When Autumn Leaves…


“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”

Henry David Thoreau


When Autumn leaves begin to fall… I remember

when I was a little girl.  I loved to sit at the piano and figure out how to play songs I had heard on television or the radio.  Those who were schooled in music admonished my parents,  “Hurry and get Donna in piano lessons before she picks up bad habits and has to unlearn what she’s taught herself.  Playing by ear is good and show’s she has talent but she needs to learn how to play correctly!”

My parents heeded their advice and by the fourth grade, at a great expense and financial sacrifice to them, I began piano lessons with Mrs. Susie Pender.  I’ll never forget my first lesson.  I stood out on the sidewalk in front of her house; my heart about to beat out of my chest and my knobby knees shaking mightily.  I felt the hope of my parent’s expectations sitting heavily on my shoulders and I could still hear my father’s voice in my head, “Donna, you are going to have to take music for five years.  We have to give your talent time to grow and you’ll need lots of time to practice.  There will be NO giving up!  You can quit lessons the day after you’ve taken them for five years, but you HAVE to give it at least that long!  You owe it to yourself and your talent!  AND, I know you will have made it when you can ‘tickle the ivories’ by playing every note in ‘Autumn Leaves.’ Now that’s ….that’s a beautiful song and you’re going to learn to play it. I look forward to the day!”

I stared up at the steps, which in this small girl’s eyes looked monumental and began my ascent.  Walking across the mile-wide porch, I gathered every ounce of boldness I had and knocked on the door. I had conjured up what I thought Mrs. Pender would look like.  She would be small, petite and blonde, like Barbara Eden in “I Dream of Jeannie.”  She would have a beautiful smile and with the blink of her eyes and a nod of the head she would perform her genie magic and I would be able to play “Autumn Leaves” without having to practice a note.

Mrs. Pender opened her front door.  I looked up at her and my hopes vanished.  She was an ancient, matronly woman dressed in an old fashioned black dress with black, low heeled lace up shoes.  Her silvery-white hair was swept up into a bun on top of her head.  She didn’t look like a ‘Susie.’  Those who were named Susie were young and fun.   “Hello,” her voice crackled.  “You must be Donna!  Come in.”


I took a picture of Mrs. Pender’s house during the summer.  Now it looks totally adorable and inviting, painted a lovely pink, and I’m sure the current owners are wonderful people!    But forty-seven years ago (Did I just write that?  That’s how old people talk!) as I stood before it,  I was a very frightened little girl!  


I didn’t want to go in.  What if she really was the “mean, evil” lady in the neighborhood that invited poor little children like me into her parlor, carved out their hearts with a pen knife and buried what was left of their little bodies in the back yard, sometime after the sun went down?  I saw the whole scenario play out in my head but I swallowed my fears and timidly walked in behind her.

We walked through her darkened, cool parlor on a narrow, clear, plastic floor runner.  I guessed she didn’t want kids like me messing up her clean floor and rugs. Glancing around the room, I noticed it was furnished in old, Victorian furniture, the upholstery, faded a bit but still in good shape.  Even I could tell she rarely used the room and sat on her furniture. I guessed this would not be the room I took the lessons in.  I followed her deeper into the house.

My nerves were sweating as she led me into the next room.  Hoping to see a piano,  I was relieved when I saw its deep mahogany shine gleaming at me from under the piano lamp.  I relaxed a little when I realized if Mrs. Pender did chop me up into little pieces it would be after the piano lesson.

I took lessons for five entire years from Mrs. Susie Pender,  just like my Daddy said I would.  During that time, I was always a bit intimidated by her old house and her no-nonsense appearance and approach to music.  I did learn to play a version of “Autumn Leaves” but always stumbled through the version my Dad wanted me to learn.

I know that I didn’t practice nearly enough as a piano student and that I didn’t have that “drive” that separates the good students from the best ones.  I quit the lessons in the ninth grade after completing my five years.

Looking back, I wish I had been more musically ambitious.  Instead, I learned enough to read music, suffer through advanced piano and pick up the guitar and learn enough to get me through the very basics of that instrument. Dad, why didn’t you MAKE me practice more?  I suppose you could have beat me with a stick and threatened to cut off my fingers if I didn’t practice more,  but that would have made you the mean, evil man on the street in our neighborhood.  Plus, I couldn’t have played the piano without my fingers.   I suppose I was just too lazy to take advantage of my wonderful opportunity to be a concert pianist.

Dad, I’m sorry about “Autumn Leaves.”   Every Fall since the fourth grade,  when I see leaves swirling around, I think of you and your hopes for me. Sorry I didn’t deliver.   Yep, I still feel a little  guilty about that one!


       Dad, I figured out a way “Autumn Leaves” could still tickle the ivories!

Here’s your song!  I hope you enjoy it as much as my Dad does.   It’s still one of his favorites! Just close your eyes and pretend it’s me playing!



Celebrating New Love

I know that some of you have been wondering when I would write about Cody and Layton’s wedding.  Well, I didn’t have to.  Someone else did it for me.  

The Voice-Tribune from Louisville, Kentucky had a wonderful write up about everything;  from Cody and Layton’s courtship (a bit old-fashioned, sweet and very romantic) to their fairy-tale wedding.  I couldn’t have written it better myself!  


Layton Virginia Maxwell and William Cody Byrd

| August 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

Since Layton Maxwell was a young girl she dreamed of her fairy tale wedding at Tuckaway Farm in Prospect, Kentucky, owned by family friends Bob and Judi Quaife. Her dream came true when she met her prince charming, William Cody Byrd of Oxford, Alabama. “Cody,” as he is affectionately called by all, proposed to Layton at a park on a Blue Moon evening late last August in Nashville, Tennessee. This set the tone and motion, and Tuckaway Farm proved to be the perfect venue for an etherial, woodsy, rustic-yet-elegant wedding. On Saturday, July 26 at 6:30 p.m., these “love-Byrds”, a clever pun on their new last name, created a midsummer night’s dream.

The weather was agreeable for the evening ceremony under the grove of trees, with the looming forecast for rain providing nothing but a cooling breeze during the ceremony. Huge antique bronze urns filled with light green and white hydrangeas flanked the pastoral altar, and an oriental rug on the moss-covered ground marked the place for the bride and groom. Bridesmaids wore varying shades of flowing ecru and groomsmen were dapper in mint seersucker bow ties, white shirts and khakis.

It also takes a village to create a wedding, as this one was marked by an exceptional sense of community. Family and friends were involved at every turn, all with gracious helping hands and eager expectancy.  The groom’s sister and brother-in-law, Isaaca and Peter Groenwald, professional musicians from Nashville, performed a moving rendition of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” as the bride descended from the white country home, escorted through the trees and down the aisle by her brother, Douglas Maxwell IV.  The groom’s father, the Rev. William Byrd, officiated, and after the final presentation, the couple skipped out happily to a “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” serenade by the Beach Boys.

Later, after a delicious barbecue dinner under the large white tent, guests shared toasts and poetry readings. Suddenly, with a few loud claps of thunder the skies opened up and heralded the rain, creating some excitement, which knit the party even more intimately together. The deejay was in tune and cranked up the party music as guests gathered closer. The dance floor was filled with happy revelers with soggy hemlines who didn’t mind the torrential downpour-after all, it is a sign of blessings on a wedding!

A chic Cuban-and beach-themed alfresco lantern-lit rehearsal dinner was hosted by Lucy and John Shaver (aunt and uncle of the bride) at their home on Eastover Court the night before. The menu included everything from Sangria and Ropa Vieja (a classic Cuban shredded beef dish) to the ever-popular favorite, sweet plantains and Flan. Guests lingered, celebrating with anticipation of what the next day would hold.

Style File

Bride’s dress: Ivory silk chiffon by J. Crew
Hair Designers: Anna Greer and Sarah Boylan of Blade’s Salon
Photographers: Thad Greer and Bob Quaife
Florist: Amy Streeter of Susan’s Florist
Cake: Italian Cream Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting by Melanie Gunn
DJ: James Hedges of Sovereign City DJs


Category: Vows



I hope you enjoy the song!  Although this is Elvis’ version,  Peter and Isaaca’s cover of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”  set the sweet, romantic tone of the ceremony and there wasn’t a dry eye among us.










