Thursday, December 14, 2006

Two Corrections and a Word About Caroling

By way of corrections on two recent columns: When I wrote the review of The Mountains of Yesteryear, the book by Ruby Lee Sargent Miles about her grandparents, Jefferson Beauregard Dyer and Rhoda Jane Souther Dyer, edited by her son, Ronald Eugene Miles, I erroneously credited words from the back cover of the book to poet John G. Neihardt. A quatrain from the poet was, indeed, printed as the last of the “Afterword,” but the cover message itself was written by Ronald Eugene Miles himself. I especially liked the portion I quoted because it mentions “Mountain Mists.” The long-time, over-riding title of this column by yours truly, is “Through Mountain Mists.” Therefore, what Ron Miles wrote struck a responsive chord with me.

I quote again, and this time, correctly credit the words to Mr. Miles: “This story will not turn back the hands (digits?) of time, but it does advocate lessons the earth still has to teach us. And when mists lift off the mountains, is there a more fulfilling refreshment than a long draught of pure, cool spring water bubbling from the Giving Earth?” Thanks, Ron Miles, for these thought-provoking words.

And now to the second error: In my column in last week’s Union Sentinel, my tribute to my beloved departed brother Bluford Marion Dyer, I had him correctly graduating with the Class of 1951 from Union County High School. But I incorrectly wrote that this class was the first to graduate from the newly-added twelfth grade. Readers would think I would know that it was 1952 when the first twelfth grade class graduated! Thanks, readers, for setting me straight on this point. Now I can remember Bluford saying, “By one year, I missed the twelfth grade!” What I didn’t say about Bluford in that column was that mathematics was always his love among subjects (as well as reading). At Truett McConnell College, where he was manager of the college farm, he also was assigned as a tutor for those deficient in math. He helped several fellow students get through that required subject of college algebra.

Now with “corrections” made, let us move on to the second subject of this column, Christmas caroling.

I don’t know how widespread the custom of Christmas caroling in shopping malls and outside homes is today in our culture. A war rages against any mention of “Christmas” that might offend the general populace. I, for one, will welcome any carolers that appear at our door with their jubilant songs of Christmas. This is even more important to us now that my husband is a shut-in. I remember many Christmases past when he was a pastor and I personally led our church children and youth in carol sings about our communities to homes of the elderly and shut-ins. The carolers were blessed and so were the people to whom we sang. This act of love was an important part of the Christmas celebration.

Just what is a carol and when did the custom of carol singing originate? Simply defined, a carol is “a song of praise, especially in honor of the Nativity” (Webster). Seeking the carol’s origins is more difficult. The word carol carries the significance of “a round dance” or a “ring dance.” But in historical perspective, more emphasis was placed on the words the dancers sang than on the exuberant, joyful, lilt of the dancers. Did this happen inside sedate cathedrals? Hardly. With a folk-song quality, these songs went on outside the churches, with wandering minstrels and groups of musicians celebrating the Christmas season (and other religious days) with carols, noels, lullabies and hymns.

St. Francis of Assissi who was priest at the little church at Grecchio in central Italy in 1223 wanted a more vivid way than usual to portray the Christmas story. We have read of St. Francis’s love of nature, his reverence for every animal, bird, beast, flower. At that long-ago Christmas, he arranged to have a manger scene in a cave near his church. With borrowed farm animals keeping watch, and with a statue of the Christ Child in the manger bed, St. Francis started the tradition of the Nativity scene at Christmas. It was immensely popular with his congregation and with the whole village.

This tradition soon spread, and soon throughout Italy and France Nativity scenes became a recognized and popular part of the Christmas celebration.

How we thrill to the words of the carol, “Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!/Bring a torch to the cradle run!” With lighted candles, people joined the village processions to the manger scene, singing the lilting words of this carol which had its origin in France.

St. Francis loved the simple religious songs of the people. Instead of being stilted and formal, he asked his congregation to mix singing with his preaching. He is attributed as saying: “For what are the servants of God if not his minstrels, who ought to stir and incite the hearts of men to spiritual joy?” (William J. Reynolds, Christ and the Carols, Broadman, 1967, p. 17).

