Friday, August 29, 2008


Last month, we managed to slip in at the end of the Arts and Crafts Show in Gatlinburg, TN to view an incredible show of jewelry, paintings, wood carvings and other wood work, tools, quilts, rugs…My son-in-law, Brad, who had come up from New Iberia, LA and who builds beautiful furniture, surveyed all the objects of art and ended up buying a homemade broom to put on his hearth in New Iberia. I came away from the show with a large children’s book entitled HOPALONG JACK AND THE BLUE BUNNIES, written and illustrated by Jeri Landers.

The author’s illustrations of animal characters in paintings and books leaped into my sight and caused me to stop abruptly in front of her display. “Beatrix Potter reincarnated,” I said to the author. She was sitting at a table in front of the display, signing copies of the HOPALONG book. “My mentor,” she told me, knowing she had a sale after seeing the delighted expression on my face. I stood before her display, turning the pages of the large book for at least fifteen minutes, awed by the detailed drawings of bunnies pushing wheelbarrows, watering grapes, swinging, riding roosters and encountering a magnificent peacock surrounded by mockingbirds and wrens. Coons, owls, elk, bears – all types of wood folk appear in the magical illustrations that I’ve not seen in a children’s book to equal Beatrix Potter before finding this bit of serendipity. I walked away from the display, enjoyed all the exhibits, then went back to Jeri Landers table where she was beginning to pack up HOPALONG and her paintings. She gave me a look as if to say “I knew you’d be back,” and inscribed my copy of HOPALONG with an on-the-spot verse.

Landers’ mentor, Beatrix Potter, the 20th century British author/illustrator, observed animals for hours and produced 23 fascinating children’s books featuring animals she observed. She privately published 250 copies of her first book TALE OF PETER RABBIT, but her work was then picked up by Frederick Warne and Co., London, and subsequent book sales gave her enough money to have an independent income. Potter’s books featuring bunnies, squirrels, pigs, and other creatures in the animal world are still popular with children and adults throughout the world and have expanded their imaginations for over 100 years.

In addition to Jeri Landers’ Potter-like books, she specializes in painted paper cutting and European scherenschnitte which requires skill to paint detail meticulously. The end papers in HOPALONG JACK, as well as two pages of the book, were originally rendered in paper cuttings. Scherenschnitte is a German word meaning the art of paper cutting, and the process originated in China when paper was invented. Germans who settled in Pennsylvania created paper cuttings for Marriage and Birth Certificates, according to Jeri Landers. After viewing the work of some of these artists, Landers decided to use the German and Swiss style of paper cutting in her art work.

Storehouses of jellies, pumpkins, peas, cabbages, and carrots fill the pages of HOPALONG – again, they are very reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s work. In one illustration rabbits sip tea while sitting under a bower of bluebells near the 19th century restored farmhouse where Jeri Landers lives in northeast TN. The author’s own menagerie includes cats, dogs, goats, and sheep, and the woods nearby provide models for the beautiful watercolor drawings. Over 108 small blue bunnies are hidden in this fascinating book and add to the charm of a volume that received “Book of the Year for Children’s Picture Books” awarded by “Foreword” magazine. Jeri Landers’ newest book, THE JOURNEY OF BUSHKY BUSHYBOTTOM, includes a CD of Landers reading aloud, giving the characters their own voices. She also has a line of greeting cards and provides lesson plans for students to learn the art of paper cuttings. This artist’s affection for animals, unique imagination, and ability to capture details of nature in faultless perspective in her rich drawings would certainly challenge her mentor Beatrix Potter!

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Recently while sojourning at a friend’s home in FL, I kept eying the fishing pier that was only a short walk from the edge of the back gallery facing Silver Lake. The pier beckoned me to “drop a line,” but I was too busy to succumb to this idle pastime. Actually, last year, I caught 22 perch in Silver Lake while standing on the same pier and only stopped pulling in my catch because I knew I’d have to help clean all of the beautiful blue gill and sun perch I caught.

As I pondered the possibility of casting out from the end of this pier in FL, I thought about several of my favorite authors who had spent time fishing in FL, Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey being the most notable ones. Many people who have read Grey’s western novels don’t realize that he not only loved the desert terrain, he was a big game fisherman and often left his family to go deep sea fishing in FL…and to write some of his adventure stories. Although Grey’s biographers claim that he could never write a sea epic, he revered the waters that seemed to soothe the depression which plagued him most of his life. I’ve read Grey’s biographies by Stephen May and Frank Gruber (the latter’s work three times) and recently re-read a statement Grey made about his love of the sea that is quoted in Gruber’s book: “The sea, from which all life springs, has been equally, with the desert, my teacher and religion.”

