Pleasant Distraction

While passing through our utility room on my way to the garage the other day, my attention was attracted to (or perhaps distracted by would be more precise) a shoe box on a shelf above the dryer.

Now what could that be? I wondered. Although I’d passed through the room many times a day, day after day, I couldn’t recall seeing the box there. I forgot why I was going to the garage and stopped to take down the box and examine its contents. What I discovered inside held my attention for the next hour or so. (I don’t think I ever made it to the garage for whatever it was I was seeking.)

Inside that box were old family photos from when our four daughters were infants and toddlers, when we lived in Pennsylvania and Tennessee and the kids were growing up–and when my wife and I were much younger.

Going through old family photos can take up a lot of time, but it sure can bring back a lot of memories! And it can make you think. As I perused those old photos, I was struck by several thoughts.

  • How much fun we had “back then.” We didn’t have much money, but we did enjoy the time with the children–and the photos show that they, too, were having fun.
  • How innocent and carefree life was for the kids. The problems of life–work, money, taxes, government intrusions into private life, etc.–none of that fazed them.
  • How much our grandchildren resemble our own children when they were young. (I can also see now how much like my grandfather my dad looked when he was a kid. And people tell me that I look like him.)
  • How much younger–and lighter–I was back then. The cares of this life, the ravages of time, and overindulgence at the table can sure change a guy’s appearance!
  • How fun-loving my own parents were, such as the Christmas when Daddy got all of us men–my brother-in-law, my brother, and me–overalls and bandanas. We never understood why.
  • How organized I kept the old photos–in contrast to the jumble of files and flash drives I must study to find the image I’m seeking today. I once was super-organized, so much so that I could feel my way through the closet and find just the shirt I was looking for–in the dark. But ever since we moved from Tennessee to South Carolina thirteen years ago, organization seems to have vanished from my list of skills.
  • How glad I am that I can revisit those times with a hard copy of the memory and not have to rely on an electronic gadget–and risk losing the images to a crashed hard drive, an accidentally deleted file, or a lost flash drive.

Technological advancements surely have made it easier for us to capture memories as images. The passage from 35 mm film and flashbulbs to Polaroids to Instamatics and from slides and prints to digital images has been wonderful for picture taking. The quality of photography possible today is phenomenal. And you don’t really have to have an expensive digital camera with all the bells and whistles to get good photos. Sometimes photos taken with a cheap cell phone today rival anything the professional photographers could produce “back then.” (Well, my wife still cuts off people’s heads, and her shaky hand produces some blurry images, but that’s not the fault of the technology.)

It certainly is less expensive to take pictures today. In the “good ol’ days,” I had to send my exposed rolls of 35 mm film out to be developed, and even the cost of sending it to “economy” companies like Clark and York got pricey after a while, especially if you, as I did, ordered double prints of everything. But now I’m glad that I ordered those double prints. As the kids married and moved away, I noticed that our photo albums’ contents seemed to dwindle as the kids expropriated their favorite pics for their own albums.

But even that purloining is good because it shows that they, too, have valued the times and memories of their past. Those old photos ensure that the memories will live on and the girls will tell their children stories of what life was like when they were little. Their heritage will continue to future generations.

Now, if I could only recall what I wanted in the garage before that box of old photos distracted me!

Writing Instruments I Have Known

It’s funny how the anniversaries of certain historic events make you reminisce. Today, I’ve been reminiscing about the typewriter, a writing instrument with which I’m almost as familiar as I am a pencil or pen. On this date in 1868, Christopher Latham Sholes patented a typewriting machine, a giant leap forward for his time.

Inventors had been working to develop a typewriter since as early as 1714 (Henry Mill) and then to “reinvent” it, making it something practical and useful. Sholes was successful in developing one of the first commercially successful such machines.

Sholes was a newspaper editor in Milwaukee. His newspaper’s compositors went on strike, prompting Sholes to try (unsuccessfully) to build a machine that would set type. He and printer Samuel Soule later were working together to develop a ticket-numbering machine when lawyer and inventor Carlos Glidden suggested that they might be able to make a machine that produced not only numbers but also letters. They began with a machine called a Pterotype, developed by John Pratt, and tried to simplify it. The result was the typewriting machine, which is shown to the right of Pratt’s machine.

