Thursday, April 27, 2006

Honors on Confederate Memorial Day

April 26 is officially Confederate Memorial Day. However, since the mode now is to take the Monday nearest the date as a holiday, April 24 this year was officially noted for those who closed businesses and had a day off from work, making a long weekend from April 21 through Monday, April 24 as a time to remember our Confederate Dead.

April 26 marks the official end of the War Between the States for Georgia. It was on that date in 1865 that Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina.

Already, General Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865.

Supporters of the Southern cause can feel pride in the way General Lee conducted himself at that meeting. It is reported that Lee maintained dignity to the end. He appeared at Appomattox Courthouse in a brand new uniform, wearing an embroidered red sash, and polished boots with spurs. Standing tall, with his gray hair and beard in place and his dress uniform impeccable, he met General Grant whose boots were muddy and his old slouch hat askew.

The Generals, nevertheless, were gracious to each other. Grant said to Lee, "I met you once before, General Lee, while we were serving in Mexico. I have always remembered your appearance, and I think I would have known you anywhere." (p. 167, National Geographic, "Almanac of American History," c2005).

Lee had evaluated the hard nine-month siege at Petersburg and decided that holding on longer would bring only a sad, pointless loss of more lives. He agreed to meet Grant and work out terms of surrender.

The Confederates were to lay down their arms, which they did. Lee suggested that his men would need their horses for spring planting. Grant agreed to this request and also promised to provide rations to the emaciated Confederate Army.

Astride his horse, Traveller, General Lee rode among the ranks of his faithful soldiers. His words to them were: "Men, we have fought this war together. I have done the best I could for you. My heart is too full to say more." (p. 167, "Almanac of American History.") General Grant expressed his feelings with these words: "I feel like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who has fought so long and valiantly." (p. 167, "Almanac of American History.")

Much lay ahead before the War Between the States was officially over. Because news traveled slowly in April of 1865, there were more skirmishes in various places before complete cessation of fighting. That's why the treaty between Johnson and Sherman was not signed until April 26, 1865.

And then remained the long road to Reconstruction. In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln expressed his hope for reconciliation: "With malice toward none, with charity for all...let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds."

President Lincoln's assassination shot hit him at Ford's Theater in Washington on April 14, 1865 and he died the next day. His death complicated efforts at Reconstruction and hampered reconciliation between the North and South.

As we observe Confederate History Month this April, we remember the sacrifices of soldiers, many of them our ancestors, who fought for what they believed.

Without the war, slavery may not have died out soon. The South's economy may have lingered for many more decades to agrarian pursuits with production hinging on slave labor. The Civil War and the period of Reconstruction were tragedies in America's history. But through it all came "a new birth of freedom," and proof that democracy could prevail, that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people would not perish from the earth."

An anonymous poet has written these striking lines for "Confederate Memorial Day":
The marching armies of the past
Along our southern plains,
Are sleeping now in quiet rest
Beneath the Southern rains.
We bow our heads in solemn prayer
For those who wore the gray,
And clasp again their unseen hands
On our Memorial Day.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 27, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

April: National Poetry Month

As a lover of poetry and a poet of sorts, I am very interested in April, set aside as National Poetry Month, thirty whole days to celebrate poetry. With your indulgence, I want to depart from my usual history column and write about poetry.

April as National Poetry Month was inaugurated in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets, a non-profit organization promoting the vitality and value of poetry in American culture. National Poetry Month has grown since 1996 to be the single largest literary celebration in the world.

We have but to examine America’s early history to find that our forebears practiced the art of poetry. America’s founders brought an amalgam of cultures composing our original population. From the countries in the old world they brought their love for poetry and their ability, in many instances, to write poetry, to catch a deep and abiding truth in concise lines. This appreciation for poetry has grown through America’s years as a nation and will continue through the present and future generations.

