Sally and Buster

Today was the last day. We have been putting this off for weeks, and the time has arrived. Sally lived on this 19th-century Kentucky demonstration farm for more years than any employee can remember. It feels like she has always been here, watching over the various sheep and goats that come and go on this farm.
The manager was out sick, so I volunteered to take Sally to the veterinarian? Was it because I am single and have nothing to do on my day off? No, I am just another human to Sally. With the sheep, that is another story. She knows each one by name. I can call a particular name. And she would run right to that sheep and herd it home to the pen. She showed this ability to many children on field trips. She amazed us with her intelligence and agility. She knew exactly the time the sheep needed out of the pen. No matter which employee worked that day, she would wait at the gate in rain or snow.
Our veterinarian told us that Sally must be some kind of Australian shepherd mix more from her behaviors and intelligence than her looks. The typical Australian’s have a mottled fur coat and those strange yet beautiful blue eyes. Sally had none of these markings. She had the build of a standard Australian, but she was solid black and had light brown eyes almost golden in the daylight. Several years ago, one employee trained her to bring the cows up to the barn. She reluctantly did her daily chore each evening. Cows were below her, calling in life. As soon as they got close to the barn, she would take off trotting back to her sheep and goats and bring them into their fold.
She was a special pet to the employees on this farm. When her animals were up for the night, she would eat and then find a place to sleep in the horse barn. Interesting because she was skittish around mules and horses. Sally never bothered the geese on the farm. Maybe years before, she had been pecked enough to make her keep her distance. On the original farm, the geese, guinea hens, and chickens would roam free during the day and keep the gardens free of bugs. We tell one story to the visitors how the farm children always carried a stout stick with them to beat the geese away or snakes.
A month ago, Sally tripped and fell when herding the sheep. She limped for days and would not even try to herd. Our veterinarian took ex-rays and said, “No broken bone or displaced hip. But, (I hate it when any doctor uses the ‘but’ word, it always spells trouble.) She has a tumor on her hip next to the spine and it is growing. She is in pain and will need to be euthanized soon.”
We were in shock and could hardly believe that Sally would no longer be on the farm. The manager decided that this was the date. How unlucky for me to take her the 20 miles to town and the vet. I would not be wearing my farm costume with the bonnet. I hoped she would recognize my voice. I was driving the company truck with Sally sitting up front, just as friendly and alert as always. She slowly laid down and put her head on my lap. “Oh, Sally, this is not good for my heart. I am the one taking you to your demise, and now you’re loving on me. Come on, gal; this is not fair.”
While we were sitting in the waiting room, a man and his son entered dragging what looked like a Great Pyrenees. Neither father nor son looked happy. Maybe they were here for the same reason. Sally and I sat across the room, dejected.
I said, “Beautiful dog you have. Is it a pure Pyrenees? They are good with sheep.”
The father said. “That is what they say but a house pet he is not. We are the third family that he has had, and he is still as wild as a buck.”
I said, “That is a shame.”
The boy said, “No, the shame is that he has torn up every lawn chair, bush and flower bed we have in our yard. He chews shoes, umbrellas, name it, he can destroy it quickly. Our cousins had him before us. They had to replace their swimming pool liner that cost thousands of dollars.”
“He sounds like a handful for sure. What is he here for today?”
The father said, “We are getting rid of him. No one wants him.”
“Really? Have you tried to give him away?”
They both laughed. Then the father said, “Everyone we know in and around Henry County has seen and read all about the dirty tricks he had pulled. My daughter posted them all with photos and video on social media. So when I posted that I would give the dog away, my phone went silent, crickets. One guy texted me and said, ‘Good Luck.'”
The assistant called for Sally. I gave her one last hug from all of us at the farm and took another photo. I stood up and saluted her goodbye as they walked her limping into the back room.
I remained there, and I could not walk out that door. I had the crazy notion of asking that man for his dog. I have not talked with the manager about another dog. No one has even suggested that we replace Sally. What would they say if I brought a troublesome dog on the farm? What would the insurance company do if he bit a visitor or employee? Before I knew it out of my mouth came the words that I would regret for a long time.
“Would you be willing to donate her to the 1850 Smithfield Family Farm?”
The son jumped up, “For sure. When today, I hope?”
“Well, as you just saw, we are saying goodbye to our sheepdog, who has cancer.”
“Do you have papers on him? What is his name?”
The man said, “We are not sure who was the first owner. A vet in the past had him fixed, trying to calm him down. It did not work. We have his shot records for the past three years.”
The son said, “We call him Buster because he busted everything. I guess he has had different names in the past.”
I walked over to him and let him smell me, with Sally’s sent on my clothes. He did not pay much attention, nor growl, no adverse reactions to another dog’s smell.
“Is he usually this calm with strangers?”
“Yes, he ignores them, unless they try to hold him down. Then he will growl. We have never had him bite anyone, but we have only had him for eight months.”
The father said, “We can’t afford his destructive habits. He dug under the fence and tore up my neighbor’s flower bed. We had to replace it this week. That was the last straw for us.”
I thought of calling the company manager. I paused, knowing she would say no. She always says no. She believes that an idea from an employee, even a cost-saving idea, is suspicious. All wonderful suggestions have to come from the board of directors, even though they do not work on this antique farm. They make their annual visit for the fancy board meeting, eat their finger foods, watch their video, and pass down new safety rules for us to follow.
It shocked me when out of my mouth came these words. “I want to try Buster on our farm. Hopefully, he will calm down and behave when he has a job with sheep. Do you know if he has ever been around sheep or cattle?”
The son said, “He is five years old, and no one has mentioned that he came from a farm.”
“Miss Connor, you can pull the truck around back.”
“If you donate him, give me those papers and follow me to the farm. We will go to the back gate, and you can let him off there. Don’t tell your daughter where you donated him. Or he will be back in your front yard the next day. And I will search for a new job.”

