My Elephant

Part of my problem as a writer is that I often feel like a minor player in someone else’s drama. Even if they don’t write their own story, I feel like I’m stealing if I write about it.

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In searching for reasons why he was diagnosed with Lew Body Dementia just weeks after his retirement, the husband has wondered if he is supposed to share his experience with others. Could it be he is meant to encourage others in some way, even though he is pretty sick about this whole thing? He actually says he might start a blog, or write stuff down as he thinks of it. For several reasons, I think the chances of him writing anything are slim.

For one, he has a history of brilliant ideas that never see action. I don’t see his diagnosis changing that.

Reason two – he doesn’t have experience expressing feelings. He has them, but they don’t usually bother him or beg to be shared. He would like to share things now, but they end up coming out in long, convoluted histories of his life journey accompanied by tears, and a tone of desperation and sadness. He’s doing it a little better now, but the first couple of weeks were tough and any compassionate person who had time to listen patiently ended up crying with him and giving him a hug.

Reason three is simply that writing is work and work isn’t something he’s looking for. Too much mental work makes his head spin.

It’s true that my story has a lot to do with his story but, of course, I tell it from a very different perspective. He reads what I write. I wonder if I will be able to write what I really think or will I change the narrative because of the effect it might have on him?

Interestingly, the two things that have helped the husband and I know each other better in the last few years are our “together” prayers and my blog/journal. I guess in each instance I tend to be more open, truthful and informative. In each instance he feels less threatened by my words because they aren’t spoken to him – they are conversations with God or my readers. He listens better. And the same goes for him when it comes to telling God his thoughts and concerns – one might as well be honest. I learn things about him that he doesn’t think to tell me.

It certainly isn’t that I don’t want him to write his own story, from his own perspective. I do. But not writing about this part of my own life has been hard. The vague feeling that I couldn’t write about this big thing happening to us, has made me not write much at all. Somehow, when there is “an elephant” in the room, so to speak, writing about anything else takes second place to wondering about the elephant and what it’s going to do next.

That elephant is on my mind most all the time. I might as well write about it. Probably have to. Just sayin’…

One Reason for Being Here

20180904_1813045661508336183345620.jpgSeptember 4, 2018

This is not the first time I’ve come in Mom’s room and found her horizontal surfaces covered with stacks of old letters, poems, pictures and memorabilia that she’s sorting through. She puts items that go together in zip lock bags ready to be offered to the person most likely to be interested in them.

 

“Do you think anyone will want to read these letters? They have a lot of family history in them, but I don’t know how to contact any of the people anymore.” 

It’s habit with me to think of Google for anything I don’t know and I suggest she plug in some names and try it. She pulls out some faded black and white photos on thick cardboard with finely scalloped edges. They are Christmas cards from three different years picturing a family.  In one, parents, four children and dog are sitting, close together, on the floor in front of a fireplace. The room is darkened and light from the fire is glowing on their faces and casting shadows behind them. The father and his son are wearing suits and two of the girls have matching dresses. The mother is in shadow except for the top of her face and she is smiling. She wears glasses. They all look peaceful, happy as they gaze at the flames.  Handwritten below is “A Merry Christmas from the G. Wesches”.  I wonder who was taking such artful pictures back in 1950. 

Another one has the children lined up in order of height and age and this one is signed by the parents and the names of the children are listed. They are Harold, Geraldine, Patricia and Alice Jean. I pick up my smartphone and plug the name Harold Wesche into the search bar. Mom explains that these people were not relatives but the family of a local doctor in her hometown. The doctor made house calls and impressed her as being such a kind man – and one who sent cards to his patients at holiday time.

 The search engine comes up with over 100 records of this name and as I look at them I find one who is 82 years old – that would be about right. The website gets to work collecting and verifying information on Harold. I know they are going to charge something at the end, and that we are not going to buy anything from them, but the small paragraph they give us for free does help Mom remember. He is the Harold in the Christmas picture. She remembers more.

There was one summer that this family vacationed at Meyer’s Log Cabin Resort on Round Lake. Mom’s friend Donna was asked to come with the family to help entertain the children. They let Gwen (Mom) come along to keep Donna company. This was quite a treat for both Gwen and Donna to have a week at the lake. The Wesche children were cute kids too, so it was not an undesirable responsibility.