The men received a patent for their invention on June 23, 1868. Their machine sold for an average of about $250 each, not a paltry sum in those days. Remington, a company better known for its firearms, bought the patent in 1873. The inventors continued, however, to improve on their original design, the most lasting improvement being the QWERTY keyboard arrangement to reduce jamming of the keys, and the arrangement is still in use today (although with computers it is no longer necessary).

The first typewriter that I worked on wasn’t quite as old as Sholes’s machine, but it was old. It was my mother’s Remington portable with a small suitcase-sized carrying case and a ribbon that allowed one to type in either black or red ink. I used that machine before I even took a typing class; I used the hunt-and-peck technique instead.

Then I took typing in high school. (My “wise” guidance counselor tried to convince me that I wouldn’t need to know how to type for college, but my father convinced him otherwise!) We learned on heavy Smith-Corona manual machines that required a heavy hand. To this day, I still pound the keyboard although it’s no longer necessary. (I guess I just enjoy both the feeling of strength it gives me and the sound of the keys being struck. It makes me feel as though I’m actually accomplishing something.)

I enjoyed the typing class so much that my parents bought me a refurbished but very functional Royal typewriter for Christmas that year. I took that machine to college with me and used the carbon paper, erasable bond paper, and hair spray to bond the ink to the erasable bond so it wouldn’t smear when the professors read my papers. I used that machine not only throughout college and grad school but also during much of my teaching career–typing mimeograph and ditto stencils–until I decided (foolishly, I now realize) that I needed an electric machine to be successful as a writer.

The electric machine that I bought was a Brother Correct-O-Ball, which had a golf ball-sized ball in the center where the letters used to be on long, curved arms. The ball would spin around to the letter that corresponded to the key one struck. The idea was that the keys would not get jammed when one typed too fast. I liked that idea because my writing was slowed every time I had to untangle the keys, and that happened often to me. The only problem was that I was so enthralled by watching that ball spin around that I ended up watching the ball rather than writing. And before I knew it, it became hard–and expensive–to get the ribbon cartridges for the machine. I decided I needed to upgrade.

A friend told me that the wave of the future was in word processors, so I bought a used Magnavox Video Writer word processor. It had an ugly yellow-on-black screen display about the size of the modern iPad screen. It also had a neat feature whereby when you began to type a word, the machine guessed what you meant and completed the word for you. When I began one day to type one of my daughter’s names–Tisha–the machine changed it to Tissue. For a while, that feature provided some interesting entertainment, but eventually it became frustrating because I had to proofread even more closely, and that slowed me down. For all the hype about speeding up my production, I found that I was wasting even more time.

Then I pursued a full computer, something that I could use for multiple functions, not just word processing. That’s when I bought and paid for the Tandy computer–and then the franchise went bankrupt before they could deliver it. Then they refused to deliver it. I was called as a witness in the resulting bankruptcy proceedings. When the franchisee lost, I won my computer, but by then I had bought another (a Gateway desktop). I didn’t need and couldn’t afford two computers, so I had to sell the Tandy at a loss.

More recently, I joined the laptop trend. I’ve had Gateways, Toshibas, and now an HP Pavilion. And I’ve suffered through crashes of hard drives, obsolescence of the 5 1/4- and 3-1/2-inch floppy disks, and constantly required upgrades to software and hardware. While this rapidly changing technology has had its advantages, I still look back upon the days of the old manual typewriter with fond memories.

Man’s Best Friend?

Groucho Marx reputedly quipped, “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

I can recall many a night when, as a youngster who had been told to turn out the light and go to bed, I dutifully obeyed but then pulled the covers over my head and finished a riveting chapter (or even an entire book) by flashlight. And I’ve been an avid reader ever since, usually having multiple books in progress at once.