Christmas is about the birth of Christ, and spreading spiritual joy through “songs and hymns and spiritual songs.” It is about helping our fellow men, extending the hand of giving to anyone we meet. “In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.” Let us absorb the spirit, join in the carols, spread as much cheer as we can. We often say, “Christmas comes but once a year!” But actually, every day of the year can bear the spirit of Christmas. What better New Year’s resolution could we make than to produce our own carols and the feeling of good will they bear—all year long? Carols have no evidence of pretense, no pseudo-sophistication, no upper-class snobbery. Neither should we, in our daily walk. A merry Christmas to all!

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 14, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

A Tribute to Bluford Marion Dyer

Bluford Marion Dyer at his home, December 2002,
at a family gathering and Christmas celebration.

For 17 years I have written newspaper columns. During that time I have written tributes to many people. Today, I write about my younger brother, Bluford Marion Dyer (11/26/1933-12/01/2006). I will guard against a maudlin, over-sentimental tribute, even though we were very close in relationship and in focus. He was a brother to be proud of, an humble, unassuming, "salt of the earth" farmer who knew hard work and troubles, triumphs and achievements, joys and sorrows. He embodied the words of Shakespeare: "His life was gentle, and the elements\So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up\And say to all the world, 'This was a man!'" (from Julius Caesar, V, 5).

My younger brother Bluford turned 73 on November 26, 2006. He was very sick that day. I longed to go visit him in the hospital, but circumstances prevented the trip. I thought about my first memory of him. I was three and one-half years his senior. I had been taken to my Grandfather Collins's home to stay until after the baby was born. My Aunt Ethel took me walking along that wagon road that led across the mountain at Choestoe from Grandpa's house to our house. I remember well having to keep up with Aunt Ethel and how cold the day was. I was well bundled up against the cold. When we got to my house, I got my first look at my little brother Bluford. He had a head full of dark hair and his cherubic face peeped out at me from the receiving blanket in which he was wrapped. It was "love at first sight" on my part, and from that day onward I cherished him. I was told to "be careful and treat him gently." I tried to do just that. We played for hours together as we were little children.

In 1939 when he was in first grade and I in fourth grade at Choestoe School, then a two-teacher country school, a snow blew in from the north and soon was piling up deeply. Why the two teachers did not dismiss school right away, I don't know. Since all students walked to school anyway, maybe an accumulation was not a threat because there were no buses that might get stuck in the snow. Suddenly, our father, J. Marion Dyer, was at the schoolhouse door. He was a Trustee of the school, so he had a responsibility in the management and safety of students and teachers. He told the teachers they should let the children go as the blizzard was getting worse. He had not heard this on any weather report; he just had a sixth sense about the weather. He had brought a shovel in case he needed it to clear the way on the mile to our house. Daddy put Bluford on his shoulder and told me to follow in the pathway he made. That cold winter day has been a poignant memory for me since, and a demonstration of how Dad loved us and had our welfare uppermost in his mind.

Fast forward six years to February, 1945. Our mother died on Valentine's Day. I was fourteen and Bluford was eleven. Our older brother Eugene lay in an Army Hospital somewhere in Italy. He had been severely wounded in World War II where he served as a bombardier in the famed Flying Fortress with the Liberation Group of the 15th Army Air Force. Our older sister Louise was already married to Ray Dyer and they had two young children, Sylvan and Faye at that time (in August, Shirley was born). Ray who was in service was soon deployed to serve in the Pacific War Theater. It was a dark time in history and in the Dyer home at Choestoe. As we sat on that cold February day and heard the eulogy for our mother, a depiction of Proverbs 31:10-31, I knew that I entered adulthood at age fourteen, and that Bluford grew up from his little boy stage of eleven. I still continued my care for him, somewhat like sister/mother. That fall marked the time when our father taught Bluford, age 11, to attend the boiler and make sorghum syrup. Bluford was to follow that tradition of his father and grandfathers before him until he made his last crop of cane into syrup in the fall of 2004-fifty-nine years of premium-quality sorghum syrup making.