One day the parents took the children with them on an outing. Donna and Gwen were given the day off to do whatever they liked at the resort. They decided they would take a boat ride. They went out into the middle of this fairly large lake and felt very adventurous.

This story interests me because Meyers Log Cabins was less than a mile from the farm where Mom and Dad went to live after they were married six years later. I grew up visiting my friend Barbara Meyer and swimming in Round Lake at that resort. I have never heard of Mom’s experience there and she said she would not have thought to tell me of it if the Christmas pictures had not been found. She is still trying to pull out the end of the story from the memory bank. 

“I don’t know what we did but it might have been something that made us feel a little guilty. I think it had something to do with hot dogs. Maybe we took more of them than we should have…” I laugh, because Mom still loves hot dogs.

“Do you think it might not be good to dig through all this stuff, all these memories from so long ago?” she asks.

I tell her I think it’s okay, and the truth is I think it’s a gift to remember stories from the past. It’s an opportunity to think of people, to wonder about them, and especially to mention them in prayer. It is never too late to care, to look for someone, to possibly even get in touch with them and tell them a story.

So, if Harold Wesche or any of his family reads this story, Mom wants to know if you’d like to have these pictures of your younger self.  If not, I will keep them to remind myself of one of the reasons I am glad to have come back to Wisconsin to do life with Mom. I want to hear more stories that I’ve never heard before.   

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Reviewing 2017

This is long. You don’t have to read it if that bothers you. Quit anytime. I needed to write it to remember a crazy year – it’s for me. 

I think there is future value in looking back. I’m examining whether I was the person I wanted to be in the past year. I usually ask myself, as opportunities come up, if I’m making the decisions that are consistent with my goals, but I actually anticipate this exercise of looking at those decisions in bulk at the end of the year. The bigger picture is helpful to me. It places me in time, and feeds into the resolutions for the new year. Especially as aging takes place, the things that did or did not happen can inform my ambitions for 2018.

I started 2017 in Seattle with Esther, my daughter. I heard the compline service  at St. Marks cathedral for the first time and was impressed with simplicity, with introspection while listening to sacred music with others who were also responding with respect and appreciation. Last January was also the introduction to eating differently as we searched for answers to health problems. I am keeping a lot of what I learned about food and will continue to eat differently in 2018.

While I was out west, my mom and husband were keeping things together at home in Florida. After my return in January there were pressing issues – the renter who could not pay, the friend who broke his hip, therapy for a hand injury, and the endless yard work. There was also fun doing things with Mom. We visited her old haunts in Brooksville. Another time, we joined brother Ron and his family in River Ranch for an outing.

Early in February, Mom was scheduled to make her way back to Wisconsin. We combined the trip with a visit to daughter Julie in Greensboro, NC. She had moved there in December and none of us had seen her new abode. Brother Bob came down from Wisconsin to help with travel.  At the end of our time in North Carolina, we visited the fabulous Biltmore House in Asheville. Mom and Bob went from there to Wisconsin while Julie and I drove back to Greensboro. I spent a week with Julie, meeting her coworkers and seeing what everyday life was like for her.  I flew back to Florida and in one week February was gone.

I stayed close to home in March. Brother Dennis and his family spent time in Orlando and we did join them there for an overnight and another visit to River Ranch. Some friends parked their RV in our yard for a week and I was able to do some fun entertaining with them. We finally got free from the tenant who was several months delinquent in her rent. Always on my mind was the need to simplify our lives, pare down our possessions, and work toward the sale of our house and a move. No date was attached to this, but it had been our prayer that we would live closer to family in the future. My focus was to move toward readiness. I fixed things, painted things, cleaned out and donated things.

April, the month of Esther’s birthday, and mine, left me feeling sad. I went on a solo kayak outing just to feel that I had marked the day. Sitting out in the middle of Lake Manatee, talking on the  phone with Esther and later with Julie is how I will remember celebrating. My writing life has been marked by the number of years I’ve been able to do the April A to Z Challenge – this year was the third.  Later in the month Julie flew down to do some veterinary work for a friend. We wanted to spend more time with her, so we rented a car and drove her back to Greensboro. And it was May.