Zane Grey’s books and his biographies have always fascinated and inspired me. It’s true that his later novels are formula-type narratives, examples of so-called popular adventure stories, but who could fault an author who published over 90 books, with book sales of over $40 million?! One summer, when I traveled to California to see my daughter, we boarded a boat out to Avalon, Catalina Island, to spend a few days in the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel which was once Grey’s getaway home, a pueblo-type residence at the top of a steep hill overlooking the blue-green waters of Catalina Bay. In this place, Grey relaxed and dreamed up stories while he looked out at the waters that he declared provided religion and inspiration for him.

Another summer, I traveled to Sedona, AZ and to nearby Oak Creek Canyon, the spot where Grey based his famous CALL OF THE CANYON. After discovering an old cabin that must have been the habitat of one of the characters in this western novel, I haunted all the bookstores in Sedona until I found and purchased an expensive edition of CALL OF THE CANYON…and pondered the idea of writing a western, finally deciding that anything I might write couldn’t equal the writings of this master of western narrative.

Just yesterday, I read a book about the Cumberland Plateau and came upon a reference to Grey’s SPIRIT OF THE BORDER, which focuses on the frontier of the Appalachians when pioneers were pushing westward. I was surprised that he had written about the Appalachians, the chain of mountains near my present residence. This novel first inspired Russ Manning to explore the Cumberland Plateau and, ultimately, to write THE HISTORIC CUMBERLAND PLATEAU. After reading that small tribute to Grey, I decided that Zane Grey follows me around, or perhaps I follow him around. The only place Zane Grey frequented that most of my friends refuse to accompany me is Death Valley, scene of one of his novels. However, I saw a wonderful documentary about the Valley several months ago, a film featuring a resort hotel that just might entice me to make another Zane Grey trek – during the winter, that is.

If I could write one book that connected its characters to the environment as well as this inimitable adventure writer, I’d “rest easy.” Like Grey, I appreciate and love the Grand West and his words about that region of the U.S. resonate with me: “The so-called civilization of man and his works shall perish from the earth, while the shifting sands, the red looming walls, the purple sage, and the towering monuments, the vast brooding range show no perceptible change.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Several weeks ago, during early morning services at St. Mary’s of Sewanee, we celebrated Florence Nightingale’s contribution to the vocation of nursing. Appropriately, Sister Miriam, who is an RN, as well as a member of the Community of St. Mary, read us the biography of Florence Nightingale from LESSER FEASTS AND FASTS. She also read the Florence Nightingale pledge that nurses recite when they graduate from the School of Nursing, which includes a phrase “I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.” When she read this phrase, I couldn’t resist smiling widely since Sister Miriam often flashes a mischievous look my way when she’s supposed to be in “bowed head position” as we begin services. On a more serious note, she read “The Nightingale Tribute,” which is delivered at the funeral of any RN or LPN in Kansas to honor their years of service. It includes a poem praising nurses entitled “She Was There,” a poem that recognizes the omnipresent, dedicated nurse.

The biography of Florence Nightingale Sister Miriam read was short but conveyed the clear message that Florence elevated nursing to a respected profession during her lifetime. She was born in Florence, Italy and trained at Kaiserwerth and Paris in response to God’s call to the vocation, and soon became superintendent of a hospital for invalid women in London. She then served as a volunteer during the Crimean War and introduced sanitation and hygiene methods to British hospitals of Scutari and Balclava, drastically reducing the number of deaths from infections rampant in field hospitals during the early 20th century. Following Florence Nightingale’s war-time service, she was given 50,000 pounds to establish an institute to train nurses at St. Thomas Hospital and King’s College Hospital in the UK where she brought nursing to a high level of professionalism. In addition, Florence Nightingale contributed to public health services in India and authored a much-touted manual entitled NOTES ON NURSING. An Anglican described as “mystical,” she had many spiritual conversations with the prominent church leaders of the day (early 1900’s) and gained a strong reputation as a healer throughout the world.

