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Memoir

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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

 

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

“Just like unit 508,”  I remembered.

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

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

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

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

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

“I agree,”  he nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe the sale of 508 was just a rumor.

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

A few days later, Duane called the owner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes!”  I threw off the covers.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Mike, then Jeff’s first home.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mischief.

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

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

4851 threw its arms around more family.  Nieces.

 

Grandparents, aunts and uncles.

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

The house on Cornelia Drive.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And God did bless him. (verse 29)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

-Genesis 35:15

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

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

 

 

 

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