We spent that first week in North Carolina and it was eventful. One night we were in a violent windstorm that wreaked havoc on the property where Julie lives. Julie and I did a day hike at Hanging Rock and I’m hoping we’ll have many more days like that one. We spent a long day working at a horse auction and I’m hoping there won’t be a lot of days like that for her. Dennis and I did some touring. The sad part of our trip was finding Julie’s cat Rodgey, killed on the road. I don’t know if it’s easier to go through sad times together, but it is bonding.

The last half of May seemed dominated with doctor’s appointments, watching the news about terrorism, and dealing with the discovery of termites in our house. On the 27th, we left our abode while it was tented, and stayed at a friend’s house on Longboat Key for two nights.

It was June. After the tenting I spent a week working in the part of our house that we don’t live in. It has been rented out for several years without us being over there to fix and maintain, so it needed work. We are tired of being landlords of our three properties. I think God heard me thinking that. We had listed our rental condo with a realtor and got an offer to buy. That was so exciting!

The second week I left for my fourth trip to Cambodia, the first solo flight for me. Julie came also and we shared accommodations. We had a wonderful time with our Cambodian friends and the rest of the team, doing some of our usual activities and a few new things too. I actually took a hike in a jungle! I didn’t feel well on my return flight on the 17th, so it was an ordeal.  While I was traveling the offer on our condo fell through and it went back on the market.

July was marked by a trip to Knoxville and Pigeon Forge for Dennis and I. Okay, so we had to listen to a sales presentation for a vacation rental, which we resisted. Julie drove over to meet us and we had another Appalachian mountain hike and an interesting weekend in a hotel room with Tess, the dog. The next week I had a new therapy done on my painful thumb joint. I had read a lot about stem cell therapy, which I couldn’t afford, and platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy, which I could afford – barely. I can’t say that it has helped but in the process I discovered a new brace which has enabled me to continue using my thumb.

Other tasks in July included talking with a realtor about selling the house, two more offers on the condo, doctors and dentists visits, reading, and writing. In anticipation of a move I have been going through all my photos and condensing, keeping only ones that have people and places that I recognize (where do all those others come from?! I don’t know…) I also returned to the project of converting my parents video cassettes to digital form.  I finished the month by having some broken cement in our driveway removed and replaced with gravel. I only mention that because it caused such a fuss.

In August, Dennis and I tried really hard to walk on a regular basis. I also did a lot of biking in our neighborhood – sometimes 10 to 15 miles at a time, which I tracked on my health app. We notice that it is harder to keep active. I had a lovely time getting reacquainted with my gastroenterologist (liver ultrasound and colonoscopy) and also had a good report from my retinal specialist. After a lifetime of very little doctoring, I can finally thank Medicare for all the new professionals I’ve met recently. The aging process has started to make a difference in our lives, yes it has.

And I probably won’t ever forget the huge wasp nest on a tree in front of our house that grew and grew until we had to get an exterminator to take care of it. Interesting.

On August 21st Dennis and I flew to Seattle. Back in June, Esther had suggested that it was time for us to meet Ryan’s parents. We were glad to know more about Ryan since he has become important in Esther’s life. The week went by way too fast, but we had a memorable and productive time visiting the Bruels on San Juan Island in Puget Sound. We went whale watching among other things.

On August 31st we closed on the sale of that condo! Relief.

September was pretty much taken up with having a hurricane. Irma kept us nervously watching and preparing for days. When it finally hit, we weathered it on mattresses on the floor in the safest part of our house (bathroom) with my cousin Mark and his wife Kathy. Again, bonding through adversity.

Another interesting development in September – we invited a homeless young man to temporary shelter in our house. With the hurricane, one of his friends needed a place to be safe and also came to stay. Is it true that things happen in threes? Another young man we had known for years was also homeless and in desperate circumstances so we also gave him a place. Three guys, in their 30’s, struggling to get/keep jobs, living in their cars – the beginning of a learning experience for us.

Clean up after the hurricane was exhausting – the debris, the mud, on our property and the property I oversee for a friend – and expensive. On the 17th I took Kathy and Mark to the airport in Tampa and continued on to a needed vacation with Julie in Greensboro. I got there in time to help her host a visit from Dennis’s brother and sister in law, Ron and Deanna. It was also Julie’s birthday week so I got to help her celebrate. And it was a rest for me to get away from the mess at my beloved “oneacrewoods”.

