Mystery man, I hardly knew you

The only picture I have of this uncle

The only picture I have of this uncle

His real name was Arnold, but he answered to other names.  Some people called him Jim, some named him Skis, but I never knew why.   He was different, a little odd – definitely marched to the beat of a different drummer than most folks.

As far as I know, he never drove a car.  For certain, he didn’t own one.  Instead he walked everywhere he went or hitched a ride with someone.  He never married.  He stayed with relatives and for only a short time had a place of his own.

I don’t know what jobs he ever held, if any.  I suspect he just took odd jobs here and there whenever someone offered him some honest way to make a little cash.  He never had much money, which was evident.

He didn’t have many words to say either.  Every once in a while, he’d mutter something that you’d have to really strain to hear.  You couldn’t tell what he was thinking or feeling because for the most part he guarded his thoughts and words, probably because he had been ridiculed on one too many occasions.

He was a mystery to me.  Part of me was a tiny bit afraid of him, yet part of me wanted to get to know this strange man.  He was my uncle, my father’s older brother.

By the time I was born, he was middle-aged, but I always thought of him as an old man.  Many years ago, he passed away, but for some reason, this eccentric relative crosses my mind lately.

My husband and I lived in another state when my parents called to tell me that this uncle had died.   I don’t imagine many people  – other than a few relatives – attended the viewing or funeral.  My uncle didn’t appear to have friends.  Living so far away, I couldn’t attend either, and after the phone call announcing Uncle’s death, I felt like weeping.

Weeping for a man who no one, including me, really knew…or understood…or took the time to know or understand.  And that made me incredibly sad.

My family alluded to his being a little “off,” maybe a mental illness or a nervous breakdown, but I never knew the real story.  He often just showed up at our house unannounced, never strayed beyond the kitchen, never accepted the invitation to sit on the good furniture in the living room.

He’d only sit in a kitchen chair a few minutes, then jump up, pace back and forth, jingle coins in his pants pocket, look out the kitchen door, and then mumble, “See you” and he’d depart.  My mother, who treated him kindly but found him exasperating sometimes, would shake her head after he left, say “That man’s too nervous,” and continue whatever she was doing.

Sometimes he appeared at the kitchen door holding out in silent offering a honey comb from the bees that he kept.  I know he had discussions with my father, his younger brother, but for the life of me, I can’t remember one thing they ever talked about around our kitchen table.

A few vivid memories of Uncle from my childhood linger in my mind.  A tiny trickle of water ran through a marshy area on our property with weeds, cat tails, and reeds growing around it then into a culvert under the road.  In the spring, the little stream rushed with extra water from melting snows and rain.

I loved launching little plastic toy boats into the upper part of the steam and watching them sail under the road into our neighbor’s yard.   One day, shod in my rubber boots, I trampled through the weeds to find the perfect spot to set a boat adrift.   Uncle showed up, asked me what I was doing and growled, “You better watch out for copperheads.”

Snakes?  The thought had never occurred to me, let alone poisonous ones.  I gingerly picked up my boat, recoiled from the swampy area, and marched back inside, a little angry that he had spoiled my fun.   My 10-year-old mind was divided about his warning.  Part of me wanted to call him a silly old fool, but part of me believed him and thought he was looking out for my safety.

Another memory I harbor is of Uncle watching my father take pictures with his movie camera.   One spring the huge lilac bush in our back yard was lush with fragrant blooms. Dad grabbed the camera to take pictures and told me to get in the shot too.

As soon as I moved to the bush, Uncle bent a branch down low and near to me so blossoming flowers would be in the picture with me.  But he didn’t want my father to take his picture, just like the reclusive uncle not wanting to be noticed.   And I realize today that I have only one picture of this uncle when he was a young man.

My parents and I lived in what once was my paternal grandparents’ house.  When I was growing up, Uncle lived much of the time with his oldest brother, another of my uncles, whose home had a perfect view of ours.  Uncle seemed drawn back to his childhood abode – our house – but never visited us for very long.