The Story of My Stuff

photo 4-2In terms of earthly goods, I am not a wealthy person.  As a matter of fact, I got most  of my furniture pieces as gifts many years ago or from thrift stores and Craigslist. However, over the years, they have meshed together to make my house my unique palace.  As I sit in my living room and look around, I remember the stories attached to each piece and suddenly they seem like valuable old friends.  As a founding member of the Byrd Family Memory Keepers, I know it’s my job to place them in the Family Museum where they can be looked upon as treasures to be admired and not just “some old stuff we used to have in the house.”    My story and life are entwined in these pieces of wood, glass and fabric.  To tell you the story of them, I tell the story of myself, my friends and family.

It was the summer of 1979 and Bill and I were getting married on the last Saturday of July.  Bill had just graduated from East Carolina University and had started his “real” job at Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company.  It always amazed me that he got an engineering job with a philosophy degree.  I guess that was back when a college degree was a magic “calling card” that opened doors to employment.  Anyway, he had a job in the administration side of the company and starting pay was $11,500 a year.  With that and what I made as a church secretary, we were going to be rich!  I loved Bill, but a girl also marries a man for his potential.  His potential was already taking shape!photo 3-1

We got our first apartment a few months before we married.  Bill moved in first and we immediately started trying to put furniture in it.  He’d not worked long enough to pay cash for big ticket items and I didn’t make enough to pay for them either.

Luckily,  Bill’s earning potential got us credit at Davis Furniture Store in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and suddenly we were the owners of the fanciest cream colored couches I had ever sat upon and had the pleasure of owning!  Within the same week we also went shopping at Simmons Furniture Company in downtown Tarboro and bought pretty little solid cherry end tables with Queen Anne styled, cabriole legs and carved scallop embellishments on them.  Of course, I had to have matching brass lamps to sit on top of them.  We also purchased some framed Chinese prints.  I remember that it took me quite a while to make the decision on these purchases and Donald Morris (the salesperson who waited on us and a future Mayor of Tarboro)  was very patient with me!  It’s not every day that a girl gets to choose her first new living room “suite.”    To make me even happier, my brother Scot gave us a beautiful gilded gold mirror as a wedding gift from W.S. Clark and Sons Department Store (when they were still in the furniture business.) My brother had good taste!

I couldn’t wait to have them delivered to our new apartment and when the truck pulled up in front of our door, I was like a kid at Christmas.  Finally, I was getting a home of my own.  That night, as it became dark, we turned on our new lamps and walked back and forth on the side walk in front of our apartment.  “Look,”  I said in amazement to Bill.  “The lights are glowing from the windows. It looks like a home!”  I was already a “homebody.”

It was all coming together, but we were lacking something important; our dining room table. My grandparents pitched in proudly with their offering; a little kitchen table that they got when they were first married.  That was in 1928, which by the way was our first, home telephone number: 823-1928. Some things you never forget.

It was a humble little table, painted a tan/cream color.  I decided to strip it and bring it back to its former glory.  It wasn’t the prettiest wood and my grandmother told me it was painted when they got it.    Oh, well…I knew if I put some stain on it, the “uglies” would disappear.  What the stain didn’t cover, the place mats did!photo 1-3

Now, to find some chairs!  The table wasn’t very big and we needed four, small chairs.  This is when our friends, Victor Padgett and Lee Summerlin came to our rescue. These talented, creative guys owned a furniture company called Restoration Antiques.  They sold antiques but they also made antique reproductions.  We would spend many Saturday afternoons in their shop on Main Street in Tarboro, creating our wish list.

When they learned that we had a table but no chairs, they gave us a call.  “Hey, guys,” Victor said.  “Lee and I want to offer y’all some chairs to go with your table. They are a matching group of four, oak plank bottom chairs.  You can have them for $25.00 a piece.  They are actually worth much more than that but that will be our wedding present to you guys!”photo 2-1 photo 1-2

We couldn’t believe it!  We were getting chairs to match our table!  We went and picked them up the next day.  They were the perfect size.  It was like the prince putting on Cinderella’s lost shoe.  They fit!  After we loaded them into the car we thanked them and Victor said, “If you ever want to get rid of them, don’t give them away or sell them.  Let us buy them back from you.  It’s very rare to find a matching set of plank bottom chairs.  They’re well over a hundred years old.”

We took them back home and put them around our table and tried them out.  Old and rare, huh?  We felt like we could get into this “antique” stuff.  We set the table with the new china we had received as wedding gifts,  lit some candles and went outside to see what how our apartment looked.  It was looking full and homey as it glowed in the ivory candle light.

I can’t tell you about our bedroom.  Bill wouldn’t let me see it until our wedding day.  It was my surprise and he decorated it and found the furniture for it himself.  That was when he was romantic!

I look back on our first apartment now and I enjoy my memories. In July, Bill and I will celebrate our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. We’ve lived in over thirty places within ten or so cities. Between all the years, the moves and six children, we’ve been through many living room,  dining room and bedroom suites.  After ten years, when we were moving away from New Orleans,  we gave our beautiful couches away to a ministry couple who had three children and very little else.  We still have the Chinese prints, the end tables (although now they are painted a cheery red to cover the scars,)  the beautiful gold mirror and my grandmother’s kitchen table.

We never sold the matching oak, plank bottom chairs.  They’ve received more wear and tear than any other pieces of furniture we’ve  owned and I dare not paint them.  As our family grew and the children got older,  the chairs became the “extra” chairs lining the dining room wall that the children’s friends would grab and pull up to the table when the regular dining chairs were full.  After years and years of fannies and bottoms sliding in and off of the seats, the metal snap on the back of their jean pockets wore groves into the famous planks.  I look at the deep scratches etched into the wood and I can only smile as I remember the good times we had sitting in the little chairs around a table, eating, talking about the day, settling family issues, making important decisions, writing songs and being creative. They are like winkles, showing age, wear and character.

The little oak chairs are on my back porch now, around an oak table Daddy got from a lady he worked with at Long Manufacturing Company.  Her name was Mildred and when she gave the pretty round table to Daddy,  she said it was as “old as the hills.” He later passed the table to me.  It’s even older now and it looks really nice with my scratched up chairs.  They are sitting there all alone  for now, waiting for our grandchildren and cousins to come and scratch them up some more.  At the Byrd Family Museum, wear and tear are allowed!photo 3

Here’s your song!  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it!  It was Dean Martin’s biggest hit and was number one on the charts for six weeks in 1956, the year I was conceived!  Whoops…Hope that wasn’t too much information!





I Remember How It Made Me Feel

I remember it was an Autumn day in Miami.  The humidity was low and the sky was a brilliant blue. There was almost a hint of chill in the breeze as Bill and I were driving around discovering our new city.  We thought we were the luckiest people on earth because we were living in an older resort on Collins Avenue.  The property was being renovated and Bill was selling time shares at the resort.  Our entire family was able to live in one of the condos while he worked.  We were having a working vacation and it was marvelous after having ministered in the inner city and red light districts of Orlando.

miamiocean I loved Miami more than I thought I would.  It was as if it was the capital of South America and I felt as if I was living in a foreign city.  I was on sensory overload.

The water views were eye candy to me and I couldn’t believe how many shades of blue there could be.  From our fourth floor window,  I looked out each day to the ocean and the painted canvas “The Artist” had painted for me.  My attachment to the water was almost like crack to an addict, a child to its mother or oxygen to my lungs. It completed me as I stared out at it, healing my hurts, speaking life to my spirit and telling me its secrets of the deep.

I thought the sounds of Miami were wide open loud.  You could stand on a street corner and hear three or four different languages coming from car radios.  The music was either wild and sensual or soft and sensual.  Everything was alive and pulsating, breathing and rhythmical.

