Dad was a jock.  After dinner, he would take his three daughters onto the baseball fields across the street, and hit pop ups into the air for us to catch.  He played tennis every day into his 83rd year.

When we complained of feeling sick, he would remind us, “You’re good stock.”

In his mind, like cattle we were bred with strong bones and heart.  There was no excuse for poor health.

Mother believed that, too.  The standard directive, if we complained of being under the weather on a school morning would be, “Get up and get dressed.”  We went to school.

Dad and Mother’s heritage of valuing good health is one of the reasons I made it through a medical crisis two years ago.  The nightmare was a ‘perfect storm’ of knee replacement surgery, pandemic induced isolation, and a wrong medication I had been taking as a treatment for anxiety.

I had my first panic attack when I was admitted to Labor and Delivery for my second child’s birth.  The prenatal classes had warned about that, so I wasn’t surprised.  Then, they became more frequent in my 30’s, appearing out of nowhere, when I traveled.  I began reading self help books on the subject.  They didn’t really help.

The people around you can’t tell you’re in misery because the symptoms are invisible.  You feeling like you have to go to the bathroom immediately. Armpits sweat.  Nausea rolls.  There’s no blood spurting.  “What’s the big deal?”  They say unhelpfully.   “Just stop it.”

When we moved to Florida, psychiatric doctors at University of South Florida did a thorough workup and labeled my condition “General Anxiety Disorder.”  They put me on an antidepressant and also Klonopin, to help with the Restless Leg Syndrome I also had.  Kill two birds with one stone.  That was in 2005.

But the anxiety around travel didn’t totally dissipate.   I wanted to enjoy life more.

In the next years, God gave me a gift: psychologist Dr. Mary Ann Frost.   She taught me fresh perspectives on living with my feelings.  Duane would go along on my visits.  As a person living with a person with anxiety, It was helpful for him, too.   Her ideas were practical.  “Buy an ugly cheap chair and sit it in your living room.  Every time you feel sad, you have to sit in that chair to think your sad thoughts.  It’s the only place where you can be sad.”  I got the point.  Experience feelings, but don’t let them be the master.

I chose ‘be healthy’ activities  to help with mood, and was walking, biking, and taking aerobic exercise classes.   Then chronic knee pain, from osteoarthritis, began making it difficult to continue.  In 2020, I had my first major surgery and had my right knee replaced.

I had been taking the Klonopin, for RLS, and mild anxiety, under my primary care doctor’s supervision, for almost 20 years.  Duane never could refill a prescription for me.  “It’s a controlled substance,”  he said.  That meant it was a serious medicine.  I knew it.

The anxiety over those years was never completely out of the picture.  Yet, like the T-shirts, ‘life was good.’  If anyone would ask me, “Are you depressed?” I would say, “Of course not.”  But I did worry about panic attacks, and did have them off and on.  I had sought out Dr. Frost to eliminate that segment of my life completely.  She knew I was on the klonopin but wished I wasn’t.

When I came home from the hospital, Duane quickly realized that the medicines I was given to relieve pain after surgery would not mix with the klonopin.  I had a miserable month; not from post op knee pain, but from drug withdrawal.  I have a new compassion for people who are thrown into jail to go ‘cold turkey.’

I woke up every morning asking Duane to take me to the hospital.

“I want to get hooked up to something to make me feel better,”  I pleaded.

Almost every night, as I sat on the sofa with my surgical knee propped up, I would have the shakes and panic.  This happened during the height of the pandemic.  Psychiatrists’ schedules were packed with patients fighting depression.  I’m not sure how I found or got in to see Dr. Darren Rothschild.  As a physician himself, Duane knew I needed professional help to know how to deal with the klonopin withdrawal.

At my first appointment, I found hope that I could feel better.  Dr. Rothschild was also realistic about the challenge it would be, since my brain had ‘adjusted’ to living on klonopin for so long.  He and Duane worked out a mathematically precise method for cutting back on it, over the next months.

“This will probably take a year,”  he said.  “That morning mental ‘darkness’ you’re feeling is actually the klonopin that’s not helping you anymore.”

I was motivated to be well.  To get my brain health back.  At the same time, I was scared.  I argued:

“I agree I want my brain to be better.  But klonopin has helped me have some control over anxiety.”

“The Klonopin is going to continue to wear down your brain function,”  Dr. Rothschild warned.  “I can give you another, safer medication to try, for dealing with the side effects of going off Klonopin.”

That sounded hopeful.  And there was more help.

“You need to see a psychologist to talk through more strategies for dealing with anxiety.  I have another recommendation:  a psychologist specially trained in desensitization, Dr. Zavrou.”

Whoa.  It seemed like I would be spending hours going to doctors.  However, I would rather do that than face panic by myself.  Duane was supportive, but couldn’t help me, like these specialists.   I made the appointments.

With a new antidepressant, and new medicine for the anxiety, and hours of therapy, over the next months, much of the panic subsided.  It did take almost a year before I was completely off the Klonopin.

“Some people never get off it,”  Dr. Rothschild told me.    He nudges, “Jill, someday I’d like you to believe that peace doesn’t come out of a pill bottle.”

I still take an antidepressant every day, and often consider Dr. Frosts’ words about facing life’s imperfections (‘Choose how to interpret events’).  I choose healthy habits.  I attend church every week and  read the Bible every day.   When I get discouraged beauty cheers me; a walk in nature, listening to classical music (Dad again) or looking through family pictures.   The  doctors taught me:  Get your daily exercise.  No caffeine.  Keep going, even if you’re feeling sick/anxious.

I wrote this because I want my friends and family to know that they’re not alone in the struggle for good health.  Another reason is that I believe the only way I was able to get off a strong medicine like Klonopin was with professional help.  I want to encourage anyone reading this that help is out there; reach out for it.   When I’m feeling weak or going back to old habits, I still hear Dr. Rothschild or Dr. Frost or Dr. Zavrou’s voices.  I sense their calm confidence.   Our health is worth it.

Dad would approve.


Dear Ethan, Addi Scarlett, Sophie and Henry,


Thank you for your Christmas gifts to me this year.  Some you gave without knowing it.  Like being able to make your own lunch!  Thank you.

While we eat lunch you humor me by watching Dick Van Dyke reruns.  Thank you.