I often wonder if Uncle just couldn’t bring himself to stay long in our house because all the memories of childhood and particularly his deceased family overwhelmed him.  As a toddler, he lost a brother to leukemia.  His father, my grandfather, died when Uncle was eight.  His only sister succumbed to cancer.   Uncle lived with my grandmother until she passed away, and then middle-aged Uncle was basically left alone.

I know he didn’t deal well with death because I witnessed that first-hand.   Uncle stayed with his elderly aunt and uncle from time to time, who lost their home to a fire.   A few years later,  his aunt – my great-aunt – passed away.   It was summer and I was home from college at the time.  My uncle showed up at our house, plopped down at the kitchen table, and did something he rarely did.

He looked straight at me and asked a question, “Are you going to town today?”

I looked back at him, noticed his weepy-looking eyes and answered hesitantly,  “Noooo…I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Okay,” he answered, jumping up and starting for the kitchen door.

“Wait a minute,” I stopped him.  “Do you need something?”  I felt really sorry for him for some reason.

“I just wondered if you’d get me a new white shirt to wear to the funeral home,” he replied. “But never mind.”

I was actually impressed that he wanted to look presentable to go to Great Aunt’s viewing, so I told him I would run his errand for him.  Did he want to go along?  A brief look of panic crossed his face as he pressed some money into my hand, muttered his shirt size, and darted out the door.

That evening, looking uncomfortable in his stiff, new white shirt and tie, Uncle sat alone in a corner of a far room at the funeral home.  No one really seemed to notice him; no one seemed to care to speak with him.

I quietly sat down beside him, noticed he looked upset, and asked if he was all right.  He nodded his head yes, then hung his head and that’s when I noticed huge, quiet tears streaming down his face.   It occurred to me that when Great Aunt died, he again lost one of the few people who probably were ever kind to him, one of the people he loved.

Because of his odd ways, people tended to shun him.   And I was just as guilty as they were.  But that evening was a turning point for me because that’s when I began to view this strange uncle as a real person with real hurts, fears, and the capacity to love.  And I wept there with him, not so much for Great Aunt but for him.  Years later, I again wept when Uncle left this world alone.

Even now, 30 plus years after his death, tears well up in my eyes as I think of this misunderstood uncle, lost in the world’s shuffle, that few people may even remember.  Today I wish I had taken the time to really explore his life, ask him questions, and try to understand him.

Opportunities present themselves to us every day, often we just aren’t wise enough to embrace them at the time.  When we realize we missed the chance to touch someone’s life in a positive way, it’s too late to make amends.

On this beautiful day, Page 18, Chapter 8, in my life’s book of Opportunity, I remember you, Uncle, but you’ll always be a mystery to me.

© 2011

The best antiques are old friends

pexels-photo-296649.jpegI highly value friendship.  In my beloved quotes notebook, a plethora of thoughts on this topic gracefully unfurl over many pages.

“We need to have people who mean something to us, people to whom we can turn knowing that being with them is like coming home.” ~ Anonymous

My family roamed far from home for a number of years, moving around the country wherever my husband’s work took us.   At each spot we landed, God graciously provided amazing and supportive friends.  Friendships changed over the years, but I still cherish those far-away friends, even though many miles separate us, and stay connected through emails, social networking, and even this blog.

George Washington once said, “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”

Wise words spoken by a founding father of our country, I imagine he said this regarding other nations, beseeching our new country to be cautious about who America’s true friends were and which nations we could trust.   But I think we can extend his observation into our private lives as well.

I consider myself vastly blessed to possess some faithful and loyal relationships – tried and true friends in whom I have utmost trust – which have endured the long haul.   Just this week, I was granted the gift of spending time with two of them in person and one via phone conversation.

These three dear friends are named Mae, Annie, and Leigh (not their real names but they will recognize who they are).    My friendship journey with Mae commenced when we were five years old, just two little whippersnappers enjoying play time together.  We attended the same schools and church and our lives have always been entwined.

