A Good Box of Dirt

We met them while we were out walking looking for birds near our rental.

It was January and it was cold – had been in the 30’s since we had arrived. I hadn’t figured this part of Georgia to be this cold even in the dead of winter.  We were on our way to Florida where it was much warmer. Believe me, the sun in Florida is a much deeper yellow – not this tepid light barely yellow that we were seeing here in the lowlands of Georgia.

We stopped for a week to visit with our daughter who lives just up the road a piece. She was coming down for a few days and we were idling a bit, waiting, and taking the opportunity to check out the birds at the two refuges nearby. All in all, it was a good place to stop, a small condo complex in an out-of-the-way place on a salt water marsh just about halfway between Savannah and Brunswick.

On this particular afternoon, it was sunny outside and a bit warmer so we decided to take a walk around the complex so headed up towards the fishing pier just to see if any birds were about that might be fishing in the creek. That’s where we saw them – up by a big pile of dirt over in the back corner of the lot.

She was 87, he was 95.  She was shoveling dirt from the dirt pile into a cardboard box sitting on the back of her golf cart. He was sitting in the cart watching her work.  

We walked on over and Jerry offered to shovel for her.  Without a thought, he reached for the shovel to take over the job for her.  Oh, my goodness, she pulled that shovel away like he was trying to snatch one of her grandbabies right out of her arms.  Jerry stepped back and stammered out an apology of sorts and looked at me like he really didn’t know what to do at this point.

She politely told him, she didn’t need any help, thank you anyway, explaining that this was her exercise and that a person needs projects like this to keep healthy especially as they are getting a bit older.

As we talked, she continued shoveling. We told them what we were doing there, and she told us why she was shoveling dirt into the box on the golf cart.  I had assumed she might be dressing out her flower beds around their condo but that was not it at all.

She also explained that he had a pulled shoulder and couldn’t shovel and that’s why he wasn’t helping. She really seemed to want to make sure that we knew that he was not just some no-account husband who would just sit watching his hard-driving wife do all the grunt work. It hadn’t crossed our minds to question his watching her seeing as she had told us right up front how old they were.

All in all, she was immaculate, all the while shoveling dirt.  She was just about four foot nothing and wearing neatly ironed jeans with knife sharp creases down the front and back. People rarely iron jeans anymore let along crease them like that front and back.

She had on a sweater set like a good Southern woman of her generation would wear (or, maybe any generation for that matter) – a print blouse with a nice pastel tropical print and a color matched sweater. Tropical but tasteful; you know, light yellow hibiscus rather than bright red ones. Her hair was beautiful – naturally white with soft curls framing her very well-made up face. One should always look one’s best when going out to work in the yard, I always say. (Okay, not really. I work outside in torn jeans and stained t-shirts.)

As noted above, I had assumed that she was getting that good dirt for her flower beds or, maybe to fill in a hole or two in the yard. She said no, that wasn’t it and, just to make sure we knew she wasn’t taking the dirt without permission, told us that the HOA folks brought the dirt in here, dumped it, and said that anyone could use it to fill up holes and all in the yard.

He laughed right out loud and said she wasn’t gonna be filling up any holes with that dirt. She was bound and determined to go building a ramp down to the creek from her back yard so she could get down to the creek to go fishing.

‘Need mind that she could ride her golf cart up to the pier – about ¼ mile all told from her doorstep – and go fishing in the creek anytime she felt the urge.

And, ‘need mind that the tide coming and going turned that stretch of water into a mud flat at least twice a day. 

And, ‘need mind that that same tide would wash away all her efforts at building a ramp just about those same times every day. It would explain why the bank was washed out in the first place.

But, never mind all that. She had a project to do. She had set her mind to it. And, she was determined to get it done. Pronto. No need to be messing around and jaw-boning all day about it.

Now, in my world, being who I am, I think I would just have run up to the big box store and bought one of those fancy pre-made concrete steps they make for mobile homes and such. I would have paid them an extra $35 and had them deliver the steps and plop them right down in place up next to the bank.  Project conceived; project done.

The box was about half full of dirt now (or still half empty depending on whether you’re an optimist or pessimist). I wondered how full she would go and who would be lifting that box off the back of the golf cart….being he is 95 and has that hurt shoulder and all. I didn’t dare suggest that we might follow them home and provide some bit of assistance.

He said she’d never catch any fish in that creek anyway. What fish were there came in with the tide and went out with it…..everyday. But I have to say, we knew there were fish in the creek because we’d seen the Hooded Mergansers and Great Egrets out there fishing. Okay, they were little fish…but they were fish, nonetheless.

She said she would too catch fish – she just knew it. How could anyone doubt her? She’d grown up fishing and I reckon she knew what she was doing.

We asked if she’d eat the fish that she caught. Well, of course, she would. Why would she ever go to all that trouble to catch a fish and then just throw it back? Why, that would be just crazy! Of course, she was gonna eat any fish she caught.

While we watched her work, he gave us the lowdown on other things. He said she’d lived there (at the condos) since her husband died about twelve years ago. She’d moved up from Darien down yonder to the south.  He said she’d had two properties and got tired of mowing and taking care of things at the big house where she’d lived with her husband and raised her babies. So, she was living up here now in a condo that was much smaller and easy to keep up.  

