Tag Archive | memories

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.


The Time Machine in my Mind

Albert EinsteinI think it was Albert Einstein who postulated that time is the fourth dimension – after length, width, and height. That intrigued me when I first heard the idea. I think I was in junior high. About the same time, I watched a TV episode of the “The Twilight Zone” that played with that idea.

This particular episode was set in the American West in the 1800s, the time of cowboys and Indians. A cowboy was alone and stranded on the plains in barren territory – I can’t remember why. He was tired and thirsty, leading his horse over the hillside with hopes of finding some civilization, or at least a trickle of water. As he reached the crest of the hill, what he saw instead was a four-lane interstate highway with cars zooming by at 70 miles per hour. He had crossed the barrier into another time zone. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. He couldn’t understand what he was seeing. He was terrified. He stumbled back down the side of the hill he had just climbed. The eerie “Twilight Zone” music started playing and that was the end of the show.

That episode fascinated me. Could it ever really happen that we could slip from one time zone into another?

While still in high school I read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. This novel used the same idea of accidental time travel, but it was a humorous adventure rather than a science fiction mystery. People have continued to write comedies and mysteries, novels and movies, based on this fourth dimension of our universe.

Marian and Floey walking the neighborhood

Marian and Floey walking the neighborhood

A couple weeks ago I was walking Floey through our neighborhood and we met a brand new neighbor and her dog, also out for a walk. As we chatted for a few minutes I thought about telling her that this whole neighborhood used to be the farm where I grew up, but I decided against it. The hot summer days when I would sit on top of a tractor pulling the hay baler over the hill where her house now stands were gone. I can still see my dad on the wagon behind me, pulling the bales of hay off the baler and piling them high on the hay wagon, but that scene is invisible to her. Those days were in a different time zone, about 50 years ago.

Obviously, that's not me on the tractor - but that's the kind of tractor, baler, and hay wagon we had.

Obviously, that’s not me on the tractor – but that’s the kind of tractor, baler, and hay wagon we had.

Oriole and Chickadee street signsEver since that encounter, I’ve been thinking about the 1950s – 1960s time zone as I’ve walked Floey along Chickadee Drive, Oriole Lane, and Bluebird Pass. In my mind I can see the hay fields and the corn fields that used to be there. The tobacco field is now Canterbury Court with ten houses lining the street. The pasture where the cows used to graze is now Stone Meadows, the condominium community where I live.

I guess that’s one of the benefits of getting older. In my mind, I can travel through time, at least back through history for as many years as I’ve been alive. That’s one more thing to be grateful for. “Gratitude” is my word for the year for 2015. Earlier this year I mentioned my word several times in this blog, but I haven’t talked much about it lately. The time machine in my mind is something I’m really grateful for – 67 years of mostly wonderful memories. This library of memories in my head is a huge resource for time travel.

I think the closest thing the Bible comes to on the subject of time travel is in Ecclesiastes. (If anyone knows of anything else, please let me know as a comment on this blog.)

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to enjoy themselves as long as they can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.  [Ecclesiastes 3:11-13, New Living Translation]

“Enjoy the fruits of their labor…” – I guess some of the fruits of our labor could be our memories. If you happen to see Floey and me walking through our neighborhood, and I have a great big smile on my face, know that I may have traveled back in time, and that I am sitting on top of our old red “H” tractor, pulling the baler and hay wagon behind me.

old tractor

An Odd Memory from 1961

One morning last week, as I was trying to concentrate on my devotional readings for the day, an odd memory popped into my mind, totally out of the blue.

cream cartonMy mom was buying groceries at the IGA on Main Street in Cambridge. The check-out clerk was a high school student, an older sister of one of my friends. My mom said to the clerk, “Is there any way I can know for sure that this carton of whipping cream is good? The last carton I bought here was sour?” (This was before the days of “use by …” dates.) The clerk seemed concerned and puzzled. She shook the carton and looked at it carefully. Then she opened it up and held it up to her nose and sniffed it. “It smells good to me.” Then she handed it over to my mom to sniff. My mom was surprised and a little upset that she had actually opened up the carton. Now how would she get the carton home without it spilling? But she didn’t say anything, other than “Okay.”

That’s it. That’s the memory. I can’t even remember for sure if I was actually there at the IGA with my mom, or if she just told me about the incident when she got home. Either way, the memory was vivid. In 1961 I was a 13-year-old. The incident seems pretty insignificant. But one morning last week, the memory was keeping me from thinking about anything else. I had a very hard time concentrating on my devotional readings. Odd.

As I’ve mentioned before, this year I’m beginning my devotional time every morning by reading one of my favorite Sarah Young reflections, which starts out with Jesus saying to me, “Sit quietly in my presence while I bless you. Make your mind like a still pool of water, ready to receive whatever thoughts I drop into it.” [Jesus Calling ©2004 Sarah Young]

Was this memory a thought that Jesus actually dropped into my mind? Or was it just a weird distraction? I don’t recall ever thinking about this incident since it happened 53 years ago. The memory certainly came “out of the blue.”

I’m still thinking about what the significance of this story might be? Maybe it’s a reminder to pray for my friend’s sister – someone I haven’t seen or thought about in a long time – not since she came to Cambridge for her father’s funeral a few years ago. Maybe it’s an encouragement to consider the most obvious solutions to problems I’m facing today, even if not everyone approves of what I consider to be the obvious solutions. Or, maybe it’s the reverse, to consider the far-reaching implications of what might appear to be an obvious solution to a problem. Maybe it’s a prompt for me to write this post to remind you of odd memories that would be good for you to think about today.

Do you have any thoughts about this? About my odd memory? Or, about any odd memories that have popped into your mind – out of the blue?

"Out of the blue ... "

“Out of the blue … “