The Circle Is Unbroken

Bertha Pearl Witt Kendrick

(May 16, 1912–May 30, 2010)

Freud was not the only one who took dreams seriously. My mother did, too.

Admittedly, her belief was more Biblical than psychological. Nonetheless, my mother could—and often would—quote Scripture verbatim and at length—verse after verse, from Genesis to Revelations and many books in between—to convince her husband and six children that dreams could hold profound messages and meanings; that we could interpret dreams; and that dreams could take us inward—to our psychological, spiritual, and physical selves—and outward—to a collective consciousness linking all the ages and bringing us all together.

Dream talk was part of our daily ritual, though never before seven in the morning, lest the dreams might come true. We could share any dream, but mother focused on those that lingered in the psyche as the ones possessing possible significance and meriting analysis. Rarely did my mother proffer interpretations of other people’s dreams. Instead, she listened and redirected us to discover how our dreams made us feel. I was fascinated by her dream analysis—nearly self psychoanalysis—and by the uncanny way that so many of her dreams tapped into profound spiritual truths.

Early in my life, my mother made a believer out of me. I remain so, especially since her death twelve years ago today. Two nights prior, I had three dreams in quick succession, with short-lived awakenings and instantaneous interpretations.

DREAM ONE. Mom was home, observing how hot it felt inside the house. She got up out of bed and walked out on the porch where it was so much cooler. As she reached her arms up toward a blue, blue sky, the wind blew her hair upwards and furled the skirt of her gossamer dress all around her. Mom started smiling and laughing and twirling—around and around and around.

Interpretation. Is Mom dead? No longer paralyzed? For the first time in six years, she’s out of bed—walking and dancing. She’s ecstatically happy.

DREAM TWO. Mom, costumed as a white mouse, performing. Her audience, amused by her antics. Their reward? An encore—more frolics, much laughter.

Interpretation. Freed from the journey, freed from the maze, Mom blissfully celebrates her new path.

DREAM THREE. Mom entered a softly lighted room. Dad was sitting in a recliner, as was his practice before his death. Beside him, a table with lamp; to the right, another chair. Mom walked over, sat down in the chair, smiled at my Dad, and turned off the lamp. The room slowly—ever so slowly—fell into warm darkness.

Interpretation. It is finished. Mom and Dad are reunited. The circle is unbroken.

When I awakened, my dreams lingered, vibrant and vivid. I felt—no, knew—deep down in my soul that my mother, who celebrated her ninety-eighth birthday two weeks before, came to me in those three dreams to prepare me for her death.

Two days later, Mom died.

God called her home. Forever dancing with a heavenly host of saints and angels, Mom finished the circle.

Oh, No! Sourdough!

“’Can I bring you some of my sourdough starter. Would you like that?’ Hattie raised an eyebrow at me. ‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘It is quite a commitment. I had some before and I didn’t look after it. It died and I felt terrible.'”

Sally Andrew, The Milk Tart Murders (2022)

When I was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina (Columbia), I became a sourdough master, partly because I lived the life of a starving grad student but largely because I loved practicing a culinary art with spores going all the way back to ancient Egyptian times. And whenever I wanted, I could fast forward to the more recent and better-known traditions of the California Gold Rush miners who were known as “Sourdoughs.”

With equal speed, I could shift my focus from sourdough histories to sourdough geographies. Did you know that the flavor of sourdough differs from region to region? It does. The reason is simple. Microbes differ from place to place. Plus, bakers in different regions have varying flour preferences and differing ways of starting their starters.

Working with my own sourdough was so fascinating and my baked goods–primarily bread and pancakes–were so delicious that I kept my sourdough culture alive and well throughout grad school and throughout my subsequent career at the Library of Congress.

Oddly enough, when I moved from Capitol Hill to the Shenandoah Valley, my sourdough starter died.  Maybe it didn’t like fresh country air as much as I. I doubt it. I probably got so blown away by country air and country living that I neglected to give my sourdough culture the care, attention, and regular use that it requires, even in the country.

Obviously, without my own starter, I had to stop baking my own sourdough bread. No big deal. I could easily buy some pretty good sourdough loaves in my local grocery stores. I say “pretty good” because store-bought sourdough bread always smacks of commercial yeast. A real sourdough aficionado would never, ever–absolutely never, ever–use commercial yeast to boost a sourdough starter that wasn’t strong enough to rise up on its own. No way. The beauty of working with sourdough is slowing down, taking time, and letting Mother Nature work her own Poppin’ Fresh, Pillsbury Doughboy magic. Rise up. Rise up.

But a few weeks ago, I got a hankering to bake some sourdough bread. So I decided to make room in my life once again for sourdough starter.

No big deal. It’s simple and straightforward. Using a wooden spoon, I mixed up 120 grams of whole wheat flour with 120 grams of water in a glass jar, covered it with cheesecloth, put it in a warm kitchen spot, and waited for my mountain spores to start their mountain magic.

By day two, little bubbles bounced gleefully up and down and all around. The magical sourdough dance of life had begun!

At that point, I knew exactly what to do. Discard half of the starter. Then feed the remaining starter 120 grams of all-purpose flour and 120 grams of water. As always, mix it all up with a wooden spoon, cover with cheesecloth, and return the jar to a warm kitchen spot.

However, I ran smackdab into a major crisis of monumental magnitude, ethical and economical.

Here’s the ethical part. The “discard” starter is filled with living microorganisms. While I had absolutely no qualms whatsoever about baking it to death for my own betterment and joy–not to mention the joy and betterment of those with whom I share–I was distressed thinking about throwing it out–discarding it–as of no worth.

Here’s the economical part. I am a big believer in “Waste not, want not.” I can’t throw away something that I might be able to put to good use. The mere thought makes every fiber of my being quake.

My compound crisis that day resulted in two jars of starter on my counter, instead of the single jar that I should have had.

On day three, I suffered just as much as I had the day before. Yep. You guessed it. Now I was parenting and feeding four jars of sourdough starter.

Day four doubled my joy and my responsibility: eight jars.

Day five, sixteen jars.

Now, come on folks. This is getting serious–alarmingly so–because it takes seven days or longer for a starter to mature and be so full of vim and vigor and little yeasties that it can transform any kitchen into a Sourdough Sanctuary.

You do the math. (After all, I teach English. What do I know about math?) But as near as I can figure, by day seven–if I continued to adhere to my high standards of sourdough ethics and economics–my counter would be covered with 64 jars of sourdough starter, each one needing love and feeding. I could manage the love. I could manage feeding. But what the heck! I don’t even own that many Weck jars. Besides, I don’t need all that sourdough. Neither baker nor bakery am I.

