Saturday, August 26, 2006

Aunt Carolyn Died

My Aunt Carolyn died last night. She was my mom’s little sister.

My mom’s name was Maurine. She got the “Maur” from her dad “Maurice” (yes, I just thought of Steve Miller’s song too), and she got the “ine” from her her mom “Adeline.” She always had to correct people who wanted to spell her name the usual way – “Maureen.”

Their last name was Sanders. That’s my middle name – Joel Sanders Gillespie. I am so proud of that middle name.

Carolyn always called my mom “Sissy.” I guess that’s what she called her when they were we teeny kids and it stuck. “Sissy” is my mom’s name on that side of the family. It’s strange. My mom (who died in 2001) and Carolyn are survived by their older brother Karl. I think most folks wouldn’t have thought it would have worked out that way. Karl and his wife and young daughter were hit by a train 40 some odd years ago and it really messed up Karl’s back. But he is doing pretty well these days. It must be really hard losing your two younger sisters.

Carolyn and my mom and Karl all had four children. Odd how that worked out. All the children are still living.

People who know me and my siblings know that we have a rather dark sense of humor, a dry wit, and a tendency to see humor in the dark moments of life. We got that from my mother’s side. Carolyn was a master. She was actually pretty quiet and shy. But she would throw out a crack in her slow Texan drawl that would leave you in stitches. She was very smart, and very kind. And very witty.

When their mom died they got closer, talking every week on the phone, my mom in Columbia, Carolyn outside of Dallas. A couple of years after my mom died Uncle Philip and Aunt Carolyn came out with their daughter Deanna, and were met by their daughter Patricia and her husband and children, and joined all us Gillespies for Thanksgiving. It was a great time together that I will always remember.

This summer my daughter Laurel and I went out to spend a week with Philip and Carolyn, and also to see Uncle Karl and Aunt Edie, and various of their children. It was a great visit. Carolyn was already quite weak from the effects of the multiple myeloma, but she was herself more often than not. I will never forget that time, and that big hug goodbye. I love you Carolyn. I love you Joe.

Yeah, when I was little they all called me “Joe.”

I love Carolyn and Philip for who they are. But I know deep down I also love Carolyn a little for my mother in her. She was a real and vital link to my mom which is gone, so, the grief for Carolyn is like a grief for my mom all over again.

I really miss her, my mom. And I miss Carolyn already. I know people talk about death as part of life. Death is part of the ordinary fallenness and brokenness of this world. But it is the antithesis of life. Death is the enemy. “The last enemy to be defeated is death.” I hate death. I long for the day when death will be swallowed up in victory – no more goodbyes, no more separations, no more losses, no more loved ones gone.

Some days I get tired of missing people I love. But I must keep on loving people. I suppose a day will come when some of them will miss me when I go. Or maybe they won't have to. Maybe Jesus will come back first. Come Lord Jesus.

I Love you Carolyn.
I love you Joe.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Goldfinches and Coneflowers (Photographs and Memories?)

What good are a bunch of dead and dried up Coneflower stalks and leftover flower pods? Well, just ask the four Goldfinches in my garden who can’t get enough of them. For days these guys have been feasting off the remains of my Coneflowers, Black Eyed Susans, and Zinnias. I haven’t wanted to trim the withering Zinnia flowers (which stimulates more flowers) because the little guys have been enjoying the seeds so much. I ran the water today in the garden – just let it run freely and puddle here and there – and that seemed to make the Goldfinches (and several other birds and bugs) quite happy as well. I wish I could get close enough without glass in between for a clear picture, but I will content myself with watching through the bedroom window for now. They seem to love the Coneflower pods the most, just a-plucking away at the seeds tucked down inside. It makes me happy watching – takes away some of the sadness of having three daughters going off to college this week. Oh, and I counted four growing watermelons, picked about a dozen tomatoes and several squash, and started collecting hand grenades too. No, I am not a terrorist; I’m just talking about those little black Four-O-Clock seeds. I’ve always loved them, and used to collect them in Dixie cups when I was a kid, each cup labeled by the color of the flower the seed came from. I really didn’t (and don’t) know how or if they cross pollinate, and how flower color is determined in Four-O-Clock fertilization, but I love the little black hand grenades anyway, and they will sprout if planted. Next year I have another place picked out just for more Four O’Clocks!

Off to College

Today we moved our third daughter into her dorm at Chapel Hill. She is a freshman. Tuesday we moved my second daughter into her apartment at Chapel Hill. She is a junior. Also today our first daughter packed her car and moved back into her apartment in Raleigh, a fifth year senior at State.

