Of Housesitting, Snow, and Roads

Choosing a topic for this week’s blog post was difficult. I couldn’t decide whether to write about the out-of-state granddaughters with whom we just spent five days, or the snowstorm we experienced while visiting them, or a historical family photograph.

Indecision is a terrible thing. To res0lve the dilemma, I chose not to decide by writing briefly about all three topics.

Last week, my wife and I drove the three hours to our daughter’s to housesit while she and her husband went on an anniversary getaway for a few days.

That housesitting also involved two lively granddaughters, one a firstgrader and the other a kindergartner; several egg-laying chickens; and an energetic and muscular dog named Tank, which is an appropriate monicker considering how he’s built.

The girls weren’t privy to the fact that we would be visiting. Their parents didn’t want their inevitable excitement to affect their educational activities. So when we accompanied their mother to pick them up the first afternoon, they were understandably surprised, and their adrenaline shot through the roof.

Their parents were concerned about how the girls would react at bedtime. They expected tears and cries of “I miss my Mommy!” But my wife preempted the rivers of saltwater by using her elementary teacher’s ingenuity. She told them they were going to have an all-girls’ sleepover in a tent, which they created by arranging sheets over chairs and other items of furniture in the bonus room.

And they loved it! In fact, they wanted to do it every night until Mommy and Daddy returned. I was exiled to the bed in the corner by myself. Such inhumane treatment of a grandfather!

But then came the snow. Measurable snowfall here in the South is rare, but we welcome it when it does occur. Within reason. Where we were housesitting, it was about 2 inches of snow with a lot of sleet, ice, and freezing rain. When we got home two days later, we found at least 8 inches, and that was after the wet, heavy snow had settled a bit. Truly a winter wonderland, and not a track to be found marring the scene.

But snow isn’t so welcome when it is accompanied by ice, sleet, freezing rain, and wind chills in the teens. It’s bad enough when store shelves mysteriously empty of milk, bread, and eggs upon the mere mention of snow in the weather forecast, but when one adds ice to the equation, it produces a potential disaster.

As a kid, I learned the theory of proper snow/ice driving by watching Daddy do so in our snowfalls in Tennessee. But I earned practical experience when we lived in Pennsylvania and I actually drove in much deeper snow than the South ever gets. I could put those lessons learned to good use in the Carolinas, too. If it weren’t for the Southerners who don’t know how to deal with such conditions but think they do. (Don’t get me started on that!)

But the girls were excited about the snow and wanted to go out to play in it. We began bundling them in the requisite layers before we ourselves got dressed to brave the 22-degree temps with wind gusts–and resultant wind chill–of 35-40 mph. Just before we were ready to leave the house, the kindergartner began crying. She was hot, she complained while trying to remove her coat. We finally coaxed her to leave it on, but she continued to cry.

We loaded them aboard the sled and pulled them to our other daughter’s house a few hundred yards away on the same street. She has a steeper hill, perfect for sledding. The girls made two trips down the hill together, and then the kindergartner began crying. She was cold.

Her older sister made a solo descent, and then we loaded them onto the sled and pulled them back home. Into the wind. Against face-stinging sleet. Only a cup of hot chocolate stanched the tears. But when Mommy and Daddy returned, the kids were gushing with tales of what fun they’d had sledding.

I couldn’t help contrasting this experience with the days of my own youth, when we went out at sunrise and stayed out until after dark, coming in only for lunch or to change into dry clothes. When, if we had no snow boots, we put freezer bag-covered feet into Converse sneakers and sledded anyway. When our hands were so cold we couldn’t snap our fingers. ‘Way back in the Ice Age, when no one ever had any fun.

Then came the inevitable dirty part of a snowfall. When brsave souls ventured out in increasing numbers and the temperatures rose above the melting point, turning the snow to dirty slush. And the fun is only a memory.

And that reminds me of a photo that has been handed down through our family. If we think our slushy roads are bad now, this photo reminds us of just how fortunate we really are today.

Uncle Homer Weaver was a mail carrier in the late 1920s or early 1930s when Tennessee had some deplorable country roads. The photo shows his mail vehicle stuck in one such muddy, rutted road. Yet, somehow the mail got through. “Neither snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays the couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Talk about good ol’ days!

By the way, the weather prophets are predicting another snow event later today and tonight. Oh boy!