Thank you for updating Poppy and I about the latest vocabulary, “W Rizz” (sp?) and “L Rizz” (sp?). Thank you for sharing the newest drink crazy, Boba Tea, even though I wasn’t brave enough to try it.


Poppy and I are also very grateful that you have inherited our love for jigsaw puzzles.

The video games I guess is one of your interests that I don’t have those same feelings for, although I do enjoy watching you play them together.  I’m thankful you enjoy just being together.

I loved Christmas Eve with you.  Your excitement to share the Bible verses you chose to recite to me as my Christmas gift… what joy!  Last year I picked out the verses.  This year I gave you that responsibility.  That was part of the gift.  I was curious to see which verse you would pick out.  Ethan, when you offered to memorize John 11:35. I laughed and said “no.”

Ethan, thank you for the ‘love’ verses (and I realize you quoted four!) from I Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind…love endures through every circumstance.”  You know ‘love’ is my favorite word.  Addi Scarlett, thank you for the heartfelt verses from the Psalm 119:24,111 “…Your statutes are my delight…”.  I know you do love God’s words.   Sophie, I loved the way you dramatized the encouragement from Proverbs 3: 5-6, about trusting in the LORD.  God has great things for you along your path.  Henry, last in the Presentation of Verses at our Christmas Eve party (on video thanks to Dayna) recited the powerful Isaiah 9:6-7.  “For unto us a child is given…”  Wow.  Thank you for the hard work you put into your words.  I know memorizing verses is not easy.

Ethan and Addi Scarlett, thank you for the hand crafted remembrances of your Bible verses.  They sit on my bedside table and make me smile every time I look at them.

Sophie, thank you for the mini waffle maker!  You know that Poppy and I love breakfast!

Henry, I love watching your love for Sophie, Ethan and your sister as they unwrapped presents.  Thank you for your enthusiasm for the party!

Thank you all for your gifts.  I’m trying to think of a big enough adjective to describe them, but I can’t.  Maybe you could suggest one?  You help me with so many things now.  Like my iphone.

I’m looking forward to next Christmas.


your little Nana

P. S. I have not received a thank you from you all yet regarding the “Gone With The Wind” book.

P. P. S. Oh, and thank you for all the helping you did with getting tables set up and clearing the dinner table and fetching drinks.

P. P. P. S.   I apologize for not playing video games with you… well… forget that.




Uncle Paul sent me his memories of his father, Andrew Telford, before he died,  hand written on notebook paper.  Three double sided papers.  Uncle Tommy has been calling me on the phone to talk about his dad.

Paul wrote:

“There were giants in the land…

An amazing life.

I am attempting to write down the things I remember about my father.   It will also include stories told me by others as well as information from letters sent weekly to my Uncle Roy in Bronte, Canada.

Naturally there may be some errors in time and fact as well as some exaggeration.  I remember returning to Ottawa, Canada and on seeing my home and the street I lived on, it all seemed so small.  As a child it all seemed to large.

So with those caveats I proceed.

Birthplace and Life on the Farm.

Andy Telford was born on the north shore of Lake Ontario, in the small town of Bronte, between Toronto and Hamilton, in 1895.  Bronte was a small fishing village.

He lived on a farm with his twin brother Huey.  His parents were tenant farmers on a forty acres.  My father’s parents were both from the north of Ireland, county Balmoral.  Thomas Telford and Rose Blank were married in 1881, January 8.  If you knew the couple you would know the ceremony to be one of simplicity and sincerity in every detail.

Thomas Telford was born 1849 at Porcles, county of Antrim and died in Burlington, Ontario at the age of 92, March, 1941.  His bride, Rose Blank was born February 29, 1856 and died in Burlington, Ontario, age 81, in June, 1937.

Life was hard and rugged for the young couple so it is no wonder they decided to seek a better life in Ontario, Canada.  For a while they settled in Branford, Ontario, but moved to a tenant farm on the north shore of Lake Ontario near a small fishing village called Bronte, 16 miles east of Hamilton.

Dad’s prayer life must have been shallow and empty but he prayed, always finishing with the request, “Lord, make me a good man.”  He may have been thinking of his own father.  His dad took in 16 boys from a local orphanage and gave them money when they reached 15 years and left to make their way in life.  Who knows the outcome of the later lives of those young men?  Th example of helping others and being generous with one’s money must have made an impact on Andy.

The repetition of the Lord’s Prayer was a another spiritual blessing.  Andy’s father told those boys, “When you are outside, watch your temper, when you are at home, watch your tongue, when alone watch your thoughts.”  Couple that homey advice with the repetition of the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments each week in school.  It must have had a deep influence for good in Andy’s life.  There was a clear cut line of what was right or wrong.  I think these things prepared Andy for the time when he was told he was a sinner.

It is interesting that parents want something better for their children than they had.  This is how, without realizing it, that the nature of their lives made them what they are.  Hard work, a disciplined life, care for and learning from animals; a close contact with the natural world, very little idle time, etc, made a “good” person.

I, on the other hand, did not ever have any work or chore.  The only thing I remember doing is polishing the brass door knobs in the home for a dollar.  I have often thought if I was sent to some mission field or farm for the summer, or some youth program that taught the things my father knew how different my life might have been.

Life On The Farm

The Telfords  raised animals and crops.  The daily routine of farm life was rigorous and physically demanding.  Animals were cared for on Sunday just like any other day.  One story Dad told was of his father tying Huey and himself with a rope, one on each side of him.  You bent over and worked the garden, keeping up with your father and not getting up till he got up.

All money that was earned was given to mother.  If you picked berries for a penny a quart, this was given to Mom.  At the end of her life she had saved some $40,000.00.  This money went to Huey as Andy was cut off from any inheritance because he left the farm to go to Moody Bible Institute.

I thought that the food supply would be good living on a farm.  Dad told me they sold all the good things and kept the poorer quality.  For instance, they sold the cream and butter but kept the skim milk.  If a pig was slaughtered the meat was sold but the fat was kept.

“What was for breakfast?”  I asked Dad.

He told me it was potatoes fried in fat and with slabs of fat and green tomato pickles.  Lunch was fat on homemade bread with an old whiskey bottle filled with skim milk.

