Tobacco Barn Morning

These mornings when I rise before six and walk, it reminds me of late July days as a child on our North Carolina farm. Mama would wake us when it was still dark to get ready and eat breakfast before we went to work in tobacco either on our farm or for one of our neighbors in our rural community. Part of me hated getting up so early, and part of me was excited, wondering who would be working that day—perhaps one of the girls in my class at school or a good-looking teenage boy.

When I was eleven, the summer after fifth grade, I became one of the paid handers,which were  girls or women who gathered several of the tobacco leaves by the stems, and handed them to the loopers. They took the hands and with cotton twine that was threaded to a wooden tobacco stick, they’d wrap the bundled hands and slide them to the end of the stick, going back and forth between the two handers that were stationed with each looper. Most of the time there were four loopers placed around the trailer loaded with the green leaves that had been picked or primed, as we called it in central NC, by the teenage boys and men that did the back-breaking work in the field.

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Participating in the demonstration of handing tobacco last September at Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

The community of barning tobacco was always interesting to me. There was such a variety of people, some you knew and others you didn’t. That was during the sixties, and while there were racial tensions going on around the country and in our town, whites and blacks worked side-by-side in tobacco. During those days of needing to fill the barn with the 500 sticks that would be cured, we were all laborers, no matter our color. While we returned home to different circumstances and faced different realities, for those hours we were a group working toward a common goal.

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One full stick of handed tobacco, Duke Homestead Harvest and Hornworm Festival

I loved listening to the women talk about the latest news, or gossip. Some of them spun lively stories with more personal details than I would ever hear at home from Mama or Daddy. Sometimes the teenage girls would show up with their hair in curlers, most saying they had a date that night. How they made me want to grow up!

Sometimes there would be a pause in the chatter, only to be interrupted by a shriek when one of the handers picked up a leaf with a hornworm, those tobacco worms with chunky green bodies and a red horn on their tailend. They would be camouflaged in the bed of green and were difficult to pull off once they wrapped around your finger.

More menacing than the hornworms, were the occasional black snakes that the primers put in the trailer just to hear the women screaming at the barn. They were always proud of their trick when they came in from the field later to congregate at the barn, smiling and asking, “How’d you like that present we sent you from the field?”

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Before tractors, mules pulled sleds through the tobacco fields.

The day of work seemed to stretch on forever with the increasing heat and humidity. Between ‘growing pains’ and the umpteen hands of tobacco to fill the barn, I often went home with my arms aching. Mama would rub them with alcohol. I don’t know if it helped, but I think it did, just having Mama to acknowledge my pain and validate it with her care. Now, I chuckle when I see clips on the news about child labor laws being enforced. When you were the child of a farmer, there were no child labor laws, only the understood need for everyone to help.

And there was also a sense of pride that you were contributing, even as a fifth grader. We saw the barn full of the sticks that we’d filled by our steadfast handing of one bundle at the time. We knew that there was no stopping, no quitting the job until it was done. I think those summer days of working hard taught me life lessons of not giving up, of working with others toward a common goal.

That summer when I was eleven, I wrote in my diary that I earned a total of $55.00, paid in cash at the end of each week by the farmer. I used the money to buy school clothes, an adequate amount in 1966. How proud I felt when I went shopping with my own money.

Now, in this new world that we live in, I’m glad I had the experience of the tobacco barn community, the rich memories and lessons of a hard day’s work, the feeling of excitement and possibility when I walk in the cool of the morning.

 

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3-D Mural by Chris Dalton in Sanford, N.C., my hometown.

Yearly Hornwood and Harvest Festival at Duke Homestead

http://dukehomestead.org/harvest-and-hornworm-festival.php

 

How About You?

What special childhood memories do you have of summer?

What aspects of those days do you still carry with you?

 

 

 

 

The Carousel of Time

We drive down the road on a sunny July afternoon, through the broad expanse of eastern North Carolina farmland on our way to the beach. This has been a yearly trek for most of our lives, from the time when we were children, to the years we carried our two sons when they were children, and now to have our first summer beach time with our eleven-week-old grandson. My husband, David plays a CD of Joni Mitchell songs, and the chorus plays for “The Circle Game” with the words, “we’re captive on the carousel of time.”

The tune was familiar to me but not the words– never one that followed her music. I listened closely.

We arrive to Emerald Isle and join our son, Brooks, his wife, Emily, and our grandson, Baker Hayes.

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We miss our younger son, Ross who couldn’t get away this year. Many of our trips in the past were in August, after our sons finished internships or summer jobs and before I returned for the new year in my middle school. But since I’ve retired from that nursing position, I no longer feel that weighted dread of having to go back to the intensive wind-up for the fall semester.

Often our time at the beach reminded me of New Year’s, looking back since our last summer’s stay; all that had happened in our family’s life; all that had been accomplished and all that had not; looking ahead to what was possible before the next year’s beach trip.

