When I Can’t Hear

I said yes to Jesus when I was twelve, and for the next fifty years stumbled along the Christian path. The first three decades during my morning devotions I first praised God, then asked help for my needs, and closed with thanks. The last two decades, devotions absent, I groaned my way through the day: “Why won’t You answer me?”

God is omnipotent (all-able) and omniscient (all-knowing). His job is Eternal Father, strong to save, as the Navy hymn declares. Jesus reaches down and the Holy Spirit whispers, “I’m here.” I usually don’t see how He helps until after I’ve gone through it.

My job is to listen and cling to the rock with my fingertips, if necessary, as the storm lashes me over and over; to listen harder when I pray, “Lord, bless me, even when I won’t give up the one thing I must.”

I didn’t discover Barbara Brown Taylor until last month, although she wrote An Altar in the World in 2009. I’m only nine years late. But not really. The Lord meets us right on time. For me, last month. For my friend, yesterday, when she said through her tears, “Why can’t I hear Him?”

I told her what Barbara said about how faith looks sometimes. It is a “blunt refusal to stop speaking into the divine silence.” We trust even when we can’t hear, and not hearing is not an accident. This is when we walk through something necessary, a lesson to learn.

Taylor also wrote in Leaving Church: “When everything you count on for protection has failed, the Divine Presence does not fail. The hands are still there – not promising to rescue, not promising to intervene – promising only to hold you no matter how far you fall.”

And so He holds us when He’s silent. And in our groanings, we pray the same as Lucy when she whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” (C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)

Hoosier Hospitality

I don’t know what day it is. It’s been nine months since I retired, and a rhythm has developed to my weeks. Sunday morning still has me in church for an hour of fellowship; Tuesday noon I attend an Al-Anon meeting learning to detach and yet still care; and Friday noon my writers’ group meets to discuss one of our current stories. But this pesky polar vortex has descended on us again with below-zero wind chills, and I haven’t been anywhere this week. All my days have run together. The geese didn’t return on the first day of March (see Frank and Opal), and no wonder. The pond is frozen over again and it’s too cold to be outside for anyone except fur-hooded folks who like igloos.

In-between arctic plunges, I chatted with Billy, who had repaired my ninety-year-old mom’s car. I was hoping he couldn’t fix the u-joint, whatever that is, but he did (see Jerky and Pears). He used to run his own repair garage, but like many of us, has slowed down. Now he works on an occasional car in his driveway. Too bad many of my readers will never get the benefit of his expertise. By the way, my mom says she wants to drive again if spring ever comes, but that’s another story.

Billy told me about what had recently happened to him. Apparently K.S. isn’t the only one who loses $50 bills (see The Red Truck). He had stopped in at the local bar for a late afternoon pick-me-up, and then headed to the grocery store. When he reached into his pocket to pay for cigarettes and coffee, his fist came up empty.

“I knew which pocket my fifty-dollar bill was in, but it warn’t there,” he told me.

He left his items with the cashier and re-traced his steps to the tavern. “I asked the bartender if anyone had turned in a $50 bill, knowing the chance was slim to none.”

A stranger at one of the tables overheard his question and piped up, “Which table were you sitting at?”

Billy turned around to speak to him and pointed at the table.

“Which chair were you sitting in?” the man asked.

Billy walked over and pointed again.

“Which side of the chair did your fifty-dollar bill fall on?”

Billy said, “The left side. Had it in my left pant’s pocket.”

The stranger reached in his shirt pocket, pulled out a $50 bill and said, “This must be yours, then.”

That’s life in small-town America, filled with kind strangers and honest car mechanics. Hoosier hospitality is real, and still deals out fairness and generosity, both of which are in short supply in our country’s leadership. But that’s altogether another story.

Recipe – Miss Ellie’s Cornbread

Miss Ellie and I discussed this recipe as I ended my last visit. (See Two Good Women and Contentment)

“For good cornbread, the trick is to get hold of quality cornmeal,” I said.

She looked at me and smiled. “Follow me.”

We headed toward the covered porch where she pieces and sews quilts. As she reached to open the top of the freezer, I asked, “Did you find somewhere to buy in bulk?”

Miss Ellie pulled out a zip-loc bag and handed it to me. “We grind our own corn.” Oh my.

I thanked her profusely and drove straight home. Sam already had cajun red beans simmering on the stove, and made the cornbread within the hour.

Miss Ellie’s Cornbread
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. flour
3/4 t. soda
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
2 T. brown sugar (makes a crustier edge than white sugar)
Combine thoroughly. Make a well in center of mix.
Add 2 eggs. Beat slightly.
Add 1 c. sour milk (I pour 1 T. cider vinegar in cup, then fill with milk and let set a few minutes.) Beat well.

Melt 1/4 c. lard in 8” iron skillet (or melt shortening) and pour into mix. Beat well.

Pour mix back into the hot, well-greased skillet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes until well-browned and crusty around the edge.