Valuable Lessons from Eudora Welty

One is never too old to learn. After all, as that Great Depression-era wit and home-spun philosopher Will Rogers often said, “We’re all ignorant, just on different subjects.”

I’m always on the lookout for lessons I can learn, especially when they come from successful writers. Every year, I make it a point to read books in which such writers offer advice for improving my writing efforts. This year is no exception, and I’ve already read the first such book: Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings.
Although Welty was a writer of fiction (and fiction is something I seldom read, although I’m trying to correct that flaw, too), she still offers some good advice that is applicable to all writing. Part autobiography, part memoir, it’s all good stuff for every writer, and I learned a lot from it.
The book’s organizational scheme itself offers a key to the lessons Welty teaches in its mere 104 pages:
I. ListeningII. Learning to SeeIII. Finding a Voice
Here are a few of the gems she offers under each of those headings.
Listening
She passed along this lesson about paying attention to details, offered to her by a literary critic. He told her, “Always be sure you get your moon in the right part of the sky.” (11)
“. . . This is the case with all readers–to read as listeners–and with all writers, to write as listeners. . . . The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth, for me. . . . When I write and the sound of it comes back to my ears, then I act to make my changes. I have always trusted this voice.” (12)
“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them.” (14)
Learning to See
Referring to the trips she took with her family or with her father, she wrote, “The trips were wholes unto themselves. They were stories. Not only in form, but in theior taking on direction, movement, development, change. They changed something in my life: each trip made its particualr relevation, though I could not have found words for it. But with the passage of time, I could look back on them and see them bringing me news, discoveries, premonitions, promises–I still can; they still do. . . . “The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find theirs own order, a timetable not necessarily–perhaps not possibly–chronological. The time as we know it subjectively is often the chronology that stories and novels follow: it is the continuous thread of revelation.” (68-69)
Finding a Voice
“But it was not until I began to write, as I seriously did only when I reached my twenties, that I found the world out there revealing, because (as with my father now) memory had become attached to seeing, love had added itself to discovery, and beause I recognized in my own continuing longing to keep going, the need I carried inside myself to know–the apprehension, first, and then the passion, to connect myself to it. Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it. . . . My imagination takes its strength and guides its direction from what I see and hear and learn and feel and remember of my living world.” (76)
“The memory is a living thing–it too is in transit. . . . [A]ll that is remembered joins, and lives–the old and the young, the past and the present, the living and the dead.”. . . I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.” (104)

So the lessons in a nutshell?

  1. Listen carefully, picking up the “little” sounds about you, especially the sound of your own words. Revise them when they don’t sound right, and make sure you get the details right.
  2. Observe closely, learning to see the seemingly small things that most people miss. It is from such “little” things that stories are built.
  3. Discover your own voice and perspective by building on your own experiences that your mind has stored away in its memory bank. From memory come discoveries of stories.

Another Unique Idea Generator

Daniel, one of my four sons-in-law, slid the large, square, and obviously heavy unwrapped box in from of me as our extended family sat exchanging our Christmas gifts.

What on earth?! I wondered. With our crazy family, one never knows. It’s a given that no present is ever what is pictured on the box in which it is packaged. A beautiful necklace or a much-coveted tool might be hidden in a cereal box, a greeting card box, or even a used paper towel tube. Even the sons-in-law have by now come to expect the unexpected when it comes to Peterson family gift packaging.

But this particular gift was housed in a nondescript, unmarked cardboard box. No picture. No printing. No indication whatsoever of what it might conceal.

I lifted the lid carefully, half expeting to find a furry, hyperactive puppy amid a pile of soiled newspapers. The girls have often threatened me with such a “gift.” After all, all four of the girls’ families have one or more canines. Why shouldn’t Mom and Dad have one, too?

But the lifted lid revealed no such gift. Instead of finding a boisterous bouncing puppy, I stared down into the box at a massive antique typewriter.

My first thought was, How ironic! Stacy, the daughter who is always badgering me to “get with it, Dad!” by venturing into the ever-changing world of high-tech 21st-century gadgetry is now trying to push me back into the neanderthal era of printing machines!

Before I could voice my thoughts, however, Stacy announced, “As soon as I saw this at the Children’s Home sale, I said, ‘That’s Dad!'”

My wife, apparently in on the scheme from the start, quickly added, “She’s spent hours cleaning it up and getting it ready for you.” I immediately sensed her emphasis on the time and effort expended.