Dad told me that at one time he ate a dozen duck eggs and became ill.  His mother mixed Sloan’s Liniment (used to rub horses down) with water, gave it to him to drink, and he recovered nicely.

Life on the farm was strenuous.  Up at sunrise, and work all day.

Both of Dad’s parents were industrious, frugal and God fearing people.  In thinking about the godly influence his parents had on him, it would seem rather small, but looking again at my Dad’s home life, there was the importance of virtue in many ways.

My Dad tells of his father imploring him and his siblings not to smoke, drink, or run around because he felt the judgment of God would fall on the home.  His mother taught the children the Lord’s Prayer.  One can only speculate where Thomas Telford picked up these Biblical ideas.  Perhaps from the religious climate of Northern Ireland, perhaps something he read, perhaps someone who spoke to him, perhaps some of this was common knowledge.  At any rate the Telford home was one where many lessons taught the truth of being a good person.  You learned a ‘well ordered’ life on the farm.

Think for a moment of the influence of the home.  A belief in God who would judge.  A Bible on the living room table, “too holy to touch.”  Learning the Lord’s Prayer.”

The three pages end abruptly.

Yesterday my Uncle Tommy phoned to share his memories, too.  Tommy was the baby of the family.

“I remember coming down the big staircase at 309 Schoolhouse Lane, seeing my father in the study across the hall at the bottom of the stairs,” he reminisced.  I remember that house, that seemed as big as a mansion to me, a preschooler.  I could visualize Poppop, sitting at his desk, with the sun streaming over his shoulders.’

“He was writing, with his notebook beside his open Bible,”  Tommy said.  “It gave life a kind of stability, seeing him there every morning.”

“But he wasn’t the kind of Dad who went to our games.  Someone asked me, ‘What were your Dad’s hobbies?’  Not sports.”  I can see Uncle Tommy shaking his head as he chuckled.  Sports were his hobbies.

“Dad rented the land behind the house at 309, and planted a garden with asparagas, tomatoes and other vegetables.  And roses.  He bought a riding mower and loved cutting the lawn.  You’re right,”  Tommy added, when I mentioned Paul’s thought about wishing he had been asked to do more as a child.  “I didn’t do much work around the house.  I took out the trash.  And occasionally when Dad was away he paid me to water that garden.  ‘Give it a good soaking if it hasn’t rained for a while.’

I told Tommy about Poppop’s diet on the farm, as a child.

“They ate slabs of fat on bread!”

Tommy added, “People would ask me, ‘What does your Dad like to eat?’

Being one of those Related To the Famous Andy Telford, I sympathize with Uncle Tommy.  Various strangers, when finding out I was Andy Telford’s granddaughter, would gasp, “You’re Andy Telford’s granddaughter!”  We were those chosen to reveal the family secrets of the giants in the land….

“After preaching on Sunday nights, sometimes he would ask me to drive him to one of his Bible conferences.  He would grab a bottle of grape soda and a package of Tastykakes!  He loved sugar!”  Tommy laughed.

I muse that being of Irish descent, all the Telfords were good talkers.  He continued:

“On the night of my commissioning in missions, the Elders asked if my father could join us and pray over me,”  he continued.   This was a major life event for Uncle Tommy.  Most of his youthful life he had, like his brother Paul, left the Bible his parents gave him on a shelf gathering dust.  He shares the story of his complete life reversal in the book he wrote as a middle aged adult, “Missions In the Twenty First Century.”

“Dad had to cancel one of his own preaching engagements to attend,”  he shared.  “I spoke, and afterwards, Dad never said, ‘Good job’ or any kind of encouragement.”


“Dad wasn’t around when Paul and I were kids.  In those days, pastors put ‘The Ministry’ ahead of everything, even their families.  That was the way it was done.  Nowadays, pastors put their families first… maybe too much.”

Uncle Tommy’s stories remind me of family times in Philadelphia, where his family lived close by until I was in 9th grade.  Thanksgiving days gathered around Aunt Marian’s table…. Sunday afternoons with the cousins, after church, and then back to church again.

(Me, and David, back row.  Middle row L to R, Tommy, Stephen, Brenda, Wendy, Andy.  Kneeling, Susan and Jennifer.)

“I drove Poppop out to the farms in Lancaster where he knew a man who owned a big farm.  He bought manure from him for his garden.  He had a great garden.  Now I grow tomatoes here at my community.  (a chuckle) I have so many tomatoes I have to give them away!”

Another memory appears:

“You said you didn’t think your mother wore much make up from the wedding picture you posted?  Poppop did not believe in the stuff.  One Sunday we were waiting out in the car to go to church and my sister Marian, in high school, appeared and climbed in the back.  She was wearing lipstick.  Dad turned around with his handkerchief and wiped it off her face.”

“Wow!”  I smiled.  I remember Poppop squinting at my face, when I was in high school, and asking, “What’s that black stuff on your eyes?”

“Poppop changed his tune on the makeup thing,”  he laughed.  He would say, “…If the barn needs painting, do it!”

When I read and hear the memories of Paul and Tommy, about their father, I think of Elisha, in II Kings 2,  when Elijah was blown up to heaven, crying, “My Father!  My Father!  The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”  Elisha tore his clothes in grief, but picked up Elijah’s cloak, for his new life.

Paul straightened out; graduating from Drexel University, in engineering… he loved cars, as did his dad.  Then he went on to Dallas Theological Seminary.  My mother said he memorized the New Testament.  He taught a popular Bible class at his church.

Tommy uses his gift of evangelism to mobilize churches for spreading Christ’s Kingdom.  He served with United World Mission, visiting churches and speaking at Mission Conferences.  He authored two books, “Missions in the 21st Century” and “Today’s All Star Mission Churches,” weaving his love of sports with missions.

He can’t forget his larger than life dad.


(Back row, Jennifer Mitchell, Allan Mitchell, Carl Seitz, Marian Seitz, Paul Telford, Lois Telford, Tommy Telford, Nancy Telford, Tom Telford Jr in her arms.  Second row, Wendy Mitchell, Poppop, Andy Telford Jr, Mommom.,  Front row:  Jill Mitchell, seated to Poppop’s right, Stephen Telford, David Seitz, Susan Seitz in Mommom’s lap, Brenda Telford)




Many of my friends are writing a book.

I’m a writer, too.  My first novel was “Miss Nutshell.”  (1968) I illustrated it also.

