Monday, July 27, 2009

The Mortimer Jordan High School Dixie Devilettes

Look at them! Aren’t they somethin'?

Those are the 1977 Mortimer Jordan High School Dixie Devilettes.

They kicked.

Let me clarify--
they kicked HIGH...
toes reaching well above their Friday-night-football-game hair ... WHILE wearing pom-pommed cowgirl boots.

My daddy usually just called them "those purty high steppers."

I wanted to be them.

There was just one small problem. Or, I guess I should say, one large problem....

I was too fat to be a Devilette.

I tried....When I realized Devilette tryouts were a few weeks down the road, I quit eating the biscuits and gravy and bacon and eggs mama lovingly set before me every morning. I started doing sit-ups and jumping-jacks. I even practiced my kicks when I thought I was the only one at home....My evil little brother would have never let me hear the end of it if he had ever caught me.

(By the way…chubby-wanna-be-kickers be warned--if you have to sprinkle baby powder on your thighs just to keep them from chafing while standing…then trying to maneuver said thighs to kick one’s pointed toes above one’s head is probably not the brightest idea.)

My wanna-be-a-Devilette determination and discipline lasted about…three days…until I got hungry for mama’s biscuits and gravy and tired of that awful stitch in my side during jumping-jacks.

But, while my ambition faded, my obsessive admiration never dimmed.

I remember sitting in my cousins’ bedroom—frequent Devilette hangout—watching them become Devilettes. Before the days of Sudden Tan, Patty and Lisa and Denise would rub a concoction of brown liquid shoe polish and baby lotion on their fiendishly-skinny legs, instantly transforming them into bronzed, lubed kicking machines. One of the Devilettes in my life even used a baby-oil-and-Mercurochrome mixture to achieve instant tan--for the life of me, I can't remember who it was. (I would tell you what happened when I attempted to practice kicking after using that oily concoction. But, I don’t remember much about it—I think it was the closest I’ve ever come to a major head injury.)

Once my cousins' shoe-polished tans dried, they would don their practice uniforms, which basically consisted of an elasticized “diaper” with a cropped top that, every now and then, showed off their cute, flat little belly-buttons. (Come to think of it, I think Patty and Lisa's mama, my Aunt Barbara, was one of the primary Devilette costume seamstresses, which explains why their bedroom was Devilette heaven.)

Of all their costumes, I loved that practice uniform the best. It was just so dadgum CUTE. I wanted one. I wanted to step into those bloomers and show off MY flat little belly-button in that cropped top.

But, alas, I wanted my mama's biscuits and gravy just a little bit more.

And, in addition to being too-fat-to-be-a-Devilette, I had one additional challenge that stood between me and pom-pommed-cowgirl-boots. You see, the Kimberly Church of God, of which I was a teenaged-bun-wearing member, frowned on belly buttons. Come to think of it, they frowned on thighs…and knees…and sometimes even elbows. So, even if I had managed to lose 30 pounds and get my kicks higher than any other Devilette, I don’t think Audrey Hasenbein, Devilette-sponsor-extraordinare, would have allowed me to kick in knee-covering culottes.

Anyway...all during July and August, those highsteppers practiced in the heat and humidity of Alabama summertime. By the first Friday night home football game, you'd have sworn they were Rockettes instead of Devilettes—their perfectly synchronized, gravity-defying kicks made even more glorious by those white-leather-cowgirl boots with the sassy, red pom-poms. Every kick and shrug and curtsy flawlessly choreographed to the music of the Mortimer Jordan Blue Devil Marching Band which, for a few proud years, marched under the fine direction of my cousin, Gary Paul Kelley.

During the years when the Devilettes reigned, even the football team played better—eventually earning them a trip to Brewton, Alabama—to advance toward a state title.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Adalene (Gary Paul and Denise’s daddy and mama) asked me to go with them to that game. During that 40-miles-per-hour trip, I remember two things--the smell of my Uncle Paul’s Hav-a-Tampas and hearing the song “Blinded By the Light" by Manfred Mann's Earth Band play on the radio about 32 times. (To this day, every time I smell cigar smoke, that song plays in my head.)

We stayed in one of those mom-and-pop motels that once dotted the South before the interstate system put them out of business. The morning after we arrived, I heard a noise out back, so I pulled the curtains and…staring back at me through the window was a goat munching on grass. A whole herd of them lived right there at the motel. We just stood there staring at each other for a minute until he (perhaps he was a she) "baaahhed" and then turned and walked away. I laughed out loud.