I know, I have two other daughters and my wife to tend to, but even our small little house will feel empty tonight. Yeah, I am supposed to have all these big generous liberal child focused thoughts about what great opportunities lie ahead for my children to spread their wings and grow up, and what a great place to live with such good colleges so close, etc. Well, maybe tomorrow. Tonight I just feel like part of me has died, again.

On a brighter note, there were a whole bunch of kids from two campus ministries helping cart the stuff to the rooms today and that made a HUGE difference. To them I say thanks!

Kudzu, by James Dicky, for BB


By James Dickey

Japan invades. Far Eastern vines
Run from the clay banks they are

Supposed to keep from eroding.
Up telephone poles,
Which rear, half out of leafage
As though they would shriek,
Like things smothered by their own
Green, mindless, unkillable ghosts.
In Georgia, the legend says
That you must close your windows

At night to keep it out of the house.
The glass is tinged with green, even so,

As the tendrils crawl over the fields.
The night the kudzu has
Your pasture, you sleep like the dead.
Silence has grown Oriental
And you cannot step upon ground:
Your leg plunges somewhere
It should not, it never should be,
Disappears, and waits to be struck

Anywhere between sole and kneecap:
For when the kudzu comes,

The snakes do, and weave themselves
Among its lengthening vines,
Their spade heads resting on leaves,
Growing also, in earthly power
And the huge circumstance of concealment.
One by one the cows stumble in,
Drooling a hot green froth,
And die, seeing the wood of their stalls
Strain to break into leaf.
In your closed house, with the vine

Tapping your window like lightning,
You remember what tactics to use.

In the wrong yellow fog-light of dawn
You herd them in, the hogs,
Head down in their hairy fat,
The meaty troops, to the pasture.
The leaves of the kudzu quake
With the serpents' fear, inside

The meadow ringed with men
Holding sticks, on the country roads.

The hogs disappear in the leaves.
The sound is intense, subhuman,
Nearly human with purposive rage.
There is no terror
Sound from the snakes.
No one can see the desperate, futile
Striking under the leaf heads.
Now and then, the flash of a long
Living vine, a cold belly,
Leaps up, torn apart, then falls

Under the tussling surface.
You have won, and wait for frost,
When, at the merest touch
Of cold, the kudzu turns
Black, withers inward and dies,
Leaving a mass of brown strings
Like the wires of a gigantic switchboard.
You open your windows,

With the lightning restored to the sky
And no leaves rising to bury

You alive inside your frail house,
And you think, in the opened cold,
Of the surface of things and its terrors,
And of the mistaken, mortal
Arrogance of the snakes
As the vines, growing insanely, sent
Great powers into their bodies
And the freedom to strike without warning:

From them, though they killed
Your cattle, such energy also flowed

To you from the knee-high meadow
(It was as though you had
A green sword twined among
The veins of your growing right arm—
Such strength as you would not believe
If you stood alone in a proper
Shaved field among your safe cows--):
Came in through your closed

Leafy windows and almighty sleep
And prospered, till rooted out.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tending Our Garden

I enjoyed Karen Neill’s article in the News and Record this past weekend about invasive species, which segued into a bit of an encouragement about the need to stay on top of things in the garden. This brought back some childhood memories and brought up a few reflections.

She commented on the now ubiquitous Ailanthus, or Queen of Heaven Tree, which grows along about every roadside and in about every disturbed area you see. It’s really not a very pretty tree at all, and it’s flowers are sort of a dull creamy yellow, but that is actually too favorable a description for such a homely flower. We called them peanut butter trees when I was younger because if you crush the leaves in your fingers and then you smell your fingers they smell like peanut butter.

Karen also made comments about the Princess Tree, which I only identified this past Spring along Old Battleground. It’s so pretty I forgive it for being invasive and taking over space belonging to native plants.

Somewhere in the article Karen segued into talking about complaints from some gardener about Trumpet Vine shoots volunteering here and their in the garden. Apparently the said gardener wanted to cut down the Trumpet Vine. Karen reminded us that Trumpet Vines, a native plant, are really quite beautiful, and worth the small effort of pulling out a volunteer here or there.

I agree. I love our native vines, well, all but Poison Ivy, which I respect more than love. Trumpet Vine, Virginia Creeper, Crossvine, Moonseed vine, American Wisteria, Muscadine, and many species of Smilax ("sticker bushes"). I personally love English Ivy though it is technically an invasive species – it’s just been around so long it seems native. And Pachysandra, though not a vine, often seems to spread like one, so I’ll throw it in there too.

Earlier this summer my nephew and I had a great time swinging on a huge Muscadine vine in Columbia. Memories of childhood and childhood dares. “I dare you to climb that vine all the way to the top of that tree.” “OK, you’re on.” If my poor mom had had a clue!