Thank God, I came up with a brilliant plan: reach out to friends and offer up my precious sourdough starters for adoption. Surely my friends would save me from myself.

Thus began my noble quest to rid myself of my own madness.

ME TO A FRIEND. “If you have any interest in adopting a jar [of sourdough starter]–with a full commitment to having it bring you baking joy for years into the future–I’ll be glad to share with you, and I will even forego the customary adoption process that I am told is customary in matters of bake such as this. Just let me know!”

FRIEND TO ME. “Well, I’d love to know about that ‘adoption process’ for hand-reared sourdough, but I daren’t risk actually adopting any cuz I have a feeling it would die before I got any use out of it and I don’t want to risk experiencing any ritualistic unpleasantness that might have made up part of the adoption process. If you want to give me a loaf or a waffle, though, I’d be entirely grateful!”

Well, phooey! How’s that for a friend? She wants all the gain without any of the pain. Hmpff!

At that point, I knew that my efforts to place my starters up for adoption were going nowhere fast.

Here’s what I came up with as an alternative. Rather than watch jars of sourdough starter double every day, why not bake with the sourdough discards?

I love to bake, you know. You definitely know that if you read and remember my post “Baking Up My Past.” (And if have not read it, read it. And if you have read it but don’t remember it, I won’t say, “Shame on you.” But, really! Shame on you. Re-read it to lessen the shame that you’re surely feeling.)

But returning to the serious matter of turning my sourdough discards into delights rather than tossing them into the compost heap as of no worth, I did as my friend–the same one who chose not to adopt one of my starving starters–always reminds me to do whenever I share with her one of my many and endless brilliant ideas: “Google that.”

And that’s just what I did! I googled, “Baking with sourdough discard.”

Dare I share with you my utter shock and amazement when I discovered that lots and lots of other folks had stolen my brilliant idea–just as lots and lots of folks have stolen my other brilliant ideas in the past–and had posted hundreds of recipes without giving me even the slightest crumb of credit, not even in Baking Notes. Well, I have never. (But rest assured: I have.)

The only thing that lessened my shock and amazement was the fact that some of those sourdough discard recipes sounded so good that I decided to try them.

I knew just where to start. Sourdough bread. I had made it before. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Next? Sourdough pancakes. I had made them before, too, but these would be super special because I could open up my last bottle of Brattleboro (VT) Maple Syrup that I bought in 2019 when I was guest speaker in the town where Mary E. Wilkins Freeman launched her distinguished writing career. Oh, my!!! I was not disappointed. Those pancakes were well worth the wait.

Then came sourdough waffles. Vanilla one day. Chocolate, the next. Both days, Brattleboro maple syrup presided.

Then came sourdough muffins, lots and lots of jumbo, bakery-style muffins. Morning Glory. Blueberry. Triple Chocolate. Lemon White Chocolate Chip. Banana Chocolate Chip. To my great joy, the sourdough muffins proofed to be exceptional. My neighbors, friends, colleagues, students (and one stranger) gave rave (and ravenous) reviews.

I knew, though, that I needed to move past breakfast. How could I use my sourdough for dinner? Of course! Pizza. Imagine your favorite pizza, and I’ll guarantee that it will be better with a sourdough crust.

My sourdough chicken and dumplings were heavenly. I confess that I had some major doubts about sourdough cornbread, but it proofed to be the best ever.

And you can’t have dinner without dessert. How about Sourdough Chocolate Orange Bundt Cake? You want some? Excellent! You won’t be disappointed. What’s that? With ice-cream? Sure thing. Vanilla. Homemade. On the house.

I am happy to report that I have baked the good bake so successfully and so frequently that now I am the proud parent of sourdough-starter triplets. All three jars are in the fridge where they can chill with one another for an entire week before I have to care for them again.

At this point, I have a plan. That’s right: you guessed it. It’s brilliant. Here it is. I’ll spend this coming weekend having my own sourdough bake off.

To start, I will use one entire jar of starter–every last drop of it–for making several loaves of sourdough bread.

Then I will use the second jar–every last drop of it–to make assorted sourdough muffins.

“What about that third jar?” I hear someone asking. Don’t worry. It will be an “only,” but it won’t be lonely. I will love it and nourish it and use it forever and forever and forever, and I will bake really good bakes, bake by bake by bake.

Better still, every time I bake with it, I will do so with an abundance of bubbly joy, knowing that I saved myself from parenting the 64 jars of little yeasties that I nearly found myself parenting.

And, best of all, I will no longer walk into my kitchen sighing under my breath, “Oh, no! Sourdough.”

The Joy of Weeding

“Look deep into nature, and you will understand everything better.”

–Albert Einstein

Personally, I hate weeding! It’s tedious. It’s time consuming. It’s tiring. It’s never-ending. Absolutely.  Never-ending.

I would much rather harness myself to a weed whacker, clearing great swaths of wilderness with every swing to my left, with every swing to my right, and with every step thrust frontward as I charge ahead to tame the untamable. I reckon a weed whacker is a reckoning force.

Yet, some folks (so I have been told) actually enjoy weeding. Apparently, they like to pull up weeds, one by one by one. Apparently, they never grow tired or weary of pulling up weeds, one by one by one. Their mantra? You guessed it: “One by one.”

My late partner, Allen, was one of those folks. He liked pulling up weeds and did so with the same care and precision that he used as a surgical technologist.

He would plan his weed work a week in advance. The conversation below shows how it all came to pass. I see no reason to say who’s saying what. The differing approaches to weeding–mine and Allen’s–are abundantly clear without naming either of us and without calling either of us names.

“Thank God! The weekend is nearly here. What would you like to do on Saturday?”

“Weed.”

“How about doing something fun? You really want to weed?”

“Yes. Weed. I just need some quiet time.”

“Well, okay. Sure. While you weed, I’ll weed whack. We’ll get a lot of yard work done.”

On reflection, I’m not certain that my part of the bargain provided quiet, especially since we usually played Gospel music in the background, full volume, while we worked in the yard. And when the music stopped, no problem. I would fill in by singing at full throttle the handful of words that I knew from some Gospel song that I liked, over and over and over and always painfully off key, though never deliberately so. Soon thereafter, Allen would slip inside and slip back out again, protected fully by his smartphone and earbuds. He never said a word.

But, hey. I’m no dummy. He made his point loud and clear. Quietly. Immediately. I got it. But since he was now listening to his own music with his own earbuds stuffed into his own ears, I just kept right on singing, as loudly and as off key as ever. It made me feel good. Besides, I take the Bible literally when it says, “Make a joyful noise.” And, equally important, I take folklore seriously, too: I have always heard that making noise while doing yard work keeps snakes away! So there! Even if indirectly, Allen still reaped the benefits of my singing: all the snakes disappeared into the woods, all except for the black snake that loved my off-key singing and slithered all around the yard to stay close to me, but that’s copy for a future post.