Well...the Mortimer Jordan Blue Devil football team lost that game in Brewton. But that wasn’t the biggest heartbreak ever suffered in This-Is-Blue-Devil-Country-Love-It-Or-Leave-It.

Sometime after that trip, the Mortimer Jordan Dixie Devilettes were grounded. No more gravity-defying kicks. No more envy-inducing costumes. No more sassy, pom-pommed cowgirl boots.
Their kicking days were just over…just like that. Those of us outside the kicking circle never really did know why.

One thing we did know--football games were never quite the same without those purty high-steppers.

Another thing I know is that, even though it wasn't my destiny to be a Dixie Devilette, I owe them.

Being too-fat-to-be-a-Devilette was just the kick-in-the-butt I needed to begin realizing that eating biscuits-and-gravy for breakfast EVERY morning was probably not the healthiest idea, even for a Pentecostal girl who could hide a few extra pounds under those double-knit skirts and long-sleeved blouses.

Being too-fat-to-be-a-Devilette also forced me to find something I could do, something I could be as passionate about and committed to as they were to those endlessly-rehearsed, always-smiling, flawlessly-choreographed kicking spectaculars.

So…“Thank you, Mortimer Jordan High School Dixie Devilettes.”
You were beautiful, amazing, inspiring. Perhaps my daddy summed it up best when, after one of your half-time performances, he turned to me and said, "Well aren't they somethin'?"

I’m sure you still are.

But, in the event there's ever a Devilette Reunion Tour and a spot needs to be filled, I think I should warn you that...when Keven and the boys are miles and miles away…if my dog Hallie could talk (and she certainly tries)...she would tell you that every once in awhile she's caught me practicing a kick or two.

And, if I do say so myself, I’m gettin’ pretty good!...Well, at least I haven't suffered any more concussions.
....Now, where did I put that baby oil and Mercurochrome?
(Thanks to once-a-Devilette-always-a-Devilette Tammy Wilson Brown for allowing me to use her photo.)
He knows us far better than we know ourselves...
and keeps us present before God.
That's why we can be so sure that every detail
in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
God knew what he was doing from the very beginning.

He decided from the outset
to shape the lives of those who love him
along the same lines as the life of his Son.
The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored.
We see the original, intended shape of our lives there in him.
After God made the decision of what his children should be like,
he followed it up by calling people by name.
After he called them by name,
he set them on a solid basis with himself.
And then, after getting them established,
he stayed with them to the end,
gloriously completing what he had begun.
(Romans 8:27-30, The Message)

Monday, July 20, 2009

"I hear voices that aren't moving...."

