Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Walhalla, SC : Chauga River Narrows - near Walhalla, SC

Now in our mid-sixties, we “children” of the South Carolina foothills gather under the beer tent at the annual Oktoberfest celebration.  Over half a century has passed since we shared school days in the little German-settled hamlet of Walhalla. Two boys and six girls gather round and catch up with one another. 
 We share reports of our children, of work and retirement, marriage and divorce and punctuate it all with lighthearted references to the decline of our physical selves.

The two men treat us to beer and they behave very much like the boys we knew: funny, flirty and a little inappropriate around the edges.  The mood is festive. The German band plays lively polkas and the audience claps in rhythm and some hearty souls take to the dance floor. Suddenly the band switches to the strains of “The Happy Wanderer.” Spontaneously the eight of us burst into song:  

I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
My knapsack on my back.

We sing…pitch-perfect, smiling faces, lively waving of drinks, and with all the correct lyrics. I exclaim, “Wouldn’t Ms. Brandt be proud of us?” One of the boys says, “I believe she would.” Suddenly we are ten again, marching around the gymnasium, our knapsacks slung across our young backs as Ms. Brandt hammers out the accompaniment on her piano.  For me it was a sacred moment when the joys of the past re-visit in a very real and intimate way.

Henrietta Brandt was the music/choral teacher from elementary years through high school in Walhalla. She put together productions replete with costuming to showcase her students’ accomplishments. She taught us songs of different eras and educated us on the historical context of each song. It was a rich and happy time, connecting with human experience through the ages through song.  Love songs, war songs, patriotic songs and just-for-fun songs.

I cannot say that any geometric theorem, knowledge of chemistry, physics or good grammar has enhanced my life the way music has. Make no mistake; I am not a vocally or instrumentally talented person. But time after time I pull from the recesses of my mind a melody or a set of lyrics that treat my soul to what it needs. Planting a song in a child’s heart is a worthy calling. Thank you, Ms Brandt, for enriching our lives.

Oh, may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die!
Oh, may I always laugh and sing,
Beneath God's clear blue sky!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


“Back in the day”, before the NSPCA, shopping for Easter shoes garnered the prize of a tiny pastel chick for the cooperative child. We would select from amongst the array of pink, blue, green and yellow fluffy balls of feathers. My grandfather, Papa, had a chicken yard and we knew our babies would one day have a home. Papa cautioned that we could not add the biddies to the general poultry population until they shed those colored feathers. He explained that a chick different from the others would be in danger. Entering the chicken yard with a visible wound, a broken wing or garish pink feathers would provoke the others to peck at the chick, sometimes to the point of death. Barnyard bullying was a reality to be avoided.

In a sometimes unkind world, children sense a danger to being “different”. To avoid being pecked/bullied, we learn to hide wounds if at all possible. In varying ways we sought to be part of the crowd, defined differently by different species. Survival instinct, perhaps. In the 50’s and 60’s the definition of a person who “fit” for this middle class white girl included living in a “Father Knows Best” home, having a pony tail, and not being fat. As a chubby girl for a number of those years I already had one foot out of the crowd. Humor, decent grades and loving parent-type figures helped me survive. I looked around me at the rest of the crowd and could readily rank those who were popular or marginal or outcast and waiting for a good pecking. Vigilance was required to stay a part of the community of choice.

I am enjoying a reconnection with old girlfriends from elementary and high school. After forty or so years of living in assorted barnyards, we are planning get-togethers. We biddies spent last weekend together. (Forgive my over-use of the poultry metaphor).Now in our sixties, much of the pretense of adolescence has faded. Assisted by wine, too little sleep and a sea breeze, our stories began to flow. Tales of painful home lives, self-doubt, trauma, fears and bad choices are shared. Pastel feathers begin to fall away and I feel the alive. I rejoice in our common humanity and the sense of community that brings. I thank those beautiful women for being real and for the healing that offers. Weary from the late hours and “partying”, I return home having experienced a pre-Easter revival of spirit.

Sunday I will celebrate Easter and give thanks to a God who invites us to be real. A God who self-revealed in the person of Jesus and, as Thomas discovered, rises with wounds still visible. Healed, but scarring visible. The paradoxes of faith begin when our brokenness is acknowledged by an accepting community and we experience healing. Blessings on all who honor our common humanity.

Enjoy the resurrection!

Allison Rhodes
April 4, 2012

Saturday, August 20, 2011

FINAL LAP: Birthday Reflections: Aug. 10, 2011 ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

In the late 50’s and through the 60’s I was one of those girls who really loved sports. Basketball was my favorite and I spent hours playing with friends as well as on teams. I was decent, not great, but I delighted in the teamwork, the exertion and the surprises of play. In junior high I had my first coach, Charlie Johnson. Coach Johnson was a taskmaster and we respected him for it. To warm up for practice he would have us run laps around the gym. Each day it seemed the number of laps grew, but the instructions for the final lap were always, “Now give it all you’ve got!” I would join the other girls as we dug deeper for the burst energy required for last trip around the hardwoods. Sure we were girls, but we were expected to sweat and hustle. There was something about that expectation that called forth the warrior in this otherwise mild-mannered girl. I learned about faking, throwing elbows and taking my licks. But it always began with running laps.

