- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Rain brings back memories of rainy days
- Southern Folks: Looking for a feeling right as rain
- Southern Folks: My father, the SOB (sweet ole Bill)
- Southern Folks: Doing hard time with Miss Swann
- Southern Folks: Life, God and the world according to Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Remembering all our heroes on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Miss Juanita was a legend in her own mind
- Southern Folks: Gene Autry, the singing cowboy
- Southern Folks: OK, God, this is your last chance
- Southern Folks: Mr. Elvin was a quiet man
- Southern Folks: Saturdays made better with Green Stamps
- Southern Folks: Old Battle Axe, her dog and the Golden Rule
- Southern Folks: Praying and flying and Mrs. Silva's birds
- Southern Folks: Beans, Ole Tom and well-dressed scarecrows
- Southern Folks: Telephone party lines always rang up a good time
- Southern Folks: Good manners make good neighbors, even the scary ones
- Southern Folks: The orphans in my life taught me plenty
- Southern Folks: Family tragedy from 1968 still haunts
- Southern Folks: Everyone called him Doc Dean
- Southern Folks: Blue ribbons from the county fair for me and Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena's younger brother, Watt
- Southern Folks: Scrapbooks, pictures and memories
- Southern Folks: Old-timers and the twins
- Southern Folks: I knew an old woman who lived in her shoes
- Southern Folks: Mama Sue ruled the roost, without ever raising her voice
- Southern Folks: The formula for a full life
- Southern Folks: Facts, fiction and fibs about the holidays
- Southern Folks: Two days before Christmas
- Southern Folks: Mrs. Freeland, my favorite customer
- Southern Folks: In loving memory of Magic Man
- Southern Folks: Memorable mornings with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Be happy for what you have
- Southern Folks: Thanksgiving with Stumpy and the boys
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Jesus, for cold water
- Southern Folks: Autumn, miracles, magic and crawdads
- Southern Folks: Remembering Sundays with Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Mr. Glassman was a grump
- Southern Folks: I'm a Mormon, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic
- Southern Folks: Lessons at the table with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Sleeping in Elizabeth's bed
- Southern Folks: Chewing the rag with Mr. Remus
- Southern Folks: Remembering sweet, soft Southern summer nights
- Southern Folks: Sometimes the Lord understands why you lie
- Southern Folks: Thunder, lightning, bad words and politics
- Southern Folks: Growing faith through God's hidden treasures
- Southern Folks: Military academy and the power of prayer
- Southern Folks: I was raised to appreciate 'country simple'
- Southern Folks: Learning patience with a blackberry pie
- Southern Folks: Good people live in small Southern towns
- Southern Folks: Time to start carrying a big stick
- Southern Folks: 'You gotta do what the Bible says'
- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Never try to pull one over on a Southern woman
- Southern Folks: Blind Remus
- Southern Folks: Up on the hill under a tree
- Southern Folks: My friend Calvin was a precious child and a nice young man
- Southern Folks: Thinking about Duffy on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Watching TV with my grandparents
- Southern Folks: The Lord works in mysterious ways
- Southern Folks: Hard country love good prep for Marine Corps
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Lord, for roadkill
- Southern Folks: God is colorblind
- Southern Folks: The Lord doesn't look the other way
- Southern Folks: Grandparents' farm sits just below heaven
- Southern Folks: Lessons in life from Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Memories of spring on Miz Lena's farm
- Southern Folks: A salute to Mr. Jenkins, the first war hero I ever knew
- Southern Folks: Baptism, Miss Mama and thunderstorms
- Southern Folks: Wedding receptions, pigeons and chuckles
- Southern Folks: Always a chance of rain
- Southern Folks: Skeeter the coon hound's great escape
- Southern Folks: Ghost at the grocery store
- Southern Folks: Willie and his wife vs. a mess of crazy people
- Southern Folks: Karma - country style
- Southern Folks: No time for crybabies
- Southern Folks: In search of the silver lining
- Southern Folks: Into the weeds with Ole Tom
- Southern Folks: Miss Bobbie and David and Goliath
- Southern Folks: My favorite Christmas memory reminds me to be grateful
- Southern Folks: Christmas fruitcakes and TV dinners
- Southern Folks: Dining out with Miz Lena over the holidays
- Southern Folks: Dressing up for the Lord and lessons in love
- Southern Folks: Memories of a southern Thanksgiving
- Southern Folks: God's secret
- Southern Folks: A belated happy birthday to the Marines and happy Veterans Day to us all
- Southern Folks: They called him Angel
- Southern Folks: Sunday lunch and Monday leftovers...perfection
- Southern Folks: 'Genies don't work as good as God'
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena had a remedy and an answer for everything
- Southern Folks: Tap dancing straight to a refund
Back in the '50s, when I was a little boy growing up in Middle Tennessee, I had many teachers. Kind and somewhat elderly women. White ladies and black ladies. They had raised families and been through one lifetime already. I paid attention to them. I could tell by their expressions that they meant and believed everything they told me. Older ladies are like that. Plus, they're really smart.
