Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bringing Home the Cows

I have heard the saying, “. . . this and that till the cows come home.” The cows will come home on their own if their herder shows up very tardy.

I do have pleasant memories of going after the seven or eight cows we used to have when I was a young girl living with my parents and Sister Katie. Katie was three years older than I.

Our farm had a day pasture and a night pasture. The first part of the pasture lane would get very muddy in the spring because of a rainy season. To keep shoes or bare feet clean, I would inch up real close to the fence, while the cows’ udders would get real messy at such times and would have to be cleaned up before milking.

When the days became cooler and the mornings a bit crisp, I would run to the spot where the first cow got up to warm my bare feet while the other cows got started. Sometimes, too, there was a newborn calf by its mother’s side; it was a thrill to be the first one to find the calf and share the news.

In the night pasture there was one lone tree along the lane, and in the pasture thistles, milkweed, goldenrods and a half-dozen small green mounds which I could not figure out how they got there. This lane came off the big lane and at this junction there was a nice gate, while across the way a makeshift gate was made by stretching two barbed wires across two poles guarding the larger day pasture. Further up along the lane stood an old neglected tree which had never been trimmed or pruned, yet produced its share of good eating apples, gnarled and yellow. Most apples had several good bites in them and the cows tasted them too. Farther along the south fence stood a big bush of green and reddish gooseberries, ripe in late summer. Any time when I came for the cows I would detour over to that bush and enjoy its fruit, while I called for the cows, still hidden below the rise which led to a low spot. One by one, they would show up.

Soon all were home in the barnyard. Now I would pump by hand this good cold well water till the wooden trough was full and every cow’s thirst was satisfied.

Then they willingly went to their stanchions to devour their gallon tin of chips. Either Katie or I would hand spray each cow with fly spray to relieve them of the pesky flies and to reduce the switching of their tails while milking. Now we took our pails and the one- or three-legged stools and sat down to milk. Sometimes singing or whistling, we enjoyed milking fast so the milk would rise fast and foam into our two-and-a-half gallon pails. The three or four cats in the rear would need to have their dishes filled a time or two.

The milk was carried to the milk house, back of the pump house, and poured into the big hopper, which then flowed into the strainer through the neck of the ten-gallon milk can. When the milking was finished, we tried to hurry the cows out of the barn as fast as possible to avoid having the concrete floor all splattered [with their droppings], back again to the lane leading to the night pasture.

Another landmark was the wild cherry tree along the line fence in the big hill field. From the top of this hill, you could see over two fields out to the road and far beyond for miles around. It was delightful to be there. The tree was a haven for the blackbirds and many other birds to feast on, and to nest in.

Along the far edge of this field, my father decided one year to plant our potato patch. Dad had his color-matched team, Maude and Bell, hitched to a neighbor’s borrowed potato planter. The seed potatoes were in the hopper on the back, and I was to sit in the back to see to it that each piece of potato would find its right niche in the rotating blade. I took my chore gloves along to wear, because I did not like the feel of those dry potatoes. On the next-to-the-last round, my glove got caught in the wheel and took my finger where it was not supposed to be and cut it badly, making it bleed profusely. I did not say anything till we got to the end of the row. When Dad saw it, he said, “You go home and let Mother fix it. I can finish this up.” It healed well, only a little crooked, but I can still wear a thimble on that finger. That was a good memory of working with my Dad on a nice summer day. At that young age, had I been asked to do an errand after dark, the screech owl’s mournful voice would have given me the creeps, but the friendly whippoorwill was music to the ears.

by Clara Miller

This collection of writings by and about Clara Yoder Miller has been gathered by her children and grandchildren, in honor of her ninety-ninth birthday. Buy the book at Amazon.com:


Friday, November 19, 2010


“They don’t make them like they use to.” That expression not only applies to cars and homes of superior quality, but to people as well. Christine has the two C’s that make her a classic: Character and Charm. But she also has a third C that I have truly appreciated: Courage. Her life began over eighty-one years ago, just as the world was entering the Great Depression. She was born in Miami, Florida, and is the second of four children. Christine’s parents divorced when she was young and her mother found herself single and struggling to provide for her family at a time when that seemed impossible.

