Life’s Playlist…. Three Times a Lady by Kenny Rogers

We all have them, people who make a bigger impact on our lives than we can ever describe.

For me, one of those people is Jen Harner Sims.

Jen was one of my pastors when I lived in Florida, but much more than that she became a trusted friend and confidante.

From the first day I met her, I liked her.  We went through a lot over the years she served as one of the Pastors of my Church.  Lots of belly laughs, awesome hugs and more tears than either of us would want to remember.

When I was laid-off from my job she was the one who I called to vent.  The morning my mom died, she was the voice I needed to hear, she is the kind of person who provides comfort just by being there.

It was a sad day when Jen, her husband Michael and their son Luke left our Church to minister in Ocala, but they have continued to thrive there and I know their impact has nurtured that community just like it did ours.

There are many days I could use a good Jen hug, but I hold memories of her close and am thankful she walked across my life.

Today is Jen’s birthday, I hope it is filled with laughter, happiness and amazing hugs!

Happy Birthday friend!

Life’s Playlist…. Lean on Me by Bill Withers

 

Family Reunion – We’re Going to the Elk’s Lodge

Next weekend my extended family on my mother’s side will gather together for a long planned reunion.

Cousins that I haven’t seen in many years will gather from around the country.

Unfortunately due to other commitments many of us will not be able to attend, but when I think about these events, my mind is taken back to the “Elks Lodge” in Elberton, GA where we gathered many times in the past.

Today, I hope you will enjoy a remembrance of those days that I wrote back in 2009.

For my family that will gather and those of us who can’t, I love you all and send prayers and blessings your way.

We’re Going to the Elk’s Lodge

My family is big on tradition. We follow the same routine for Christmas, birthdays were always a big deal, Thanksgiving dinner has been the same since I was a child and today I cook the same meal in my own home. I love the traditions that were set forth by my parents and in many cases their parents before them.

One such tradition was the Clark Family Reunion in Elberton each summer. Elberton is about an hour from God’s Country, but it is where ma-ma and her brothers and sisters grew up. Known for its granite businesses, Elberton is a big producer of tomb stones. (Somebody has to do it!)

Ma-ma came from a big family and each year the descendants would descend on Elberton, The Elk’s Lodge to be exact and reunion.

Going into reunions I was never excited. As the youngest of the grand-children I didn’t have a lot in common with my cousins. More precisely I was closer in age to many of the second cousins, which kept me in limbo. I was too young to hang with my peers and the younger kids were too young to do much, which left me clinging to ma-ma and mama most of the day.

Reunion would begin early in the morning. These gatherings were pot luck, so mama would get up early and start putting together her contribution for the meal. With mama’s penchant for extreme cooking, she would usually prepare enough for a small army, when it comes to cooking for groups she has never understood the concept of everyone bringing something, she always wants to make sure there is enough just in case someone isn’t able to bring their share.

Daddy wasn’t much into these family reunions, but he would always go and put on a happy face. By the end of the day, daddy would be in full spirit and entertaining the masses with his stories.

By the time mama was finished preparing her dishes the four of us would load up the car and start our trek to ma-ma and gramps house, about 30 miles away. Like mama, ma-ma would over indulge in the cooking department as well. There was always homemade chocolate cake, usually fried chicken, okra, corn from the garden and peas. Ma-ma would prepare for days for the reunions, these events were what she lived for. Getting together with her brothers and sisters and showing off their families.

Sam and I would always get a lecture in the car. No fighting and be on your best behavior, we were NOT to embarrass ma-ma in front of her family.

Off we would go, gramps, daddy and me in the front seat, ma-ma, mama and Sam in the back. Dressed in our new reunion clothes, a Bonneville filled with enough food for a third world nation and two kids threatened within an inch of our lives to behave.

Elberton is about 30 minutes from ma-ma and gramps house, not a far journey, but when it is made in a car that is over packed and over stuffed by six people in dress clothes on a summer day with the sun beating through the glass it isn’t always a pleasant trip. By the time we reached Elberton, we were all ready to get out of the car and stretch our legs.