I lived with my mother and two younger brothers in a very small farming town a little over an hour south of Nashville. Everybody knew one another's life story. Most were born there and never left. The population never got too far past a hundred. Somebody old would pass on, and a baby or two would be born.
What there was of a downtown was on both sides of a skinny two-lane road that slipped through it. Only seven buildings. Six of them open for business.
All the maple and oak trees that lined both sides of the cracked sidewalks changed colors in unison. In the really cold winter months, the trees seemed to be crying. They had lost their leaves and succumbed to glistening, tear-drop icicles hanging from the lower limbs. I'd jump up and grab one and eat it. They were pretty good.
Without a doubt, the widow Mrs. Stephenson was the richest person in town. She was on up there in age. White hair rolled up in a bun, tiny hands, her skin porcelain pale. She spoke softly. Her laugh was little more than a "tee-hee."
She was bathed and properly dressed before the chickens woke up. Attractive but conservative attire. Later, in the afternoon, Mrs. Stephenson's formality would give way to comfort, and she'd change into her house slippers. She could walk, but in slow and shuffled footsteps. Once she sat down, she stayed there for a while. It took some effort for her to get back up.
When it got cold, I chopped kindling and brought in two scoops of coal for her daily. She may have had a lot of money, but you couldn't prove it by what she paid me. I didn't care that much. She would almost always offer me a steaming cup of hot chocolate. I'd warm my hands around it and try to sip it, even though I knew it was too hot, yet, to drink.
Mrs. Stephenson owned just about everything around there. All the downtown buildings. Most of the houses over by the school and a couple of crop farms just outside of Mount Pleasant. She lived in a small but fine home in town, across from the church and down the hill from the cemetery.
She rented out her front room to Ms. Swan, a middle-aged, prim and proper English teacher at the school and the "on the down low" love interest of Preacher Parks.
Like clockwork, every Sunday, right after church, rain or shine, Ms. Swan would drive Mrs. Stephenson up the hill. Mrs. Stephenson would step out, stand over her husband's grave and they'd talk for a while. In the better-weather months, the buttercups she had planted years ago would come back up around his headstone.
Mrs. Stephenson had lost her husband to the first war. He came from a fairly wealthy Kentucky family. Less than a year after they were married, he shipped off. Him waving to her through the train window was the last time she'd ever see him. She said that, one day, two men in uniform came to the front door to tell her that her husband had made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
From that time forward, she gave her heart only to God and continued to teach school. History.
In the drawing room, she had two ornate, silver-framed pictures on the fireplace mantel. They were sorta tan, brown and white. Pastel colors mixed in. One was of the two of them on their wedding day and the other of him in his Army uniform.
We'd sit in there. Her, on that feather-stuffed, cranberry-purple couch. Me, across from her, tucked back into the matching chair. Whooshes of warmth coming from the pine-sapped logs, popping in the fireplace. Drapes pulled back and the shade rolled up. Whatever sun there was came through the window and made that side of the room golden. Mrs. Stephenson would crochet and ask me questions.
She'd ask me what I intended to do professionally. If I intended to travel abroad someday. Had I given thought to possibly learning another language. I hadn't given thought to any of it. I was still marveling over Superman being able to see through walls.
She'd point over toward the mantel and tell me the story, in a loving way, almost in a reverent tone, of how she and her only love had met at a Nashville summer party and danced the night away outside on the patio under the stars. He was an excellent dancer, according to Mrs. Stephenson.
I could tell she loved to tell the story, as she often did.
Every once in a while, she'd add something I hadn't before heard. Like the horse he bought for her or what a great singing voice he had. She'd trail off and eventually stop talking. She was somewhere back in time for a minute. Just staring at those pictures. Then I'd see her gears click, and she was back with me. Class began.
Mrs. Stephenson would bring her feet up on the couch, wrap her shawl around her shoulders and tell me interesting and elaborate stories of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, America's first settlers and all about the goodness of God. Not necessarily in that order. Eventually, it became more like Sunday School.
We discussed interpretations of biblical passages or the meaning and importance of faith and hope. That one must have faith and, even in the most dismal of times, the Lord provides us a "silver lining." Pretty heady stuff for a 9-year old to consume. I suffered through it. That hot chocolate was good. If her stories got too long, she'd offer me another cup. I always accepted.
Grayness fell through the window. The golden rays on that side of the room had vanished. A dark cloud covered up the winter sun. Wind bounced off the house.
Mrs. Stephenson said, "Sweetheart, go look out the window." I did. She said, "Just watch for it." I was waiting for something. The cloud moved over and a sliver of the sun began to gleam, just below the cloud.
Mrs. Stephenson, with her arms stretched out, jubilantly exclaimed, "Behold! The Lord's silver lining." Then, in her teacher voice, said, "It is very important for you to remember there is always hope for those who have faith in the Lord."
I still remember. I have renewed my faith. And I keep hoping.
Bill Stamps is a native Tennessean who spent four decades in the entertainment industry before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tenn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.