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Several of our farm volunteers have asked if we will be working today, Memorial Day. The answer is a definite yes – if the weather cooperates. It didn’t. I woke to sounds of raindrops hitting the air conditioner. The farm doesn’t grant many days off or holidays this time of year. There’s too much to do. Add to the mix COVID-19 and social distancing and typical holiday get-togethers are out of the question. However, I will take a moment, rain or no rain, to stop by the cemetery today to honor my father, grandfather, and two uncles who served in the military during a time of two world wars.

My Grandfather fled an abusive homelife at the age of fourteen, lied about his age, and became a “Doughboy” at the tender age of fifteen. He soon found himself on the front lines of World War One. His experiences there left him skeptical of a government that asked him to risk his life in combat and promptly forget about him when he came home. That’s probably why he was a life-long Democrat and ardent Republican hater.

He became a contractor and later owned a nursery and landscaping business. I found one of his old business cards from the fifties. He had spared no expense on the color, double-sided card. The back of his business card said:

LANDSCAPING—GRASS SODDING—I NEED A JOB

Eisenhower is my shepherd. I am dire in want. He maketh me to lie down on park benches. He leadeth me beside still factories. He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party. He guideth me in the paths of unemployment for his party’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the alley of soup kitchens, I am still hungry and do feel evil, for he is against me. His Cabinet and his senate discomfort me. Thou didst prepare a reduction in my wages, in the presence of my creditors. Thou anointest my income with taxes; my expense runneth over. Surely hard times and poverty shall follow me all the days of the Republican Administration, and I will dwell in a rented house forever.

Loan Me a Dime – eh. “Me” no wineo, Thanks.

Shepp’s Nursery

I have a feeling that he contributed to my leftist leanings…

I remember sitting in his old work truck as a kid, listening to his stories, and watching him chew his White Owl cigar to a nub (and wondering why he never spit…). He’d survived a gas attack during the war and couldn’t smoke. It was lip cancer, not lung cancer, that took him in 1972. Dad told me many years later that we sat in his old work truck because he didn’t want to be in the house with that crazy old woman (my mother’s mother), but that’s another story…

My Dad was the youngest of three boys. He didn’t get drafted until the war was over and served in the Army Air Corp stateside. However, his brothers were not as fortunate. Uncle Don served in the Army Air Corp as well – a Bomber Ordinance Unit in the South Pacific – while Uncle Bynam, the middle brother was in the Army in Europe. Uncle Don came home. Uncle Bynam did not. He and his entire squad were killed at Anzio, Italy in 1944. The invasion at Anzio, called Operation Shingle, was one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war. Risk-taking is always easy for officers in the rear…

I did not serve. By the time I was of draft age, Selective Service registration was suspended. Everyone wanted to forget the Vietnam debacle that had cost over 58,000 American lives. They also wanted to forget the veterans who came home with wounds that couldn’t be seen. I know. As a college intern in a congressional Veteran Service office I heard stories from forgotten, broken young servicemen and tried to help them navigate a Veterans Affairs system that could care less. Don’t get me started…

My father and uncles are part of what has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation”, and rightly so. They lived through the Great Depression and the horror of World War Two. They saw the burst of economic growth that followed the war. They handed my generation a better life (at least for some of us) than they had lived. Their war seemed to make some sense. It’s no wonder we romanticize them as the “greatest”.

The rain looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. I’ll grab my jacket and head over to the family cemetery plot. My Grandmother Joel purchased the plot on her meager seamstress’ salary when Uncle Bynam’s remains were returned from Italy in 1947. It took over fifty years, but Grandmother and her boys are all together again. It was just my Grandmother and her three boys from the time my Dad was ten. They were extremely close knit family.

I’ll stand quietly for a moment looking at each of the gravestones. Uncle Bynam and Uncle Don both have military markers. My mother opted to have matching markers for her and my dad. She joined him a couple of years ago.

One of the things that always gets me is the dates on Uncle Bynam’s gravestone. He was born at the end of “the war to end all wars” and died in the next one. How many more lives are gone in the hundreds of conflicts since then? I pray for the day when young men no longer die for old men’s folly and self-interests; when no one serves in the military because it’s no longer needed. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.

I probably won’t stay to chat like I usually do – the rain is falling harder – but I will take a moment to remember their service and sacrifice. I hope that each of you do the same. It sounds oxymoronic to say “Happy” Memorial Day, but it’s pure joy to honor the ones we ones we do today.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone…

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Lessons Learned?

Good morning my friends. It’s been a hectic week at Opal’s Farm. We’ve planted, harvested, and been to Cowtown Farmers Market. A special thanks goes out to all our loyal customers who braved Saturday’s rain to shop at Cowtown. Every dollar you spend with Opal’s Farm turns into another person with access to fresh, healthy produce.