I write for my family and friends.  I want them to know me.

I told my son Jeffrey that I want to be a writer.  He said, “Writing is too lonely a profession for you.  You are more of a teacher.”

My mother was a teacher.  She taught 5th grade, English and then many Bible studies.  I wanted to be a school teacher all my life.  When I went to Wheaton, the Education department asked me to find another major because I told them I didn’t believe in grades.  I was ahead of my time in 1975.  Mother directed me to a Christian Education major. “You’re always volunteering at church.”

Mother wrote a bit.  She left a few paper notebooks of her writing; mainly travel diaries of England and sermon notes.  I wish she had written more.   Days before she died, she scrawled her goodbye.

“I love you all!

(my) children and grandchildren are all unique and gifted.  God has blessed our family in so many ways.  I love all of you and Jesus loves all of you.

Now make sure you are loving and following Jesus Christ!  Only way to go.

The Book will tell you what you need to know.  Psalm 119 tells us all…”

Mother knew Jesus and the Bible well.  She was what every teacher should be, a fountain of that treasure.  In spite of all she knew, and she knew alot, she often quoted, “You only teach one thing:  you teach your life.”


Last week I drove middle school carpool.  It gave me a chance to tell Ethan about when I became a Christian.  (Even though he’s ‘on’ his phone playing a game, he’s still listening.)  I told him this story:

“I woke up from a nightmare about hell.  I was shaking with fright as I left my bed and walked through the dark house to my Mother and Dad’s bedroom.

‘Mother, I’m afraid I’m going to hell,’ I whispered to her.

Mother got out of bed,  and went and got her Bible.  We went to the living room.  Mother sat in the black rocking chair and turned on the light.  She opened her Bible to the book of John.  Her finger pointed to a verse.

“Here, chapter 1, verse 12, ‘But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.’  God promises you that you are his child when you believe in him.’

So Ethan, from that point on, I have known that for sure I am a Christian.”

A memoir writing class teacher responded to one of my pieces, “Your style is very didactic.”  I looked up the word in the dictionary – “intended to teach.”

I hope I am like my Mother.










Jill heard the gentle clinking of ice cubes.  She and Jennifer were snuggled, each in their twin bed, reading.  Jennifer, in kindergarten, was only ‘pretend’ reading her favorite book, ‘Papa Small.’

Dad appeared in the doorway, balancing three Flintstone glasses of Coke in his hands.

“I brought you a little drinkie,”  Dad offered the first glass to Jennifer.  She dropped her book onto the covers and reached for the evening treat.

Mother peeked in the door.  “Lights out soon.  We’re going to Woolworths to do our family Christmas shopping tomorrow.”

“Good!”  Jill said, reaching for her glass from Dad.

“I can’t wait to see what you’ll get me!”  Dad said in his joking voice.  He left to bring Wendy the remaining Coke.

Jill finished her drink and scooted farther under the green corduroy covers.

“Lights out,”  Dad leaned in their door.

” I know what I want for Christmas…,”  Jill whispered to Jennifer, reaching towards the switch on her lamp.

“You want that baby doll,”  Jennifer whispered back.   Jill always talked about dolls.   “I wanna get Mother something really good.  It’s so hard to think of something.”

“It is,”  Jill agreed.  They both fell asleep.


Saturday morning,  Jill, Jennifer and Wendy ran down the front steps to the car. They wore their matching winter jackets to keep out the brisk December weather.

“I call the front seat!”  Wendy yelled.

“I need to run a quick errand, ”  Mother said as she climbed into the car.  “I’ll only be a minute.  Then we’ll go to Woolworths.”

When they arrived at Lord & Taylor, Wendy said, “”We’ll just wait in the car.”

“I want to go in,”  Jill said.  In August, she had fallen in love with a doll in their toy department.  A pink suited Madame Alexander baby doll.  Small tufts of fine blond hair peeked out from her pink silk bonnet.  Sweet lips and blue eyes lit up her chubby face.  Every time Jill visited that store she held her baby in her arms.

“No, I’ll just be a minute,”  Mother said, getting out of the car and hurrying toward the door.

When Mother returned, Jill asked anxiously, “Is my doll still there?”

“I didn’t even go upstairs!”  Mother answered. “I was picking up a pair of shoes.  You girls have so many dolls.  Now on to Woolworths!”


The wind blew them inside Woolworth’s door.

Jill looked around at the wooden aisles filled with needs and wants that she and her sisters shopped through most Saturdays.  Each week Dad would give them an assortment of change to spend before they walked there with their friend Nancy, from across the street.

Today, Mother oversaw the Christmas expedition.  She lifted a maroon shopping basket on her arm, ready to hide the gifts they would find.  They each had two dollars to spend.  That two dollars must pay for four gifts.

“Do you have some ideas for each other?”  Mother asked.  Jill had one present settled.  Dad’s.  She would get him a comb.  He had mentioned at dinner the night before that he needed a new comb.

“You have fifty cents for each gift,”  Mother reminded.  “Wendy, you start on this aisle.  Jennifer, you go to the next row.  Jill, start here.”

Jill began searching in the art section, her favorite.  “Maybe Jennifer would like something here.”

“This might be handy for Jennifer’s desk,”  she thought, picking up a pair of scissors.  Then she looked at the price: 99 cents.  Too much for one gift.  “What else could Jennifer use for her desk?”  She spotted a jar of paste, and picked it up to look at the tag.

“Only 49 cents. Perfect, ”  she headed towards Mother.  She found her in the next aisle, trying to keep Jennifer from seeing what Wendy was picking out.  “Here, Mother, this goes in your basket.”

Then she headed towards the hair care aisle for Dad.   She bumped into Jennifer, running from the jewelry section.

“I’ve found the most beautiful present for Mother!”  Jennifer panted.  She held a small box in her hand.

“What?”  Jill asked.  Jennifer didn’t stop.

“I found you the most wonderful present, Mother!”  Jennifer exclaimed, when she found Mother by the dishes.

“Good,”  Mother smiled.

“It cost a dollar,”  Jennifer whispered.

“That’s too much!”  Mother protested.  “How will you have enough for your other presents?”

“I don’t care,”  Jennifer insisted, her eyes still bright.  “I know you’re really gonna love this.”