As Sister Miriam read the short biography, I was reminded of Miss Katherine Avery of Avery Island, LA (home of Tabasco), a public health nurse who was often called “Florence Nightingale of Bayou Country,” for her work during a major flood in Acadiana in 1927, just a few days after Charles Lindbergh landed in Paris, France. As flood waters rose, Katherine assisted refugees into boxcars which transferred the victims to higher ground and served as head of an emergency hospital set up in Cade, LA, eight miles north of New Iberia. Katherine also traveled over Iberia Parish with a physician, helping families re-establish their homes, making certain that they were using proper sanitation practices. She often sacrificed her own funds to see that indigent children received medical care and accompanied a trainload of them to New Orleans so that they could undergo tonsillectomies and appendectomies. She took crippled children, at her own expense, to be treated by an orthopedic specialist at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. I wrote a profile about this remarkable woman in my book entitled THEIR ADVENTUROUS WILL, Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women, a book now out-of-print.

Sister Miriam continues in the tradition of these Florence Nightingales and has served as a nurse for special cases of AIDS, HIV, including babies and children with AIDS/HIV, worked as a psychiatric nurse, as an OB/GYN nurse and formed the first birthing unit in Grand Junction, Colorado (for which she was named to WHO’S WHO AMONG HUMAN SERVICES PROFESSIONALS). Sister Miriam received training in the UK, not to become a nurse but to become a member of the Sisters of Charity. She also graduated from an Ignatian School of Spiritual Direction, completed four years of Education For Ministry, a four-year course called “Equipping the Saints,” and has certification from the National League of Childhood and Parenthood Educators. She completed 400 hrs. of Clinical Pastoral Education in Maryland, graduated from a Hospice training, and was in the ordination process in West Virginia before moving to Sewanee. When the Mother House of the Sisters of Charity closed in West Virginia, approximately a year ago, Sister Miriam and two other sisters transferred to the Community of St. Mary.

Sister Miriam has a crown of curly red hair and often becomes fiery and passionate about justice issues and children. She provides medical supplies and medical attention at a Port au Prince orphanage every year and is the person who inspired me and my friend Vickie to raise money for a water purification system that will be set up for the orphanage in Haiti in November. She’s also the Sister who bade me sit and hold my head down when I experienced an episode of heat exhaustion on July 4 while watching a dog and cat show. It’s refreshing to know someone who has a dual calling in care-giving, particularly one with a streak of wit and a penchant for mischief, both of which are leavening agents in the serious vocations to which she has been called.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Just after I wrote the blog about how peaceful lake country Florida is, a tropical storm kicked up and headed toward Tampa, FL, approximately two hours west of Frostproof. I awakened in the night to hear rain pinging on the skylight in the bath, then turned over and was lulled back to sleep by the pleasant pattering sound. This morning, I looked out the glass French doors that showcase Silver Lake and glimpsed a Great Blue Heron, a model in meditation, standing near the shoreline, watching the lake waters churn like whirlpools. Indoors this morning, we cooked and baked, keeping a vigilant eye on TV weather reports about Tropical Storm Fay. At noon, gusts and rainfall had been minimal in Frostproof, but today is a day of indoor pursuits.

Yesterday, we walked the lake property, searching for a pineapple plant Vickie’s mother had cultivated, but the fruit wasn’t ready. As a second best to picking and eating the pineapple, I read aloud a “pineapple episode” about a Frostproof farmer who arrived in town during the latter part of the 19th century. It seems that when the population of Frostproof had increased to 14 people, this young bachelor came to town and built a cabin near the shores of Lake Clinch. He wanted to raise pineapples and planted an acre in that fruit. However, during cultivation, a rattlesnake bit him, and he collapsed in excruciating pain. The antidote at that time was a mixture of iodine and water, taken internally. The young man went to a neighbor’s home nearby and downed this antidote, remaining there during a slow and painful recovery. As soon as he recovered from the iodine treatment and became able to travel, he left Frostproof, returning to his parents’ home in another state…and, the story goes, he never came back. Vickie’s mother who can skin fish with the best fisherman, cut up cabbage palm with an axe, and who has the endurance of an early pioneer, has no regard for the story of this young bachelor who wimped out because of a rattlesnake bite!

