Tag Archive | Adventures in Hospitality

Mom’s Big Adventure: A Road Trip to California in 1934

Elsie Kenseth Korth as a young woman

Elsie Kenseth Korth as a young woman

On August 19, 1934, in the heart of the Great Depression, three girlfriends started out on a road trip to California – Elsie Kenseth (my mom), Clarice Jarlsberg, and Eleanor Gilberts – three single young women in their mid-twenties who had grown up together in Cambridge. Within a couple years they would all be married and ready to begin having families. Their new identities would become Mrs. Carl Korth, Mrs. Joe Vasby, and Mrs. Lester Jarlsberg.  But the summer of 1934 was their time for a big adventure – a road trip to California.

Wedding of Clarice and Joe Vasby. Elsie is standing next to Clarice. Eleanor is on the far right.

Wedding of Clarice and Joe Vasby. Elsie is standing next to Clarice. Eleanor is on the far right.

In the early 1930s, Elsie had an office job at Madison General Hospital. Clarice also had a job in Madison, and the two of them shared an apartment, somewhere on the east side of Madison. They got together with their gang of friends from church in Cambridge often, and they all took many short trips together to visit other church friends who had scattered to Milwaukee and Chicago, as well as to neighboring towns.

By 1934, Elsie had saved up enough money to buy her own car, a 1930 Model A Ford, I think. (I vaguely remember hearing that she bought it used from her Uncle Dahl.) That’s the car they took on this adventure to California.

1930 Ford Model A Coupe - I think this is the kind of car Mom drove for this grand adventure.

1930 Ford Model A Coupe – I think this is the kind of car Mom drove for this grand adventure.

Since 1934 was before the time of cellphones, we have a glimpse into what this road trip was like through letters, postcards, and a few photos. The three women had planned the trip well, plotting out their route to be able to visit friends and relatives as well as see beautiful scenery. The earliest letter I could find regarding the details of the trip was dated July 30, 1934. It was from Art (I can’t read his last name) from Davey, Nebraska. The letter was in response to a letter Elsie must have written him about the possibility of seeing him during their trip. Here’s part of his letter:

Dear Elsie,

… Has it been hot out here? Well, we had fifteen straight days with the mercury above 105. How’s that? It’s the worst heat wave we have had for years…

I am at home at present and intend to be for a while as father needs me with his work so he says. Maybe he doesn’t want me to crawl away some place and starve, I don’t know. We have been working rather steady lately and have a few jobs bidded and lay awake nights praying for things to happen soon. But what I mean to say is that I will be home when you intend to come and not wishing for you to fool me and not show up for I really would like to see you again and actually talk to you face to face. Maybe I will be too shy so you may have to help me along. You must spend a day or so with us or I’ll feel bad. Our home is no mansion as the depression caused our taking a smaller place but you will have the typical western hospitality and if you will permit we can show you what there is to see…

A couple weeks later, on August 14, Art wrote another letter to Elsie, firming up the plans for their visit.

Second letter to Elsie from Art. The first one was typed.

Second letter to Elsie from Art. The first one was typed. This letter is extra yellowed because a newspaper clipping was enclosed.

Dear Elsie,

I hope to have your pardon for doing this in pencil but I wish to make a hasty reply so naturally this is it. Received your letter just five minutes past and was glad to hear that you really plan to come out to see us but really must it be only an afternoon visit? Why can’t you stay over and let us show you around Lincoln and our Capital of which we are so proud? We would try to make your brief visit entertaining as I have asked my dearest friend Ernest Johnson to help me. Now I just won’t take no for an answer even if your vacation is limited. Maybe the chance may never be so ripe again.

You say you plan to be in Omaha Sunday morning? Now here’s what you do… [a page and a half of driving directions followed]

Sincerely,

Art

[P.S.] Tell Clarice not to expect too much of the person in question.