“And hours researching its history,” Daniel said. I detected a hint of what I interpreted as a little jealous resentment of time that justly might have been devoted to him.

As if to lend visual credibility to the testimony of mother and husband, the daughter submitted, “I’ve emailed you before-and-after photos and a link to a website that lists the serial numbers of old typewriters so you can research it. The best I can figure, yours was made between 1928 and 1930.”

I tried to lift the machine from the box so I could get a better look. Its weight, however, was too much for my arthritic wrists, and I let it slip from my hands and settle back into the box.

Where am I going to put this monster? I began thinking.

By the time we got home several days later, I’d figured out a place for it. I rearranged my office a bit and set the machine on another antique–a sturdy child’s school desk, the kind with a hole for an ink bottle. I stood back and looked at it.

Suddenly, impulsively, I reached forward and placed the fingers of both my hands on the home keys. My digits seemed strangely crowded on the keys. My computer keyboard seems commodious by contrast.

I lifted my right index finger from its place atop the J key and attempted to reach the U above it. My fingernail struck the targeted key just about where the nail enters the cuticle. I hadn’t realized just how high each row of keys was set above the one below.

How on earth did typists keep their fingers on the home keys when they had to reach so high to hit the next row’s letters? I wondered.

I stepped back and pondered the monster before me. As I examined its numerous mechanical features and tried them to see if they worked as originally designed, I marveled at the ingenuity of the engineers at Remington.

No doubt because of the amount of research I’ve done recently on aspects of World War II, my mind soon wandered to the history of the company and how it had retooled during that conflict to make weapons of war.

Remington Typewriter Company began in 1886 and quickly became famous as a manufacturer of quality business machines, such as adding machines. In 1927, it merged with Rand Kardex Corporation to become Remington Rand and began making products other than business machines, including electric razors.

During World War II, the government awarded Remington a military contract to help produce the now-legendary M1911A1 Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol. The company made approximately 20,000 of the pistols, which was “perhaps the most successful semiautomatic pistol design in history” (nramuseum.org). Original WWII-era Remington 1911s regularly bring more than $2,000 in today’s market.

But I digress.

The same daughter who gifted me this old typewriter also several years earlier gave me a framed black-and-white photo of an old, delapidated typewriter that doubless had typed many a story. Beneath the photo is this challenge: “Write your own life story.” From that gift came both a book (Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee, 2017) and an article (“The Beloved Country,” The Writer, April 2016, https://www.writermag.com/writing-inspiration/essays-about-writing/dennis-l-peterson/).

As I contemplate the old typewriter on the school desk in front of me, I can only imagine what stories that machine is hiding. Perhaps it, too, is silently crying out to me, “Write some more of that story!”

Who knows? Maybe in 2022 I will do a little more writing of that story. Or maybe that old typewriter will whisper several ideas of a different sort.

2021 in Retrospective

Although it’s hard to believe, the calendar doesn’t lie. This year is almost history. Already. And that realization forces me to ask myself, Where has the time gone? And what have I accomplished during the past year?

That last question led me to revisit and review the goals lists I made at the beginning of the year. Although I didn’t accomplish everything on those lists, I achieved more than I might have done had I not dared to make the list and attempt doing those things.

Aim for the moon. It’s a given that you won’t reach it, but you’ll go far higher than if you’d never launched into the air at all.

So how close to the moon did I come? Not too close, I’m afraid. I’m still in the stratosphere. In fact, maybe even only the troposphere. But I did accomplish something. Let me summarize.

Books read–39 (Four of these–yes, four!–were fiction. Has to be a record for me. There’s still a couple of weeks left in the year, so maybe I can add another one or two to these 39!)

Books published–1 (Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies). Another book (Evangelism and Expulsion: Missionary Work among the Cherokees until Removal) was supposed to have been released in 2021, but it was delayed as a result of Covid’s negative effects on the publisher’s schedule. It has now been scheduled for release in February 2022. (Stay tuned!)

