The House on Persimmon Tree Road, Part I

The house on Persimmon Tree Road.

Last Friday I got a heaping dose of southern hospitality when I visited a very old house on Persimmon Tree Road.  The first time I saw the strange house with the porch piano was when I went with my Mom-and-Dad-in-love to Loretto, Tennessee.

“Did you see that old house?” I gasped. “It had an upright piano on the porch!”

“Want me to go back so you can take a picture,” asked by husband’s dad.

“Would you mind?” I asked.

My sweet Dad-in-love turned the car around so I could take the picture.

Upright piano on front porch.

Piano keys stripped of ivory.

I Couldn’t get the House on Persimmon Tree Road out of My Mind.

I was obsessed with the house, so I went to the county probate office as my first step in researching the place.

I had 3 questions:

1. Who owned the house?
2. When was it built?
3. Why was there an upright piano, decaying on the front porch?

I got the name of a family who lives nearby and searched their name on

Nervous but determined, I punched the number into my iPhone. You never know when you make a cold call. You can get told off or you can uncover a fascinating story about the past.

I was thankful that I got the latter.

Gabled roof.

Front porch with upright piano.

The Whites from Persimmon Tree Road.

Not only were the nearby homeowners (Ray and Glenda White) related to the original home owner, they invited me to their home to talk about the house on Persimmon Tree Road.

I brought my mom-in-love along, who lives in the same county. She conversed with Glenda while I talked to Ray.

Like most southerners who live in a small town all their lives, Glenda and my mom-in-love discovered multiple people that they both knew.

Glenda gave me a big hug when I walked through the door. The consummate extravert, she reminded me of my paternal grandma, but she is about my mom’s age. Ray and Glenda have been married 50 years.

Like myself, Glenda loves to visit flea markets, estate auctions, yard sales, antique malls, and the like.

Ray is quiet and unassuming. In the 1980s, he nearly lost his life from a sun stroke when he was working at his un-airconditioned gas station.

His great-grandparents had the house on Persimmon Tree Road built in the late 1800s.  I’ve got some more to say about the Persimmon Tree Road house, so watch for it in up-coming posts!

Meanwhile, do you have an old house you’d like for me to research and write about?  Let me know, because this has been one fun writing project!

Eaves surrounded by hundred-year-old oaks trees.


Do you believe that houses have eyes?


Celebrating Mom and Dad’s 50th Wedding Anniversary!

Today we are celebrating Mom and Dad’s 50th Wedding Anniversary!

I am so proud of them, I can’t even…!

On one of their anniversaries, my brother and I (with our families) took them out to eat. The server asked my parents, “What is your secret of a long marriage?”

Commitment,” replied my Dad.

I agree that’s part of it. A big part of it. But as Lefty and I approach our 20th wedding anniversary in June, I now feel qualified to dole out some advise of my own.

Mom at the boat launch.

Keys to a Long, Happy Marriage

First, I believe that you have to genuine like your spouse. Likeability takes a couple a long way during the ups and downs of marriage. If you don’t like the guy as a person, you can just forget it before the “I do.”

Second, couples who share the same faith start out with similar values. Even if you don’t have faith, at least share the same values, or you’re really going to find yourself in a mess when trying to raise children.

Third, determine to stick it out for the long haul. I guess that is the same thing as “commitment.” (On a nutty side note, I can’t even spell the word commitment. I never can remember if I double the t’s, the m’s, or both!)

Fourth, be nice. Determine to put the other’s needs first. If you’re putting his needs first, and he’s putting your needs first, then both of you get treated really well.

Fifth, bathe your marriage in prayer. Actually, this should have been first on my list!!!

Sixth, have fun!

I hope these pointers help and we can all celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary.

Congratulations Mom and Dad!!!

Spams from My Dear

Today I’m listing some of one of my spams that I get as blog comments.  My favorite ones start with, “Good morning, my dearest…”

I can’t help but laugh.

Here is one spam that I received from yesterday:





Dear Mr. Dario Nino,

I am so happy to be your dear.  Are you really from the World Bank of Switzerland? I didn’t realize that I had been a victim of a scam.

Thank you so much for alerting me!  I am more than happy to contact Dr. Mathew for my compaesetion.  That is, I’m assuming I’m getting some money from all this.  My eyes are swimming from the black box of ALL CAPS, so forgive me if I can’t read your entire missive.

