Tag Archive | target practice

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.


My Favorite Guns


RR Gun and Holster SetMy First Gun.
When I was a child, my hero was Roy Rogers. I watched him on TV whenever I could. He was the good guy in the white hat. He used his six-guns to bring the bad guys to justice. I wanted to be like him when I grew up. That’s why my Roy Rogers gun and holster set, like the one pictured here, was one of my favorite toys. My brother, Danny, and I usually played cowboys and Indians when my cousins rode their bikes over to the farm to play with us. These cap guns were the only props we needed to transform us into our cowboy heroes.

Shooting Real Guns. When Danny and I got a little older, Danny got a BB gun. A few years later he got a pellet gun – a more modern-looking black pistol. Then he got a 22 rifle. We used all these guns for target practice in the back yard. We lined up tin cans in a row to see how many we could hit. I was never much of a sharpshooter, but occasionally I’d knock a tin can over.  I could still fantasize about being a cowboy hero with my cap guns – I never missed my targets in my imagination.

deringerAlmost Buying a Derringer. When Mim and I lived in Chicago, we became good friends with Lenie, a very independent woman, about thirty years our senior, who owned an antique shop in our neighborhood. She was a wonderful story teller, and she became our source of a lot of Chicago history – the personal stories. Lenie obtained most of her merchandise for her antique shop from estate sales. She specialized in jewelry, cut glass, and small household items. One Saturday Lenie told us she had something she wanted to show us when the other customers left the store. We browsed until everyone else was gone. Then she took out her special prize – a lady’s derringer.  She hadn’t decided for sure yet if she wanted to sell it, or keep it in her purse. If we wanted it, she’d let us have it for $100. I was fascinated by the pretty little gun, but I knew it wasn’t a toy, and conventional wisdom was that it’s dangerous to have a gun in the house.  I didn’t buy it – and Lenie kept it in her purse.

My Dad’s Rifle. In 1991 after my dad died, Mim and I decided to have Danny remodel the farmhouse for us and we would move to Cambridge. The first step in the process was to clear everything out of the house. One of the items in the coat closet was my dad’s 22 rifle. He had kept the gun handy to shoot at wild animals, not to kill them but to scare them away, animals like raccoons, opossums, and foxes. I thought it might be kind of fun to shoot at tin cans again, but Mim really didn’t want to have a gun in the house, so I let one of my nephews have it.

Danny’s Guns. One spring morning shortly after Mim and I had moved to Cambridge, we were outside picking asparagus. I suddenly saw a huge snake coiled up like a hose right next to Mim. I told Mim to step directly toward me and to do it immediately. She did it but she was a little confused why I was ordering her to do that. We had a lot more asparagus to pick. Then she saw the huge snake, too. This wasn’t a little garter snake. It was the biggest snake I’d ever seen outside of a zoo. We left the asparagus patch and went to the barn, which had become my brother’s carpentry workshop. I asked Danny to get one of his guns and get rid of the snake for us. He was delighted to oblige. He had several guns in his collection to choose from. He used one of his pistols, one that looked a lot like the Roy Rogers cap gun I used to have, except his gun shot real bullets, not caps.

With Roy Rogers as my childhood hero, I can understand the attraction for owning a gun. Cap guns were the prop that transformed me into a hero in my imagination. I enjoyed target practice. I thought about buying Lenie’s pretty little derringer. And, I’m really glad Danny had a gun and could use it to get rid of that menacing snake in our asparagus patch. There’s a place for guns in the homes of American families that want them.

But, I simply cannot understand why our Congress seems incapable of passing a law to limit access to high capacity assault weapons. Perhaps, such guns serve as props that enable some people to be war heroes in their imaginations, just like cap guns enabled me to be a cowboy hero in my own mind. But there’s a pretty big difference. Cap guns can’t kill 26 people in five minutes.

Because I cannot understand why everyone doesn’t see the need for reasonable gun legislation, I tend to get angry and think the people who are resisting new legislation are just stupid.  But then, I came across these words in the Bible:

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with – even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently. (Romans 14:1 The Message)

I guess I don’t need to agree with them, and they don’t need to agree with me. I can still stand up for what I believe to be best, but I need to treat with respect people who disagree with me, and I need to be kind to them. That’s another thing I need to pray about.