Clarice and Elsie

Clarice and Elsie

The big day for the three women to pack up Elsie’s car and drive west finally arrived – August 18, 1934. Elsie’s mother, Hilda Kenseth (the only grandma I ever knew), wrote Elsie a letter the very next day. She mailed it to “Miss Elsie Kenseth, Denver, Colorado, General Delivery.” Apparently, Elsie found her way to the Denver Post Office to pick up the letter since I still have it.

Envelope to Elsie - General DeliverySunday afternoon

Dear Elsie,

Altho you just left yesterday I will at least start a letter today. Maybe it will be in Denver before you.… Was to church this morning.… Molly [Elsie’s dog] is O.K….  Will have to get something to eat now, as it will soon be chores time.

Haven’t any news but lots of love to send you. Quite a few asked for you today… Papa and Ham [her brother Helmer] are reading and Fletcher [younger brother] and Molly are busy at kitchen cabinet.

Lots of love,

Mama

The best correspondence of all was the postcards Elsie sent to Carl, her future husband. Those cards gave a glimpse into the adventures of the trip for these three young ladies. On August 21, four days into the trip, Elsie wrote this:

Elsie and Eleanor - car in background.

Elsie and Eleanor – car in background. Elsie looks pretty tired of driving. Eleanor appears to be texting, but I’m sure there was no time warp or my mom would have told me about it.

Postmarked BRIGHTON, COLO., AUG 22, 1934, 2 – PM

We reached the 1,000 mile mark today – and only have had to buy 1 new tire (the first day). Drove thru sand hills all day today, but expect to hit the mountains tomorrow. It’s a lot of fun – but I’m awfully tired. If you feel very ambitious you could write to me at Long Beach, California, General Delivery. We expect to get there eventually. Only 4 more cards to write – and then to bed.

Elsie

A couple days later Elsie sent Carl another postcard.

Post Card to CarlPostmarked ROCK SPRINGS, WYO. AUG 24, 1934, 6:30 PM

We’re way up in the air, and it’s awfully cold and windy. Have had so much trouble with the car I’m almost ready to go home. Had it in a garage 3 times yesterday and 3 times today. Twice today we were stalled in the mountains – once we had to get help from 9 miles away, and the second time a man towed us 5 miles. The country is beautiful, but the roads are terrible. Guess I’d rather live in Wisconsin after all. Outside of that we’re having a good time.

Elsie

Keep in mind, this was also before the days of credit cards. Elsie, Clarice, and Eleanor must have had enough cash with them to cover the cost of all these car repairs – plus gas, meals, lodging, and any other costs of this big adventure.

On Saturday afternoon, August 25, Elsie’s mother wrote her another letter.

Dear Elsie,

Just a week since you left and I wonder where you are now. Have been receiving your cards and am very glad to get them. Watch for the mail every day. Hope you are thru with car trouble now and will be able to make your destination all right…. Molly is as usual. She went out in the bedroom a few mornings after you left. She must have been looking for you. Papa took her upstairs with him when Helmer went with the horses. As she is so wild to go for a ride…

Where do you want us to write after this? Are you going on to N. Mex. Or not? You didn’t leave any more places you were going but figured on letting us know. Hope you make it all right and have no more trouble.

Love from us all,

Mama

[P.S.]  Don’t forget to bring greetings to Fletcher & family [Hilda’s brother living in Long Beach, California]. How I wish I could see them all.

The threesome did make it to California. On September 1, Elsie wrote this card to Carl:

Post Card of Long Beach 1934

Post Card Elsie sent to Carl from Long Beach, California. They had reached their destination! Time to head home.

Postmarked SOUTH GATE, CALIF, SEP 2, 1934, 4 PM

We’re at the last point of our trip now & hiking back tomorrow. Went swimming in the ocean today & the waves made me dizzy (more so than I usually am). It was lots of fun though. I’d like to come again sometime, only on a train or in someone else’s car. We’re going to church in Los Angeles tomorrow & Clarice is to sing. Will be home next Saturday or Sunday. My car won’t stand another trip so I’ll borrow one next time.