When it came to weeding, it was no big deal that Allen and I listened to different music while applying different weeding methods. Working together, we always accomplished a lot within four or five hours.

I mowed down an acre or so, and I was covered from head to toe with vestiges of grass and leaves and dust. But, hey! I got my weekly weed whacking joy.

Allen removed every single, solitary weed from an established flower bed, perhaps 20 feet by 15 feet, and, sometimes even refreshed the mulch. He would be drenched in perspiration, with muddy jeans from butt to hem. But, hey! He got his weekly weeding joy.

Inevitably, as we admired what we had achieved individually and collectively, we would mutually agree to a quick shower (individually, not collectively) and a backroad drive (collectively, not individually) to a farmers’ market, followed by lunch!

The after-joy of weeding and weed whacking meant as much to us (collectively and individually) as the actual joy itself.

Since Allen’s death, though, I have often wondered what those treasured weeding days meant…to him. What was it that he experienced deep down inside?

Recently, I decided to re-create, as nearly as possible, one of Allen’s typical Saturday weeding days.

I won’t bore you with all the pre-weeding details, like getting up at 4am, reading the New York Times and Washington Post, both online, cup of coffee in hand.

Or, having leftovers for breakfast, from dinner the night before.

Or, putting on bluejeans and a favorite flannel shirt–plaid, with sleeves far too short–and always a baseball cap from somewhere memorable like Geneva Falls, NY.

And I’ll not mention heading out to start weeding almost always at exactly 7:30am.

Those were the things that Allen did. So I’ll skip right over all those details and commence with Allen’s weeding tools.

A black plastic yard bag, for sitting and kneeling. An old dull kitchen knife for cutting out the roots of each weed. And a yard basket for collecting the weeds and their roots. And, yes: no gloves. He liked his fingers and hands to be one with the soil.

That was it. A simpler array of tools for such a noble task cannot be imagined.

Sometimes, as he weeded, it was as if he were descending into the earth that he tended, rising up from time to time, carrying to the compost pile the red yard basket filled to the brim with weeds and their roots. And so the cycle continued–descending, rising, and carrying–until he was done for the day.

That was it. A simpler approach to such a noble task cannot be imagined.

On my appointed day for re-enacting Allen’s day of weeding, I did not need to think about method or tools or pre-weeding activities. All those were so ingrained in my memory, my heart, and my soul that everything fell into place naturally.

My morning–this past Saturday, in fact–started with cool temps in the mid fifties, gradually warming to the upper seventies. A mix of clouds and sun. A gentle breeze. Low humidity. Just right.

As soon as I positioned myself with intentionality on my black plastic bag, I felt grounded–no pun intended. I knew that I had sat down exactly where I chose to sit. I knew that I had no where else that I wanted to be. I knew that I had no where else that I  wanted to go. “In the moment” vibrated with new meaning.

And then I felt totally in control. I knew that I could do as much or as little as I chose to do. I knew that I need move no further in any direction than the limits of my reach. Suddenly, I no longer felt overwhelmed by the enormity of totality. I could sit right where I sat, forever and forever and forever, and work my own postage stamp of mountain earth.

To my surprise–and, again, with no pun intended–I could smell the coffee that my neighbor higher up on the mountain was brewing, and I could nearly taste the bacon that he was frying. Closer to home, I could smell the lilac in my upper yard, just beginning to perfume the air, but even now its purply fragrance was so heavy that it nearly took my breath away.

To my great surprise, I could hear tractor trailers racing seventy miles an hour up and down the interstate, their roaring engines muffled to a monotonous drone by ten miles or so of puffy clouds and winding river. Closer still, I could hear the chirping of robins, never alone, always calling one to the other, always with the other returning the song.

And I could hear and feel the rustle of dry decay as my hands grabbed and bagged leaves from yesteryear. I could even hear the blue buzz of a horse fly as it circled my head, and, more joyous by far, the whir of a ruby-throated hummingbird–my first of the season–as it helicoptered all around me with quizzical uncertainty, darting deliberately, continuing to hover nearby, singing its high-pitched chips.

To my greater surprise, I started seeing things at the granular level. The grit in the soil. The veins in the weeds. The spidery whiteness of roots. The leaves and blooms on nearby plants. The house looming ever so large above my grounded perspective. The trees towering above the house. The clouds and sky arching over all, including me.

To my greatest surprise, one hour slipped into two. Two melted into three. Three faded into four. Four, into forever.

By then, the sharp, cutting edge of my morning angst had become as smooth as  well-worn marble stairs.

By then, my hope had heightened beyond my reach, stretching as far into the future as my senses could carry me.

By then, I had experienced deep down in the inner recesses of my soul what Allen had experienced in his.

By then, I knew the joy of weeding.

Take Two | Fit as a Fiddle: The Intentional Way

“Intentional living is about living your best story.”

John C. Maxwell (One of New York Times best-selling, motivational authors, having sold more than 24 million books in 50 languages.)

After I published last week’s post–“Fit as a Fiddle: the Inefficient Way”–I brushed up against a fear that stopped me dead in my steps! What if my readers thought that I actually believed in my principle of fitness inefficiency? Or, worse. What if they thought that I actually applied all of those inefficiencies to my fitness routine, day after day?

I won’t lie: I have used those inefficiencies from time to time to reach or exceed my steps-per-day goal. How else could I have come up with such outlandish strategies for getting in more and more steps. Obviously, too, my inefficient method actually does increase daily steps. As I mentioned last week, since the start of this year I have walked 782,356 steps. Yes. That’s right. 782,356 steps. Based on my gender and my stride length, that’s equivalent to 370.4 miles.

And, obviously, too, other folks do similarly outlandish things. Thank you, Chris, for owning up to the fact that you have even stopped “the car on the side of the road [to] jump up and down and walk around for ten minutes to make up for the lost steps.” I will remember that strategy!

Little wonder, then, that I felt compelled to post a “Take Two” so that I could seize the opportunity to make perfectly clear what everyone hopefully knows already. Fitness takes work. Hard work. Consistent work. Intentional work.

Trust me. I know firsthand. I’m a straight shooter when it comes to my overall fitness game, and I play it with intentionality.

Ironically, down through the years I thought that I was enjoying overall success. But a decade or so ago, my dentist discovered—during a normal checkup—some surprising and not-so-normal numbers. My blood pressure was elevated. One week later, my doctor confirmed that I had joined the ranks of one in three Americans who have high blood pressure and do not even know it.