On October 1, my brother Ron came up from Lake Worth with his bobcat on a trailer.  He cut up and removed the huge kapok tree that had blocked our drive since the hurricane. After a month, we were finally able to see a possible end to the disorder.  It made a big difference and I was so thankful for his expertise.

For the next couple of weeks we dealt with the ups and downs of our three house guests. I could probably write a whole book about that, so it obviously won’t fit in here. We were also anticipating a visit from Esther and Ryan. They came that last week of October, during which we kayaked on the Rainbow River , toured downtown Sarasota, and had interesting conversations about Esther’s Airstream which had mysteriously gone missing from her driveway a couple days before they left.

November. Pressure washing our house, it took weeks with only hired help Joe and myself. Selling furniture – our couches disappeared from the living room. The thought that we might move became more real. House guest drama – we all thought they would be “on their feet” after six weeks but they had nowhere to go, so we extended their stay. We even decided that they could stay alone while we went up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. Dennis and I flew to Minneapolis on the 22nd. Julie also flew there that night and we met and rented a car for the drive to Hayward. It was a good gathering but maybe a little smaller than other years. We left on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to fly back to Florida.

November 29th I got a call from brother Dennis, the one who owns an award business in Wisconsin. We had just been with him for Thanksgiving. He had an emergency. A large shipment of awards needed to be  picked up in Memphis TN and delivered to Orlando FL in the next two days. I had nothing else planned so was on a flight to Memphis the next day, and by Friday night I had accomplished the mission. I felt really good that I was still able, not just to consider doing it, but to get it done. I can still drive and I am still up for adventure.

In December I spent a week washing clothes, getting the house in order, and continuing to prepare for the need to move. All the while I was getting the impression that winter was beginning to wear on my Mom. We had seen it during our Thanksgiving visit, and communication afterwards made it even clearer. Mom was having to decide about trying out an assisted living apartment. It would be a huge move emotionally and I felt she needed support and help. My husband felt he wasn’t ready to fully retire and spend the winter in Wisconsin but I was able.

On the 13th of December I flew back to Minneapolis and took the shuttle to Hayward. I have relearned the things I had forgotten about Wisconsin winters – snow, below zero temps, driving hazards, skiing, the whole Northwoods vibe.

Mom has decided she owes it to herself to see what assisted living is like. She looks forward to not having to cook for one, not having to clean, having a warm place to walk and not having to be alone if she doesn’t want to be. I want to help her find furnishings for the new apartment and get moved in before I go back to Florida. December ended last night.

I look back on the year and about the only thing that is clear is that life, as we have known it, is going to change. It will probably change a lot in 2018. There are a lot of uncertainties as to where we will be and when we will go there. I am so glad we have put uncertainties in God’s hands instead of insisting on trying to figure it all out. If we can resist the temptation to worry and do what becomes possible and necessary day by day, we will get through another year just fine. One of the best things Dennis and I have done in the last few years is to remind ourselves of how much we depend on our relationship with the one who knows the future, Jesus Christ. We do it by talking with each other and to God – kind of like a daily conference session – in prayer.

It is additional benefit that what we say to God teaches us a lot about each other. One striking aspect about aging is that we are changing a lot in a short period of time. We are suddenly adjusting to empty households, physical limitations, changes in how we are valued at work, changes in how we spend our time, changes in how we relate to all the important people in our lives. It is an important time to find common ground again – something that we may have lost in the busy years before retirement. Our prayer time does that for us. God knows that, we feel his pleasure, and we feel peace because of it.

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things M

Marbles

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a happy wave of nostalgia

 

I know, another collectible. It seems all my favorite things are either practical things or occurrence that I encounter every day or they’re something I collect that has no practical anything about it.

I have been drawn to marbles since grade school when playing “odds or evens” was all the rage and challenging a friend to “10 down last” was a way to possibly win his or her best marbles from them. I remember having my marbles confiscated by the teacher. There were cat’s eyes, steelies, purees, and crackles both in regular size and boulders.