Elsie

That’s all the correspondence I can share in this blog post. I know there’s a box with more postcards from this trip somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.  I remember reading about some of their meals en route and meeting up with other friends and making new friends (usually in churches) when I was packing up boxes to move from the farmhouse to the condo eight years ago. As I re-read the postcards and letters that I did find, I was quite impressed by my mom’s sense of adventure, her self-confidence in driving a Model A Ford over thousands of miles of only partially paved roads, her friendships, and her sense of humor.

The Elsie I knew as Mom was a Sunday School teacher of pre-schoolers, a secretary who drove to Madison every day to work, a gardener who raised enough vegetables to freeze to keep her family eating vegetables with every dinner for a whole year – year after year, and a mom who kept the cookie tins filled with fresh-baked cookies – often from brand-new recipes she’d discovered somewhere.

Reading about the Elsie who went on a big adventure with a couple girlfriends in the middle of the Great Depression adds a new dimension to her character for me. I wish I had asked her more about that trip. Thank goodness cellphones hadn’t been invented yet – or I wouldn’t know anything about this adventurous side of Mom at all!

Elsie - the adventurer

Elsie – the adventurer

Henry’s Story

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHenry is one of my heroes. I knew Henry for a total of about twelve years, starting in 2000. He wasn’t a perfect person. He had one significant flaw that I knew of – not being punctual. He lived by his internal clock, not his watch. But he taught me more about forgiveness, kindness, and absolute commitment to serving God than anyone else I’ve known in my 66 years of life. (Well, maybe my mom taught me more about those values, but Henry taught me the second most of anybody.)

Henry, who died a few years ago, was a Methodist minister who was called in 2000 to be pastor of Willerup United Methodist Church in Cambridge. Henry was a second career pastor. In his previous career he had worked in sales and marketing for a publishing company. He was about 60, divorced, and the father of two adult children. He was also the legal guardian and caregiver for Bob, a developmentally disabled man in his 40s.

I met Henry and Bob when they moved to Cambridge for Henry’s call to Willerup. Mim and I were living in our farmhouse at the time and we welcomed guests into our home as Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast. Henry wanted Bob and him to stay with us for the first few days during their move into the Willerup parsonage. He thought the move would be less disruptive for Bob if they could at least sleep in an environment that wasn’t as chaotic as a place filled with boxes in the process of being unpacked. However, when Henry and Bob arrived in Cambridge, they discovered that the parsonage wasn’t ready for them. The parsonage was in need of some minor repairs and major cleaning before they could move in.

Henry Hall and Bob SpauldingSo Henry and Bob ended up living with us for a couple months. During that time, we became good friends. As a B&B, we always served them breakfast, but as they were becoming friends, they often ate dinner with us too. Sometimes we’d go into the living room after dinner and gather around the piano for a sing-along, especially on days when my sister Nancy and her husband Clark had also joined us for dinner.

Willerup Sketch-BWUnfortunately, it became clear early in Henry’s time of ministry at Willerup that some members of the congregation were not pleased that Henry, a divorced, second-career pastor, was their minister. The congregation, in general, was quite conservative, and Henry and Bob didn’t fit their image of a traditional pastor and his family. Matters got worse when Bob, who spent his days at a sheltered work environment did some acting out to get more attention. Bob observed that another worker got extra attention when he told stories about his guardian being sexually inappropriate. So Bob tried to tell similar stories about Henry. Bob was right – he got lots of attention when he told these stories. A social worker and even the police got involved.

Word quickly got back to the congregation about these allegations, and certain members of the congregation demanded that Henry be forced to leave the church. Henry tried to continue to minister to the congregation, but stress was beginning to take its toll on his health. Furthermore, one of the social workers believed Bob’s stories without question, and managed to have Henry’s guardianship of Bob terminated, breaking up a healthy “family” relationship that had existed for many years. She also did everything she could to be sure Henry would spend the rest of his life in prison.