She minced no words: I had to play my numbers better, smarter, and with greater intentionality. I suddenly realized: this is no lottery, where the odds are far too high against my winning. This is my life, where the odds are good that I can control some numbers and turn this game around.

Some numbers, I can’t control. Like my age: 74. Like my height: 5’ 8”. 

But I can control other numbers. Generally, I want them low.   

Like my weight. My current 181 isn’t bad, but the low 170s is my best wager. I’d like to get my body fat below 23 percent. I want to hit a range of 18 to 22. I’m getting there, slowly but surely, by eating fewer calories. By cutting 500 calories daily, I can lose one pound weekly. What a payoff!

Generally, I like my cholesterol numbers low. I want my total well below 200 mg/DL and my LDL—the bad stuff—below 100. That’s optimal. I want my triglycerides—the fat—lower than 150.  But I want one number high: my HDL. Hot tip: aim for higher than 60.

I want some other numbers high, too. Like fiber. Most Americans consume 14-15 grams daily. I’m getting 30 grams plus, by eating at the bottom of the food pyramid: 6-11 daily servings of bread, rice, and grains; 3-5 of vegetables; and 2-4 of fruit. Dividends? Less body fat, reduced colon cancer risk, and lower blood sugar.  Keeping my blood sugar below 120 mg/DL but no lower than 70 is keeping me from developing diabetes.  

Since that initial diagnosis, I’ve been playing my exercise numbers with greater intentionality, too. 60 minutes—every day. Every other day, I go for 90. No bluffing.

With my new approach to exercise and diet—and with one pill a day—my blood pressure numbers have plummeted. I stay in a normal range of 120/80.  Most days, lower. My resting heart rate is low, too. 60-100 is normal. Mine runs 60. Jackpot!

My doctor remains astounded: my blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar numbers continue to be spot-on, back-to-back wins. In fact, my numbers are so incredible that she’s always asking me for insider information! Go figure!

I’m going to keep on playing my numbers not only by the book but also with intentionality. I believe in life, and I want mine to be long, healthy, and productive. I want to hit those higher double digits: 80s and 90s. Who knows—triple digits might be grand. 

It may be a long shot, but the way I look at it: if I don’t live longer, I’ll live better. Intentionally.

Fit as a Fiddle: The Inefficient Way

Some of us wouldn’t get much exercise at all if it weren’t for the fact that the TV set and the refrigerator are too far apart.

Joey Adams (1911-1999; American comedian, vaudevillian, radio host, nightclub performer and author)

I have had a Fitbit since 2013 when my late partner gifted me with a Flex, the first Fitbit tracker worn on the wrist. Allen wasn’t certain that I would like this new gadget. To his great surprise and equally to his great delight, I became a Fitbit junkie, upgrading my device with every opportunity. I moved smoothly from the Flex to the Charge to the Versa and, most recently, to the Sense. All the upgrades made perfect sense to me!

My Fitbit is the first thing that I check when I awaken. I want to make certain that I made it through the night. Sometimes I pinch myself when I realize that I have made it, and, then I pinch myself again when I realize all the things that it tracks! Sleep score–duration, deep sleep and REM sleep, and restoration. Exercise readiness score. Skin temperature. Resting heart rate. Breaths per minute. Heart rate variability.  Blood oxygenation. My God! I have my own 24/7 doc in a watch.

I especially like the way that my Fitbit tracks my daily steps. It nags me every hour at exactly ten minutes before the hour if I have not gotten in 250 steps. And, when I meet my hourly quota, it rewards me with titillating vibrations, followed by the sweetest message: “Goal Complete! 250/250.” That’s just the encouragement that I need to get in at least 10,000 steps a day.

On my teaching days, achieving that goal is easy. I walk all around the classroom while I talk. Of lesser importance–but important, nonetheless–I try to schedule my classrooms as far away from my office as possible. That’s a sure-fire way to rack up steps, going forth and coming back again.  And to the extent that I decide not to have back-to-back classes, I can double or even triple the benefits of applying my fiddle-fit inefficiency principle.

Similarly, on my non-teaching days when I am at home, it’s never a challenge if I’m outdoors. My gardens cover a healthy acre or two, so just walking around to see what needs to be done places me well above 10,000 steps. If I’m actually working in the gardens–let’s say mulching–that usually takes me over 20,000 steps. But, sadly, I can’t mulch and garden every day.

Many days, I am indoors, neither gardening nor teaching. I have found that the best way for me to reach and exceed 10,000 steps on those days is to be inefficient! I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but it actually works.

The principle is basic and elementary. Forget–absolutely forget–multi-tasking. Instead take any task, break it into as many sub-tasks as possible–the more, the better–and perform everything at the sub-task level.

Performing everything at the inefficient, sub-task level works so well that since the start of this year I have walked 782,356 steps. Yes. That’s right. 782,356 steps. Based on my gender and my stride length, that’s equivalent to 370.4 miles.

I made this remarkable discovery about the power of inefficiency quite by accident, just like so many other great scientific advances. Coca-Cola. Cornflakes. Velcro. Viagra.

I remember the exact circumstance when I had my breakthrough moment.

I had gone grocery shopping, but I was nowhere near getting in my 10,000 fitness steps. When I drove into my driveway, I started thinking. The distance from my Jeep to my kitchen door is about 75 steps. I could easily carry my four or five bags of groceries inside at the same time. But what the heck. I need steps. This is where inefficiency steps in. Let’s see. If I leave the groceries in the Jeep and walk to the kitchen door, unlock it, and walk back to the Jeep, I add 150 steps. Then if I take one bag at a time, I will walk 150 steps every trip. Multiply that by four trips–one trip for each bag plus the initial trip to unlock the door–and suddenly my inefficiency has boosted my customary 75 steps to 750 steps.

My fit-as-fiddle inefficiency principle is equally efficient when performing routine household chores. Vacuuming is a good example. My vacuum cord easily reaches from the kitchen through the dining room and into the living room. If I didn’t need steps, I could just vacuum all three rooms before unplugging and moving on. But I get more steps by using the kitchen electrical outlet while vacuuming the kitchen. Then I take the vacuum and plug it in to the farthermost electrical outlet in the dining room and continue vacuuming. Then I do the same as I move to the living room. That simple action earns me slightly more than an additional 100 steps above the 3,186 steps required to vacuum those three rooms. Imagine how many steps my inefficiency will help me achieve as I vacuum the entire house.