Annie and I met as school chums in first grade, staying friends all through elementary school, junior and senior high; we even attended the same college.   Leigh, younger than I, became my close friend when her parents built a home next door to my parents when we were kids; she was maid of honor at my wedding almost 34 years ago.

My friendship with each of these wonderful women has stood the test of time.  We never lost contact with each other as adults, through marriages and raising families, even though I moved away and they stayed in the region surrounding our hometown.

For 52 years, Mae and I have remained friends.   My friendship with Annie has lasted 51 years, and my history with Leigh encompasses well over 45 years.  These gals know me.  I know them.   They are women I turn to for a listening ear, women who give me good counsel, women with whom I have rejoiced, and women with whom I have wept.  They have seen me at my best and witnessed me at my worst, and yet they still like me!  I love them and they will always be my friends.

Time spent with any of the three evolves into a marathon because we have so much to discuss.  I have shared every important aspect of my life with these women and probably way too much trivia as well.  I know for certain that items I disclose to them is never turned into gossip fodder, and I keep their shared life stories just as closely guarded.

On Wednesday, I lunched with Annie.  We had over six months of life to catch up with since we last met. My time with her always seems too short because we discuss everything from soup to nuts and still have more to say.  She encourages me, supports me, yet isn’t timid about giving me food for thought when I need a change in attitude.   That’s why she is one of my most trusted confidantes.

We have shared a lifetime of memories together and we share our faith in God as well.  This quote in my cherished notebook describes what kind of friend Annie is:  “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”  ~ Anonymous

Mae stopped by my house for a visit on Thursday afternoon.  She couldn’t have picked a better time.  I was feeling low, actually physically not well either, and her visit lifted me right up out of my fretting, causing me to forget my physical maladies and easing my troubled mind as well.  Spending time with a dear old friend proved to be the magic elixir to make me feel better that day.   As always, we never ran out of words to say, thoughts to convey, or stories to tell.

She knows my history and I know hers.  We’ve grieved together as we’ve lost loved ones to death, and our friendship is like a comforting shawl we can wrap ourselves in to protect us from the cold reality of this world.  When I read this quote, I thought of Mae:  “A person is only complete when she has a true friend to understand her, to share all her passions and sorrows with, and to stand by her throughout her life.” ~ Anonymous

I’ll see my friend Leigh when I attend her daughter’s high school graduation party soon, so I spoke with her last night by phone to tell her we’d be making the trip to her home for the festivities.   That conversation lasted over three hours! When I talk with this good friend, it really is like coming home.  As next-door neighbors growing up, she and I practically lived at each other’s houses.  I love her parents because they were always like second parents to me.

Leigh has always been someone with whom I can share my innermost thoughts – be they good or bad.  We often reminisce about our childhoods, so when I ran across this quote, I automatically thought of her: “When we are grown, we’ll smile and say we had no cares in childhood’s day, but we’ll be wrong. ‘Twill not be true, I’ve this much care… I care for you.” ~Anonymous

Obviously, I don’t get to see these friends every day or even very often.   But just when I need them, they are there for me.  I count that as the most amazing gift.

As I give thanks for these three dear ones on Page 16, Chapter 7, in my Opportunity book of life, I hope they view me as a gift as well – one of those rare gifts, the kind you never want to exchange for another, or re-gift to someone else, because you just want to treasure it for yourself since that’s the kind of gift they are to me.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.”  ~ Ecclesiastes 4:9-10


Parenting’s a roller coaster ride


Being a parent is one of the most difficult, yet most rewarding jobs, you can ever occupy.

It’s a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, twists and turns, and sometimes you just hang on for the ride.  Other times you want to throw your hands up in the air and see what happens.

One evening this past week, I joined a discussion group for parents of teens. I agreed to attend as a favor to my friend, a youth pastor, and as a representative of the non-profit for which I work.  My friend orchestrated the discussion at his church and because he isn’t a parent yet, he asked me to sit in and share any words of wisdom I may have about parenting teens. When someone asks me to give my thoughts on parenting, I always feel so inadequate.  My husband and I raised three children to adulthood, but I still don’t feel like an expert.  All I can offer as advice is to share what worked for my family.