The last few years I have been running laps around my life, metaphorically of course, since the knees and back aren’t what they once were. I’ve looked at the past from different angles. I have approached old wounds and found healing. I have smiled at mistakes and personal quirks that once felt shameful and in them have discovered strength. I have yearned to reconnect with playmates of old. I’ve studied pictures of family who have finished this earthly journey as well as snapshots from my life. Inviting memory I have reflected and written, hoping my stories will reflect to my kids and grandkids the flavor of our family. When I shared this life review process with a friend, she said, “It sounds like you are winding down”.

That comment gnawed at the back of my neck all day. Today is my birthday. I am 63 and I’ll admit there is a sense of the limit of time. When I consider the idea of closing chapters and winding down, however, Coach Johnson and his laps come to mind. These are my later years, but the past seems like a warm-up for what is to come. Juxtaposed against a youth-obsessed culture this ol’ girl is ready to dig deeper for what the game brings next. Older and slower for sure but I’m still able to hustle, sweat, throw a few elbows and give it all I’ve got. Happy Birthday to me!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Home – The Kitchen Table ~ by Tami Patterson, Atlanta, Georgia

The object that reminds me most of “Home” is the kitchen table. Over the years the kitchen table has changed in shape from oval to rectangle. Its wood has been that of oak to pine, but no matter its specific characteristics, the kitchen table has been the center for many memories of home.

Each table has entered the home new and unscathed, but as we have come to it for meals and conversations it has born the battle scars of crayons, cake icing, spilled milk and perhaps a dent or two from toys that have run across its surface. It has been the foundation for many a school project started and completed and its wood has absorbed the aromas of cookies decorated and meals enjoyed.

My family, immediate, extended and ancestors alike, have loved to linger at the kitchen table for hours long after the dessert was gone and the coffee cups were dry. The table has heard conversations of happy times, the planning of weddings, the celebrations of birthdays be it the first or the 100th, stories of the farms, and the mischievous doings of cousins. Its surface has played home to many a board game and the sorting of recipes along with the bantering of siblings, aunts and uncles deciphering whose story is correct.

If the moments around the table could be extracted it would reveal the wondrous history of family and jokes, good days and tough days and the significance of it as a family gathering place – HOME.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Three Men and a Feminist ~ Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

Father’s Day, 2011

It’s 1967 and I plant my fanny on the steps of the Administration Building at the University of Ga. for my first sit-in. The cause: a girl’s right to wear pants on campus. To wear long or short pants, you donned a trench coat and signed out from your dorm for horseback riding or tennis. When Ms. McClure, intrepid housemother for Center Myers, began to comment on my love for equestrian activities I knew my cover was wearing thin. It was time to take the struggle public. As is true for many historic social movements, others were also tiring of the oppression. Word began to circulate of plans for a sit- in at midnight (one hour past the prescribed curfew for females) and I joined my bold, scared sisters on those cold stone steps. We sat there as the campus police ordered us to disperse or face expulsion. Ultimately we prevailed and the system was changed! Today all those cute little things displaying flat tummies and pierced navels all over Athens can thank their wrinkled, flabby elders!

I have been a feminist since an early age. This Father’s Day I write to honor three men who are largely responsible for fostering “liberated” thinking that has served me well over a lifetime. Here are three messages I claim as their gift to me and I wish for all girls:

You are valuable
When an adult happily invests time and energy in a child’s world, the affirmation is powerful: “You are important to me.” James Fred Rowland, aka Papa, was such an adult for his grandkids. He was content to sit in the porch swing and listen, laugh and play with us. My favorite game was “Guess what color car will come down the road next?” I can still see him keeping score with his carpenter’s pencil on a piece of scrap paper. Whether on the hanging out on the front porch, damming up the branch (a small creek) to create a pool in the woods or feeding his pet squirrel, we kids were sure he was present with us and glad to be there. Thanks, Papa for valuing me.

You can dream
 Our uncle George was a quiet man, a bachelor and a gentleman. From the time I was old enough to talk about my plans, George was interested. He would listen as I chatted on about whatever fanciful idea or dream I was currently entertaining. I don’t remember challenges or discouragement, just interest. As a college student I loved to drive over to Walhalla for a weekend visit with my grandparents and uncle. Changing majors 5 times meant George inquired about a wide variety of plans. He would ask questions that helped me elaborate and think through the plan. When I began to discern my call to ordained ministry, George did not comment on the social acceptability of a woman pursuing a “man’s career”. He simply said, “Tell me about seminary,” and he listened. Thanks, George, for inviting me to dream.

