Tag Archive | Edith Kenseth

Remembering the Saints – the most significant people in my life who are now dead

Lots of my relatives - the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture - in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

Lots of my relatives – the year before I was born. My brother Danny is sitting on the grass on the right side of the picture – in front of Mom and beside Grandpa.

 

Thursday of this week is Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day. On Sunday, some churches will read a list of members of the congregation who have died over the past year. This is a time of year to remember the people who are no longer with us who have been significant to us in our own lives, and to thank God for these people.

As I was curled up under the covers in bed this morning thinking about what to blog about today, making a list of these people came to mind – not just the people who died this year, but all the people who have died who have been significant to me. I started making a mental list of them, and I realized I’d better get up and write them down – the names were coming to me too fast to remember and organize in my mind. So I got up and quickly jotted down the names as they came to me, and I realized I’d better limit the number of people to include in the blog. So I crossed off a few names and settled on 13 people for this blog (a good number for Halloween), plus one bonus. I’m still going to thank God for all the rest, too, even if I don’t tell you about them today.

Here’s the list – 13 people who have been very significant to me in my life, and who have moved on to their next life:

  1. Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom and Dad at their 50th Anniversary celebration.

    Mom. I think the most significant thing I learned from my mom is about love. I always knew she loved me, as well as my siblings, her grandchildren, her Sunday School kids, the UW students who stopped in to see her at the Presbyterian Student Center in Madison where she worked, the starving kids in Africa that she read about in her mail and sent checks to every month, and everyone else who touched her life – she loved us all.

  2. Dad. My dad taught me about work. As a farmer, he knew that he was responsible for getting all the work done. If the hay baler broke, that didn’t mean he didn’t have to bale hay that day. It meant he had to figure out how to fix the baler as quickly as possible so that he could still bale the hay and get everything else done he had planned for that day. His attitude taught me to be a problem solver as well as a hard worker.
  3. Nancy. My big sister (11 years older than me) taught me to set aside some time every day to read the Bible and pray. When she went away to college, she ordered me a subscription to a children’s daily devotional booklet to help me keep on track.
  4. Helen Knoblauch. My first grade teacher was a very kind and loving person. Everyone in her class knew that she loved them. One way she showed that love was by being the kindest of all to the kid that was hurting the most that day. I remember one day when I was that kid. A leaf had blown into my eye and scratched it when I was playing on the playground after lunch. My eye really hurt and I was crying. Mrs. Knoblauch had me sit on her lap while she read a storybook to the class. That made me feel a whole lot better – so much better that I still remember it almost 60 years later.
  5. Marion Gilberts. She was our church organist and my piano and organ teacher. In addition to using the typical lesson books, she had me learn every hymn in both of the hymnals we used in church. She also gave me the experience of playing in church by having me play an offertory at least once a year. She didn’t just teach me the piano and organ, she taught me to be a church organist.
  6. Aunt Edith at the piano. (In the 1930s she married the happy little boy pictured above, my Uncle Helmer.

    Aunt Edith at the piano.

    Aunt Edith. She was the most creative pianist I ever watched tickle the ivories. She was a self-taught gospel pianist who could play any hymn she had ever heard, in any key you wanted to hear it. The only printed music I saw her use was a hymnal or songbook, yet she improvised all over the keyboard. She is still my inspiration to learn to play more by ear and to improvise.