I totally realize that when my now-grown children were teens, they were really good kids. Oh, we had our arguments and problems just like everyone else, but for the most part, our kids were respectful teens who made excellent choices.  My husband and I don’t take the credit but attribute that to God’s help and intervention.   He listened to countless prayers we lifted up for our children and He helped us guide them in their paths.   And thankfully, they listened!

One of the things I always tell those who ask my advice is that “Children will do what is expected of them.”  If you expect them to be smart-mouthed, rebellious brats, they will exceed your expectation.  If you expect them to be well-behaved, respectful, contributing members of the family, they will exceed that expectation.  I firmly believe setting boundaries and using discipline actually demonstrates to your children how much you love and care about them.

But honestly, my husband and I did not experience some of the heart-breaking situations that many parents face.  Oldest daughter, middle daughter and son:  you don’t have a clue how thankful I am that all three of you possess good heads on your shoulders and honor not only your mother and father but your heavenly Father as well by making outstanding godly decisions!  I am so proud of all three of you!

Two things do occur to me about the way we raised our children.  The first is that our family always attended church together. From the time they were born, we worshipped as a family.   We didn’t just drop the kids off at Sunday School every Sunday, their Dad and I attended adult Sunday School classes too.

Church was a major part of our life and trying to live a godly life was something we, as their parents and believers in Christ, endeavored to model every single day.   We attempted to teach our children that faith is more than religion, that it is a growing, personal relationship with Jesus.

Secondly, we always traveled as a family unit.  Part of this was due to the fact that for a good portion of our children’s growing up years, we lived far away from grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and my husband traveled with his job a lot.

So the times we spent together as a family meant the world to us. We taught our children that as a family, we were a tight unit.  When one of the kids had a sports event, we all went to cheer her/him on.  If one of them was performing in a chorus or band concert or in the school musical, the rest of us were sitting out in the audience.

We ate meals together and played together.  We watched TV and went to the movies together.  We laughed and cried together.  We spent as much time together as we could and we talked and listened to one another.

Their friends were always welcome at our house, and we tried our best to make our house fun, yet still adhere to the rules.  As our children grew older, of course, they started to venture away from home, off on their separate ways, but we made sure our lines of communication stayed open and our bonds of connectedness remained intact.

I don’t know in what context she wrote this, but short story writer and poet Dorothy Parker once said, “The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.”

We tried to make our home atmosphere pleasant but never thought about letting the air out of the tires!!  If you try that parenting tip, let me know how it works for you!



Sisters Three

friends-phone-bed-bite-163112.jpeg“You keep your past by having sisters.  As you get older, they’re the only ones who don’t get bored if you talk about your memories.”   ~Deborah Moggach, British writer

I am blessed to have two sisters, both older than me.  We don’t have a brother; it’s just the three of us.  We’ve always been incredibly devoted to one another and we share more than just familial ties.

One of my sisters lives out-of-state, and when she ventures back to the homeland for a visit, we make sure the three of us have a “Sisters Day Out.”  We take pleasure in spending an entire day together, just the three of us, with no husbands or other family joining us.   And we’ve managed to accomplish this for at least the last 12 years, since I moved back to the homeland.

We typically commence in the morning by meeting for breakfast, followed by a marathon shopping excursion, consume some lunch and dinner somewhere in between, and then in the evening hours, recover in some tranquil spot.  There we just sit, enjoy each other’s company, and share our hearts in conversation.

And today we treasured another Sisters Day Out together.  Some of our friends are cognizant of our exclusive day and the bond we sisters share, and I’ve even heard people refer to as “The Three Sisters.”

This phrase, “The Three Sisters,” invokes a lot of images that materialize in my mind.  My husband, our three children, and I previously lived in the panoramically beautiful state of Oregon.   One of the intriguing geographical aspects of this state is an abundance of volcanoes.