I took his leash, looked into that eager face, and said, “Buster, your new life begins today as a farm dog.”
We walked to the sheep pen, and I locked him inside. He sniffed around, sat down on the dry hay, and watched me.
The next morning the staff and Buster gathered in the pasture to speak our tributes and pray for the protection of all our animals. We placed a wooden cross over her grave. “RIP Sally, 2015, Boundless devotion to her sheep.”


Awesome Cornbread

Today my husband went grocery shopping with me. We were walking down the flour and cornmeal section, when we noticed the many boxes and single-serve bags of cornbread mix, from expensive to local store name brands. By now, you are thinking, is she nuts? Those boxes have been on those shelves for 50 years. Why would she be checking on them today? You are correct as usual, why notice them today?

I took the time to pick each one up and read the label. Many had flour as the first ingredient and a list of chemical names that I could not pronounce nor spell for this blog. In some lists I had to search for corn as an ingredient. I shook my heard and my husband laughed. We reminisced the early days of our lives when cornbread was the real thing. I am not a cornbread maven, but we are both connoisseurs of great tasting cornbread made with whole fresh cornmeal and milk.

In the middle 1960’s, I am blessed to have attended a small women’s college in central Georgia. We had an old fashioned dining room with white tablecloths and a kitchen fill of the best cooks that Georgia produced. Their cornbread was perfect. Growing up in South Florida, my mother typically made box cornbread muffins. When we had church dinners and picnics my siblings and I, were able to taste real cornbread and Southern fried Hush Puppies. So you can imagine when I arrived as a freshman on this small campus, I was delighted with whole ground cornmeal, cornbread sticks, and the best cheese grits in the state. I knew ahead of time the dinner menu and would never miss a meal with their cornbread. I am hooked for life on real cornmeal cornbread sticks, and a pone cooked in a hot cast-iron skillet.

My first taste of freshly made cracklin (g) cornbread was on a college friend’s Georgia family farm. Here in the deep South we drop the (g) off of many words and crackling is just one example. It does not matter to me if it is white, or yellow, as long as it is stone- ground cornmeal along with fresh buttermilk, no sugar, and bacon drippings.

My husband, was born and raised in the Missouri farm land. He grew up with stone-ground white meal. He still has fond memories of his grandmother baking her cornbread in a black cast-iron skillet. His mother always kept fresh cornbread in the kitchen for three hungry boys to snack on after milking the cows. On a cold, blustery East Tennessee day, a bowl full of warm, crumbled cornbread, cold milk, and accompanied with a spoon, is his comfort food.

We keep five-pound bags of white stone-ground meal in the deep freezer. I do not want to run out of this staple for our kitchen.

No problem if you enjoy your boxed cornbread muffins like they now serve at the Cracker Barrel Restaurants. I am sure that when you find and taste the real thing you will not go back to cornbread cake.

“Let my people think”

Psalm 119:105

“Thy word is a lamp to guide my feet, and a light for my path.” 

Let my people think echoes in my mind as I reflect on the life and words of Ravi Zacharius. His mission was to defend the gospel of Jesus Christ with the word of God and to teach his people how to reason and think using scripture. Repeatedly through the years he challenged my thinking and made me dig deeper into the Bible to find, claim, and apply truth to every situation. As with the Apostle Paul, his writings are not for the faint of heart or the lazy thinkers. 