The smells of Miami came in on gentle breezes and down the hallways and out the windows of Collins Avenue.  They teased you with specific scents you couldn’t quite identify and they made me hungry.  I’m sure they smelled of Cuba and Puerto Rico, Haiti, Jamaica and little Islands whose names I’d forgotten.  They smelled of food exotica born on sea breezes and salt air.  They made their way into my conversations and manifested as spices in my kitchen cabinet.  The smells were like magic and I thought that if ingested them, I would automatically think Hispanic, speak Spanish or bleed Latina.  Sensory overload is a powerful thing.  4qn2ek6-1

I loved my new city and our new friends, almost all of them Latino.  The managers of the beach club were Puerto Rican and so were some of the other salesmen.  Many of the staff were Cuban and their parents had immigrated to the United States by boat during the 1950’s or 1960’s.  More recently, some of the younger ones had come by boat.  I was fascinated with these brave people.  One man worked in maintenance but he had been a doctor in Cuba.  He came to Miami on a boat and was so glad to be in America that he didn’t mind working well below the professional status he had enjoyed in Cuba.

We also knew some illegal aliens who lived amongst us.  Bill held Hispanic church services at the resort each week and we knew that these were good people.  They had come to the US with Visas that had since expired and were doing the best they could do to make it in America by “flying under the radar.”  We decided it wasn’t up to us to judge them but to befriend them and help them spiritually.  We even helped some of them with government paperwork so that they too,  could become legal residents.

On that beautiful Fall day,  as we were returning to the resort,  we noticed that several helicopters were flying low over the water.  We soon realized that they were news “eye in the sky” helicopters from the local news channels and that there was something news worthy happening on the beach. We quickly parked our car and ran into the building.

The first thing I saw was a line of employees on their knees looking out of the windows toward the beach.  Their mouths were moving in frantic prayers of teary Spanish and when I asked a friend standing nearby to interpret, she told me that they were praying: “Lord, let their feet touch the sand.  Let them walk up to the shore.  Keep them strong and don’t let them drown.”  Tears were rolling down their faces.

We ran out to the beach to see what could cause so much agony on the faces of our friends.  What we saw and heard will always be etched in my memory.  CG25423-001 Right beyond the shoreline,  there was a tiny boat or glorified raft.  There were what appeared to be illegal Cubans on the boat but some of them had jumped into the water and seemed to be trying to reach the beach.  A US Coast Guard boat was circling the raft and trying to do everything in its power to discourage the Cubans from jumping into the water and making it to the shore.  They were spraying the people and their boat with water cannons.  The water pressure was strong and hard to fight against. Plus, there was the terribly loud wail of the Coast Guard siren and boat horn.  The low riding helicopters also made the ordeal even more frightening.

A large group of Latino Americans had gathered on the beach, almost as if they had expected the little boat to come there onto the shore.  Like in the resort lobby, some folks were on their knees praying and some were standing right by the water’s edge, like coaches cheering their team on.  “Come on, you can make it!  Just a little bit further and you’ll be on the shore!  Don’t give up!  Don’t be afraid.” To make it even more unbelievable, there were news reporters with microphones and cameramen reporting live to their local channels or getting their stories ready for the 6:00 news.  In the chaos there was fear and hope, standing next to one another like old friends, holding hands on a battlefield.

I knew what I had seen but I didn’t know what the laws were pertaining to the “mess” we had just witnessed. I went back to my condo and did some five minute research on my computer.  I found out that there was a policy in place that made that  scene on the beach a legal one.

It was called the “wet foot/dry foot” policy. President Clinton had made an agreement with Cuba’s Fidel Castro to help regulate the number of illegal immigrants coming into the United States on boats.  If the immigrants were deterred by the US Coast Guard and not allowed out of the water onto the shore, (wet foot) they had to be sent back to Cuba unless they had reason to file for political asylum.  If they made it to the shore on dry land (dry foot) they could stay in the states and proceed with becoming legal US residents.

None of the Cubans made it to shore that fateful day.  The story broke on the 6:00 news and by 11:00 that evening,  the Cuban American population in Miami was showing its displeasure and agitation at the US government. In an effort to show solidarity, hundreds of them and others in the Latino community went down to the bridge that stood beside the US Coast Guard building and lay down side by side across the expanse shutting down the bridge and blocking traffic for hours. I can only tell you how it made me feel.  The whole scene had made me heart broken and sick on the inside.  I almost had Bill take me down to the Coast Guard Station so that I could lay down next to the Latinos.  My heart was on emotional sensory overload.Oh, I knew that laws were laws and  policies were policies, but to get so close to your goal, your destination, only to be thwarted by intense water pressure wasn’t fair.  I could have sworn if you cut me I would have bled Latina that week.

P1010503 A few months later, the Elian Gonzalez story hit the news.  Remember the six year old little Cuban boy found floating off the coast of South Florida in a small inner tube? He, his momma, her boyfriend and eleven others had set off to “look for America.”  The aluminum boat they had crowded into capsized  off Florida’s coast and Elian’s mother and ten others drowned.  The INS sent him to stay with his father’s  relatives in Miami but Elian’s father wanted him to be returned to Cuba to live with him.  It was an international custody dispute but in the end, Elian’s father won.  He was sent back to Cuba.

I thought about his mother and her sacrifice to give Elian a better life in America.  It was her desire that he live in the US.  That wish had cost her everything. Yet, laws are laws and they are made so that our country can stay strong and powerful.  But the little voice in my head said over and over,  “No, laws are made to be broken.” What kind of American citizen was I becoming?

I looked out to the sea a lot during my time in Miami after what I had witnessed.  My dependance on its ever changing colors and movements kept me fascinated  but it held secrets that it no longer told me.  How many had died in its watery arms as they sought a life their mother country could not give them?  Embarrassed by the tragedies, it danced along the thin slice of sand that could give illegal aliens freedom, pretending nothing had happened.  I stretched out my thin arms as if to embrace it; to tell it that it was not its fault.  There were laws…  immigrant

Now, I know that there are children being sent from Latin America, through Mexico, to the American border.  I hear that their parents pay thousands of dollars to put their beloved children on a bus and send them to seek a better life than they can give them in their mother country.  The parents know that the chances are slim to nil that they will ever see their children again.  They know that if they make it to the American border, the welcome mat will be rolled out for them. It makes me wonder,  should the sacrifice of their parents  be honored and our nation embrace the children and absorb them into our culture.  Do the foreigners believe in America more the the Americans do?  On the other hand, is it child abuse to put your children on a bus and put their lives into the hands of others in a different culture?  Is it child abuse to put your unsuspecting child into a boat and send him to a foreign land when the chances are slim he will even make it to the shores of that land alive?  Oh, the questions adults must agonize over to consider laws!

I just remember how it made me feel when I think back to the day I saw the illegal Cubans off the shore of Miami Beach,  humiliated and broken in the water.  There was a breaking in my soul and the soul of a city that day. I feel that breaking again as I view the pictures of the illegal Latin American children laying on pallets as they sleep,  somewhere in Texas, awaiting their fate and trusting the friendly Americans.  Something inside me, I don’t know, maybe the Latino blood I acquired fifteen years ago in Miami,  as I ingested the magical Hispanic spices and listened to the rhythm of their sensual music, did something to me.  Maybe the friendships I made in Miami made me have an affinity towards these brave, happy people.  And if I could, I would  go and take my pallet to lay down with the scared, homesick children who have found themselves miles away from home and tell them that “It’s OK. Everything’s going to be alright,” even though I would have no assurance that would be true.  Then, I’d stretch my arms over them and tell them, “It’s not your fault either.  There are laws.”

Here’s your song…  

Byrdlandia Is Growing: On The Day That You Were Born

(This was lovingly written by your Birdie, Amelia.  Your parents graciously let me stay with them the week leading up to your birth.  I was a witness to your special day.)  Isaaca38weeks-5677

On the day you were born, Amelia, May 21, 2014, the sun shooed the darkness from our world  at 5:37 in the morning and along with its growing light, woke up the laying hens in the coop underneath the kitchen window.  We all heard their clucking songs and busy bodied chatter as they told the world that the wait for you was almost over.  Of course that came as no surprise to your mom and dad, Isaaca and Peter,  because your mom had been in labor all night.  

