The Tree that Gave More than Shade

I went to the riverfront one evening hoping to enjoy a beautiful sunset, but discovered the setting sun was blocked by a forest of trees. Looking for a place to sit, I was drawn to a bench under a particularly shading tree.  The metal placard on the bench read: “Sit and rest a while,” and that seemed like a good idea.

I was resting and reflecting on the day’s blessings and my life overall when I noticed the tree trunk.  I had been to the park many times over the past four years but had never noticed that this tree trunk had grown at a remarkable slant. How could a tree grow slanted, I began to wonder. I looked around at other tree trunks more closely and noticed many of the trees had not grown up straight and narrow. Many had grown in crooked, twisted patterns. I marveled at the patterns and laughed at my memories of my grandmother’s demands that I stand up straight and tall, and straighten my feet.

Stand up straight and tall – or not!

I was delighted by what I was seeing through the trees. I remembered being 12 or so and my grandmother commanding me, “Don’t slouch. Stand up like you know God made you to be somebody.” And I’ll never forget her looking down at my pigeon toes telling me, “And straighten those feet! You are nobody’s pigeon.” I had made a conscious decision to turn my feet outward, never mind my fallen arches, and when I could afford braces to straighten my teeth, I bought them. I bought invisaligns though and did not complete the straightening process because of the discomfort. But I have tried to straighten my self, my life, in many ways. I have been straightening my hair, straightening my resume trying to show a disciplined work history.  But the trees were teaching me otherwise.

I noticed trees broken at the roots just above ground. They continued to stand tall giving shade with new leaves this season. I noticed tree barks splintered in twos threes and fours. I had never noticed trees this way and will never look at trees – or people – as I had before. Some of us grow up straight and tall. Some of us grow at a slant, some are beautifully twisted and crooked at the core. Some of us break when strong winds come. Some of us bend. Some loose big branches, some of us don’t.

I also got to thinking about the uniqueness of the various trees all standing in the same area. The Willow was a Willow from the beginning and cannot become an Evergreen no matter how much it prays or tries to imitate. I will be only what God created me to be and with that realization I felt a great measure of relief.  It was as if the sun was setting on a certain set of anxieties within me. I left the park knowing the sunset I sought had not been blocked by the trees. The trees had revealed it.


The Grass is Greener – When You Water It

This morning I woke up, as usual, about 5:30 to meditate and pray before tuning into Steve Harvey’s 6 o’clock call to God. That’s not what Steve calls it, but I call it that because I consider it similar to the early morning worship I learned growing up as a Muslim. (But that’s another story for another day.)

Steve’s call to God-morning testimony-moment-of-inspiration, whatever we want to call it, was about God’s gifts to us this morning. He used the famous quote, “God’s gift to you is your potential, your talents. Your gifts back to God is what you become, what you make of your talents and potential.” Or something like that. He told of individuals who turned their talents for cooking, baking, singing into businesses and successful careers. He didn’t reference a Biblical scripture to support this as he sometimes does, but the real-life anecdotes from people he knows, rang true enough for me. This got me to thinking about my own talents and potential. I love to write. It prospers me psychologically even before it adds up to dollars that makes sense. I like to spend my first hour of the day writing and more often than not I do.

But this morning, something that Steve said reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday with my 91-year-old grandparents. We were in their backyard, where they had proudly showed me the tomatoes, okra, bell peppers, and chives they are growing. I marveled at the mere fact that even as their health has declined and age as slowed them considerably, they are still producing. They still grow vegetables they freeze and can to have through the winter months. But their level of productivity was not what amazed me the most.

Grandma had sat on the steps for a rest as Granddad was digging up a cluster of chives to send home with me. I told them that I am growing a pot of basil my next door neighbor gave me, and a pot of mint. I have not planted a whole garden, but someday I may. We talked about the mint that used to grow wild in their garden. They told me how many, many years ago, when my granddad worked for Marriott, managing its contract for food services at a hospital, for extra cash, they sold the company mint from their back yard. This story of their enterprising and collective effort was only another small gift from this moment spent with them.

They offered me mustard greens and offered to pick them because they figured they could pick them faster since they’re old pros at it.

“I just can’t stand to see you struggling, picking one at a time,” Grandma said, bending over, pulling up handfuls.

“They don’t look ready to me,” I told her. “Looks like they need to grow some more. They’re so small.”

“They’re tender when they’re young like that,” she said. “I like mine tender.”