Christine’s mom felt fortunate to have a job, even though she had to pay for it – literally. Times were so bad that she paid her employer one dollar an hour to be a waitress. She tried to provide for her children on the tips, but this could only last for so long. Eventually all four children were put into a state-run group home. Christine wasn’t quite five years old, and even though I couldn’t imagine being taken away from my mother at that age, Christine seemed to find the silver lining in that experience. She said she was one of the fortunate few who was reunited with her mother within a few months, and was thankful for the manners she had learned during her short stay.

At fifteen, Christine met her future husband. He was twenty-eight, and had just returned from World War II. She remembers going on long walks with him and admitted she still can’t imagine what he saw in a skinny little girl like herself. They soon married and Christine went on to have eight children. Sadly, her oldest son died at the age of three. Her family eventually settled in western North Carolina. Even though the war was over, it still had lasting effects on Christine’s husband. After twelve years of marriage, Christine and her husband divorced.

Now alone, and with courage I can only wish to have, Christine loaded up her seven children and moved to Los Angeles, California to be closer to her mother and sister. After a few years, Christine remarried. Her second husband was also a soldier, who had fought in the Korean War. They settled in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they resided until moving back to western North Carolina, Christine’s favorite place to live.

When asked what her happiest time in life was, Christine couldn’t recall just one moment. She beamed as she talked about the joy of being newly married, bringing a baby home from the hospital, raising her children, and learning about God. If a moment in her life brought much sadness, she would say, “That’s another story.” She didn’t want to dwell on the bad times, even though she did experience them. She did tell us that her saddest time was when her three-year-old son died. She also lost a daughter to death later in life. Her biggest regret was not being a better mom. She wished she could have been a stay-at-home mother during the crucial years when her children were young.

So what forgotten wisdom did I learn from Christine? I was truly impressed by Christine’s ability to dwell on the happy moments in her life. She is a true optimist, who was genuinely thankful for the abundant and varied life she’s lived. It made me realize that life is much like the mountains that Christine loves: sometimes it’s harsh and unforgiving, and other times it’s magnificent and breathtaking. We can’t control the good days and the bad days. All we can do is hope that the joys will outweigh the sorrows. The secret is to savor the highs, enjoy them while they last, and store them in a safe place to pull out when the storms of life blow in.

I also realized that my full-time job of being a mom is the most important thing I can do with my life. Christine didn’t have many regrets except the time she lost with her children; time she will never get back. There is no paycheck for being a mom, and sometimes not even a “thank you.” But the time and energy you invest (or don’t invest) will have lasting effects on the rest of your life. Christine has the superior qualities every mother needs: courage, strength of character, and the added bonus of charm, which puts her in the “classic” category.

by Aubrey Avila

Christine is one of the few people I know who can recall so many joys. Unlike most people, she had a hard time remembering her sad times, which made her a happier person. Another thing I learned is that I should appreciate my mom. Even though she can be tough on us, I know she is really doing it for my benefit. Christine also had a lot of courage (that I can only dream of having) to go across the USA with her seven children. I am happy to know Christine and be able to talk to her about her life. Understanding how hard her life was growing up in the Great Depression makes me appreciate the things I normally take for granted.

by Ansleigh Avila

Thursday, September 30, 2010


She sits in the crowded hall, alone in her wheelchair. As we approach, her eyes light up and she begins to smile. Unfortunately for her, she knows where she is and has her full mental faculties. But she is surrounded by other patients who are unaware of their surroundings, and nurses busily doing their jobs. Her name is Janette. We were privileged to meet her and her husband Roland when my daughter was five years old. They were always kind and hospitable and now we are trying to return the favor.