In central Oregon, there is an area called Three Sisters Mountains in the Cascade Mountain Range.   In the picture at right, you can see for yourself how stunning they are.  I wouldn’t call us three sisters stunning, but we are steadfast just like that mountain range.  And there just might be a little volcanic action silently sleeping underneath.  If one of us were attacked by someone, I pity the attacker because we would defend one another with a burst of fiery words, much like a volcano spewing forth lava.

I vaguely remember reading Anton Chekhov’s play Three Sisters in one of my college drama classes.   Russian literature has never been my favorite, but the play’s title always reminds me of my sisters and me.  That’s where the resemblance ends though, because of course, we don’t live in Russia and we don’t have a brother as those three sisters did.

The sisters in the play are city girls, refined and cultured, who are frustrated having to live in a small provincial village.   We three sisters, on the other hand, are girls who grew up in a simple rural/small town area and would be frustrated living in the urban world.

I think perhaps we are more like “The Three Sisters” in gardening.  I’m not an expert on gardening.  As a child, the only gardening experience I received was weeding the garden, shelling the peas, husking the corn, snapping the beans.  My mother planned and planted the garden back then and it was always bountiful.

So I leave the how’s and why’s of gardening to my husband, a city boy who should have grown up in the country because he finds being outside planting vegetation irresistible!  My knowledge of gardening is limited to weeding (still!), harvesting, preparing, cooking and eating of the produce at our house.

But I’ve heard of an ancient method of gardening, which according to Iroquois Native American legend is entitled…you guessed it… “The Three Sisters.”  Apparently, those Native Americans believed corn, beans, and squash were precious gifts from the Great Spirit and were watched over by one of three sisters’ spirits.   Well, I don’t adhere to the spirit part of it, except to say I believe all of the earth, including the corn, beans, and squash, are precious gifts from our great and holy Almighty God.

However, I think “The Three Sisters” method of gardening describes us three sisters quite well.   Corn, beans, and squash are planted together in the same growing area, usually a rounded little hill of soil.    All three crops complement each other nutritionally and physically.

The corn provides a natural pole for the bean vines to climb.  The bean vines in turn help stabilize the corn plants to keep them from getting blown down.  And the squash vines act like a sort of mulch, protecting the crops from weeds and keeping in moisture.   The three crops all work together to protect and nourish each other.  Hmm…sounds just like my sisters and me.

A little research into this method of gardening provided me more information that seems to fit the three of us:

  • “Corn is the oldest sister.  She stands tall in the center.”   Guess what?  My oldest sister is actually quite tall, inches taller than her two younger sisters.  She is and always has been the one we look up to.   She’s the one with the thorough, think it through business-like mind, the one to turn to for advice.
  • “Squash is the next sister.  She grows over the mound, protecting her sisters from weeds and shades the soil from the sun with her leaves, keeping it cool and moist.”  Yep, that does describe my middle sister.  She is fiercely loyal, very protective.  She’s the one who loves to cook for us and take care of us.
  • “Beans are the third sister.  She climbs through squash and then up corn to bind all together as she reaches for the sun.  Beans help keep the soil fertile by converting the sun’s energy into nitrogen; and as beans grow, they use the stored nitrogen as food.”   That’s supposed to be me.

I’m hopeful that I fulfill my role as the bean – binding us all together, providing stability.   I know for certain I do indeed reach for the sun – the SON, Jesus Christ.   And I endeavor as best I can to use scriptural food, my kind of nitrogen,  to nourish all three of us.

Amazing, isn’t it, what God reveals to us through something so simple?

Although… something just now occurred to me… since I am the third sister, I am the one full of beans!

“To the outside world we all grow old.  But not to brothers and sisters.  We know each other as we always were.  We know each other’s hearts.  We share private family jokes.  We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys.  We live outside the touch of time.”  ~Writer Clara Ortega




pexels-photo-442150.jpegMy mind is absorbed with the idea of connections today.