Manuscripts written/completed and submitted–2 (Southern Voices, Universal Truths: Fugitives, Agrarians, and the Battle for Southern Values and Dillon’s War: Tracing the Steps of a Spearhead Driver for an Artillery Forward Observer through Europe in World War II)

Blog posts written and published–61 (62 if you count this one)

Stories recorded and aired for the Our American Stories radio program–6 (and 1 other recorded but most likely to be aired sometime in 2022)

People interviewed for writing projects–3 (two authors for the blog and an aspiring historian for the historical society newsletter)

Involvements in the Travelers Rest Historical Society–Wrote 4 issues of Preservation, the 4–page newsletter of the Society; monthly docent duty at the museum; monthly board meetings; manned the Society’s information table twice during city events; kept abreast of progress made in restoration efforts at Spring Park Inn

Articles written and published–2

Chapel messages delivered–8

So what about all those unfinished or unaccomplished goals from the 2021 lists? I’ll simply roll them over into 2022. My to-do list is already started! And I’ll soon add a lot more items to that list, I’m sure.

How about your own year in retrospect? How did you do with your goals? (You did set some, didn’t you?!) Now it’s time to begin thinking about setting the goals for next year.

By the way, one of my final goals for 2021 is yet unfinished, but I intend to accomplish it before the year fades into the mists of the past. I want to enjoy the Christmas holidays with my wife, daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. After all, it is our year for all of us to be together (in even-numbered years, the daughters spend the holiday with their husbands’ families). To achieve that goal, I’m putting the blog on hiatus until after the holidays.

Meanwhile, I hope that you, too, will take a little time to put your own family at the top of your list of priorities during this time when we commemorate the Savior’s birth while anticipating His coming again.

Merry Christmas to all. We’ll see you next year with new goals, new hopes, new dreams.

Aim for the moon!

We Resume Our Chat with Anne Clare

Last week, we introduced you to novelist Anne Clare from the Pacific Northwest. She’s a teacher, a musician, a wife and mother, and somehow she manages to find time to research and write novels set in the World War II era. She is the author of Whom Shall I Fear? and the recently released Where Shall I Flee?

Dennis L Peterson: Welcome back, Anne. We’re honored to have you join us to resume our conversation about your books and how you do it all! Last week, you explained how you manage to prioritize your various responsibilities to find time to research and write. Today, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the process by which you do those tasks.

I love how your blog address (https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/) tells us when you carve out time to do your research and writing! I’ve noticed that your blog postings indicate that, although your writing is fiction, you do an amazing amount of research about nonfiction topics. Would you describe your research process?

Anne Clare: Thank you! I’m glad that the research shows!

I’ve done a fair amount of general reading on World War II since I started writing in the era and collected all sorts of tidbits of information as I go. Having a broad idea of the whens and wheres not only gives me inspiration for plot points but also helps me better understand the context of my characters’ lives.

I particularly like to find eye-witness accounts. Since my newest book takes place around the Anzio beachhead, I gathered memoirs of nurses who served in the area, such as Avis Schorer’s A Half Acre of Hell and June Wandry’s Bedpan Commando as well as Audi Murphy’s To Hell and Back and Bill Mauldin’s Up Front. The opportunity to view the places I’m writing about through the eyes of the people who served there is invaluable.

More general history books are helpful as well, like Rick Atkinson’s excellent The Day of Battle. The U.S. Army Center of Military History and the Naval History and Heritage Command websites have tons of tremendous resources available regarding the American side of the military activities.

Of course, general overviews will only take you so far. In my second or third draft of my new book, I read through and looked for everything in the manuscript that I wasn’t sure about–popular songs of the era, clothing materials, dates, climate and terrain, hair styles, and so on. I used the “Comment” function in Word to mark ALL of them. Then, I started digging.

Other people are also tremendous resources. I’ve been looking into the history of Washington [State] during the war, a place where I’ve actually been! A couple of ladies in my church lived in Bremerton, Washington, home of the Naval Shipyard, during the war, and they’ve shared some fascinating memories. The curator of a Bremerton museum has also been helpful in pointing me toward some great books.

Some pieces of research are hard to pin down, and I have eliminated plot points when I couldn’t find the facts to back them up. I often end up with more information than I can possibly use. That’s where the blog comes in handy. It’s a great place to share the things I learn that just won’t fit organically into my book!

DLP: Your process certainly illustrates how much research goes into writing even a work of fiction long before you begin writing. That brings us to your writing process. What goes into producing one of your books, from initial idea to finished book?

AC: Well, first, I must get an initial idea. That has looked different each time. For the first book, I started with a final scene. For the second one, I just had a place and the idea of a POW escape. The third, which is still in process, started with a title, “Pearl Harbor Ghosts.”

