5-star-movie reviews

It’s sounds so simple.  A good movie combines two elements: visual interest and story.  And so many fail at either one or the other.  Not ‘Joker.’

‘Joker’ works so brilliantly because while remaining true to the DC comic style and story, its’ star is no caricature but a multi faceted suffering, society critiquing and yes, insane, real person oops I mean character.  Thank you, Joaquin Phoenix.  Place all bets on him winning all the awards this year.  He bounces between pathos and a frighteningly beautiful madness with every scene stealing suck on the cigarette glued to his bony fingers.  Oh, he’s grotesquely thin, but as he dances down a flight of city stairs in the full Joker regalia he could be Fred Astaire…

Violence, murder,  and that dangerous line between good being evil and evil being good.  Some thought provoking scenes about how a city in chaos treats those who are down and out.  Not a children’s comic book story.

Glad I saw it; sorry for the late review.

 

 

I couldn’t imagine where Mother could be.

She had come to help Duane and I a few days after Mike was born.  The living room was picked up and empty.  Mother wasn’t in the kitchen.  Mike was sleeping in his crib in one of the bedrooms, a rare but quiet moment.  I was resting in our bedroom.  We owned one old car, which Duane had driven to St. Mary’s hospital where he was on call.

So where was Mother?  The only thing our 2 bedroom condo lacked was a laundry room.  Our small building housed two washers and dryers in a multipurpose room on the ground floor.  Whenever I wanted to do a load of wash, I had to climb down our front steps, and follow the sidewalk around to the back to find its door.  It wasn’t too inconvenient when it had been just Duane and I.

Now we had a baby.  Between spit up and poop, each day four or five onesies needed to get washed. Mike was born in February in Minnesota.  Deep snow surrounded our home.  Zero degrees was the high temperature for the day.

“Maybe Mother’s doing wash,”  I thought.  It could be the only other place she could be.  I threw on my coat and opened our front door.  Icy air blew in.  Packed, dirty snow clung to treads on the flight of stairs that led to the salted sidewalk.  We hadn’t seen the pavement for months.   I headed for the laundry room, careful not to slip, as the frosty air pushed through my coat.  Before I got to the door,  I saw Mother through the window of the laundry room.

Her Bible lay open on top of the washing machine.  She leaned over the pages and I could see her lips moving.

She had found a private place to meet with God.

Mother loved her home.  But Mother was not a fan of cooking; did the dusting and vacuuming with stoic duty; couldn’t sew on a button, and arranged furniture and hung pictures with the support of her close friends.

However, Mother’s laundry room was her kingdom where she reigned in glory.  And it wasn’t because that place could be featured in ‘House Beautiful.’  At 6105 Abbott Avenue, the washer and dryer sat next to an iron laundry tub in the basement.  Mother had spruced it up with a room size braided rug.  An ironing board remained perpetually set up, across from the washer and dryer, perpendicular to a 5 x 7 foot mirror that hung on painted cinderblock walls.  Like Solomon’s Temple,  casement windows at the ceiling allowed rays of sunshine to sometimes fall into Mother’s corner realm.   It wasn’t a room; it was an area that also held the furnace, Dad’s workbench, and a section Dad divided with steel rebars from work into a bedroom for me.  We painted the rebars, behind the headboard, in primary colors.

A pile of ready to iron items lay perpetually on the left side of the iron:  a cotton blouse, or skirt, or her linen dresser cloth, edged with scallops.  At Thanksgiving and Christmas, the stack of never ending ironing contained white linen tablecloths. Mother, unconcerned with most household details, was meticulous about laundry.  She would stand and wait at the dryer to take an article of clothing out at just the right time, so she didn’t have to iron it if it wasn’t necessary.

There was no radio or TV to entertain Mother as she ironed, which is why, from my scant observations,  I believe she used it as a place to pray.  Mother could talk and iron at the same time.  I remember Mother told me about the Facts of Life as she ironed, when I was in fifth grade.   It was Mother’s Conference Room.  I don’t remember seeing Mother’s Bible in that laundry… part of the basement.  Mother had a study upstairs where she kept her Bibles and books.

Mother’s prayer life was a secret, except for that time I caught her in my laundry room after Mike was born.  Or when I peeked into her bedroom one morning.  Dad had left for work and she was on her knees in front of the brown chair, with her Bible open.  And, I heard her once mention that Joan Jonswold, her BSF class Administrator, routinely met with her on Tuesday mornings in the broom closet at church before her lecture, to pray.

Then there were the prayer cards.  When most of Mother’s ten grandchildren were school age, each fall she began a prayer contest with them.  She sent them each a letter, asking them how she could pray for them for the year.  In the envelope, she included a stamped and addressed postcard.  She wanted it to be easy for them to reply.

“The first grandchild to send the letter back will receive five dollars.”  Either her grandchildren were young or in that day it was a worthwhile amount.  Each year, she received the cards back.  At family holidays, the kids would crow and argue about who won that year.

The last year of Mother’s life, in September she, as usual, sent out the letter and prayer postcards.  The prize money had grown to 10 dollars.  Then Mother fell and broke her hip.  After hip replacement, Mother spent weeks in a nursing care center.  The Parkinsons she battled quietly had weakened her ability to bounce back quickly.  Her life’s focus was her grandchildren’s prayer postcards.