One of my favorite applications of getting fit through inefficiency involves dusting furniture. I never ever start the task with furniture polish in one hand and dust cloth in the other. No way. That’s too efficient. I put both down somewhere as far away as possible from the furniture to be dusted. Then I step forth with just the polish. I apply it. Next I return the polish to the original staging area, pick up the cloth, and return. I wipe. I shine. Then I return the cloth to the original staging spot. I continue that process while dusting my entire home. When I finish, I am fit or fit to be tied. Sometimes, both.

And I simply must share with you how remarkably efficient I am with kitchen inefficiencies. For example, if I’m standing at the sink and I need something out of the cabinet immediately to my left, I could walk a step or two in that direction and get it. Far better, though, is to walk to my right and go all the way around my kitchen island in order to get to the cabinet that was within arm’s reach to my left. That gives me 45 steps. Imagine all the stepping opportunities that I can take advantage of, just by preparing breakfast alone. Add to that lunch and dinner. Gracious me! I just had a brilliant idea! What if I apply that same principle to drying and putting away dishes! Inefficiency can step up any meal, any time of day.

Here’s another thing that I do. Phone calls–whether incoming or outgoing–provide a perfect time to get fit through inefficiency. Instead of sitting down and sipping a cup of coffee while talking, I get up out of my chair and walk. I have tried walking around one room and that’s good. Better still, though, is walking back and forth between two rooms. Best of all is walking all around the house. That’s especially good for me since I have a two-story home. That boosts my steps and my heart rate at the same time. I admit that when I apply my fit-as-a-fiddle inefficiency principle to phone calls, I have to watch my steps as well as my phone manners.

If I really need more steps in a day, I never–absolutely never–return anything to its rightful  home. I put them all in one place, ideally as far away from where they belong as possible. Then, when I have time–but always before the end of the day–I step my items back to their homes, item by item by item. Those steps accumulate quickly, and I enjoy the double joy of seeing my home as uncluttered as it should be.

Another one that I like is walking from my office to take my coffee cup back upstairs to the kitchen for a refill. En route, I saunter past my aquarium and realize that I need to turn on the light. Rather than do it right then and there, I continue to take my coffee cup upstairs and set it down. Then I walk back downstairs and turn on the aquarium light. Afterwards, I go back upstairs to refill my coffee cup, and walk back downstairs to my office, thereby gaining a total of 312 inefficient steps.

Or if I want to get downright physical about it, when I’m lifting weights at home, I don’t just stand there between sets looking in the mirror at the muscles that I hope to see. Instead, I find something to do. Sometimes I just step over to another mirror on the far side of the room to look at the muscles that I hope to see. Then I run my comb through the hair that I don’t have as much of as I used to have. Here’s a sweet trick: if I swing my Fitbit arm sufficiently while combing what I wish I had more of, I add a few more steps to my day.

I have so many more examples to share that I could step this post out to the length of an entire book. But why tell all at once? Maybe I could find a co-author–another inefficient Fitbit stepper–and make it twice as long. And, frankly, on days when I am desperate for steps, group authorship has even crossed my mind.

So what if it takes me longer to get to wherever it is that I am going? So what if it takes me longer to do whatever it is that I am doing? Whenever I arrive wherever–for whatever– I’ll step out as fit as a fiddle.

Glimpses of My Father’s Hands

John Saunders Kendrick

(April 8, 1902–September 21, 1983)

Not long ago, I went searching for a relic that I thought I had stored in the loft.  I looked and looked, but I never found whatever it was that sent me on my quest. Instead, I may have found more.

As I rummaged through heaps of possessions—some treasured; some not—I found an elegantly framed photograph that Sister gave me decades ago. (In true Southern fashion—at least in my family—you never call the oldest daughter or the oldest son by their first names. Audrey has always been Sister; John, always Brother.)  Sister gave all five siblings copies of the same photograph. Hers is lighted and hangs proudly and prominently on the wall that you see when you walk into her dining room. It’s a photograph of an old man—a very old man, head bowed, forehead leaning on clasped hands, and elbows resting on the dining room table. On the table, a loaf of bread, a bowl with spoon, a knife, and a cross-laden tome. At first glance, the photograph appears to be a copy of “Grace”—Eric Enstrom’s famous 1918 photograph of a Minnesota miner. You may have seen it in a home, a church, or a restaurant. I’ve seen it everywhere.

The photograph on Sister’s dining room wall is identical to Enstrom’s in every detail save two. First, the old man in her photograph has no beard. Second, the old man in her photograph is not the Minnesota miner. He’s a West Virginia coal miner. He’s my father.

I’m rapt by the photograph, and I wonder now—just as I did when Sister gave me my copy—how she ever convinced my father to pose for it. My father knew neither artifice nor airs. More, though, I ponder an overarching question, “Why did Sister have my father sit for such a photograph?” 

I had never seen my father’s hands clasped in prayer as they are clasped in Sister’s photograph. My mother was the one who always said grace at our table, with all of us joining hands. It was not until late in life—perhaps just a few years before Sister’s photograph—that my father became a Christian. Certainly he would not have prayed at mealtime before then. By the time he became a Christian, I no longer lived at home. Sister, though, lived next door. Perhaps Sister had seen my father say grace.      

 I can’t say what Sister saw, but, as for me, I remember my father’s hands differently.

I remember my father’s hands as strong hands. When but a child—no more than four or five, so small that I had to stand on a kitchen chair to watch as he butchered a fresh chicken—I reached out to ask, “What’s that?” just as his cleaver—raised high in air—came thrusting down to sever the chicken breast. The cleaver could not stop. With equal speed, my father’s hand grasped my nearly severed right hand and held it in place until the doctor arrived. Today, the scar that spans my hand authenticates the strength of his: holding on, not letting go.

I remember my father’s hands as a coal miner’s hands—fiercely strong, calloused, rough, knuckle battered, and sooty from coal that could not be scrubbed away. Those hands shoveled coal for fifty years, never missing a day, never suffering injury. Those hands provided.

 I remember my father’s hands as a gardener’s hands—perfectly patient, tenacious, self-confident, and unswerving as he pushed the plow, laying rows as straight as the crow flies. “Don’t look down,” he prompted, when the time came for him to teach me how to plow a row. “Stay focused on one thing at the end.”  Those hands gardened longer than they mined, never missing a season, never losing a harvest.  Those hands fed.

I remember my father’s hands as a carpenter’s hands—steady, certain, and capable as he remodeled our home and helped others remodel theirs, working with wood and wallboard, concrete and plaster. Those hands were untrained hands. “Just a jackleg carpenter,” he’d say of himself.  Those hands built.

I remember my father’s hands as a thinker’s hands. His walking carriage, always—whether in coal miner’s “bank clothes” or in white starched shirt and khakis (always his at-home attire)—was with hands behind back, palms out, right resting in left.