This past weekend, me and the three guys in my life (plus two friends) went to one of our favorite places--Cashiers, NC. More than 12 years ago, Kev and I discovered this little slice of heaven-on-earth, when we took a short trip to celebrate our 10th anniversary. During that visit, we hiked to the top of Rock Mountain, and promised to celebrate our 20th anniversary by hiking it again.
On Saturday, two years and one week after our 20th anniversary, we finally kept that promise...sort of.
You see, about a third of the way up, we came to a fork in the trail where we had to decide whether to turn left and hike up the promised Rock Mountain. Or, turn right and hike up the even-taller-steeper Chimney Top Mountain. Kev and I (and Jackson and Morgan) chose Chimney Top Mountain, while Garrett and his friend, Zach, chose Rock Mountain.
I'm trying to be OK with these swiftly increasing steps our sons are taking toward independence. But...I won't's hard. So, at the fork on the mountain, I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer and let Garrett and Zach turn left. (It made be grateful that my sons have good friends to share their climbs.)
Us other three Bowdles (and Morgan) turned right. However, it wasn't long before the teenagers grew quite bored with the "old" folks' speed...or lack thereof...and decided to run ahead. (Yet another deep breath, another silent prayer, another letting go.)
Leaving just me and Kev climbing together. Eventually, I gave him "permission" to go on....He didn't....That's just Kev.
But...even though we were climbing "together" dawned on me that I also was experiencing my own journey. I saw plants and insects and lights and shadows and obstacles on the trail that Kev didn't see. And, he saw orchids and birds and views and obstacles on the trail that I didn't see.
And, when we shared these, we made each other's climbs fuller, richer, safer.
There were moments when I thought I couldn't climb one more step. At certain points, the "trail" was non-existent--nothing but rock going almost straight up--and it felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest, my breathing was labored, and even my vision was a little off.
At these points, Kev was there with a reaching hand, an offer of rest and a drink of water from the bottle he alone had thought to bring.
Eventually...although I hadn't voiced it...something must have told him I was just about to sit down and let him go find Jackson and Morgan. Because, right about then, he said, "I hear voices that aren't moving, so we must be near the top."
And those 12 words...spoken when I needed them...were enough to keep me going.
When I think of what I would have missed had I sat makes me grateful and happy and a little sad...all at the same time. the top of the mountain...the view was...breathgiving. (Especially when I saw the face of my "No-mom-I-didn't-fall-off-the-side-of-the-mountain" 13-year-old and his buddy.)
In every direction we looked were green-covered mountains with craggy balds poking out here and there; bluish-gray lakes dotted around the valley below; and little patches of colorful rooftops peeking out among the trees. The sky above was crystal blue with puffy, white clouds gliding by and birds wheeling between our mountain and the one next door, where Garrett and Zach were climbing.
Thanks to modern technology, Kev was able to call Garrett and Zach on the cell phone. After a few minutes of waving and hollering, they saw us and we saw them. (Of course, from that distance, they looked 2 inches tall.)
We stayed there awhile...on top of that mountain...catching our breath, sharing Kev's water bottle, taking pictures, shouting back and forth to Garrett and Zach, and drinking in the beauty of creation below us, around us and above us.
One picture Kev took was of our shoe-clad feet, circling a "gold" placard set into the rock, which declared a particular spot as being the summit of Chimney Top Mountain.
Which got me to wondering. How many summits have I not reached because I got tired of the climb? How many breath-giving vistas have I not witnessed because I was afraid of the imagined danger-filled cliffs that lay ahead? How many beautiful memories have I not made because I gave up when the trip got hard?
Those are the questions that cause me to be just a little bit sad as I sit here and remember Chimney Top Mountain.
Eventually, the time came to head back down to the valley. For most of us, mountaintops are not meant to be lived on...simply enjoyed for a few exceptional moments. It's the memories of them that linger and help us remember the meanings of beauty and majesty and wonder.
So, I took one more drink from Kev's water bottle, enjoyed one more 360-degree-view and yelled one more warning at the already-rapidly-descending teenagers--"Remember, pay attention. The trip down is more dangerous than the trip up!"
Then, Kev and I started walking.
About halfway, I looked back at a part of the trail where we had just been. And, there, tucked under one of the thousands of ferns growing along the trail, was a fist-sized bunch of tiny purple flowers.
In some odd way, that almost-hidden, almost-missed bouquet was as wonderful as the majesty of the summit. It reminded me that, even when I'm not on the mountaintop, beautiful little surprises are all along the journey. Many times, I don't even recognize them...except in "the looking back." It makes me long for the Creator to "open the eyes of my heart" so that I don't miss any of His almost-hidden, constantly-present surprises.
Near the bottom, Kev and I made a wrong turn, which took us on a different, longer trail than we had intended...or wanted. But, this detour held surprises of its own--startled chipmunks dashing back to the woods, laughing toddlers running ahead of their just-trying-to-keep-up parents, golfing "seniors" smiling proudly when their swings hit the green, and the view of the mountain we had just climbed.
Eventually, we made it to our table in the dining room of the lodge, where we heard all about Garrett and Zach's adventures up "their" mountain. (FYI, Bear Grylls has nothing on those two.)
And they heard all about ours.
In many ways, that Saturday hike is our "story." For 22 years and one week, we've been walking, climbing, descending, ending up on paths we didn't expect, getting lost and getting found.
And, all along the way, Kev's steadying hand has reached out when the climb got tough. Often, with no words, he has kept me going, kept me believing that "we must be near the top."
During that climb, two beautiful, wonderful sons have joined our journey. But...faster than either of us would choose...they will set out on their own journeys with their own companions. they leave...with the help of Kev's steadying hand...I'll take a deep breath, say a silent prayer and let them go climb their own mountains.
So...even though it's more than a week late...Happy Anniversary, Kev! You make the journey fuller, richer, safer...more filled with laughter, adventure and love.

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

(Psalm 23, NLT....This Psalm was sung at our wedding on July 11, 1987)

Blessed be God, our mountain….
He's the rock on which we stand, the castle in which we live,…
The high crag where we run for safety….

Make our sons in their prime like sturdy oak trees,…
How blessed the people who have all this!

How blessed the people who have God for God!
(A few verses from Psalm 144, The Message)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Handkerchiefs. Until today, I had not used one, touched one, thought of one in years.

Handkerchiefs were how I learned to iron. My mama started me out ironing my daddy's handkerchiefs. (He carried one every day in the back, right pocket of his brown polyester "work" pants.) After I perfected pressing those white cotton squares into starched, folded rectangles, I got promoted to pillowcases and...much later daddy's shirts.