“Did you check the mail today?”  Mother would ask on our daily visits.  One by one, the prayer postcards arrived.  One day three came.  Then another week passed, with no postcards.  I didn’t want to get involved in a system that had operated smoothly between Mother and her grandchildren for years without my help.  But Mother’s birthday was coming October 25 and there were three missing postcards.  At that time, to be fair, one of Mother’s grandchildren was living in China.

The China postcard arrived.  Mother rejoiced.  There wasn’t much that excited her those days, when she was laying in a bed, too weak to hold her Bible, with a strange roommate in the double room, formica furniture jammed around the bed.

I was in a moral dilemma.  Should I call those grandchildren and demand they get their postcards in the mail?

I didn’t have to.  The cards arrived.

After Mother died, in her manila folders we found the years of prayer cards she cherished.  We didn’t read them, but set each grandchild’s cards under their name card at Mother’s memorial luncheon.

While meditating on Mother’s dominion over the washer, dryer and ironing board this week, the words to one of her favorite hymns, ‘How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours” crept into my mind.

‘How tedious and tasteless the hours When Jesus no longer I see!  Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flow’rs, Have all lost their sweetness to me.  The midsummer sun shines but dim,  The fields strive in vain to look gay; But when I am happy in Him December’s as pleasant as May.

Content with beholding His face, my all to His pleasure resigned; No changes of season or place, Would make any change in my mind.  While blessed with a sense of his love, A palace a toy would appear; And prisons would palaces prove, If Jesus would dwell with me there.’

-John Newton (yes that John Newton)

 

“Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath..”   Psalm 116:2

 

It’s not perfect.  The forte of the British TV series ‘Downton Abbey’ is the scenery and costumes.  Otherwise, its a predictable soap opera with mostly likable characters.  The first half of the movie, “Hey!  Slow the camera, I want to see the scenery and costumes!”  Then, writer Julian Fellows’ bits and pieces of story fell, no surprise, into place in the second half, iced with dollops of wit and humor.

It’s silly, really, the whole idea that some people are to be bowed and curtsied to, and that a great big castle of a house will ‘last forever,’ among numerous other fantasies.  But it has a relic-like golden charm, undergirded by my need for beauty.  A candlelit ball with dancing to a live orchestra, an afternoon parade with soldiers emblazoned in red jackets riding horseback on a clear green field festively edged with Union Jack bunting.  That glowing golden ball dress that got sewn together in the nick of time…

One thing out of wack: Lord and Lady Grantham had hardly any scenes, and Butler Tom had too many.

If you loved Downton Abbey, you’ll love this.  I did.

 

In Spain, every building had windows with Juliet balconies.  A Juliet balcony is a ‘half balcony’ outside a window, like the one where Juliet stood when Romeo wooed her from the ground.

“Just like unit 508,”  I remembered.

In April, before our May trip, we heard that our dream unit at Driftwood Sands was going to go on the market.  We owned a beautiful unit, but this one, on the top floor, directly faced the Gulf.   Two of the bedrooms overlooked the pool, with  Juliet balconies.

“Make an offer!”  our realtor friend enthusiastically prompted.  “Let the owner know you want it.  I know two other friends who are interested, too.  It won’t last.”

We’re shy.  Her advice sounded too pushy.  But we had seen inside 508.  A workman had invited us to peek in while he was making a repair.   We quickly walked through, as nervous as two undercover spies.

“What’d you think?”  Duane asked me, once safely back in our own unit, 307.

“It’s perfect for us,”  I answered.  I had ‘that’ feeling.   I had had it before when we had bought a house: a peaceful excitement that this would be perfect for us.  I wondered what Duane thought.

“I agree,”  he nodded.

That meant something.  Duane doesn’t like to move.

We try to specifically pray about every detail of life.  Especially houses.  It becomes a home.   Our place to talk, share dinners, watch old World War II movies, make and eat chocolate chip cookies, tell about our day, laugh, cry, and care for each other.

We also consider our home a place to share with our family and friends.  When house hunting, we look for a spot big enough for our extension dining room table, a living room big enough to host our small group, and a cozy guest bedroom.  Unit 508 made the cut.  We dug out the owner’s email address.

“Do you think this sounds right?”  Duane asked, reading aloud his carefully worded email regarding our interest in 508.   His finger hovered over the ‘send’ button.  Then he pushed it.

A week passed, with no response.  People are busy.  We kept praying about it.  Then Duane sent the same offer in a text.  A few more days went by.  We were going to Spain, leaving the country, in another week.

Maybe the sale of 508 was just a rumor.

“I’m so disappointed,”  I said to Duane.  “When we both have that feeling, and keep praying, I think it’s what God has for us.”

A few days later, Duane called the owner.

“You’re talking to Kevin!?”  I whispered, while he was on the phone.  I was in shock.  Duane doesn’t like to bother anyone.

“Yes, we’re thinking about selling,”  Duane had put Kevin on speaker.  “I’ll get back to you.”

We were thrilled.  It wasn’t a rumor, after all.  Days and more days passed.

In 2017 we had bought and remodeled a condo at Driftwood Sands.  Our dream at that time was that this would be a weekend place for us, and our family.  Mike and Elizabeth bought it with us.  Jeff and Heather, in Jacksonville, weren’t too far away to come for weekends.  We imagined family times of fun there.

