Pop’s Watermelon 

It is amazing how an ordinary object can unlock memories and strengthen connection with a loved one. Weed-eating in the backyard a couple of days ago, Greg asked me about a plant that was growing near the back steps. He didn’t think it looked like a weed. I glanced at it and agreed it looked more like a flower, or a vining plant, at least. 

He left that small area alone and moved on. This morning I wondered about the mystery plant and went outside to examine it more closely. It had grown in the last two days and I recognized it immediately. It is a watermelon plant! 

Pop's Watermelon
I love watermelon. I have several plants growing in my raised bed garden. This little vine, however, is a volunteer plant, meaning I didn’t plant it…not intentionally anyway. 

I was instantly transported back to my childhood. One of my great joys when we visited my grandparents, during the hot summer months, was eating cold, juicy watermelon slices. My grandfather, whom we all called Pop, was such a tease. “Don’t eat the seeds!” he would call out as my sisters, cousins and I carried our treats outside to the front porch. “If you do, a watermelon will grow in your belly.” 

Pop's WatermelonPop holding my grandson, Dayan. 

As a wee girl, I believed Pop. I was afraid to swallow those pesky little black and white seeds, carefully picking them out of my melon. If a seed accidentally got in my mouth, I spit it into Pop’s flower bed. Every summer, volunteer watermelon plants would appear among the flowers. Pop didn’t mind. He loved growing things. The watermelon plants were allowed to remain. 

Although I no longer believe that a watermelon will grow in my belly if I swallow a seed, I still tend to spit them out. Which, I am sure, is how that little volunteer plant appeared next to the steps. Last summer I sat on my back stoop many times, enjoying a slice of watermelon and the garden views. A seed that I spat out last summer sprouted. 

Pop's Watermelon
Pop's Watermelon

I cleared away the grasses growing around the plant, lessening the competition for nutrients and water. And then I mulched heavily around the base of the vine. Studying my new plant, I felt very tender toward it. Memories of Pop rose, of those balmy summer evenings eating watermelon on the front porch, and also of my grandfather’s love of gardening. 

Pop always had a huge vegetable garden behind his house and beds of perennials in the front and side yards. He used to let me help him weed and plant and harvest, and I am sure that my own love of gardening was born as a result. Coming into the house one day, sweaty and tired after working in the garden, Pop exclaimed that he needed more help with the weeding. “You need a couple of hoers,” my mom suggested helpfully. (Say that sentence out loud and you’ll understand why everyone laughed.) Pop was quick to answer, “I don’t think so!” 

Pop's Watermelon

Pop's Watermelon

Inspiration arrived, joining the feelings of tenderness and nostalgia. This little vine is special to me. I decided to treat it with great care. Using garden twine, and twigs left over from Maple Tree, whose gifts continue to be so useful, I created a little trellis for the plant. The twig trellis is decorative really, yet I had so much fun crafting it, and the young plant looks adorable twined around it. 

When I cleared away the grass crowding the vine, I uncovered a small triangular slab of concrete resting against the steps. I had another creative idea. 

Pop's Watermelon  

Using colorful art markers, I created a memorial for Pop by including his humorous words. The garden plaque reminds me of my grandfather, and those magical summer days of my childhood. It also reminds me that there is still magic to be found in my life, if I just stay open and know where to look. 

I don’t know if this little watermelon vine will produce fruit. I remember that only one small watermelon ever appeared from the many volunteer plants that grew in the flower bed. That’s okay. Pop allowed the vines to thrive and I will do the same, regardless of the outcome. 

I am grateful for my grandfather, and for the plant that stirred such memories today. Pop would be pleased that I still spit out watermelon seeds, and that I love gardening as much as he did. This plant is for him. It’s Pop’s watermelon. 

Pop's Watermelon

The Mirror of My Uncle’s Heart

My family gathered this morning, and spent the day together, celebrating the life of my uncle, Rex Lauderdale. Brother to my father, Rex was the eldest of six children, born in a relatively short span of years, to Dennis and Grace Lauderdale. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
The family lost the youngest child, Margaret, while she was still a toddler. However, the remaining siblings grew up, married, and had families of their own. Seven years ago this month, my father stepped into eternity, following a battle with cancer. Four years ago, this month, Glenda journeyed to meet her brother and her parents. It was at my aunt’s funeral that my cousins and I came up with a plan.

