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To Hug Or Not To Hug

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Floey being hugged by one of her best friends.

“Floey, did you see that story on the news last week? The one that said dogs don’t like to be hugged?”

“Yeah. I saw it, Mom.”

“Well, what did you think about the story? Do dogs like to be hugged, or not?”

“Mom, it’s not exactly a yes or no question. I love to cuddle. You know that.”

“I sure do, Floey. You’re the cuddliest dog I’ve ever known. Often when I’m sitting on the couch, you hop up right next to me and snuggle. I love to put my arms around you and give you a little squeeze, and you nuzzle me or try to squirm even closer to me. I love it that you’re such an affectionate dog.”

“I usually like to be close and snuggly with you and Mim. And when you and Mim are close together, I like to get in the middle to get hugs from both sides. That’s heaven. My whole world seems to be brimming with love during those times.”

“Oh, that’s good to hear. I thought maybe you were jealous.”

“Oh, no, Mom. Just feeling the love. But you know, sometimes I like to be all by myself. At those times, I’d prefer for you not to hug me. And I never want a complete stranger to hug me. I want to be free to move quickly if I feel I need to move. So, like I said, there’s not a yes or no answer to the question of to hug or not to hug.”

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Mim and Megabyte walking Mim’s mom about 20 years ago.

“I understand, Floey.”

“I know some of my dog friends don’t like anyone to hug them.”

“You know, Floey, your oldest step-sister, Megabyte, our first dog, was a very sweet,loving dog, but she didn’t like to be hugged at all. She loved to be petted, and she loved to play together, especially to catch tennis balls, but she didn’t like hugging. I guess it made her feel too confined and vulnerable.”

“I think that’s it, Mom. Some dogs just like to feel completely free to move at the tiniest glimpse of a potential threat. It doesn’t mean they’re not loving. It may mean they want to be totally free to protect their family.”

“Well, I’m awfully glad you’re a cuddler, Floey.”

“Hey, Mom, while we’re talking, there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. It’s about Mim.”

“Okay. What’s up?”

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Mim and Floey sitting together on the couch.

“I really love her as my second mom. You know that, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Well, I don’t like to criticize, but I think she’s being awfully nasty to the Finch family that’s trying to move back into our yard. Mr. House Finch perches on the deck railing off and on throughout the day and sings to his heart’s content. Ann just loves watching and listening to him when she’s sitting in her easy chair next to the patio doors. And, Mrs. House Finch flies back and forth to and from the deck with little sticks and grasses to build her nest. Mean old Mim keeps opening and closing the awning to chase the Finches away. Then she goes out on the deck to pull down the nest that’s in progress and she sweeps all the nest building materials off the deck. That’s so mean! Mrs. Finch needs to get her nest built so that she can lay eggs. Doesn’t Mim understand that?”

“Oh, she understands that, Floey. And she really wants the Finches to stay in the neighborhood. It’s just that Mrs. Finch insists on building her nest under the metal cover of the retractable awning that goes out over the deck. Every time we push the button on the remote control to roll out the awning, the nest will be disturbed. If there are eggs in it, they will probably get broken. Or, if Mr. or Mrs. Finch is sitting in the nest, they might get hurt. Although the metal awning cover may seem like a good homesite to Mrs. Finch, it really isn’t. Mim is just trying to discourage her from building her nest there. Maybe she could build it under the deck flooring. Or in one of the trees next to the pond. Or even under the roof of the condo. Just not under the awning cover.”

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“Now I understand. I couldn’t believe how hard-hearted Mim was being. I felt so sorry for Mrs. Finch. What can we do to help Mrs. Finch understand?”

“The only thing Mim and I can think of is to move the awning in and out whenever we see her up there. But she still keeps trying. I hope she gives up soon and finds another homesite.”

“Maybe I could start barking whenever I see her flying up there with a beak full of grass and twigs. That might scare her away.”

“It might, Floey, but it might scare Mr. and Mrs. Finch away entirely. We don’t want that. The Finches are nice neighbors. They sing such a happy song when they’re sitting on the deck railing.”

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“Yeah. You’re right. Sometimes I wish all of God’s creatures spoke the same language. Wouldn’t that be great, Mom? Then we could communicate better with each other, avoid misunderstandings, and get along with each other better.”