I just started another book, this one for instructional as well as inspirational purposes. It’s Writing with Quiet Hands by Paula Munier. Some of its contents promise to be welcome and much-needed reminders and maybe even a few gentle (or not so gentle) rebukes for not minding what I already know. But much of the contents are offering additional instruction on how to improve my craft, and there’s always room for improvement.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that there are no know-it-alls in any field. Oh, there are a lot of people who think they know it all (and they’re the ones who are eager to let everyone else know that they do), but in reality, no one knows everything there is to know about anything. One of my favorite quotations is from Will Rogers: “We’re all ignorant–just on different subjects.” So I’m reading this book to learn something new.

But I’m also reading it with the hope of being inspired, and we all occasionally need that, too. We sometimes tire of doing what we know we should be doing to be successful in our professions and callings. We often hit the proverbial brick wall when we don’t know what to do next, or we can’t seem to make things work just as we want them to. So we risk stagnating, and we need a little spark of inspiration to motivate us to persevere. Eventually, that brick wall will crack, and we’ll break through the impasse. But that won’t happen unless we’re motivated.

It’s sort of like when you’re just about to your last gasp on the treadmill and then you look over at the 93-year-old man beside you, and he’s running faster and for a longer time than you, and he’s not even breathing hard. Suddenly, you tell yourself, If he can do it, then I certainly can, too! And you get a second wind and press on, achieving more than you thought you could.

I haven’t even started the first chapter of Writing with Quiet Hands yet, and I’ve already encountered some interesting statements. Here’s one of them: “Books are our friends–and that friendship becomes a happy marriage when we sit down to write our own stories.”

In my office are two plaques. One reads, “Write your own life story.” The other says, “Home is where your story begins.” Whenever I read those two statements together, a small voice inside me says, “Now get busy!”

My lesson for the day: Read for information. Read for inspiration. But don’t just read; write. And that’s what I have to get busy doing right now! Time’s a-wastin’!

By the way, if you haven’t yet decided on your next book to read, may I suggest Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries? It might just surprise you!

 

Reflections for Father’s Day

Albert, Prince of Belgium, visited the farm.

President of his high school senior class. Officer in the Halls Community Club. With his father, a productive dairy farmer whose farm was selected as a TVA test-demonstration farm for the education and improvement of farms not only locally but also nationally and internationally. Successful small businessman as a local brick mason, known for his honesty and work quality. Deacon and Sunday school teacher.

This is a worthy resume for any man. But one other entry that could be added to those achievements is much more important to me: that man was also father–my father. Daddy.

Daddy was not a perfect man. No man is. But he was a godly and dependable man. If he said something, you could count on it. If he told me that I’d get spanked if I disobeyed, I knew–from experience–that it would come to pass even as he had said it would. (Yet, I got far fewer of his spankings than I deserved.) If he told a client that he would do a job for a certain price, that’s exactly what he charged, even if he had to “eat” expenses that pushed his costs beyond the stated amount. He refused offers of additional money to push one client’s project ahead of a project of another client on which he was already working.

Daddy was not only a man of his word but also a man of the Word. Although he was not a good reader (his mother had to read his high school reading assignments aloud to him or he never would have finished them), he read his Bible faithfully. (His pastor, O.V. Edwards, wearing a black jacket in the photo of the church project to the left, taught him to lay brick while constructing their new church building. Daddy is to the far left in the photo.) From his own Bible study and the preaching and teaching he received in church, Daddy accepted Christ and developed his doctrinal beliefs and convictions. And he was firm in those convictions, come what may. He sometimes faced opposition over those convictions, but he stuck to them, even at the price of loss of friends. Although those former friends disagreed with him, they secretly admired and respected his commitment to his convictions.

Daddy was not without humor, although it was often dry or bent toward good-natured pranks and teasing. He once told a laborer who had forgotten his jacket on a chilly morning to stuff scraps of fiberglass insulation into his shirt sleeves. The uninitiated worker quickly became initiated by the itching that the insulation produced. Daddy also loved to tease his children when they were young and especially his grandchildren. But teasing was his way of showing people that he liked them. If he didn’t tease a person, it was a sign that he was ambivalent toward the person.