That’s when Henry taught me one of his most important lessons. I asked him how he could stand the prospect of spending years in prison because of Bob’s sensational but untrue stories. Henry said, “If I go to prison, it’s because God has a ministry for me to do there. It’s all up to God, and I’ll gladly do whatever He calls me to do.”

The legal case was eventually dropped, but Henry’s reputation was too badly damaged for him to be able to effectively minister at Willerup. He agreed to move to Madison and begin a part-time clown ministry. Being a clown had been a hobby of his for years, and he saw the potential to develop it into an intentional ministry. Henry also needed some less stressful time to regain his health. With all the turmoil, his body had really suffered, and he was put on a waiting list for a heart transplant.

In less than a year of Henry arriving in Cambridge, he was preparing to leave. He decided to take only a few things with him and to move into a small apartment in Madison. He called upon an auctioneer friend of his from his previous congregation to help him get rid of all the rest of his belongings.

Peter Rooster against condoBefore the auction, Mim and I talked with Henry about how hard it must be to give up most of his material possessions. We talked for a long time. He showed us some of his most treasured items that would be in the auction and told us stories about some of them. “Peter” was the name of a life-size cast iron rooster. A member of a previous congregation had given that to him as a gift because of how personally meaningful Henry had made the story of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus, of Jesus’ forgiveness of this betrayal, and of Jesus’ continuing love for Peter and for all of us.

The next day, Mim and I went to the auction. Henry was there. We asked him how he could bear to watch all his treasures being auctioned off. He responded, “I’m delighted to see who is bidding on what. It’s great to see who God has in mind to be the next caretaker of each item. Everything belongs to God anyway. There is no change in ownership.” That was another lesson Henry taught me.

Mim and I really wanted to get “Peter,” the 26-inch tall cast iron rooster. I got into a bidding war over him. I persisted, and “Peter” now stands proudly on the big rock at the corner of our condo – a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and Jesus’ forgiveness and continuing love, and also a reminder of all the lessons we learned from Henry.

Peter Rooster against postAbout a year after Henry left Cambridge he got his new heart. The donor was a young man who died in a motorcycle accident. Henry’s recovery was long and hard, but he was determined to recover and continue to develop his clown ministry. He had a new focus for clowning – to comfort people who are involved in heart transplants – the families of donors, the recipients and their families, and the medical and nursing staff who work with everyone involved. He served in clown ministry for about ten years.

I’m very thankful that Henry was called to ministry in Cambridge, even though it was for a short time. By his example, I learned a lot about forgiveness, kindness, and absolute commitment to serving God. Henry is truly one of my heroes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Henry brought along some of his clown gear the last time he came to visit us in our home.

 

 

Dinnertime

Abbey Hungry 05-12-08

Abbey used to let us know when she was really hungry by bringing us her metal dish – and dropping it on the kitchen floor, making a clatter capable of waking the neighbors.

I guess today is a good day to talk about dinnertime. It’s Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – a time of feasting the day before beginning a forty-day fast for Lent. Mim and I are planning to go out for a musical feast tonight – an organ recital by Thomas Trotter (a fantastic organist from England) at the Overture Center in Madison. We’ll probably stop at Culver’s for a cheeseburger and fries on our way there. If the flavor-of-the-day is really good, we might splurge on a small dish of custard – but only if it’s a really good flavor. The real feast of the evening will be musical.

Bread for the Journey coverOver the past few days I’ve been reading about “the meal that makes us family and friends” in the book Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J. M. Nouwen. The reflection for February 15 in this daily devotional book started with these words:

We all need to eat and drink to stay alive. But having a meal is more than eating and drinking. It is celebrating the gifts of life we share. A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events. Around the table we become vulnerable, filling one another’s plates and cups and encouraging one another to eat and drink. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst. Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.