I then tell myself that I’ll do all of the research first this time. I find, however, that the research continues throughout the process! Then I start drafting the story. During the drafting, I inevitably run into a lot of snags where I need to look things up.

Once I’ve completed the first draft, I go back and mark up the things that I need to look up. I edit and research. (I repeat this step many, many times.)

When I hit a wall with the manuscript where I just can’t think of anything else to fix, I pass it off to beta readers. Then I fret and check my inbox constantly until I get comments back from them. I compile their comments into a comprehensive list and get back to editing. Edit. Research. Edit. It continues ad nauseum!

Then I pass the book on to an editor. I try not to look at my manuscript draft until it comes back from the editor. When the editor returns it, I edit some more and listen to the book using the “Read Aloud” function on my laptop.

Next, I send the book to the formatter. Usually, I’ll panic when I realize I missed “something,” then I beg the formatter to fix it for me and thank her profusely afterward.

Last, I do a final read-through on Amazon and publish it!

DLP: What are your greatest struggles as an author? And what are your greatest rewards?

AC: Hands down, my greatest struggle these days is finding time to write. Since fall got into full swing this year, I haven’t been able to start typing until the children are down, and I end up dozing off over my keyboard!

I also struggle to find the balance between fact and fiction. There is so much real history that I’d like to incorporate into my stories, but it’s not possible to squeeze it all in. Then there are so many interesting plot twists to try, but keeping everything plausible historically is hard. There’s always one more thing to look up, one more research rabbit hole to go down. It’s hard to know when to stop!

My greatest reward? There are so many! The satisfaction of rereading something I’ve created and enjoying it. The thrill of a new character taking shape and taking on his or her own personality. The triumph of pinning down a pesky piece of information that I’ve been hunting for. The feedback from kind readers. Writing isn’t an easy fit into my personal life, but the joys of it keep me going!

DLP: One final question: What do you read for fun, and what are you reading right now?

AC: My schedule is so tight that I don’t do many things “just for fun.” I read a fair amount of middle grade and young adult literature while picking out novels for my students or children. I love Agatha Christie and Jane Austen. I’ve always enjoyed fantasy and sci-fi. But I avoid fiction during the school year. (Once I get engaged in a novel, I won’t sleep until I finish it, which presents a problem when I need to be lucid enough to explain pre-algebra!) I generally have a few books going. There’s always some World War II history on my bedside stand. Right now that includes MacArthur’s Spies by Peter Eisner and Shadows in the Jungle by Larry Alexander.

DLP: Thank you, Anne, for sharing with us the process, the struggles, and the rewards of your writing life. I hope your current book does well and wish you well as you work on the next one.

Readers, you can learn more about Anne and her works at her blog site (https://thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com/). And please check out her books on Amazon: Whom Shall I Fear? and the recently released Where Shall I Flee?

A Chat With Novelist Anne Clare

My guest for today’s blog post is novelist Anne Clare, author of Whom Shall I Fear? and her newest book, the recently released Where Shall I Flee? She also has available an interesting volume for this time of year, a work titled Wartime Christmas Tales: A World War II Flash Fiction Anthology.

Although Anne grew up in southern Minnesota, she currently lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she not only writes but also teaches half-time and is a church musician. But she considers her primary responsibility to be caring for her “husband, three children, and a small menagerie of animals.”

In spite of having all these many irons in the fire simultaneously, she still somehow finds time to research and write. She also graciously carved out time to be interviewed for this blog.

Dennis L. Peterson: Welcome, Anne, and thank you for taking time for this interview. How and when did you begin your writing career, and what was the motivating factor that sparked your writing?

Anne Clare: Thanks so much for inviting me! I’ve always enjoyed writing and had done a bit here and there, but I don’t now if I would have pursued publication seriously at this stage of life if we hadn’t had major household plumbing issues five or six years ago. I was a full-time mom, at home with my three children, half of our house was out of commission (including the bathroom for a few weeks!). The bills were mounting, and I couldn’t even take the kids out to local parks because we were perpetually waiting for the next repairman to stop by.

Writing became my catharsis–a way to relieve some of the stress and a way to go somewhere else through imagination while the kids napped. I drafted my first novel, which was based on a dream I’d had. It wasn’t until the story was about halfway done that I thought about working toward publication. Of course, that meant taking that first draft and doing a huge amount of research and editing to get it ready for other eyes than mine!

