Friday, May 30, 2014

Summer Is A Coming In

Summer is a-coming in
Loudly sing cuckoo
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
and springs the wood anew
Sing cuckoo! [Anon. 13th C].

            “There is something delicious, Mother, about early summer,” said Alfred. “The trees are alive with a thousand shades of green; green with hues of yellow, purple, red, and even hazy blue in early morning. The roses are already in full bloom, the Grandiflora and the Granny Grimmets in glorious color.”

            “Right you are, Alfred,” said Mother. “Do you remember the old poem Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May by Robert Herrick?”

            “Ah, yes,” said Alfred, “but to you remember what it actually says?”

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Mother laughed, “Certainly, Alfred, but do you remember what it applies to? It’s advice to young virgins to get married before they age and the bloom is off the rose. Neither of us are young and I suspect that for us the bloom is already off the rose.”

“Mother,” said Alfred, “There is another way of looking at it.  There is an old saying, “Yesterday is a cancelled check, and tomorrow is only a promissory note, and all we really have is today.” In the day we have we should stop to enjoy the roses. There are so many things in this wonderful world. Too often people focus on the glum and even frightening things.”

“That’s a shame, Alfred,” said Mother. “When there are so many things to rejoice in, not only in the flowers of the field.”

“Nor the forests green,” said Alfred.

“Nor the lofty mountains capped with snow,” answered Mother.

“Nor the mighty rolling ocean waves,” answered Alfred.

There are other wonders to rejoice in,” said Mother. “There is the beauty of young lovers holding hands in the park, and the laughter of little children.”

“Yes,” said Alfred, “and don’t forget the beauty of old well weathered love that has withstood the ravages of time.”

“There are so many beautiful things, Alfred,” said Mother. “We should make it a practice to enjoy beauty wherever we find it.”

“Yes, said Alfred, “We should make it a conscious point to revel in the beauty of the world around us.”

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” [Philippians 4:8].

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Alfred’s Memorial Day

            The air in Alfred’s study was blue with the fragrant smoke of Captain Black from his English Estate Ashton Old Church Bent Billiard. Mother came in fanning the air with her copy of Southern Living magazine.

            “What is going on, Alfred,” said Mother? “I thought you had given up smoking for Lent.”

            “You are right, Mother. I did,” growled Alfred, “but Lent is over.”

            “Surely that’s not all,” said Mother. “What else is going on?”

            “Well Mother,” said Alfred, “Memorial Day is this Monday, and I was thinking of my uncle Ainsley Montrose. You never knew him, and I barely did. It was late in 1941 and the newly constructed Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls had just been completed. Uncle Ainsley flew his Mustang fighter plane under the Rainbow Bridge and a family legend was born. Unfortunately Ainsley didn’t make it through the war and he was lost somewhere over Germany. A lot of good men have died defending our country.”

            “Has there ever been a time when there wasn’t a war going on somewhere,” asked Mother?

            “Not really,” answered Alfred, “and most of the time in the last few centuries it seems like we have been involved in whatever scrap is going on anywhere in the world. That’s really nothing new. Jesus said, ‘You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet’ [Matthew 24:6]. There is such a thing as right and wrong. The trick is, not to be on the side of what is evil in the world. It’s not as simple as just defending one’s country; it’s more complicated. What we need to defend is the cause of truth and justice. It’s not just who oppresses us, but who oppresses our neighbor; especially when he can’t defend himself.”

            “A lot of people really don’t think that Christians should be involved in conflict in other parts of the world,” said Mother, “but it seems to me that if we don’t fight terrorists overseas we will end up fighting them here anyway.”

            “You are quite correct Mother,” said Alfred. “The poet John Donne said,

No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend's Or of thine own were: Any man's death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer” [Romans 13:3-4].  