“But I don’t want to take your greens you put all the work into growing,” I said.

“We got greens going to bed!” Granddad said. “That little bit you got there ain’t enough to feed me. Go on and fill that bag up. We got plenty greens. Here, let me help you.”

Granddad’s hip is bad, so rather than bend, he had to kneel to pick greens.

“We gave away our first crop,” Grandma told me. “The Bible says give your…what is that they call it?”

“Your first fruits. Give your first fruits to God,” I said, surprised that this information had been inside. I had not thought about it. Couldn’t remember where I had read it or heard it. Some church somewhere, or one of the may self-help books I’ve read, probably.

“Yeah. That’s it. Give your first fruits to God and you’ll never want for anything,” Grandma added.

Before I left their home with a box full of books, dated as far back as 1914, a bag of fresh greens, and a pot of chives to grow my own seasonings for the future, I also felt blessed by stories they shared, stories I had not heard in our 45 years together.

I had not known, for instance, that Granddad had helped take care of his parents and carried some of the lessons he learned from theme the rest of his life. He didn’t put it that way. He simply mentioned, by way of explanation, that even when he was missing in action, according to my Grandma, he was not missing at all.

“Granddad is it true that you were gone for three years during World War II and Grandma didn’t know if you were coming home or not?” I asked yesterday, determined to clear up a few issues while there is still time.

“I didn’t know if I was coming home!” he said passionately. “We were at war!”

He told me about taking the ship to Italy and losing friends. They were not sure what might happen the next day.

“You couldn’t call or write?” I asked.

“I’ll tell you what though. I sent my checks home,” he said. “I had half of it going to my momma and the other half going to your grandma.”

“So Grandma, you knew he was alive because the money was coming,” I said, begging the question of why she had told me only half the story, but also feeling relieved as I realized this inclination I have to tell only my half of the story is maybe a trait I inherited. She looked chagrinned and Granddad finished telling his side.

“My momma saved all the money I sent to her. Your Grandma here didn’t have a nickel of it when I got back.”

Grandma shrugged and I smiled imagining the conversation they must have had when Granddad returned. I knew that she had felt like she had been left in the big city, at 21, to fend for herself after she moved her with her new husband then he was called to war. I never knew that Granddad had not considered her totally alone and helpless. They took a train together back to his home to visit his parents and he told his mother to use the money she had saved for him to build a bathroom onto the house.

“I told them I didn’t want to have to go to no outhouse the next time I came. So take the money I sent and get a bathroom built.” They did.

They told me about when they bought the house we were standing in, how they looked at house all over the city, but Grandma wanted this one. So they bought it. Granddad had told me years ago how he had not known how they could afford this house, but everyday when he rode by it on a bus going to work he prayed and knew in his heart this would be his house. Yesterday he told me that it turned out that the man selling the house was a fellow member of the masons and allowed them to move in before they went to settlement.

They told me about using the attic in their house to cure hogs. They would drive home to Georgia to visit and return with two whole hogs. In their basement, they soaked the hogs in salt water.

“How long did they have to soak?” I asked.

“I don’t remember now. A certain amount of time, you had to soak ’em,” Granddad said.

“Then you hung them in the attic. I never knew how you could keep them from stinking. I mean it’s dead meat – not refrigerated,” I said, recalling bits and pieces of the story I’d heard over the years.

“That’s why you soak them in the salt. The salt preserves ’em. Then we hung them up there in the attic. And my father, he had showed me how to make sausage and everything. My children never wanted for nothing!” he said proudly. “Well, I don’t know about after they got grown cause they joined the moozlems and stopped eating pork.”

We laughed.

“They still got the lesson though,” I assured him. “My mother taught me how to buy in bulk and stay stocked with staples. Always a bag of rice, some beans…”

He smiled at his memories.

“I always keep a stock of things. You would never see me going back and forth to the grocery store every week. I got a store in my basement,” he said.

I had noticed three gallon jugs of laundry detergent in the basement. I did not mention that I like going to the grocery store practically everyday because I had wasted too much food buying fresh produce in bulk, not having the time to cook and freeze like they do. Since I could remember, they had always kept two freezers full of food in their basement, too. One freezer was full of meats and fish, the other was full of vegetables they grew, apples and peaches they picked. When I lived with them through a job transition once I had helped scale and gut a cooler full of fresh fish they had caught. We formed an assembly line, the three of us, at the double-sink Granddad had installed himself years ago.