This year there’s a shift as we give our son’s family the downstairs master bedroom so they can spread out with the baby. I’m anxious to hold my grandson, to see how he’s grown since our last visit several weeks ago. He holds his head with great muscle tone when I pick him up and feel the pounds he’s gained. How fast he’s changing! They had taken him to the beach before we arrived to put his feet in the salt water. He pulled them back, like the water was too cool and he wondered why his parents were subjecting him to that.

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After he’s fed, I walk him about and jostle him up and down trying to ease him into sleep, which he fights, wanting not to miss anything, I suppose. I think of Joni Mitchell’s song, the “painted ponies going up and down” and imagine how he’ll love a carousel when he’s a little older– my active little grandson.

Maybe the outside air will help, I think, and walk him onto the back porch. Every summer this has been the place I sit to read and drink coffee, whether it’s my morning devotional, my beach novel, or my non-fiction workbook on finding my way in mid-life. Now with the next generation in my arms, it’s a place to distract him from his fretfulness, a new memory in this space.

I think of the dreams I’ve had sitting in the porch chairs and continued pondering as I  walked along the shoreline. Some of them have been realized, others have not, and some are in process– like publishing my memoir. Some of them have changed as I’ve transitioned from mid-life to the beginning of my senior years. I remember the lyrics from the Circle Game song, “there’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams.”

The passing of time is apparent in every memory of summertime at the beach, of family trips to this house. I imagine our grandson over the years before us, how fast they’ll go and I’ll want to, “drag my feet to slow the circles down.”

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Napping with his ‘Papi’ on a rainy afternoon

For now, all I can do is be thankful and enjoy these moments, even when he is fussy and hard to settle, content in the intimacy of this family time. I’ll be present to the circle of life pulling us forward, giving into its pull instead of fighting it, like my grandson fights sleep.

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How About You?

Where are the places you feel the passing of time?

How do you look on the dreams that have been realized and those that haven’t, the ones that have stayed the same and others that have changed?

 

Leaving it All Behind

This week I’m remembering my solo journey to Michigan. Right before that trip, we’d had a stressful move from our home of twenty years in the country to our downsized house in a neighborhood in town. The negotiations of selling our home and buying the new one came at the end of my year as a school nurse, that hectic period from mid-May to the beginning of June. By the time the moving company drove away, I was exhausted.

What reminded me of that move was starting into my yearly project of clearing out, of de-cluttering my home and attempting my belated spring cleaning. That summer four years ago when we moved in, we could hardly walk around our house for all the packed boxes. I’d decided during the winter that I wanted to go to Michigan– a place I’d never been but yet it seemed familiar from hearing about it from several coworkers. In the cold of winter, I’d thought a long road trip to a cooler-than-North Carolina-climate in July would be fun. I’d contacted my cousin in Toledo to say I’d stop by for a visit, but with my tiredness from the move, inertia set in. I looked about my house at all that needed to be done and thought taking a trip seemed unreasonable.

How can I leave this mess and go on a journey, I asked myself.

I told my friend, Paula that I was considering cancelling my plan, that I didn’t think I had the energy to pull a trip together.

“You have to go,” Paula said. “That’s what you do.”

I trusted her wisdom because she’d been my friend since my first journey to Sedona. She’d seen how they impacted my life, and how sharing about how God used that time away had encouraged others.

A week before I had to take off for Michigan, I rushed to make reservations at the few hotels that were still available during peak season– since there were no hostels in those areas. I packed quickly and pulled CDs out of one of the boxes, choosing a random assortment for the road.

The morning I headed out with my bike on the back of my rental car, there was a terrible storm that seemed like the final barrier. Besides my tiredness from the move, I was more aware than usual of friends and acquaintances struggling with serious problems; a young man waiting for a bone marrow transplant and a young woman with advanced breast cancer; a father with an opiod addiction, a couple trying to free themselves from cocaine, a mid-life woman overusing her prescribed anxiety meds. Even the news coverage of people in distress after a recent plane crash in Asia seemed to be pressing down on me, feeling the weight of the world in my vulnerable state.

I realized I was bone tired and soul weary.

Driving slowly in the rain for almost an hour I was finally relieved to be out of it and able to pick up my speed, planning to make it to Charleston, West Virginia for my first night. I liked that during a road trip I could slowly release the people I left behind, the chores unfinished, the things I forgot to do. I prayed for the journey, the people and places that would be in my path, but I found it harder to let go than on previous trips. I thought a good night’s sleep would help, but I felt little relief the next morning.

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Dinner in Charleston, West Virginia

Driving out of Charleston, I looked at the small, frame houses that hugged the hillside, and wondered how the people who lived in those homes struggled. The ones that I’d been praying for who were dealing with substance abuse and cancer came to mind. I felt weighted down and put in a CD by Nicole C. Mullen, a contemporary Christian singer I hadn’t listened to in a while. Her words spoke to my heart when she sang in her soulful voice the song, “Come Unto Me” and the line “all who are weary bring the load you carry and I will give you rest.”