Later in life—with our roles reversed:  I, the caregiver; my father the one for whom I cared—I saw his hands as gentle hands. As age and illness weakened his body, softened his heart, and calmed his soul, I often held his hands in mine. One day, and I remember it vividly, I had a great curiosity—a compelling curiosity—to compare our hands, his and mine. I asked him to hold his hands out in front of him, and, as he did, I outstretched my hands to his, touching. Our hands were perfect matches—identical—his hands and mine.

And when my father lay in bed dying, I held his hands in mine until we both knew peace as death came with certainty and with finality.

The next day my mother and I made funeral arrangements. We both wanted understated elegance. The brushed, platinum-finished casket with a solid white silk lining—without tufting or design—seemed perfect.

When the evening of my father’s wake arrived, I walked with my mother toward the open casket where my father lay. Even from the far end of the chapel, we could see something on the lining of the raised casket lid—a design.

Drawing closer, we were both taken aback as we looked inside the casket lid. It was not what we had ordered. It was not a solid white silk lining without tufting or design.

Instead we witnessed—together—a pair of praying hands. To the right of the hands, the words, “May God hold you in the palm of His hand until we meet again.”

It was not what my mother and I had planned. It was not what we had ordered. And, yet, the praying hands were there, holding for me—and I believe for me alone—a lasting message.

My Father’s hands.

My father’s hands.

My hands.

Now, as I look back, I see Sister differently. Now, as I look back, I see her photograph of my father differently. Being older than I, Sister knew my father longer—and better. Living closer to my father than I, she had spent more time with him.  Being more blessed than I, Sister had more than enough grace to glimpse my father’s hands in ways that I would not see until the end.

Get Behind Me, Satan– REVISITED

A memoir forces me to stop and remember carefully. It is an exercise in truth. In a memoir, I look at myself, my life, and the people I love the most in the mirror of the blank screen. In a memoir, feelings are more important than facts, and to write honestly, I have to confront my demons.

Isabel Allende (Chilean-American writer who calls her writing style “realistic literature, rooted in her remarkable upbringing and the mystical people and events that fueled her imagination.”)

I have always been a staunch practitioner of Robert Frost’s precept that “Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second” (Letter to Sydney Cox, January 3, 1937).

That’s why I rarely share anything that I am writing with others until I am reasonably comfortable that my “draft” is fast approaching my “fair copy.”

But I would explode if I didn’t share teasing tidbits about what I’m writing with a select few along the way.

For example, when I was drafting “Get Behind Me, Satan,” I shared the basic idea with a friend, telling her that my goal was to create a funny, humorous post that would mention not only the way that my siblings and I dashed out the door as my mother rebuked the Devil, broom in hand, but also the way that the Flip Wilson Show in the early 1970s caught my mother’s comedic fancy. Whenever Geraldine did something wrong–and she loved misbehaving–her defense was always “The Devil made me do it.” My mother loved it. She made it clear that she did not want to be bothered when Flip Wilson was on TV.

When I finished the first draft of my post, I texted my friend:

“Well, good grief! I just finished a crummy draft of ‘Get Behind Me Satan,’ and it slid off in a direction that I did not see coming at all! Any deliberate humor is gone. Flip Wilson is gone. And I’m not sure what the post … IS. Well, it’s crummy. But, at least, I have a crummy draft calling me tomorrow night!”

She texted me back instanter:

“Maybe you have 2 posts in this: the one you set out to write and the one that happened. Can they be two with different messages?”

I replied enthusiastically:

“Hmmm…maybe so! I like that idea a lot! I may use it and NOT give you any credit OR maybe you will become my ‘Linden (VA) Correspondent.’ Oh! I’m liking this a lot! ‘Get Behind Me, Satan, REVISITED!’ Yep! This is a winner!

So now, dear readers, you have the first-hand backstory of the post that you are reading right now.

Obviously, since my Linden Correspondent paved the way for me to explain my initial plan for “Get Behind Me, Satan,” I’ll go right ahead and do so.

I’ve already mentioned that my siblings and I would dash outdoors when my mother started rebuking the Devil.

I’ve already mentioned how my mother fell in love with Flip Wilson and Geraldine.

What I haven’t shared, though, is something that I had intended to include in my initial post if it had not melted away in a different direction. Read on.

Who would have believed that after all these years–and just like my mother–I hold the Devil fully accountable for anything and everything in my life that’s negative.

As you know, especially if you read my post “Baking Up My Past,” I don’t suffer baking failures lightly, and, fortunately, those failures don’t happen often. But I have been known to toss a culinary dream right into the trash can, all the while rebuking the Devil with language not found in the King James Bible and not proper for this post. Nonetheless, the fervor of my rebuke is on par with my mother’s.

And if you remember my post “The Power of Consistency and Persistence,” you know that I take my biking even more seriously than I take my baking.

Without doubt, it’s when I’m biking that Satan tempts me the most. Just imagine. I’m on my bike doing my best to get into my daily routine, and almost always after about twenty minutes into it, I hear that voice:

“This is tough, no? Never gets easier, does it? Hey, give yourself a break. Why not quit for today? You’ve done enough already. Just stop.”

What a mell-of-a-hess that leaves me in, sitting there on my bike, Gospel music shaking the rafters, with that Devilish little voice doing its best: Stop. Hop. Off. Quit.

But it’s at that moment that my pedaling kicks into overdrive. I speed up from 20mph to 23mph, rebuking the Devil out loud, above the blaring Gospel music:

“Satan, you ole slew foot, you! You’d love for me to stop biking now. But I’ll show you who’s the master of this bike. With God’s help, I’ll bike the full sixty minutes, maybe more. So go. Leave me be!”

And for an extra punch, I pause just long enough to light up my Sage Smudge Stick to give my workout area another layer of cleansing purification.

At that point, my dog, Ruby, gives me her puzzled look, tucks her tail, and dashes off to safety, leaving me to fight my own battles.

My biking rebukes work well until the next day or so when inevitably the Devil returns to have another round with me!

So that’s the direction my initial draft was going, and it was moving along exactly as I had expected. That is, until my sister Audrey sent me my mother’s Dickson Bible, the one that included Through the Bible in Pictures. The Gustave Dore images were marvelous, especially the one of the Devil that was the most frightening thing I had ever seen as a child.

After I had looked at that well-worn Bible showing heart-wrenching evidence of my mother’s travels and travails, my next draft of “Get Behind Me, Satan” started to veer away from my intended humorous course.

Then, when I saw that the image of the Devil had been ripped from the lower quadrant of the page exactly where the Devil always stood with his pitchfork and his long serpent tail, waiting for my return visits as a child, it veered further still.