The Academy of American Poets set up as the overriding aim of a whole month of celebrating poetry as a time to make poetry more visible and accessible to citizens. This year’s National Poetry Month has seven specific goals:

1. To highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets.
2. To introduce more Americans to the pleasure of poetry.
3. To bring poets and poetry to the attention of the public in immediate and innovative ways.
4. To make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum.
5. To increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media.
6. To encourage increased publication, distribution and sales of poetry books.
7. To increase public and private philanthropic support for poetry and poets.
Even though the month of April 2006 is in its last two weeks, it is still not too late to make poetry more visible and accessible to citizens. Just now, with the writing of this column, and your reading it, we are fulfilling Goal 5 above. If you are a teacher reading this column, I hope you will think of ways you can increase your students’ appreciation of poetry in the days remaining of April, 2006. Your local book store has poetry books for sale. Buy one and read it with joy and pleasure. If you have the capability of going online, you may access the Academy of American Poets and see the thirty-day suggestions of innovative things to do during each day of April to make poetry come alive for yourself and others.

And, being a great fan of Union County’s Byron Herbert Reece (1917-1958), poet extraordinary, I can plead for you to fulfill Goal 7 listed above by supporting the Byron Herbert Reece Society’s aim of making the Reece Farm into a cultural center to honor the poet and his poetry, and to aid future poets who might be inspired as they visit the place where Reece thought so deeply and wrote so admirably.

I cannot close this article without sharing some personal thoughts of how I have celebrated April, National Poetry Month, to this date. I have sent my original poems to several people in letters and sympathy cards already during this month, and I will continue to do so until the end of April, and, indeed, all year long. To dear friends and relatives who have lost loved ones during the month of April, I sent them my sonnet entitled “Death at Times Is Kind.”

For my first great grandchild, born April 12, 2006, I printed and framed my poem entitled “This Clay to Mold – A Mother to Her Child,” which I hope my dear granddaughter Paula will take to heart and use as a sort of idealistic guide for motherhood as she rears the precious baby, Gavin Ernesto Berenguer-Aguirre, entrusted to her and Ernesto for rearing.

A dear younger friend of mine, Beverly Michelle Denmark, has published during this month of April her first book of poems entitled “Sipping Coffee.” I received my copy of the book from her, signed by the author, with the notation that through Georgia Poetry Society I had inspired her to write. I will write a book review of Beverly’s book, and hope thereby to help her with publicity for her book and to increase her book sales.

I thought how I would like to go into the schools and teach poetry workshops as I once did, or teach my own classes (as I did prior to my retirement) the beauty of poetry and how students can write their own. Just now, my circumstances of care-giving for my husband do not permit me to engage in this much-loved activity. But I can appreciate all the teachers from my past who made me a lover of poetry from elementary school through college and graduate school. At Choestoe School, a two-teacher school when I attended there, my teachers loved poetry and taught me to appreciate it. It was then I memorized “The Village Blacksmith” and “Song of the Chattahoochee,” and other poems for “recitation” day on Fridays. Thank you, Mrs. Mert Collins, Ms. Opal Sullivan, Mrs. Bonnie Snow, Mrs. Florence Hunter and others for instilling in me the love of poetry when I was young. I have never departed from that appreciation of poetry, and my love for poetry has grown with the years.

I will end this appeal for you to celebrate and enjoy poetry during April, National Poetry Month, by ending with Byron Herbert Reece’s quatrain that says so much about the love of poetry and how it is written. His aim certainly has come true:

“From chips and chards in idle times,
I made these stories, shaped these rhymes;
May they engage some friendly tongue
When I am past the reach of song.”

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 20, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

On the Church Calendar, This is Maundy Thursday

I do not pretend to be an authority on theology, doctrine, or holy days. But having spent 56 years married to a minister, I've had occasion to observe almost every day the Christian Church holds significant.

Today is Maundy Thursday in Holy Week. What does it mean? How can we as Christians best observe it?

Webster's dictionary is a great help in defining words. I was delighted to see that this prestigious reference work entered the term in capital letters, MAUNDY THURSDAY, indicating its significance. I found that it stems from Middle English, 'maunde'- the ceremony of washing the feet of the poor on this day before Easter, an early church practice. The Old French word for it was mande, from the Latin mandatum, which means command.

All of this stems back to Jesus' last night with his disciples before his trial, crucifixion and resurrection. In an upper room in Jerusalem, Jesus washed his disciples' feet.

He also instituted the Lord's Supper. He gave His disciples a mandatum, we would say, a mandate, to do the Supper in remembrance of Him. As he washed the disciples' feet, He said, "Ye ought also to wash each other's feet." (John 13: 14) John 13:34-35 gave another mandate from Jesus: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you; that ye also love one another."

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another."