All the best from your dear,


‘Have You Ever Wondered’ Answers Tough Questions about God and Life

I am so excited to welcome author Russ Whitten to today’s post at Sweetgum Life!  Russ is likable, humble, and has an easy-going personality and quick sense of humor.  Not to mention, he is married to one of my dearest southern girl friends from college, Charlene!  Russ’s book, Have You Ever Wondered: Christian Evidences for a Skeptical World, answers tough questions about God and life.  Densely profound but incredibly readable, the book covers Christian apologetics as well as questions such as “What is the Meaning of Life?” and “Why is There Suffering and Evil?”

Book signing, Have You Ever Wondered Answers Tough Questions about God and Life

What is the Meaning of Life?

SGL:  Hi, Russ!  Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us at!

Russ:  Hi Stephanie, what an honor!

SGL:  Have You Ever Wondered is very understandable book on the meaning of life and apologetics for the Christian faith.  I think people need simplicity when asking tough questions—rather than confusing, scholarly literature.

Russ:  Aw, thank you!  There is a quote from C.S. Lewis that, oh, I just absolutely love.  He said that to explain something simply, you have to understand it profoundly.  So, that was my aim, because I struggled with these questions, too.

And certainly, our college students, when Charlene and I were in campus ministry, were coming to us with these questions. I just decided to really try to understand this profoundly so I could turn around and explain it simply.

SGL:  What gave you the idea to write the book?

Russ’s Journey in the Faith

Russ:  I grew up in a Christian home and during the college years, I had a falling away period, I’m ashamed to say.  I really embraced the freedom of the college life and foolishly stopped going to church.  And really stopped reading my Bible…I just felt the emptiness of being apart from God.

SGL: You actually felt empty?

Russ:  Yeah.  That was a wakeup call.  I started going back to church.

At Auburn, I first began to understand who Jesus was and I absolutely fell in love with Jesus!

After college, I went to Jackson Hole, WY and lived out there.  I learned to ski and enjoyed the outdoor life.  Once again, that led me away from church.

I felt an emptiness again and started really going to church.  For the first time in my life, a minister asked me to have lunch with him and then to study the Bible.

This minister said, “You have more questions than anyone I’ve ever met!  You need to go to grad school!”

So, I went to David Lipscomb.

SGL:  Did you go there so you could be a missionary?

Russ:  I didn’t go there to be a minister.  I was terrified of public speaking! (“It seemed God had other plans,” Russ says in a 2013 Destin Log article, “The Reluctant Minister.”)


Does God Exist? Can We Trust the Bible?

In his quest to study the Bible one-on-one with others, which is really what he wanted to do, Russ eventually went to Ukraine.  By then, he had met his future-wife and fellow-missionary, Charlene, who put up a sign:  Would you like to learn English and study the Bible?  Russ says that 250 people came, glad to hear about the Bible after living under a forced-atheism regime for 70 years.

Russ:  We decided to address two issues:  God’s existence and Is the Bible a myth or fable?

The Ukrainian students were asking hard questions!

SGL:  So you wrote a book?

Russ:  I started writing in the Ukraine and started teaching the material.  We got home and the same questions came from our college students.  The work started developing from notes as sermons and lessons.  This was my project at Oxford, and I spent the year working on it.

So overall, it took about 20 years to write.

SGL:  It’s a work that I plan to pass on!

A Book Worth Sharing

Russ:  The highest compliment came from Eric Strippling—and I get emotional talking about it—who has terminal cancer. He bought a copy for every one of his kids and gives it out over and over.  It’s such a compliment.  A man who may be closing in on life, and he knows his kids will have these questions one day.

SGL: I think this work will help a lot of people.

Russ:  I just thought I was the only one with these questions and didn’t have enough faith, but great writers over the centuries have had these questions.

The Bible is not only true, but it’s logically compelling.

There’s a quote that I like to use from Christian lecturer Alison Thomas:  “I almost abandoned my faith in college because I was not sure if the difficult questions people asked me about Christianity had satisfying answers.”

So really, that was the idea behind writing this book—the most difficult questions about Christian faith.

About Russ

Russ Whitten has a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and Masters of Arts in Religion from David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.  From 2005-06, he studied apologetics at Oxford University.  Russ served for 16 years as a college minister at the University of Florida and Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

He has performed mission work in Ukraine, India, Mexico, Ghana, and England.

Russ and Charlene live in Florida with their teenage son. Their adult daughter is an actress in New York City.