Tag Archive | Memorial Day

A Tree, a 100-Year-Old Friend, and Lots of Memories

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Remodeled Farmhouse

Twenty-six years ago Mim and I left Chicago to move back to the family farmhouse in Wisconsin – the farm where I had grown up, also where my mom had grown up and lived almost her whole life. My brother re-modeled the farmhouse for us to make it our perfect home – doubling the square footage: adding a few rooms, tripling the number of bathrooms and adding a front porch. We also increased the size of the lawn to incorporate a couple fields, giving us about three acres of lawn to mow and a gigantic vegetable garden the size of the whole lot of our Chicago two-flat (30’x120’), where we had lived the previous 20 years.

Shortly after we moved into our newly remodeled home, I invited my mom’s brother, Uncle Helmer, and his wife, Aunt Edith, over to see what we had done to the house where he had grown up. We walked them from room to room. When we got to one of the upstairs bedrooms (the one that had been my room when I was a kid), he looked through the north window and pointed to a large oak tree beyond the pasture and just across the road (Highway PQ). Uncle Helmer said, “See that tree way over there. That was our target. Fletcher [his younger brother] and I used to open this window and shoot our rifles at that tree. I wonder if you can still see any of our bullets in the tree trunk…”

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What’s left of the old oak tree.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation a lot over the past few days. Last week I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare to work on writing my second “Talking to God through Music” book. At the end of the week, as I was driving home past that old oak tree, I was startled to see that the tree was no longer standing, but instead there was a huge stump, about a foot and a half tall and five feet wide. Big chunks of the tree were lying beside the stump. The next day I noticed some men sawing the chunks into more manageable size pieces that they trucked away. Now the only thing left is the stump.

A few years ago Highway PQ was given an additional name, Water Street, as the village of Cambridge expanded westward. This summer the street will be closed to traffic as water and sewer pipes and underground utilities are replaced. Then a new road will be constructed on top of the upgraded infrastructure. I assume the old oak tree is a necessary sacrifice for progress in Cambridge. I can accept that, but I will miss the old oak tree. Fortunately, I still have the memory of that tree, and of my conversation with Uncle Helmer about target practice with that old oak tree.

fullsizeoutput_241cSpeaking of memories, our next-door neighbor in Chicago turned 100 this year. Ruth is still living in her two-flat. In 1924, Ruth’s parents and her aunt and uncle bought the two-flat, brand new. Her parents, 6-year-old Ruth, and her baby sister Elaine moved into the first floor apartment, and her aunt and uncle moved into the upstairs apartment. This two-flat has been home to Ruth and Elaine ever since. (Elaine passed away a few years ago.) The picture on the right is 6-year-old Ruth modeling her new ballerina dress (sewed by her mother) in their back yard.

Fifty-five years later, in 1979, Mim and I, along with our friend Marilyn who was renting an apartment in a Chicago suburb at the time, bought the two-flat next door to Ruth and Elaine. Marilyn had the first floor, and Mim and I had the second. We were neighbors of Ruth and Elaine for 13 years, until Mim and I moved back to Wisconsin in 1992. We’ve continued our friendship over the years, and we stop to visit Ruth whenever we can on our trips back to Chicago. We’ve been fortunate to call Ruth our friend for nearly 40 of her 100 years.

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Marian, Mim, and Marilyn in our backyard in Chicago, about 1980.

One of Ruth’s relatives suggested a plan to celebrate Ruth’s 100th birthday this spring. Instead of holding a huge party, she suggested a hundred days of celebration. She set up an online calendar for Ruth’s friends to schedule a private party for just Ruth and themselves, any time beginning with Ruth’s actual birthday (March 22) and continuing for the next 100 days.

Yesterday (May 22) was our day. Marilyn, Mim and I brought lunch and celebrated with Ruth in her home. We reminisced, talked about the neighborhood, laughed, looked at pictures, took new pictures, and had a wonderful lunch together.

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Marilyn, Ruth, and Mim. (My arm isn’t long enough to take a good selfie, so I didn’t get in the picture.)

Among the best things in life are opportunities for making memories, and friends to share them with. As we approach Memorial Day weekend, we will be reminded many times to express appreciation for the protection our military has provided us throughout our country’s history. That’s important. But what’s just as important, is to thank God for all the happy memories we have – from conversations with uncles about trees, to lunch with 100-year-old friends. 

I’ve decided to start thinking of “Memorial Day” as “Memories Day.” For people who are suffering with traumatic memories, may it be a day of healing. For people with memories of service to country, may it be a day of patriotic pride and thankfulness for the blessings our country provides. And may we all remember the happy moments we have experienced throughout our lifetimes. Thanks be to God!

Happy “Memories Day” Weekend!