“We have always had a freezer full of meat,” Granddad told me. “When they first sold us the freezer, that was the way they sold it to you. You bought the freezer, and for a certain amount each month, they bought you the meats.”

“Haven’t you ever lost it, had it go bad in a power outage?” I asked, because I had not remembered ever hearing him complain about something like that.

He shook his head.

“I have always trusted in God. And I never went through that. Never had the power stay out so long the meat went bad. I trust in God.”

I nodded, smiling.

I noticed what looked like a pan of cornbread covered in foil on the counter and asked for a bite to eat – having already declined their offer to cook something for lunch. I just wanted a small taste of something and remembered Grandma’s cornbread was actually better than the boxed Jiffy mix she started with. She added her own enhancements on the box mix. 

“I made biscuits. You’re welcomed to them,” she said. 

“Take them all,” Granddad said. “Take them home.” 

I only wanted one to take the edge off my hunger. I had left over beef and veggies waiting for me at home. I spotted a jar of Grandma’s homemade jelly and ended up eating three biscuits because they tasted better than they looked and the jelly was heavenly even though it had not jelled. Grandma apologized for the lack of firmness in her jelly. Granddad proudly explained that it had been made from apples they picked from the tree at their vacation camp site a short drive from where they live. He suggested I take a jar of jelly home with me, too. 

We covered a lot of ground in my short visit. Grandma disclosed a couple secrets she probably was supposed to take back to heaven with her. Granddad denied it all. One of her complaints I tried to mitigate, but couldn’t. Granddad assured me that he is taking good care of them as he always had. 

“And when we die, ya’ll don’t have to come up with a nickel to bury us,” he said. He’s got that all taken care of, too. He told me of when and how he decided to pay for it all.

“When I die, all you got to do is call the Latneys and say, ‘he’s dead,’. They’ll come and pick me up, and everything is taken care of, paid in full. You don’t have to worry about nothing,” he said. 

Grandma had begun preparing me for their inevitable departure a few years ago when we wrote the obituary she wants used. She told me the particulars about what she wants to wear. Last year when she was not sure she would survive major surgery, and she lay restless, strapped in bed in an intensive care unit, she called out to me as I was leaving. 

“My obituary’s in the punch bowl!” she had said, telling me that if she didn’t make it out the next morning, the story of her life we had worked on was in with all her other important papers stashed in a glass, crystal-looking punch bowl. 

“Ya’ll are miracles in my mind,” I told them yesterday. 

“Bless you,” Granddad said. 

I had told Grandma a couple weeks ago that the mere fact that she’s still alive after professing her surrender before going into surgery last year amazes me. She had told me, “I’ve lived a good life…I’m ready…whenever God sees fit to take me I’m ready…I’m tired…” I did not expect her to live past Christmas. But by spring, she was planting seeds for another harvest. 

Yesterday as Granddad pulled greens for my dinner, I offered to mow their lawn. No, he said, my uncle is planning to teach my 12-year-old cousin, how to cut his grandparents’ grass.  I used to take pride in keeping up their lawn. Granddad had taught me how to mow the grass evenly, how to trim the hedges using his electric clippers. He had taught me to water the grass early in the morning or late in the evenings, never when the sun is high.  

Yesterday’s visit – their stories, the fruits from their garden, the laughter, the memories – was such a blessing, it came to mind this morning as I prayed and considered making my morning writings, my morning thoughts, my first fruits offering to God.

Rather than pondering my current problems, past regrets, and fears about the future, “weed” thoughts that choke the life out of my potential, I should begin my day with nourishing thoughts – and writings. Thoughts of thanks for all that I do have, praise for all the good in my past, and thoughts of hope for my future will nourish my God-given talents and potential, while lamenting all that I seem to lack will, like weeds, choke the life out.

I got out of bed this morning, thanking God that although I do not have the job I expected to have had a year or more ago, yesterday I had time, un-rushed, to spend with two people who have lived well a very long time trusting God and the many gifts He has given them. Jobs helped sustain them, but so did their relationships with their parents, their passion for gardening, their practice of tithing, their relationships with their children, their grandchildren, and their church.

Today I will water my basil and mint and the chives – and many other “fruits” I got from Grandparents yesterday, fully appreciating them as gifts God has planted in my life.

Don’t Shit on My Bookbag

by Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery on Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 11:56am

Black crows are bold. Bold as shit.

