Snow Brings Back Memories!

Here, as elsewhere throughout the Southeast and up the Atlantic coast, snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures have been the norm recently. I’m too old and slow to get out and play in the stuff like I used to do as a kid, but looking out the window brings back a flood of memories!

As soon as it was light enough and we had eaten breakfast (a cathead biscuit filled with a scrambled egg and a sausage patty or a couple of slices of bacon, what I called an “egg pocket”), we bundled up for cold-weather play. We pulled blue jeans over our flannel pajamas, slipped into two or three pairs of socks, donned a flannel shirt and a sweatshirt (or two) topped by our heaviest winter play coat. For a while, I recall, I had a pair of big, black rubber galoshes that I pulled on over my low-top Converse sneakers (which barely fit because of the number of socks I wore). Later, when I had outgrown the galoshes, I had some leather work boots. Because they weren’t waterproof, I put freezer bags over my feet before putting on the boots. (Hey, my object was not to make a fashion statement but rather to keep my feet dry so I could stay out playing in the snow longer!)

And play we did! We worked half the morning to develop an efficient sledding track down the hillside of Walter Coomer’s cow pasture. We had a huge doughnut-shaped inner tube that we used to compact the snow, and that made the track wide and slick. Only after we completed that task would we try the runner sleds. It was a long walk to the top of that hill, but that made for a really long, fun trip back down! We sometimes piled four or five people on the “Tuber,” which was nearly impossible to steer, except by dragging one’s toes (which would ruin the track), and after hitting a few frozen cow piles en route to the bottom, we usually arrived with several fewer people than we’d started with.

We sometimes moved to my grandfather’s cow pasture to try greater challenges. One hill was much steeper (but shorter) than Mr. Coomer’s pasture, and it had several drop-offs, little places where it had eroded, making little “cliffs.” Sledding down that was a real thrill, but it was short-lived. One had to make sure he rolled off the tube or sled before he got to the bottom because two big trees were down there to greet him if he was a little slow in bailing out. One time, Bill and Paul Freshour, our neighbors, decided to make it even more of an adrenaline pumper, nailing the plywood bow deck from an old motorboat to their sled. Every time they went over one of the drop-offs, they sailed rather than sledded!

Several dozen yards to the right of that pasture was an even steeper but somewhat longer hill with some smaller drop-offs. That hill was an even greater challenge because at the bottom of it was a barbed-wire fence! Timing one’s roll off the sled was absolutely critical! I ripped several holes in my coat when I misjudged my roll-off and snagged it on the lower strand of the barbed wire. Maybe that’s why I started the practice of wearing an old World War II helmet liner that my brother and I had gotten somewhere and spray painted silver.

We played outside until lunchtime, and Mother often had to call us inside even then. That gave us time not only for nourishment but also for our clothes to dry out a bit. We would lay the boots, socks, gloves, etc., on the hearth in front of the fire or on the open door of the oven. As soon as the last bite was in our mouths, however, we were donning the warm but still-wet gear and making a mad dash back out into the snow. We often stayed outside until nearly dark. (A few times, especially if the moon was bright, we stayed out even after dark. Avoiding collisions with trees, timing roll-offs, etc., was really fun then!) Sometimes our hands and fingers, though covered with several pairs of gloves and mittens, were so cold that we couldn’t snap our fingers when we finally got inside to warm.

Yeah, all those memories came flooding back when my daughter Elissa send photos of my granddaughter Regan looking longingly out the window the first morning it had snowed at their house. It was only the second snow of Regan’s life, but she remembered her first experience vividly and wanted to repeat it. Then Elissa sent another photo of Regan (later another of her and her sister Morgan) on the sled. What memories those photos engendered!

Playing in the snow never gets old. But it made me sort of sad that I couldn’t get out and play in the fluffy white stuff again myself!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


Nannie’s Hands

Hands can reveal a lot about a person. For example, a city slicker, a paper pusher, or someone who sits in front of a computer all day will generally have soft, smooth hands. Someone who does regular, hard, manual labor outdoors in all kinds of weather, however, generally has hard, rough, calloused hands. The former will have clean, clear, neatly trimmed nails; the latter has thick, broken nails with some degree of dirt showing under them.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character certainly would notice such things. I, too, noticed them when I was growing up. I noticed especially my maternal grandmother’s hands. (Nannie, we grandkids called her.)