Monday, May 19, 2014

“Mother,” said Alfred, “I do like bread.” He cut a thick slice of bread from the warm and fragrant loaf of honey whole wheat bread on the table. “There is nothing quite s0 satisfying to the taste as a slab of fresh bread smeared with Pure Irish Kerrygold Butter. Add a dollop of Follain Gooseberry Jam and you have a fair treat fit for the kings or the pixies.”

Mother looked up from her copy of the English Garden Magazine and said, “Alfred, I think you are quite right.” She put her magazine down, looked at Alfred and said, “Share and share alike!”

Alfred cut another generous slice of honey whole wheat bread, slathered some Irish butter on, and added the required dollop of gooseberry jam, before saying, “It wasn’t always this easy to get a tasty loaf of bread. Before the beginning of the last century the breaking of bread was a time consuming task for the woman of the house.”

Mother interjected, “Thank goodness those days are past! I would rather putter around in the garden than in the kitchen, and I so appreciate having Agnes Findlay as our housekeeper. That has been absolutely marvelous; it gives me more time to putter where I want to putter.”

“You are most welcome Mother,” said Alfred, “and I must say that I hadn’t bargained on a housekeeper who was a wonderful baker. Why, I remember when my own mother began to buy bread from the baker who came to the kitchen door of our home. Down the walk he would come carrying a wire basket laden with a choice of white bread and brown bread, crumpets and Eccles Cakes.  Now the crumpets and Eccles Cakes were quite fine, but the bread left a lot to be desired. It was made from chemically bleached flour in a sanitary factory, and it tasted like chemically bleached bread. That is to say, it had hardly any taste at all.”

“I know what you mean, Alfred,” said Mother. “My mother would go to the Italian bakery near our house and come home with a loaf, or two, of pagnotta. It was very good bread, but when she didn’t do that she came home from the grocery store with a loaf of Bond Bread. Even though Bond Bread sponsored Hopalong Cassidy it was still tasteless compared with the pagnotta.”

“That reminds me, Mother,” said Alfred, “Talking about tasteless, I’ve been thinking about the little round crackers that we get for communion. The best that can be said is that when the priest’s breaks the host at the Fraction it makes a satisfying snap. Other than that it’s not really a taste treat.”

“Since I began serving on the Altar Guild, I’ve discovered a few interesting things,” said Mother. “I’m sure the basic reason is practicality, especially when you consider that communion bread should be made of fine white flour, pure water, yeast, and salt. Those are the same ingredients that you find in the Bible. No yeast, no whole wheat, no honey, no oils. The emphasis should be on what it represents, not on whether or not it would be good with Irish butter and gooseberry jam.”

“Well, Mother, “I suppose you’re right, but still!?”

“I know! I know, Alfred,” said Mother, “but from an Altar Guild perspective a loaf of honey whole wheat would be very hard to manage, and you would have crumbs all over the place.”

“The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” [1 Corinthians 11:23-24].

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Trenching Celery

            “Well, Mother, trenching celery may be the best method of growing celery,” said Alfred, “but how deep does this trench need to be?”

            “According to Medwyn’s of Anglesley,” said Mother, “the trench needs to be 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide. We will need a trench about twenty feet long. That Stewart Thermostatic Seed Propogator we purchased has given us a lovely array of seedlings.”

            “That is a lot of digging, Mother,” said Alfred. “Let me see the illustration again.” Alfred looked over the illustration and the directions carefully “Oh, I see. We are to plant the seedlings on a bed of mulch and manure in the bottom of the trench, as the young plants begin to grow we add more soil. Then three or four weeks before harvest we completely fill the trench and build the soil up around the celery. That seems awfully complicated.”

            “That is supposed to keep the celery stalks from turning dark green and reduce the amount of stringy fibers,” said Mother.

            “You do know, Mother,” said Alfred, “that when the celery begins to ripen, that there will be an awful lot of celery. I certainly hope that you do love celery.”