These mandates from Jesus on that long ago Thursday (whether they called the day Thursday then or not) were acts of humility and obedience. And as we in our churches observe Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, we are drawing from the teachings and commandments of Jesus to examine what it means to be His disciple and what true servanthood is all about.

I read recently these words: "Without Christmas we could not have Easter. But without Easter, Christmas would be of little significance."

In the church's holy calendar, we observe many traditions. The traditions were set up by our Lord and our spiritual forebears for reasons of remembrance. Even Christ Himself knew that we needed dates and ceremonies to bring to mind the dynamic, even revolutionary, teachings He left for His disciples of any age to follow.

Most of us in this mountain region can look back upon our "raising" and be grateful. Our parents and grandparents, even our great grandparents felt that a part of a steadfast life was a strong faith. Most of us were "brought up" in the church. How well do I remember how joyous Easter was in my country church, Choestoe. I cannot recall our observing Maundy Thursday when I was a child, but certainly Easter was one of the high holy days.

I remember how cold it was the first sunrise service I attended on a hill in a neighbor's pasture. We stood there hearing the words of our pastor as he read the accounts of those who came early to the tomb to find it empty. "From darkness to light, from death to resurrection!" It was a climactic moment as the sun rose gloriously over the eastern hills, dispelling the darkness of that early morning. It was not hard at all for a young child to imagine being at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem to find the grave empty.

Later on, at the morning worship service on those long ago Easter Sundays we enjoyed joyous occasions of happy music and wonderful encouragement. Death was but a passageway to eternal life. It was a concept wrapped up in Easter and new life all about us as Spring in its glory reflected a truth almost too deep to understand.

Leading up to Easter is Maundy Thursday, with its remembrances of foot washing and the Lord's Supper, helping to keep us attuned to holy promises, holy mandates. The Lord Christ willingly did what He came to earth to do. What He commanded His disciples is still taking place around the world, awaiting the one promise He has yet to fulfill: "I will return."

I like to consider the act of washing the disciples' feet on that long ago Maundy Thursday as being the humble service Christ assigns us to do. This washing can take the form of clothing the poor, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, comforting the dying-and, yes, washing the feet of those who need this balm.

In a letter recently from missionary friends who work as doctors in Bolivia, they asked us to pray as they go out on the streets to actually "wash the babies," the many displaced children. As they bathe dirty bodies and give medications, they minister with "the hands of Christ."

Maundy Thursday is a day for soul-searching and good deeds. We have a mandate to live out, an example to follow. I invite you to "think on these things," and have a meaningful Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 13, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 6, 2006

The influence of a good woman: Renva Smith Acree

In physical stature she was small. In influence and good works she was stalwart and productive. She wore many hats: teacher, wife, mother, pastor's wife, grandmother, tireless worker in so many areas of expertise, friend, encourager. Friends knew her as Renva. She was the gracious wife of the Rev. Troy Acree.

She left this world rather suddenly on March 29, 2006 after having suffered a massive stroke. Crowds gathered to express condolences and to lend comfort. Her funeral was a celebration of her life and a glimpse of her translation to heaven.

For many years she and Rev. Troy Acree had lived on the outskirts of Blairsville toward Young Harris. Her influence was scattered from these mountains throughout the state and into the nation and world.

How could one so quiet and humble have such an impact on others?

I gave the question some thought and came up with three R's. She would relate to the three R's, educationally, for literacy education was her long suit. But she became who she was through her raising, her religion, and her relationships.

As to her "raising," she was born into a preacher's family on January 11, 1927 in Gwinnett County, GA, daughter of the Rev. Dr. L. E. Smith and Leone Moon Smith. She had one sibling, a brother, Les Smith who chose a military career as his life's work. Stability was a characteristic of the Rev. Dr. Smith family. Unlike many Baptist pastors who moved every two or three years, Dr. Smith was pastor for 39 years at the Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta. Following his retirement, he was named pastor emeritus at the same church. Renva's mother graduated from the Georgia Normal and Industrial College in Milledgeville and was a teacher before she became a preacher's wife. Renva told me that they often had church children in their home where her mother, and later Renva, tutored them with their homework.

In rearing her, Renva's parents were loving but firm and, unlike many PKs (preacher's kids), Renva grew up active in the church and having her father as her pastor. The Christian religion had a major place in her entire life. At an early age she gave her heart to the Lord, and kept her religious development tuned to God's will for her life. Her mother was an excellent role model of a pastor's wife, even though Renva did not know at the time she needed such a role model for her own life.

