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