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Ruth’s 2-Flat is on the left. Ours is on the right. When it was ours we had a tiny lawn in front with some hostas next to the brick, no trees.


Thanks, Maria. That Gives me an idea.

A couple years ago, around the first of November, Chaplain Julia of the Jail Ministry invited the women inmates worshiping together in the jail chapel to tell each other about some of their family traditions related to Halloween and All Saints Day. She especially encouraged Maria to explain to us what her friends and family did in Mexico to celebrate the holiday, Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).

An altar set up in a Mexican home for celebrating Dia de los Muertos

An altar set up in a Mexican home for celebrating Dia de los Muertos

Although Halloween (All Hallows Eve) and All Saints Day are Christian celebrations, different cultures around the world have adapted these days in different ways to incorporate the history and legends of their own societies. In Mexico, ancient Aztec beliefs are incorporated into Dia de los Muertos – the day to honor family members and friends who have departed. An ancient belief is that the gates of heaven are opened on October 31, and all deceased children (angelitos) are allowed to come to earth to spend 24 hours with their families. On November 2, spirits of adults can come down to earth from heaven to join their families for a day of celebration.

In preparation for these heavenly visits, many families set up a special altar in their home and decorate it with pictures of their departed loved ones, along with candles, flowers, fruits, and favorite foods of the departed to entice the spirits to come back home for the day. Some families take the food and decorations to the cemetery, to the graves of their loved ones. Then the extended family has a big picnic in the cemetery with all these special foods. The family spends much of the day reminiscing about their departed loved ones. In spirit, the departed souls join their earthly families for this day of remembrance and celebration.

Cemetery being decorated for Dia de los Muertos

Cemetery being decorated for Dia de los Muertos

With a little coaxing from the jail chaplain, Maria told us how her family in Mexico used to celebrate this special holiday. She talked mostly about preparing all the favorite foods of their departed loved ones, and getting together with their relatives at the cemetery for a big picnic and time of reminiscing. It was a very happy family celebration.

I’ve thought about Maria’s story often over the last couple years, especially around Halloween and All Saints Day. I wish we observed a tradition like that in our own culture. I think the closest thing we have to Dia de los Muertos in the U.S. is Memorial Day. Although I put flowers on my parents’ grave for Memorial Day, most of the emphasis of the day is on remembering veterans of U.S. wars. I think of the day as a patriotic holiday more than a family remembrance day.

Oakland Cambridge Presbyterian Church

Oakland Cambridge Presbyterian Church

For All Saints Day this year, I played the organ at the Oakland Cambridge Presbyterian Church. Besides playing the usual “For All the Saints,” I incorporated some old hymns that might prompt us to remember some of the saints who have touched our lives directly, such as our parents and grandparents. When the pastor read the names of the church members who had died in the past year, I played softly on the piano, hymns like “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” and “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”

When I got home from church, I thought more about how Maria’s family used to spend the time from October 31 through November 2 in Mexico, a time for remembering the saints of the church, especially the saints who have directly affected them, like parents, grandparents, siblings, and close friends. I decided to celebrate Dia de los Muertos in my mind this year. Maybe we can carry it out in reality next year. I hope so.

I thought about my mom, my dad, and my sister – the three members of my family of origin who are no longer with us on earth.

Family portrait, about 1960

Family portrait, about 1960

My mom’s favorite meal (actually, it was the whole family’s favorite meal) was pan-fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet corn (the kind Mom had frozen herself), a fruit salad held together with a sweet fluffy dressing, home-made clover leaf rolls – re-warmed in the oven so butter would melt on them, coffee, and schaum torte with ice cream and strawberries for dessert. That’s the dinner Mom usually made when we had company for Sunday dinner.

Just thinking about all that food makes me hungry for it, and prompts me to remember the wonderful times we had squeezing a dozen or more people around the dining room table to share the meal. I remember mumbling along with everyone as we recited the Norwegian table prayer together – in Norwegian. I never did learn it beyond the first phrase, Jesu Navn gar vi til bords…  

I’d love to establish a new tradition for my family for All Saints Day based on the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos. I’m not ready to abandon the tradition of welcoming trick-or-treaters to our house on Halloween, but I’d like to add time on All Saints Day to remember the saints who have personally touched my life, family and friends who are now departed. I’d like to set up a little altar, maybe on the buffet, with some flowers, pictures of the special saints in my life and in Mim’s life. And then, we will have a special dinner with the favorite foods of our saints as we reminisce about them. I can already taste that pan-fried chicken dinner. (Maybe on alternate years, we’ll have to have lutefisk – Mim’s mom’s favorite!)