You can question and think
My daddy was square peg in the deeps south’s round-holed assumptions about life. Popular thoughts on a variety of subjects were echoed by us kids, usually at the dinner table. Daddy was a man of few words, so when he spoke we listened. I remember telling the family that my friend’s father warned me that “…the coloreds are starting to riot and soon nobody will be safe.” I was scared. Daddy chewed thoughtfully and asked if I would refuse to sit next to Lucille (my grandmother’s maid) or deny her the right to vote or send her children to a good school. Daddy put a human face on the budding civil right’s movement and invited me to reflect on matters of justice not buy into wholesale fear. He encouraged critical thinking and the questioning of popular assumptions. I had a brain and I was encouraged to exercise it. Thank you, Daddy, for encouraging me to think and question.
And thank you, God, for a few good men

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memories of a Grandmother I Never Knew ~ by Marcia Mayo, Atlanta, Georgia

I must have been told early on that I had only one grandmother, and that one grandmother was Mammo, who was my mother’s mother. The reason for this was because my father’s mother died in 1920 during the influenza epidemic that swept the world like a giant tsunami wake, killing millions. She was 34 years old when she died and pregnant with her fifth child, a baby who would have grown up to be my aunt or uncle.

I didn’t miss the grandmother I never knew. In fact, I remember thinking that being partially grandmotherless made me interesting, having someone who should have been something to me die before she ever had the pleasure of meeting me. It was the only sad part of my family’s history as far as I knew, so I believed it added a tragic element to my otherwise boring short biography

In my child mind, I never thought about my daddy or my aunts and the fact that they’d lived most of their lives without a mother and how hard it must have been for them. That’s because when I met them they were my grown up daddy and aunts and they seemed just fine.

It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realized what a sad thing it was that my grandmother wasn’t given a life long enough to see her children grow up. And it wasn’t until I became a grandmother that I was able to see what my own grandmother missed and what I missed never having had the chance to love her, to sit in her lap as she recounted her own memories, telling me I looked just like she did at my age.

My daddy and his sisters didn’t talk much about their mother. The only story I recall my father telling was one about his mama being all dressed up to go out and his pitching a fit, causing her to cancel her plans. My aunts, who were only five, three, and one when their mother died sadly had very few first-hand recollections of her and just a couple of photographs, one of which was her wedding picture.

When my father passed away in 1994, I was still young enough not to have given much thought to the family stories he could have told me. Not asking more questions when I had the opportunity is one of the things I regret most when it comes to all members of my family who have passed on. Although two of my aunts are still living, it’s difficult to get them to remember and share family stories. I've learned that I can’t be pushy. I have to be patient and wait for a memory to come as they rest in their revery.

Just recently, my Aunt Madge, in a flash of clarity, confided that my father had, as a seven-year-old boy, stood by himself at the window of his bedroom and watched as the wagon from the livery stable his father owned carried his mother’s body away.

That tiny glimpse into my father’s sad childhood just about broke my heart.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Daddy’s in the Trunk of the Car ~ by Allison Rhodes, Decatur, Georgia

In the 1950’s, before the safety of children was guarded by laws and all manner of protective equipment, we Rhodes kids enjoyed life on the edge. If we weren’t roller skating in a partially floored attic or walking on stilts down public roadways, we were cooking potatoes on a stick over a fire built in a metal drum. Amazingly we survived to adulthood along with some very good memories. One of my favorites has to do with Daddy.

We lived at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just a few miles from adventure. Daddy took us up the mountain to pick apples, strawberries or nectarines depending on the season. During the summer we would drive to Earl’s Ford to play in the cool mountain water of the Chattooga. Much to our delight we were allowed to ride in the trunk of the car. The three of us would pile in and an old broom handle was given to me, the eldest, to prop open the trunk lid. We would take off, enjoying the trip in our family’s makeshift version of a pickup truck. Going up and down hills, over bumps and around the curves of mountain roads was tantamount to the modern kid’s amusement park.

Fifty years later Daddy made his final trip up the mountain. After his cremation I told Mama I’d pick up his ashes from the funeral home. She was weary and grief-stricken. I did not dare question her decision to have Daddy’s ashes buried in the Rhodes family plot next to his parents, brothers and infant granddaughter. I also did not request permission for what followed. Equipped with 4 Ziploc bags I carefully put a scoop of Daddy’s remains into each bag and left the rest in the box for burial. After the funeral and graveside service we put Mama in bed for a nap and quietly changed into what our parents used to call our play clothes. We traveled with our families up the mountain to Earl’s Ford and returned a part of Daddy to the Chattooga River, a place he loved enough to share with his four children.

I couldn’t empty my bag completely. I needed to save a little of Daddy. I added some polished small stones from the river’s edge into the bag and wrapped it all in a Wal Mart sack. For the next year I kept that Wal Mart bag in the corner of the trunk of my Civic. Some might question the lack of dignity. For my Daddy, I felt it was only fitting.

May 15, 2011: In memory and honor of Daddy on what would be his 94th year.