“That sounds good, but think about it, Floey. Think of all the people in the world who speak the same language. Like Mr. Trump. Senator Cruz. Governor Kasich. Secretary Clinton. Senator Sanders. Do they really understand each other? Do they really get along with each other? Yet they speak the same language.”

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“I see your point, Mom. But it’s not hopeless, is it? You and I have learned how to communicate with each other. Like earlier today, when we were talking about hugs. You know what I like, and I know what you like. We want to make each other happy. We respect each other’s preferences, and we treat each other with kindness. Hey. Maybe that’s the secret for all of us getting along with each other. Kindness – your special word for this year.”

“You may be right, Floey. So, ‘mean, old Mim’ is really being kind to the Finches by removing their nest every time Mrs. Finch starts to build it in the awning. Mim doesn’t want her to waste her time building a nest where it won’t be safe. Mrs. Finch needs to get busy building her nest in a safe place so that she can start laying eggs. We’re telling her that the only way we know how.”

“Yeah. Maybe we can show even more kindness to the Finches by working with our other neighbors to be sure the bird feeders are kept full. Then the Finches will know they’ve chosen a friendly neighborhood for their family.”

“Good idea, Floey.”

“Hey, this is fun, Mom. How many ways do you think we can come up with to be kind to the Finches?”

“Let’s not stop with the Finches, Floey. Let’s think of all the way ways we can be kind to all our neighbors!”

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All God’s creatures understand kindness.

Learning to Work Together

Danny and me looking down from the hay barn - when I was still too short to plant tobacco.

Danny and me – when I was too short to plant tobacco.

I remember when I was too short to plant tobacco. Oh, how I wanted to grow legs that would be long enough to reach the foot rests on the tobacco planter.

In early June when my dad pulled the tobacco planter out of the shed to get it ready for tobacco planting, my brother Danny and I would climb all over it. Our planter had originally been used with horses, and the seat for the person driving the horses was still on top of the water barrel. We’d scramble to see who could get to that seat first to pretend to drive the horses. The loser, usually me, wouldn’t really mind because then I would sit in one of the two planting seats near the ground. Every year I stretched my legs as far as I could to try to reach the foot rests. But I was too short.

tobacco planter w horses

The only significant differences between this tobacco planter and ours is that ours was pulled by a tractor instead of horses, and my dad sat on the tractor instead of on top of the water barrel.

Since I wasn’t big enough for the fun job of planting, I had the boring job of pulling plants. The way tobacco is grown, at least the way it was raised in Wisconsin back in the 1950s, is by first planting the tiny seeds in a tobacco bed. A steam engine came to the farm and steamed the garden patch where the tobacco would be started. After the soil was steamed, my dad built a frame for the bed, then he spread the seeds throughout the bed, and finally he covered the frame with a thin white canvas. Over the next few weeks he faithfully watered the bed through the canvas until the seeds sprouted and the plants began to grow. When the plants got to be six to eight inches tall, they were ready to transplant to the tobacco field.

Mom and Dad pulling tobacco plants

Mom and Dad pulling tobacco plants

On the mornings that we were going to plant tobacco, the whole family gathered by the tobacco bed.  We carefully removed the canvas and soaked the bed using watering cans that we filled from the metal tank near the bed. The tank had previously been filled with rain water or with a long hose from the pump. We placed a plank across the tobacco bed for every two people.  One person sat on each end of the plank and reached into the bed to pull out the biggest seedlings, one at a time, pulling carefully so as not to damage the roots. When we had a handful of plants, we carefully placed them in a bushel basket that was lying on its side. We tried to pull enough plants to fill as many bushel baskets as my dad thought we could plant that afternoon – sometimes a dozen or more. That job really wasn’t boring when the whole family, including some cousins sometimes, worked on it together. We raced to see who could fill up their bushel basket first – without sacrificing quality control. Mom and Dad kept an eye on that. The boring part came in the afternoon if the planters needed more plants, and I had to pull them by myself. Everyone else was busy doing the fun work, riding the tobacco planter.