Perhaps the most prominent feature of Nannie’s hands was that they showed unmistakable evidence of arthritis. The knuckles were swollen and enlarged, hard and painful-looking things. I especially recall the knuckle of her index finger, where the finger joined the palm of her hand. And the arthritis had drawn her index fingers inward toward the middle fingers in a painful curve. Her hands must often have hurt her because she continually rubbed them. And she sometimes massaged into them various lotions and ointments, such as Cas Walker’s Supra-Derm Salve.

I often wondered as I observed Nannie’s arthritic hands if there was a connection between arthritis and hard work because Nannie’s hands were always hard-working hands. If they were not busy doing some kind of work, she was patting the arm of her chair with them or tapping the side of her leg or rubbing them. Her hands were seldom still.

Nannie’s hands had washed piles and piles of clothes long before she got an automatic wringer washer. I recall Mother’s recounting how Mondays were wash days. They built a big, hot fire back in the yard, heated water, and then carried it to the back porch, where they poured it into a large tub. In went the dirty clothes and the lye soap. And then Nannie scrubbed the clothes on an old washboard, the hot water and the lye burning her hands bright red. Then those strong hands rinsed the clothes and wrung the water from them before hanging them on the clothesline to dry in the bright sun and the clear country air.

Nannie’s hands were also busy in the kitchen, preparing and then frying or baking various foods. Peeling and mashing potatoes, shelling peas, breaking and stringing beans, peeling and slicing apples or peaches, or kneading and rolling out bread dough. She was always fixing–or had just fixed–something, so there was always something to eat at Nannie’s house. Once could always count on her having some kind of dessert in the kitchen. Coconut cake. Stack cake. Chocolate cake. Apple pie. (Her crusts were always what we kids described as “stout,” meaning that one could hold a piece of pie in hand and eat it without its breaking apart.) And my favorite, fried apple pies. One of them was a meal in itself, almost as good as a Moon Pie. Like a Moon Pie, one of Nannie’s fried apple pies and an RC Cola were sure to ruin a guy’s supper!

Nannie’s hands were also expressive. She used them a lot when she talked, gesturing, pointing, waving–all motions designed (subconsciously, of course) to further communicate whatever she was saying. And they often covered her mouth–not only when she was suddenly surprised by something or alarmed by what she had just heard but also when something had tickled her and she was trying to suppress a laugh.

But Nannie’s hands–arthritic, disfigured, tired, and worn though they were–were most of all kind and gentle hands. They could as easily wipe away a tear, calm a fear, comfort homesickness, and clean a scrape as they could carry in a heavy bucket of coal to feed her hungry Warm Morning stove. They could as easily and gently caress and pat the hand of a young grandson just going off to college, giving tactile proof of promised prayers, as they could grab and break off a switch with which to administer grandmotherly discipline.

To some people, Nannie Summers’s hands might have seemed unsightly, perhaps even ugly. But to me, those hands were among the most beautiful and most lovely hands on earth.

What memories or thoughts do others have when they look at your hands or mine?

(Excerpt from Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee, available at

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Finding Gems in the Backstory

Sometimes in studying a disgusting subject one unearths a rare gem of positive good. As maligned as the Nazi regime is (and deservedly so), hidden buried beneath its gruesome history one finds something that redounded positively for later generations: the lowly Volkswagen Beetle.

The concept for the Volkswagen Beetle originated in the minds of Nazi collaborationist Ferdinand Porsche and the demented dictator Adolf Hitler. Although Porsche claimed to be apolitical, asserting that his membership in the Nazi Party was merely for the potential business opportunities it afforded, his association with Hitler (Stalin also vied for his design expertise) never seemed to bother him. According to Der Spiegel,

He was an inventor and a developer who was interested solely in his designs. In the end, who he worked for was as unimportant to him as the question of whether the projects were of a civilian or military nature. Solving the problem at hand was what mattered to him, not who was paying him.

I suspect, however, that there was more to it than his drive to design; he was a capitalist without a conscience who was driven by the almighty Reichsmark.