For the next two years, Duane and I enjoyed it mostly by ourselves.  Our kids and their kids had busy lives of their own.

Before April, with our plans for Spain all set, we decided it was time to downsize to one place.  Sell the house.  We didn’t want to care for a pool.  Or climb on ladders to trim bushes.  We owned more square feet than we needed.   We listed our house in Oldsmar for sale.

We left for Spain, wondering if we would be moving to 307, or 508 when we got home.   We liked 307, but we loved 508.  The floor plan would work better for us as full time residents.  The configuration of the master bedroom and bathroom was better.  The kitchen was bigger.

508 had more light.  I love the light that shines in windows. At the same amount of square feet as 307. 508 had bigger windows and a direct view of the Gulf of Mexico in the master bedroom.

 

It was good to be in Spain in May.  I thought of 508, with it’s Juliet balconies, every time I saw one.  But Kevin hadn’t called back, so I figured we would be moving to 307 when we got home.  Except, Duane and I had both had that sense that God planned 508 for us.  Usually I start mentally arranging furniture and picking out wall colors before a move.  But without being sure of where we were going, I couldn’t dream.

We continued to ask God where he wanted us to be.   When we arrived home at the end of May, we signed the papers on a contract to sell our house at the end of June.  That same week I overheard a Board meeting at our condo say,

“So and so is making an offer on 508, but the wife doesn’t want to sell.”

Every day the dream of living in unit 508 drifted farther away.  Busy with packing and putting some things in storage, we kept getting ready to move to 307.  We began to plan how to make our beach condo our new home.   We made trips to IKEA to buy storage units so we could fit the items that sparked joy, thank you Marie Kondo, into 307.

It was just that 307 didn’t seem exactly right.  It was hard not to complain to God.

“We thought you wanted us to have unit 508!”

I read the verse, “Lead me in the right path, O LORD, or my enemies will conquer me.  Make your way plain for me to follow.”  (Psalm 5:8)  In the past, when we had moved, I was so excited for our next place, all my thoughts were focused on how I was going to nest in the new digs.  Moving was fun.  Now I wondered if we were doing the right thing.  Or maybe our timing was off.  Maybe God wanted us to wait to move until we knew we could buy 508.

“Maybe the buyers will back out of our house contract,”  I reasoned, “Then that will be a sign from God that we shouldn’t sell our house and move to 307.”

But the house passed inspection.  The house appraised at the right price.  The process for the house sale moved continuously forward as steadily as the minutes on a clock .  God kept pushing us into 307.  Packing continued as each day and week passed.  I kept my Bitty Baby doll, because even when my granddaughters don’t play with her, she brings me joy.

Then one Sunday morning I woke up to see Duane, beside me,  listening to a message on his iPhone.

“What’s that?”  I asked with my head still on the pillow.

“It’s Kevin,”  he answered.  “He’s offering to sell us 508.  Are we still interested?”

“Yes!”  I threw off the covers.

We met Kevin and Amy at 508 that afternoon, and by Monday night had signed a contract to close on the unit August 1.

Yesterday Duane and I walked into our new adventure.  We’re both excited.  We’re thinking about new flooring, and I’m considering which white to paint the walls.

“What’s the difference?”  Duane teases.  He knows the truth.  There are a gazillion whites and then there’s different brands of paint with varying amounts of pigments to choose.  So many decisions.

How to make the right one?  Pray and plan, plan and pray.   In one of mother’s notebooks she had written Psalm 16:3, “Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.”  Caveat:  There’s a line in the movie “Gone With The Wind” that comes to mind at times when I ask God for something.  Mammy, with down to earth wisdom, harrumphs to one of Scarlett’s numerous selfish desires, “Askin’ ain’t gettin’!”  Often God does say no.  Or wait.  Or yes.  God’s mysterious at times.  Looking back, a year from now, we’ll better understand why he’s placed us in 508.

After weeks that turned into several months of confusion and doubts, the path ahead seems… filled with more praying and planning.  Our new condo is top floor closest to the beach on the right side. The fainter rainbow in the picture points onto our bedroom.

 

 

For the first time, I cried as I drove away from a house.  On Friday June 28, we sold 4851 Cross Pointe, our address since October 31, 2005.  A long time record for us.

Our first home:  a third floor one bedroom apartment in, as Pam said, “the poverty section” of Broadview, Illinois.  Duane was in medical school.

When Duane graduated, we couldn’t wait to move.  We bought our first condo, in Rochester, Minnesota.  Two bedrooms, with new carpeting and no cockroaches! Unit ‘D’, was the second floor left half of the building on Viking Drive.

Mike, then Jeff’s first home.

Duane graduated from the Mayo Clinic Pediatric residency, and we moved to Milwaukee for two years to serve the Indian population with the Public Health Service.  We rented a duplex for the temporary assignment.

In July 1984 Duane joined Southdale Pediatrics in Edina.  We bought our first house at 7209 West Shore Drive.  I painted the kitchen cupboards white.  We tiled the countertops.  Ripped out the perfect condition olive green carpet because olive is a horrible shade of green and hardwood floors hid underneath.