I need to let go of all this. I’m carrying more than I can bear.

Releasing tears washed down my face as I sang along. Her music was what I needed.

The road continued on into Ohio, through a valley of farms with barns and silos. The fields of corn were a verdant green and along the highway there was Queen Anne’s lace and a lavender wildflower I could’t name. My spirits improved as I felt the relief of laying down my burden.

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On the Road going toward Ohio

I needed to go on this journey to disentangle myself, I thought. I was suffocating under all those boxes in my home and there was no way to relax and be restored except to draw away for a while.

The journey proved to be very meaningful, visiting my cousin and exploring the new territory of Michigan. I was glad that I’d just taken off, that my rational mind had not won out with the things I should do.

And when I returned from my journey, I was rested and ready to make my house into my home.

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The Stunning Beauty of Lake Michigan, Sleeping Bear Dunes

Find more of that Michigan trip in these previous posts:

Distant Cousins

Fog Gets in Your Eyes

Not Like Me

How About You?

Are there things you need to leave behind in order to get away to renew yourself?

How can you release what is weighing you down?

Free to Be Me

During the week in which we celebrated our country’s independence, our freedom, I think about what it means to be free as an individual– not to say and do things that hurt others, but to be my unique self. It seems that much of my ability to just be me has been limited by my self-consciousness, my over concern with how I appear to others. I’ve lived with too much fear of ‘doing things wrong,’ as if there is some standard of doing things right that I’m being judged by.

Now, at 63 years old, I’m learning to let go of those things that have bound me. In my part-time position as a research nurse, I’m working with a group of staff who are mostly forty-and-under, employment counselors, none of them nurses. They have a much more relaxed view of work than what I’ve been accustomed to as a professional nurse for the last forty years. There  are some things they can learn from me, but overall, I think now we live in a different time and I need to change to adapt to my new working environment. I can learn from these ‘young people’ who would probably tell me to, “lighten up.”

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Even in the writing community, through speakers at conferences and on podcasts, their sage advice is to remember, “It’s not about you. It’s about your readers.” At first I thought, “What? I’m doing all the work of getting things onto the page. It’s not about me, my story?” But later, as I considered myself as a reader, when I’m engrossed in a good book, I’m applying my perception to that story, my interpretation of everything I read is through the lens of my life, not the author’s. I also consider that if I keep this in mind, I can let go of some of my worry with writing the perfect post or chapter. Instead, with each time I sit at my computer, I can think of you and before I start writing I pray that through the muse that God’s given me, I’ll construct something that will speak to you. It helps me to be free of the burden of outcomes.

This morning when I walked, it was cool and raining and reminded me of my solo journey last September to Iona, Scotland. There I lived in a faith community at the Abbey for a week. The night before I was to check in, I stayed at a B & B across the sound from Iona. That Saturday morning, watching the ferry approach, I was suddenly gripped by fear, by not feeling ‘good enough.’  I said to myself, “Who am I to go to this international pilgrimage site?” Surely those I’d join would be more theologically educated, more international, more of something. I thought of my small-town-roots, my Southern accent, my tendency to hang back, my fear of the spotlight being thrust on me.

As the ferry workers motioned for us to approach the boat, the answer came, what felt like God’s still small voice speaking to me.

You are my child and that is enough.”

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I walked forward, feeling awkward but assured that I was at the place I should be.  Throughout that week, with seekers from all over the world, I continued to feel assured, through my interactions with individuals and in our group discussions, that I was where I should be.

On Tuesday during our group pilgrimage across the island, we stopped at the bay and threw a rock into the water to symbolize what we were leaving behind. Now that I reread that post from Dec. 31, I see that it was a step in letting go to be free, that I’m revisiting at the half-way point of this year. It is a process. After that rock was flung into the bay, I was interviewed on camera that was a first step of letting go of what others’ thought of me.

 

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Pilgrimage across Iona to the most noted sites

When I go back to my pictures of that journey, I see a video that I made while riding on the ferry from Oban to the Inner Hebrides. I’d planned to do videoblogs through the trip, but partly due to time and being in a new place, and perhaps due to my discomfort, I never posted them.

Now, as an act of being free, able to let go of my hesitation and concerns, I’ll share a video on my Author Facebook Page– Saved by Sedona since I haven’t learned to embed videos on WordPress. The video reminds me of that excitement of anticipation, wondering what lay ahead during my week at the Abbey.

It reminds me that I am Free to Be Me.

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The Tall Cross of Iona, See post “Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage” Aug. 27, 2017

Post for Dec. 31, 2017  “The Things We Leave Behind” located at

https://wordpress.com/post/connierosserriddle.wordpress.com/4444

How About You?

What do you need to let go of in order to be Free to be You?

What step can you take to move forward in that process?