During most of my growing up years, Sunday dinner, eaten about 1:00 p.m., was the most special meal of the week. My mom usually put a roast in the oven before we left for Sunday school so that it would be almost ready when we got home from church, between 12:15 and 12:30. Mom had the potatoes peeled and waiting in the pressure cooker.  She turned the burner on to start the potatoes and grabbed a package of our own garden vegetables from the freezer, either corn or green beans. While the potatoes and vegetables were cooking Mom made gravy, and last of all she mashed the potatoes. My job was to bake some refrigerator rolls and set the table. Then the whole family gathered around the table, Danny and I said the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer, and we ate and talked and laughed together. Often my Grandma Kenseth joined us for this meal. The meal ended with a dessert of homemade cookies, cake, or pie – and always ice cream.

What made this meal so special every week was that it was the only meal we all ate together. My dad was usually in the barn milking cows when the rest of us ate breakfast, and also when we ate supper. On weekdays, my dad was the only one home at noon. My mom was at work in Madison, and Danny and I were in school. Sunday dinner was the special time to eat together.  Besides sharing the meal, it was also a time for the whole family to be involved in conversation. I guess those Sunday dinners were pretty instrumental in forming our identity as a family.

In 1973, when I first met Mim and she invited me to share her apartment with her until I could find an apartment of my own in Chicago, Mim and I went out for dinner at the Buffalo Ice Cream Parlor (for cheeseburgers and hot fudge sundaes) to get to know each other a little, and to clarify our expectations as roommates. One of the rules Mim insisted on is that we eat meals together whenever possible, and that we would share equally in the cost of all groceries. I think Mim’s concerns were mostly about not wanting to keep track of which food belonged to each of us. But as Nouwen suggests, “Around the table we become family, friends, community, yes, a body.” Maybe Mim had an inkling of how important it is to share mealtime.

Mim and me, ready to sit down for Easter dinner in the dining room of our apartment in Chicago. We’re still dressed up from church.

Sharing meal time provides an opportunity for developing relationships better than almost any other activity. I was surprised to learn that this is true even for business meals. When I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago I frequently had to travel on business. During those years I ate plenty of restaurant meals alone. I usually went to the restaurant with a notebook to outline plans and draft reports while I ate. But whenever I went out to dinner with a business associate instead of eating alone, I found that I got to know the person beyond the business context. By “celebrating the gifts of life we share” together over a meal, a genuine friendship usually developed. Meal time truly was a special time, even on business.

Twenty-some years later when Mim and I turned our farmhouse in Cambridge into Country Comforts Bed & Breakfast, we made the decision to have all our guests eat breakfast together around the dining room table. As our guests ate, we stayed in the dining room to refill coffee cups and to be sure food was passed around the table, and also to encourage conversation among all the guests. (We usually had four to eight guests at a time.)  One morning, near the end of breakfast, I remember a young man said, “I was dreading this breakfast – having to eat together with strangers, but I’m really enjoying it. I feel like we’re all friends.”

B&B Guests at breakfast

B&B guests at breakfast in our farmhouse

When we changed Country Comforts B&B into Country Comforts Assisted Living, we changed from sharing our breakfast time to sharing all meal times except breakfast. Mim and I and our residents all like to start our day at different times, so we each eat breakfast on our own. But lunch and dinner are always shared meals. I think that is a big part of what transforms our residents from being strangers living under the same roof into becoming caring family members of the Country Comforts family.

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Sharing a meal with our Country Comforts family

Today’s reading from Nouwen says, “The table is one of the most intimate places in our lives. It is there that we give ourselves to one another…. We invite our friends to become part of our lives. We want them to be nurtured by the same food and drink that nurture us.”

I’m glad Nouwen’s book prompted me to think about meal time. Whether we’re feasting for Fat Tuesday or eating more modest meals throughout Lent, it’s good to remember that “A meal together is one of the most intimate and sacred human events…. Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst.”

Our extended family gathered around our extended table for Thanksgiving dinner in Chicago, 1984.