Janette was born in 1926. She grew up on a farm close to Lake Lure, NC. Her father was an excellent carpenter and her mother a talented seamstress. Unlike many of the surrounding families, she only had one sibling – a younger sister who died at the age of five. Janette said her mother never recovered from her sister’s death. Suddenly she was the only child and had to take on the extra responsibilities that come with being raised on a farm. She never had time to play and, sadly, the innocence every child should experience was stolen the day her sister died. She went to school in a one-room schoolhouse, which is where she met Roland, her husband of fifty-seven years.

Roland came from a family of eight. Like Janette, he was raised on a farm. They married soon after they finished school and had one son. They always remained close to their families, and never moved more than thirty miles away from their birthplace. Like many men in this area, Roland worked at a furniture factory for most of his life. When we first met Roland and Janette they were in their late seventies, and still very active. Roland was usually outside working in the garden, cutting wood, or maintaining his old tractor. Their well-maintained brick home was always warm and cozy. A few years later, Janette fell and broke her hip. She was sent to a nursing home to recover, and even though her hip healed, she still prefers her wheelchair.

Eventually, both Roland and Janette were put into a nursing home. Soon thereafter, we went for our first visit and were saddened to find out that Roland had died. Janette was left alone. Her only surviving family members are her son and granddaughter, who live hundreds of miles away. She always looks forward to their visits, but they are few and far between. After spending time with her, we are always sad to leave. In the back of our minds we know this may be the last time we see her, but we still hope that when we return and walk down that long, crowded hallway, her smiling face will be there to greet us.

So what forgotten wisdom have I learned from Janette? That life can be lonely for the elderly. So far all my interviews have been with people who are still active and have amazing support systems. Janette doesn’t have either of those. She is blessed and cursed to have outlived most of her family and friends. Like many residents in the nursing home, she has been left behind.

I also realized that if I make it to eighty and my children put me in a nursing home, I hope I lose my mind first! Having your mental faculties does have its advantages when you have a meaningful life and are surrounded by those you love. But when you are confined to a wheelchair in a house of strangers, it can be worse than death itself.

by Aubrey Avila

Janette is someone who you always want to be friends with. She is sweet and considerate. Seeing her in that nursing home makes me realize that growing old is sad. Janette is always happy to see us and has been kind to us. Visiting her feels like we are returning the favor. She has a very good sense of humor and makes everyone laugh. At eighty-four, she is someone I look up to.

by Ansleigh Avila

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Viola is as pretty as her name. At eighty-two, her blue eyes still sparkle against her silver hair. She is quick to smile and even though she may not consider herself a “southern belle,” she has all the qualifications. She was born and raised in the same small town where she still resides – Old Fort, NC. She came from a family of eleven children. Her father was a soldier in the Navy and fought in World War I. Her family didn’t own a horse and buggy, so they would walk the two-and-a-half miles to town each day. During the summer, Viola and her brothers sold berries to the townspeople. This required picking the fruit and walking to town with gallons of berries. Each gallon sold for fifteen cents. All eleven children worked hard on the farm. They had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no radio or television. So what did eleven children do without all the modern conveniences that we take for granted today? They got creative! All eleven are self-taught musicians. Viola and her sister both play the guitar. Her brothers learned to play the fiddle, guitar, and piano, all by ear. Music was their entertainment. With eleven children, there was always plenty of fun to be had!

Viola married at eighteen and had three adored sons. After twenty-five years of marriage, her husband Duane divorced her. She was heartbroken, because he was the only man she ever loved. He remarried, but she did not, and she always held out hope that Duane would have a change of heart. Her faithfulness paid off. After seventeen years of separation, Viola and Duane remarried. Adding to the happy occasion, their oldest son performed the wedding ceremony. This was by far the happiest time of her life. Although in his sixties, Duane worked hard to build a beautiful mountain home for them to live in. They would have celebrated their twentieth (really their forty-fifth!) wedding anniversary this last spring, but unfortunately Duane died shortly before that day came. This has been Viola’s saddest time. Staying busy has helped with her loneliness.

