Tag Archive | family reunion

Playtime… Big Time!

Floey lying beside desk - adj 2

Floey beside my desk, helping me with my blog post.

I was sitting at my desk and Floey was lying on the floor in her usual spot, between me and the patio door. “Well, Floey. It’s been a whole week now. What should we tell our blog readers about your play date with your litter mates last Tuesday evening?”

Frannie with her moms Bonnie and Heidi

Frannie with her moms Bonnie and Heidi

“Wow! Mom, I had the time of my life! You know that. We were the first ones at the dog park, and oh what fun it was to run around inside the fenced area all by myself! I wished you had remembered to bring a tennis ball for me to chase, but at least we found some rings, and they worked fine, even if they didn’t bounce.”

“But we didn’t have to wait alone more than about five minutes before your sister Frannie came with her two moms – Bonnie and Heidi,” I responded.

“Oh, yeah. I couldn’t believe it when I saw Frannie again. She looks a lot like me, except she’s somewhat smaller, isn’t she, Mom, and she has short hair. As soon as we sniffed each other we started to race, just like we did on the Indian Reservation when we were little pups. She’s the only dog I know who’s almost as fast as me.”

I laughed at that. “I took a picture that shows Frannie running ahead of you, Floey. Don’t you think that may mean she is actually faster than you?”

“Not really, Mom. We just took turns being in the lead. Oh, it was so much fun to run so fast!”

“The two of you chased each other constantly for about ten minutes until your brother Otis arrived with his parents – Nicole and Jordan.”

Frannie and Floey racing

Frannie and Floey racing

“Otis has really grown! He’s big. I think he’s almost as big as my cousin Lucy. But he can really run, too. Once Frannie and I went through the sniffing routine with Otis, the three of us chased each other for about an hour. The only times we stopped were when another dog and their human came to the gate to join us. We politely greeted them and invited them to play with us, but they stayed pretty close to their people instead. I think they were amazed at our speed. We really are a fast family!”

Girls against boy - cropped

The girls (Frannie & Floey) against the boy (Otis)

“You’re also a very loving family. I watched you, your brother, and your sister tackle each other sometimes, too, and play fight with each other. All three of you are just as gentle as you are fast.”

“Oh, it was so much fun to be together again. Can we do it again, Mom?”

3 w toy

Otis, Frannie, and Floey lining up for the Pass-The-Ring game

“I think we’ll be able to work it out for all of us to get together every few months. While you dogs were playing, we people talked, and agreed that everyone was having so much fun we’ll have to continue to do this. We also talked about how similar you three are in so many of your mannerisms.”

“Like what, Mom?”

“You all cross your front legs when you sit. You all have the same eyes – you gaze at us with that soft, intent look. And you all hate loud noises like lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners, but you don’t mind thunder. And, you also only eat when you’re hungry. You never over eat.”

“But most of all, Mom, we all run like the wind. We are fast! And running fast is so invigorating!”

“I think you finally had a chance to run enough to get tired out. By the end of the evening, all three of you were lying around, just being content to be together.”

Three very happy dogs resting

Three very happy dogs resting

“Yeah. And then Mim proved again that she’s the primary cook of the family. She knew we needed a little nourishment after all our running. She had remembered to bring along some treats for all of us. Frannie and Otis were pretty impressed at what nice moms I have.”

Treat Time

Treat Time

“Frannie and Otis have nice parents, too, Floey. I think all three of you were very fortunate in having the right people adopt you.”

“Yeah, we were. But I wonder about my other three siblings who didn’t show up at our reunion last week.”

“Well, we know that two of them, Rosie and Charlie, tried to come but their humans had last minute things come up that kept them from joining us on Tuesday. Their moms emailed all of us to apologize and say they hope we all try to get together again. By the way, Rosie’s mom just emailed me to tell me that her brother’s family lives just a block away from us in Cambridge, and that the next time she goes to visit her brother’s family, she’ll bring Rosie along and walk over to our place so you two can play together.”

“Really, Mom! Wow! I can hardly wait to see Rosie again! When do you think they’ll come?”

“I don’t know, Floey. But I hope it’s before the snow flies. Regardless of when it is, at least you know you will see her again. Unfortunately, I think we’ve lost contact with your last sibling. They have never responded to any of our emails. We don’t know if they received them, or not.”