This story led to more tales about the practice of medicine early in the 20th century when a doctor homesteaded a few miles west of Frostproof. In those days, his house calls cost $1, and if he dispensed medicine, he charged his patient 25 cents. Most of the time, this call was put on the books and never paid. People seemed to be able to find more excuses for not paying the doctor than for any other debt – some of them never intended to pay for their treatments. Physicians practicing in the early 20th century seemed to feel more charitable toward the rural poor than physicians practicing in small towns today.

At 3 p.m., the slow rain has become a downpour, winds are gusting at 40 mph, and Silver Lake is now a gray blur. The gusts moving in oaks overhanging the lake have begun to toss strands of moss into the yard. However, three mallards are now preening on the lakeshore, enjoying the big bath. The gusts and heavy rain remind me of a former time in south Louisiana, when we waited out Hurricane Andrew after electing to stay in New Iberia, LA and weather the storm at home. One hundred and seventy-five mph winds gave me second thoughts about ever enduring a major hurricane again. This Florida “blow” is just a baby wind; however, the State gets its share of Gulf hurricanes; e.g., the Homestead, FL disaster. While on a field trip years ago, Hurricane Elena followed us all the way to St. Augustine, FL, stalled just offshore from our motel, then turned and followed us home, making landfall in Mississippi as we escaped “just in the nick.”

So much for stormy weather -- needless to say, Sunday we’ll return to Tennessee. Was I complaining about being landlocked earlier this year?

Monday, August 18, 2008


Silver Lake – smooth as glass and glistening silver like its name – viewed through a natural garden of palmettos, fern, and live oaks draped with moss – it’s a perfect Florida lake scene I have been viewing every morning for a week while visiting in Frostproof, FL, a small town in central FL. My friend Vickie’s mother lives in a stone and wood home at the edge of Silver Lake, an idyllic setting for a migration of “snowbirds.” The town of Frostproof is center of a thriving citrus industry of which Vickie’s family is a part, having been citrus growers and cattlemen for four generations. Back porch conversation buzzes while family members and guests sit in wooden rockers and swings on a long back gallery facing the lake, and I’ve “taken my leisure” there for thirty years, listening to stories about family, citrus business and town talk.

Vickie’s family business of real estate and cattle is called Central Ridge, Inc. after a geological formation, a sand ridge that peaks in the central part of the State. The company can trace its interest in citrus back to Vickie’s great grandfather Matthew Sullivan who planted the first grove in the late 1800’s. Matthew also had a cattle operation and a fishing enterprise. His fishing business included four men who would use a long seine to catch fish in Lake Arbuckle, Walk-In-the-Water, and Reedy Lake near Frostproof. Walk-In-the-Water yielded the largest catch, and according to FROSTPROOF FIRSTS by Margaret Reeves, catfish were dressed at the lake but scale fish were shipped out as soon as they were taken from the water. They were iced and packed in barrels, and shipped to the Midwest. The citrus industry also burgeoned, and when the first train arrived in Frostproof in 1912, 32,000 boxes of fruit were shipped out that year.

In the 1880’s, cowboys near Lake Clinch, who herded the cattle of G. W. Hendry when the frost dried the grass and turned it brown, found that the temperatures were six to ten degrees warmer in the sand hills, and they named the area Frostproof. A freeze occurred in 1895 that made fruit growers change the name of the town to Lakemont, but the name change caused so much dissension that in 1906 the town regained its name of Frostproof.

Many freezes have occurred and destroyed groves since that time, but the town stubbornly clings to that name given to it by the cowboys long ago. During the past 30 years, I’ve experienced two freezes while visiting Frostproof, but most of my visits are made during the warmer months when luxuriant giant hibiscus plants and bromeliads flourish, when afternoon rainstorms turn the lake to a blue-green hue and whitecaps ice the waves. I sit and watch these storms, recalling the sometimes rocky waters of the Pacific near Carmel, California.

The area between Lake Clinch on the west, Lake Reedy on the east, and Silver Lake on the south form the official parameters of Frostproof. Clinch and Silver Lakes once had white sandy beaches, but the soil around Lake Reedy is heavier, and in the 19th century, it was a tangle of oaks, hickory, and cabbage palmettos (Vickie’s mother makes a wonderful swamp cabbage dish!) on the property where Vickie’s family settled. Panthers, foxes, wild cats, coons, possums, and bear roamed the woods nearby, and edible game – deer, turkey, quail, rabbits – were part of the animal life. The lakes yielded large quantities of fish, and food abounded in the area. Hunting and fishing are still popular pastimes, and yields are plentiful.