Side Note…

NBC5 News was out Saturday to do a story on the new SNAP Program, Double Bucks, the Blue Zones Project rolled out here in Fort Worth. Now SNAP shoppers can double their SNAP benefits on every purchase of fresh, nutritious produce. Thank you, Blue Zones Project Fort Worth, for all you do for our community.

Meanwhile…

While everyone else might’ve seen a gloomy, rainy day Saturday, I saw liquid gold and a weekend off! I even slept in this morning and didn’t get up until 6:45. I spent most of yesterday afternoon with Margaret and honestly, didn’t do much of anything. Sabbath rest is such a blessing. Maybe I’ll reach the point I don’t have to be forced to rest by the weather…

I sat on the porch this morning drinking coffee and basking in the sunlight that filled our quiet little cul-de-sac here. Our neighborhood woodpecker was hard at work on the Arizona Ash above me. The Blue Jays were unafraid of my presence and brazenly fed on the cat food nearby. I don’t mind. Our cat Wallace will be telling me the bowl is empty soon enough.

Sunday mornings are always peaceful on the porch, but even more so since this whole coronavirus mess started. Churches are still closed despite the governor’s gradual reopening guidelines, opting for continued online services. Margaret and I will still limit outside contact – grocery stores, restaurants retail outlets, and such. We are in the high-risk category due to our age and compromised immune systems. I still go to work at the farm, but social distancing is easy on an acre-and-a-half. Market is outside and people are respectful of distancing for the most part. Masks and hand sanitizer are norms for the vendors.

The coronavirus has changed life here in Fort Worth (and everywhere) in so many ways I can’t even begin to list them. COVID-19 is no joke. Most folks have sense enough to take it seriously, but isolation and economic pain is growing more frustrating and some have begun to let their guard down. Some, like the Dallas salon owner who put on such a show for reopening despite stay-at-home orders (another story for another time), have openly rebelled for their “right” to carry on like normal because it infringes on their freedom. Unfortunately, they present a clear and present danger to the rest of us who think personal and community safety is best. I shan’t linger on the subject, so it doesn’t turn into a rant. Most of you will appreciate that.

Anyway…

Life may be all turned upside down these days but there has been, and may be, some good things that come out of the pandemic. For one, isolation has raised social consciousness somewhat. Hopefully, we’ve come to value social contact more than before; that we’re somewhat more aware of the value of our relationships. I know it has for me. Contact with friends and family over Facetime and Zoom just isn’t the same and quite frankly, virtual hugs suck!

I’ve seen our volunteers at Opal’s Farm and the families sharing time together on the bordering Trinity Trails valuing their time together more than ever. I’ve seen more people on Trinity Trails in the past two months than I’ve seen in the last two years. It used to be it was solitary runners, dog walkers, or bikers. Now it’s family groups and friends out there regularly (maintaining social distance where appropriate).

The number of shoppers at Cowtown Farmers Market has gone up as well. Some of our vendors are still between growing seasons so they haven’t started Saturday markets. Although the market’s not full of vendors, it’s growing in customers. I have a glimmer of hope that folks will realize that buying local benefits all of us in the community. Not only are people able to purchase fresh food – not something that spent days or weeks in a railcar or a ship’s hold – their dollar stays here making a difference for all of us. Not only is local produce more nutritious – fresh food tastes better…

There’s a multitude of good things that can come out of this crisis and I’m not going into them all. However, I hope the biggest takeaway is our perception and treatment of “essential” workers. Maybe our definition of ‘hero’ will include not only our brave healthcare workers and first responders, but delivery drivers, grocery workers, packing plant workers, and service workers as well – people traditionally overlooked by most of us and people who, more often than not, are overlooked by our economy. I pray that maybe, just maybe, we’ll begin to see how valuable these folks are to each of us and treat them with greater respect and value.

One Final Word

Stay safe, use common sense, and be respectful of others. If you get bored, we’d love to have you come out and join us for a day at Opal’s Farm. We love you all and appreciate your support!

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Hi Mom

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone! I hope your day is filled with love, laughter, and joy. Treasure your mom. Take time on this special day to honor her. Moms are such gifts.

My mom passed away a couple of years ago. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I’m sure she sees to that. She always loved butterflies. There’s always butterflies at the farm. I usually say ‘hi Mom” every time one passes by. There are days when the work is more difficult than others; days when I’m just a bit more tired, more achy than usual. Those are the days when the butterflies spend the most time with me.

I know. It sounds a bit silly. There are always butterflies around. It’s a farm, right? Maybe I’m a bit foolish to make Mom assumptions about butterflies. Then again, maybe not…

Spring is an incredibly busy time at the farm. The days may be growing longer but the time seems to be much shorter. There’s so much to do!

The other day, I was tilling a new section of the farm. The sun felt more like a summer day than a mid-Spring one. Temperatures in the 90s usually hold off until later in the month. I was hot, tired, and feeling more than a of bit of inadequacy and frustration. My “To Do’ list kept growing and the time felt shorter and shorter.