We all had marble bags. Marbles were like money, and you could be both marble rich and marble poor in the space of one afternoon. I used to hide my marble bag in various places to keep it away from my brothers, and as I got older and the craze died off, I lost track of the last hiding place. I still wonder if it was inside the huge old upright piano that my mother finally gave away. That’s where I look in my dreams (yes, I occasionally dream about grade school and marbles).

The digital age has pushed marbles into the antique/thrift shops I’m afraid, or maybe it’s just where I find them because I don’t shop in toy stores anymore. I have a small velvet bag of my favorite marbles just to remind me of how much fun they were, and I’m going to get them out and play with them the next time my young friend Gracie comes over. I’m sure it will be something new for her.

I kind of want to know – is there anyone on earth who has not made a marble pyramid with Elmer’s Glue for their mom for Mother’s Day?

 

#AtoZChallenge: My Favorite Things C

C for Cows

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They are curious and will always look at you, which is good for pictures. Photo credit: Esther Armstrong

Back in the old days…

Often in the late afternoon, when it was time to do the milking, I was sent out to find the cows. Sometimes they would be waiting to be let into the barn (depending on how uncomfortable they were, needing to have their udders relieved). But since they had many acres of grassland on which to feed, they were at other times, nowhere to be seen. I would head off, running or on bike, in the direction they had last been seen, opening gates as I went. The cows tend to follow each other in a line, wearing a path about a foot wide, dotted with what we descriptively called cow pies. Being able to yell in a voice that carried, was also helpful. Our cows answered to “Cum boss!” and we always made the “boss” long and loud like a fog horn.

Once I found them, and got their attention, they would stop grazing and start toward the barn. Slowly I would urge them – we were not to make them run. Cows must think, because the thought of going to the barn would sometimes cause them to let down their milk. Nothing looks more counterproductive, not to mention painful, than to see a running cow with a swollen udder flapping between her legs, spraying milk this way and that as she trots. All in all, they liked coming to the barn where they knew they would get food, water and relief.

Our cows were all named, and they all had their own places in the barn. The barn was always prepared beforehand, with stanchions opened and turned the right way, and hay or silage laid out on the floor in the manger area. The automatic watering cups were checked to make sure they were clean and working and full. The smart cows would walk sedately to their place, stick their heads in the stanchion and begin to eat, waiting for us to come and close them in. The smarter cows would quickly stick their heads in a place other than their own, eat a few mouthfuls and then scoot into their place. They aren’t dumb when it comes to food.

Cows are large, warm, smooth haired with long pink tongues and breath that smells like hay, most of the time. They are very curious and will come running to investigate new things that appear in the field.  After being held in the barn over our cold Wisconsin winter, they would be let out in the spring and race around kicking up their heels, which was quite comical because cows are not the most graceful animals. They just aren’t.

Today I was taken back in time, as I once again went looking for the cows. I had a file on my pc, and wanted my favorite cow pictures for this post, because, yes, I had enough of them to have favorites. The cow file was nowhere to be found. This digital age has given them too many pastures in which to hide, except for these few stragglers who have finally heard me yelling “cum boss!”

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These were the only cows I could find. They knew I was taking their picture and would have been on me in a second…

So, who has ever accidentally landed in a cow pie?

Times and Travels: Revisiting the AT

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Countless stunning views on the trail

Last night when I should have been sleeping I was instead thinking about how I would get back to my car after hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. This is a step beyond getting time to do it, or finding a suitable section to hike. I am in the commitment stage.

It has been a long time since my first hike in 2002, with four high school girls. We were all newbies.

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Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

And thirteen years since my last hike in2004 (when we could have died in freezing rain).

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The lady with the crutches backed out (for obvious reasons). 39 degrees, brrrr. Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

It takes longer than that for a dream to die however, and countless times I have gotten the maps out, looked at the pictures and considered possible hiking companions. I finally have hopes of getting back on the trail, possibly for this year’s birthday treat in April. The excitement is building.

Hiking the AT is kind of like birthing a baby. It’s an arduous process, but if you wait long enough you forget the horrible parts and remember the joy. I want to re-visit those times, all of them, and make sure I remember the ones that are crucial to health and safety.