“You know, Mom, I’ve thought a lot about all my litter mates over the past week – since we got together last Tuesday. As I was thinking about them, I felt bad that three of them didn’t come to our reunion. But then on Sunday, I read over your shoulder when you were doing your early morning devotional reading. I’m glad you’ve picked up the JESUS CALLING book again. I like that book. In Sunday’s reading, Jesus said:

Try to see things more and more from My perspective. Let the Light of My Presence so fully fill your mind that you view the world through Me. When little things don’t go as you had hoped, look to Me lightheartedly and say, “Oh, well.” This simple discipline can protect you from being burdened with an accumulation of petty cares and frustrations.   [JESUS CALLING by Sarah Young, Thomas Nelson, 2004, p. 275]

“Even though I had a wonderful time playing with Frannie and Otis, I was feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t see the rest of my litter mates. I had expected to see and play with all five of them. But maybe it was best this way. The three of us sure had a good time. Maybe the others will come next time. I’m certainly not going to worry about it. I’m just thankful that Frannie, Otis, and I got together, and that we’ll do it again. JESUS CALLING helped me put everything in perspective. I’m really thankful I have litter mates and that they live close enough that at least some of us can get together to keep in touch. God is so good to us.”

The next day should have been Sunday. It was a day of rest for all.

The next day was a day of rest for all.

Friends and Relatives, Cats and Dogs

How many friends and relatives, cats and dogs does it take to make one’s life wonderful?

Hundreds. Maybe thousands. What it takes to make a life wonderful is to learn to appreciate – to be thankful for – the  enrichment each person and pet contributes to one’s life.

Mim and Marian with Megabyte - our first puppy - in our living room in Chicago.

Mim and Marian with Megabyte – our first puppy – in our living room in Chicago – 1990.

During the last couple weeks, Mim and I have had opportunities to see lots of friends and relatives from much earlier times in our lives. That got me started thinking about all the people in our lives – in our whole lifetimes – and how much all these people, and pets, have enriched our lives.

Mim and Roger Hovey

Mim and cousin Roger in 2006.

Last Friday, we attended the funeral of Mim’s last first cousin, Roger Hovey, age 93. We drove over 500 miles to Clear Lake, South Dakota for the funeral. After the service we ate a funeral lunch in the church fellowship hall with about a hundred of Roger’s friends and relatives, and we enjoyed a couple hours of visiting, mostly with second cousins of Mim. Then we drove 500 miles home. That’s how we spent Thursday, Friday, and half of Saturday last week. The trip was exhausting, but the time spent remembering Roger’s life and talking with Mim’s relatives was incredibly refreshing.

Roger and his wife June had lived and farmed in South Dakota their whole lives. For the last 30 years or so they spent their winters in Florida. When Mim and I moved to Wisconsin from Chicago 23 years ago, Roger and June started to drive through Cambridge almost every spring and fall on their way to and from Florida for a short visit. They never called to schedule the visit. They just rang the doorbell, usually mid-morning, and came in for a cup of coffee and an hour or two of conversation. Fortunately, either Mim or I always happened to be at home when they came. The last few years their daughter Pam drove with them. We always enjoyed their short, lively visits. Each visit was a time to step out of our daily routine and enjoy both reminiscing and catching up on the current lives of these loving people from our past – in this case, Mim’s past. However, over the 20 years of their twice yearly visits, they became good friends of mine, too.

June-Roger-Pam-Gene 2006

June and Roger with their daughter Pam and her husband Gene – 2006.

The week before the funeral, Mim and I went to Chicago for a church music conference. (All this travel is very unlike us with our 24/7/365 assisted living business, but everything just happened to work out smoothly for these two trips.) The conference was great, both practical and inspiring. But even better was the reconnection with more old friends and relatives. One day we had lunch with Mim’s niece and her daughter. We hadn’t seen them in at least 25 years. That evening we had half-pound cheeseburgers and a pitcher of Sangria in the beer garden of Moody’s Pub, our old hang-out in Chicago, with Marilyn, a friend from my college days who co-owned and lived in our two-flat in Chicago with us for 13 years.

Marilyn, Mim, and Marian in the Beer Garden of Moody's Pub - 2015.

Marilyn, Mim, and Marian in the Beer Garden of Moody’s Pub – 2015.