About that time, a beautiful tan and yellow butterfly (I’m not expert on identifying species) lit on my shoulder. I stopped for a moment and admired the creature, fully expecting it to take flight once I resumed tilling. I increased the engine speed and took off down the row. The butterfly stayed. I came back on the next row. The butterfly stayed. In fact, it stayed for five more rows before taking flight to wherever butterflies go.

If you haven’t farmed or used a large rototiller tractor before then the idea of a butterfly remaining in place may not seem like such a big deal. The tractor is loud and heavy to turn around as one bed is completed and the next one begun. Add to that the sweat and the constant body movement and it becomes a bit clearer that normally this would be the last place for a butterfly to lite.

It dawned on me that Mom was “paying me a visit”. She stayed there on my shoulder to remind me that she always had (and has) my back. She stayed there to let me know I was doing good work, to see it through, and do what I can today. The ‘to-do list” will get done. It’s okay. After all, those are lessons she preached all the time. It just took me a while to figure out how valuable those lessons were and just how much I was loved…

I don’t ‘know’ if it was mom that day. What I can tell you, is it’s not the first time a butterfly has chosen my shoulder as a resting spot. There may be a myriad of scientific reasons why a butterfly chose to use my shoulder for a resting place. It may be normal butterfly behavior, but I chose to believe it’s one more reminder that Mom is never far away and is always looking out for me…

I’ll go to the cemetery later today. I picked a nice assortment of flowers to leave by her headstone. It’s a small way of saying how much I love, honor, and treasure Mom. I pray we all do the same…

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Chevrolet Heaven

Thoughts From the Porch: Sometimes I wonder if my memories of childhood are mine or they were my father’s. His recall of the past was beyond my understanding. Heck, I find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast a couple of hours ago, but Dad – he remembered everything. On more than one occasion I’d wish his recall didn’t work so well. Embarrassment is one emotion I’d rather not deal with.

I sat on the porch this morning, drinking my coffee, watching the rain fall, and letting my mind wander across my memory landscape. It always seems cloudy the farther back I walk. The mental pictures become blurred and I don’t know if the memory is real or a story my father told me. They must be real. Dad would never had lied to me about anything. Still, everything in my experience seems just out of reach.

The one thing I’m sure is real is the green pickup truck my father had. The picture is crystal clear. It was a ’52 Chevrolet Apache, hunter green with high sideboards my father had made and put on. He had a second job delivering a Sunday paper called “The Shopper” and the sideboards were to hold all the newspapers. The papers would come off the press around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday. He’d fill the truck bed with papers and two assistants and off they go to throw the paper on their assigned route.

I was almost always asleep when Dad went to work so I don’t recall his absence, I remember the truck. I loved that truck. It always seemed to me that the truck didn’t belong in the city. It belonged on a farm – a big farm with wide, open meadows, horses, cows, and chickens – the kind my uncles and cousins had.

Suddenly remembering that truck this morning seemed so random, but little in life is random. Experience has shown that there’s usually some pattern, some order to life that can only be understood in hindsight. To quote Soren Kirkegaard, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards.”

I miss Dad. He passed away in 2002. Eighteen years later I find myself thinking of him regularly. It’s happy thoughts most days – he was quite special – but sometimes it’s a deep sadness that he’s no longer here. Today is one of those days.

When Dad passed, my life was total chaos – in and out of jail, unemployment, and degradation. It was a downhill slide for the next three years, until I hit bottom. I hurt my father in so many ways. He only wanted the very best for me and it was gut-wrenching to watch his son self-destruct. I know. I hurt when my kids hurt. Call it co-dependent if you’d like. I call it parenting…

Life changed for me on December 1st, 2005, and with it came the sadness that Dad wasn’t here to see it. He, above all people, deserved to see the change. I would give anything to hear his embarrassing and oft repeated stories one more time. I’d give anything to have him enjoy the peace that life offers today.

Thinking about that truck doesn’t seem so random anymore. It was always meant to be on a farm. Today I know Dad and I would be driving down to Opal’s Farm, working side by side, and telling stories. We’d laugh together and maybe he’d sing one of his silly songs. The dogs would be piled in the back. It’d be a gorgeous Spring morning. Life would be how it was meant to be.

It’s funny that old green Chevrolet shows a glimpse of the promised “new heaven and a new earth”. Sadness has turned to joy today thinking about that truck and Dad. I’m pretty sure he’s got her gassed up and ready. We’ll hop in and take for a spin around the farm. Life how it’s meant to be…

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A Day of Honor…

“When people talk about celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, I always say you don’t honor prophets by celebrating them. You honor prophets by going to the place where they fell, reaching down in their blood, and picking up the baton to carry it the next mile of the way.” – Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II

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“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Everybody can be great…You only need a heart full of grace.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.