The lake area surrounding Frostproof draws many visitors, and further up the road, Winter Haven boasts of 100 lakes, while Lake Wales and Lakeland also tout an abundance of lakes. Central Florida is a restful place with startling sunsets at the lake horizon and balmy weather in the winters, marked by the powerful scent of orange blossoms in the Spring, but summers are hot and humid…however, what climate is perfect in all aspects? Judging from all the communities lining Hwy. 27 leading to Frostproof, a large population of warmth seekers believe it is Paradise.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


One of the perks of retirement is the absence of schedule. Days unfettered by time restraints offer opportunities for retirees to explore new towns, travel to places on day trips or week-ends – small adventures that break the routine we develop to make ourselves feel more stable and anchored in this life. I think that people who remain healthy balance routine with peripatetic activity, and I’ve done much wandering since the age of 11 when my father sold all our worldly goods and set out for Diddy Wah Diddy (California) back in the 40’s.

At that time, RVs were almost unknown, and we packed camping equipment, our clothing, and a few dishes and pots in a gray utility trailer, and set out for the West. We were to be gypsies, according to my father, and we gypsied for three months before he admitted that we needed a bit more stability in our lives. All of my siblings, save one who is now deceased, have had periods of wanderlust that equaled my father’s, but we do thrive best on a stable routine. I like the small respites – day, week-end, or week adventures that show me new wonders but don’t cause me to lapse into long “I’d rather be home” trips.

If you travel often throughout the South, you’ve probably seen enough Lookout Mountain signs, and I’ve certainly read my fill, traveling up and down the road between Louisiana and Tennessee. After seeing so many of those ubiquitous signs during my stay at Sewanee, I decided to see Lookout Mountain, to find out why so many billboards touted this tourist spot.

Near Chattanooga, TN, this high plateau peaks at Lookout Mountain and is surrounded by steep bluffs that slope down to the base of the mountain. Actually, the name Chattanooga is the Creek Indian word for Lookout Mountain. The mountain became a refuge for Confederate soldiers following the Civil War, and tourists began to travel to Lookout Mountain in 1868. They’d travel to Chattanooga by train, hire a buggy, and ride four hours up the mountain to a place called Whiteside Park, now known as Point Park. The cost of traveling to the peak of Lookout Mountain and returning was $2. A second road was built, and tourism began in earnest. In 1886, an incline railway was built up the mountain, and another was constructed in 1895. After WWI, automobile travel to the mountain peak became possible.

In 1932, a man named Garnet Carter moved to the mountain and began a development on an overlook from which seven states could be seen. His wife Frieda created a trail and rock garden, and Garnet got the idea to form a tourist spot called Rock City --hence, the famous phase, “See Rock City.” During WWII, Lookout Mountain attracted more and more tourists and by the late 1980’s, the acceleration in tourists to Lookout Mountain caused Chattanooga to spiff up its downtown and to promote Lookout Mountain attractions. The Lookout Mountain/Chattanooga area is a beautiful environment, and I enjoyed the view from a place called Chanticleer Inn atop the plateau. In fact, what I got most is what I get most when I tour sites in TN: it’s called “the bluff view.” Here’s a poem I wrote following this week-end respite:

Everyone should leave home for a day,
rent a room in an inn atop a bluff,

a room enclosed in drapes spotted with roses,
mahogany bedsteads, white medallion spreads,

Outdoors, a courtyard fountain, stone birds pouring water into utter serenity,
and beside the cottage, clusters of white impatiens blooming in shade.

Here, a day away from keeping the face of my own cottage,
a quiet afternoon, windows open to light and unknown neighbors,

reading, napping, unafraid of rest, spending a day in Eden
where spirit needs only the nurture of a room in an inn

atop a bluff overlooking stretches of open countryside,
the valley below reminiscent of the calm Pacific

near Carmel on a placid day, the air of Fall languidly defining
…the elegance of freedom and leisure.

P.S. I will be on a short vacation in lake country, FL for a week.

Monday, August 11, 2008


“Eating out” is one of the joys of vacationing, and I certainly enjoyed sampling meals at different restaurants during my recent visit to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN. One damper on such enjoyment was the fact that I’m allergic to seafood, beginning in my late 40’s, and I felt pangs of regret when my traveling companions heaped boiled shrimp on their plates and “fell to eating,” deftly peeling them like any good Cajun dining at a restaurant in south Louisiana.