From the time my brother Dale and I were old enough to get into trouble at home, Daddy made us go to work with him, where he kept us so busy carrying bricks, mixing mortar, and either building or tearing down scaffolding that we didn’t have time to get into trouble. If we didn’t have anything to do, he found something, even if it was cleaning out the tool box in the bed of his truck. At home, he kept us busy mowing the lawn, weeding the strawberry patch, removing pruned grape vines, or hauling off wheelbarrows full of our garden’s greatest crop–rocks.

Occasionally, Daddy would find time to “pass ball” with us, throwing a baseball back and forth–on the ground, in the air–to help us hone our skills. He even tried to teach us to throw a knuckleball, a skill that Uncle Homer, a part-time St. Louis Cardinals scout, had taught him when he was a child. His knuckler was easy to see (because it rotated almost none, the seams were clearly visible as it came toward me) but hard to catch. When I did catch it, it stung my gloved hand as much as a hard fastball did. I never did master that pitch, but it increased my appreciation for the skill of such great major league knuckleballers as Hoyt Wilhelm and Phil Niekro.

Other boys might have had fathers who were easier on them, letting them do whatever they wanted and not spanking them when they did wrong. Others might have had fathers who sought to buy their affection with material things. And others might have had fathers who taught them by their example how to get ahead in this world and to gather to themselves wealth or fame. But Daddy gave us kids something much more valuable. He taught, by his example, a love for God and His Word and the character qualities that befit someone who claims the name Christian.

I will forever–on not only this Father’s Day but also every other day–be grateful that God gave me him as my daddy.

 

A Busy Day in History

June 13 was indeed a busy day in history.

On this date in 1777, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived in the American colonies to help the colonists in their fight for independence from England.

In a precursor to the later Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate troops who were on their way to Pennsylvania clashed with Union forces in the Second Battle of Winchester. They came away victorious.

In 1912, pitcher Christy Mathewson (left), a Christian who refused to play ball for money on the Lord’s Day and is credited with helping to clean up the then ill-reputed game of baseball, won his 300th game.

In 1943, eight German spies launched Operation Pastorius, an effort to commit sabotage within the United States, attacking economic targets, such as electric plants, water facilities, and railroad shops, and launching terrorist attacks against civilian targets. The submarine U-202 landed some of the spies about 115 miles east of New York City on Long Island, and U-584 landed more three days later at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, near Jacksonville. All of the eight spies had lived at one time in the United States, and two of them were actually American citizens.

But an unarmed Coast Guardsman, John Cullen, discovered one of the Long Island spies, George John Dasch (left), on the beach. Dasch grabbed Cullen and shoved $260 into his hand in an effort to buy his silence, but the loyal Cullen reported the incident to his superiors anyway. By the time a search was begun, however, the spies were gone.

Dasch, dismayed at being discovered, concluded that the gig was up and the operation was doomed to failure anyway, so he decided to turn himself in and seek asylum. He convinced another of the spies to join him, and they reported to the FBI. The authorities, however, thought that he was just a crank and didn’t believe him–until he dumped the spies’ $84,000 operations money onto the FBI agent’s desk. Within two weeks, the other six spies had been apprehended before they could do any harm.

In 1948, the great Babe Ruth (left) uttered his final farewell at Yankee Stadium. He died two months later on August 16.

And in 1966, the Supreme Court issued its now-famous Miranda decision, mandating that arresting officers inform the accused of his or her rights. This ruling made famous one of the most frequently uttered phrases on television: “You have the right to remain silent. . . .” (The longest word uttered is the one that follows the words “And now a word from our sponsor.”)

And that’s how it was on June 13 so many years ago.

Memories, Memories

It’s happening with greater frequency nowadays. At least it seems to me to be more frequent.

I’m downstairs and need something (say the stapler) that is upstairs. I fly to the stairs and climb them as fast as my arthritic knees will allow. I reach the landing, step a few feet to the right, and enter my office. And then I stand there wondering what it was that I came up to get.

