Category

Memoir

Category

 

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.”

Truth.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

“I

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t want to see “1917” because I have two sons, and for a mother, realistic war movies are really horror movies.  I see all kinds of movies but not horror movies.   But with everyone talking about the amazing cinematography, the ‘Best Picture’ nomination, and some of my girlfriends (also moms) seeing it, I decided, bracing myself, that I would go.

Also, Duane and I toured the WWI battlefield in Ypres, Belgium, on a cold rainy June day a few years ago.  We marched around mounds that were once trenches filled with mud soaked soldiers, and saw the fields where some of the millions of horses died.  The opening scenes of 1917 exactly reproduced that landscape of hell.  I watched with eyes squinting to not feel the full impact of the brutality of that war.

Two soldiers are on a mission to reach a major with a life saving message, was what I understood the film was about, without anyone giving away the ending.  I debated whether it would be a story of heroes or a story of the hopelessness of war; the first always inspires me, the second I can do without.

It won the Oscar for best cinematography because the visuals, like a bombed out town lit in the dark by fires and flares,  were amazing.  It was up for best picture because in the details of the story man is portrayed in his humanity: good and evil.  It was a story of two sons; each had pictures of their mother safely tucked inside their uniforms. Was one picture hidden in his small Bible?  One of the soldiers is desperate to find and see his brother.  In meeting a convoy of soldiers, an officer warns, “Be sure to give your message in front of others.  War makes men too eager to fight.”

I often wonder where a film gets its story.  The more fascinating ones are usually based in reality.  Most inspiring, In the end credit, Sam Mendes honors his grandfather, Alfred Mendes with his full military title, as the basis for the idea of “1917.”  We need to share our family stories.

My grandfather, Andrew Telford, served in the Canadian Army in France in WWI.  He had become a Christian the previous year and spent time preaching the Good News, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will have eternal life,” to men who were going off to die.  They respected him; enough that they asked him to keep their gambling money safe in his Bible.

Five stars.

 

 

In June 2019 we sold our house with a pool and moved to the condo that had been our ‘beach place’.  We wanted to simplify life.  We turn 65 in 2020. 

Duane was still taking care of kids at North Pinellas Children’s.  We were loving our small group and friends at church.  I planned to continue serving in BSF.  And the mailings from Medicare arrived on a daily basis.

I loved our condo at the beach. Yet now when we were living here full time and friends smiled, “Aren’t you living the dream?!” I didn’t feel like it.  Maybe it was the mess of the first weeks, but even after the floor was done and closets installed and filled, the unease remained. As I looked out at spectacular sunsets from the bedroom window, instead of marveling at the beauty, the unspoken idea that this might be our last place made me feel sad.  Life felt smaller, which had nothing to do with square footage.

Duane and I talked about what God’s future plans for us would be.  His friends were starting to retire, and that was making him think about what he wanted 

to do.   Duane knew from little things I said, that I was struggling with the change to full time life at the beach.  We asked our friends to pray for us.  

In December, our daughter-in-law Elizabeth mentioned enjoying listening to Carey Nieuwhof’s leadership  podcast.  On a Monday night, while Duane was watching football (again!), I listened to Carey’s 2 hour interview with Gordon MacDonald. He authored the bestsellers “Ordering Your Private World” and “Reordering Your Broken World.”  His thoughts about his life and marriage when he was in his 60s were so inspiring I urged Duane to listen.  We listened to their conversation three times. 

We started talking.  We spent hours asking each other questions about what we expected in the next few years.  We said the things we had been thinking but were afraid to say.  We went to sleep past our bedtime and then woke up in the morning with another fresh idea.  

In 1975, when we began dating at Wheaton, Gordon MacDonald had taught a Special Services week at Wheaton, on “Relationships.”  His ‘appearance’ now, with pivotal insights, was a ‘nice touch,’ God.

We had been looking to God for a new opportunity.  That wasn’t happening.  The only possibly new idea was starting a young couples group at church.  I wasn’t sure how we would do that, since our condo wasn’t too far for us but too far for some.   

“Have you had any answer to prayer about your future plans?”  asked one of the ladies in my BSF group, when we got together after the Christmas break.

She knew we were praying for direction, even with a specific, “We’d like to know what to do by January 1.”  

One morning at BSF, in a hallway conversation, a mom of one of Duane’s patients mentioned how often his work had been a ministry to their family.  It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that.  Then, a few weeks later, a favorite uncle, now 80, counseled, “The years I worked from 65 to 75 were some of my best.”

We kept searching, as January 1 came and went.

“The LORD directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.”  Psalm 37:23

“I’m hesitant about living full time at the beach,”  It felt good to confess to a friend.  A little scary, too, as I didn’t have an easy solution.  She wasn’t a bit shocked.  She told me she and her husband, who had downsized, were considering adding on. 

“You need more room, too.  You and Duane like having people over.”

“He’ll flip out,”  I answered.  

She just smiled.  “I’ll pray for your conversations.”

A few Wednesdays ago, on one of those rare, empty of time constraints, open afternoons, we plunged into talking more specifically about what we’re doing, and where and how.   We talked about the size and location of our condo, church ministry plans, and Duane’s work.  

Duane didn’t flip out.  Instead, we figured out new ways to meet our goals.  Age wise, we’re five years shy of seventy, but still in excellent health and love being actively involved with work, friends, church and family.    

Last Sunday afternoon, we visited an Open House at a two bedroom villa (no maintenance!), near work and church.   I could see us hosting friends for dinner in the spacious dining room.  Within a few days, we were under contract.  We’ll keep the beach condo, but  split our time, as we were doing before.  Duane loves his patients at North Pinellas Children’s, and plans to keep on working.  Thursday afternoon we’re meeting with our pastor about a small group opportunity.

We’re ignoring the number 65, with gratitude that we do have our health and Duane has a flexible job.    

I’m glad we’re not dead yet.  

Thank you for praying for us.

 

We Will Dance

     -Steven Curtis Chapman

I’ve watched the sunrise in your eyes

And I’ve seen the tears fall like the rain

You’ve seen me fight so brave and strong

You’ve held my hand when I’m afraid

We’ve watched the seasons come and go

We’ll see them come and go again

But in winter’s chill, or summer’s breeze

One thing will not be changin’

We will dance

When the sun is shining

In the pouring rain

We’ll spin and we’ll sway

And we will dance

When the gentle breeze

Becomes a hurricane

The music will play

And I’ll take your hand

And hold you close to me

And we will dance

Sometimes it’s hard to hold you tight

Sometimes we feel so far apart

Sometimes we dance as one

And feel the beating of each others hearts

Some days the dance is slow and sweet

Some days we’re bouncing off the walls

No matter how this world may turn

Our love will keep us from fallin’

And we will dance

When the sun is shining

In the pouring rain

We’ll spin and we’ll sway

And we will dance

When the gentle breeze

Becomes a hurricane

The music will play

And I’ll take your hand

And hold you close to me

And we will dance

The music will play

And I’ll hold you close

And I won’t let you go

Even when our steps

Grow weak and slow

Still I’ll take your hand

And hold you close to me

And we, will dance

 

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

 

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