Peg Carmack Short - Illustrated by Ellen Stouffer
When autumn breezes
began to send leaves sailing through the air and
plump pumpkins were starting to burst from the
vines, it was time for our family to return to
the Missouri Ozarks where my dad was born. There
we marked the passing of summer by viewing the
miracle of changing leaves. The view grew more
spectacular as we drove west beyond St. Louis.
The roads became steeper and the trees more dense
as the path wound its way through the mountains.
road we traveled was Route 66, which snaked past
campgrounds, Burma-Shave signs, and billboards
advertising tourist attractions such as Jessie
James's hideout and Onondaga Cave.
of the time we arrived late at night, my sister
and I stumbling out of the car, tousle-headed
and groggy from sleep. Soon we were embraced by
a chorus of exuberant voices as aunts, uncles,
and cousins surrounded us. Strong arms circled
our waists and pulled us close. There were sweet
kisses, followed by exclamations of: "My, look
how big you've grown!" My dad and his brothers
exchanged slaps on the back and bear hugs. Laughter
bubbled up around us like an explosion from Old
Faithful. Secure in the love and legacy of my
father's past, I was lulled by the dancing voices
and the warm camaraderie of my Missouri relatives.
Despite my excitement at being in the country
for a few days, I soon fell asleep, cocooned in
a feather bed and sung to sleep by crickets and
next morning I awoke early to the sounds of my
father rising. Quickly and quietly I threw on
my clothes and tiptoed down to the kitchen. I
wanted to be the only one up, certain that Daddy
would take me for a walk in the woods. I loved
being alone with my dad because he was a great
storyteller and my hero.
conspiratorial whispers, we packed a thermos of
hot cocoa, which Daddy made especially for me.
Then we climbed into our used Plymouth and set
out for our early morning adventure.
roads grew increasingly rough and rocky as we
left the main highway and headed into the surrounding
countryside. We were off to see the family farm
of my father's youth and to take a walk in the
nearby woods. Finally the road narrowed to a mere
footpath, and there we parked and began our communion
among tall oaks and shagbark hickories. The air
was perfumed with the smell of apples from a nearby
orchard and wood smoke from a neighboring cabin.
Around us the morning mist kissed mountains and
meadows, and the trees sighed with our passing.
Here, amid a kaleidoscope of amber, crimson, and
golden leaves, my father told me about his growing
up on a farm in the Ozarks.
pointed out a distant hilltop where he told me
there was a deserted church and an ancient gravesite.
In hushed tones he told me a shivers-down-the-spine
story handed down from his father to him. The
tall tale chilled and thrilled me the way a good
mountain story should. Of course, he assured me,
these stories were just fun to tell and weren't
really true. He showed me the fine points of mountain
medicine by pointing out flowers and roots and
telling me which ones his mother taught him made
good medicines when brewed as teas. And he warned
me never to eat wild berries, onions, or mushrooms
unless he was with me as a guide because some
gathered hickory nuts from the ground and placed
them in the deep pockets of my father's jacket.
Then we rested at the crest of a hill under a
tall, stately tree.
you know that trees have intuition?" my father
asked me. Intrigued by the thought, I shook my
a tree feels threatened by disease, drought, or
fire," he told me, "it begins to twist itself
under the bark, reinforcing itself, so it becomes
stronger." "How do you know that, Daddy?" He took
my hand and led me to a felled tree stump. From
the outside the bark looked like that of any other
tree, but inside there was evidence of its twisting
a lot like that tree," he told me. "As we go through
life, we face danger and hardship. Disease and
the strong winds of trouble threaten to destroy
us. But in the same way God designed protection
for the trees, he uses our struggles to help us
become stronger. But always remember," he cautioned,
"that in the midst of our trials, God never leaves
us. If we keep our eyes on him and trust his guidance,
then just like these trees we'll grow stronger."
that day on, I've never seen a stately oak without
wondering how much it might have struggled and
persevered in order to become grand and majestic.
And while I would like my life always to be joyous
and free of trouble, I remember my father's words
and the Scripture verse he taught me: "Whenever
trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity
for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance
has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when
your endurance is fully developed, you will be
strong in character and ready for anything" (James
again the trees have turned to amber and a sudden
brisk breeze yanks open my sweater, reminding
me that winter is not too far away. As I take
a morning walk in the woods near my home, the
dewy grasses dampen my feet and brambles tug at
my pants leg. I hear the noisy cawing of scolding
crows, angry that I've disturbed their morning
meal. The wind blows and the leaves of the trees
rustle and seem to clap their hands. And my heart
is filled with joy as I remember my father and
our walks in the woods.
long since forgotten the names of the trees and
which plants make the best medicine. Yet my father's
love for God and his daily example of faithfulness,
through good times and bad, walk with me always.
copyrighted © 2001 by Peg Carmack Short and may
not be copied in full or part without written
permission of the author.
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