The song birds in the trees heard the hen’s racket and decided to join in the chorus.  Their song was heard loud and clear: “The night is over and today’s the day!”  Along with your mom, dad, and myself, there was a doula there, a woman named Joy and  I’m still not convinced that she wasn’t really an angel sent from heaven with short, dark curls and a smile that would calm any first time mother. Joy had been summoned and had arrived in the dead middle of night to give  both emotional and physical support for Isaaca.  She agreed with the birds as she gently put pressure on Isaaca’s lower back and finished timing a contraction.  It was time to go to the hospital.

Millie, it’s always an odd, surreal feeling when you leave your house to go to the hospital to have a baby.  I remember when I had your mother, I looked around my living room before I walked out of the front door and thought, “The next time I come into this room, I’ll have a baby in my arms.”  I walked outside to the car and on the way I stopped.  I looked around my yard at the cheerful flower pots that had recently been planted and the patio chairs placed neatly on the porch.  The next time I watered them and sat on my porch, I would have a little baby.  The paradigm shift was happening for your parents now and the world was at that moment making room for you.  It was a magical feeling that already felt weighted by your presence.

We were giddy,  yet already exhausted when we got into the car to drive to the hospital.  It was like vacation, graduation, wedding day and every birthday we had ever celebrated, rolled into one.  There would never be another day like it and in the way that time seems to move forward in slow motion in an ethereal way when your world is changing at that precise moment, I saw things I usually didn’t see.

You came into this world on a day when the pink peonies were in full bloom in the garden; their heavy, luscious blooms arched over almost to the ground as if to say, “Welcome, Your Majesty.”  Their heady scent wafted up into the humid atmosphere and the earth sighed with contentment.

The highways were dressed up in their finest: Queen Anne’s Lace tastefully displayed in shallow ditches and clumps of proud tall weeds and forest trees.  Nothing like a little royal lace to make the occasion special.  Only the best for you, little one.

The neighbor’s cottonwood tree was complying with the day’s wishes too.  It was doing that “thing it does in May” and released its little cottony puffs out onto the gentle breeze and made the entire road look like God had taken our world, turned it upside down, given us a good shake and made snow fall!  It was as if we were in the perfect world of a snow globe. Nature was showing off its magic tricks for you, my dear.

The silver-gray clouds wanted to rain for you and the sun wanted to shine for you, their silly sparring giving us the weather report that your birth day would be “partly cloudy with a chance of showers.”  Oh, the drama you were already creating!

We arrived at the hospital and I was so excited and absent minded that I bumped into the car parked in front of me!  Luckily, I caused no damage but I seemed to be adding my own drama to that day!

photo (4)Within a few hours, everyone of your aunts, uncles and close friends to your parents had filled up the waiting room on the Labor and Delivery floor at Vanderbilt Hospital. Your older cousin Lily, took off down the hospital corridor with her pink blanket trailing behind her as she gibber-jabbered to anyone who would listen:  “Where is my new cousin?”

I slipped into the birthing room with your mom and dad and room full of caretakers.  There was a mid-wife, the doula and some hospital nurses waiting to welcome you  into this world.  The room was semi-dark and there was a type of primitive music playing in the background.  It was like calming, spa music.  We spoke in whispers and watched as Isaaca’s body took over.  My heart was beating in my throat and your dad and I were crying for joy…for the wonder of it all.

She was my hero that day, your mother.  There were no medications to be taken, nothing to dull the pain.  We never heard her cry out or lose control during the process of your birth.  She was focused only on you; only on holding you in her arms.


The midwife said it was time for you to be born.  Your dad was so brave.  Peter caught you in his arms as you slid into the world at 2:19 p.m.,  all seven pounds and five ounces of you! He placed you on your mothers tummy and soon cut the umbilical cord that connected his two favorite girls.

You were so beautiful on the day you were born, Amelia Lynn Groenwald.  Covered in a downy fuzz, you were a true, Tennessee peach!  Blonde hair, blue eyes…the perfect combination of your parents.   AmeliaIsBorn-8143

One by one the family members and friends slipped in for just a peek of you and the proud parents.  What they saw was nature at its finest,  bonding at its closest and a little family that was totally wrapped up in a blanket of God’s holy love.  The magic of that one moment made those who already had children, want to go home and make more glorious babies. It made those who had not yet had children, imagine themselves settling down and having their own offspring.  It’s like when they saw you,  Millie,  and the love your parents had for you and each other…seeds were planted for your future cousins to be born.   And that, dear Millie was exactly what this Grandma wanted to see!  Grandparents do not mind collecting more grandchildren!

Eventually, we all left you and your parents at the hospital to bond together and be pampered a bit.  Many of us went out for dinner to celebrate and toast your arrival into our beautiful world.  We all compared the baby pictures of you we had taken on our smart phones and began texting them to Grandma and Boppy in Chicago and Pops in North Carolina.  They would all be arriving in town to see you over the next few days.  Already, your world was accommodating and celebrating you, Princess Millie!

On the night you were born, Millie, the sun edged its way out of the sky at 7:50 p.m.  A few lightning bugs glowed in the big oak trees and the night swallowed up the day in one big gulp.  The stars were exotic jewels and the moon was a soft, luminous pearl.  It was all for you, Millie.  “See how they shine for you?”

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Here’s a song for you:















Oh Baby, Baby!

I’ve only been in my new house for two weeks and already I must leave it.  I still have pictures to hang, furniture to paint and boxes to unpack, but these things will have to wait.  My baby girl, Isaaca Joy is having a baby.

I remember the day when I first realized that I was pregnant with her.  Bill was interviewing to be the school principal for Benny Hinn’s church in Orlando, Florida and we were staying at the Sheraton Inn in Maitland.  I felt a little queasy going down for breakfast that morning.  It was as if the elevator had jumbled up my stomach and confused my body.  I looked at the beautiful buffet spread before me and nothing looked enticing.  The coffee smelled wonderful but for some strange reason, I didn’t want any. Oh no!  Not want coffee?  That could only mean one thing!  I was pregnant.  Not wanting coffee was the same as taking a pregnancy test, for me.  It was my body’s first sign that a child was  “in the makin’.”

I sat down at the breakfast table and finally got the nerve up to tell Bill.  I sipped some water and leaned into to him as if I had a secret to share.

“I’m pregnant.”

“What?  You’re pregnant?”  He looked around the busy restaurant as if he was wondering if anyone had heard me say those two life changing two words; that if anyone heard them, it would make them true.   “How do you know?  How long have you known?”

“I just realized it.  I didn’t want coffee.  That’s a sure sign.  After four kids, I should know these things.”  A small smile worked it’s way up to my lips and I began shaking my head.   “Oh, my gosh! How in the world….  God help me!”

Bill just looked at me as my smile grew.  Anytime you pray for God’s help with a smile on your face you become God’s accomplice.    I could see his mind reasoning and processing the words we were speaking.  Life was once again changing.  We were moving to a new city and he was getting another job.  And now…another baby to add to our collection of madness.

“We’re going to the drug store after breakfast to buy a test and by this time tomorrow we’ll know for sure.  He started shaking his head too.  “We should have bought stock in the EPT Company, as many tests as you’ve taken.”

And then we laughed and I felt smug because I knew I was carrying a treasure inside of me and it was coming on the cusp of adventure.  Of a new season.  I felt like a pirate that had captured the chest of jewels,  precious gold and silver.  Our new season was also bringing forth new life.  Surely it was a sign that God’s hand was on us.

I imagined Bill and I walking around our new town, Orlando with God’s handprint stamped on our shoulders.  It was a pat on the back meaning, “You’ve done well.  I’m giving you a new assignment.”  It was the hand on the elbow, saying, “Here, let’s go this way.  Let Me steer you clear of that obstacle.”  It was a cupping of my chin.  “You can do this.  I would never give you a job that I didn’t think you were prepared for.”  It was His hand on my head, pronouncing the blessing, “I bless you my child.  Go and do the things I’ve put in your hands and mind to do”  If God’s hand was on us, we could conquer the world.  And somehow, this baby was the sign that we were in the right place, at the right time doing the exact thing we were supposed to be doing.