Failing to dredge that fact from my memory, I turn and trudge back down the steps. About three steps from the bottom, I suddenly remember. I turn in mid-step and retrace my steps back to the office. As I pass through the door, I spy a book that I had meant to reshelf yesterday when I finished looking up a bit of information but, sidetracked by something else, had placed on my wife’s school supplies cabinet. I grab the book and return it to its proper spot on the bookcase shelf. Then I walk over to my oak roll-top desk, shuffle a few papers, and stare into space wondering why I came upstairs.

Again failing to recall the purpose of my ascent, I begin the trek back down. Entering the kitchen, I again remember, and I make a third trip up the stairs, muttering under my breath, “Stapler! Stapler!” I repeat the word over and over until I put my hands on the stapler sitting on my desk. I then take it back downstairs and staple whatever it is that needs stapling.

That happens several times a day, it seems. It happens so often that it has long since ceased to be the topic of humorous, self-deprecating conversation.

Memory–or the lack of it–can mess with one’s mind, especially if he or she is a writer. Even moreso if one writes memoir or history.

Two or more people can experience or witness the same event, and yet each will have a slightly (or maybe even a vastly) different memory of it.

I first became aware of this phenomenon when my nieces and nephews came to visit us and asked, “Uncle Dennis, Dad told us that when you two were kids such and such happened. Is that really the way it was?”

Then I felt obliged to set them straight on what really had happened in the anecdote my brother had told them. Somehow, in his accounts, he was always the innocent victim, and I was the guilty party. In my account, it was the reverse; he was the instigator, and I was the gullible victim. Each of us remembered the same incident in dramatically different ways. And each of us is adamant that our rendition is the true and only reliable account.

The truth is that each of us tends to remember only certain details in a decidedly individualized way. We don’t remember some details at all. And we often misremember the details we do retain. That’s why it’s so important that we writers, especially those of us who are attempting to write memoir or history, study multiple perspectives before we write. Even then, we must recognize the fact that our flawed and failing memories and our biases or prejudices can mislead or deceive us as to the truth of our subjects.

Too often, historians (especially those whose writings are motivated or driven by a political or philosophical agenda) present a complex event or issue in an oversimplified way that ignores certain facts that do not fit into their scheme and present their myopic view as the only right view.

Take, for example, the issue of slavery in America. Too often, that issue is simplistically presented as a uniquely Southern institution for whom only Southerners bear blame and responsibility. In reality, it was a national issue. Had it not been for Northern shipbuilders, shipowners, and ship captains and Northern textile manufacturers who profited from the transportation and sale of slaves and used the cotton produced in the South as raw material for their goods, there would have been no demand for cotton and therefore no demand for slaves in the South. Besides, in the colonial period, there were slaves in every American colony, including those in the North. And not only black slaves but also Native American slaves. And little Rhode Island was a big supplier of slaves for the trade. The same problem is evident in the recounting of the treatment of slaves. Many slave owners and overseers were indeed Simon Legrees, but many others were not.

Too many historians also present slavery as the only cause of the war that soon engulfed the nation. They conveniently forget–or ignore–the many other issues that contributed to the eruption: the tariff, state sovereignty, the debate over federally financed internal improvements, regional disparity in representation in Congress, etc. In reality, there was no one cause of the war but many. To present it otherwise is sloppy history at best and intentional deceit at worst.

In memoir writing, memory can put one in a nostalgic mood and win the plaudits of relatives, or it can cause life-long rifts between family members who remember events differently than the writer presents them. The key is to present memories as clearly as one’s mind will allow but to do so as kindly as possible. As John Leax wrote in his book Grace Is Where I Live, “I take the stories of my people, I give them shape, and hand them down. What I pass on is truth made new–half-truth spun through kind invention.”

Now let’s see. I had one other point I wanted to make about this topic, but I can’t seem to remember what it was. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have remembered it by the time I sit down to write my next blog post–or not.

 

The Greatest Day?

June 6, 1944, just might have been the greatest single day of what has become known as the greatest generation. At least it has become one of the most widely discussed days of that generation’s involvement in World War II.