Truth is a solid rock foundation to build our life upon, it does not waver with cultural norms, current political correctness, whims of fancy, or a philosophical bent. The classic truth, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” is a prime example. No matter the situation, treat others with the same kind of respect, and do to them, ( as an example)  of what you would have them do to you.”  Others will learn to trust you,  treat you with respect, and know that you are a person of integrity.   Cultivate this fundamental truth into every fiber of your life. A sure cure for relational problems.

I call this one of the But/If’s in the Holy Bible. God has offered us great and mighty promises for our life here on earth. IF you follow His guidelines (truths), with your whole heart. BUT do the opposite (selfishness, greed, pride, lust) and you will harvest a life of bitterness and shame.

Grass Feeds the World and Man Feeds the Grass

Sitting here on our deck in a comfortable chair, I enjoy watching my husband spread lime and fertilizer on the lawn. He does this so that he can continually cut that grass and dump the clippings on our compost pile, and dream of the next giant mower, tiller, weed-eater, or edger he can buy. Do you see what I see and feel? This process is a never-ending cycle very similar to doing laundry twice a week. I fuss about laundry having to be done, and he fusses about the 2 acres of grass that have to be mowed. But we do them both.

The grass is one of God’s creations, right up there with air and water. If man had created grass, he would have messed it up for sure, and it would be extinct by now. No, it is God’s unique creation for us. Most animals munch and crunch it. They eat the grass, or it’s seeds. Men fence grass in or out, according to their fancy or business. Grass is a massive industry around the world. When a baler costs more than a new car, and the other equipment necessary to make hay combined, costs more than my house, you get the picture. I dare you to do a search engine on the price of brand new combines. If you are not a farmer, it will shock you.

Grass feeds the world of animals, not just mammals. Rice, oats, rye, barley, wheat, millet, to name a few, are critical sources of nutrition for the world’s population. Yes, even fish eat underwater grass. As crucial as grass is to life and our world’s economy, the Lord said in the New Testament, Matthew 6 and Luke 12 That we are like the grass of the field which is “here today, and tomorrow it is thrown into the fire,” or with our grass, thrown on the compost pile. There is meaning to each truth in the Bible. How much time do you have here in this life to make a positive difference? Compared to infinity, our existence lasts as long as a blade of spring grass in a cow pasture. Commit today to do something positive that will make a difference in another life. Tell them the good news about Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.

A Tribute to the late Ruth Munce, daughter of Grace Livingston Hill

My father, Robert C. Smith of St. Petersburg, Florida, was a carpenter and builder. He built both of our homes for the family. My father added or our house, a spacious living room that provided for our family of six. It was the perfect size for a small group to gather. Our second home was blessed to become the site for one of Mrs. Ruth Hill Munce’s home Bible classes.

At some point in the early 1960’s, my mother, Beverly Smith, started attending a daytime Bible study group at a friend’s home. Ruth was the teacher. During the day, I was in school and only knew of my mother’s growing friendship with Ruth by listening to her stories. Eventually, Ruth was asking and praying for a location for a Tuesday night Bible study. My mother opened up our home for this group. Praise God!

My father started attending the Bible class, and he accepted Christ as his savior during these years. He studied with Ruth and grew a strong biblical foundation and relationship with the Lord Jesus.

On Tuesdays, I would come home from school in the afternoon, help with the family dinner, then set up the living room for the Bible class. I remember my mother always had brownies, pie, or another snack made to serve with coffee to the friends that attended.

In January of 1964, my 16-year-old brother died in a horrible car wreck caused by a drunk driver. Ruth was there to love my parents and comfort them during this terrible trial. I left that same year for college, and my relationship with Ruth vanished. My parents did not know that in just a few short years, my father would contract cancer and die at the age of 52. Ruth was still their personal friend and my mother’s support during three hard years of fighting cancer.

When Ruth died at 103, friends in St. Petersburg wrote my mother and sent us a copy of the article in the St. Petersburg Times Newspaper about her life. My mother always cherished her friendship with Ruth Munce. Ruth told us about her mother and her books. Ten years ago, I started reading Grace’s books on my Kindle. I became motivated to read every one of her books. I have read many but still need to finish reading them all, and the one’s Ruth wrote. Now in my retirement as an educator, instead of writing lesson plans, I am writing inspirational works. Not every story I write has a classic happy ending, but there is always spiritual growth and maturity accomplished by each main character, a Grace Livingston Hill trademark.

I praise God for the subtle yet continual spiritual influence on my life from both Ruth and her mother, Mrs. Grace Livingston Hill.