In Memoriam: My Mother

My mother believed funerals were barbaric. She said so to me on many occasions. There was something about it she thought morbid — people talking about the dead in ways they never talked about the dead when they were alive. She also hated the pretense and ceremony of a funeral.

I disagreed with her on the importance of funerals, for I think they are important, but she hated them.

Saturday we had hers.

Joyce Stinnett Greening
Age Unknown

It was actually more of a memorial. My sister and I had talked with her about her wishes, and she waffled a bit for a long time about where to put her ashes — part of her wanted to be put in Arkansas where she was born and spent a lot of time, and then part of her wanted to be put on the old farm in Hughes Springs, Texas.

In the end, she chose the farm.

We gathered on the concrete slab that was once the back porch. In this picture below I am standing approximately where “Laura” was — Laura was the giant freezer we kept the ice cream in. Yes, the freezers had names. Mom named them. The other was “Granny”. Granny held the meat and frozen vegetables from the garden.

The house is gone too. We had to demolish it when it collapsed under the weight of a storm and the trees. The only thing left are the sheds (yes, plural for my father loved to build sheds) and the wooden porch he constructed.

We held a brief service with some traditional elements, and several people spoke and told stories. There were about thirty people there. All of them were either family, neighbors, or those who had been neighbors. I read the 23rd Psalm and Jill played the songs from Spotify mom wanted played at her funeral — “Heavenly Sunlight” and “Spirit in the Sky.” So, the Gaithers AND Norman Greenbaum played mom’s funeral — which should be enough to keep it from being barbaric.

At the conclusion we put her ashes in a Folgers coffee can along with her last pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and Oreo cookies then planted it in the garden she tended. The flowers still grow, wild and bold, scratching out life from the cruel world and blooming just like my mother did.

Mom taught me a lot of things in life — how to treat most any wound or ailment with mayonnaise, coal oil, butter, tobacco juice (spit), horse linament, and monkey blood. If you do not know what monkey blood is, you have not lived a full life. She also was fond of melting down Vicks Vapor Rub in a spoon and making me drink it. You can imagine my shock when as an adult treating my own children I finally read the label where it says “DO NOT CONSUME”. Aside form hillbilly first aid, she also taught me lessons about life, family, and priorities, and one of those lessons was hospitality. Over the years many different people lived with us or spent a long amount of time with us. Mom never turned people away.

On a fun note, she also taught me to cook. Mom was an outstanding cook and she did so with inferior tools. Some of my favorite dishes I learned from her:

  • Banana Pudding — her recipe takes many eggs and real “Nilla” Wafers. She was a devoted consumer of name brand products.
  • Chicken and Dressing — every year I called her the Monday before Thanksgiving just to double-check my big dish.
  • Goulash — I thought my mom invented that until I learned it was actually Hungarian.
  • SOS — “Stuff on a shingle” she learned this from her mother, and she made it with hamburger meat but I prefer sausage. Its basically just gravy and toast. But the gravy has to be brown gravy. It has to be.
  • Beef Stew — She made great beef stew, and I learned from her that you eat the meat last after you’ve eaten everything else.

A few fun facts about my mother:

  1. Her favorite movie was Aliens. The second one, with the space marines. She liked the first one, but the second was her jam. She liked movies with strong female leads.
  2. Although she was a great cook, she didn’t really eat much of what she cooked. She preferred snacks. The snacks would come in phases — she’d obsess about Skittles then one day suddenly move on to Fig Newtons. Her last obsession was Oreos.
  3. True to her Arkansas roots, she did not appreciate having to wear shoes, and her favorite clothing was a moo moo.
  4. Paranoia was her default reaction to just about anything. “They” were watching, and “them” was the persistent problem.
  5. She hoarded light bulbs, certain the day would come when no human being would be able to buy one. Also fun fact, she referred to them all in one word without the L sound in bulb, ‘litebubs’.
  6. Mom was an avid reader, often reading a book several times over. Our home was very small and she knew I was a reader too, so she hid the books I shouldn’t be reading under the bathroom sink. I was about nine when I found Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. I read it from cover to cover.
  7. She wasn’t a very good driver. In fact, she terrified me behind the wheel.
  8. She had many aliases. The first one I remember is “Aunt Jo” from my cousins. I never knew if my Aunt Sylvia named her that, or if at one time she preferred to be called “Jo”. I guess it is a mystery. Later she was “Mama Jo” to children she babysat. My father called her Scrooge — I have no idea why. Eventually she became Nina–everyone called her Nina Greening whether she was their grandmother or not. Colby, her first grandchild, named her that. It fit.

I will miss her so very much, and words cannot do her lifetime justice. She’d lived a hard life, and continued to fight the heart condition that left her so sick for nearly twenty years. There was once, when I was a very young child, when things were not very good–by not good I mean they repossessed our vacuum cleaner, turned off our propane, the phone was disconnected, and only eating what we raised or killed–in that time I remember asking her, “Will we make it?” and she responded, “We have to.” It is that gritty determination that she bestowed upon me that I am most thankful for.