Individual soldiers and sailors, however, might offer a variety of other days that they consider to have been the “greatest,” depending on where they were serving and what they were doing at the time. For some, it might have been their involvement in the Doolittle raid on April 18, 1942. For others, it might have been the invasion of Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. Or it might have been the day of one of any number of many invasions, bombing runs, and other military actions across the numerous theaters of World War II. The soldiers who invaded Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians certainly thought that they were involved in a momentous event, although those invasions are little known or discussed today. It’s sort of like they say of surgery: It’s minor surgery when it’s performed on someone else; it’s major surgery if you’re the one going under the knife!

My Uncle Dillon’s “greatest day” didn’t come on June 6, 1944. He didn’t arrive on Omaha Beach until June 24, D-day + 18. He came ashore with the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 3rd Armored Division, that day and then entered the fighting in the bocage region the next day. A tank driver, he took forward observers to the very front edge of the front lines so they could identify German targets and call in artillery fire against them. The fact that he didn’t participate in the June 6 landings in no way minimizes the greatness of his contribution toward winning the war.

But June 6 has another significance for me. On that day in 1844, my great great grandfather, Joshua Peterson, was born. If not for him, there would have been no James Peterson, no Blaine Peterson, no Ralph Peterson–and no me!

Joshua was the son of Hiram Peterson and Nancy Mashburn and was the grandson of Tobias Peterson of Kjolen, Sweden, and Maria Silva of Portugal. Joshua’s grandfather Tobias reputedly was the first white settler along Poplar Creek in the Toe River Valley of North Carolina.

Joshua either enlisted or was drafted into the Confederate Army. In the mountains of western North Carolina, both the Union and Confederate armies enforced conscription. If one army didn’t get you, the other one probably would. Many men from that area, owning no slaves and being predominantly Whig in political sentiment, had “no dog in the fight,” so they often served briefly in whichever army had drafted them, then they deserted and hid in the mountains. To them, it was “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight,” and they really wanted nothing to do with either side. They just wanted to be left alone to farm their steep hillside farms, provide for their families, and worship their God in peace. Such might well have been the case with Joshua.

Joshua survived the war, and in 1866, shortly after the war ended, married Martha Warrick. They had ten children, three girls and seven boys, one of whom was James, my ancestor. Like many of his own ancestors, Joshua was an active member of the local Church of the Brethren, a group of German Baptists that included a long line of preachers and elders among the Petersons. Joshua died on August 12, 1933, in Relief, N.C.

But wait! There’s more! Joshua’s son James, my great grandfather, died on June 6, 1941. He was born August 12, 1867, and died eight years after his father at age 74. I know perhaps less about James than any other of my known ancestors, except perhaps Charles Mathias Peterson, the farthest back I can trace my lineage. He lived in Sweden, and I’ve been unable to find anything about him.

Neither Joshua’s nor James’s life was something that history books mention even in passing. They were not involved in earth-shattering events at which future generations would marvel and discuss ad infinitum. They were not famous in the general sense of the term. They were just common people–common in their appearance, their upbringing, and their lifestyle–yet, they were anything but ordinary. Rather, they were of strong stock, and, as Jean Thomas wrote, they “held safe and unchanged the simple beauty of the song of their fathers, the unsullied speech, the simple ideals and traditions, staunch religious faith, love of freedom, courage, and fearlessness. Above all they . . . maintained a spirit of independence and self-reliance that is unsurpassed. . . .”

And their lives were crucial to my own life and the lives of others of their progeny. So June 6 has multiple meanings for me. Dig into your own family’s past and find a member of your own “greatest generation.”

 

Memorial Day

Image may contain: grass, outdoor and nature

Remember that for many people Memorial Day is more than merely another day off work or a time to go to the beach or have a cookout. They paid the price that others would have the freedom to enjoy themselves. That is the real meaning of Memorial Day.

A Momentous Hiatus

Some people who follow this blog might have noticed that it has languished a bit over the past couple of weeks. There’s a good reason: family.