Be that as it may, Hitler was enthralled by the man and his work, calling him “brilliant.” But Hitler thought that he himself was also brilliant, so brilliant that he felt compelled to school Porsche by sharing with him a design of Hitler’s own. That design (though the final outcome looked very little like the end product, Porsche subtly inserting his own improvements) ended up becoming the Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen, or “Strength-Through-Joy Car,” Volk for short. (Hitler’s sketch of his idea is shown here.) It was to be the “people’s car,” and it proved to be the forerunner of the Volkswagen Beetle. (In the accompanying photo, Porsche, in dark suit, is showing Hitler a preproduction model of the car.)

According to Der Spiegel, only 630 Volks were made for the civilian market during World War II, and most of those went to members of the Nazi elite. But Porsche wasn’t concerned about who used his products, whether civilians or the military, or whether they were used for peaceful ends or aggressive and destructive purposes.

His company went on to design and build, based on the Volk design, the Kubelwagen (“bucket car”), which, though originally designed for the Wehrmacht, decades later was introduced to the Western civilian market as “The Thing.” Porsche also designed and built the Schwimmwagen (an amphibious “swimming car”), Panzer tanks, and the VergeltunswaffeEin (“Revenge Weapon One”), better known to Londoners as the V-1 rocket, or the doodlebug. (A joke among Europeans is that when one gets into a Porsche, he feels like invading Poland.)

The Beetle was slow to catch on in the United States. Only two of them sold here in 1949-50. That number increased to 551 in 1951 and to 601 in 1952, certainly nothing to write home about. But then the New York ad agency Doyle, Dane, & Bernbach took charge of Volkswagen’s American advertising, and sales took off, driving the lowly little bug to become the best-selling foreign car in the nation with sales of 159,995 in 1960. In 1969, Disney produced the first of six movies featuring “Herbie, the Love Bug,” and sales really took off. By 1972, sales of the Volkswagen had passed those of the Model-T Ford, making it history’s “longest-running and most-manufactured car.” By 2003, more than 21 million of the little buggers had been produced.

None of this is to excuse or minimize anything about the Third Reich or the Nazis and the holocaust they produced. It’s just an illustration of how the backstory of history can be as exciting and interesting as (or even more than) the “big event.” Few people have any good thoughts of that regime or its demented leader, but everyone knows something interesting about the Volkswagen Beetle and its many variations and spin-offs. It’s the discovery of such backstories that adds to the joy of studying history!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


Return from Hiatus

More than two weeks (actually 18 days) have passed since my last blog post. I took a little hiatus from blogging so my wife and I could attend to the myriad activities and responsibilities of the holiday season. Many of those were planned, anticipated; a few were unexpected.

Every two years, our geographically scattered family gathers at Christmas. At first, it was just my wife and me, our four daughters, and their husbands, and that was a houseful. Then dogs were added, and grandchildren began to come along, and it just got to be too much for us. So two years ago, we rented a large cabin in the Smokies, and everyone loved it.

By the time this Christmas rolled around and it was time to gather the family once again, there were five dogs and six grandchildren–with a seventh en route. One daughter and son-in-law who were having a large house constructed, volunteered that spacious domicile as the gathering spot for this year–if it could be completed in time. Because one daughter/husband/grandchild had moved to the area from Wisconsin during the summer and the other two already lived there, only one daughter and family had to travel from out of state. The host daughter and husband moved into their newly completed house the weekend before Christmas, and the out-of-staters stayed with them. (Talk about close timing!)  My wife and I stayed with another daughter. Christmas, gifts, and grandkids (with several dogs thrown in) always make for an exciting time.

A few days after Christmas, my wife and I returned home long enough to wash our laundry and repack–warm-weather clothes this time. Then we headed to southwest Florida, where my in-laws live. The approximately 11 1/2-hour drive stretched into 14 hours thanks to the worst traffic we’ve seen in our nearly quarter century of making that trek. Snowbirds, two bowl games, and a heavier-than-normal number of holiday travelers contributed to the logjam of vehicles on the road. Thankfully, we saw no accidents and arrived safely but exhausted. Mentally, we were prepared for a relaxing time of sunshine, warm temperatures, and low-stress fellowship with my wife’s parents. But as we entered, my father-in-law greeted me: “Hi, Dennis. By the way, you’re preaching Wednesday night!”