On our way back to our motel from Moody’s we drove through our old neighborhood and stopped to see Ruth, the woman who lived next door to us in Chicago. At 98, she’s still living in her two-flat, now all by herself. Until just a couple years ago, her sister Elaine had lived with her. Although Elaine was six years younger than Ruth, Elaine passed away first. We talked about some of the changes the neighborhood has seen in Ruth’s lifetime. Her parents had built the two-flat she is still living in, 90 years later. Their family was one of the Russian Jewish families who settled in that block of Chicago when it was first being developed in the 1920s.

Ruth (left) and her sister Elaine and their first dog Jenny, visiting us in our farmhouse just after we moved from Chicago to the farm in 1992.

Ruth (left) and her sister Elaine and their first dog Jenny, visiting us in our farmhouse just after we moved from Chicago to the farm in 1992.

Zoe - dropped

Zoe – still a puppy at heart until the day she died at age 15.

One of the more current things we talked about was Ruth’s dog Zoe. Her 15-year-old dog had died less than a week ago. One of Ruth’s friends wrote “Elegy for Zoe” on her blog, MidwesternRobot.com. It’s a beautiful story about Zoe and about close-knit friendships in the neighborhood. (I encourage you to follow the link to Zoe’s story, but be prepared to shed a tear or two.)

That’s partly why I’m reflecting on how friends, relatives, and pets enrich our lives throughout our whole lifetime. That’s what makes life so wonderful. I guess that’s why the Bible tells us to love each other.

For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” [Galatians 5:14]

Fortunately, throughout my lifetime, I have had many, many neighbors – friends and relatives and cats and dogs – who have loved me and enriched my life greatly. It’s good to take time to remember these wonderful people and other loving creatures from our past.

Mim and Pam in cemetery - 2015.

Mim and Pam in cemetery – 2015.

“Family”

Mim and Marian eating lutefisk dinner at St. Olaf College about 40 years ago.

Mim and Marian eating lutefisk dinner
at St. Olaf College about 40 years ago.

About 40 years ago, I went “home” with Mim for the first time. We drove from Chicago to Kenyon, Minnesota, at least a seven-hour drive, the first weekend in December. In Kenyon, we picked up Mim’s mom, Selma, and drove another 15 miles to go to the St. Olaf College Christmas concert. Mim’s mom, who worked in food service at St. Olaf, was able to get us tickets for the concert, a major achievement for a very popular annual concert.  That was the first of many St. Olaf Christmas concerts I went to with Mim and her mom.

That was also the first time I went with Mim to her home church, Gol Lutheran Church in rural Kenyon. It had been Mim’s family church on her mom’s side for four generations, ever since they immigrated from Norway. Also, Mim’s dad had been the pastor at Gol for 20years.

Mim - Selma outside church 125th adjMy first reaction to Mim’s church was – what a beautiful old country church. I was a little frustrated with trying to follow the liturgy, which was much more structured than I was used to, having grown up a Methodist. Mim’s mom was proud to have her daughter and her roommate home for the weekend, so we stood around and talked to a lot of people after the service. That was not my favorite part of the weekend! Making small talk with strangers has never been one of my strengths.

Over the next 20 years, Mim and I went to Kenyon to visit Selma one or two weekends a year, and we always went to church with her. Gradually, I got to know a few of the people in the church and I started to feel a little more at home there.

Mim - Selma by organ 125th cropped

Mim and Selma at Gol’s 125th Anniversary

In 1989, Gol celebrated its 125th anniversary in style. Mim and I joined Selma for the whole weekend, and we all enjoyed lots of music, lots of eating, lots of picture taking, and an original play that taught us lots about Gol church history.

Twenty-five years later, last weekend, Gol celebrated its 150th anniversary. Mim really wanted to participate in the celebration. I was considerably less enthusiastic about spending a whole weekend in Kenyon, Minnesota with a couple hundred people I didn’t know.  At best, I might know two or three people. But, I figured this is one of those things you have to do for family. So we spent the weekend in Minnesota.

Much to my surprise, I had a great time all weekend. “Family” really is the key word. As Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, has said, “I go to church as an expression of my need for God and for God’s family.” We spent the weekend with one particular branch of God’s family. We were with about 250 of God’s family members – almost all of Norwegian descent. I think everyone had great appreciation for Norwegian-American church history, food, and music. Of the 250 people, I recognized about a dozen of them from my previous visits to Gol. Mim introduced me to about another dozen of her old friends. All 24 of them were people I enjoyed visiting with. I’ll have to admit, it was kind of fun to get together with this big extended church family.