First, over the Mother’s Day weekend, my wife and I spent an extended time in North Carolina with two of our daughters and two of our six grandchildren. We shopped, attended a rodeo, worshiped in church, played with the grandchildren, enjoyed fellowship with our sons-in-law, and allowed the daughters to lavish well-deserved praise and presents on their mother. (My souvenir from the trip was an expensive new set of wheel bearings on the car!)

After one day back home to repack and reload, we journeyed to Southwest Florida, where my wife and her three siblings had planned a big surprise for their parents. The convocation was an occasion to celebrate three milestones: my father-in-law’s recent ninetieth birthday, my mother-in-law’s upcoming ninetieth birthday, and the couple’s seventieth wedding anniversary. It was also the first time in ten years that we had all been together at one time.

My wife and I spent several nights with her Aunt Florence, who also lives in the area. We usually stay with Connie’s parents when we go down to visit, but the need to preserve the secrecy of the event allowed us to spend time with her aunt this time.

On Wednesday evening, we all traveled to my in-laws’ church, where my father-in-law was preaching for the pastor, who was ministering in Ghana. My father-in-law only recently retired after more than a decade serving as the church’s “interim” pastor. Between raindrops of a subtropical downpour, we all entered the church. My mother-in-law stood gaping in disbelief as each of us filed through the door. My father-in-law grinned from ear to ear to see his children but for none more than his son, David.

After about 15 minutes of breathless hugging and kissing and backslapping, my father-in-law struggled to conduct the service. He could scarcely gather his thoughts for all the excitement and surprise.

For the next several days, my in-laws had to do something they are unaccustomed to doing–sit back and be served. They usually are busy serving others or doing things for themselves and refusing proffered help. Fiercely independent and in amazingly good health, they still drive; mow their lawn; maintain their pool; care for trees, shrubs, and flowers; and work out at a local gym three days a week. They chafe at inactivity.

We “kids” (and none of us is a spring chicken at this point) spent those days trimming palm trees, mowing and trimming the lawn, preparing meals, battling ants, taking a generator for repairs, organizing the contents of closets and kitchen cabinets, and doing a host of other little things to help out our honorees. Between the periods of work, we found time to put together a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle.

Although we had surprised the Dietterichs by all showing up at once (allaying our fears that the sudden shock might trigger a heart attack with the knowledge that David had been a medic in the Navy), we left gradually over several days. Connie and I were last to leave, and the Dietterichs have now returned to their quiet but ever-active independence.

And now you know the reason for the hiatus of this blog. I think that what took its place, however, was well worth it. Family trumps personal and professional priorities every time. Those other things will always be there for us to deal with; family members will not. We were blessed to celebrate the patriarch and matriarch of the Dietterich side of our family, and we hope that it was a blessing to them as well.

 

Mothers

I’ve already posted several items about my mother (or reposted previous years’ thoughts about her), so I won’t do that yet again. Instead, here are several quotations about mothers. You can make the appropriate applications to your own mother.

Martin Luther: “When Eve was brought unto Adam, he . . . gave her the most sanctified, the most glorious of appellations. He called her Eve, that is to say, the Mother of All. He did not style her wife, but simply mother, mother of all living creatures. In this consists the glory and the most precious ornament of woman.”

Sidney Harris: “The commonest fallacy among women is that simply having children makes one a mother–which is as absurd as believing that having a piano makes one a musician.”

George Washington: “All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.”

Emily Dickinson: “A mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled.”

Sue Skeen: “A mother is that someone / With a mission from above / Imparting to her children / The image of God’s love.”

William Cowper (whose mother died when he was only six years old): “Not a week passes (perhaps I might with equal veracity say a day) in which I do not think of her. Such was the impression her tenderness made upon me, though the opportunity she had for showing it was so short.”

William Dean Howells: “A man never sees all that his mother has been to him until it’s too late to let her know that he sees it.”

I can especially relate to the last two quotations. Although I was an adult when my mother died, I still think of her practically every day, often longing for the advice and counsel she might have given me in the various circumstances of my life. The statement by Howells, while too often true, need not be so. Those of you who have your mothers still living should tell them how much you love and appreciate them while they are still with you. I no longer can do that, but how often I have wished that I could.