Mrs. Renva Smith Acree

Relationships play an important role in who we are and who we become. When it came time for college, Renva Smith chose to attend Bessie Tift College in Forsyth, GA, where she graduated from the all-girls' school in 1948. Her relationships at the Christian college helped to make her who she was.

She had already met a young man considering the ministry-Troy Acree. They met at the statewide speakers' tournament sponsored by the Discipleship Training Department of the Georgia Baptist Convention. They had more time to develop friendship at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly, North Carolina. Their courtship grew into a lifetime of commitment. Shortly after Renva graduated from college, she and Troy married and they moved to Louisville, KY. Her next degree has sometimes been called in ministerial circles the PHT degree-putting hubby through. Renva taught school while Troy attended Southern Baptist Seminary.

Her role of mother and grandmother saw the birth of four children, Wanda, Allen, Marc and Penny, and seven grandchildren, all of whom were Renva's pride and joy.

For 30 years Rev. Troy Acree served as a pastor, mostly in Georgia churches. Then for ten years, before his retirement in 1989, he was director of area associational missions centered in Blairsville. During the years of Troy's ministry, Renva was his helpmeet and also followed her own career of elementary and kindergarten teacher. She earned the Master of Education degree from West Georgia College. She retired in 1988.

In her relationships with others, she met Ms. Mary Allred at the Georgia Baptist Assembly in Toccoa, GA, in 1979 and heard the lady speak on the great need of adults who were functionally illiterate due to circumstances that had prevented their learning to read or write. In 1980, she and Rev. Troy Acree attended a conference at Glorieta, N.M. There she took training to become a certified literacy teacher using the Laubach method to teach the ARW (Adult Reading and Writing Program).

In 1983, as she was a member of the Georgia Baptist Convention Woman's Missionary Union Executive Board, she went to Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., to take further literacy training under the Home Mission Board. Later on, in 1998, she was on a committee at Samford assisting with rewriting and updating the literacy teaching manual.

She qualified as a trainer in four areas of literacy work: Adult Reading and Writing (ARW), English as a Second Language (ESL), Conversational English (CE) and Tutoring Children and Youth (TCY). She was much in demand to lead conferences to train literacy workers throughout Georgia, in nearby states, on the Navajo Indian Reservation in the west, and as far away as Ghana, Africa. Persons gaining certification through the conferences Renva Acree led so ably were required to complete sixteen hours of in class time and additional work to be qualified as a literacy teacher.

She gave much credit for her interest in literacy education to her elementary school teacher, Mrs. Goss, at the Grant Park School in Atlanta. That excellent teacher "moved up" as Renva progressed through grade school and gave her the desire to be a genuine, caring teacher like Mrs. Goss.

In 1988, she set up a successful after-school tutoring program at McConnell Memorial Baptist Church in Hiawassee, with trained tutors enlisted to give help to students needing special instruction. The program still moves forward.

T.U.L.I.P. is an acronym for Towns-Union-Literacy-Instills-Pride, an organization which she helped to organize and which maintains several sites in the two counties for training literacy workers and for tutoring students with special needs.

Multiple honors and accolades through the years were conferred on Renva Acree because of her hard work and community service. She always accepted them humbly. Some were Georgia Mother of the Year; Chairman of National Literacy Education Committee, American Mothers, Incorporated; Community Service Award, Old Unicoi Trail Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution; Chaplain, Executive Board, Georgia Mothers; and for ten years on Georgia WMU Executive Board.

My life has been enriched because she was my friend. We shared many insights on the journey of life from the time we were young minister's wives in the Hebron Association at Hartwell, GA, to experiences through Woman's Missionary Union, associational missions work, and retirement. But for Renva Acree, there was never really "retirement." She may have changed gears, and maybe, just maybe, she learned to slow down a bit in the last year or so.

The last time I talked to her she was telling me the happy news of a student whom she had tutored for many years through various levels of the young lady's education. "She will be entering the Dora Hunter Allison Spiva School of Education at Truett McConnell College to become an early childhood education major."

The story of the young lady could be multiplied many times over about persons Renva Acree touched positively: They go forth to help others as she helped them.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Apr. 6, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.