We decided not to wait for another funeral to gather together. Instead, what if we rejoiced with the living? My Uncle Rex loved the idea. We met at his house that July, to celebrate his birthday and his sisters’ birthdays…and a new tradition was born. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
I am so grateful that we took action and made that desire to gather together a reality. Since that first birthday party we’ve lost five more family members on the Lauderdale side, including the life of the party himself, Uncle Rex. He slipped away last Wednesday, at the age of 83. 

I’ve thought about my uncle so much in the days since I learned of his passing. Dr. Doug Weiss said, “The mirror of a man’s heart is his actions.” How beautifully Uncle Rex’s actions, throughout his life, have reflected his kind and generous heart. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's HeartServing his country in Korea

The Mirror of My Uncle's HeartA cook in the US Army

My childhood memories of my uncle are peppered with his actions…the joy he freely expressed over his family, his infectious laughter, long hours working at the car dealership with his uncle, the kindness he showed to everyone. 

Rex was an affectionate man, generous with his hugs and praise. He cared about people, never met a stranger, saw the good in others. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
I grew up, along with my cousins, and living our own lives, we all saw less of each other, until that day four years ago when we decided to change that. I was delighted to reconnect with my Lauderdale family. Uncle Rex was as I remembered him, and age had not robbed him of his joy. Rather, it had made him more aware of his blessings. 

What his actions reflected to me now was a heart made tender with compassion. He treasured his wife of 60 years, Mary. And he expressed pride in his grown children. While his sense of humor still made us cackle with glee, his tears also flowed freely as he hurt for others, saw the injustices in the world and deeply missed those who had journeyed home. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
What my uncle most mirrored was love. I heard others speak highly of him today…how he enjoyed a good visit, helped others, never forgot a name. After my father’s death, he became a substitute dad to my sisters and me. In his actions, we could see our father and hear the echo of our dad’s laughter. Uncle Rex eased our loss, while at the same time, his resemblance to his brother made the ache of missing our father more keenly felt. 

I am grateful for connection, and celebrations, and the enduring love of family. I am grateful for my uncle’s laughter and his tears, for his simple enjoyment of peach pie, gardening, fishing and the farming life. I am grateful for his hugs and his soft country drawl, inviting me to come back soon for a visit. I am beyond grateful that I accepted those invitations so often. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
My uncle was honored today as we laid his body to rest, with words and tears, with stories and memories, with the playing of taps and the presentation of the US flag to his widow. At his house later, my cousin Michael shared his gratitude as he spoke about his father. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
If there were more people like his dad, he said through his tears, the world would be a better place. I agree. And as his niece, as one who saw the heart of the man, I accept that invitation to make a difference. Each of us carries forward a portion of Uncle Rex’s reflection, held dear in our own hearts. 

May our actions mirror our hearts, as Rex’s did his. In his name, may we offer compassion and joy and tenderness and peace to each other and to the world. May the warmth of his heart ignite a fire within our own to reach out to others and do good, by being who we are, those who were loved and inspired by Rex Lauderdale.

Enjoy your heavenly reunion, Uncle. Hug my dad for me. And know that this July, we your family will still gather to celebrate life, and Aunt June…and you. 

The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart
The Mirror of My Uncle's Heart

God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale

Greg and I journeyed to the small farming community of Minier in Illinois today, to join family members in honoring and celebrating the life of a dear man. Dale Schmidgall was the husband of Greg’s cousin Linda. He is survived by Linda, his six children and one granddaughter, and by his mother, two brothers and two sisters. 

God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale
I am deeply grateful that I saw Dale 18 months ago. He and Linda drove to Arkansas to visit Greg’s dad while he was hospitalized. They stayed for the memorial service, after Dad Moore passed away. It was wonderfully healing to spend time with Dale and the rest of the family, catching up, telling stories, dining together. 

I had not seen Dale in many years. And yet he quietly offered us his strength and wisdom, his humor and perspective, his love and affection. Although the circumstances were sorrowful, I appreciated the opportunity to get reacquainted with him. 

God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale

Today at his service I experienced a sense of shock over his sudden passing and his absence was keenly felt. We were gathered to remember and celebrate him. I knew that. And yet I kept looking for his smiling face among the crowd. How much more so is his family grieving the loss of husband, father and grandfather. Indeed, the whole community is missing this remarkable man. It made me wish I had known him better, and had enjoyed his company more often. 