So what Forgotten Wisdom did I learn from Viola? Most importantly, I learned that patience and forgiveness will always bring unexpected blessings. Viola regained the love of her life. During their second marriage, she never brought up the past. She forgave Duane completely, and even during their seventeen-year separation, she never spoke badly about him. That is grace in its truest form. Her patience was rewarded and her forgiving spirit allowed her to find peace and happiness. Her only regret was that Duane didn’t come back to her sooner.

It also made me realize that love should be cherished. If you have it, appreciate it! It’s not just about romance; it’s about forgiveness, loyalty, honor, and perseverance. It’s hoping for the best, and sticking through the worst. Viola is an amazing example of this, which is why she will always be as pretty as her name!

by Aubrey Avila

Viola has always and will always be one of the sweetest women you will ever meet. After we sat down and talked to her, I learned two things from her. First of all, I learned that people, and especially children, can live, survive, and function without television, electricity, the internet, cars, and video games. The second thing I learned from Viola was that patience pays off. She waited seventeen years for Duane to come back, and finally she got what she wanted! AI think Viola is someone that everyone should look up to.

by Ansleigh Avila

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Anne is who I aspire to be! At eighty-five, her eyes still twinkle with the look of mischief that most people lose when they are forced to grow up. Her biggest flaw is that she makes the rest of us average or below-average people feel like wimps. Most of her time is spent doing volunteer work, helping others. The day we stopped in for a visit, she had also been babysitting her two great-grandchildren. Like all good great-grandmothers, she had a room filled with toys, and made my children feel right at home. She had been working hard on canning, something she manages to do every harvest. The fruits of her labor included some delicious-looking homemade tomato and vegetable soup. The home she has happily lived in for the last fifty-six years is clean and modest, decorated with bright, happy sunflowers.

Anne was born in the coastal town of Brest, France. At age three she moved to Cherbourg, France, which is where she grew up. Anne never knew her biological parents. She was not adopted, but was raised, along with another boy, by a kind woman who was not able to have her own children. She was in the heart of France when the Germans attacked during World War II. She remembers German planes flying overhead and showed us photos of spots where she had played as a child that were later hit by bombs. If it had not been for the war, Anne would not have met her husband. He was a U.S. Army soldier stationed near her home. Somehow, despite the fact that Anne could not speak English, they fell in love and married. Shortly thereafter, they had two children and moved to the United States.

After fifty years of living in the U.S., Anne still has a thick French accent. She is petite, no more than four foot eight inches. But what she lacks in height she makes up for in spunk. One of her few complaints was the poor treatment she received from her father-in-law when she came to the States. She was disappointed to find that the home they would be sharing with him was a wooden shack with no running water and mattresses made from corn husk. One humorous story that she related was that her father-in-law became lazy and would urinate on the living room floor. One day she had enough; she jumped on his back and pushed him to the ground. She then rubbed his nose in the urine and told him that the next time she would make him drink it. He never did it again!

Anne loves to do anything involving her hands and is an extremely hard worker. She does not feel that she has a talent, but I feel her strength of character is a gift few possess. If money wasn’t an object and she could do anything with her life, she would do exactly what she is doing now: helping others. Her best advice is to serve God. She has no regrets: “What is the point in looking back?” she says. Her saddest time was when her husband died in 1984 and also when her son died of cancer a few years ago. She laughs mischievously when she says her happiest time was when her father-in-law died.

So what Forgotten Wisdom did Anne teach me? First of all, that humans have an amazing ability to adapt. Anne moved away from those she loved, and all she knew, to a land in which she was a foreigner. She had to teach herself English and learn a new way of life. She accomplished this and has adjusted remarkably well. One thing Anne never learned to do was drive a car. Somehow, despite this handicap, she functions better than those who do drive vehicles. She has her own home and many people who love her dearly. That is what I call adapting to what life gives you.