Before I developed allergies to shrimp, crabs, and oysters, I could be found dining on boiled crabs almost weekly when they were in season, cracking them open like a seasoned Cajun indulging in this table sport. The atmosphere in some of these seafood restaurants was relaxed, with tables covered by newspaper and hands used in place of cutlery. Children particularly liked the finger food aspect of dining in this atmosphere. In the midst of being up to our ears in crabs and crayfish, a relative sent me a copy of TIFFANY’S TABLE MANNERS. After reading it, I decided that the book would have been more useful in one of my past lives when we lived in Iran --in Cajun country, such a book was an affront to good eating.

When we stayed at a guest house in Masjed-I-Suleiman, Iran, where the dining room had been controlled by British colonialists since the early 1900’s, the three forks, two knives, tablespoon, teaspoon arrangement seemed fairly natural, but crawfish, shrimp, and crab don’t require all that overlay of silver. According to the Tiffany book you don’t have to wait for your hostess to start when you’re dining with continental groups. But, the guidebook advises, “Don’t leap at your food like an Irish wolfhound!” (Or a French poodle or an American Heinz 51 either, for that matter).

The first time we ate at the Masjed-I-Suleiman guest house, my daughters were enchanted with the courses – the soup course, the fish course, the meat and vegetable course, then dessert – it was like unwrapping a surprise package of food. But after juggling knives and forks, they concluded “Don’t they have a MacDonald’s somewhere in these hills?”

The course that particularly bothered my offspring was the vegetable-accompanying-meat course. Britishers at a church camp they had attended in Tehran told them that they weren’t supposed to eat vegetables with the right hand, which meant we had to learn to roll peas on the fork with the left hand. Try that some time. It’ll make a finger food eater out of you even before you get to the table in a Cajun restaurant. “Never keep the fork in the left hand while drinking water,” Tiffany advises. However, if you’re eating crab a la Cajun, you’d better have drinking water in one hand or the other to “correct the seasoning.”

Although Tiffany’s book was published in 1961, it still advocates the use of finger bowls. If you don’t know how to use one (and what’s wrong with the community lavatory in Cajun restaurants?) you’re supposed to dip your fingertips in the bowl – only the fingertips…and evidently no one had been peeling boiled crawfish or crab. “But don’t forget, it’s not a bath tub, you’re not supposed to sink your whole arm,” Tiffany concludes.

Some more Tiffany don’ts? Don’t eat chicken with your hands except at a picnic. With a little practice, you’re supposed to be skillful enough to dislodge sufficient food to fill you until the next meal (but why accept an invite to the dinner if you know you’re going to have to practice chicken-picking?). To conclude this treatise on table manners from Tiffany’s, this is a real no-no: “If you spill water on your partner’s dress, offer her your napkin and say you’re sorry, but don’t start mopping her. It might be misunderstood!” Well, there you are – examples of Tiffany style dining. And if I could still eat seafood, I’d take another order of crabs, sans finger bowl, please!

Friday, August 8, 2008


Back in the early 60’s, before my first daughter, Stephanie, was born, I lived in a town called Electra, Texas, a dusty, barren, former oil boom town that was about as desolate as the Texas plains themselves. As always, when I faced a stark situation, I sought books and read my loneliness away. My godmother in Virginia began to send me the works of C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill; the former, a great Christian apologist; the latter, an Anglican mystic. I became a lifetime fan of C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Underhill. Over forty years later, when I was ordained a deacon and began to preach, I quoted both of these Anglican writers in my sermons.

Recently while I was on vacation in the Smokies, I went into a book warehouse and discovered a book by Douglas Gresham entitled JACK’S LIFE: THE LIFE STORY OF C. S. LEWIS. Gresham, now living in Ireland, is the stepson of C. S. Lewis and wrote this biography to portray the everyday life of the great apologist and scholar – the way Lewis really lived it! I don’t know if I’m glad that I picked up the book or not because it really disturbed me to read that C. S. Lewis lived a pretty miserable existence with an elderly neurotic woman, a tyrant who controlled him for over 30 years. Lewis taught, studied, wrote books, and came home to a welter of household tasks and property duties. He constantly attempted to placate Mrs. Moore who demanded to be the center of Lewis’s attention and was always having accidents within the household that called him to her side. It seems that C .S. Lewis would be reading or studying in his room when he’d suddenly hear a crash and a wail from somewhere in the house. Lewis would run to the scene only to find that the old lady had dropped and broken something and wasn’t hurt, just hysterical. Lewis would calm her, return to his study, and ten minutes later, he’d be summoned to go out and shop for Mrs. Moore or to assume another household task. This scenario went on daily when Lewis was available and, as I said, persisted for 30 years.