  7. Rev. Royal Bailie. He was the pastor that confirmed me in the Methodist Church. As a confirmation gift he gave me a different kind of Bible, the J. B. Phillips paraphrase of the New Testament. That’s the only Bible that I completely wore out the binding by opening it too much.
  8. Auntie Emma. Also known as Emma Prescott. She was my grandma’s sister. I always thought of her as the most generous Christian I knew. She and her husband, Uncle Don, supported many children through World Vision and other missions. She once made a comment that I’ll never forget. She said she was glad she didn’t have as much money as one of her daughters had. Stewardship of that amount of money was more than she could imagine handling wisely. That comment has always made me think seriously about my stewardship of all the resources God has given me.
  9. Rev. Bill Leslie. He was the pastor of one of the churches I attended in Chicago for several years. I didn’t know him very well personally, but I learned a lot from his preaching. He prompted me to think for the first time about what my responsibility as a Christian is for dealing with the problems in the city, particularly the problems that resulted from the injustices that are inherent in our culture.
  10. Mark Hjermstad. Mark was a loving pragmatist, and that’s not an oxymoron. He taught me to relate to the world the best way you can. He was a closeted gay pre-kindergarten teacher for special needs children in the Chicago Public School System. We met Mark in church, shortly before his partner died of AIDS. He became one of our best friends. He always encouraged his gay friends to be as open as they could about who they were – although he couldn’t be out as a gay teacher and still keep his own job.
  11. Mary Borgerud. Mrs. Borgerud was my fifth- and sixth-grade teacher. She taught me history, geography, kindness, and generosity. She also taught me to have fun with writing. I still remember one of the essays I wrote in her class – “I’m a Little Mouse with Great Big Eyes.” We also laughed a lot together, especially when she came to live with Mim and me at Country Comforts Assisted Living for the last year or so of her life.
  12. Eileen Scott. Thanks to Eileen I’m a church organist again. Between 1975 and 1999 I didn’t play the piano or organ for anyone except myself at home. In 1999, Eileen learned that the Methodist pastor in town discouraged me from playing for a Christmas program in his church because of my sexual orientation. As a very strong take-charge person, Eileen approached me about becoming an organist in her church, the Presbyterian Church in town. Being a church organist has been a significant part of my life ever since.
  13. Selma Jacobson. I guess now I can say Selma is my mother-in-law. Shortly after Mim and I moved to Wisconsin, Mim’s mom had a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. After several months of rehab, she came to live with Mim and me. Despite all her physical losses, she always maintained a positive attitude and a very pleasant disposition. She lived with us for the last five years of her life, and was a daily inspiration to me to accept life for what it is, and to always trust in God’s love and kindness.

And now, for one bonus saint – Megabyte. She was the first dog that Mim and I got together, and she enriched our lives for 15 years. The one thing that dogs know better than anything, and better than anyone else knows, is how to love.

Many names are missing from this list – Grandma, Uncle Helmer, Gary, Clark, Steve, Nicki, Hiram, Joe, Donnie, and more. If I kept naming them I wouldn’t get this blog posted today. There’s also an equally long list of people who are still alive that I’m thankful for. God has truly blessed me with loads of wonderful people – and dogs – in my life. I am so thankful. I guess it’s appropriate that Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day, starts off the holiday season. Then comes Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. All three holidays are times to be especially thankful for all the good gifts God has given us.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Megabyte and Selma welcoming a new kitten into our home.

Your Gift to the World

Grandma's Flower Garden Quilt

Grandma’s Flower Garden Quilt

Grandma and Grandpa. The little girl scowling on the right is my mom. The happy little boy is Uncle Helmer.

Grandma and Grandpa. The little girl scowling on the right is my mom. The happy little boy is Uncle Helmer.

My grandma (Mom’s mother) used to make quilts. At some point she started making a green “Flower Garden” quilt, but she never finished it. When Grandma died, Mom took the quilt pieces with the intention of finishing the quilt sometime.

Mom was not fond of sewing. She used to tell the story of one time she tried to cut out a dress pattern. She kept getting two of the same sleeves instead of a left and a right sleeve, over and over again, regardless of how she positioned the sleeve pattern piece on the fabric. She was getting more and more frustrated. Finally, her young daughter Nancy, who was intently watching her, suggested turning the pattern piece upside down. It worked!

Mom liked to embroider and crochet, but sewing was not her gift. I grew up sleeping on beautifully embroidered pillowcases. When I was in my 20s and 30s, Mom crocheted afghans in the right colors for every room in our house and for every car we ever owned. But she never did sew my grandma’s quilt pieces together.

Mom crocheting a baby afghan.

Mom crocheting a baby afghan.

I share my mom’s lack of skill in sewing. In high school I took “Home Ec” one year and had to make a dress. One of my classmates, Connie, put in the zipper for me. The zipper was the best looking part of the dress. I never wore the dress. In college, my friend, Claudia, tried to teach me how to knit. My first and only project was a pair of slippers. I tried to wear them around the dorm, but one slipper was too tight and the other was so big it kept falling off my foot. Claudia knitted me a pair of slippers that fit to inspire me to keep trying, but I gave up. Knitting wasn’t my gift.

When my mom died, my sister, Nancy, took our grandma’s quilt blocks and hired Aunt Edith (the gospel pianist I wrote about last summer) to finish making the quilt. When my sister died, none of her kids claimed the quilt, so I took it. I have it on display on a wall-mounted quilt rack in our home.