After a few years, I dreamed of fixing up a house on Lake Cornelia, a few blocks away.  I biked or walked past potential homes in that neighborhood regularly.  One day a “For Sale” sign was posted outside a painted white brick rambler.  I happily ditched the house on West Shore.   We moved less than a mile away to 6700 Cornelia.

 

I’d never seen pink plush carpet in a kitchen.  It’s ugly, but soft on bare feet.  The pink stove was from the 50’s (I should have kept that),  Pink boomerang formica covered the countertops.  The dark cupboards had to go, too.

I got tennis elbow stripping the brown oak, then stained them white.  We chiseled out the Mexican tile in the great room and replaced that and the pink carpet with hardwood.

Minnesota winters pushed us into a new dream:  Florida.  We prayed and planned over our new stairway to heaven for over a year.  In January 1995, I joyfully shoved my dirty down coat in a garbage can at the Minneapolis airport before we flew south.  The pool house we bought in Clearwater was Party Central.    Jack Piquette surrounded by the church youth group.

Then Mike and Jeff graduated from high school and went to Wheaton.  We were ready for peaceful sunsets overlooking the beach and gulf.   We sold the house and bought a 15th floor condo on Sand Key.

After three years, we understood the real estate maxim:  “If you have to ask if it’s too far, it’s too far.”  We moved back ‘into town’ to a 2 bedroom villa on a quiet street overlooking a lagoon in Oldsmar.

Then Mike and Jeff got married, and my parents moved to Florida.  Our family was growing.  I thought we needed another bedroom, a pool, and more garage space for Duane’s bikes.  Duane wasn’t sure. “We’re not moving unless we see the perfect house on the perfect lot.”  We prayed for several months, and asked a realtor to keep her eyes open for us.

When we walked into 4851, we knew immediately.  The windows admitted more than sunshine.  They highlighted a sparkling pool.  Beyond that, oak trees framed a lagoon and golf course.   We signed a contract that day.

4851 needed work.  The pool was edged in black and white tiles.

The owner chose black countertops in the master bathroom to complement the yellow walls?

We replaced all the black countertops, painted every room, and refinished the pool.  It was the perfect house for us.  The right size for the days it was just Duane and I, with room to expand for family and friends.

Then Ethan, Addi, Sophie and Henry arrived.  Whenever they burst in the front door, our home became as festive as Joseph’s coat of many colors.

Baby days with a crib, stocks of diapers and naps.

Mischief.

Dinners at the kitchen table with telephone books on folding chairs, melamine plates, and spilled milk.

Cartoon watching instead of naps so Nana could have a break.

4851 threw its arms around more family.  Nieces.

 

Grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We stayed put almost fourteen years.   Was that because 4851 was prettier than our other houses?  It wasn’t.  Or because of the great times with family and friends?   Our other houses were filled with family and friends.  The house on West Shore Drive.

The house on Cornelia Drive.

Our condo on Sand Key was a great family gathering place.

In my surprising new reticence about our move to our condo on Indian Rocks Beach, I fell into the story of Jacob.

Last Wednesday afternoon I stood at the kitchen counter of our condo, alone, after leaving 4851 for the last time.  I had spent the previous three days cleaning the house for the final ‘walk through’ before the closing.   I started to cry.  Duane was at the office.  His place of employment hasn’t changed.  Mine has.  I missed that house.  The light shining through the new window we had recently added.

But I missed more than pretty lighting.   I miss my parents, who enjoyed the house with us.

 

I’m still grieving that loss.  Truth be told, and the truth is always our best friend, the grandchildren and Mike and Jeff and their families are growing up and away, too.   Addi’s in a Science Olympiad now, Ethan swims on a team, and Sophie flings her body over all kinds of bars and beams in a busy gymnastics schedule.  Henry’s just plain busy.  A distance  replaces those early grand parenting days when the grandkids were with us often.

“Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be.  Grieve the losses.  Then wash your face.  Trust God and embrace the life you have.”  – John Piper

God stepped in to comfort me.  For ‘some reason’, I started reading about Jacob’s life in Genesis.  For the first time, I realized that when Jacob ran to Laban’s house, it was a long distance.  A big move, away from family.  Jacob never saw his mother again.  In a time of fear and loss, God spoke to Jacob.

“At the top of the stairway stood the LORD, and he said, “I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father, Isaac.  The ground you are lying on belongs to you.  I am giving it to you and your descendants… all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.  What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go.”  Genesis 28: 13-15

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”   Jacob said.

Jacob hadn’t asked God for anything, but there was God, reaching out to him with good promises.

I remember meeting Jacob in a Bible Study Fellowship class at Christ Presbyterian Church when we moved to the house on West Shore Drive.  It was my first year in BSF. We were studying Genesis.  I was blown away when we got to chapter 32, where Jacob wrestles with the Angel of God.

“… Jacob was all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break.  When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.  Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”   But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

And God did bless him. (verse 29)

Sharing Night, at the end of the  BSF year,  is an opportunity for whoever would like, to briefly tell what has been most meaningful to them during the study.  With heart pounding, I stood up in front of  the class of four hundred women, gathered in the sanctuary.

“Jacob’s words, “I will not let You go until you bless me,” is the kind of faith in God I want to have.”  That idea, a desire for God’s blessing, is what I still want, all these years, and houses, later.  In seasons of loss.  Or new beginnings.