Lewis and his family (his brother Warnie, Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen) were always short of money and moved from house to house, flat to flat, for a long time before buying the Kilns where Lewis resided until his death. Mrs. Moore suffered from illness after illness, real and imaginary, and C. S. Lewis was her slave, according to his brother Warnie. Although he was often sick, overworked, exhausted, and depressed during the years of servitude to Mrs. Moore, he endured this situation gracefully. Gradually, his life became better, especially when he joined the literary group called The Inklings, but he certainly did not lead the type of life portrayed in the movie, “Shadowland” – that of an Oxford don protected by his college environment and exempt from the burdens of everyday life that many impoverished people lead. In “Shadowland” he appears to be a scholar who escaped pain and suffering and who wrote about those subjects, as well as the subject of love, without experiencing them. His biographer, Douglas Gresham, says the movie portrayal isn’t strictly true.

The bright spot in this great apologist’s life was, of course, his marriage to Joy Gresham and the three years of happiness they enjoyed together before Joy died of cancer. “Thank God, he had some happiness,” I said when I shut the book on Lewis’s extraordinary suffering. Certainly, Lewis put his Christian duty above all, having promised his buddy Paddy Moore, who was killed in WWI, that he would always take care of his mother, Mrs. Moore, but that promise made him put aside his personal wishes, ambition, and comfort to an exaggerated degree for the sake of Mrs. Moore (who gradually went mad! I speculate that she may have been bi-polar. Her brother had died in a mental institution).

For those readers who appreciate C. S. Lewis’s theological books, as well as his books for children, especially the Narnia Chronicles, JACK’S LIFE is an eye opener regarding his daily life and suffering. C. S. Lewis did find joy and Joy, love and happiness for three years, and then three years after Joy’s death, he died, leaving behind millions of devoted readers. As Gresham wrote: “He faced the darkness that he found in this world and lit for us bright lamps to show us the path…the one place Jack loved which does not shrink is Narnia. Narnia just keeps getting better and bigger as we all go further up and further in.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Hurricane Edouard seems to have missed my home town of New Iberia, Louisiana, and word to this post in Sewanee, TN is that no tree limbs are down, and the Bayou Teche has not flooded its banks. However, I received a message from my New Iberia friend, Brenda Lowry, that the weather and the music are steaming hot in Iberia Parish this week.

Brenda Lowry and Bubba Murrell came through Sewanee this summer on their way to Nashville, TN, just after their music group, Blue Merlot, had been voted the Best Blues Group in Acadiana and Bubba had garnered a Grammy for his music in Cajun/Zydeco. Brenda, a classically-trained vocalist and rhythm guitarist, says the heat last Sunday didn’t prevent Blue Merlot from performing at the Jeanerette Museum which is currently featuring a Smithsonian exhibit on roots music – New Harmonies of American Folk Music. The caption under Blue Merlot’s picture in the “Daily Iberian”, New Iberia, Louisiana, touted the music group as being “so hot they had to call the fire trucks out!”

The Jeanerette Louisiana Museum, Le Beau Petit Musee, is located ten miles from New Iberia on the banks of the Bayou Teche and is a small sample of life in Teche country. It’s a 100-yr. old cypress home that was dedicated as a museum in 1976. The interesting facet of the museum is its display depicting the last 200 years of the sugar cane industry in Louisiana. The exhibit has been on permanent loan from ULL in Lafayette, Louisiana, and various panels have been shown at the Smithsonian. The Jeanerette Museum has its own sugar cane patch right on site and features an antique sugar mill. One room of the museum is dedicated to the swamp wildlife of the area, including a specimen of a Louisiana alligator. Another room has cypress patterns from the cypress lumber and steamboat industries.