Finally, when I was nine or ten, I could reach the foot rest! I was big enough for the fun job!

tobacco plant singleThe way the tobacco planter worked is that two people would sit next to each other behind the water barrel, close to the ground. As the horses (or tractor in our case) pulled us, the planter dug a single trench in the field, just the right depth for planting about a six-inch tall tobacco plant. About every nine inches or so, about a cup of water was released from the barrel into the trench. One of the people sitting on the tobacco planter placed a plant in the trench just when and where the water was released. The “shoes” of the planter then closed up the trench as the planter moved along. The tobacco plant was left perfectly standing as we rolled away. There was a rhythm to follow when planting so that the plant would be placed into position just as the water was being released.

The two people sitting on the planter took turns setting the plants. The person who sat on the left side of the planter, planted with his right hand. The person on the right side, planted with her left hand. (Pronouns are intentional. Since I’m a lefty, everyone was just as anxious as I was for my legs to grow long enough for me to be the lefty planter.) After planting each row, we lifted another big bunch of a couple hundred plants out of the bushel baskets that were sitting in the shade. We laid the plants on heavy canvas mats that both of us had on our laps. These plants would be used for planting the next row.

A freshly planted tobacco field.

A freshly planted tobacco field.

Of all the jobs I’ve had over the past sixty-plus years, planting tobacco is my favorite. I think it’s because of how much fun it was to work together, and to appreciate each person doing their part. I won’t say that Danny and I never threw clumps of dirt at each other when we planted together, and sometimes we glared at each other. But usually we concentrated on keeping the rhythm of setting the plants just right. We worked together well. It was also fun to plant with my mom. Mom and I often talked about what a wonderful time we were having working together outside on a beautiful sunny day.

Whenever I think about those days, I can still feel the warm sun on my back and the cool water on my fingers as I placed each plant just right. I can hear the click and then the short rush of water as it was released, over the steady drone of the tractor. I feel the rhythm of planting.

I remember one day I asked my mom what tobacco was used for. I understood the other crops we grew – what they were used for. I knew that hay was for the cows to eat. I knew that we took corn and oats to the mill to be ground into feed for the cows and chickens. But I didn’t know what tobacco was used for. Somehow, she avoided answering that question.

tobacco cigar patchNow that I know that the big premium quality leaves of our tobacco plants were used for wrapping cigars, I probably shouldn’t have such fond memories of planting tobacco. But I do. It’s where I learned how good it is to work together. That’s a very transferable life skill. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to learn that skill at an early age so I could use it my whole life.

And I’m really thankful that my legs finally grew long enough for me to learn that lesson.

Danny and I had to work together a lot. Here we are spending most of a summer day husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Danny and I had to work together a lot. Here we are spending most of a “summer vacation” day husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

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Mindfulness – the Earliest Gift of Spring

Floey beside pond 03-16-15I just got back from a walk with my dog Floey. It’s a beautiful spring day in southern Wisconsin. I felt the gentle breeze on my face, and smiled. The birds were singing again. A few weeds next to the sidewalk were beginning to show the first hint of green. Yes. Spring is really coming.

I watched Floey chase a leaf as it drifted across the sidewalk. There were no more mounds of snow to jump on and bury her face in – so she had to make up new games. She timidly approached a sewer grate and sniffed it. Then she heard the rushing water and jumped back. She gave the grate a wide berth as we continued walking down the street.

Floey beside sewer grateFloey caught sight of a pair of mourning doves about thirty feet ahead of us on the walk. She ran up to them and they flew away. Definitely new things to see, hear, smell, feel, and chase on this walk.

“Floey, you have the gift of mindfulness,” I said to her as we continued our walk.

“What’s that, Mom?”

“Mindfulness? Oh that means being fully aware of what’s happening in the moment, and appreciating it. Whenever we go for a walk, you find joy in everything that’s happening around you – what you see, what you hear, what you smell…

Floey playing in snow adjDuring the wintertime, you galloped over snowdrifts and then pushed your nose as deep into the snow as you could go, then jumped up and ran around in circles, smiling from ear to ear. I couldn’t help but smile with you. Now that it’s spring, you’re discovering new sights and sounds and smells. I get happy just watching you. You delight in noticing everything.”

“Of course, Mom. Why wouldn’t I notice what’s going on around me? Don’t you?”

“Oh, sometimes troubling thoughts pop into my mind, and they distract me from noticing all the beauty around me. But, you know, I think spring is the best cure for the disease of distraction.”