God’s blessing means I have his approval, no matter what challenges face me.   And when Jacob was 130 (!), God told him to move again.    “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt…I will go with you …. and I will bring you back again.”   Genesis 46:3

In our new home, some mornings I wake with a disoriented jolt, wondering,  “Which bedroom am I in?”  Today, after daily phone calls to the delivery service, Duane’s Wall Street Journal finally found its way to our door.

God is here, in all our changes, at 2618 Gulf Boulevard, unit 307, just as he was at 4851.

 

Until August 1.  Then we move to unit 508, in the same building.  But that’s another story…

 

“… And Jacob named the place Bethel (which means ‘house of God’) because God had spoken to him there.”

-Genesis 35:15

“Jacob always had an unquenchable desire for God’s blessing.  Blessing enables, enhances, and enriches life.  Blessing is issued publicly by a benefactor and provides power for prosperity and success….All blessings have their source in God’s love.”        from the NLT Study Bible notes, “Blessing.”

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of nations!  Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.  That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.”  Deuteronomy 7:7-8

 

 

 

A bike accident that breaks Jack’s two front teeth changes the world.  A world where no one has ever heard of the Beatles.

Danny Boyle, director of “Millions,” another ‘magical realism’ movie, plays with the idea of what real talent is, and makes fun of the industry that tries to sell it.  And, if we really did create something of genius, would anyone even notice?  “Yesterday” is full of the music that reminds us that the music the Beatles created makes our world a far better place.

All set in a love story.  Based in gritty England.  Funny; a highlight for me was Kate McKinnon as an L.A. music agent.  Himesh Patel real and likable as Jack.

Can’t be bothered to read why Rottentomatoes critics only gave it 60%.  The audience liked it 90%.  The audience is right this time.  Oh, and that is me on Abbey Road.

 

“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”   This quote Winston Churchill wrote came to mind a half hour into “Rocketman.”

I realized that the difference between this movie and “Bohemian Rhapsody” was that Elton John is still alive and Freddie Mercury of Queen was not when they made that film.  Big difference.  I wondered how involved Elton was in the making of the picture, couldn’t wait to read the credits.  Executive producer.

When in a job interview, and the company asks, “Tell us about your bad qualities,” one correct answer is, “I work too hard.”  In a biopic of a living artist, the correct answer is, “my parents didn’t really love me, then booze, drugs and sex moved in.”  I believe Elton John has a more fascinating life than the Hollywood cliche recounted in “Rocketman.”

I’m not a fan of his over the top costumes, featured throughout, and the film was very much about his struggle with homosexuality, which as his own mother told him, “frankly doesn’t interest me.”   I went to the movie for Elton’s music.  Elton John has written so much great music, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more music in it.  I’m not sure they ever played more than snippets of his music throughout, using a surreal La La Land style.

Taron Egerton was believable, also enjoyed the story about his lyricist: Elton didn’t write the words to any of his songs.  Elton is beyond talented, but as Dad would say about the musical geniuses:  “They’re all nuts.”

Epic.  We went to the 6:15 showing and didn’t leave the theatre til 9:45, after watching all the credits.  Every Hollywood actor throughout time had a part.

Fresh writing.  Hulk has dealt with his anger issues.  The bad guy is evil but not grotesque.  Nice surprises in character development.   The Superheroes we love relating to each other in friendship.

Humor.  Hope.  Light.  Nice lakeside/outdoor scenes.

The story makes no sense whatsoever, of course.

Loved it.  I’m not giving many details because don’t want to spoil anything.  Just go.  A terrific time for adults and kids.

 

That’s me in the khaki trench coat at Victoria Station in London.  One hand raised in the air, the other grasps the red and green suitcases, both carry on.  We travel light.

When I graduated from high school, my parents’ gift was a suitcase.  The message wasn’t, “We don’t love you anymore, get out!”  Mother and Dad were being practical.  I was going away to college.  But the pastel blue Samsonite luggage also urged,  “Time to move forward.”

Two years ago Duane and I bought a condo in Indian Rocks Beach, thinking the condo would be a great family gathering place, and in the back of our minds, maybe thought about retiring there.  We’ve loved it!  We’re here all the time.

“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”   – Ferris Bueller

As we consider Ferris’ wisdom,  we’re wondering why we own a condo and a house.   So Duane suggested, yes, Duane, not me, the usual instigator of moving to a new place, “Maybe we should sell the house and move to the condo.”

I’ve always been thrilled to move to a new place.  It’s the fun of  painting on a blank canvas, creating a new nest. Ecclesiastes 3, the chapter on the different times or seasons of life, calls it,  “a time for the gathering of stones.”  Build something.

But for the first time in my life, I’m hesitant.  I’m usually “the cockeyed optimist,” like Nellie in “South Pacific.”  Even Nellie, who confidently sings, “I’m a dope for that thing called hope,” also later sings wistfully:

“…wonder how I’d feel, living on an island (actual lyric ‘hillside’), gazing at an ocean beautiful and still.”

One reason I may be hesitant for this move is that ‘downsizing,’ at 64 years of age, may be our last intentional move.  Death, the enemy, looms.  Maybe some people our age stay in their houses to prove that death is not around the corner.