The venue of live music and cultural exhibit at the Jeanerette Museum must have been a double delight for those who braved the intense Louisiana heat last Sunday. Brenda says she “sweated like a pig and she knows no southern girl sweats…however…it was a sizzling Sunday.” On Aug. 17, Blue Merlot will jam with all Acadiana area musicians on the museum grounds.

If you want to know more about “jazzy-bluesy south Louisiana music,” log on to my friends’ web site: to find out more about “gumbo funk…from ballads to blues and jazz.” P.S. Brenda and Bubba also do a wonderful performance called “Women at the Well,” ballads about the women in Christ’s life, and they’re always looking for an opportunity to perform this music in churches, at retreats and conferences of any type.

Wish I had been there to enjoy the sizzle!

Monday, August 4, 2008


The hot spots in Tennessee are, of course, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge (Dollywood!), and the Great Smokies National Park. However, during the tail end of a vacation with my daughter Stephanie and her husband Brad, of New Iberia, Louisiana, we veered over to Bell Buckle, TN, 50 miles southeast of Nashville. Bell Buckle is a tiny hamlet nestled in the hills of Tennessee Walking Horse country. We were on a mission to see Webb School, the famous prep school established in 1886 by schoolmaster Sauney Webb and attended by my godfather Markham Peacock in the early 1900’s. The visit to Bell Buckle enchanted all of us.

The main strip of Bell Buckle, circa 1857, is lined with antique and junk shops, arts and crafts stores, places filled with memorabilia, but the first stop was at a soda fountain in a store featuring cabinetry dating back to 1857 – in its original varnished condition – and a sight, I might add, that amazed my son-in-law Brad who specializes in furniture restoration and building. The store is owned by Nancy Phillips who told us that Bell Buckle was a former railroad town and also site of pure mineral waters that enlivened visitors to the area. Mrs. Phillips had been one of three business people who bought old buildings and restored them in 1971, setting the tone for restoration that would stop the destruction of all the old buildings. However, one building escaped restoration – perhaps the most important structure in the town at one time – the old railroad depot. This was the place where Markham had detrained from the Dixie Flyer coming from Memphis, TN. At 11 years of age, he had boarded the train after being brought by automobile from Shaw, Mississippi in deep Delta country. He attended Webb School at Bell Buckle when the school was still a cluster of primitive wooden buildings (including an outhouse) until his graduation at age 17 and he entered Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

Following the restoration of three businesses in 1971, artists began to flock to Bell Buckle and, today, over 100 artists, sculptors, furniture makers, potters, and writers display their art in the old town. If you want to know more about this charming town, consult the June, 2007 issue of “Southern Living,” which features information about the town’s most notable festival – the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival that takes place in June every year.

However, Bell Buckle’s biggest boast is Webb School, a prep school that educated more Rhodes scholars than any other private school in the U.S. during its first fifty years of operation. The headmaster, Sauney Webb, insisted on classical education for boys – four years of Latin, two of Greek, history, English literature and composition, mathematics and physics. There were no modern language courses, no social studies, and no business courses. Mathematics included algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and the physics course was far beyond modern physics studies. Sauney’s major goal for education was to build character. He was a firm disciplinarian and his methodology was so effective that Princeton adopted his honor system. The school soon came to be known as “The Little Princeton.” Sauney Webb was intolerant of sloppy work, but he also provided freedom to learn. Boys would often attend classes outdoors and read Cicero under a beech tree. When their classes were over in the afternoons, they could study, play football, and walk through the countryside for hours. They were expected to be prepared but the learning was up to them. If students didn’t study and didn’t make the grade, no remedial courses were offered – they had to leave Webb School.

At the end of the short ride around the Webb School campus where class ratios are 7 – 1, I went into the small bookstore (book room) and purchased a copy of THE SCHOOLMAKER, SAUNEY WEBB AND THE BELL BUCKLE STORY and read it in one sitting. It was a fascinating study of an educator who believed in what we call “personal best” or excellence. In the case of my godfather, Markham became a Wordsworth scholar and Head of the Dept. of English and Foreign Languages at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He never stopped lauding “old Sauney” who trained lawyers, doctors, educators, editors, and a long list of professional people. Sauney Webb was interested in training young minds… “to develop those powers of the mind which tend to distinguish rather than reduce to a contemptible dead level.” One of his pithy quotations that impressed me, and must have impressed young men who may have disliked the discipline of the Webb School but came to consider time spent at the school the crucial years of their lives: “Character is an educated will.”