Isaaca Joy (her name meaning joy and laughter) was born before we finished out our first year in Orlando.  Her birth ushered in a ten year cycle for us in Florida.  Did you know that seasons or cycles, usually last for about ten years?


tiny dancer

Our time there was spent with Bill being a school principal at a rather large Christian school for three years.  We then “took it to the streets” and spent the next three years working with low income housing folks that needed unconditional love and acceptance.  The next three years were spent with the addicted homeless.  We fed them and opened our arms to them as we cultivated a “vineyard” in the middle of the red light section of Orlando.  The last year of that cycle we spent in Miami, Florida working with Hispanic Christians learning how to live as Americans.

We needed “joy and laughter” (Isaaca) to go with us as God led us by “His hand” in and out of each of these ministries.  What foresight God had to give us such an important gift as He lead us into  troubled areas of ministry.  Isaaca Joy!   “For the joy that was set before us…we endured…”

Now our Isaaca is having a baby girl.  She and Peter are about a week away from the big event and I wonder what message this child will bring from Heaven as they go into a new phase of their lives. They are pretty much sure that “Amelia Lynn” will be this wonder child’s name.  Her name will be of Latin and Old German descent, meaning industrious, striving or defender.  Does that mean that their new season will be a busy one as they “strive” to make their way in the world?  As they write music, produce songs from their studio and record music?  Will they need a defender as they go into the future?  Will they be defenders for those in need advocates in this season?


We will see as time unfolds, won’t we?  I know God’s hand will be upon Peter and Isaaca as they proceed into the unknown future.  But they won’t be afraid.  His hand will on their shoulders, showing them each turn in the road, each dip in the highway.

Meanwhile, I’m going to Nashville to wait for little “Millie” to be born.  She has quite a destiny to fulfill and  the whole world is waiting for her.


Here’s Bill and Izzy’s song… ENJOY!!





A Red Rose for Me, Please


rose arch

May is the month of roses.  Flower nurseries display them in colorful profusion on roadsides and sidewalks.  Magazine covers are graced with their heavenly beauty in every grocery store book section and brides look to their local florists to work rose magic into their bridal bouquets.  In May, botanical gardens are in their heyday with people paying money to visit their rose gardens and walk slowly through the graveled walkways, getting high off of the heady scent of heirloom rose blossoms.  Horses even run for them at the Kentucky Derby.  They are sought after, admired, planted, babied, cut and put in vases in houses around the world.  Roses are given in friendship, sympathy, thanksgiving, hope and love.  They make statements and may even contain mysterious messages to those who receive them.  May and roses.  Roses and May.  They go together like …champagne and celebrations, mommies and babies, daddies and mommies, birthday cakes and ice cream, steak and baked potatoes…

I remember my grandmother used to grow roses.  They grew in her humble garden against the fence in her back yard.  If I can recall correctly, there was a zigzag line of about a dozen roses bushes, interspersed with tomato and pepper plants.   She and Granddaddy maintained them meticulously, pruning them in the late fall, fertilizing them in the Springtime and spraying them with Sevin Dust every time they saw an enemy insect encroaching on their tender leaves.

By mid April, we could always see the buds forming on the stems, promising us a May show stopper. I always thought the song, “Though April Showers may come your way.  They bring the flowers that bloom in May,” was about my grandmother’s roses. I know, I was a sensitive kid that put songs with my reality, but I  noted every rain storm and every rain drop during April knowing, that in May, there would be beautiful roses.  April and rain.  May and roses….Red_rose

My Grandmother never let a rose stay on the stem to fade.  That would be wasting it’s beauty and fragrance.  After all, who is outside long enough to enjoy all of the rose’s phases?  No one!  She would cut them at the height of their young adulthood and bring them into the house, placing them in arrangements or giving them away to the sick, elderly or the person who was in need of  “cheering.”  I was on the receiving end of her rose generosity many times.

Actually, my grandmother was the first person who ever gave me flowers.  I remember being sick and she would bring me a little bouquet of roses wrapped at the bottom of the stems in a wet paper towel.  She would search through the cabinets and find a glass or little vase to put them in and place them by my bedside.  They smelled good and were so cheerful, I immediately felt better.

Sometimes, just because she had some roses that needed cutting, she would bring them over to our house and suddenly, we were all the better for having them.  They were beautiful statements,  gracing our table with a genteel finery that was rare for our young family.  The roses made us feel special, made the house smell heavenly and reminded us that we were apart of an elite flower lover’s society:  Grandmother Painter’s Rose Club.

The best part of the Rose Club was when Mother’s Day came around.  On Saturday afternoon, Grandmother would say, “Don’t forget.  Tomorrow’s Mother’s Day and we all have to wear our roses to church.  You wear a red rose if your mother is alive and a white rose if your mother is not living.  Don’t worry.  I’ll bring the roses and some straight pins for all of you before church.   We’ll put them on your lapels or collars.  We can’t forget the roses.”

And we didn’t.  Grandmother and Granddaddy would come a bit earlier to our house before Sunday School started.  She would have a large bouquet of red roses mixed with a few whites in a mason jar.  We  (all five of us children) would stand in line and wait for our red rose to be pinned on our dresses or suit coats.  I always thought the red rose stood for the red blood of my very much alive mother.  Grandmother and Granddaddy would always pin white roses on themselves and over the years, my mother had to switch from a red rose to a white one.  I remember when my Grandmother, Annis Sasser died, I thought to myself,  “Oh no, Momma’s going to have to wear a white rose on Mother’s Day!”  That was one of my first thoughts when I heard  the sad news of her death.

I recall going to church, my red rose prominently pinned on my chest and thinking how lucky I was to be wearing a red rose.  I would look around and see so many white roses on older people and I would think, “These people no longer have a mother. What is it like to not have a mother?”  The reds and the whites.  The living verses the dead.  Why did we have to see that  differentiation in church?  The “reds” felt sorry for the “whites.”  They “whites” really wanted to be “reds.”roses

As a child, it made me a bit sad.  I didn’t realize it was about honor.  We were just honoring our parents whether they were still with us in this world or already in heaven.  All I saw was red and white.

I love roses in May, but I can’t help but remember when we wore them to tell the world on Mother’s Day, whether or not our mom’s were alive.  I don’t practice this old tradition anymore, but every Mother’s Day, I look around for red roses, not white ones.  The whites are beautiful in their snowy beauty, but the red ones make me glad for every mother that ever lived.  I would never wear white roses.  Only red for me!  Long live Mothers, their memories and their unfailing love!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Here’s your song



The Best Present I Never Even Saw

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Last weekend, my mother turned seventy-five years old and in July my dad will be seventy-seven. For me, they were always young compared to everyone else’s parents.  After all, they were teenagers when they had me.

Ginny, my mom, was seventeen and my daddy, Harold was nineteen.  When I was young, there seemed to be a huge chasm in our ages but now that I’m older, that chasm has narrowed quite a bit.  When I look at my parents now I can’t help but see myself seventeen or eighteen years from now.  That’s not too far out in the future.  My growing older has made me more tender-hearted toward them in their golden years.  I hope people will be the same with me as I battle the problems of aging.

I look at them now, the years settling in their faces like the rings in a tree trunk, telling the age and the hardships endured throughout the years.  Yet, I see smile lines too, showing that good and bad times have created an interesting face and therefore, a rich, full life. ginny 75 four I’m so glad they didn’t erase their lines and wrinkles for to do so would be akin to bleaching the rings out of a tree trunk or ruining a beautiful, old patina on a cherished family heirloom by polishing it to make it look new and shiny.  Some things are better when aged without interruption.

I remember my momma when her brow was smooth and she moved with the grace and agility of a young athlete. It was her twenty-second birthday and it’s one of my earliest remembrances.  I was five years old, sitting with my brother, Scot on the back porch steps.  We lived in Mt. Holly, North Carolina in a wood frame, brown and tan shingled house on North Main Street.  My Aunt Ruby and Uncle Brady lived in a nice, brick home with a sun porch on one side of us and My Aunt Ethel lived in a white, framed house on the other. Aunt Ethel’s kitchen always had some kind of luscious dessert in a covered cake plate on the counter and often, Scot and I could be found sitting at her table, our mouths filled with sweet goodness.