“I think you’re right, Mom. If I understand what you mean by mindfulness, I think you were being very mindful Sunday evening. Remember, we were both out on the deck. It was my first time out there. I watched you take a big black cover off the gas grill. Then you fired up the grill. While we waited for it to get hot, I saw you lean on the deck railing and look out at the pond.”

“You were really watching me, Floey. Did you notice that almost all the ice is gone from the pond? And did you hear the birds singing? It was a beautiful time to be outside.”

hamburgers on grill“Yup. And then it got even better. You grilled hamburgers. They smelled so good I could hardly stand it.”

“I know, Floey. There is no better early springtime smell than the first hamburgers on the grill. And then we eat them! A perfect treat for taste buds.”

“Well, I didn’t get to eat anything, but I did get to lick the platter, and that sure was good. I’m not complaining, I’ll always be glad to do the pre-wash on the meat platter, but I wouldn’t mind if you fixed me a hamburger next time, too.”

“Would you promise to savor every bite, and not just swallow it whole?”

“You said I’m good at mindfulness, Mom. Of course, I would thoroughly enjoy the hamburger – although I might have to eat it fast so that I’d be ready to exuberantly enjoy my next moment of life. Maybe I’d have to run out on the deck to listen to a new bird song. Spring is filled with wonderful experiences!”

“Floey, although you still have the energy of a puppy, you can teach me about being mindful any day. You already seem to understand what Thich Nhat Hanh said:

When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace, and love.

Mim called me. She just saw her first robin of the season. I guess she’s being mindful of the signs of spring, too.

My Grade on Giving up Hurry for Lent

2 geese 04-21-14On Easter Abbey spent about an hour out on our deck, watching two geese float back and forth on the pond. She said to me, “Mom, did you notice that two of our geese have finally come back home? Two years ago they were here at the beginning of Lent. This year they didn’t come back until Easter. Why were they so slow in returning?”

“I don’t know, Abbey. Maybe it’s because of how cold our winter was, and how long the cold weather stayed with us this year. I was beginning to wonder if they had decided not to come back at all.”

“I’m glad they’re back, even if they were in no hurry to get here. It’s fun to watch them glide on the water so gracefully.”

“Speaking of HURRY, Abbey, how well do you think I did at giving up HURRY for Lent?”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

Abbey-Marian“Remember, I said I was going to give up HURRY for Lent? You were the one who told me I was always in too much of a hurry to enjoy life. How do you think I did? Did I succeed in giving up HURRY for Lent? What kind of grade would you give me?”

“Well, you did stop saying ‘Hurry up, Abbey’ when we went out for our walks. That’s progress…  You let me take all the time I needed to sniff out the news about who’d been walking in my yard. I guess I could give you a grade of B. Sometimes you tugged on my leash a little, so you don’t quite deserve an A.”

“I really tried to stop living my life in a hurry. I think hurrying has become a habit for many of us. We schedule too many things to do, without really thinking about how much that will make us rush around rather than allowing ourselves to make the most of what we’re doing at the time.”

“Did you read that book you wanted to read during Lent?”

“Yes, I did. The book was An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling. There were some good thoughts in the book, but overall I was a little disappointed in it. The author focused pretty specifically on pastors, so quite a bit of the book wasn’t very relevant to me. What sticks in my mind most from the book is the story of The Good Samaritan. What if the Good Samaritan had been in too much of a hurry going about his own business to help the wounded man? That possibility was pretty easy to relate to. The discussion of that story reminded me of the Saturday morning prayer for Spring in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays:

… As this Earth spins around at thousands of miles an hour,
my mind spins with plans for this day.
At the same time as I use your gift of organizing,
grant me also the gift of openness to what you, my God,
may have in store for me on this new spring day.
May I be open to sacred surprises.
Grant me the readiness to set aside my plans when life proposes another agenda
or the needs of others invite me to unexpected service…

“You know, Abbey, the perfect ending to Lent this year came for me on Saturday night.”

“What happened Saturday night? I know you were gone for a long time.”

Messiah altar

“We had an Easter Vigil at church. This was a first for our church (MessiahChurch.com). Since we now regularly have a Saturday night service, as well as two services on Sunday morning, we had to figure out what kind of service to have for the Saturday night before Easter. We decided to do a somewhat abbreviated Easter Vigil. It didn’t last until midnight, like a traditional Easter Vigil would, but it was somewhat longer than a normal service.