One of my reasons for wanting to hike now is to see what damage the last thirteen years have done to my body. Another dream of mine, hiking down into the Grand Canyon, is scheduled for this fall and I need to know if I can do it. Since I have reasons for being in North Carolina these days (daughter Julie’s new home), some trips on the AT will be good conditioning and a test of my stamina. A friend has offered a place to stay in Franklin, NC and there are several sections near there that I’ve not done. It feels good to have a fun challenge and a goal on my list.

I didn’t have a blog back then and I’ve never published a good account of all we saw and did on those hikes. I’m going to do it now as a way of remembering. The 2017 A to Z Challenge is coming up in April too so I have a lot of writing to do in the days ahead.  Hiking and writing, two of my favorite things, should make this a fun spring. Just sayin’…

Know how I feel about my mom?

Dear Mom,

Good morning and I’m thinking about you as I sit in a quiet house having the morning’s first cup of coffee in “your mug”, the one you didn’t want to send off to Good Will when you moved.   I’m saving it for you.  I like it too.

I just want to tell you that I feel so blessed, at my age, to be able to write a letter to my mom and have her be able to read it.  A lot of people don’t get the chance.  That you are still here is partly because you are not that much older than I am, only 18 years, and partly because you navigated the storms of life pretty well.  You probably don’t feel like you did it all intentionally but you did make many simple decisions to be patient, to be faithful, to not worry, to work, to ask for help, to trust others, to love and to be flexible.  They all add up.

And now we are in a different season.  For the first time since you were a teenager, you are exploring who you are by yourself.  Once again, I am so amazed at your ability to try things and come to conclusions about them.  While many who lose a spouse would retreat and let themselves be forgotten, instead you are reaching out to your family and friends and being a part of their lives.  You’ve concluded that you don’t like to be living alone – a good thing to know.  I am so looking forward to spending time with you again, not just to visit, but to have those longer shared experiences.

Now that my own children are out of the house and working on their lives and careers, it is a comfort to me to know that you have been through that part of motherhood.  You’ve seen us kids make bad decisions, go through tough times, lose people we love, wrestle with faith, take risks.  You lived through it, and because of that I know I can too.

I’ve always wanted to spend more time with you – you were a fun mom – but even more so as I became aware of you as an interesting person, not just a mom.  I loved interviewing you a couple years ago and finding out details of your early years with your own parents and siblings.  As someone who reads and recognizes a good story, I realized I was hearing one.  There is a tendency as a child to think you know your parents, after all you grew up with them.  What it really means is that they know you much better than you know them.  I look forward to learning more about you.

I will see you in less than a week.  We will talk, share our morning coffee times, read together, do a jigsaw puzzle or two, take some pictures of us together, sort through life, laugh, remember…. I look forward to it.  So grateful for the time.  Love you Mom.

A to Z Family Stories: Z for Zed, Zeph and Zech

They are all biblical characters. Zedekiah was a king of the country of Judah and the other two, Zephania and Zechariah,were prophets delivering messages from God to his people – they have books of the Bible named after them. My brothers and I knew who these guys were so when the minister told us to look up Zedekiah 5:14 we did not panic trying to find it. It was a trick.

Soon after she found herself with a small tribe of children to read to, my mother found a children’s version of the Bible and read it to us every night at bedtime. I say it was a child’s version but I call it that only because it was more story centered and spoke our language. I don’t remember any parts that required scholarly understanding. It was a thick book, with an occasional illustration. It was opened only after we all had our jammies on and were ready to be tucked in, sitting on our beds. She would sit in her chair and open the book to the bookmarked page. We were transfixed. She would always stop right at the good part before something was going to happen.

Unlike many simplified versions for children, this Bible did not leave out anything. The good, bad and ugly were all there. The stories portrayed God’s nature, but more vividly they portrayed the nature of people who were always trying to “one up” God. There was drama, mystery, romance, and beauty. When we finished the last page, we would start over again on page one and we didn’t mind. I don’t remember when the cover fell off, but it did. When I learned to read I was sometimes allowed to read to us all at night – but more often than not, it meant I could read by myself and not have to wait to find out how the story ended. And read it I did. It gave me an overview of people and events that is still the bedrock of my biblical knowledge today.