Next to Aunt Ethel’s was Aunt Pauline’s house.  What I remember the most about her house was her big bathroom.  It had a free standing vanity with a pretty skirt around it and a dainty, little chair in front of it.  There was powder and perfume on it but no cosmetics.  Momma said Aunt Pauline’s family was Pentecostal Holiness and didn’t believe in wearing any make-up or jewelry except for wedding rings.  Even as a five year old I wondered how a place you were supposed to sit at and make yourself beautiful was wasted on just body powder. You didn’t need to sit down to put that on.

Once, when Aunt Pauline’s son, Donald,  a Pentecostal Holiness evangelist was visiting from Tennessee, his daughter, Donna and I got into my mom’s make-up.  I put rouge and lipstick all over her face and wrapped costume jewelry all around her neck.  I took her into the living room and said, “Look, everybody, isn’t Donna pretty?  I put make-up on her face.”  For some reason that made Momma mad and she went out and got a hickory stick from the back yard and chased me around the yard until she caught me and burned my legs up with that switch.  With clown like make-up and tears smeared all over my face, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why God said Baptist could wear makeup and Pentecostals couldn’t.  I would have to wait until I got to heaven to ask Him about that but I developed a hefty respect for His Pentecostal Holiness people after that episode.

Our Great Grandma, Emma Painter lived in the detached garage apartment behind Aunt Pauline’s house.  She was in her eighties and was a saint and a diabetic.  She would buy cookies for Scot and me for when we visited.  They were the flat, shiny type with raison filling in them.  “They’re not too sweet,” she’d say when her daughters complained about her buying sweets.  “Anyway, they are for Donna and Scot.”  From what we were told when we were older, Grandma Painter loved us so much that she’d walk the fields behind her house every day and pray for Scot and me to live for Jesus and to be ministers of the Gospel.  God answered her prayers and heard her loud and clear.  Scot became a minister and I married one.

As I recall, there were stepping stones that led up to our back porch steps from the driveway.  We were waiting for Daddy to come home so that we could have a birthday dinner for Momma.  Of course, Momma cooked her own celebration dinner and made her own birthday cake and we could smell it wafting out on the spring breeze, signaling it was time to eat.  I can’t remember what we had that night for dinner but it was probably country style steak and mashed potatoes because that was everyone’s favorite dinner. Of course, no one even thought of eating out at a restaurant for dinner.  The only time we did that was when it was Mother’s Day and we went to Shoney’s after church.  Daddy would let us get a Big Boy hamburger and fries and even a dessert, a hot fudge Sunday.  I remember also going to Gastonia to McDonald’s on Tuesday nights.  Hamburgers were thirteen cents apiece. As children, we thought we were rich but only our parents knew how far a Duke Power Plant salary would stretch!

Scot and I waited for Daddy.  It was time to eat and although I was only about five years old, I knew the value of a party.  There would be presents and cake and that warm feeling you would get when everyone was happy.  Children learn quickly those combined elements of a party and they take that equation around with them the rest of their lives.  That happy feeling was the measuring rod for every party I’ve been to since.  Anticipation, plus Food, plus Presents = Happiness.

Daddy pulled up in the driveway and jumped out of the car, whistling.  He opened the back door and took out a big box that was wrapped in pretty paper with a bow.  He hoisted the gift up on his shoulder and followed the stepping stones up to the porch.  “Daddy, is that Momma’s present?  It’s in such a big box!  What is it?”  We were so excited it was like we were getting the present.  “You’ll have to wait until after supper to find out.  We’ll let your momma open it then.”

I distinctly remember that Daddy winked at us then.  I don’t recollect my Dad winking all that much at us as children but he did that day. I suppose he was as excited about the party and the gift as we were.  We followed him into the house about the same time Momma was setting her own birthday table.

I love it that Moms set the standard for birthdays for the family.  If moms make a big deal about a birthday, then chances are the kids will grow up to do the same thing. Since we grew to be a rather large family (five children,) our birthdays were celebrated with our favorite meals, birthday cake and ice cream with only a few gifts.  Christmas was the big gift giving time at our house and birthdays were a distant second.  I remember the year I turned seven, Momma went shopping in Belmont to buy me a gift.  Money was tight and she came home with a set of hair barrettes for me.  She told me, “I looked for something special for you Donna but just couldn’t seem to find you anything special enough.  I know you need some hair barrettes.  Your hair is getting longer.”

Now, for me, I didn’t have to have a translator to tell me that my birthday was two weeks after Christmas and there was no money left to buy birthday presents in January. Yet, we still had a birthday party!  My favorite meal and some birthday cake!

We celebrated my Momma that night.    We ate the food she prepared and Daddy lit the candles on the cake she made for herself.  She made that cake so that we could celebrate her properly because children need to celebrate their parents.  Now at the tender age of twenty-two, my mother probably didn’t know that.  But God did and He showed her what to do.  She was just doing in her heart what felt right. Looking back on it now, I can see that she was teaching us a valuable lesson.  As an adult, I also made birthday cakes for myself year after year so the children could learn the importance of celebrating me.  I still make my own cake each year.  German Chocolate Cake, my favorite and my children will always know that about me.

It was the moment we had all been waiting for.  The candles were burning down and the wax was mingling with the sweet icing.  Momma was making a wish and her green eyes were shining in the candlelight.  She was still young enough that she put all twenty-two candles on the cake.  ginny 75 fiveWe held our breath as she blew them out in one take.  Clapping and laughing, we saw her and Daddy smile at each other, maybe her secret wish his secret too.  “Momma, can you tell us what your wish was?”  “No, because it’s a secret,” she said.  “And if I tell, it won’t come true.”

I believed her and to this day I still believe that about birthday wishes.  They are sacred and they are secret, known only to the birthday person and God.  And somehow, as you wish it, the smoke from the candles rises up to the throne of God and He catches the wish and smiles and lets it come true at the appointed time.

“Daddy, get Momma’s present!”  We couldn’t wait and were squirming with anticipation.  Daddy went over to the counter and brought it over to Momma, setting it before her proudly.  Being a kid herself, she wasted no time in ripping the paper off.  By this time we had gathered around her chair waiting for the big reveal. For a few seconds, we stared at the box making sure we were seeing correctly.   Was that a picture of plates with cups and saucers?   The gift was a set of Melamine dishes that were white with yellow and orange flowers and green leaves trailing around the edges.  Momma had a new set of unbreakable dishes!

It was her only gift and Scot and I were begging, “Let me see.  Let me see what’s in there. Can we see the dishes?”  She looked at us and laughed. “You guys have got to be patient and let me open the box first.”  Daddy took out his pocket knife and slit the tape on the sides and she lifted the card board edge of the box back and that’s when the magic appeared.  Like a genie in a bottle, magic was released into the house like a billowing smoke we couldn’t see but we could feel.  It wrapped my Momma up its warm arms and squeezed her until her heart was pushed up into her throat.  The magic made tears appear in her eyes and they ran down her face as she thanked Daddy and got up to hug us.  We felt the magic but didn’t understand what it was.  Maybe, it was that warm, happy feeling you got when someone else’s happiness reached out to grab you.  Many years later, I think I figured it out.

Since Daddy gave Momma the dishes, any gift given to perpetuate further parties or make meal times more pleasant were to be more desired than gold, diamonds or pearls.  The ability to sit down together as a family and dine on favorite foods and sweets was important to the Painter family and gifts of that sort helped lay the foundation for the gift of hospitality that graced my parents’ home.  That’s why today, I’d rather give my children kitchenware and things that make giving parties easy and guests feel more comfortable. Hospitality is their heritage!

Looking back on it now, I realize that what Daddy really gave Momma that year was the gift of hospitality.  It came in on the dishes, working its magic in my parent’s hearts and through the years, made them want to open their home and feed their guests delicious foods seasoned with love, around their dining table. The practical, pretty plates stacked in the cabinet were not just for eating but their tickets for joy and happiness.  Who wanted pretty baubles and expensive perfumes when they could have plates and happy, satisfied guests?