Now for some pictures: Mrs. Greenbean took these. You can see the ground was wet and muddy, and rain threatened the whole time. Nature is beginning to reclaim the yard, and it has already reclaimed most of the fields.


Best Picture 2021 — A Great Batch of Movies

Movies have been weird this year. I haven’t seen a single nominee on the big screen because . . . COVID-19. Instead, I’ve watched them at home, which has been cheaper, easier, and more convenient. However, it doesn’t quite feel the same. Nevertheless, in typical Greenbean fashion, let me present to you my summation and prediction for best picture. Let’s take them in alphabetical order.

The Father — Tear jerker, great performance by Anthony Hopkins, but the only award this French rehash will win is editing (which may be the only sure bet this year). The editing is actually the key to understanding this film, and figuring out when Oliva Colman is wearing that blue shirt.

Judas And The Black Messiah — One of two films set in Chicago in the late 1960s. The story is amazing, and the acting is brilliant. This movie has a better than average chance of winning, particularly because of the subject material’s relevancy. I really liked this movie.

Mank — Well told story about old Hollywood using techniques and pacing that is reminiscent of the old stories themselves. Pro Tip: watch Citizen Kane BEFORE you watch Mank. Oldman will win best actor because Hollywood loves Hollywood more than anything except money and it will probably win cinematography, but Mank can’t win best picture. It is a great movie, but not up to snuff with some of these other films.

Minari — I am sentimental about this movie. It reminds me so much of my own childhood — right down to the barn burning and kids riding the van to church. This movie has a very good chance of winning. Brilliant acting, pacing, and it may well be the best overall storytelling we’ve seen in an Oscar nominee in a long time.

Nomadland — This is the weakest of the movies nominated. It is still a fine film, and I particularly loved the homage to the West as my family has been to so many of the places visited. Specifically thrilling for us was Wall Drug. I just found it a little simplistic. Felt much more like a documentary.

Promising Young Woman — This movie has a better than average chance of winning. Brilliant, thrilling, riveting, and heart breaking. Again, the subject matter is very contemporary, but Carey Mulligan is a powerhouse in this movie making the most of every word she says and every glare she gives. I think Mulligan wins (Mrs. Greenbean thinks Andra Day wins) best actress, and this movie may be an upset winner.

Sound of Metal — Mrs. Greenbean loved this movie. It is a well told tale with riveting characters you care about. The story of a person losing his hearing and how he copes and the folks who help him is the stuff of real life. This movie, along with Promising Young Woman, is one of those that stays with you long after you’ve watched it.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — I loved this movie. The Aaron Sorkin script will win best original screenplay and Sacha Baron Cohen may steal a best supporting actor Oscar, because Oscar has set up Judas And The Black Messiah actors to fail by nominating Kaluuya and Stanfield in this category, thus splitting that vote. If you love political drama, this your movie. Such a wonderful ensemble cast, especially the always riveting Mark Rylance who, in a different less crowded year, would have been nominated for best supporting actor.

I really did like all of these movies and could make a case for each one winning the Oscar, so I will not be mad at all this year (I’m looking at you, Birdman and The Shape of Water). But if I were picking, I would pick Minari, and I think Minari will win. After Parasite, Koreans are on a streak.

A couple of auxiliary notes. First, with the exception of Frances McDormand’s naked skinny dipping, there was no nudity or sexually explicit scenes in any of these movies. The language in all of them was harsh, Minari being tamer than the rest, but the absence of nudity was a very pleasant surprise. I hope it is a harbinger of things to come. Even McDormand’s scene was more of a hippy dippy moment and not designed to be sensual.

Second, I always like to find themes in the movies to see where Oscar’s head is, or where Hollywood’s is. A surprising one emerged: community. Each movie emphasizes the strength of a community that holds us together. It is very prominent in Metal as the real heroes are the deaf community who also are Christ followers. But Promising has the subset of med school students, Chicago 7 is protesters, Nomadland is the community of nomads, Minari is the immigrant community, Mank is that small Hollywood cloister of olden times, Judas is the Black Panthers, and The Father is literally a family. it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to point out that in the world of COVID-19, those tight communities and being together tends to tug at our heartstrings a little more.

If things allow, I’ll be back later with more Oscar predictions. It is a very good batch of movies this year. Very good.



That is what we call it in the office here at church. Stupid COVID.

Today (March 11) seems to be the day we as a nation are marking the one year awareness of C-19. As a caveat, I would like to say I distinctly remember being aware of it by late January and all through February. I think what we are remembering is when people recognized how serious it was with the cancellation of NBA games and the public announcement that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson tested positive for COVID-19.

I know when I took it seriously — it was March 4 when Sony MGM announced they were postponing the release of No Time To Die, the newest James Bond film and probably Daniel Craig’s last turn as 007. I remember my thought process very clearly — studios are designed to make money, and if they see the risk of releasing it in April then this must be quite the problem. The second real stand-up moment for me was March 13 when the NCAA announced it was cancelling the annual basketball tournament. March Madness is a huge money maker for these colleges. Cancelling it was serious. The best way to judge what people really think and feel is to follow the money. These two cancellations were demonstrable that people were afraid enough to throw money away.