What Do I Really Do?

Sears Tower

In the 1980s Northwest Industries took up the 62nd and 63rd floors of the Sears Tower – about halfway to the top.

Last week I heard from some voices in my past thanks to social media. A couple colleagues from the late 1970s-early 1980s when I worked for Northwest Industries in Chicago emailed me through LinkedIn, the professional networking site. Then I heard from a coworker at TDS in Madison where I worked in the mid-1990s, and then a couple clients from my Cambridge-based consulting practice from the early 2000s.

What prompted all these emails is my “Experience Timeline” on the LinkedIn social networking site.  September of 2012 is when I got serious about completing and publishing my two books, Listening for God: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life and Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest: Adventures in Hospitality. I added an entry on my timeline for September 2012 of being a “Self-Employed Author.” This week LinkedIn announced my 2-year anniversary of being Self-Employed, which prompted the emails from some of my connections.

I haven’t seen Jerry and Jan in almost 30 years. Jerry was Assistant Treasurer at Northwest Industries. Jerry and I never worked closely together and we were never close friends, but there was mutual respect. Jerry must be pushing 80 by now, and he still does some financial consulting. Jan was a Disaster Recovery Consultant in the Information Technology Department. Jan and I traveled together a lot to work with a battery company in Pennsylvania that Northwest Industries owned. When Northwest Industries was acquired and most of the corporate staff lost their jobs, Jerry, Jan, and I, along with several other colleagues each formed our own consulting practices. It was an exciting time in our professional lives.

During that time, Jan and I collaborated on writing a book, The Virus Handbook. In the mid-1980s, computer viruses were just beginning to be recognized as a potentially serious problem. As a Disaster Recovery Consultant, Jan wanted to publish a manual of guidelines to minimize the risk of being infected by a computer virus, but he didn’t want to write it. We spent many hours together with Jan teaching me everything he knew about computer viruses. I tried to structure that information into a useful format and we copyrighted it. I wonder if the copy we sent to the Library of Congress is still sitting on their shelves… We sold a few copies, but the best part of our collaboration was the time we spent working together. We were a great encouragement to each other as we built our own businesses.

cat chemist heliumThose emails prompted me to reflect on the strange path my career has taken over the years – English teacher, editorial researcher for World Book Encyclopedia, systems analyst and eventually systems manager for a large corporation, independent business consultant, B&B owner, church organist, real estate broker, caregiver, and author. I guess that’s a rather strange progression of jobs. Not a typical career path. It’s no wonder I left high school thinking I would become a chemist. I had no idea what I would become. The closest I ever came to chemistry in my career was a consulting assignment I did for a pharmaceutical company in Chicago. I’m sure when I was in high school there’s no way I could conceive of the twists and turns my career would take.

An old concept that I’ve been thinking about seriously for the first time this year is the idea that my life, day by day, should be viewed as a pilgrimage back to God. This idea comes up frequently in the prayers I’m reading in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. Here’s an excerpt from one of the morning prayers for summer:

Prayers for a Planetary PilgrimWhatever this summer day holds for me,
may I find, among its many events,
signs to confirm and direct me
in my primary vocation of pilgrimhood.
May I be eager to assist my sister and brother pilgrims in their journeys.
May I do nothing by word or deed
that will detour them on their homeward path to you.
May I burn with the fire of the sun in loving all the Earth
and all members of your sacred family.
I bow before you, Divine Father, Holy Mother,
Eternal Source of my existence.
Your heart is my home,
from you I have come
and to you I journey this day.

I’m still not sure what the right answer is for the blank for “Occupation” I need to fill out on my tax returns. I’m afraid “pilgrim” might be a red flag. But I guess that’s what my real vocation is. All the other occupations I’ve had along my path just add flavor and spice to my true calling.