Mother hesitated.  She wanted  Jennifer put it back. But  Jennifer was so excited.

“Alright,”  Mother relented.

Jennifer dropped the box into Mother’s basket, her gift nestled beside the other Christmas treasures.


That afternoon Dad squeezed through the front door with The Tree smashed around his body.

“Mother! Girls!”  he called.  He leaned the tree against the wall and called again.   The sisters were watching “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol’ downstairs.  “Our Christmas tree has arrived!”

The scent of fresh pine greeted Jill when she walked into the living room.  Fir needles littered the green carpet as Dad carried it to the front picture window.

“It’s so tall!”  Wendy exclaimed, right behind her.

Mother appeared from the kitchen where she was making her mother’s roll out Christmas shortbread cookies.  “It doesn’t look very …full,” she remarked, examining the tree.

“It smells so good!” Jennifer said.  “Can we decorate it?”

“After dinner,”  said Mother.

“Help me, girls,”  Dad directed as as he got down on his knees to fasten the tree in the stand.  “… while I fiddle with this bloomin’ thing.”

“It doesn’t have any branches on this side,”  Jennifer observed.

“There!”  he announced, standing up to see his purchase.

“It’s empty on that one side,”  Wendy agreed with Jennifer.

“It will look fine once we get the doodads on it,”  Dad believed in his choice.  “The empty spots will help with conversation.  See, a person sitting on this side of the tree can talk to the person sitting on the other side, right through it!”

Mother laughed.

“Can’t we decorate it now?”  Jill begged.

“After dinner,”  Dad agreed with Mother.


The girls slept under the tree that night, now dripping with lights, ornaments and tinsel.   Their heads rested on their soft pillows, heads tucked under the lowest branches.

“Look at the ceiling!   I see designs of the pine branches,”  Jill pointed.

“I can’t wait til Christmas morning to give Mother her present!”  Jennifer talked about Mother’s present every day.

“Is that all you’re thinking about?”  asked Wendy, propping herself up on her elbow.

“Well…”  Jennifer added, “It’s the best gift I’ve ever found.”

“You haven’t given that many gifts,”  Wendy said, laying back down.  “You’re only five.”

“Five and a half,”  Jennifer said.  “And it’s the best present.”

“I hope I get my doll,”  Jill said.  “She’s the most beautiful baby doll ever.”

“Oh you and your dolls,”  Wendy frowned.  She had never played with baby dolls, like Jill and Jennifer.

In the pine scented, twinkling lit room they soon stopped talking.  Their eyes closed.  Dad peeked in and turned off the lights on the tree.


Christmas morning arrived.   Bright sunshine poured in the dining room window and filled the living room, too.  The Mitchell family gathered around the tree in their pajamas.  The space under the tree that had been empty the night before now was bursting with boxes disguised in Christmas paper decorated with ribbons.

“The first thing we need to do, now that you’ve opened your stockings, is to have breakfast,”  Mother announced.

“Breakfast?!”  all three girls cried.

“Yes, I want to relax and enjoy this morning,”  Mother answered.

“That will take so long, to have breakfast!”  they moaned.

They looked longingly at the packages stacked under the tree.

Jennifer started to cry.  “I want you to open your present.”

Jill and Wendy started to cry, too.

“Well isn’t this a lovely Christmas,”  Dad sighed.

“Girls,”  Mother calmly continued, “We’ve waited this many days.  You can wait a little longer.  Let’s go in the kitchen and I’ll put the kettle on for Dad’s tea.”

After breakfast, Dad moved his dining room chair next to the presents.  The sisters sat around him on the carpet.  Mother pulled her red velvet chair nearer to the tree.

“First l’ll read the Christmas story from Luke 2,”  Dad did that every Christmas.

Jill could hardly wait any longer.  Jennifer bounced up and down.

“At that time the Roman emporer, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken….,”  Dad began.  “…I bring you good news that will bring joy to all people.  The Savior has been born today….”  Later, he finished, “… it was just as the angels had told them.”  He closed his Bible.  Mother walked over to the presents.  She picked out three packages that looked the same size.

“Here’s a present for each of the girls,”  Mother handed three flat gifts to Dad.

Dad passed them out, reading the tags.  “To Jill, love, Santa”, “To Jennifer, Love, Santa” , “Wendy, love, Santa”

“Look, a Peanuts calendar!”  Jill exclaimed.  Wendy unwrapped a “Dresses of Jackie Kennedy” calendar.  Jennifer got a Suzi’s Zoo.

Jennifer watched Dad hand out presents as  if he was passing out gold pieces.

“Dad, where’s the green present?”  Jennifer asked.  “My present for Mother.”

Jill’s opened gifts sat neatly in a pile next to her.  The high stack around the tree got shorter and shorter.  But no doll.

“What a thoughtful gift,”  Mother said as she unwrapped a book from Aunt Marian.

Jennifer opened the jar of paste from Jill, selected carefully that Saturday at Woolworths. “I love this!”

Jill smiled.

“Here’s a big package for Jill, from Santa,”  Dad handed her a long rectangular box with a red ribbon.  Mother set the book she was looking at in her lap.

Jill pulled off the paper.  Tiny pink flowers covered the box.  “Madame Alexander” was written in lacy handwriting across the top.   Jill opened the box and sniffed.   She drank in the scent of her new doll, the exact one, with the pink silk bonnet.

“Oh! Mother! Dad!  Thank you! Thank you!”  She took her new baby out of the box and felt her softness melt into her arms.  “She’s just right!  She’s so beautiful! Thank you!”

Dad and Mother beamed.  Dad turned back to the few gifts left under the tree.

“Here’s a small one for Mother,”  he said.

Jennifer jumped up.  That was her tissue wrapping!  “I’ll give it to Mother.”

She took the gift out of Dad’s hand and placed it triumphantly in Mother’s.

“I can’t imagine what it can be!”  Mother smiled.

She unwrapped  Jennifer’s treasure.  “What a nice box.”

Then she carefully lifted the lid.  Her eyes widened with surprise.

“I absolutely love it!”  she exclaimed with the perfect timing and poise an actress would use to win an Academy Award.  “I’ve never seen anything quite so… wonderful for Christmas!”

“Let us see it!”  Wendy cried.  “Hold it up.”