The book was still around when I started my own family and the tradition continued. By this time it was looking pretty ragged and I began to hunt for a new one, but could not find the exact edition. We taped it together and kept reading. I looked for it today and am pretty sure I do not have it. I think it might have gone with one of my daughters when they moved out. But I will not forget it because it was a joy and a blessing to our whole family and a very valuable part of my childhood.

The challenge is over! I have the start of a book for my family, and ideas for more stories that didn’t fit in with the alphabet theme.  How valuable is that!!  What value did you find in the A to Z this year?

A to Z Family Stories: Y for Youth Camp

A lot of our social life as kids revolved around our neighborhood and our church. Every summer, soon after school was out, we headed to church camp for a week. We saved our own money to pay our way, and hopefully some extra to spend at the snack bar. We planned our wardrobes, we bought a new swimsuit and towel, we studied the list of things to take, we anticipated who else would be there. It was a big deal for us and one of the highlights of the summer.

Camp was not the same as it is today. We rarely paid more than $30 for a week of food and lodging. There was no technology involved, no speed boats pulling skiers, no backpacking into the wilderness. We spent time with our counselors and teachers, we did simple team sports, swam and played in the water, had campfires, memorized Bible verses, and learned to work together.

We were usually housed in cabins with rows of bunk beds. The military atmosphere was accentuated with inspections every morning while we were in chapel. The white glove test was used to see if we had dusted, there were demerits for any little piece of trash under a bed, clothing had to be in the proper place – the results were announced and the first place token was given to one cabin each day.

When bells were sounded for meals, there was always a scramble to see which team could get all their members lined up first at the mess hall. The winning team got to enter first. We sat at long tables together with our team and were also judged on our manners. There were choruses of “get your elbows off the table, Uncle Don” sung by campers whenever we caught one of our counselors or pastors. At the end of the meal we passed our plates and tableware to one end of the table where dish washing took place – and we washed the dishes. The team with the best attitude and behavior would find the award on their table at the next meal. I don’t remember much about the food, but none of us starved. We were always hungry.

After classes and lunch there would always be a “down time” when we would have to stay in our cabins and rest. We could study for our classes, read our Bibles, or if we were really ambitious we could memorize scripture from a list that we were given. When we were ready, we would recite the verse to our counselor and be given credit, and of course there were prizes for that too. As the hour for resting was nearly up we would start getting ready for the active games and swimming which would take most of the afternoon. The afternoon was also the time for the snack bar to open. In those days there were not drink machines and fast food places at every corner. Most of us didn’t get to have a Coke or other soft drink very often so it was a treat to spend our money on something to drink and a candy bar.

I think the pastors and adults who volunteered for camp duty really enjoyed working with us. The younger ones played ball and swam, the older ones had conversations and taught classes. They joked and played games with us. We had our favorites that we played pranks on and teased. Underwear was seen flying from the flag pole on occasion.

The more serious part of the day was our evening service. We always wore our favorite dresses and tried to look our best. I remember how fun it was to trade outfits with friends and wear something different. We sang songs that were contemporary then but seem almost classic now. There were no screens, there weren’t even songbooks. We learned songs either by repeating them or from a huge poster book that would be held up high in the front of the room. The first time I ever heard the song “How Great Thou Art” was at youth camp and I can almost see the illustrations that were in that book. One page had the stars and planets with the words “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.” Our imaginations were stirred by the messages given by the pastors, the skits performed by our counselors, and the invitations to know God better. Young people can make decisions that set the course for the rest of their lives. Many of those decisions were made at camp and they were good ones.

There have been many books written by recent generations of church going youth that talk of their alienation from faith, how they became burned out when life didn’t live up to their expectations, how God seemed distant and hypocrisy was everywhere. I do understand how that can happen, but I don’t have a story like that. I wasn’t taught to have unrealistic expectations of Christian life. I knew there would be easy times and hard times and that I would have to grow by experiencing failure and trying again, and that God would be there to help me in one form or another. Love was there, and I felt it. I am thankful.

Did you attend any kind of summer camp as a child? Did it influence you in any direction?

A to Z Family Stories: X as in Excel

Whenever we get to know someone well we usually notice something about them that they do in an excellent way – an area in which they excel. These traits or skills come out in the stories we tell, but this post is a way for me to focus on them, and flesh out some of the characters in our family memories. Someday a new generation will want to know where they got their love of music, or why they long to start their own business, why they are so good at playing Scrabble or knitting. Whether these things are passed along through genes or through good teaching, they link us to the past and they give us something to pour into the future.