“We gathered in the darkened community room of the church. In the middle of the room was a huge, beautiful centerpiece with dozens of candles of all sizes symbolizing a bonfire.  You would have loved it, Abbey. I saw one little girl, probably about three, timidly walk around some people to get a good look at the pillars of fire. As soon as she saw it, her eyes sparkled and she called back to her mom to come quick and see. She was beaming with excitement.”

“I wish you could bring me along to things like this, Mom. Tell me more about it.”

“After a couple short readings in the community room, the pastor lit the big Easter candle from the “bonfire” and then the fire was passed on to everyone gathered there, each person holding a small candle. The pastor led a procession into the church. When everyone was inside the church, the pastor chanted ‘The Exultet.’

“What did that sound like, Mom?”

“It was beautiful, Abbey. Hearing the chanting made me feel like I was a part of our long faith tradition, like I was joined together with ancestors going all the way back to the time of Christ, even back to the time of Abraham, way back to the time of creation.”

Abbey looking up colorized 2“Wow. If I had been there, I bet I would have been tempted to howl like my wolf ancestors!”

“I bet you would have, Abbey. To remind us of how God has been with us throughout history, there were several Old Testament readings. We sang a response after each reading. There was also a reading from Romans, which was followed by loud joyful singing to announce the reading of the Gospel. After all these readings there was a homily, an adult baptism and confirmation, and communion. The service ended with the congregation joyfully singing ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.’ It was really fun to pull out the loud stops on the organ to accompany the congregation as they sang this Easter hymn. The whole vigil was dramatic and wonderful. And you know what, Abbey? It wasn’t rushed at all. We didn’t hurry through any part of the service. It was wonderful to be fully engaged in each moment of the Easter Vigil.”

“It’s a good thing you practiced not hurrying all through Lent, so that you didn’t feel antsy during the vigil.”

“You may be right, Abbey. But, it really felt good to just be in the moment, to be worshiping God, and to be remembering our history and God’s love for us throughout all history, and even up to today.

“It was also good to end the evening with a party, enjoying time together with our friends in church. We had just been reminded of how much God cares for us. That’s something to celebrate!”

Marian-Abbey faces bronze“Hey, Mom. I’m re-thinking the grade I gave you for fasting from HURRY for Lent. I think we both learned three good reasons for not hurrying through life, to not let HURRY become a habit.

  • First, we need to not hurry for our own good, so that we have time to fully experience the hidden joys in each moment of everything we do.
  • Second, we need to not hurry so that we can take time to respond to the needs of others we happen to run into – like the Good Samaritan did.
  • And third, we need to not hurry so that we can recognize God being present with us – like you experienced during the Easter Vigil.

“I think maybe I’ll give you an A-minus, Mom, for your fast from HURRY. You still need to learn to never tug on my leash, even gently, just because you’re in a hurry. But together, we’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.”

1 goose 04-21-14

The geese on our pond already know it’s best not to hurry.

Remembering My Dad

Carl Korth

Carl Korth

My dad's confirmation picture

My dad’s confirmation picture

I haven’t bought my dad a Father’s Day present in more than twenty years. He died 22 years ago. But with all the advertising on TV over the past few weeks, I’ve been prompted to think more about my dad, about the kind of dad he was, and about the kind of presents he liked to receive, and to give. I think his favorite present was one he gave both to himself and to his family. He really liked to take his whole family – three kids, their spouses, and all the grandkids – out to a restaurant for dinner, preferably a buffet. He was proud of his family, and he liked to show them off, especially on Father’s Day.

He came from a large family himself. He was one of ten kids. His family had the Korth farm on Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Wisconsin – the farm that has now been turned into a county park, “Korth Park.” As one of the older boys in the family, he had to drop out of school in seventh grade to go and work as a “hired hand” on another farm to help support the family. The blessing in disguise for having to be a country school drop-out is that is how he met his future wife. The farm where he worked was in Cambridge, only a couple miles from the farm where my mom grew up.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

When my parents were first married, my dad got an assembly-line job at General Motors in Janesville. But as soon as their first daughter came along my mom and dad bought my mom’s family farm in Cambridge from my grandparents who retired and moved into town. My dad was destined to be a farmer.