Pilgrim Cat

A Pat on the Back

Abbey Profile 2This morning I looked at my beautiful old dog Abbey and said, “Hey, Abbey. Come over here a minute. I want to give you a pat on the back – not just a few pats on the head, a real pat on the back.”

“Okay, Mom. Just a minute while I coax my legs to stand up. They’re not moving very fast any more,” she replied. She slowly stood up and hobbled over to me. Then she eased herself down to a laying position again.

“Abbey, I’ve been thinking about how much you have befriended all of our 93-year-olds. You have become one of their best friends, for each one of them, just as you have for almost everyone who has lived with us. I’m particularly surprised at how much our latest resident has come to love you. I didn’t think she could love again. But you won her over. How did you do it?”

“Oh, Mom.  That wasn’t so hard. She was just hurting a lot, and she took her frustration out on all of us.”

“Yes, but at first I thought she was a little mean to you. I was afraid she might try to push you with her walker to get you to move when she wanted to walk where you happened to be lying on the floor.”

“Oh, she never hit me, Mom. And she was in so much pain. I got out of her way whenever I saw her coming, but when she sat down, I went to sit beside her. She needed to feel that someone loved her. I could do that. Eventually, she even started to pet me. Now sometimes she leaves me some crusts of bread on her plate, and tells you to be sure to give it to me, right?”

Abbey looking up colorized 2“That’s right, Abbey. You have definitely won her over. You know what she told me the other day? She said that you really like her, that you even lay down outside her door sometimes when we’re out. She is so happy that you have become her friend.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Mom. And, you know what? I’m glad that she’s become one of my friends, too. Just like it said in the book you’re reading. You may not know it, but sometimes I look over your shoulder in the morning while you’re reading. On Sunday morning you were reading from that Edward Hays book again, A Book of Wonders. He’s a smart writer. He said,

The best way to remain fully and vitally alive all the way up to the moment of your last and final breath is to constantly strive to be sensitive to other’s needs and suffering, responding to their unspoken cries for help.

“That’s all I’m trying to do, Mom. And in the process, I’m gaining more and more friends. I’m the luckiest dog in the world. I may not be able to get out as much as I used to, but I really appreciate all the new friends you bring in to live with us. Like I said before, it’s great having an endless supply of grandmas.”

“And it’s great having such a loving dog as you, Abbey.”

Thanks, Mom!

Thanks, Mom!

Lobster Fest Wisconsin Style

Forty-three years ago I ate my first lobster. I had just completed my first year as a high school English teacher in Plainfield, Connecticut. The kids were done with school, but the teachers were required to show up one more day to grade final exams and turn in semester grades. None of us teachers really wanted to be in school, but we tried to make the best of it. Under the guidance of the Home Ec. teacher we boiled live lobsters and had quite a feast. About half of the teachers knew how to eat a whole lobster, and they coached the rest of us. What a great way to end the school year!

Lobster - how to eatI’ve loved eating lobster ever since. Unfortunately, there are not many opportunities to eat fresh whole lobster in Wisconsin. Last weekend we had such an opportunity. Margaret and Don, the daughter and son-in-law of one of our former assisted living residents, invited us to join them for a Lobster Fest Wisconsin Style in Mosinee, about a 2-hour-drive north of us. A group of people from their church organize a Lobster Fest every year. This year we felt honored to be among the twenty guests.

What makes a Wisconsin Lobster Fest better than anything you’ll find in New England is the first course – a cheese and sausage plate (from a local cheese factory) served with a golden brown punch that’s a combination of apple wine, cherry wine, beer, and some other spirits. (Mim and I just tasted the punch, which was very tasty, but then switched to a white wine for the evening libation.)

mussels-pan-sauceA bowl of freshly steamed mussels came next. (Mussels are Mim’s favorite shellfish, so she couldn’t be happier!) Then came the boiled lobster, corn on the cob, and boiled potatoes.