I wished that we could celebrate Momma’s birthday by using the pretty plates that started it all; the pretty Melamine dishes that were graced with hospitality and came into our lives riding on my daddy’s shoulder all those years ago. Over the years the plates wore out and were replaced but the hospitality that was unleashed upon us all when that box was opened will be here with us for generations to come.  I’m so glad Daddy gave Momma such a practical gift!  It is the gift that’s been feeding and entertaining so many people for over fifty years (and counting!)

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Here a song for you….enjoy!








My Bill Done Bought Me a House

“He makes his home where the living is best.” Latin proverb

I grew up with dreams of getting married, having children and buying a home. In 1979, Bill and I got married and six months later, at the age twenty-three, we bought a house in Tarboro, North Carolina. It wasn’t an extravagant house by any means. It was a small, white, wood frame, two bedroom home with one bath and a floor furnace in the hall. It cost us $23,000 and to me, it might as well had been the Taj Mahal. We did what many couples seem to do; we got a nice dog named Muffin. Every day, Bill would sing this song to her: “Oh do you know the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl, the Muffin Girl…Who lives at 1100 Chapel Street?” Our mansion. Our dream.   It was time for a baby.

John was born three years after we were married. I quit my job so that I could be a stay-at-home mom and all of a sudden, finances got pretty tight. We sold the house for $29,000 to pay off our debts and moved into a nice rental home on a pretty street with brick homes. Life was good! We then got pregnant with Natalie and moved into the house next door because we needed more space. Once again, we were renters.

When Natalie was almost two years old, we left Tarboro so that Bill could pursue Christian Education Administration at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. We put everything we owned into a U-Haul truck, said good-bye to the corporate world and went out on “Bill and Donna’s Excellent Adventure” to see where God would take us. In Virginia Beach, Bill got his education and Donna got another baby, Stacey. What was next for this family of five?

New Orleans! We lived in three different abodes, one a pretty little town home set in a garden courtyard. The courtyard had thick, jungle-like greenery and trees I had never seen before, making up a type of exotic forest. Everything about New Orleans was different. The people talked like they were from the Bronx and they had Mardi Gras! The food was fabulous and I learned to cook Cajun delicacies. But I felt as if I was in a different country! My fourth child was born there. Jeremy. I think some of the music from New Orleans seeped into his soul. We always left each city with a piece of it in our hearts.

In Atlanta, we stayed in a Christian retreat center just outside the city. We had rustic rooms that looked like kid’s camp bunk rooms. The children thought that they had died and gone to heaven. They could jump on all the beds and run and play all over the expansive property.  We were the only ones staying there for months. It was almost like a vacation.

Orlando was our home for nine years and we lived in eight different places. At first, we lived in a condo on beautiful Lake Lotus. This was my first Florida home and my best remembrance of it is looking out of my sliding glass doors on the first morning up and seeing the mist rise out over the lake as a tiny boat sat on perfectly still water.  Some snowy white birds were on the shore and I thought to myself, “I live in Florida.” I smiled to myself for weeks, thinking I was the luckiest girl on earth.

We moved our growing family and tribe to what we called the “blue house.” It had four bedrooms that were filled to the brim with life. The first morning we were there, the older children went to school and by the time they got home, I had the house entirely decorated. Pictures on the walls, my cross stitched master pieces prominently displayed for all to see. I remember that Natalie walked in after school, looked around and said, “Momma! You put up our ways on the wall.” She automatically felt like she was home.

When we got married, I began cross stitching. I decided not to read as much (I was an avid reader) but to do something during my spare time that showed the work of my hands. During my pregnant and nursing years, (eleven or twelve years) I was a cross stitch artist. I spent so much money on custom framing that I could have made a down payment on a small house! Bill was always fussing about it, but I decided that my artwork would be a legacy for my children. No matter where we lived, that art decorated our walls. The day my last child, Cody was born, I stopped doing it and began to read again.

My last two children, Isaaca and Cody were born when we lived there. They were rare, Florida natives. Our family was complete. One dream accomplished!

Later, we lived in two other nice homes on lakes, one of which I actually caught my boys playing with baby alligators at a retention pond in the neighborhood. Next, I got to live out another dream of mine by living in a log cabin. We weren’t in the mountains but in Florida! I thought it must be the only log cabin in Orlando. The neat thing about it was that Bob Ross, the artist on T.V. lived next door. He was the kindest man. He took care of wounded squirrels and birds. One time, he showed Bill and me his basement studio and his 19th century art collection.  I know you’re jealous! It was so cool!

For me, the best thing about the house was the front yard and porch. I planted beautiful fern and caladium beds flanked by multi-colored impatiens in the front yard in the deep, green shade. I loved to drive into my driveway, sit in my car and look at that loveliness and from time to time, glance over at Bob Ross’ house. It satisfied me.

Of course, I’ve written about the apartment complexes we lived and ministered in. That certainly satisfied our desire for adventure but it also taught us that no matter where you live or who you live around, you find that people are just people. I recall that our son Jeremy made friends with a Haitian boy, Marcus, in one of the complexes. They played together every day and made a fort on the corner of the property with trash they found lying around the neighborhood. It was probably nicer than some of the temporary homes in Haiti. I hated that someone tore it down one day. There were two broken-hearted little boys!

Orlando entertained us all the time. In one house near Kissimmee, every night at 7:00, you could see the fireworks from Disney, Universal Studios and Sea World. It was the Fourth of July every day! At the apartment complex in “the hood,” you could see helicopter light shows all the time. They always flew low over where we lived, seeking out car thieves, drug dealers or murderers. We were Christian adventure junkies!

Miami was interesting! We lived in a condo at a resort right on the beach. Bill sold time-share out of it by day and did Spanish speaking church services at night and on the weekends in the conference rooms. Our apartment had two bedrooms and a sun room. There were eight of us and most of the kids slept on pallets on the floor. We felt as if God had given us a year’s vacation! After that, we got to stay for several months in an apartment in a flower nursery. That was odd, but hey, the place was loaded with nature’s colors and beautiful birds lived all around us too! It was so tropical. Plus, there was a great Cuban restaurant across the street at the gas station. Did I tell you Cuban food was one of my favorites?

I loved Miami! It was blue and aqua and green and white and it smelled of all kinds of foods and it was the only place where I had ever been where you could stand on a street corner and hear car radios blasting in at least three different languages at one time. Sensory overload! It was glorious!

The next place we lived was Alabama, God’s Country! We lived there for nine years and served in a church with the loveliest, kindest people we had ever met! We lived in one house for eight years, the longest time we had ever stayed in one home. The kids really grew up in that house and over time, it became a showplace to me. I planted rose gardens and dug flower beds in red clay, as hard as cement. I added truckloads of black, rich soil to the red dirt and mixed it with my hands every year and miracle of miracles, the flowers were stellar! My pride and joy! My little bit of heaven!

I had an artistic friend, Candice, who came and painted in free-hand, lyrics on my walls. I had a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song, “Our House,” painted all around the house, over the fireplace, the piano, dining table and chair railing down the hallway. It was our mantra. It made us all happy to see it and we smiled every time we walked by the beautiful, free flowing words. That house held so many dreams in it…It was a magical house where our kids came to live there as young children and left as adults.

The children all moved to Nashville, Tennessee because music was calling and they had dreams to live out. When that happened, I had a breakdown. We were leaving Alabama too, and they were all in a new town without me. I felt as if my life had been pulled out from me. My life was a beautifully, set table and someone yanked the table cloth out from under it.

But God had plans for us. Bill and I went to Sneads Ferry, North Carolina to work, after twenty eight years of ministry life, at my cousin and her husband’s real estate company, Treasure Realty. Our lives had completely changed and in my heart I thought it was only temporary. Bill and I desperately wanted to be in Nashville. We made plans pleaded with God to let us go…open the doors…get us near our children. They were our home. We just wanted to be near them.

And somehow, it didn’t happen. Nothing worked out for us. There was not even a crack of door opening anywhere. So…

We lived in lovely places in Sneads Ferry. Twice, we lived in condos on the beach. For a little over a year we lived in a garden home and since last March, we’ve lived in my cousin’s downstairs apartment in their home on the Intra Coastal Waterway. Not too shabby! God always gives us the best places!