            “I do, Alfred. I do,” said Mother, “but not that much. When the celery is ready, we will certainly eat some of it; but I have a plan for the rest of it. I was looking for a way to serve the Lord by serving others, and I thought that giving it away at church would be a novel idea. And it’s something that you and I can do together.”

            Alfred laughed, “You mean my brawn and your brains?”

            “Exactly,” said Mother. “and there is something else that I’m going to do. With each bunch of celery I’m going to give a tub of homemade crab and cream cheese filling for the celery. I thought that would be rather special.”

            “Do you have any idea who you are going to give it to?” asked Alfred.

            “Certainly I’m going to give some our Bible Study group at the Whittingtons, and to our Organist Choirmaster William Weaver, and of course some to Father Goodfellow, and the Altar Guild, and if there is enough, I’ll give some to any visitors that we have in Church that Sunday.”

            “Have you thought, Mother, of giving some to Moana Crutchley.”

            “Yes, Alfred, I have thought about that. She might complain about it, but I thought that I would give some to her and let that be her problem.”

            “Mother, that’s commendable,” said Alfred.

            “Well, Alfred,” said Mother, “at our Bible Study at the Whittington’s last week we were looking at 2 Timothy, and one verse just stuck in my mind, “The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil” [2 Timothy 2:24].   

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Stinging Nettle Soup

   “Alfred,” said Mother, “Just what am I going to do? As wonderful as Easter Sunday was, last Sunday was terrible. That Moana Crutchley! What am I going to do?”

            Alfred looked up from his new copy of the American Art Review and said, “What seems to be the difficulty Mother?”

            “You know, Alfred, that when Ima Hatchett left the Church I thought that we had weeded out the major source of complaining. But I was wrong. That Crutchley woman is quite onerous. What bothers me is that she is always carping about something. She is an authority about absolutely everything and she is just so negative. Everything must be performed to her expectations and she is always right. What confuses me is that she acts so spiritual, and when I listen to her pray; her prayers are so much more eloquent than mine.”

            “I’ve had a little experience with her myself Mother,” said Alfred. “Mind you, I think she does better with men than with women, but I’ve noticed that she’s a sharp shooter, and a subtle one at that. If you’re not careful you can wind up full of holes and you don’t know how you got them.”

            “That’s exactly what I have been experiencing Alfred,” said Mother.

            “Abbot Wigbert said that evil is like Whack-a-Mole game,” said Alfred. You bang it down in one place and it pops up in another. As Abbot Wigbert said, it’s just an uncomfortable part of growing in grace, but let me tell you a story that might help.”

            “One spring day when I was a little boy in short pants I was running in the garden behind our home when I ran through some bushes not realizing that they were stinging nettle. It hurt like billy-yo and I ran crying to the house. The first thing my mother did was gently rub off the area with cold water and a rag; then she applied a paste of baking soda and water.

            “She asked me where the stinging nettle was, because she said she had an interesting way of dealing with it. She put on some rubber gloves, took a plastic grocery bag, and a pair of clippers. Then we went to the back of the garden and I showed her where the stinging nettle patch was and she cut a bag full of stinging nettle.

            “When we got back to the kitchen she put the kettle on and when it came to a boil she put the stinging nettle in a sieve and poured hot water over it which took all the sting out it. Then she cut it up and cooked it with carrots, onions and potatoes, and made soup out of it.

            “It tasted OK, if you like that sort of thing, but I didn't really care for it because I remembered how much it stung; but my father thought the stinging nettle soup was quite fine.

            “Mother,” continued Alfred, “dealing with Moana is like dealing with stinging nettles. First, as much as you can, avoid going into the stinging nettle patch. Second don’t wear short pants in that part of the garden; you have to go in with your defences up. Third, you may need to handle encounters with her with kid gloves on. Having said that, remember that even stinging nettle has its uses. She probably can’t help what she is, and inside she’s probably just an unhappy, frightened woman.”

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good” [Romans 8:28].