The Rev. John Hagen, a former pastor of Gol, preached briefly from the steps of the farmhouse where the congregation met before the church was built.

The Rev. John Hagen, a former pastor of Gol, preached briefly from the steps of the farmhouse where the congregation had met before the church was built.

Finally I’m beginning to understand that my extended church family is growing bigger and bigger. It started with the church of my childhood  – Willerup United Methodist Church in Cambridge. Even though Willerup is no longer the church where I regularly go to worship God, I still feel connected to some of God’s family members who worship there. I also feel connected to the building itself where I spent literally thousands of hours (on average 4 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, 18 years plus 4 summers during my college years) learning about God. I also feel a connection to the cemetery next door where my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and other relatives are buried.

My growing extended church family also includes members of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, as well as other churches I have been a part of over the years. And since Gol is a big part of Mim’s church family, it has also become part of my church family.

The more I think about my extended church family, the more I realize how big it really is. Beyond all the church family members I know personally, God’s family is described in the Bible this way:

Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian. What a foundation you stand on now: the apostles and the prophets; and the cornerstone of the building is Jesus Christ himself! We who believe are carefully joined together with Christ as parts of a beautiful, constantly growing temple for God. And you also are joined with him and with each other by the Spirit, and are part of this dwelling place of God. [Ephesians 2:19-22 The Living Bible]

Spending last weekend with all the people celebrating the 150-year history of one small branch of God’s family in Minnesota reminded me of the Bill Gaither song, “The Family of God.” Here’s the chorus:

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod;
For I’m part of the family, the family of God.

Gol Group Picture 125th

“Part of the family, the family of God”

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.

All I Want for Christmas

Sears Christmas CatalogIn the 1950s, the day the SEARS CHRISTMAS CATALOG arrived in the mail was just about the best day of the year. I’d sit down in the living room, flip to the toy section, and spend the next hour or two looking at all the toys, page after page after page. When I got to the last page of toys, I’d go back to look again at the toys that I really wanted. They were usually on the cowboy page. I’d much rather dream about getting a ranch set than a doll house. (That’s probably why I still take such delight in setting up my “Bethlehem ranch” set for Christmas. My crèche has over 100 pieces, and is still growing!)

One year my mom tried to change my interests and she got me a big beautiful doll for Christmas. I cried when I opened the package. My mom gave up trying to change me, and got me a ranch set with a ranch house, corral, horses, and several cowboy figurines the next year. I couldn’t be happier. I finally outgrew the cowboy stage and drooled over chemistry sets in the Sears Catalog. One year my parents really splurged and got me the biggest chemistry set in the catalog. The next year, when my parents remodeled the kitchen, I was given the old hoosier to keep in my room as my laboratory. That way I didn’t have to take over the whole dining room table whenever I wanted to do chemistry experiments.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

Hoosier that became my chemistry lab in my bedroom.

The other side of Christmas presents – the giving side – soon became even more exciting than the receiving side. Most Decembers I’d spend two or three hours working in the barn every day, stripping tobacco. (That’s another long story for another time.) I earned two-cents a lath – equal to about five minutes work. On Saturdays, I’d sometimes work all day. By the time I had earned between $5 and $10, I was ready to go Christmas shopping. Typical presents were a model car or airplane for my brother, a pen and stationery for my sister, a box of candy for my mom, and a tie for my dad. I felt rich with all the money in my billfold to be able to buy all those presents.

Over the last few years, Mim and I have changed some of our ideas about Christmas shopping. Whenever we’re in a store, any time of the year, and I see something that I’d really like to have, but I can’t quite justify that I  need it and that I should spend the money on it, Mim will say, that can be your Christmas present, and vice versa. That’s how we justified spending $16 on a monthly planner notebook for 2013 for Mim, and how we justified spending $300 on a Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone for me last week. (I think I’ve mastered this new way of looking at presents better than Mim has!)

But the five things I really want most for Christmas this year are:

  1. Krumkake – and other homemade Christmas cookies, especially the Norwegian kinds.
  2. Good roads so that I can get to the Christmas services I’m scheduled to play for this year – all eight of them.
  3. Time to spend with my family and best friends.
  4. Quiet time to think about how much God loves me – and vice versa – probably relaxing time sitting at the piano, not necessarily completely quiet.
  5. The opportunity for everyone to experience a moment of God’s peace.
Part of the Fontanini creche I've been collecting since 1984.

Part of the Fontanini creche I’ve been collecting since 1984.

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.