Last week my cousin, Gloria, brought me a snapshot of that quilt (at top of this blog post) along with her mother’s notes about finishing the quilt for Nancy. Gloria was in Cambridge for a few days to help her brothers and sisters get everything ready for their parents’ estate sale this past weekend.

Aunt Edith's notes.

Aunt Edith’s notes.

According to Aunt Edith’s notes, she started to put together my grandma’s quilt pieces into the “Flower Garden” pattern on October 27, 1989 and she finished the project on May 19, 1990. It took her 303-3/4 hours and cost her $15.90 for thread and other materials. She charged Nancy 71¢ per hour for 303-1/2 hours (she gave her ¼ hour free!) for a total price for labor and materials of $231.39. Nancy gave her $500.

In The Monastic Way daily readings for this month, Joan Chittister’s focus is “Doing What You Like.” For March 3 she wrote, “Doing what I like doing is not a waste of time. It is my gift to the rest of the world.”

I am so thankful that Aunt Edith knew that. She faithfully used her God-given gifts – both at the piano and at the quilting frame – to create beauty. Those were her gifts to us.

Aunt Edith at the piano. (In the 1930s she married the happy little boy pictured above, my Uncle Helmer.

Aunt Edith at the piano. Sometime In the 1930s she married the happy little boy pictured above, my Uncle Helmer.

Beyond the Sunset

Aunt Edith

Aunt Edith passed away last Tuesday evening. She’s the talented gospel pianist aunt I wrote about in this blog last summer (https://whisperingwindsblog.com/2012/07/30/lets-celebrate/). I woke up several times Tuesday night. My mind was imagining what her welcome in heaven was like. Here’s what came to mind.

Wedding of Helmer and Edith Kenseth (1936)
Edith’s brother, Orvin, and Helmer’s sister, Elsie, were attendants.

Edith’s husband, Helmer, was pretty excited. He had heard from God that Edith would be arriving that evening. Helmer and their son, Gary, had come to my mom and dad’s home for dinner. My sister, Nancy, was also there. Her husband, Clark, had not come because he had volunteered to go on a special assignment to help people on the East Coast deal with the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Helmer and Gary, my mom and dad, and Nancy had just finished dinner and were about ready to start on dessert when Edith walked in. Helmer just stared at her with tears in his eyes. He was so happy to see her he couldn’t speak. Gary, who had died of cancer in his 50’s, jumped up and ran to her and gave her a hug.

Nancy got up to set an extra place at the table, and then dished up dessert for everyone. It was homemade apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. She also started a pot of coffee.

My mom asked Edith, “How are you feeling? Isn’t it wonderful to be rid of all your aches and pains!”

Edith just beamed. “I feel absolutely like a new woman! It’s so amazing to see all of you again. I can hardly wait to explore heaven and see the rest of my family and friends, and to make new friends.”

Helmer promised her, “We’ll start that adventure tomorrow morning. Tonight, we’ll just relax together, the six of us. You’ve been through the biggest change of your life. You need to take it easy for a few hours.”

My mom poured coffee for everyone as they started to eat the apple crisp. Edith commented, “Oh my, this tastes even better than when you made it for us in your condo on earth, Nancy.”

“Recipes are the only thing we can bring with us from earth to heaven, and this particular recipe is one of my favorites. It’s even better here because of the amazing apple trees in heaven. I picked the apples this morning. The ice cream is made from very contented cows, too. And no pesticides need to be used in heaven, and no preservatives either. Everything tastes better here.”

My dad changed the subject and asked Edith, “I understand our farm isn’t a farm any more – that the fields have been divided into lots and that houses have been built on most of them. I also heard that the house has been turned into a bed and breakfast or a spiritual retreat center. What’s really happening there?”

“Well, you’ve heard right. There aren’t fields on your farm any more. Your fields of corn and alfalfa have been replaced with houses. Across the road is still farmland, though. The farmhouse has more than doubled in size, thanks to Danny’s and Kevin’s carpentry skills. Marian and Mim have been using the house as a B&B-style retreat center. Hundreds of people have found their way to the farm to find a place to pray and spend quiet time with God. Something you’d like, Carl, is that they have hymn sings there a few times a year. I went to their Christmas Carol Sing last December. Oh my, we sang for at least two hours. It was so much fun! During a break from our singing to eat Marian’s homemade Christmas cookies, I played the piano. What fun that was!”

Helmer couldn’t wait any longer to ask. “How’s Matt doing with his NASCAR racing this year?”