I had brought no notes, no preparation materials, no ideas with me. Tabula rasa. Whereas on earlier visits I had known several weeks in advance if I would be speaking and therefore had time to prepare, such was not the case this time. It pays to be current with one’s devotional Bible study and prayer! I awoke in the middle of that first night with a single word going through my mind: foundations. It remained with me over the next couple of days (and restless nights), and an outline slowly formed around Psalm 11:3: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” My first night of really relaxing sleep came only Wednesday, after the speaking engagement was behind me.

But then another concern arose. The “check engine” light of our car came on and refused to go off. I spent the next day–our last before we had to undertake that long drive back–ascertaining the reason for the warning light and getting a trustworthy mechanic to fix it. I hated even to think about the prospect of breaking down along the interstate in the middle of nowhere. It was a faulty thermostat, and Joseph Hoag graciously worked me into the busy schedule at his repair shop to replace it and get us back on schedule.

“Warm, sunny Florida” never produced temperatures above the upper 50s while we were there. The day before we were to leave, I-10 across northern Florida had been closed because of ice. I-95 along coastal Georgia and South Carolina was snow covered. The morning we left, the thermometer read a balmy 34 degrees. We arrived in the Upstate of the Palmetto State safely, however, and awoke to 12-degree temps. BRRR!

Welcome to 2018! Yesterday, my wife returned to her teaching, and I’m back to my researching and writing–and blogging. We don’t know what the new year holds, of course, but (to paraphrase a song) we do know Who holds the future. And, in His ultimate plan, we know that it will all be to our good and His glory.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


As the Year Draws to a Close. . . .

I want to take this opportunity to thank those of you who have been faithful readers (and even a few followers) of this blog during the past fleeting year. And thank those of you who have taken time to comment on some of the posts, especially when something in them has touched a chord with you. Often, such comments came just when I was wondering if it is worth the effort to keep the blog going.

In my blog, I’ve tried to offer a variety of topics of (hopefully) interest to you (they obviously were to me!) for your consideration. I’ve also tried to include in each post something for you to take away with you, something for you to think about. In even the somewhat lighthearted posts there has been a serious note or a lesson to remember.

Some of the posts addressed the writing craft generally and a few of my writing struggles and successes (and failures) specifically. Others dealt with what I had read, was reading, or wanted to read. Often, the posts addressed anniversaries of significant historical (or serendipitous) events. Many posts were a bit nostalgic. (I find that as I age I long increasingly for those “good old days.”) And a good number of them had a spiritual dimension to them. Whatever the topic, I hope that you found many posts that entertained, informed, or challenged you in some way, making you laugh (or cry?), think, or take some positive action.

If you have benefited in any way from my posts, I’d appreciate your sharing the blog address with others whom you think might enjoy them. One of my goals for 2018 is to increase traffic to my blog site (  and to gain more readers who enjoy it enough to follow it regularly. Thank you in advance for recommending my site to others.

Finally, I want to wish each of you a blessed Christmas and a productive New Year. Please remember that, amid all the hustle and bustle and busyness of this holiday season, the real purpose of it all should be the celebration of the birth–the first coming–of the Lord Jesus Christ to save humankind from their sins and offer to them the gift of eternal life. And may you carry with you throughout the coming year the thought of the reality that He is one day coming again. I pray that we each will be ready and anticipating that glorious day.

Until next year,

Dennis L. Peterson

“As Slow as Christmas?”

Snarled in stop-and-go holiday shopping traffic the other day, I complained aloud the oft-repeated refrain, “This traffic is moving along like Christmas!” Such statements, of course, refer to the perceived (especially by youngsters) slowness of recurring Christmases. But in the moments immediately following my exclamation, I had a fleeting thought and I exclaimed, “Oh, wait! That’s not true. Christmases seem to be coming more often and faster for some reason.”

Could it be that I’m just getting older?

My maternal grandmother used to tell me that the older I got, the faster time would go. I didn’t believe her. How could that be true when it took forever for Christmas to get here? And then, when Christmas Eve finally arrived and we kids were waiting impatiently for my paternal grandparents to come over to our house for our traditional Christmas Eve supper and gift exchange, time seemed to stand still. (You can read a more detailed account of the trials and tribulations that we faced during that night of waiting and waiting and waiting in my article “Christmas Eve Reunion” in the November-December issue of Good Old Days, so I won’t rehash them here.)