This morning I packed five journals in my bookbag and headed to the beach, my “office of inspiration,” already decorated with real-life scenery. Being temporarily unemployed means I get the office with the river view.

I planned to journal to my heart’s content this morning and draft a couple blogs. I carried my “Purpose Driven” journal with Biblical verse and prompts by Rick Warren, my “job acquisition” journal where I ponder advice, strategize over job leads and try to figure out why I haven’t been hired yet. I packed my “Prayer” journal where I list and thank God for the great jobs I’ve already had, account for gifts (monetary and priceless gifts) I already receive, and analyze my current needs and wants. I carried my “Writing Life” journal where I note insights, wisdom, and information I picked up from yesterday’s readings about the writing life, and my journal where I keep notes about novels I read and movies that advise and instruct me on storytelling.

As usual, I also took something for me to snack on  – a bag of cherries and a big cup of ice water, and I took something to share with my foul friends who I imagine enjoy seeing me arrive. After writing a couple hours I stepped away from the table to toss bread crumbs for the seagulls and crows. The ducks were no where in sight this morning. As I was tossing crumbs I noticed a crow land on my bookbag and begin pecking and peeking in the side pocket like it was looking for something.

“Yo! I got your bread over hear,” I said in my mind looking at the bird. “Yo! Don’t shit on my bag. Please don’t poop on my bookbag. I got your bread over here!”

She pecked and peeked a few more seconds then flew away. I imagined she landed on the bag to get my attention. Maybe it was time for me to leave?  She had not shit on the bag, so I was happy. I sat back down and journaled some more.  I looked up and noticed her nibbling at the bread I set out for her and the others. I took notes on much of the bird behavior I witnessed, drawing inspiration and instruction.

(For instance, one bird squawcked and screamed for a crumb from one bird’s mouth instead of picking up the food for itself. “Girl! Get your own food!” I thought, gazing hard at the screaming bird. The industrious bird did eventually drop a crumb in the screaming bird’s mouth and shut the screamer up. I was inspired to be more industrious in my writing career. Find my own readers/buyers instead of screaming for a publisher to feed me. The readers/book buyers are out there as sure as the bread I set out for my feathered friends this morning.)

I left the “office of inspiration” ready to work on the projects I have back home. I’m glad the bird had not pooped on my bookback. Cleaning it would have been one more mindless thing I’d have to do.

By the Light of the Moon


After journaling with a setting sun, then tuning into an hour-long prayer session on radio, I still felt distressed. So, I sought solace under the bright full moon that happened to be out that night. Why was I distressed? The job had not yet come through, the book had not yet found its publisher, the romance had not been restored. Not even Yolanda Adam’s lyrics, “I want you to be blessed. Don’t live life in di-stress. Just let go and God will work it out for you,” soothed me at this time. But I looked up and noticed that the moon was full.


I sat outside on my front steps praying alone, hoping for a word from God. I had meditated on some of my favorite Bible verses, but was drawn to the moonlight this evening.


As I stared up into the light, my heart bowed. Then something unexpected happened. A cluster of clouds completely covered the moon, darkening the sky. With my moon darkened, I looked away from it and noticed the much smaller lights of twinkling stars.  I had not noticed the smaller lights when mesmerized by the moon’s great big light. It occurred to me that I might be overlooking God’s many small sources of light in my life. I may not have the big light of job security and sufficient income right now, for instance. But I have good health and time (again) to sit still and pray. I don’t have the hug light of a publisher’s attention and resources right now, but I have time to visit family and friends and contemplate on God’s purpose for my life and assess the many blessings already bestowed. I miss romance, but I have found new ways and reasons to love intimately.  I may be missing the big light of public engagement and job fulfillment, but I can appreciate the small light of time to clean, organize, decorate, and enjoy my home.


After reflecting on inspiration from the small starlights, again I looked for the moon through the clouds.  I noticed how slowly they moved, but they were definitely moving. The moon was there behind the clouds. I just knew it. I was reminded that even when I can’t see the light of God in His brilliance – due to clouds of my own uncertainty, disappointment, anxiety, ect. – it is still there.


I realized that when the large light in my life – big hopes, dreams, desires – get covered, I can look around for the sparkle of the smaller lights – things I may be taking for granted – my health, blessings already received, accomplishments already fulfilled.


Of course the clouds passed and the moon’s light was clear and bright again.  And I expect the same in my own life.