The second half of Ecclesiastes 3:5 describes a “time for scattering of stones.”  All the stuff we’ve accumulated in 64 years has ties to memories.   Much would have to go in order to live in a 1200 square foot condo.

I’m re-reading Marie Kondo’s book, “the life changing magic of tidying up.”  It thrilled me, a person whose life motto is, “Let’s Get Organized,”  two years ago when it was first published.  According to Marie, Duane and I start by answering the question, “What does your ideal lifestyle look like?”

My ideal lifestyle would be to live in a no maintenance condo, decorated in an ‘old’ Ocean City vibe.  Views of the sky from every window.   A pine dinner table small enough when it’s just Duane and I, but with leaves we can add when family and friends visit.  A desk, so I can continue my present writing project:  “Andy Telford, A Twentieth Century Caleb.”  I’m collecting and studying his sermons, letters and books.

A place close enough for Duane to keep working and close, still, to our church, Clearwater Community.  Our condo in Indian Rocks Beach has that potential.

Marie Kondo’s major point is that we need to know what we’re aiming for.  It’s a creative challenge to put a dream for the vague ‘something better’ into a specific reality.  The next step:  item by item, figuring out what to keep for the new dream and which things go.  The hardest belongings for me to shed are the ones that have sentimental ties.  Things like Jeffrey’s Sleepytime Care Bear, an item I’ve carted from closet to closet for 30 years.   Marie’s book helped with that, too.

“When you come across something hard to discard… reassess the role it plays in your life.  Every object has a different role to play.  You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role.  Acknowledge their contribution and let them go with gratitude.”

Let them go.  “…a time to scatter stones.”   As I walk through the living room and kitchen of our house in my bare feet, the wood floors feel cool and smooth.  I look around at the walls I painted, myself, Benjamin Moore’s OC19, Sandpearl.  Some of the memories are sad.  I remember cleaning blood out of the white carpet in the guest bedroom when Dad visited because the heart medicine he had to take meant the slightest bump dripped red.

Yet most memories are happy: the family parties, quiet nights watching TV together, the grandchildren playing in the pool.

The light shining across the bed from the new window in the bedroom.

The memories won’t go away, just because I don’t own the object anymore, according to Marie.  And Mother’s quote, “It’s people, not things” reinforces Marie’s truth.

My sister Pam and husband Greg downsized into 1200 square feet a few years ago.  That’s when her design business took off.  Freed from the burdens of  stuff, they were able to focus their energy on activities that were most meaningful to them.

That inspires me.  Time to focus on new beginnings.

We’re still not exact in the timing of our move. We continue to ask God for wisdom.  In the stacks of my grandfather’s letters I found a sermon about how safe we are in God’s hands.  That truth brings security.

The hazy path ahead beckons.

“Life moves pretty fast…”  Ferris said.    A counselor once told us that in our 60’s we should make plans about where we intended to live.

“Once you’re in your 70’s it’ll be difficult physically to make a change.”

We’ve started packing, with a plan to travel light.

“It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance.  He went without knowing where he was going.  And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith – for he was like a foreigner, living out of a suitcase.”  Hebrews 11: 8-9 (Jill Rommel translation)

 

 

 

“I found one!” I shouted to Duane.

A letter my grandmother, May Telford, wrote, dated November 9, 1934, fell out of the soft as velvet manila envelope Uncle Paul had sent me.

I was eager to find May’s letters.  Pastor Archie McGilvary,  my grandfather’s biographer, introduced me to them in his pages on Andy’s colorful life.

“Among the young people in the Bible church at Bronte, was an attractive girl by the name of May Clifford.  All during the years of service in WWI Andy wrote to her faithfully.   When he was at Moody Bible Institute they continued to exchange letters.  When he went to South America the mail routes were kept busy with their letters.”  (May, white blouse with thin black bow, seated at Andy’s right in the center of the picture ‘leaving for South America, 1922.’)

Archie continued: “May’s oldest daughter in Philadelphia, Marian, has those letters.  They would make interesting reading and could be the basis for another book!”

Marian died two years ago, and my mother Ruth four years ago, so I’d been harassing her younger brothers, Tommy and Paul,  “Where are they?!!”  No one could find them.  This letter was not one of those, penned between 1917-1924, the year Andy and May married.  The letter Paul sent was written during their second pastorate in Ottawa, Canada, to their friends at their first church in Three Rivers, Michigan.  I was elated to receive it, like an orphan discovering her biological mother.

I held the yellowing pages in my hands, the same pages that May had held in her hands 85 years ago, and began reading, stopping on page 8:

“…Mrs. Gintzler will be lonesome after living so long in Three Rivers –  I know how it goes.  But in our work  one soon becomes engrossed in the new work  and people.”

In our work.  Andy and May.  (in their first pastorate, Three Rivers)

Archie’s book, “A Twentieth Century Caleb,”  describing Andy Telford’s conversion and ministry, doesn’t contain many paragraphs about May.

“Mrs. May Telford was the ideal preacher’s wife.  No matter the occasion or circumstances, she was never perturbed or upset.  She had a sweet, calm, placid disposition that always steadied the family.