We’ve been here for three years now and I have to tell you, after a while, we just chose to be happy.   I can’t tell you the day I decided to do that but we thought, “At our age, we need the stability of work. Also, we are celebrated here and people love us! We have other family members near us. What’s not to like?”

Little by little, I began to see myself in Sneads Ferry. Bill and I started looking for a house, not to rent but to buy! I must announce that we found one.   We saw it on a Sunday and within a few weeks, it was our house! We are over the moon ecstatic about it! After thirty-two years, we are home owners again!

We are having the inside painted now and we will move in a few weeks. I can sit on the front porch and actually hear the ocean roaring from a half mile away. When we lived in Alabama, we lived right off of Interstate 20 and at night I would lie in bed and hear the big trucks rolling down the highway traveling to and from Atlanta and Birmingham. They sounded like the ocean’s roar to me and I would pretend I was at the beach, going to sleep under the oceans hypnotic spell.

I don’t have to pretend anymore! It is the ocean and I have a big front porch! Come and sit with me and let’s visit!

My brother-in-law, Keith used to always tease me and ask, “When are you guys going to stop renting houses and buy one?” I’d always answer back, “Don’t you worry about it. My Bill is going to buy me a house one day.” It became a family joke and as some of my Southern friends would say, “Donna’s Bill done bought her a house!” I just may have to have Candice come up and paint some free-spirited words on my wall or just put the old ones back because: “Our house, is very, very, very fine house.”

photo (1) photo (2) photo (3)


Oh, and by the way…Nashville is never out of the picture! One day, Nashville. Me and You…Just you wait and see!



Here’s a couple songs….enjoy!





Confessions of a Scared White Woman


 All we knew to take with us into this hell-hole of an apartment complex was love.  I hoped it was enough.  

I always thought that by this time in my life, I’d be like Ruth Bell Graham, sitting in my mountain home at my breakfast nook, looking out over the hills that I loved as I drank a cup of tea and wrote inspirational notes to those who needed a sweet word of encouragement.  Instead, I’m standing in my downstairs apartment on the intracoastal waterway looking at a winter’s thunderstorm come in from the southwest, bringing its watery grey sheets of rain across the narrow pier, scattering the shells left earlier by hungry gulls.  I always wondered how the shells piled up and then mysteriously disappeared overnight.

I have no sweet notes to write to anyone today, (or most days, for that matter.)  These days I remember a lot from ministry experiences and the years we raised our children.   I’m thinking that these stories are part of their heritage, to be told to our grandchildren and shared by our friends.  I’d like to think that if I write them down, they can encourage or entertain, at the least.  Here’s one from 1995.

“We came from Bethlehem, Georgia bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle.”
― Barbara KingsolverThe Poisonwood Bible 

We’d been asked to come and minister at an apartment complex in Orlando, Florida:  George Town Apartments.  It was in the Pine Hill’s area and was nicked named, “Crime Hills.”  We couldn’t wait to get started.  So ready to make a difference in the world, we were fearless and had no idea what to expect.  Ever read “The Poison Wood Bible?”

We decided to have our first meeting on a Wednesday night.  Rita, the apartment manager, had taken a two bedroom apartment and turned it into a clubhouse.  Chairs were set out in the living room and Bill’s keyboard was in the corner.  With great music combined with a message designed to touch the heart of  this troubled mini-world we had found ourselves suddenly assigned to, plus light refreshments,  we were ready to take up our challenge.   Let the good times begin and let our light so shine before men!

About thirty minutes before the meeting began,  those of  us who came early decided to go and knock on some of the resident’s doors to ask them to come.  I didn’t go.  The children were all with me at the clubhouse.  Bill put on his best preacher’s smile and went to the first apartment door, knocking loudly.  A lady with a checker-board smile greeted him and asked him into her house.  He stood at the door, introducing himself and telling her about the new services that would begin that night.  He wondered if she would like to come and try them out.

Very graciously, she declined, saying, “Well, You see….My sista’s just got stabbed!  I don’t think I can make it this week!  The amb’lance is here and they’re gettin’ her ready to take her to the hospital.”  And sure enough, two EMC’s passed by Bill, carrying a lady out on a stretcher.  The ambulance was out in the parking lot.

Apologizing, Bill backed out of their way.  He was so freaked out he didn’t offer to pray for her or offer any words of comfort to the sister.  “I understand…maybe next time,” he muttered, and  moved on a little more cautiously to the next apartment to see if anyone was home.

Meanwhile, back at the clubhouse, some of the residents had started to trickle into the room.  There was a man there who seemed to be nervous and sweating profusely…either he had not had his medications that day or he had taken them all and then some!  There were a few dear old “mommas,”  who had for a few years been afraid to come out of their apartments .  They entered the room with  wide eyed curiosity, wondering if their prayers for thetumblr_lwbl09AKsK1qf84ybo1_1280 neighborhood were finally being answered.  A church, right down the sidewalk from their doorway!  A few young momma’s were sitting happily in the seats, seemingly unaware that their children were running around the room, glad to play  in a new environment.  Of course, we didn’t mind babysitting.  We took care of the children and promised them snacks for later if they behaved themselves during the meeting.  The mothers were just relieved to have someone other than themselves show some interest in their rambunctious children.

I can’t seem to recall the others who came.  I believe there was a gay man named, Richard.  It was explained to me that he had at one time been a big time night club owner (of the drag queen singing and dancing variety)  and had experienced a radical conversion over to Christianity.  He had even been interviewed on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.  I didn’t ask questions but it seemed that he felt he had taken a fall from Grace, again, and didn’t feel worthy of God’s love.  He was mentally disabled, beaten down  and lived quietly at George Town Apartments.  He only wanted to “feel” Jesus like he used to.  I wanted that for him too!  It seemed so important for him.  He would talk and cry, remembering when he used to “be” someone.  If nothing else, he was loved by us.  Sometimes he would cook for us, Cajun food and luscious cakes…He later moved to South Carolina near the beach and lived in a trailer.  It’s funny the particular things one can remember.

The room was almost filled up and Bill was back in time to start our meeting.  Allen and Betsy Quain, our partners in ministry were there with their four children.  Between us, we had ten children!  That was enough alone to start a church!  Oh, wait a minute….We had already done that!

Bill started to play the keyboard.  We had set up a sound system loud enough to blow the roof off the building!  Rita wanted us to open the doors and set the speakers outside so that the residents could hear the music and the gospel as it was preached.

I  have to admit…Bill, Allen, Betsy and I could sing!  We sang as if we were singing  before thousands of people in a stadium that night!  People started opening the doors to their apartments, letting the music seep into their hearts and souls.  Black folk, white folk, people from the Islands….it didn’t matter.  A peace seemed to descend down from heaven over our city block.  The Kingdom of God was near and the people could touch it.

A few policemen came in as we started our meeting.  One stood by the front door and the other by the open sliding glass door.  I thought it was sweet and later mentioned it to Bill, “Can you believe that even the police came into the meeting?”  You could imagine my surprise when Bill answered back, “Oh, Donna…Rita told me she asked them to come.  She wanted them watching both doors because the word was out that we were there and we were messing up drug deals that were going down…Even messing up some prostitution rings… The prostitutes couldn’t come out on the sidewalk…You know…They were there to protect us from getting shot.”

You know, right then would have been a good time for me to put my foot down; to say,  as a mother, “Bill, we can’t take our family into this hell hole!  It’s dangerous!  Someone could get hurt.”  But I didn’t.  Because I knew deep down inside of my spirit, there was a calmness that couldn’t be explained.  I had felt God’s spirit of peace descend upon us as we sang, as we held those beautiful children in our arms as their mommas worshipped God.  As we did the only thing we knew to do: love them.  Love was already in the air.  It had come in on the gentle breeze, through the windows and doors, on the music notes in the quiet summer night.  It had entered my heart, causing me to want to serve these lovely, lonely,  people.  The adventure was calling me….I couldn’t help but say, “I’m glad the police were there, then.  I may be afraid but I can’t wait until next week.”

I had fun choosing this song to go with this post.  I’m sure the writers intended it to be for two people in love.  I’d like to think this one was meant for me and the people of George Town Apartments.  It always helps to fall in love with the group of people God calls you to serve!



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