Thanks, Maria, for giving me the idea…

A family dinner about 30 years ago

A family dinner about 30 years ago

Red and White Images and a Little Black Book

Mom's Memorandum Book from her teenage years

Mom’s Little Black Book from her teenage years

Yesterday morning, I decided to take out my mom’s little black book – the one where she wrote the Bible verses she memorized, week by week, when she was in high school. I looked up the verse for May 28, 1922. I wondered if she might have chosen a verse to memorize that would relate in some way to “Decoration Day” – what Memorial Day was called back in those days. Nope. Her verse was Isaiah 1:18:

Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow.

Scarlet and white. I don’t think she was thinking of “Old Glory” as she was memorizing this verse. However, I noticed that she memorized only part of the verse. I looked up the passage in the King James Bible to see the whole verse.

Come now, and let us reason together,
saith the Lord:
Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow,
though they be red like crimson,
they shall be as wool.

Moms Memorandum Book - May 28 1922 croppedBack in 1922, I’m pretty sure my mom was thinking about needing to be a good girl. Her scarlet sins had been forgiven by God, and her heart was now as pure and white as snow. Red and white. That was a colorful image to keep her mind focused on God’s love for her.

In the “Introduction to Isaiah” in The Message, Eugene H. Peterson writes,

For Isaiah, words are watercolors and melodies and chisels to make truth and beauty and goodness. Or, as the case may be, hammers and swords and scalpels to unmake sin and guilt and rebellion. Isaiah does not merely convey information. He creates visions, delivers revelation, arouses belief. He is a poet in the most fundamental sense – a maker, making God present and that presence urgent. Isaiah is the supreme poet-prophet to come out of the Hebrew people.

Scarlet sins and white snow. Crimson sins and wool. Isaiah painted colorful word pictures to help us understand God’s transforming love for us.

A more contemporary poet, William Carlos Williams, painted another word picture using the same colors, red and white.

red-wheelbarrow white chickensSo much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white chickens

I first read that poem when I was in college. I liked the simplicity of the poem, and the humble image of a red wheelbarrow and white chickens. It’s a picture I’d seen in the real world – on the farm – many times. This was just the first time I’d seen it described so beautifully. So accurately and economically – just 16 words.

What images come to your mind when you hear the words RED and WHITE?

US FlagSince yesterday was Memorial Day, you may think of the stripes of the “red, white, and blue.” If you had a picnic and dressed up the table with a red and white checkered table cloth, that image may come to mind. If you’re a wine drinker, you may think about the red or white wine you enjoyed with your hamburger or barbequed chicken.

College sports fans may think of the Badgers. Gardeners may remember all the different varieties of rose bushes they have planted in their rose beds to display many shades in the red to white spectrum, from the deepest scarlet to the purest white. For those who like peppermint candy, the image of that iconic hard candy may be in your mind – and on your taste buds. Shoppers and hunters may be thinking of red and white targets.

white roseRed and white images. There are so many of them. Gilbert K. Chesterton once said,

White… is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black… God paints in many colours; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white.

I think my mom would have agreed with Chesterton.

Though your sins be as scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow.

For some reason, she chose to memorize that verse. I guess that will be one more image I’ll think of whenever I think RED and WHITE.

snowflake 2

 

 

Remembering

church cemetery

On Memorial Day, patriotic concert planners and parade organizers try to get us to remember the wars our country has fought and the veterans who have made personal sacrifices for the benefit of all of us. That’s a good thing. We need to remember our history and we need to be thankful for the people in our past. The Bible tells us to remember our past. “Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7 NRSV)

Garys GraveI went to the cemetery on Saturday to put some silk flowers next to my parents’ grave stone. It was good to walk along the rows of graves and see all the flowers and other objects placed on the graves. I love the ceramic dog sitting on my cousin Gary’s grave. There were pretty flowers on my sister’s grave and on her son Steve’s grave. When I got to my parents’ grave stone I was surprised to see the silk flowers from last year still looking pretty good – slightly faded, but still nice and colorful. Since I had some fresh new flowers, I pulled out the old ones and planted the bright new ones. But I wanted to do something with the old ones. They were too nice to throw away. So I walked up to the older section of the cemetery. There weren’t as many flowers there.  I found my grandparents’ graves and planted the year-old silk flowers beside my grandma’s grave stone. I don’t know if my grandma was offended that her flowers weren’t as fresh as her daughter’s flowers, or if she was pleased that I remembered her. I hope the latter.

Memory WallTaking time to remember the people in our lives, both past and present, is important. It helps us understand how full and rich our lives are. We have a memory wall in our home – a wall where we display pictures of everyone who has come to us for assisted living. Currently, the wall has some twenty pictures. It includes my mom and dad and Mim’s mom – the first people we cared for throughout their last days. It also includes everyone who has lived with us since then, including our four-legged family members. Today I plan to get another frame so that I can add our newest resident, Roger, to the memory wall. I walk past this wall several times every day and I’m reminded of how each of these “extended family members” has enriched my life.