 The home was a bee hive of activity with no end of visitors and guests, some of whom arrived unexpectedly and unannounced.  It was a regular thing on a Sunday morning after service for Andy to invite people over for dinner, even though Mrs. Telford knew nothing of the plans.”

A few paragraphs aren’t enough for one of God’s warriors, Erie May Telford.  2 Samuel 23 lists the names and specific accomplishments of the thirty ‘mighty men’ who fought alongside David.  The chapter reminds us that God ‘delights in every detail’ of his faithful follower’s lives.  (Psalm 37:23)  The heart of Andy’s ministry was May.

I began investigating May’s story.  Her name, itself, was a surprise: legally,  ‘Erie May.’

 

Erie May Clifford and her fraternal twin, Sadie, were born in Oakville, Canada, March 25, 1900 to Patrick and Erie Elizabeth Clifford.  May’s grandfather had died in Lake Erie in 1899 which would explain her unusual name.  I never heard anyone call her “Erie May”  in my life.

Andy and May married on July 31, 1924, in Bronte, Canada.  Andy planned to take May back to South America with him  for mission work after the wedding. (Groom Andy and bride May seated in front of the large wedding gathering.)

  Her friends gave her this little card, as a parting gift, showing the ship they would sail across the ocean.

Inside a poem read:

“Come join us as we pray.  On the day we say, For we now must send A dear mutual friend Very far away- ‘Our Andy’s Own May…”

However, May didn’t pass the mission’s physical.  They had to cancel their plans.  Andy took a pastorate in Three Rivers, Michigan.  May became a pastor’s wife.  Marian and Ruth were born there, in 1926 and 1929, American citizens.

In 1932 Andy, May and family moved back to Canada, to Ottawa to build, literally and spiritually, the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Bank Street.  Paul was born in 1934 and Tommy in 1936.  They were Canadian citizens, like their parents.

In addition to pastoring,  Andy traveled to speak at Bible Conferences around Canada and the northeast United States. May accompanied him on these trips to  Maranatha, Gull Lake, Sandy Cove, Pinebrook, and so many others.

This introduced Andy and May to friendships with other Christian pastors and leaders.  Andy was invited to become the pastor of Berachah Church in Philadelphia.

May wrote on the back of this picture:  “Dad – with new Buick Church gave him on our arrival in Philadelphia – Sept. ’43”

May’s life centered on home and family.  Most evenings of the week,  Andy was out teaching.  On Mondays he taught at Washington Bible College, in D.C.  He rode the train, arriving home at midnight.  Tuesday and Wednesday he taught at Philadelphia College of the Bible.  Friday nights he led a popular Bible class at church.  Andy graced the pulpits at youth rallies on Saturdays.  Sundays: church.  Andy spent mornings, from 8 til noon, in his study.  After lunch, he did yard and garden work.  He and May both loved flowers and gardens.

May was independent, a trait cultivated during  seven years of separation and letter writing in their courtship.  May was intelligent.  As a pastor’s wife, May taught a ladies’ Bible class each Sunday morning and was on the board of Regions Beyond Missions Union.   Her letter from Ottawa shows a confident spiritual maturity:

“I am going to the ladies’ prayer meeting this afternoon.  We have it every Wednesday.  We are always sorry to hear things are not going so well at the Bible Church (in Bronte).  Pat (her brother) thought things were pretty bad.  He doesn’t say much about where the blame lies.  Andy has his opinion of course.  But I think all are to blame.  Mr. G. may have his faults, who hasn’t.  But I don’t think the people are doing their part either.  We are all so fond of our own way.”

Andy and May were a team, but not mirror images of each other.  Andy had grown up a farmer.  May was a lady.

At Camp Manor, an annual summer Bible conference outside Philadelphia, May drew the line.  Conference guests stayed in cream colored canvas tents in the woods in Lancaster.    The first time May arrived at Camp Manor, she stayed for the morning and afternoon meetings, then told Andy he needed to take her the bus so she could go home.  May was no camper.

Every week Andy wrote a letter to May’s twin sister’s husband, Roy, also a pastor.  A  July 1959 letter, illustrates more differences:

“Dear Roy:

Here I am in Ocean City (N.J.) sitting at the door of our apartment just two blocks from the Ocean.  I preached at Berachah in the morning – then in the afternoon May and I drove down here.  We had supper here and I preached last night.  I am here all week.

May bought a new bathing suit – so she is all set for the “Water Pool.”  And the price of that Modern Bathing Suit.  I remember when we could have bought a cow for what she paid for it.   We could have bred the cow – she would have had a calf and then milked her for 7 months and made a little profit.  This high-priced bathing suit, I am afraid will go down in price and finally be a total loss – These women sure can spend.  I haven’t bought a pocket handkerchief for over a year.”

Andy and May shared the unique challenges of parents in ministry.  In the first part of the century,  God came first and the family second.   He and May took God seriously, and believed Andy’s packed schedule of Bible teaching honored God.   I’m trying to find a nice way to explain why their children, especially Paul and Tommy, were not Sunday School poster children.  May was on the front lines, often alone.