The woman seated across the table from me had grown up in New Jersey and she generously offered tips to everyone at the table about how to twist off the lobster tail, crack open the claws, and suck out the tiniest, sweetest morsels of all from the skinny little lobster legs. Eating a whole lobster takes time. Eventually everyone finished the main course and was ready for dessert – blueberry buckle with ice cream. It was a wonderful feast.

lobster on plateAfter dinner most of the guests stayed around to help with the cleanup, sort of… Margaret wanted me to see the hostess’ baby grand piano, so we went to the music room instead of the kitchen. I sat down to play the only ocean song I could think of – “Puff the Magic Dragon.” But the hostess quickly brought me a folder of sheet music from the 1930’s and 1940’s. A few guests gathered around the piano to sing and together we assumed the responsibility of entertaining the kitchen crew with our music.

I guess that’s how a Lobster Fest Wisconsin Style ends, with everyone working together to be sure everyone feels welcome, has fun, and the work gets done.

A truly destitute man is not one without riches,
but the poor wretch who has never partaken of lobster.

I guess I would modify this anonymous quotation to say,

A truly destitute person is not one without riches,
but the poor wretch who has never participated in a Lobster Fest Wisconsin Style.

Thanks, Margaret and Don, and Jean, Melanie, Ruth, Clay, and everyone else who let us be a part of this evening. And, thanks also to the Plainfield High School Home Ec. teacher for teaching me to love lobster. Oh, and thanks to God, too, for creating lobsters, and for giving us friends so that we can have wonderful times like this together.

Don and Margaret helping Edith celebrate her 90th birthday in our home in 2011.

Don and Margaret helping Edith celebrate her 90th birthday in our home in 2011.

The Three Nonagenarians

3 ladies drinking - woodcut

Three 92-year-old women walk into a bar – an artist, a nun, and a state legislator. The bartender asks what he can get them. The artist wants a cup of herbal tea; the nun wants half a glass of milk; and the legislator asks for one glass of red wine – specifically, Menage a Trois.

I don’t really know the rest of the story yet. These are the three women we are caring for right now at Country Comforts Assisted Living – and we’re all having a wonderful time learning to share our lives with each other. The experience is teaching me that God really does have a sense of humor.

colored pencils

The artist spends hours every day creating beautiful pictures with her colored pencils. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin and cherishes her rural background, even though she lived most of her adult life in Milwaukee. I’ve written about her in this blog before. Her most dominant personality trait is being thankful for everything.

praying-rosary

The “nun” really isn’t a nun. She’s a very devout Catholic who reminds me of my stereotype of a sweet, elderly nun. She spends much of her day reading, praying, and listening to sacred music. She is also very appreciative of any kindness shown to her, and she doesn’t want to be a bother to anyone.

wisconsin_state_capitol_statues

The legislator is a well-read, politically active, former state assembly person. She is meticulous in her appearance, and expects people to treat her with the respect she deserves. She cares about what’s going on in the world, and reads extensively to keep herself well-informed. She reads two daily newspapers, a weekly paper, and several magazines. She also watches the news on TV.

All three women are widows who have lived alone for many years. For a variety of reasons, they can no longer live on their own, which is why the three of them and Mim and I have all become friends and companions.

The 92-year-olds make a most unlikely three-some. I’m sure there was some chuckling among the angels up in heaven when God decided to put these three women together in the same household when they were in their nineties. Despite their differences, they enjoy each other’s company. I’m feeling the urge to write a mystery novel about “The Three Nonagenarians.” The basic storyline would be that Mim and I take Abbey for a quick walk, but something happens to us and we don’t come back. The three women figure out how to live together without us as they solve the mystery of what happened to us and manage to get us back. I’ve never written a novel before, so I don’t know if this will ever happen. But it’s fun to think about.

It’s also fun to imagine what God must be thinking in bringing the five of us together – “The Three Nonagenarians” plus Mim and me. It’s delightful. The five of us sharing this stage in our lives is a continuing source of unexpected JOY, a special treat for the year when my “perfect word” is JOY.

JOY candles