As a child, every holiday, I would go shopping in my Uncle Walter and Aunt Barbara's small general store for just-the-right gifts for my mama and daddy. Since I was family, I got to walk behind the counter, past the cash register and candy case, down to the very last glass-encased shelf, where...each and every gift-giving holiday...I would reach in and select a plastic-topped, ribbon encased box of three handkerchiefs..the ones for my daddy were stitched around the bottom edge with brown, blue and tan...the ones for my mama were each embroidered with a different flower.

And...each mama and daddy acted like that was the best gift ever.

Whereas my daddy always carried a handkerchief, the only time I remember mama carrying one was when she went to a "viewing" or funeral.

Perhaps the reason my daddy always carried a handkerchief was because his mama always had. Mama Kelley was always holding a handkerchief. I can still see her "working" it between her fingers--that is, when she wasn't using it to dab away any telltale remnants of snuff from the corners of her mouth.

(She used to send me on surreptitious snuff runs down to my Uncle Walter's store. She'd say, "If anybody's in the store, just go behind the counter and get me a can of Bruton. Don't let anybody see you. I'll pay Walter later."...Those clandestine snuff-lifting runs made me feel nervous, guilty, special and loved...all at the same time.)

Of course, handkerchiefs played a special role at the Kimberly Church of God. Whenever the Holy Ghost would start moving, men and women all over the church would take out their handkerchiefs and start waving them. (Except, of course, for my mama, who was saving hers for the next viewing.)

But, as I said to begin with, it's been years since I thought about any of the above handkerchief memories...until this morning...when I somehow knew I was supposed to anoint cloths to send with my friends--Marla, Jordan, Tina and Beth--who are all leaving for Ethiopia this week. (Marla, Jordan and Tina are going as part of a Cedar Springs missions team. Beth and her family are going to bring home two of the three newest members of their family; they go back in August to get their little girl. Wow!)

Anyway, as I started looking for a cloth to anoint, I opened the top drawer of my dresser...and there it was...a rose-embroidered handkerchief I bought my mama all those years ago at my Uncle Walter's store. (I don't even remember how I ended up with it--probably borrowed it from her for a viewing.)

Surely God didn't want me to use that?...But, as I started to close the drawer, I knew what I was supposed to do. So...I pulled the drawer open again, took out the handkerchief and cut it into four pieces--one for each of my Ethiopia-bound friends. Then, I anointed each piece and prayed for each friend.

Later, as I was reading Isaiah 61, God gave me a comforting little sign that I had "heard right" when I cut up that sweet, old, rose-embroidered handkerchief. (He doesn't always do that when He asks us to obey but, when He does, it is a precious gift.) Here are God's words through His prophet:
The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to heal the heartbroken,
to announce freedom to all captives, to pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
...and to comfort (and care for) all who mourn,
to give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of (despair).
(Isaiah 61:1-3, The Message)

