was keeping the nursery. No one else was available, so she took care of the little ones so others could attend the concert.”
A servant heart.
Early in the week, Margaret suggested I ought to go see my Mom for Thanksgiviing. I’d thought about it. I’ve not been home in several months and it’s a 7 hour drive, but at Mom’s age (nearing 93), I need to get there when I can. So, Thursday morning, I left the city early and drove to north Alabama. I’d asked the family to save some leftovers for my supper. Leftovers where my Mom and sisters are concerned would be a feast anywhere.
After supper, we did something we’ve not done in a couple of years: played rummy. (This has been our family’s pastime since Dad taught us to play when we were children.) My brother Ron and I played sister Patricia and her husband James. How the game turned out is never the point; the fellowship and camaraderie is. And that’s how it came about that we received the best laugh of the week from our Mom.
I forget what we were talking about. James happened to mention that one of his co-workers for the phone company, many years ago, was a part-time preacher. They were working out of town and one night, James walked into the man’s hotel room and found two Playboy magazines laying on the bed. The man recovered quickly and said, “James, look what was laying on the floor when I checked into this room today!” Um hummm. Sure.
I had my own contribution to the story. “When our younger son Marty was four years old, we were living in an apartment complex in Jackson, Mississippi. One day, he found a Playboy out behind the building. When Margaret tried to take it from him, he wouldn’t let her have it. ‘It’s my magazine,’ he kept insisting.”
They all smiled. Then from the kitchen, Mom said, “Why? He was only four. He couldn’t read.”
A pure heart.
(Everyone around the table agreed that Mom has probably never even seen that magazine.)
Now, about that tree burning.
Fifty years ago this past Spring, after I went off to college, no one worked the fields around the house any more. Charlie, four years younger, had other things in mind than plowing, so other than a garden, no crops were grown thereafter. In the fields, trees sprouted, including three pine trees across the road from the main house.
Two of those trees became giants of fifty or sixty feet. The one in the middle remained a runt, never getting more than 20 feet high. It’s limbs were gangly and odd-spaced and completely unattractive. That’s why, when the larger of the giants was cut down recently, Ronnie decided to do what he did.
First, cutting down the giant was an undertaking in itself. “That tree is 15 feet in circumference,” Ronnie said. “No chain saw we had could deal with it.” They ended up renting a massive chain saw and paying enough in rental fees to have bought themselves one new. (Patricia’s garden abuts the shade of the tree. She said the tree was sapping all the moisture and nutrients from the soil; that’s why she wanted it down.)
When I arrived Thursday night, Ronnie — who lives in Gardendale, over an hour away — was out in the field beside that fallen giant. Its limbs had been cut away and the torso had been sawn into lengths of 8 or 10 feet, each one seeming to weigh a couple of tons.
“What we’re doing,” he explained, “is burning the limbs at the base of this runt tree.” He had built a fire there and laid limbs from the giant and from other smaller trees and bushes on top.
He never did explain exactly (but probably will here!) why he decided to burn the little tree down “live.” I mean, this is no way to remove a tree. And think of the agony this must cause tree-huggers everywhere! (I put words into the “mouth” of the little tree: “Why burn me at the stake? Sure, I’m ugly, but they don’t give you the death sentence for that!” I was the only one to laugh.)
All morning Friday, Ronnie and I (and later, great-nephew Josh Cagle) worked in that field, grunting and laboring to the point you would have thought we were doing something important. I mean, he’s 73 and I’m 68 and I don’t know about him, but this was more work than I had done in any decade since reaching middle-age. Brother-in-law James came out with his tractor and, using a cable and chain, dragged sections of the mammoth tree down off the hillside into the swag below, just to get them out of sight. The final two segments closest to the base were so huge and heavy the tractor could not budge them. “I don’t want to burn up my tractor,” James said, and we agreed. They’re there tonight, hanging close to the stump. I counted the rings: fifty of them. 1958 exactly. I felt like we were witnessing the funeral of an old friend.
Friday evening, the rains came, but the fire at the base of the runt pine tree kept burning. Saturday morning, after a night of rain, I could see the flames, still working away. Truly amazing.
Patricia was up and gone Friday morning just after 4 o’clock. Wal-Mart and other stores in Jasper were opening their doors and beginning their sales at 5 a.m. and she didn’t want to miss that. Later, she gave us chapter and verse on what she had bought and where.
Driving home Saturday, the news told of some Wal-Mart somewhere — oddly, they did not name the city — where the early shoppers trampled a man to death.
In India or in Mecca, they trample worshipers to death during holy days. In America, we do that at the malls during sales. Must be a lesson there somewhere.
I drove home through Tuscaloosa on the morning of the afternoon when the biggest game of the year would be played. For the Alabama-Auburn game, the radio said something like 125,000 people would be arriving in town. I was pleased to get in and out before they started arriving.
BTW, I saw something Thursday morning on Interstate 59 just above Hattiesburg that has puzzled me ever since. A husky fellow was walking on the shoulder of the road toward the traffic, heading back toward town at a fast clip. A hundred yards later, I came upon his motorcycle parked and angled back toward the traffic with its headlight on. The rider’s helmet was laying beside the white line just to the edge of the highway, ready for someone to run over it. No one would be so careless as to place his helmet there. He may have thrown it in disgust and it ended up there. But what was going on, and what would make him do such a thing?
Just proves what I’ve often thought: motorcycle riders are a breed apart. If they were cautious reasonable types, they’d never be riding those death machines in the first place.
Anyway, good to be home. Mom is doing fine. She’d appreciate your prayers for family members Jon and DeeDee and Jim and Peggy.