Family reunions were held at the Elk’s Lodge, a rustic old building just off the main road. Without fail, the first person we would always see standing out waiting for the family would be Uncle Chester. If gramps would have had a twin it would have been Uncle Chester, although they were only related by marriage the two men were the mirror image of each other. Tall, lanky, distinguished southern gentlemen of few words, impeccably dressed with a sly smile and twinkle in their eyes. Gramps and Uncle Chester were the kind of men people gravitated to, not to be entertained but to learn from.

After the parking lot greeting, Uncle Chester would help us unload and move into the Elk’s Lodge. The interior of the lodge was exactly what you would imagine, one big open room with a kitchen in the back, a large rock fireplace, linoleum floors and dark stained panelling.

Aunt Laura Bea would be busily working when we came in. Setting up the buffet with her load of food big enough to feed an army, she would stop the pace of activity just long enough to greet us all with a hug and kiss, always stating what fine young boys Sam and I were.

Like ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea was short in stature but big in personality. Like ma-ma, immaculately dressed and with a quick catch up story of where all her family was, what time they would arrive and who was bring what. Between ma-ma, Aunt Laura Bea and mama, the buffet was arranged and in place before anyone else could arrive to help.

Throughout the late morning and early afternoon, the other families would arrive. Our glamorous Aunt Frances and her family from South Carolina, the Virginia Clark’s and the Maxwell’s.

As the families arrived and the buffet grew to embarrassing proportions the sounds of laughter would echo through the Elk’s Lodge. Cheeks were pinched, kisses exchanged, hugs enveloped us all and the Clark Family Reunion would be in full swing.

Like other traditions passed down from generation to generation, Uncle Chester would round everyone up when it was time for the feast. Families would encircle the room, all holding hands and Uncle Chester would bless the meal.

Mealtime would find one big family, all mixed together around long tables in fold up chairs, enjoying the foods of our ancestors and recipes from the current Southern Living magazine. Laughing, joking, catching up and reminiscing about the years past and ancestors lost.

After grazing for what seemed like hours, the families would then move to the front lawn, games were played, conversations took place and pictures were taken. Instamatic cameras would be pulled from every purse in the crowd and every configuration of family was photographed. First cousins, second cousins, immediate family, family with grand parents, grandparents with children, grandparents with grandchildren…. pictures, pictures and more pictures. Creating memories that would carry us through to the next year’s reunion.

After a long day, after the last picture was taken, the lodge was cleaned and the last hug exchanged we would once again pile into the Bonneville. Stuffed bellies and empty dishes but most importantly complete, filled with shared moments, family traditions and the love of extended family.

Life’s Playlist….. The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia performed by Reba McEntire

Three days after Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida, she visited Georgia.

At about 9:45 PM on Monday night my lights went out.  I had been seeing notes from friends throughout the area notifying when theirs went out and knew it would eventually happen…. it did.

There is something about being in the total dark that is very disconcerting.  The slightest noise is magnified exponentially.  In the pitch dark it is hard to sleep, it is hard to concentrate, it is hard to think…. it is hard to breathe.

My brain went into overdrive and as hard as I tried to relax and just “get through it” I couldn’t.  Of course it didn’t help that the winds and rains from the storm were swirling all around and the giant trees that surround my house were swaying in the wind like an ugly ballet.

After a restless couple of hours of sleep, the day dawned and I could see that my house was OK, I was fine and damages around me were minimal.  Just the light appearing from within the clouds and rains that continued through the day made it easier to cope.

I opened the store, where we had electricity, and my team showed up to get our work done.  We didn’t have phone service, couldn’t run credit cards and couldn’t get on the internet except through our phones, but we made it work.

As the end of the day approached I came home with dread knowing the power had not been restored.  After a nap, surrounded by candles and the flicker of my fireplace I woke up and ran out for some dinner.

After dinner, I settled down to read a book by flashlight.

Around 9PM, the lights came back on, almost 24 hours after they went out.

I’ll admit it, I am spoiled.  I appreciate electricity, I want the internet, I want my cable TV, I would have never made it as a caveman!

I realize many others are still suffering and I don’t take their struggle lightly, I know they will appreciate a return to “normal” as much as I do!

Life’s Playlist… Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood

We have all been through a lot the last few weeks.

All we can do is have faith and let Jesus Take the Wheel…..