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Great 4th of July Fire

Whenever summer heat rolls in, I auto-pilot back to one parched Kimberly summer. It was 4th of July weekend, and it hadn't rained since...oh...March.
Kevin, Barney, Pam, me and a couple of leftover-Church-of-God-campmeeting-boyfriends were shooting bottle rockets out of Coke bottles in our front yard. (I guess I should point out that mama was inside in a drug-induced "coma," recovering from back surgery.)
Just across our yard, separated only by two-laned Stouts Road, Albritton and Lucy Rice lived in a house fronted by 10-12 acres of pine trees, which amounted to LOTS of DRY pinestraw. (Did I mention it hadn't rained since March?)One last detail--to this day, Kimberly has a Volunteer Fire Department. That particular year, the primary bottle-rocket-shooter, Barney, was running for Town Council, with one plank of his campaign platform being better fire protection.
Well, sometime after midnight, after shooting off the last sad rocket, we closed the party down. As my brother crawled into his twin bed (in the room he shared with my mom and dad...OK...don't was a 2-bedroom house), he had a "feeling" he needed to look out the window. Next thing I know, he's running into the living room where daddy is snoring in his chair and Pam and I are watching TV. He's yelling, "The woods are on fire! Albritton's woods are on fire!"
On the way out the door, stopping only long enough to call Barney to tell him to get his butt and a bucket up to our house, Kevin yelled at me, Pam and daddy to "hook up the hosepipe and get as many buckets as you can find." (We only found 3.)
Once and in our look across Stouts Road told me that fire COULD NOT be put out with a hosepipe and 3 buckets. It was blazing!
But...truth be told...we were always a little scared of Albritton. He was the silent type. And, for some reason, young people always read "stuff" into silence. So, all we knew was that...somehow...we had to put out that fire with a hosepipe and 3 buckets.
We dared not call Albritton. We dared not alert the Volunteer Fire Department. The only call we could make was to Barney. (Barney was always my family's version of 911.) So, Pam and I--standing barefoot in our pajamas at the edge of Stouts Road (that's how far the hosepipe reached)--would fill up the 3 buckets, and Kevin, Barney and my Salem-smokin' daddy would run from the hosepipe into those fiery woods and back again to fill up those 3 buckets.
After a few minutes I realized Pam could man the hosepipe on her own. So, I went into the house and grabbed up my mama's HOMEMADE quilts to help fight the still-spreading fire. (Yes, you heard in heirloom....and only her Alzheimer's has allowed her to forget it.)
I dumped that pile of quilts on the road beside Pam and yelled at her to soak them. Then, in my Keds and pajamas, with those soaked, beautiful quilts, I went running into those blazing pine trees--tossing  heirlooms onto burning patches of pinestraw and wrapping them around blazing tree trunks.
Every once in awhile, you'd hear pinecones explode. Each time that happened, my brother would freak out. He said later that each little explosion reminded him of a previous brush-clearing fire when a red-hot pinecone seed had gone straight up his nostril, sending him running around and around the house, screaming his lungs out.
I can't tell you how many refilled buckets and resoaked quilts it took to put out that fire...but with the bordering-on-miraculous help of God, we somehow did it.
By this time, we can't go to sleep. So, all of us...exhausted and soot-covered...just piled on the living room floor...except for daddy who sank into his recliner...still smokin' Salems. After a few minutes of quiet, Barney announced, "Well, there goes my run for Town Council." And...that did it...we couldn't stop laughing. Tears made tracks down my soot-covered face.
Eventually, Barney went home, and the rest of us decided to get some sleep. But...just like was deja-vux all over again. Once again, Kevin looked out the front window. Once again, he came running into the living room, this time yelling, "It's goin' again!" And out the door he went, stopping only long enough to call 911-Barney...again.
By this time it's about 3 a.m. I was just coherent enough to realize we needed reinforcements. So, I called Jeff Easter. Jeff says he remembers the phone ringing and wondering, "What fool is calling at this time of the morning?" But, he picked up, and...well...I'll let him tell this part of the story: "I heard this very soft, very calm voice say, 'Put your hosepipe in your car and get to my house now'."
When Jeff got there...hosepipe in hand...Pam and I were once again on bucket duty down by Stouts Road. (By this time, mama's quilts had been lost to Fire #1.) We managed to hook up Jeff's hosepipe to ours, which made it stretch long enough so we could actually get the water directly to the fire. the first hint of daylight and, quite thankfully, before Albritton had ever had his first cup of coffee...Fire #2 was out.
Again, we collapsed on the living room floor--even more exhausted and soot-covered--this time joined by Jeff. And, once again, somebody said something that got us tickled--(boy, I wish I could remember)--and we couldn't stop laughing.
About 7 a.m....mama came stumbling into the living room in a pain-pill-induced haze. She took one look at her living room floor filled with soot-covered, sleeping people, and yelled, "MY, LORD, WHAT HAPPENED WHILE I WAS ASLEEP!!!???"
So we told her, swearing her to secrecy (until now), and then...with a rather pitiful blank stare on her face...shaking her head...she went to the kitchen and did the only thing she knew to do--she cooked us biscuits and gravy.
Years after "The Great 4th of July Fire," as we came to call it, Barney confessed that, for several nights, he had to get out of bed, get in his car, park in our yard and walk through Albritton's woods...just to make sure.
Funny thing...the next summer after the Great Fire, you would've barely been able to tell it ehappened. As I walked through those woods...trying to figure out exactly where mama's quilts had burned up, patches of grass were already growing, wildflowers were blooming, and most of the trees had somehow survived. In fact, new little seedlings were popping up everywhere...probably from those blasted exploding pinecones.
Out of the ashes of The Great Fire 4th of July Fire, new life had already begun. It occurs to me...the same thing happens to us. Out of the very ashes...God brings new life, growth, beauty...even laughter...IF we let Him.
"To all who mourn,...he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.....
Instead of shame and dishonor,
you will enjoy a double share of honor.
You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours....
I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be recognized
and honored among the nations.
Everyone will realize they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
and draped me in a robe of righteousness....
Everyone will praise him!
His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring,
with plants springing up everywhere."
(From Isaiah 61, NLT)