Andy’s Mother’s Day sermon notes of 1949 are really a tribute to May’s parenting.  “Proverbs 31:28.  Theme: “Your Mother.”  Of all the lives that endear themselves to the hearts of boys and girls, none stand above the one who gave them birth – their mother.  Before I am through I will show you how a child with a Christ loving mother is part way on the road to heaven when he starts the journey of life.  In true Motherhood we see:

“She never raised her voice or yelled at us,”  I heard Uncle Paul remark, with a shade of awe.  My Dad often said the same thing, adding, “She was a saint.”  He had lived in the Telford home and witnessed Paul and Tommy’s shenanigans, legal and illegal.  Like the time… no.  I won’t go there.

Even Marian, very social, and Ruth, worried them.  At age 18, my mother met and fell in love with my Dad.  Allan Mitchell, five years older, just released from the British Marines, wasn’t  interested in spiritual things.  They had met when  Allan and his parents had moved into the Telford home’s  third floor apartment.  Allan’s father Ralph was a pastor friend of Andy’s.  They needed a place to stay while he began a ministry in America.

Looking back, knowing my parent’s great marriage,  I can’t imagine what the problem was.  To Andy and May, it  was like a wolf stealing from the cradle.

Ruth and her parents leave their home on December 16, 1950, for the wedding!

Andy and May’s family grew.   They doted on their nine grandchildren: Andy, and Stephen (in the bow ties), Wendy, me, Jennifer (in the candy cane dresses), David (tie) and Susan (on May’s knee), and Brenda (leaning against May)  and Tommy (in Aunt Nancy’s arms).   Pam, grandchild #10, arrived two years after May died.  I’m the one leaning on my grandfather’s knee.  I’m still leaning on my grandfather.

We called May, “MomMom.”  I regret not being able to remember her voice.  I was only nine when she died.  Also, she didn’t talk a lot.  Andy, aside from the pulpit, was fairly quiet, too.  But I can still hear his confident, “Our Father,” as he leaned over the dining room table to give the blessing over Sunday dinners.   How MomMom taught a ladies’ Bible class that morning, attended the service,  then laid out a full roast beef meal for us and whichever missionary friends happened to be in town, is a miracle of time management.  And pressure cookers, which she used with skill.  After dinner we cousins were ‘excused’ from the table to play in their basement, which had a linoleum tile shuffleboard court floor.  We also liked to put on shows for them.

May died of a heart attack, August 11, 1964.  She and Andy were at Fair Haven Bible Conference, where Andy was the speaker.  A friend, Margaret, later wrote a letter to the Telfords about her afternoon at May’s bedside:

“…I thought the family would like to know what their mother said to me as I sat with her in her cabin:

“When Andy comes back from dinner I think he better get the doctor,”  May closed her eyes for a few moments, then she wanted to tell me all about her family.  I can hear her talking about Tommy, Paul, and their cars, Ruth and her nice home, new drapes and carpet, also Marian and her children, and how she liked to be with Andy, as she called you, at the conference.  When I’m at home, I’m alone.”

The Sunday after May died, two verses and a poem, “Unto Myself,”  were printed on the back of the church bulletin.

Erie May Telford was not well known, never earned a paycheck or even drove a car.  Uncle Tommy told me she had once attempted to steer Andy’s maroon Buick into the garage, but scratched the whole side of it.  That was the end of that.  Driving, money, or fame  weren’t things that meant anything to her anyway.

Her interest was Andy.  His weekly letters to Roy always mention her:

“Just a line while  May is getting breakfast for the ‘gang’ here at home, and also while she is getting dinner ready for 21.  The Propst family (all 9 of them) will join us…’

“May and I have just returned from my Bible class in Ephrata…”

“May and I attended a banquet last night…”

“May and I have just returned from ‘Old Mills Bible Conference…”

“…May went with me…”

The poem May cherished, “Unto Myself” states,  “…The end is sweet, tho’ bitter be the way…”   At the time of her death, age 64,  daughter Marian was in a difficult marriage.  Things looked rosier in my family; Dad was now the Sunday School Superintendent and Mother taught a College Age Bible class.  Paul and Tommy, married, with kids, were struggling to find their vocations.  Paul, who loved cars, went to vocational school, then Bible college and eventually Dallas Seminary.  He worked a day job and taught Bible classes at his church, but it was a long road.  Tommy drove a bus for the city of Philadelphia.  It wasn’t until after his mother died that he became a full time missions teacher and author, with United World Missions.

“If anyone ever needed anything, they would talk to Mother,”  Tommy said.    “The Christian life is all about relationships, and she was a master at it.”

I keep picking up May’s letter, addressed to “Dear Friends in Michigan.”  It’s mine now.

“… Well I didn’t get very far with my letter.  I don’t have much time for writing …  Two ladies came in after prayer meeting, one to see Paul (the new baby), the other to tell me her love life …

Pat (her brother) was here yesterday.  I think he was undecided whether or not to go back to Michigan.  I think he has a wonderful work there, some conversions of middle aged people.  Two men have gone to Bible school.  But Pat is worried about money.  He gets enough to live on but not to think of getting married.  I guess it looks hopeless … I tell him the Lord can undertake for him, it would be wrong for him to leave the work.

Andy is as busy as ever, every minute seems to be occupied.  He is teaching Ecclesiastes at Bible Study Friday night.  It is very good.  We have wonderful crowds…”

Erie May Telford, one of God’s Mighty Women.

 

“The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle.  All will share alike.”  I Samuel 30:24

 

 

 

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