Needless to say when I realized that I must have been the one who destroyed the image as my guileless way of rebuking Satan once and for all, the draft veered into its own and claimed itself, triumphantly.

It became what it was supposed to be.

It became a reflection that captured the simple truth as I recalled it rather than a jazzed-up post aimed at entertaining readers.

If my mother were here, she would look at me, smile, and remind me of what she taught me all along, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

In Praise of Bridge Builders

Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.

Fannie Lou Hammer (1917-1977; Civil Rights Crusader)

My life has been filled with people who have helped me succeed. People who have helped carry me over. I like to think of them–collectively–as my bridge builders.

BRIDGE BUILDERS–MY PARENTS AND MY SIBLINGS.

My parents, of course, started building the bridge upon which I still trod. They gave me life and empowered me to live mine to the fullest. They provided forever-tools–always to use, never to lose, ever. As a coal miner, my dad lived the life that he worked, and he preached it. As a preacher, my mother lived the life that she preached, and she worked it. They taught me to work hard at and see to the finish anything and everything that I started, fully believing that all work has dignity. They taught me the difference between working for a living and working for love. They taught me to appreciate, value, and celebrate diversity. They taught me to embrace and accept everyone along my way. And, yes, they taught me that with an education I could be whatever I wanted to be and go wherever I wanted to go.

My five brothers and sisters played critical roles, too, in constructing the bridge that has served me so well. Since they were older, I didn’t always understand the full dimensions of their lives: restaurateur; sales person and caregiver extraordinaire; medical technologist; mechanic; and post mistress. Yet, whatever they were doing always impressed me and sent me chasing my own dreams.

BRIDGE BUILDERS–MY EDUCATORS AND MY BENEFACTORS.

Growing up in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia, I was blessed to have some of the best educators in the world. They knew the subjects that they taught, and they taught those subjects with passion. Perhaps more important, they loved their students and took personal interest in us. They were living witnesses: we could transform our lives through education just as education had transformed their lives.

My third grade teacher at Shady Spring Elementary School stretched my bridge by introducing me to Robert Frost’s poetry. I fell in love–and remain in love–with poetry, and Frost remains my favorite poet. Bridge work continued as other teachers pulled me toward Scripps National Spelling Bee Competitions and Voice of Democracy Competitions. And I will always remember the teacher who got me hooked on the parts of speech and sentence diagramming. She knew that she had unleashed a wild child in love with the power of language.

My teachers at Shady Spring High School lengthened and strengthened the bridge still more. One showed me that powerful writing and hefty revision go hand in hand. Another helped me realize that typing and bookkeeping were solid backup skills that could open other career paths if my dream of going to college had to be deferred. And what a critical expansion my high school biology teacher provided by welcoming me and several other students to crash his desk every day at lunch, day after day, week after week, semester after semester, from our sophomore year all the way through graduation. Those lunch-time conversations were far more important than any lunch before or since. He gave us his time. He gave us himself.

As high school graduation approached and going to college became a reality, benefactors stepped up to help build my bridge. My parents and siblings didn’t have a lot to give, but what they had, they gave. Similarly, the citizens of my hometown set up a scholarship fund to help college-bound students buy freshman-year textbooks. I was one of the first recipients. That $150 check meant my future to me.

My professors at Alderson-Broaddus University added wonderfully rich dimensions to the bridge. Most of them lived on campus–on faculty row–and our classes were so small that we were often their dinner guests. They helped me see the human side of the presumed academic ivory tower that years later I would strive to model. My advisor, though in her fifties, finished her doctoral degree while I studied under her and served as her Work Study. She gave me an appreciation of lifelong learning. Fortunately, too, benefactors made it possible for my life bridge to continue growing. Their endowed scholarships helped me fulfill my dream of becoming a college English professor.

As a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, phenomenal educators continued to enrich my life and build my bridge. I’m thinking of my advisor who turned me on to textual bibliography. Another professor introduced me to Mary E. Wilkins Freeman–the ongoing focal point of my scholarly research from then until now. I’m recalling the professor who lectured, literary work in hand and not a lecture note in sight, with fiery passion and exultant joy. He allowed himself to be slain in the intellectual moment just as my mother always allowed herself to be slain in the spiritual moment. Through his teaching, I saw the best of both worlds–his and my mother’s. I had a vision of the educator that I would strive to be.

BRIDGE BUILDERS–MY COLLEAGUES AND MY FRIENDS.

Just as I was blessed to have bridge builders throughout my educational life, so too have I been blessed to have them in my professional and personal life.

I would not be where I am today had it not been for my supervisor at the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. When I was a summer intern in his Division of Two-Year Colleges, he was the one who suggested that the Library of Congress might be the perfect place for me as an editor. He was the one who nudged me to Capitol Hill to submit an employment application.

Without his influence, I would never have had a twenty-five year career at the world’s premier research library.

During that career, I worked with the best professionals in the federal sector. They were awesome bridge builders for me and countless others. One–a pioneer in library automation, at a time when computers were still called machines–helped me move up from being an editor in the MARC Project to being an editor in the NUCPP-Pre-1955 Imprints, the bibliographic wonder of the world. Another made me believe that information is never lost: painstaking and dogged research can always lead to its discovery. Another made me believe that I had it in me to be the Training Coordinator for the United States Copyright Office. Then he led me from there to being the Director of the Library’s Internship Program and from there to being Special Assistant for Human Resources, giving HR advice to department heads throughout the Library as well as to two Librarians of Congress.

After I crossed the bridge from the library side to the academic side at Lord Fairfax Community College, I was blessed to have still more bridge builders in my life. The biggest, perhaps, was the selection committee that recommended hiring me as a professor of English, thereby making my third-grade dream come true. Later, another bridge builder challenged me to teach dynamic 8-hour classes on Fridays and Saturdays. Another graciously asked me to co-advise the Alpha Beta Omega Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa–the International Honor Society of the Two-Year College. Other bridge builders challenged me to teach without walls: Virtual Learning. Still another, without books: free Open Educational Resources personally curated and designed by me. Then there was the seminal opportunity to co-author and edit the college’s report for LFCC’s Reaffirmation of Accreditation, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Add to that team teaching Leadership Honors Seminars and English Honors Seminars and co-presenting at conferences with mathematicians, artists, and psychologists. And I will always remember the growth opportunity afforded by co-chairing the Developmental English Curriculum Team charged with redesigning Developmental English across the Virginia Community College System. Other bridge builders–colleagues, deans, vice-presidents, and presidents–championed me so successfully that, from time to time, I was in the limelight at the college, state, and national levels.