Fortunately, Eugene returned from service, and although beset by wounds received, he overcame them and became a businessman. Ethelene went to Truett McConnell College, graduated, and married in 1949 to Rev. Grover Jones whom she had met there. Ray returned from World War II and he and Louise and family moved to Cornelia, GA.

Bluford's father married his second wife, Winnie Mae Manley Shelton, on March 8, 1950. To them were born twin daughters, Brenda and Linda, son Troy, and daughters Gail and Janice. Loyd Shelton was Winnie's son by her first marriage. The family was growing, and Bluford adapted, working on the farm and continuing his education.

Bluford graduated from Union County High School with the Class of 1951, the last class to graduate before the twelfth grade was added. In the fall of 1951 he entered Truett McConnell College, Cleveland. To earn his tuition and board, the college assigned him the work responsibility of managing the college farm. His upbringing and hard work during his teenage years had prepared him well for the job. He was responsible for the others on farm work scholarship and for taking care of the animals and hay, vegetable and corn crops. The produce from that farm was used in part to provide for the college cafeteria.

At Truett McConnell, he met his future bride, Annie Jo Shook of Young Harris. They were married June 2, 1956. They soon were set up in their own house and Bluford continued his love for the land and farming. His step-mother Winnie Mae died 11/16/1956. Bluford and Annie Jo began caring for Gail, who was a two years three months old at the time of her mother's death. They reared her as their own daughter. Their daughter, Jounida, was born April 10, 1958. Through the years, more were added to the family. Wayne Hedden married Gail and Keith Porter married Jounida, and grandchildren Luke and Leslie Hedden and Blaze and Sky Porter. Bluford loved his family and get-togethers at special occasions. He served for many years as a trustee of the Dyer- Souther Heritage Association.

Bob Gibby who gave the eulogy at Bluford's memorial service on December 3 based his remarks on three characteristics Bluford possessed in abundance: (1) An unwavering work ethic; (2) Unselfish community service; and (3) Love and support of family.

Bluford received an award for his thirty three continuous years of service on the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service Board. He was known for his firm stand on issues affecting farmers and served ably on ASCS, representing Union, Towns and Fannin Counties. He was likewise active in community and church. His life was a reflection of his beliefs.

A long-time friend of the family, Mr. Kent Christopher, attended the funeral and interment at Choestoe Church in a wheel chair, bent and feeble. I spoke to Mr. Christopher following the service and told him I was glad he could come to Bluford's memorial. With tears in his eyes he said, "Bluford was my friend and helper in all things." And with those words and those tears, Kent summarized the life of one who gave unselfishly of his time, energy, means and person to help others.

The following free-verse poem was my tribute to him, read by Bluford's nephew and my son, the Rev. Keith Jones, officiating minister, at the memorial service. The poem is my attempt to summarize the life of a brother who was dearer than life itself to me. Many asked me for a copy of the poem. Here it is, with love:

One with the Land
(In tribute to my brother, Bluford Marion Dyer, November 26, 1933 - December 1, 2006 - Farmer Extraordinary)
The land was his livelihood, On hills and bottoms, row on row, Crops stretched upward, growing, Yielding to his knowing touch. He, one with the land, each season held For him some special work--- Winter and dormancy saw plans For spring plowing, planting, hope For summer's verdant growth And yield from early crops, The garden's bounty preserved to last A year for table abundantly laid. Fall was the sweetest time: The golden leaves on trees Matched the gold of sorghum syrup Cooking succulently in the copper pan. Crops were gathered before the cold Brought blasts of winter to the land--- All safely stored, the animals sheltered---
Days to rest, to read, a slower rhythm. His affinity with the land Came by inheritance and choice, Following the plow, growing food For family and others, his appointment, his calling. As earth meets sky at horizon's rim, So his soul touched land, and it yielded for him."He that tills the land shall be satisfied with bread."* His honest toil helped many to be fed. (*Proverbs 12:11a) -Ethelene Dyer Jones, December 2, 2006

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 7, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.