“Wait,”  Mother raised her hand.  “Jennifer, I want you to show everyone.”

Jennifer proudly displayed it: a two inch plastic pin of Santa’s head.  In the place of his nose sat a tiny red bulb.  A red string with a jingle bell was attached at the bottom of the pin.

“It’s Santa!”  Jill exclaimed.

“LOOK at this…”  Jennifer pointed out.  “When you pull the string, his nose lights up.”

Jennifer’s small fingers clasped the thread and yanked.  The tiny red bulb at Santa’s nose came to life.  It glowed.

“That’s cool!”  Wendy said.

“Jennifer, this is my best Christmas present,”  Mother said.  “I just love it.”

Jennifer’s eyes shone.

“Ruth, you’ll be the only one at church with a creation like that!”  Dad said.

Mother pulled the string, too.  Once again, the red nose lit.  Then she set the Santa pin neatly back on the cotton in it’s box.

“I want to try lighting up Santa,”  Wendy said.

“No.  I don’t want to wear him out,”  Mother answered.  “I want him to stay special.  I’m going to wear this on my jacket. ”

Mother smiled at Jennifer.

“I thought you might really like it,”  Jennifer said shyly.

“This is the best Christmas I’ve ever had,”  Mother announced.


That night,  Jill tucked her new baby into the toy crib jammed next to her bed.  Jennifer was already snuggled under her covers.

“You won’t be able to get out of bed,”  yawned Jennifer.

“It is pretty smooshed,”  Jill said.  She pulled her covers back and jumped under the icy sheets.  “Mother really liked the Santa pin.”

“I know,”  Jennifer said. “Best Christmas ever.”

“Yup,”  Jill agreed.

Best Christmas ever.

MORAL:     “Love people, not  things.”

Thanks to Jennifer, who now owns the Santa pin that Mother showed off many years at Christmas speaking engagements.





In November, cold winds blew across Overlook school’s playground.

“Time to pull out the winter coats,”  Mother said as she rummaged in the front closet before school one Friday morning. “Jill, here’s your coat.”

Mother lifted the dry cleaners’ clear plastic off a clean navy blue coat with shiny brass buttons.

“That’s Wendy’s coat!” Jill exclaimed.   She stared at what she would have to wear all winter.  It looked like a boy’s coat:  straight and plain.  Embroidered on each shoulder was a white anchor trimmed in red.

“It’s too small for Wendy,”  Mother corrected.  She took it off the metal hanger.

Being the middle sister,  Jill was used to hand me downs.

“You’ll look sharp!” That was Mother and Dad’s commonly used adjective for someone who looks their very best.  Mother’s fingers unbuttoned the front.  “Here, try it on.”

Jill slipped her arms into the sleeves.  She turned towards Mother.

“The sleeves look right,”  Mother said, running her hands along their length.  “Button it up.  Now go look at yourself in the mirror.”

Jill obeyed.  A large rectangular mirror hung on the wall between the living and dining room.

She studied her reflection.  The pixie haircut didn’t seem right with such a formal coat.  She wasn’t sure how she looked.  “I guess I like it.”

“You look sharp!”

Jill smiled at herself.  She turned her head to inspect the sea themed trim on the shoulders.  Maybe hand me downs weren’t so bad after all.

“Can I wear it to school?”  she asked.

“That’s why I got it out,”  Mother answered.  “You’ll need it on a cold morning like this.”

Jill ran into the kitchen to grab her lunch box, then out the front door.  The screen door banged shut as she skipped down the front steps.  It was easy to get to school when it was right across the street.  The safety patrol sixth grader stationed in their driveway held up her arms in front of a group of students waiting to cross Silver Avenue.

After several cars and an orange school bus passed, she said, “Go ahead.”

They all ran across the street.

Jill passed the monkey bars, slide and merry go round on her left.  She marched onward, across asphalt painted with  yellow hopscotch lines.  She wanted to get inside before the school bell rang.

The crisp fall air made her nose cold.  But she was warm in her new coat.  She swung her arms and puffed out clouds of frosty air.

Jill pulled open the heavy school door.  One instant later she was sucked into the hallway along with jostling students wearing their sweaters and jackets for the first time.  Overlook, with its’ own special scent of paste, floor cleaners and mimeograph ink , was like a second home.  She passed neat bulletin boards of construction paper displays.   Mrs. Reinhardts’ first grade class was the farthest down the hall.

“Hi, Jill,”  Peggy greeted, as she entered her room.  The cloakroom was on the other side of all the desks.  She walked towards it.

“Oh, Jill, you have a new coat,”  Arthur noticed, as she passed his desk.  He was the smartest and the smallest boy in the class. He got up and followed her.

The cloakroom was full of kids hanging up their winter garb.

“Jill, I like your coat,”  said Vivian, slowly.

It was a different coat than the other girls wore.  Or the boys.  No one had a coat like that one.

The kids stared at her new coat, with the bright brass buttons and red and white trim.  They didn’t always know what to expect from Jill.  She was the first girl they knew who chased the boys on the playground at recess and kissed them.  She could catch all of them, except George.  A television screen with knobs on the side was painted on her lunchbox.  In the cafeteria, when she was finished with her peanut butter and jelly sandwich, she pretended to watch cartoons on it.

“It’s a Navy coat,”  Jill blurted out.  She wasn’t sure, herself, where the idea came from.

The kids looked surprised.

“A Navy coat?”  Arthur questioned.

“Yes, I’m in the Navy,”  Jill answered, smiling.

“How can you be in the Navy?”  asked Arthur.  “You’re in school.”

“Not on the weekends,”  Jill insisted.  “I go on Saturday and Sunday.”

No one could disagree with that.  They didn’t know where  Jill went on the weekends.  And the dark blue coat with shining buttons looked like a real uniform.  She must be telling the truth.

“Class, time to get in our seats,”  Mrs. Reinhardt called.

Everyone whispered about the coat as they walked to their desks.

When it was time to go home, Jill’s friends followed her into the coatroom.  They watched as she lifted her Navy coat off its’ hook.    Jill reached her arms into each sleeve and pulled the coat around her  dress, feeling the thick wool fabric against her fingers.  The hand me down rated a new respect from her classmates.

“Have a good time with the Navy,”  they said.