This is what I do know about Dale…

He was a man of deep faith. I discovered today that he truly was a pillar in his community and church. Dale put deliberate actions with his beliefs. He served through his church, caring for widows, and giving his time and resources to make a difference in the lives of others. Dale made a joyful noise regularly, singing in a quartet. In a touching tribute, the three remaining members of the group sang during Dale’s service. 

God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale
God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale
He was a loving family man, devoted to his wife and their six children and one granddaughter. What a legacy Dale leaves. His three sons each served in the US Marines. His  daughters genuinely care for others. By his example Dale taught his children to keep learning and growing, to walk in faith, to work hard. He loved geography, travel, trivia, history, music and sports. His kids do too. 

It was a joy to watch his family today, unashamed as they shed tender tears for the man who loved them and provided for them. Dale was honored through the telling of their stories and the sharing of memories that were often humorous.  

God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale



God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale

And this man put others at ease. Because he knew who he was and was at ease with himself, he could extend that same grace to others. Dale knew how to relax into the moment and enjoy it fully. He was kind, thoughtful, selfless and joyful. I can’t think about Dale without picturing a wide smile on his face and a glint of mirth in his eyes. 

A video was shared during the service, of Paul Harvey reciting his speech, So God Made a Farmer. The opening lines are, “And on the 8th day God looked down on His planned paradise and said, ‘I need a catetaker’. So God made a farmer.” 

Along with being a long time State Farm supervisor, Dale was a farmer his whole life. He was a caretaker of the earth, his farmlands and the properties of others, mowing yards and tending to the church’s grounds. 

He was a caretaker of souls, loving his wife, nurturing and raising his family, playing with his granddaughter, serving and blessing others in so many ways. 

And he was a caretaker of his own soul, walking in faith with God, enjoying who he was created to be, savoring life. 

God said, “I need a caretaker”.  He made Dale. 

He is loved. He is missed. He is remembered. He is celebrated. We will be caretakers, in his name. 

God Needed a Caretaker So He Made Dale

Day of Remembrance: Joplin Tornado

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Joplin tornado. On this date, and day, in 2011, a massive EF5 tornado devastated the communities of Joplin and Duquesne. Considered one of the biggest and deadliest tornadoes in the past 70 years, this storm destroyed a third of my town, injured more than a thousand people and killed 161. 

This year, being the five year anniversary, there were many activities and times of both remembrance and celebration. I participated in several of those. 


Today I have been in a quiet, reflective mood, somber yet hopeful. I was grateful for the bright sunny day, with no threat of storms. And I was appreciative of the celebrations and memorial service held at Cunningham Park. I attended the wonderful lunch that Operation BBQ Relief provided for hundreds and mingled with others while listening to music provided by Carter Hulsey and Kenny Foster. 

I’ve shared in previous posts about my experiences the day of the tornado and about Joplin’s resilience. Rather than sharing my words in this post today, here are pictures that captured the event at Cunningham Park:






The 161 memorial trees planted in Cunningham Park are big enough now to provide shade. 


It was good to gather with others at the park today. Good to see people I know and exchange greetings and hugs. I am thankful for all that people offered this week, to honor those who died and to celebrate the spirit of this community. 

And, I made the decision not to attend the remembrance service at the park. My own backyard garden was calling to. I sought the peace and sanctuary of that beautiful, peaceful space, to remember on my own. 

Watching the movie A Little Chaos recently inspired me to light candles throughout my garden. Tonight,  I wanted to do that, create pockets of light, and build a small fire in the fire pit, in honor of those lost in the storm. I didn’t have 161 candles to light. But the 25 or so that I lit were for them. 

Here are photos of my quiet time of remembering:








I felt restored after my time in the garden, with its warm candlelight and enchantment, and at peace. Although I feel sorrow around the events of May 22, 2011, the heaviness has gone. 

I’ll never forget what happened or the people lost. Nor do I want to. Their lives are part of the fabric of this community, their stories woven with ours, inseparable. The tornado too, is part of us, part of our story. On one seemingly ordinary day, that storm turned our world upside down and  revealed who we are, at our core. We are compassionate. We are overcomers. We are strong. We are Joplin Strong.