Fortunately, close friends have been there with me throughout my crossing–giving the support that only friends can provide. The “You can do this” pep talks! The “You did it” celebrations. The listening. The sharing. The “Here’s a tissue” followed by “Better now?” The emailing. “What? You kept them all? Guinness Book of World Records? No way!” The texting. The calling. The nothingness. The silliness. The everything-ness. All the things that nurturing friends do…just because that’s what friends do.

BRIDGE BUILDER–MY SOULMATE.

Words cannot describe one of the most important bridge builders in my life: my soulmate, my late partner. Allen journeyed with me across a large expanse of my bridge, quietly adding key components along the way. Gourmet cooking. Gardening. Hiking. Biking. Together we made the journey from who I was before, to who I am now. Together we witnessed the power and depth of love through surrender. Together our hands clasped tightly one another’s, one last time, as he crossed his own bridge into eternity.

BRIDGE BUILDERS–MY GOLDEN YEARS AND BEYOND.

Today, I am in awe. I am standing on the bridge that others built for me, still strong after seven decades. I am standing on the bridge that others will continue to build for me, including my executors who will pay my bridge forward by strengthening the endowed scholarships that Allen and I envisioned and established.

Looking back, the distance from where I started–the coal fields of Southern West Virginia–to where I am today–the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia–is not that far: fewer than 300 miles. But the joys and triumphs that I have experienced while journeying across the bridge exceed by far the wildest dreams of my wild imagination.

Looking ahead toward my Golden Years–whatever they are; whatever they bring–I step forth confidently. My bridge is strong. My bridge is sturdy. My bridge will endure. Those who built my bridge made it according to the best specs.

Looking ahead further still to that time when I will cross from my earthly bridge into the Great Beyond–whatever it is; whatever it brings–I hope that all of my bridge builders will be there to welcome me. My Soulmate/Partner. My Colleagues. My Friends. My Educators. My Siblings. My Parents.

What a great gettin’ up morning that will be as I rejoice in singing the praises of my bridge builders, the ones who carried me over.

Special “Bridge” Post Coming Your Way on Thursday, March 31

Let’s jump right in!

WordPress

I love a good challenge, and I could not resist the one that WordPress tossed out for the month of March:

Each month, we’ll be bringing you a single word that serves as a prompt for your writing, your art, your coding — whatever it is that makes you, you.

For March, the WordPrompt is: BRIDGE.

Use that word as a jumping off point to publish a new post, whether you’re a lifestyle blogger or a foodie, a photographer or a poet.

The word bridge alone was enough to captivate me, but the word combined with the photo (below) made it a real jump-off challenge.

Come back this Thursday, March 31, to see where the WordPress bridge took me!

Get Behind Me, Satan!

“We kids were usually out the door already, long before my mother sent the Devil on his way with the broom in her hand.”

My early childhood memories–I’m thinking now of my preschool years–are rich and vivid. My five older brothers and sisters would have been at school, weekdays, so I hung out with my mom, hanging on to every word that she said, especially when she prayed.

Her prayers were as beautifully worded as the verses in the King James Bible, which she knew forwards and backwards. Throughout the day, she prayed whenever the spirit moved her.

When my mother prayed–or, for that matter, when she preached–she never focused on the Devil. Instead she put the spotlight on the love of God.

Even so, she fully believed that the Devil was a real force to be dealt with, and she held him fully accountable whenever things went wrong.

When the forces of evil seemed to surround her and close in, she would rise up with the same King James linguistic power with which she prayed and preached, fully ready to take on the Devil who was causing her grief.

Big things. Small things. It didn’t matter. My mother was armed and ready for proper spiritual combat. She never presumed that she had the power to rebuke the Devil. She knew better. She always did so in the name of the Lord.

Maybe the special-occasion cake that she was baking didn’t turn out as it should. Into the trash it would go, all the while I could hear my mother saying, “Satan, you may think that you’ll keep me from baking this cake, but I’ll show you a thing or two! In the name of the Lord, get behind me Satan.” Then she would tackle a second cake.

Or she might be sewing costumes for a school play and the stitching wasn’t going the way that it should. “Satan, in the name of the Lord  I command you to get out of this house right now and leave me and my sewing machine in peace.” Afterwards, she would make that sewing machine sing.

On weekends, with all of us at home, the noise might hinder her from praying or from collecting her Sunday-sermon thoughts. “Satan, in the name of the Lord, go. Get out of here.” We kids were usually out the door already, long before my mother sent the Devil on his way with the broom in her hand.

To my young ears, the battles were real. Without a doubt, the Devil was right there in the room, with my mother looking him straight in the eye, determined to stare him down.

And it always seemed that her rebukes in the name of the Lord won. Peace and love and mercy prevailed, if not forever, then at least until the next battle.

Little wonder that I fell in love with one of her several Bibles: The Illuminated Bible (The Good Samaritan Bible), published in Chicago by John A. Dickson Company, 1941. It included not only the Bible but Index and Digest, Collation of Scriptures, Laws of the Hebrew People, Teachings and Sayings of Jesus Christ, Parables of Our Lord, Warnings and Promises, Concordance, Lives of Noted Bible Characters, Maps and Family Records, and, to my great delight as a child who had not yet learned to read: Through the Bible with Pictures.

Through the Bible with Pictures consisted of engravings, if not by Gustave Doré then definitely in his style. The green plate illustration of the Devil was the most frightening image that I had ever seen. It didn’t keep me awake at night, but it scared me to death, and the thrill was such that I kept coming back for more, over and over again.

Recently my oldest sister Audrey sent me my mother’s Dickson Illuminated Bible, used so extensively that the binding is gone and some of the preliminary pages are missing. Until now, I hadn’t looked at that Bible in decades.

My mother’s travels throughout the pages are still apparent.

Written in the margins of several surviving preliminary pages are faded pencil notes in my mother’s hand for a sermon beginning, “The old track walker waved a broken lantern to stop the train.”

Some pages are dog-eared, leaving me wondering: what verses captured her attention on those pages. On other pages, the verses are marked in large parentheses that I still recall as her signature notation.

Her travails and rejoicings are evidenced, too, by tear stains here and there, throughout.

As for evidence of my own travels throughout the pages of that Bible, I had hoped for some kind of childhood scrawl that I might claim as mine. I found none.

However, I may have found more. Something strange. Something surprising. On one of the pages in Through the Bible in Pictures, the lower right quadrant has been torn out. That’s the exact spot where the Devil always stood with his pitchfork and his long serpent tail, waiting for my return visits. I do not recall tearing out that image of Satan. But since I was the youngest and the one most fascinated by that image, I had to be the one who did it.

Who knows. Perhaps as a child, I simply decided to take matters into my own hands and rebuke the Devil in my own way by destroying his image once and forever.

“Get behind me, Satan.”