All that has changed now. Instead, it seems that Christmases roll around like weekends. Not only are my days all mixed up, but also my years are running together. Wasn’t that last year? No, it was the year before, the year when all of our family rented a cabin in the Smokies for Christmas. I now date everything by which grandchildren were present at the time. This year we’ll have six grandchildren. “Oh the noise, noise, noise, NOISE!” But it’ll be a joyous noise, a noise by which we will measure the passage of time. And when next Christmas rolls around, there will be seven noisemakers to bring us Christmas cheer!

Yes, the kids might think that Christmas creeps toward them, but we grandparents see it flying toward us. Suddenly, it’s upon us, and the joyous occasion occurs, and then it’s gone just as suddenly as it came. Only memories are left in its wake. We turn around, and there we see the next Christmas off in the distance and coming fast toward us. And each time, there are more grandkids, and they have grown. Where has the time gone?!

There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a fact of life. So I should just enjoy the fleeting moment while it’s here and welcome the memories it brings. And pray that in all of the excitement and hoopla and gift exchanging and feasting that those grandkids come to realize the true meaning of it all–the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, our Savior from our sins, the only hope for the world, the Prince of Peace–and accept Him as their own.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Selective Impatience

By nature, I’m an impatient person. (I know that some of you who know me think that I’m calm and laid-back and that nothing disturbs me, but what you don’t know is that inside that calm exterior is brewing a frustrated, impatient turmoil!) Part of that trait, I think, was instilled in me by my parents, who taught us kids to obey those in authority; to be on time for everything; to reply promptly whenever an adult spoke to us; and, when something had to be done, to “just do it” rather than “dilly-dally” around about it.

Whenever Mother or Daddy told us kids to do (or not to do) something, we learned that theirs was the final word on the matter. We’d better “hop to it,” or else! And that principle carried over to every other authority figure in our lives. If a teacher told us to do (or not to do) something, we obeyed. We knew that if we didn’t, we’d not only get into trouble at school but also face greater repercussions when we got home. They taught us that the policeman who directed us to do something was the boss in that situation, and we’d better obey him.

So whenever I see kids disobeying their parents’ instructions today (and apparently getting away with it), I quickly become impatient with the situation. It frustrates me. I want to shake the parents and tell them, “Don’t you realize what you’re doing here?” I also think of this principle whenever I hear on the news of someone who was shot by a policeman and learn that the “victim” had disregarded numerous orders to stop or to put up his hands or whatever else the policeman might have instructed. How much better it is simply to obey!

My parents also taught us kids to be on time. Actually, if we were merely “on time,” we were late! Being late, they taught, was showing disrespect for the people who were running the meeting (who were at least distracted by our late arrival or, worse, had to repeat themselves for our benefit but others’ boredom). It also was disrespectful of the other attendees whom we were disrupting by our entering the meeting late. Therefore, whenever I attend a meeting or a function that doesn’t start on time, I get impatient. I’ve often thought that it seems that the people who live closest to the venue tend to be the ones who are always late.

Another lesson my parents taught us was that whenever something was to be done, we were to do it right then, not later. And their word was the law. When they said, “Jump,” they expected us to jump. And we didn’t dilly-dally about details of how high. We just did whatever they said. That was not just for their convenience; it was, in the long run, for our own safety. Suppose that we’d habitually ignored their instructions until we got good and ready to obey and then one day they told us to get away from a certain area of the yard. Rather than obeying, we might have argued or questioned why–and then stepped on a yellow jacket nest and been stung.

I learned early in life that whenever an adult spoke to me, to reply courteously and promptly. (That was hard for me because I was so shy, and I still struggle with it, but good habits are hard to break.) If I was introduced to someone, or if someone approached me and I was seated, I was taught to stand and address them politely. It’s a sign of respect for the other person. And I get impatient with kids today who ignore adults who address them, remaining slouched over their electronic gadgets and apparently ignoring or disregarding the person who is approaching them.

These lessons and others (e.g., giving up one’s seat to a lady and taking off one’s hat or cap inside a building) have stayed with me throughout my life, and people sometimes express surprise when I act accordingly. Whenever a job is completed before its deadline. Whenever I stand when approached by someone. Whenever I get started on a job right away.