DLP: How do you juggle all of your multiple responsibilities and still find time to research and write?

AC: Some days, I’m not sure I’m juggling so much as trying to keep my head above water!

Early in my writing journey, I had to learn the importance of two things: setting clear personal goals and then making sure those goals fit my life.

If I were going to publish, I wanted to be certain that I had done the very best work that I was capable of. At the same time, if it came down to taking care of my family’s needs or being there for my kids (biological or students) versus writing, the writing would have to take a back seat. Because of this, I decided that traditional publishing wasn’t going to work for me, nor was publishing as a full-time career, at least not for the time being. I needed to be able to set my own pace and to tackle projects as I could. I needed to be able to set projects aside, too, when sick kids or end-of-quarter grading or other things came up without feeling guilty about it.

I decided to publish independently, and it’s been a good fit. It gives me the flexibility I need. Of course, I couldn’t have done as much as I have without a phenomenal team of people. The editors, formatter, cover designer, and several of my beta readers that I’ve worked with are, besides being tremendously talented people, also moms with full lives–they understand the craziness, and we work with and around each other’s schedules! I’ve had a number of other friends, including several writers, who’ve been kind and supportive and offered help, advice, insight, and reviews.

DLP: Both of your books are set in the World War II era. What motivated your obvious interest in that era?

AC: My grandpa was a World War II veteran, serving with the 86th Infantry Division (the Blackhawk Division). While he never talked about the war, I’d grown up seeing bits of memorabilia around his house. We read about the war years in school, of course, and my imagination was particularly caught by fiction based in that era. A couple of my favorite grade school novels were Number the Stars and Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan.

As an adult, I find it fascinating to see just how much of our life today, from technological advances to the popularity of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, tie back to the war years.

One of my children asked me why I like to write about war. It’s not so much war that I like to write about. War is a terrible thing. But against such a dark backdrop, the good things–acts of courage, of kindness, of faith, and of humanity–stand out the brighter.

DLP: Yes, I remember reading Snow Treasure, too, as a kid. Both your writing and mine illustrate the truth that we tend to write what we also enjoy reading most. Yours is fiction and mine is nonfiction!

We’re out of space for this session, but I look forward to continuing this conversation in the next post. Meanwhile, you readers might want to check out Anne’s books, Where Shall I Flee? and Whom Shall I Fear? Both of them are available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. Thank you, Anne Clare, and we look forward to your joining us again next week.

Lasting Friendships

In my distant past (though not all that distant, it seems), I recall reading an essay by someone (perhaps it was Judith Viorst) who delineated the differences between several kinds of friendship. She divided friends into three categories: “friends, good friends, and such good friends.”

The older I get, the more I understand what she meant. I’ve had many people during my life whom I’ve called my friends. But not all friends are of equal quality. Time reveals that fact as some of the people we once thought were friends just disappeared, or maybe they disappointed or disagreed so harshly with us that they unilaterally distanced themselves from us. Many “friends” thereby proved that they were no longer really friends in the truest sense of that word. They were mere acquaintances.

Take, for instance, college roommates. I estimate that during 11 semesters of college (including three of which were grad school), I had many different roommates. Although I counted all of them as friends, they were scattered across a long continuum of friendship. Almost all of them disappeared from my circle of acquaintance after college (some after one semester) as we all went our separate ways, followed our different majors and careers, got married, had families, etc. I guess I could count on both hands those good friends with whom I maintained some degree of contact over the years.

But then there is a small handful of people I have known whom I can consider to be in Viorst’s third category: such good friends. I might not maintain regular contact with them, but when we do contact each other, we seem to pick up right where we left off the last time, no matter how long it’s been since we last talked.

Last week, I had two such occasions during which I reconnected with two such good friends.

First was Craig Stone. He and I had been roommates our sophomore year of college. We were both history education majors. We often had classes together. We sometimes studied for history, government, and economics exams together. We debated political and social issues. We played practical jokes on each other. (One test of true friendship is whether the person will still be your friend after you’ve crumbled cookies in his dress shoes just before he goes on a hot date or imbedded holly berries in his deodorant stick or short-sheeted his bed or typed nonsensical sentences randomly throughout his research paper when he stepped out for a break or committed a dozen other college pranks against him.)