Frank and Opal

Some men have a corny sense of humor. Sam especially. I usually just stare at him. This week I worked on the New York Times crossword puzzle and asked him, “What’s a five-letter word for ‘more dry, as in humor’? Drier can’t be right.”

“H-mmm,” he said.

As it turned out, the word was wrier. “Wry is a good word. I haven’t used that word in, well, I never use that word.”

“I used it just last week,” he said, and I began to be impressed.

“Yes, I used it when I ordered a Reuben sandwich.”

See what I mean?

The columns of fog move and twist over the pond like ballet dancers in silent, slow procession. And then the sounds of the geese break the morning’s quiet. “Sam, they’re back!”

One of the highlights of living on Flesher Pond is the return of Frank and Opal. They glide in on the first day of March more often than not. One year it was February 29. “It’s Leap Year,” I told Sam. “They don’t know it’s not March 1.”

Each spring, Opal rebuilds her nest in the same spot. Beside the pond she sits, tucking in grass and twigs that are within reach. That done, she roams around searching for anything else suitable. She also pulls out her down to stuff in and around. Miss Fussy toils for a couple of days, and then she sits. Frank stands guard, and swims and eats at leisure, but Opal just sits. Once a day, in late afternoon when the sun slants through the trees, she gets up and waddles to the pond to feed.

We named the geese after my paternal grandparents. Grandpa was gruff and scary, but Grandma Opal was just good. Our visits were always to see her and not Grandpa. As little girls, my sister and I thought Grandpa was called Opal, too. Grandma and Grandpa Opal.

Frank and Opal, the geese, take a proprietary view of Flesher Pond and consider it their personal front yard. Arguments are rare, but Sentinel Frank is loud in his disapproval when any other geese want to land. When his “calamity is coming” honking begins, Sam and I know something’s up. Frank lifts in flight to head off the interlopers, but the new arrivals are indignant and challenge him. Attacking and swooping, Frank steers them away from the nest. If several birds land, Opal gets up to join in the fracas. The honking from all sides is loud and serious, but Frank always wins. Opal resumes her brooding, undisturbed.

We don’t always get to watch the goslings grow. Some years a raccoon or fox upsets the peace and harmony, and we find broken eggshells scattered in the grass. One year Frank flew away before sundown. He does that sometimes. When Opal started honking and didn’t let up, I finally said to Sam, “Something is wrong.”

She honked all night. Each time I woke up I heard her still calling. In the morning, she flew away from seven perfect, white eggs and never came back. We missed them and their little family that spring. The next year she came to build with a new “Frank.” Forty-five degrees a few days ago and sixty yesterday should thaw the pond. In about five days we look for our goose friends to return and try again.

“The only real failure is the failure to try. And the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment. As we always must. We get up every morning, we do our best. Nothing else matters.” from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Recipe – Venison Summer Sausage

I ran into Billy recently [See Jerky and Pears and Two Good Women] and he gave me a couple of summer sausage logs. Nothing compares to home-made, including my quarts of tomato juice, a blend of half a dozen different heirloom varieties. Straight from heaven. So is Billy’s summer sausage. This recipe has been in his family as far back as he can remember.

Billy’s Venison Summer Sausage
5 lb of meat (2/3 ground venison, 1/3 ground pork)
5 tsp Morton’s Tender Quick
2 1/2 tsp garlic salt or powder
2 1/2 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp ground marjoram (or basil)
1 tsp hickory salt (or liquid smoke)

Mix together. Refrigerate 3-5 days, mixing once a day.

Roll five logs and wrap in foil, or use jerky gun and shoot into casing. Put in oven for 2 hours at 150 degrees, then 2 hours at 170 degrees, then 2 hours at 180 degrees or until the center is 170-180 degrees (need the higher temperature for the pork).

If using 5 lb. of venison, or venison and beef mixture, bake at 150 for ten hours.

Can be frozen up to six months.


Last week the polar vortex plunged us to a wind chill of 35 degrees below zero. The day before it hit, I helped Sam stack extra firewood in the house. Four days later, the temperature soared to 60 degrees in Indianapolis, the snow melted off the roof, and the living room ceiling dripped in four places. Two days later we bundled up against more frigid winds. Crazy is the new normal.

Between the storms, I went again to visit Miss Ellie and her husband who have a new kitchen in their 1850s two-story brick home. [See Two Good Women] Down the hall from the front door and through the living room, I stepped into a work of art. The old summer kitchen now had a built-on dining room with a bay window looking out over the farm. Custom-made walnut cabinets designed to their specifications graced both rooms. I did a double-take at the tall standing cupboards. At first glance, they blended in with her grandmother’s antique corner cupboards. The cabinetmaker had done a superb job. Walnut dining table and chairs completed the harmony.

Miss Ellie now makes pies, and preps for canning at an over-sized island. Light and airy, and clean as a pin, the room is delightful. She said, “For decades, I had to clear away whatever I was working on to lay the supper table each evening. It’s nice to have the extra space.”