As a farmer, my dad worked hard. The only time he was in the house instead of working outside was during mealtimes and when he was sleeping. Fortunately, mealtimes were times of conversation as well as eating.  I remember talking a lot about the weather, but that’s really important to a farmer.  We also joked and laughed a lot.

When my dad “retired” – that is he sold the cows and just raised corn, he took over primary responsibility for vegetable gardening from my mom.  He kept two huge gardens and raised enough produce to keep our whole extended family fed year around, plus have enough to give away to friends who came to visit. He loved spending time in the garden. Weeds didn’t have a chance. He knew how to use a hoe well, and he cleaned and sharpened it after every use. I still have the hoe in the garage, although I haven’t used it since we moved to the condo.

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The only thing he liked better than spending time in the garden was going to the restaurant in town to have morning coffee with all the other retired farmers. He hated to spend the money on coffee, but the life of a farmer is solitary, and this was how he could get his social needs met. One year I gave him a jar of coins for Christmas – so he could have right change for the 35-cent bottomless cup of coffee. The restaurant had raised the price by a nickel.

On April 2, 1991 my dad turned 87. We all got together to celebrate his birthday. A few days later he was out on the tractor, working up the soil for his huge gardens. In June, just as his gardens were beginning to flourish, he got sick and was diagnosed with leukemia. He died within a few weeks. I guess we could say that our dad’s last present to us was another huge vegetable garden that we enjoyed all summer long.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Working up the soil for his last garden

When Bad Things Happen to Good Birds

Phyllis and Fred H. Finch. Photo from www.allaboutbirds.org

Phyllis and Fred H. Finch.
Photo from http://www.allaboutbirds.org

This morning I overheard a conversation between Phyllis and Fred H. Finch in our back yard. I actually was listening for them specifically, because I felt bad about something Mim and I did yesterday, something that hurt them, I’m sure.

Fred H Finch often sings from the railing of our deck.

Fred H Finch often sings from the railing of our deck.

Fred often sits on the railing of our deck and sings beautiful songs. I love watching his bright red head and throat as he sings praises to God, totally engrossed in praising his Creator. A few weeks ago, his wife, the hard worker of the family, kept flying back and forth, building a nest in our retractable awning while Fred was singing. As soon as Mim and I saw what she was doing, we got out a ladder and one of those three-foot long grabbers, and pulled the nest down. We love having all the birds in our back yard, but we were afraid the nest in the awning would damage the mechanical parts that enable us to extend and retract the awning with a simple remote control. So, we wanted to discourage Phyllis from building their new home in our awning. Well, yesterday, Phyllis decided to try to build a nest in the awning again, and Mim and I got the ladder and the grabber out again, and pulled out the unfinished nest.

This morning Phyllis was perched on the back of the metal chair on the deck, whimpering. Fred flew up beside her and asked, “What’s wrong, sweetie?”

House Finch Pair 2“Oh, Fred, they did it again. I watched them from a distance yesterday, and I was pretty sure that’s what they were doing. Those two big wing-less monsters climbed up on a ladder, and with a long stick with a beak on the end, they pulled apart the brand new nest I was building. Oh, why did they do that? That awning is such a perfect foundation for our home. I’m almost ready to start laying eggs, and we need a home for our children. Now I need to start building our nest all over again. I prayed all night to the great Mother Hen that they really hadn’t destroyed our home again, but it didn’t do any good. Why does Mother Hen allow bad things to happen to good birds? I just can’t understand it.” Phyllis’ chirp returned to a whimper.

“I don’t know, Phyllis, I just don’t know. But I do know that Mother Hen still loves us and will see that our needs are met. In the Bible she said, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Mother feeds them.’ (Matthew 6:26)

“I know you’re right, Fred, but sometimes it’s hard to keep the faith when bad things like this happen.”

“Proof of Mother’s love can be seen all around us, Phyllis. Let’s go looking for another home site. I’m sure we can find one nearby. You probably shouldn’t try the awning again, but I’m sure we can find another good foundation if we look hard enough. And there are plenty of small twigs and grasses around to build a nice nest once we find the right spot. Mother Hen is good.”

Then the two house finches flew off the deck to search for a new home site. I hope they find one nearby so that Fred will keep coming to the deck to sing.

Mother Hen protecting her chicks

God’s love explained: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)