My handy-dandy dictionary defines connection this way: 1. Union; junction.  2. A bond; link.  3. An association or relation.  4. Logical ordering of words or ideas; coherence.  5. The relation of a word to its context.  6. connections.  People with whom one is associated.

There are connections everywhere we look.  Business wise, you have “connections” to get a job, to win an account, to get ahead, to succeed, to get into this organization or that.

I’m not very mathematically minded, but I do remember that there are many connections that must be made in math as well.   Geometry for one.  Wikipedia says “In geometry, the notion of a connection makes precise the idea of transporting data along a curve or family of curves in a parallel and consistent manner. There are a variety of kinds of connections in modern geometry, depending on what sort of data one wants to transport.”

Of course, connections are essential in technology.  I confess I also am not the most technologically savvy person, but I know that without my computer and yours being connected to the internet, I couldn’t write this and you couldn’t read it.  For simplicity’s sake, connections in technology are like fasteners linking one thing to another.

There must even be connection in the world of dance.  I’m also not a talented dancer, but I am absolutely enthralled watching dance.   Even though I don’t dance myself –well, except in a wild and crazy way when I’m home alone and I have some tunes turned up loud — dancing makes my heart sing.  And in dance, connection is defined as “a primary means of communication between the lead and the follow.”

Watch any dancing show on TV (So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars are two of my favorite shows) and you will hear the judges talking about making a connection either between partners or with the audience.

In our personal lives we thrive on connections to have relationships, be they romantic or platonic.  Remember the wacky TV show,  Love Connection?  No more goofy a way to make a dating connection with someone than today’s The Bachelor show, if you ask me.  And then there is online dating — another attempt at connecting.

We humans have an inner desire to be bonded or linked with someone, we just don’t seem to know how to achieve it very well.  I need to interject here that our Creator, the Lord God Himself, created us that way.  It was He who instilled in us this need to be linked, to be joined, to be loved, and it is He who fulfills that desire.  But He did not create us to be completely solitary, disconnected from our fellow human beings or from Him.   That’s why He bridged the gap of disconnectedness between His holiness and our sinfulness, by sending His Son, Jesus Christ into this world to save us.  Jesus is our LINK!

So back to connections….we all have family connections.  Again we want to belong, to be associated with a group of people.   I know, I know, there sometimes are family members we’d definitely rather NOT be associated with, but for the most part, we do want to belong to a family, be it native or adopted, blood-relations or family of God.

I just recently attended a “family reunion” that I have never attended in the past, partly because I lived elsewhere and partly because I didn’t really feel like I belonged.   “Family reunion” is in quotations because even though technically I do belong to this family because I am a granddaughter of a person with this last name,  I really don’t have many connections to this family.  Matter of fact, most of them I do not even know.

The connections between my family and this extended family were long ago.  My grandfather with this family name died in 1964.   My mother who had this family name would be 91 if she were alive today.   So yeah, far removed I am, as Yoda would say.

And then there is the theory of “6 degrees of separation.”  You might have seen the movie by the same name.  This theory is referred to as a human web and maintains the idea that everyone on the planet is at most 6 steps away from any other person on Earth.  You can sing “It’s a Small World After All”  here.  Yes, you are quite welcome for me bringing up that inane song and now you will have it stuck in your head all day!

Connections, connections, we truly are inundated with connectivity.  Then why is it that so many people feel the exact opposite?  Why do we feel disconnected? 

I speak for myself.  For all the ways I am connected to others and to my Lord, in one aspect of my life, I feel very disconnected.  Not in a depressive, moody, life stinks kind of way.  In a vital part of my life, I am experiencing a huge disconnect.  And I’m not the only one, my husband feels it too.  (Don’t worry,  my husband and I still are very connected to each other and our family, so that’s not it.)

I’ve been pondering this situation for quite some time now; my husband and I have talked it to death; we’ve prayed about it; waited; worked really hard at remedying it….and still we feel for us, it surely must be time to move on and make a change.

You know what Elton John used to sing?  “Oh, the change is gonna do me good!”