The second thing I learned from Anne is that attitude is everything. She is proactive about her happiness. She never spoke of regrets and doesn’t seem to waste time looking back. She has her eyes firmly set on the future. Instead of worrying about her own problems and wallowing in self-pity, she gets out there and helps others. She has managed to find happiness, laughter, and joy even during her most trying times. She is honest and witty, with a kind heart. We left her feeling bright and happy just like the sunflowers that decorate her home.

by Aubrey Avila

One of the things I’ve learned from Anne is to not think about our regrets. Anne said she didn’t have any regrets, and if she did she never dwelt on them. She doesn’t sit around thinking about all the things she shouldn’t or should have done. That is one thing I admire about her.

Another thing that I have learned from her is to not sit around and feel bad about yourself. Anne does not sit around doing nothing and feeling sorry for herself. She is the busiest eighty-five-year-old I have ever met. She is a great person to talk to and a good friend.

by Ansleigh Avila

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Herb & Evelyn

There has always been something soothing about my grandparents. Being around them was like applying Aloe vera after spending a blistering day in the sun. They give me comfort and peace.

Now, this may seem ironic to those who know them, because, after 57 years of marriage, my grandparents still mix as well as oil and vinegar. Yet their constant bickering is familiar and still quite amusing. They offered me stability and wisdom when I needed it most. Though they are not perfect, I am forever indebted to them. I am also thankful that they have been such an influential part of my life. So who better to start my blog with? The following is gleaned from a recent conversation with them.

My grandmother was born in St. Francisville, Illinois. She is 76. Her mother was German and her father was French. She’s the oldest of three girls. She was raised in a single-parent family, which at the time was very rare. My grandfather was born in Flint, Michigan. Now 77, he also came from a strong single mother of Scottish descent. This is their first similarity: both my grandparents came from broken homes, a fact I realized only recently. They both agreed that they were happy, or more accurately, that they were not sad. Perhaps “content” would be an accurate description.

My grandmother feels her talent is crafts: doing needlepoint, sewing, and crocheting. My grandfather feels his talent is his ability to talk (all who know him can attest to this!). My grandmother can’t decide the best thing that ever happened to her. It’s a close tie between meeting my grandfather and learning about God. The best thing for my grandfather was meeting my grandmother. Interestingly, my grandmother has said that as a child she had no imagination: she was focused on surviving day to day, and dreams and aspirations were not an option. At the time, it was expected that a girl would get married and have children, so that is what she did. My grandfather, on the other hand, readily admitted he was a dreamer. His biggest dream was becoming a concert harmonica player.

The happiest time in my grandmother’s life was her teenage years. They were poor, but she had her mom and three sisters. The saddest time was when her mom died. This was over twenty years ago, but it brought tears to her eyes thinking of all the good times they enjoyed. This reaffirmed in my mind that no matter how old we are, we still need our parents. The happiest time for my grandfather is now. The saddest time in his life was when my mom (his oldest daughter) and my dad got divorced. He had to try to mend the broken hearts of his grandchildren, reaffirming the fact that divorce damages the hearts of all involved.

So what forgotten wisdom do my grandparents offer? First of all: grandparents are powerful! They may have regrets about their own children, but they have a chance to redeem themselves with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If they choose to, they will be able to influence lives of future generations long after they are gone. They can offer support, guidance, and unconditional love. That is something every child needs more of.

Secondly, life is not about finding bliss; it’s about finding contentment. My grandparents are satisfied with what they have and with the life they have chosen. In a world that is constantly striving for more, this is an amazing accomplishment. They are not out searching for something better; they’ve already found it!

by Aubrey Avila

I learned a few things I will never forget after interviewing my grandparents. First of all: don’t get married young. That is one of my grandma’s biggest regrets. The second thing I learned is that they never regretted serving God. They said it is one of the best things they have done with their life. Lastly, even though they fight and bicker, they will always love each other.

by Ansleigh Avila