“Well, you know I can’t stand to watch it on TV. I get too nervous that he might crash. Colleen watched him win his last race, and I guess he’s qualified for the big final race.”

Helmer grinned from ear to ear with that news. “Maybe I’ll look down on that race. Normally, we don’t watch what’s happening on earth because it’s too depressing. But you know how much I love to watch Matt race.”

Gary had been listening intently to the whole conversation. Now he had a really serious question. As a former Marine, he wondered how the country was doing. “What’s happening with the presidential election this year?”

“Oh, that’s terrible,” was Edith’s response. “People and corporations are spending millions of dollars on TV ads to distort the truth about each candidate. Just think about how much good could be done if that money were invested in helping people instead of trying to influence people to vote one way or another. At the end, I just tuned it all out. I’m oh so glad I’m here instead.” She turned her head to look out the window, to catch another glimpse of what heaven is like.

After a moment of silence, Edith asked, “By the way, are there any pianos in heaven? I want to play ‘Beyond the Sunset.’ I’ll sing it, too. I think my voice has come back! Let’s see.”

Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion,
With our dear loved ones who’ve gone before;
In that fair homeland we’ll know no parting,
Beyond the sunset, forevermore!

Aunt Edith playing her new piano in heaven.

Let’s Celebrate!

“Naked Ladies” (also known as “Resurrection Lilies”) brighten the dry summer landscape at Whispering Winds. A beautiful reason to celebrate!

To forget to celebrate is to forget to imitate the God who created us and then relaxed and said, “that’s Good.”[Joan Chittister, OSB, “The Monastic Way,” July 2012]

The theme of Joan Chittister’s little devotional pamphlet, “The Monastic Way,” for the month of July has been “celebrating life.” When I first pulled the pamphlet out of the envelope I thought that’s a strange theme to use for daily devotions for a whole month, even if it is the month of 4th of July fireworks and the beginning of the Summer Olympics. But I’ve been delighted by how Chittister’s daily comments have prompted my thoughts throughout the month, helping me find lots of special moments to celebrate.

I’ve already talked about the wonderful organ concert at Sinsinawa that was an incredible musical celebration on the 4th of July. My mouth still slips into a grin whenever I think about “Organ for Eight.”

On July 10, Chittister’s comment was, “The tragedy of life is to allow it to go by without appreciating something in every single day, without celebrating its fundamental goodness to us.” Later, on July 25, she wrote, “Learning to celebrate life in its smallest moments is an acquired skill. Without it we can only limp through life.”

Edith Kenseth, Gospel Pianist – another reason to celebrate! Picture taken 26 years ago at my parents’ 50th anniversary celebration.

As I read about celebrating life in its smallest moments I thought back to the day before. On Tuesday evening, July 24, Mim and I took my 98-year-old Aunt Edith to the chapel service at Willerup Park Bible Camp on Lake Ripley, about 2 miles from Whispering Winds. This was the week of “Institute” – a week of family camp for Methodist families, primarily of Scandinavian heritage and mostly from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Racine, who had a long history and partial ownership in the Bible Camp. Aunt Edith had often played the piano in her elaborately improvised Gospel style for these chapel services over the past 80 years or so. A couple years ago the chapel had been given a new name – the “Edith Kenseth Chapel.” Edith was excited to go to the service Tuesday evening, although she was a little apprehensive that they might expect her to play the piano, and she wasn’t getting around as well as she used to since she broke her leg a few months ago. (Fortunately, they didn’t ask. They used a guitar to accompany the singing instead. )

Lots of Edith’s friends (and children and grandchildren of her friends) came over to talk with Edith, both before and after the service. During the service the worship leader prayed for Edith and thanked God for Edith’s stunning example of using her musical talents throughout her whole lifetime for God’s glory.

Edith Kenseth Chapel at Willerup Park Bible Camp in Cambridge, Wisconsin

As I thought about that evening, I realized that it was another little celebration, another special moment.  The following Saturday, Chittister’s comment was, “To be born is to be asked to celebrate, to grow in awareness of the presence of God in the smallest of moments, to know the goodness of God.” By celebrating Edith’s lifetime example of helping us all worship God through her music, we all became a little more aware of the goodness of God.

As the introduction to the July “Monastic Way” said, “Always, always, they [celebrations] deepen the very meaning of life for us as we go along.”

 

Pier in Lake Ripley at Willerup Park Bible Camp – a place to celebrate the beauty of nature and the joys of family camp.