After admiring every inch and nook and cranny, we stepped back into the old living room and chatted beside the handsome wood-burning stove. I looked at the outdated room. She must have noticed my glances, and said matter-of-factly, “The carpet has a tear and the plaster ceiling’s cracked, but we stay warm.”

From my seat, I looked back into the attractive kitchen, and then turned again toward her. I felt whiplash between the two – one part of her home new and the other worn. How could her artistic nature design rooms that belong in magazines, and still be comfortable in the old? I had a glimpse of true contentment. Her living room is long familiar, which can bring a safe feeling. She doesn’t need everything perfect to live in peace.

After the snow melted from our roof, the insurance adjustor came. We stared at the old living room ceiling – water-stained and poorly hung knotty pine tongue and groove, with unsightly cracks at every joint. As a rule, I try not to look up. A few years back, we had to replace the south wall of windows that look out into the woods. Sam and I designed them to complement the roof-line of the vaulted ceiling, and carefully selected hickory trim boards from a nearby lumber mill. We also trimmed the west windows, baseboard, and door casings. I sanded and varnished forty boards, a week-long labor of love, and then Sam finished everything in his wonderful, meticulous way. The spacious room is inviting, and the view to the woods soothing. The ceiling is not. And it may stay that way.

I hadn’t realized how much I have in common with Miss Ellie – farming and the love of the land, and I’m learning to not only “not look,” but be content with the good part. Don’t get me wrong. I like to be comfortable: warm, dry, fed. Sam calls me part cat. But maybe being a little cold/hungry/dissatisfied allows me room to grow. And when a storm hits my personal life, faith brings a stillness in the midst. The beautiful and the needy live side by side. Doesn’t one consecrate the other?

Two Good Women

I tossed another log in the stove. Out beyond the bridge, I watched two deer step across the circle drive. “Sam, the deer are headed toward the apple trees again. Oh, there’s a little one, too.” I lost the fawn behind the parked teardrop camper. And then, through the binoculars I noticed the healthy, bushy-tailed fox.

“There’s a fox, too, following the fawn.” Sam looked up from his paper. “Wait. It’s not a fox. It’s a coyote, big and brown, handsome black tail. He must have eaten well this fall. It’s going after the fawn!”

The moms disappeared into the woods. The young deer, white flag raised in alarm, bounded and zig-zagged into the brush beyond the apple trees instead of following mama into the woods. Mr. Coyote loped after. A long moment later he came out of the brush, alone, crossed the drive and headed toward the open field. Whew.

“He didn’t get the fawn,” I said. “I’ve never seen a coyote this close. I’m not going outside.”

“Aw, the coyotes won’t hurt you,” Sam said as he went back to his paper. I still wasn’t going outside.

Sister K.S. called the next day. “Miss Ellie has made do for forty years with that old summer kitchen off the back of the house. Let’s go see her new kitchen.”

Miss Ellie grew up in an 1850s red brick house built by her great-great grandfather on a rise along the Mississinewa River. White limestone lintels grace the tall windows. Inside, the floors and walls are still straight as a die. Made from native trees on the property, the original untouched walnut doors, cupboards and woodwork are superb. K.S. attended grade school and graduated with her, and still lives only a few miles away. Not many of us enjoy the cheer and comfort of a well-built piece of historical architecture or a sixty-year-old friendship.

An herbal guru, including medicinal remedies, Miss Ellie still cans and freezes fruits and vegetables, putting up enough to see them through the winter, and then some: tomato juice, apple pie filling, cherry jelly; gallons of dill pickles, dried peppers, a crock of sauerkraut; freezer slaw, sweet corn, and sugar peas. Today “organic” gardens are something of an achievement. Hers has never been anything but.

She met us at the front door, her hair pulled back into a bun. We stepped into the tall hall and down into the old living room where I noticed her gun-safe. They say she’s a better shot than her husband. As we passed through the covered porch, I saw knives and saws on a side table. She helps Billy butcher deer, hunted and otherwise.

“Did K.S. tell you about Billy makin’ ’at dere jerky?” Miss Ellie laughed as she handed me a cup of tea. Although ninety-nine percent of her speech sounds like a schoolteacher, she had slipped into the common vernacular.

“Uh, yes. I heard about that.” [See Jerky and Pears]

“Well, we had another road-kill. When a button buck got hit right next to my mailbox, I called the conservation officer and then K.S. She drove straight over, still in her pajamas, although she made time to tie a couple of scarves around her neck. [See The Red Truck] She backed up to where I stood guard. We looked at each other and hoped no one would drive by. I took the heavy end at the head and shoulders, and said ‘On the count of three, up and in.’”

Later at the local bar Billy chuckled as he told a buddy, “Both of them sixty-eight years old . They throwed that deer in the trunk.”

His buddy took another drink, thought about the girls taking care of business and said, “Well, I’d call them two good wimmen.”