“I’ll tell you about it on Monday,”  Jill waved and laughed as she walked out the door, towards home.


MORAL:      Make It Fun*

*credit for the wording of this moral to Dale Mace


PREFACE (which I generally never read in a book)

I wrote these fables for my grandchildren Ethan, Addi, Sophie and Henry Rommel.  Math love runs in the family so titled them with a number.  The moral, or “what’s the point?” is something I noticed they enjoyed discovering when we read Aesop’s fables.

These stories come from the home movies playing in my mind.  Jill’s the star, but her family wins the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

The Mitchell Girls, Wendy, Jill, and Jennifer (and later Pamela) lived in a red brick split level in Abington.  Dad called it his “estate.”  He and Mother bought the house because it sat across the street from Overlook Elementary School.

“Kids might walk across our lawn and litter their papers on our property,” they discussed.  But the school came with several playgrounds, baseball fields, and bordered Roychester park.

With three bedrooms upstairs, a living room with a picture window covering the front of the house, and a patio off the dining room on the main level, the yellow awning house was perfect.   The lower level boasted a pine paneled room with a window facing the school. A door in the paneling opened into a large laundry room and half bath.  A single garage would later be turned into a guest bedroom for missionaries, family and parents.  That was possible because another,  two car garage sat beside a hedge enclosed play area on the north side of the house.  Dad eventually assembled a swing set and wooden play house from Sears for that private paradise.

Mother chose soft green carpets for the living and dining room.  Her baby grand piano took up more than a corner of the living room, flanked by two red velvet tufted chairs.  The bedrooms had wood floors while the rest of the house was covered with linoleum; dark brown speckled in the lower level, and creamy white speckled in the kitchen.  The kitchen cupboards were fabricated from a metal of some kind.  All the accordion closet “doors” were made from what looked like plastic.  The house itself will not achieve historic status.

But lamps glowed in every room: floor lamps and sofa table lamps in the living room, lamps on bookcase headboards in the bedrooms or on mahogany dressers.  A wall sconce hung beside the phone on the wall in the kitchen.

“Turn lights off!”  Dad would scold.  But Mother turned them on in abundance: in the daytime, on cloudy days, or in the mornings before the sun shone into a room.  The house was ablaze with the warmth of those lamps, in spite of the pain of the electric bill.

In all that coziness Jill, her sisters and parents, lived these fables.

The address:  1802 Edge Hill Road, Abington, Pennsylvania  19001.

Dad served on H. M. S. Glory, a British aircraft carrier, during World War II.

He traveled to Deal, England, to enlist in the Royal Marines in October 1943.  This is that ‘last day’ photo before leaving his mother, father,  little sister Ruth, and the family dog Carlos, at 20 Valley Drive, Gateshead.  He was 18 years old.

H. M. S.  Glory sailed from Belfast to ports around the world: Alexandria, Egypt to Australia and the Japanese surrender in the Pacific in 1945.   I can see in the pictures that Dad lost weight.  Dad told us his mother sent him a chicken in a tin can, she was so worried about how thin he was getting.  I can hear Dad laughing:

“When I opened the tin, the chicken had to be thrown overboard immediately.”

Dad earned the nickname “Posty” with his ‘pals’ (his word) because his job on the ship was delivering the mail.  I can’t figure who took these pictures or who owned a camera and where they developed the film, during a war.  Dad learned a cheerful attitude from his commanding officer.

“We started each day by looking in the mirror and saying, ‘In every way, throughout the day, this is going to be the best day of my life.”

The men entertained each other with shipboard shows.

Dad also told stories of the planes that missed the ship’s runway and disappeared into the sea.  Or the horrors of transporting the British P. O. W.’s from the Japanese camps after the surrender.

“They were in terrible shape.  Many didn’t make it home.”

Dad told us he held the pen at the signing of the Japanese surrender, which wasn’t true.  But the Japanese did surrender to Britain on  his ship the H. M. S. Glory on September 6, 1945, at Rabaul, off the coast of New Britain, now New Guinea.

Dad’s hero throughout and after the war was Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

“We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a second believe, this island, or part of it, is subjugated and starving, then our Empire across the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, will carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, in all its strength and might sets forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.”

6105 Abbott Avenue had only, one and three quarter bathrooms.  A family of six, we four girls shared the ‘main’ bath.  The infamous ‘pink shirt’ picture of the Mitchell girls:

When we moved to 6105, Wendy and I were in high school,  Jennifer was in junior high and Pam attended elementary school.  I never remember our bathroom door ever being closed.

Mother scrubbed its’ tan tile floor every Friday, and washed the rug.  Two lightbulbs, hidden behind a frosted glass cover, hung above the mirrored medicine cabinet.  Maybe that was all the light a room only 5 x 7 feet needed.   The white porcelain sink wasn’t even a pedestal sink but a bowl attached to the wall, with no storage or shelving underneath.  A bar of gold Dial soap sat in a silver metal dish screwed into the wall above the sink. The white bathtub might have had tile surrounding it at one time, or it had been replaced with a plastic insert.

The space would be ripe for an HGTV makeover today.  Yet we were content with it.  Even with four girls, I can’t remember the small medicine cabinet overflowing with bottles of beauty ointments, or any of the stereotypical fights with girls banging on the door, “It’s my turn!  Get out!”

The one extra feature it had was a mysterious small oak door in the wall beside the toilet.  Guests would always ask, “What’s that?”  A clever builder designed the door for convenience.  It was a laundry chute that led to a large wicker basket in the basement below, near the washer and dryer.  All Mother’s grandchildren at one time or another used the chute as a toy.  It was fun to open the door and make matchbox cars disappear.

That bathroom taught me, before I was married,  a lesson about the rigors of married life.  While on a family vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey, Dad had to fly back to Edina to work for a couple of weeks.  He offered to wallpaper the bathroom for my mother.  Unfortunately, he also picked out the wallpaper: a very 60’s looking turquoise and brown daisy pattern.  When my mother got home and saw it, she was horrified.  But, she never repapered that bathroom.

I learned another lesson there: take every opportunity to enrich your life.  Mother wasn’t a professional musician, but she played the piano.  Her baby grand sat in the living room.