Back to gardening.

My grandmother and grandfather moved to Columbia from Tampa in 1943 and bought a small house in a suburb, a house whose long narrow back yard sloped down to a creek bottom. Along this creek bottom grew the largest loblolly pines in Richland County. Over the course of twenty years they and their two next door neighbors transformed their yards into a highlight of the Columbia garden tour. One day I will scan and post a postcard of their yards put out by the city of Columbia.

They did it all themselves. They were real gardeners, grafting and rooting azaleas and camellias and even cross fertilizing lilies to come up with new patterns and colors. As to vines, there was English Ivy, Pachysandra, Wisteria, and Virginia Creeper, all of which required constant vigilance to keep them in their place.

Pruning was an art. I would walk behind Nanny while she pruned azaleas and camellias with precision, by hand, with small hand clippers, still my favorite tool. There was, and is, an art to pruning.

My point? Real gardening is a hands on, constant, pro-active, entropy denying channeling of energy. You just don’t see it much any more. Folks are too busy. A beautiful Trumpet Vine sends out underground shoots which pop up here and there? Too much trouble? Kill the vine. Azaleas too hard to learn to actually prune? Then buzz them, like a hedge. And the garden gods cry “murder, murder!”

Gardening and hurrying don’t go well together. A garden is a slowly cooked meal that takes seasons and seasons to prepare. It is a pot you have to watch boil a little each hour so to speak. It takes tending. And just as the good shepherd must know his sheep, the good gardener must know his plants, and love them. And even, maybe, if nobody is looking, talk to them…

My grandmother did not care about the “perfect lawn.” Good gardeners don’t, I don’t think. The perfect lawn is a creation of chemical companies, not gardeners. Nanny liked a decent lawn, and she tended it. In fact, her lawn was made of “Charleston grass,” a kind of a wide bladed version of Centipede. It doesn’t grow up here. They mowed it with a manual mower. With all the loblolly pines and dogwoods, and one or two enormous water oaks, there was too much shade for a perfect lawn, and there were spots here and there of mostly moss. She liked her moss just fine.

The way I figure it, if a culture is too busy to cultivate good gardeners, it’s just too busy. Gardening requires energy; but a lot of that energy isn’t mere brute force, it’s the energy expended a little each day, often just planning and piddling. “Hmm, I’d like to move this over there, and that over here. I think I’ll prune my azaleas today. Today I need to weed.”

Theologically it bothers me that we’re too busy to garden. For if we’re too busy to care for our own little spaces, we’re probably too busy to be what we're called to be as human beings and care for that big space we called earth. That makes me sad.

We were meant to tend gardens you know. As it says…

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” We need to remember that.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Local Litmus Tests?

I read with some interest David Hoggard’s excellent article in the News and Record this morning and found myself agreeing with him. Where are the voices of reasonable moderation in our local city and county government? I have addressed this before myself (and been chided). But I wondered as I considered David’s example, whether there was still, even in his mind, a subtle litmus test at work in defining what is or isn’t reasonable and moderate. For example, and not that I’m running, but what about somebody like me, who has a different kind of mix of traditional democratic and republican takes on various issues than what David posited. I’m a strong environmentalist with a passion for bio-diversity and clean air and water and the endangered species act (far left democratic), yet I am pro-life (republican). I am pro-planning as to local development (democratic) yet pro-business as to taxes (republican). I am a traditionalist on marriage (republican), yet very concerned that we protect and care for our poorest and neediest members (democrat). I am profoundly passionate about education (democratic), yet thinks our system is way too centralized (republican) and have a thing for vouchers, especially for our poorest communities (far right republican). Yet, all in all I think I am a consensus builder (a moderate), and would approach things in a civil give and take manner. My question maybe to David is, given what is known about someone like me (or Joe G), is there a place for us at the “moderate” table in local politics? Or is there a non spoken litmus test really in this fairly left leaning town?

A Telemarketer Hung Up On Me!

A guy from Bell South called late this morning. He wanted to talk to the person who made decisions about the phone service. I told him that that would be a committee. He asked me when they met. I told him that he could not attend the meeting, but that he could relay info to them through me. He asked me if I could make decisions about the phone service. I said not if money was involved. He asked if he could talk to the person who could make decisions about the phone service. I said that I was as close to that person as he was going to get. He asked if I could make decisions about the phone service. I said that that the one who could make such decisions would be the said aforementioned committee, and that he should either talk to me or quit wasting our time. So he hung up.

That was the first time in my life a telemarketer has hung up on me.

I feel......renewed.