I have many pictures like this.  If he sat still, he couldn't stay awake. Hard worker.
I have many pictures like this. If he sat still, he couldn’t stay awake. Hard worker.

My immediate family consists of my parents and four brothers. I will start with my dad, and there is no wondering what he contributed. Dad was and still is, king of the work ethic. I never saw him sitting around with no purpose. In fact he worked so hard and continuously that on the occasions he did sit down he usually fell asleep from exhaustion. Even in play, Dad was active and engaged. He modeled that so well that all of us children value honest, hard work and feel obliged to be producers, not just consumers. And hard work does pay off. Thank you Dad.

Mom worked hard as well, but somehow in the midst of all that was required in raising a family of five, she found time to read. She finished high school by correspondence course, and went on to follow her interests in history, theology, psychology and literature. She still reads more than I do and loves to hear what others are reading. Books and the ideas in them are interesting to her and she has worked hard to pass that along. One of her most memorable challenges to her children and grandchildren was to pay $25 to anyone who finished reading “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People” by Stephen Covey. We are very responsive to bribes and I think nearly everyone read the book.

I was the eldest child and it was probably the perfectionist bent common to the firstborn that made me very competitive academically. I was good at tests and ended up being valedictorian of my class. I loved music and my exposure to church music and piano lessons gave me a medium level of skill in those areas. I was a fair actress and loved being in plays. I was handy at home and can remember being the babysitter when my parents went out. I rushed to get the dishes all washed, the kitchen cleaned up and finished by washing the floor with the dishwater! I read a lot and it was “Cherry Ames, Student Nurse” that made me think that was what I wanted to be.

My brother Ron, the oldest of the boys, was a big thinker and ardent optimist. One of his early goals, which he was sure he could accomplish, was to ride his bike down our hill with five ice cream cones in each hand. Not a very useful goal, but bursting with self-confidence. He was mechanically inclined at an early age, and also loved wood shop in high school. One of his projects was to make a copy of a spinning wheel for my Mom which was beautiful, and probably would have worked if anyone had known how to spin. He has always loved to engage people in conversation. I was always envious of how all the old ladies in the neighborhood thought he was such a charming kid.

Robert was next and he was/is the performer of the family. His ability to let loose, and become a character without inhibition always surprised my Mom. It led to him being emcee of public school functions, a singer and a drum major for the school band. He was a DJ for the local radio station while in high school and went on to establish a mobile DJ service for dances and weddings. To the family he is Bobino, or chef Jean Clauded Pierre (I might have that wrong, but it’s some Frenchy name) who shows up at family gatherings with all the ingredients for fabulous muffins and a great time in the kitchen.

My absolute favorite pic of my middle two brothers.  So cute I could hug them.  And I did.
My absolute favorite pic of my middle two brothers. So cute I could hug them. And I did.

Gary, boy number three, was the sensitive, helper type. He would do anything for anyone in need and had no trouble finding projects. All the boys were athletically inclined and great at sports in high school, but Gary especially was a basketball star, starting on the varsity team as a freshman. Being a good helper meant he was good at picking up skills and today he does all kinds of carpentry and has a custom tile business.

All of my brothers work for themselves in their own businesses, but it was Dennis the youngest, who really exhibited entrepreneurial skills early in life. He was a cute kid and could talk people into buying ridiculous things from him. He set up a roadside stand and was always selling something – seashells that we picked from the beach in Florida, huge, yellowing cucumbers from the late garden, and of course lemonade. He was the organizer of the neighborhood, always planning things for himself and his friends to do. Sometimes Mom would tell him he couldn’t do something, but never one to worry, he would just tweak the plan until he could get it to work.

So, for the record, these are some of the ways my family has excelled. I love to name and celebrate their exceptional qualities. I can also see these traits being picked up by the next generation as they get educated, start to work, and raise families of their own. I am grateful for my family and the blessings that God has given us.

Yeah, we were pretty cute. Just sayin'...
Yeah, we were pretty cute. Just sayin’…

What exceptional qualities do you recognize in those closest to you? How could you affirm/bless by acknowledging them?