She appreciated the beautiful things in life, and as a born teacher, found ways to instill a love for beauty in her children.  When we lived at 6105, Mother loved taking us to the Edina library, a separate city library in those days.  Besides books, they loaned out framed art prints for free, on a monthly basis.  So Mother joyfully hung her choice for the month in that bathroom, over the laundry chute door.

I can’t remember any of those masterpieces now,  but on occasion I’ll see a painting that I recognize from that bathroom classroom.  Having no photo, memory has to paint the picture of that special place, down the hall, second door on the right.



We biked into the church parking lot this Sunday morning.  I was so happy to be back at church that my eyes filled with tears.

I’ve been having flashbacks of Duane’s medical residency, forty years ago, during these last months of lockdown.  We had moved to Rochester, Minnesota, where we knew no one.  Duane was on call at the hospital every third night, leaving me alone at home.  That July, I realized the normal routines of life would be gone for three years.  The natural rhythm of workweek/weekend disappeared.  Friday night movie dates, over.  We used to go to church together on Sunday mornings.  Now I went alone.

I was pregnant, too, so technically not alone.  I found a job at the County Clerk’s office processing passports and marriage licenses.  A  kind couple at  the church I attended started a Bible study for new mothers soon after Mike was born.  Even though I was new to the church, the ladies held a baby shower for me.  I went home with a car full of presents, from other young mothers who hardly knew me.

For Duane and I, being part of a healthy church has been a top priority.  We’ve moved a lot in our forty three years of marriage.  Wherever we settled, we searched for a good church.  A place where people who follow Jesus gather.

I remember the couple who taught our Sunday School class when Duane was in residency, Herb and Fran Reigler.  They tried anonymously, to pay for our car repair bill when the motor froze.  Where ever we’ve moved, we’ve met more people like them:  the friends who visited the juvenile jail with us to share their lives with incarcerated kids.  Jeanne always remembered each child’s birthday with a card. Our Sunday morning team who planned and led a worship program for kids.  The high school kids who babysat the kids of young parents so they could get together.  The friends who have listened to our family emergencies and prayed for us, and asked us, “How’s it going?”  These are people who care about others.

Over the last weeks, unable to go to church on Sunday mornings, I miss my Christian friends.  We’re different ages, in different ‘life seasons’ with different callings and backgrounds.  But my Christian friends share two characteristics that attract me: gentleness and grace.  Over the years, we’ve shared the good, bad and ugly of life.

When something comes up on a Monday morning, or whenever life crashes into my plans, I  think, “I’ll be able to share this with my friends at church.”  It comforts me to know they’re praying for me. I’ve seen circumstances change in ways I couldn’t make happen myself.  These aren’t just nice people, they’re people who’ve made the choice to believe God exists and that he cares about us.  And so, we  care about each other.

On the old  British show “All Creatures Great and Small”, two veterinarians were discussing the hard lives of their patients, the farmers of northern England.

“They have sheer stubborn pride and refuse to quit, in spite of the frightening day to day realities they face.  They’re a breed apart.  They possess that exceptional quality of the unbreakable human spirit.”

In the next scene, James, one of the vets, is sitting at the kitchen table of the farm family whose cows needed his healing.  The farmer’s wife kindly asks James if he would like a cup of tea and a piece of pie.  Her son, hardly twelve, breezes through the room.

“I’m off to check on the cows for Dad,”  he announces as he goes out the door.

“Where’s your husband?”  James asks.

“He’s in hospital,”  the wife answers.

“Is it serious?”  James looks shocked, as he had just seen him a week ago, and farmers can’t afford to go to hospital.

“Well… it’s not looking hopeful,”  she says quietly.  Set in 1937, before present day medical treatments, death was not uncommon for illnesses we shrug off today.

I’ve been meditating on that ‘unbreakable human spirit,’ pictured so poignantly in that farm family.

When ‘the going gets tough, the tough get going,’ goes the old motto, and in these present days my ‘unbreakable human spirit,’ can feel fragile.  I used to turn on the news each morning, to catch the local weather.  Not anymore;  I’d have to endure hearing the newscasters spouting the latest Covid stats.  So I make other choices, which take time to consider.  The constant ‘considering how to spend the time’ and being forced out of life’s habits and routines, is, in itself, exhausting.

I try to surround myself with inspiration.  Winston Churchill’s speeches can do that. The epitome of moral courage, he determined to survive against Hitler.  In response to the idea of surrender to Hitler, Churchill stated, ““If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”    

I try to copy his resolve.  Lately, I also  remember that Churchill spent much of the war taking hot baths and drinking heavily.

The greatest hardship of quarantine for me has been the loss of the Sunday morning church experience.  Zoom and internet services can’t fill the void.  My mainstay, beyond faith in God, is  being able to get together with people who love God.   I go to church on Sundays with expectancy.  A  serendipitous Energy pervades those gatherings, that begin out in the parking lot when we arrive, because we often meet there first.   Surprising encounters happen in hallways and the lobby.  The carefully planned services restore my spirit’s perspective.  Through music, prayers and spoken truth I’m changed and strengthened.  Something I didn’t expect but came looking for is found.

It’s the one morning out of seven where the focus is God’s community, not me.   I’m reminded of important things I knew but forgot.  Being with other Christians, God’s kingdom comes alive. The ideas I hear may propel me to a new choice or a new habit.  Or something to eliminate from my life.  This morning I learned about a summer Bible study to join.

If the human spirit is ‘unbreakable’ or we’re stronger than we feel at times, it’s only because God is the one who supplies the love and strength that we need to make it.  He designed us to live in relationship with him through our relationships with others.

I was thrilled and thankful to be with my church family this Sunday.  We met at 8 a.m. outside, in our shady parking lot.  Being the middle of June, no one  expected the cool Florida breeze that floated around us, scattering the Pastors music and sermon notes.   We sat on lawn chairs or blankets we brought, with our children at our feet.   We joined in Communion with each other.

In the last weeks, as our county has begun a careful Reopening,  some of the New Normals have been a disappointment.  Store shelves still have empty spaces..  Libraries and restaurants aren’t their usual selves.

But this Sunday morning’s gathering, thoughtfully planned with wisdom, began my week with the same life-giving joy as every other Sunday.  As always, God’s glory shines in his people.


“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”       -Psalm 22:22.

“The world is a perfectly safe place to be as long as you are in the Kingdom of God.”  – Dallas Willard

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