On Memorial Day it’s good to collectively remember our national history and be thankful for the men and women who have fought for our country. But it’s just as important to remember our rich personal heritage every day and thank God for all the people who have been blessings to us.

Mom-Dad grave

Remembering My Mom – and Yesterday’s Sermon – on Memorial Day

My earliest memory of Memorial Day is going to the cemetery with my mom to put flowers on the graves of my grandparents. I remember asking her, “Why are we putting flowers on their graves? They weren’t soldiers.” And she responded, “Memorial Day is for remembering everyone we love who has died.”

Letter my mom sent to me 35 years ago

With that conversation in my mind this week, I went to a box full of old letters – correspondence that my mom had kept dating back to the 1920’s. I had wanted to share some letters between my mom and her brother in this week’s blog, but I guess the letters I’m thinking of are in another box. Instead, I came across a letter my mom had sent me, postmarked October 6, 1977, only 35 years ago. Mim and I lived in Chicago at the time. As I re-read this letter yesterday, I gained new insights into my mom’s attitude toward life, particularly in the context of the sermon I had just heard in church earlier in the day.

In the sermon, our pastor quoted Helen Keller. “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

My mom wrote this letter when she was 69 and my dad was 73. The letter is a snapshot of their normal routine in their retirement.

Tuesday p.m., October 4, 1977

Dear Marian,

It’s so long since I’ve written to you I had to look up your address – isn’t that awful? … Last week we had special meetings at church every night – and he preached about 1-1/2 hours each night, so we got home around 10. The week before was prayer meetings in homes every night. And we did get awfully tired.

I thought this week we could relax a little. Ha! Sunday we went to Richland Center [to visit a retired pastor in a nursing home] – got there in time to go to church. Got home about dark. Monday morning Nancy [my sister] and I went to the woods to pick hickory nuts. In the afternoon I made the deposit [my mom was church treasurer] and then dug carrots and juiced 4 pints of juice, and pulled weeds. This morning I went to a Women’s Aglow breakfast in Fort. This afternoon Stella Jarlsberg and I went to Verona to see Stella Lillesand [in a nursing home]. Tonight I’m going to get Sally and take her to the Women’s Society (I have to help her dress) to hear about Dagmar’s travels [a retired missionary]. Tomorrow I take Donna and her baby to Milwaukee to visit her sister who is expecting a baby any time. Thursday morning I take Sally to get her hair fixed. Thursday afternoon we are probably going to Stoughton to help look for a car for Danny [my brother]. Friday I may take Sally to Madison to the Eye Clinic so she can order another pair of glasses. Friday afternoon Nancy’s 4 kids come for the weekend. (My blood pressure is rising just writing this – maybe I’d better quit!) I do have to go now, but at least I got a start. Will finish it later…

Wednesday a.m.

Didn’t get home until 10:15 and then I didn’t feel like writing. Now I have half an hour before we go to Milwaukee… Daddy just came in now. I told him not to talk so I can finish this. But I guess I ask the impossible.

Wednesday p.m.

Well, we went to Milwaukee today – left at 10 and got home about 5. Then I went out and harvested some garden as it is supposed to freeze hard tonight. I picked some little tomatoes (red) for you. Are you coming to get them?

Sally called me tonight that she has an appointment to see a skin specialist on the Square in Madison (she had skin cancer once) on Friday at 11 a.m. So we’ll go there and the Eye Clinic. Evy Fossum is going along to help her as I know there’ll be parking problems. Then I have to take Evy to Fort when we get home to see her mother who is in the hospital…

Thursday a.m.

It’s morning but I don’t have time to write more as I want to mail this. Daddy wants to go to Stoughton this morning before I pick up Sally. I got dinner in the oven – scalloped potatoes and meatloaf…

You should see the flies upstairs – hundreds! So I’ve got to clean up there today.

Next week I have Reading Circle here – we’re reading The Bible and the Bermuda Triangle.

See you soon, I hope.

Lots of Love,

Mother

My mom didn’t have a spectacular ministry, but she did what she knew she could do to help meet the needs of the people in her life. What a model for us to remember on Memorial Day.

As Mim and I walked Abbey this morning, we walked by the gazebo at Whispering Winds to check on the robins that hatched last week. The robin parents were out gathering breakfast for their babies, and the babies were eagerly awaiting their return. The adult robins aren’t going to change the world, but they can keep their babies fed. We all have our own ministries.

Hungry baby robins in their nest near the gazebo at Whispering Winds