Her daughter lived just up the road – you could see her house from right there where we were standing. Looking out over the marsh to the southeast, he pointed out a blue house on the point where the creek curved its way out to the river.

The box was really getting full now. She was barely getting half a shovel of dirt each time she lifted so I knew she’d never lift that whole box of dirt off the cart. Maybe she would just tip it over dumping it into the yard and then work from there.

We asked how they’d met…they had both mentioned previous spouses that had died. She said – she had started doing most of the talking now – that they met in church. They had gone to the same church for years and had known each other only in passing when their respective spouses were alive. They had continued to sit in different parts of the church after they died and then, just like that, one day they started sitting together on the same side…he’d moved over to her side….and that was that. Make a long story short…. they became a couple.

Well, the box was full of dirt now and that ramp was waiting. They had to go. Nice to meet you fine folks. She plopped the shovel into the back of the golf cart, hopped onto the front seat and, with a last wave back in our direction, drove on off across the field.

Later, we spotted her working at the edge of the yard building her ramp. I wondered how long it would take for her to ramp up the four foot drop down to the water’s edge or how long before the incoming tide would wash it all away. It was a gonna be a crap shoot as to which thing happened first.

But a project is a project and you gotta keep at it or it ain’t ever gonna get done.

I was absolutely 100% sure that this was one woman that was gonna keep at it until she could take her fishing pole and march right down that new ramp to the creek and catch a fine big ole catfish just ready to be battered up and fried in the skillet with some hush puppies and cole slaw on the side. It’d make a fine meal for the two of them.

That was just how it was gonna be. I didn’t doubt it for one minute.



I’ve heard of people who work with horses who have the particular gift of being able to speak to the animals to calm them, to tender them, to tame them when all else fails. These individuals are called horse whisperers…. whisperers who use gentle persuasion, never-ending patience, and soft words. They just seem to know what to do when confronted with a wild stallion – one that is out there running around, jumping fences, knocking down walls, and bucking off anyone who makes the mistake of trying to ride or even come near them. These are the brutes, the ones that cannot be managed, the ones filled with fury and anger, the ones that will be written off and possibly destroyed if the whisperer cannot settle them down.

From the start, the horse is aware of the whisperer, but he will not be cowed, so he ignores him. The horse does everything in its power to resist the soft gentle voice of the one who stands firm in the face of the horse’s fury, the one who looks him straight in the eye and knows him, sees him, all of it – the pain, the anger, the tremendous force of pure power wrapped in a couple thousand pounds of horse flesh – a horse that wants nothing at all to do with that individual who waits patiently filled with his own knowing strength holding onto the bridle and the reins ready for the horse to yield. Ultimately, the horse will be spent, exhausted, tired of the burden, overcome and lost with no focus or direction and will finally lower his head meekly – not in weakness – but in strength – now controlled strength – and the horse will seek the gentle knowing hands of the whisperer.

I think we are very much like these wild horses – full of our own willfulness, sure of our own pride, absolutely knowing that we don’t need this whisperer, this Son of God, to rein us in. We are going to run free no matter what – knock down some fences of our own – do what feels good. After all, we are not really hurting anybody, so what if our family or friends get a little too close when we’re shaking out our oats running free and unhindered; we’re just being who we think we are meant to be. And, aren’t most of us good people anyway although we might admit that there are times we might do a little cheating or lying or stealing as part of our running free and doing it our way? After all, who’s to know if we keep it on the downlow?

But we know and we see Him there and we know that He knows. So we run, we jump fences, we race away miles away…and tell ourselves if we just run fast enough and far enough, he won’t see me anymore. But he’s there and he is not chasing us at all….he just waits and whispers in that still soft voice, “Stop running, it’s okay, I know you and I have nothing but love for you. I’m not here to condemn you, I’m here to help.”

But we are not going to have anything to do with that….don’t need any help…..got it all inside me….can handle anything…..not about to be fooled by all those old stories and Bible verses…after all this is 2020…..just something weak people believe in….God is not real. But He is and you know it; He is still right there beside you…right there no matter how far you run; and, if you stop to listen, you can hear that gentle voice. “Stop running, my child, for you grow weary and your burdens are heavy. Come, I can ease those burdens and you will find that my yoke is easy. I see you as you are and I know you….I knew you in your mother’s womb and witnessed the quickening when your heart had its first beat……I have always known you; I have known you from the foundations of the universe. And, I love you, all of you, even the parts you try to hide. Why else would I be here…beckoning? Come, I will show you the way, the only way, for I am the way, the truth, and the light. Give all your cares to me and I will give you a peace that only God can give.”

Indeed, only a single step is needed – once you take that step and turn your face in his direction, He will be there wrapping the reins of His love all around you, giving you rest, setting you on the path to a freedom you never could have imagined possible before you met this whisperer of souls.

“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him for He cares for you.” 1Peter 5:6-7

(This piece was first published as a devotional in Grace Through Faith Devotionals on Facebook in 2019)