At present, a year down the line, I am very optimistic about the future. It seems like the vaccines are working. Case numbers are down. People are rolling up their sleeves. I am very hopeful that by May or June we can be back to something like normal.

Since everyone else is dong it, let me make some observations about the past year.

  1. I am very impressed with the vast majority of Americans in general, people in my community in specific, and our church in the extreme. Most of us have gone above and beyond to help others, to take precautions, and to support the decisions that needed to be made.
  2. At the same time, the number of people who flippantly put other people’s health in jeopardy and show no concern for their neighbor disgusts me. COVID-19 has showed us who people really are and what they value.
  3. The pandemic has already changed us and how we interact. I’m pretty sure for the rest of my life when I fly or am in a crowded space, I will put on a mask. I know it has changed government and our expectations of it. It has also changed church. I don’t know if we will ever be completely comfortable in a potluck or really crowded classrooms ever again.
  4. Let me speak about that government business for a second. For a variety of reasons, the pandemic demonstrated we were not ready for it. It was humbling for our nation, which is okay. Pride is a sin, and recognizing weaknesses is an important part of growth. My fear is there will be an overreaction in the other direction which will be too much reliance upon government to solve every personal issue. Wisdom will find that sweet spot of competency and preparedness.
  5. Still on the government bit — I fully support the COVID relief bill which just passed through Congress. However, we need to start thinking right now of how we are going to pay for it. My recommendation is we tax hard and fast the tech industry, particularly digital communications. These were the platforms that made a killing during COVID-19 because we all had to use their products. While restaurants and airlines and cruise ships and cinemas and concerts were closed Amazon was making mad bank. We should tax them specifically for recovery. After that, something like a 1% added income tax for everyone until the national debt is paid. That’s my big idea.
  6. The most valuable workers in our nation are medical workers, grocery store workers, truck drivers, childcare/education workers, and of course police officers. When the pandemic hit, these were the people we needed the most to keep us fed, supplied, and safe. How many parents now realize the work their school does for their children? All of us, I bet. I would like for our pay structures to reflect this. I’m not against athletes, entertainers, and CEO’s making as much money as they can negotiate for, but I am against the pathetic salary structure of people we so desperately need. We will have the money to do this, because pent up demand is going to set the worldwide economy on soaring heights. Soaring.
  7. Our church faired very well through this and I adamantly believe our church is the greatest church in the world. We took a super-cautious approach from the beginning. Nevertheless, I will freely admit it has been the hardest year of ministry I have ever experienced. It has taken a toll on my soul. Some of it is the amount of work we had to do to reinvent almost everything we did in order to maintain ministry, but most of it is the very negative, hateful, and personal attacks people have made. The number of people who have hurt me is very small, but the cuts are deep because they are relational.
  8. As to church in general, I think the church in American, at least, coming out of this will be smaller, poorer, but stronger. Some people who got out of the habit or who have filled the gap with other things, will never come back. Some folks who are angry at cautious protocols will stop giving. That’s okay, but the Lord is always using the ebb and flow of life to separate the wheat and the chaff.
  9. I am thankful for Zoom and Facebook Live because it has helped us stay in touch and connected. However, we have learned in the pandemic that remote learning and digital classrooms are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. This is true of schools and churches where learning is key. My perception is these technologies will be helpful in the business world because transformation and learning is not the goal, but information exchanges.
  10. Many people who learned to work from home will never return full-time to an office environment. Many people who used to travel for work will see their travel diminished as they’ve learned to do it from home via conference call. This will change the workplace and our culture, particularly parenting. What we have to do is remember that until the modern world, this was normal. Everyone worked from home before the Industrial Revolution.
  11. We are not out of this yet. In Texas, 202 people died yesterday from COVID-19 and 1,477 in the United States. We need to keep vigilance until we have the necessary 70-80% of the population vaccinated. That means masks, distance, hand sanitizer, and caution until at least mid-April. The weather here is getting better, so we are moving our worship services outside again in two weeks. Why? Because it is safer. Ignore the politicians and instead remember the words of Jesus and love your neighbor. Don’t be selfish and don’t give into the fatigue. Now is the time to stay vigilant. Don’t be afraid, but exercise love and self-control.


The Greatest: Part IV

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,” we focus upon The Greatest. We’ve done general stuff, fictional characters, food and now today: products.

This is my list — but I love seeing yours because it is fun to share our #opinions.

  1. pencil — Blackwing Palomino
  2. blue jeans — Levi
  3. footwear — Nike
  4. wristwatch — Timex
  5. auto — Ford Explorer
  6. computer — Macintosh
  7. hat — Tilley
  8. cleaning product — Pine Sol
  9. lip balm — Carmex
  10. speaker — Bose

Honorable Mention: Ticondergoa #2, Eddie Bauer, Vans Off The Wall, Justin, Citizen, Rolex, Nissan Altima, Ford Mustang, Dell, Stetson, Tommy Bahama, Arm and Hammer, Chapstick, and JBL.