And then we moved on, I to grad school and he to teaching in Florida. We reconnected a few years later when I was in his wedding and then again when he was in mine. Over the years, however, we each got busy with life, children, careers, etc., and we didn’t stay in touch as often. But occasionally he would call just to chat, and it was as though we’d never gone separate ways. And sometimes when each us was en route to other destinations, we would spend the night at each others’ homes.

I texted him the other day to ask whether I had sent him a copy of the book I’d promised him when it became available. I had not. It had just slipped my mind. But he didn’t just text his answer. He called. And we talked for another half hour or so. And it was as if we were just resuming an interrupted conversation from last week. Such good friends.

And then another friend from the past, Jim Blizzard, a fellow with whom I had grown up and gone to church (his father was the pastor), called to ask if he and his wife, Debbie, could stay at our house during his family’s early Thanksgiving reunion in our area. Connie and I were honored that he would stay with us rather than with his own family. (But then again, that might not have been a hard choice for them. After all, they did have 18 grandchildren to deal with at the reunion, so our house provided them a quiet respite from the holiday hubbub.)

As young people, Jim and I often were at each other’s house, playing baseball, joining in the families’ meals, tromping through my grandfather’s pastures and woodlands, sledding together in the winter, and pestering our respective younger sisters, Gina and Linda. We attended the youth group meetings together, memorizing verses and learning the catechism. We built up quite a pile of memories during those years. But then I went away to college. Later, he attended a different college. We ended up living in different states and pursuing different careers. And we seemingly lost contact with each other.

But the kind of friendship we had survives such “disruptions” of life and is readily resumed whenever we do manage to reconnect. For example, we had “collided” with each other years ago when both of us were attending a meeting in Philadelphia, neither of us knowing that the other would be there. Later, we both attended a wedding anniversary celebration for Jim’s parents. We spent the night with him and his family once when en route to visit my in-laws. We also once wanted to surprise him by dropping in (unannounced) at a Sunday morning service at the church he pastors, but we were the ones who were surprised because he was in Kenya on a mission trip at the time.

But whenever we have been able to connect, though years might intervene between such meetings, we’ve picked up right where we left off, as though there had been no interruption. We laugh as we reminisce. We commiserate as we discuss current situations, including the new (to us) problems that just naturally come with the aging process. We ponder the prospects of the future, not only ours but also our children’s and our grandchildren’s.

That, I think, is what Viorst meant when she defined “such good friends.” Craig Stone and Jim Blizzard I count among the few such good friends. We share, in many ways, a common past. We share many common interests and perspectives and friends. And, most importantly, we share a common faith. And that, I’m convinced, is what really creates such good friends.

YIKES! I’ve Not Finished Shopping, and Christmas Is Almost Here!

Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas is just around the corner. It’s hard to believe that another year is almost gone.

My grandmother, Nannie Summers, used to tell me that time would pass faster and faster as I aged, but I didn’t believe her. How could what she said possibly be true when it seemed to me to take years for Christmas to arrive?

But that was when I was a kid. Since then, things have changed. I’m much older now, and I’m a convert to Nannie’s way of thinking about time. It’s flying past at warp speed! She had told me the truth but not the whole truth! It was worse than she said.

Every year, my wife and I tell ourselves that this year we aren’t waiting until the last minute to do our Christmas shopping. None of that last-minute rushing around to do it. So, with great intentions, we begin buying gifts in the summer. (Actually, my wife begins sometime in February. I’m just beginning to get the decorations put away.) But then we get busy, and one thing after another monopolizes our time and, before we know it, Thanksgiving is upon us and we’ve hardly made a dent in that Christmas list. Moreover, with more grandkids being added to the family periodically, the list is getting longer every year.

Do you, too, find yourself still having gifts to buy as Christmas approaches? This year, with all the supply-chain problems and delivery services being slammed by the massive volume of online sales, one now has to worry about not only buying the gifts but also getting them delivered in time for Christmas.

A little suggestion to help you with that dilemma: If you know someone who is interested in Southern history or the War Between the States or religious and military history, I know of a few books they might appreciate receiving at Christmas. And they’re available on Amazon, which has a good reputation for delivery service. After all, their vans now are as ubiquitous as the big brown trucks with which we’re so familiar.

Christ in Camp and Combat is a survey of the various religious denominations’ work among the Confederate armies during that late unpleasantness. It focuses on the ministries of chaplains, missionaries, and colporteurs and offers biographical sketches of many of them from every denomination.

Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries is an examination of the too-often-overlooked civilian government during the war. It provides not only a survey of every cabinet position (the justice, state, treasury, war, navy, and post office departments) but also biographical sketches of every person who served in those cabinet posts.

The first half of COMBAT! Spiritual Lessons from Military History traces the military actions of biblical Israel from Abram’s raid to rescue Lot to the destruction of Jerusalem. The second half of the work offers practical truths concerning the daily spiritual warfare in the Christian life, using illustrations from the organization and structure of both the historical and the modern U.S. military.

Check them out. Maybe you’ll find among them the perfect gift for someone on your list. Perhaps it will fit that hard-to-buy-for person who “has everything.” But hurry! Time’s flying, and Christmas will be here before you know it!

Warplanes a Reminder of Our World War II Vets

One of the featured local attractions for Veterans Day recognition this year was a display of World War II-era airplanes at the downtown airport. The scheduled and advertised centerpieces of the commemoration were an AT6 Texan, a P-40 Warhawk, and a PBY Catalina flying boat. The nearby museum of the Military History Center of the Carolinas was also open for free tours.

Both venues were jammed with visitors of all ages. Parking was at a premium, and the milling crowd made it hard to get good photos of the featured planes without some stranger inadvertently wandering into the field of view just as one snapped a photo. (I’m sure that I, too, ruined a few photos that other people were trying to get. That’s an ever-present hazard at such events.) One merchandise vendor had a sound system larger than his display table blaring World War II-era (and other more modern) music louder than the roar of the engines on the AT6 Texans that were taking visitors with enough disposable income on flights.

I had two goals in going to this event: (1) to see the P-40 in flight as advertised (I had already seen several in static displays) and (2) to see the PBY Catalina, which I had never seen up close. I was disappointed on both counts. The P-40 didn’t fly, and the PBY didn’t even show up–no explanations offered.

The AT6 Texan was a single-engine advanced trainer built by North American Aviation and used to prepare American pilots to fly the more advanced fighter aircraft used in combat during World War II. It was also used in both the Korean and the Vietnam conflicts as forward air control aircraft.

The Curtis P-40 Warhawk, with its shark-mouth nose art, is perhaps one of the most-recognized fighter planes of World War II. The single-engine fighter first flew in 1938 and was used by the British against German forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean. But it was not widely recognized by the public until used by the American Volunteer Group, a group of American pilots led by General Claire Chennault who helped the Nationalist Chinese fight the Japanese. It was superseded in the European theater by the P-38 Lightning, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-51 Mustang.

The Consolidated PBY Catalina flying boat is perhaps most closely associated with the rescue of pilots who ditched at sea and seamen whose vessels were sunk. Although it was, indeed, used for search-and-rescue operations, it was also used extensively for anti-submarine patrols, bombing missions, reconnaissance, and even cargo transportation. (Its designation as “PBY” indicates that it was designed primarily for use as a patrol bomber. The Y is the designation for Consolidated Aircraft Company.) Of the planes advertised for display at the Veterans Day event, the PBY Catalina was the one I most wanted to see. That’s one reason I was disappointed when it didn’t show.

Over all, however, the event was a good reminder of not only the role these three planes played in waging and winning World War II but also the many men who flew and manned them in the conflict. After all, planes don’t fly themselves; the human element is critical to what made them famous. It would have been nice if the event organizers could have also created displays honoring those brave men. After all, Veterans Day is meant to focus on the people who served.

Anyhow, that’s what I was thinking about as I toured the exhibits, whether flying or static.

A Fitting Tribute to America’s Veterans

Countless blog posts today will be filled with countless words offering tributes to America’s military veterans and their role in gaining, protecting, and maintaining our freedoms.

Nothing I could say would add anything more to what has already been said in those blogs. However, I am posting my weekly blog a day early so it will coincide with this special day of thanksgiving for the veterans’ contributions.

In it I am simply providing a link to an amazing episode of a television program called Small Town Big Deal hosted by Jann Carl and Rodney Miller. It’s a special episode showing several examples what has been done in various small towns across the nation to honor our veterans. It’s certainly worth your time to view it. Afterward, maybe you’ll feel moved to offer a heartfelt “thank you” to the veterans you encounter.

Here’s the link. Enjoy! https://youtu.be/-pmMoW5PAVc