“Oh, but that’s so old-fashioned,” some people might object. “We live in a more laid-back society today.” That’s certainly true, but good habits and proper etiquette never go out of style. And that’s why I get so impatient with people who weren’t brought up that way. They cause a lot of inconvenience and problems and sometimes even harm for the rest of us–and themselves. Society might be more laid-back today, but it’s also less polite, less friendly, less civil. Part of the reason is that everything is about self today rather than about others. The surprising and seemingly oxymoronic fact is that whenever we show respect for and put others first, we are actually respecting and helping ourselves.

There’s a difference, however, between mere impatience and selective impatience. Impatience might manifest itself when I become frustrated at the immature behavior by a child who knows no better or by the delays of someone who isn’t getting started on their project because they don’t know how to go about it. But selective impatience is that which manifests itself when confronted by inappropriate behavior by those who should know better. By disrespect. By lack of common courtesy. By total selfishness.

May God give me grace and wisdom to be more selective in my impatience. I dare say that I’m not the only one who needs such divine help. You, too? 

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Productive Waiting

I hate to be idle. Even when I’m not doing anything, I like to be busy. A relaxed busy, but busy and productive. So whenever I have to take my car for service, as I did yesterday morning, I face the challenge of finding something productive to do with my time; otherwise, I feel as though I’ve wasted that hour or whatever.

I’ve tried reading the magazines in the waiting room, but few of them interest me. Most of them seem to be geared toward females. Or auto mechanics, which I’m definitely not. I’ve tried taking my own reading material, both physical books and books on my Kindle. But there are just too many distractions. Other customers who talk on their phones (to people who obviously are either deaf or far away because they always seem to shout to them over their phones). A blaring TV. Technicians who come in and out, calling for customers and discussing all the things that the customer absolutely must have done to his or her car today (even if they don’t really). People coming and going to the coffee machine. If it will distract, you’ll find it in the dealership’s waiting room.

I need something that doesn’t require a lot of focused concentration, yet something that is mentally challenging–and that will give me a sense when I leave the waiting room and get my car that I’ve not wasted my time. And yesterday I hit on what just might be the thing. Crossword puzzles.

I’ve always enjoyed working crossword puzzles, and I’m actually pretty good at it, if I so say so myself. Not nearly as good as my mother, of course, who could work them with an ink pen and hardly ever make a mistake. I still use a pencil–and a lot of eraser. I don’t like the too-easy ones or the New York Times-hard ones. The Premier crosswords by Frank A. Longo seem, as baby bear famously said, “Just right.” They make me think. They enlarge my vocabulary. And they give me a sense of accomplishment. I’ll admit, however, that I have some trouble with the clues that involve rock stars, modern actors, and Latin terms, but the older stuff I can usually manage–because I’m old, I guess.

Yesterday, I relinquished my car to the technicians for an oil change and tire rotation and entered an empty (!) waiting room. I brewed myself a cup of coffee in the dealer’s high-tech Keurig; walked past a wall-sized TV that was blaring some dark, sinister sci-fi movie; and nestled into a chair at the far corner of the room. I pulled out my crossword puzzle and went to work. An hour or so later, I finished the puzzle just as the tech came in to tell me that my car was ready. My greatest surprise was that he didn’t even try (as they usually do) to sell me on any repairs–other than replacing the battery on my key.

As I age, I’m becoming more aware of the threat of dementia and Alzheimer’s, especially so now that I find myself forgetting more and more things. (I almost panicked recently when I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to turn off the microphone I was wearing for the narration of the Christmas cantata at church just as the congregation started to sing the closing carol. That assuredly would have been a most grinchly sound!) But my ears perk up whenever I hear a news report that says something helps to prevent or slow the onset of the diseases. Like drinking coffee, eating dark chocolate, and working crossword puzzles. So I’m doing all those things–sometimes all at the same time.

Now, where was I–57 across? “See 68 Down.”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

No Losses Greater than Holiday Losses

In the past 24 hours, I’ve learned of the deaths of two friends. One, Susan Ridley, went to church with us and was active in our homeschooling community. She was especially dear to several of our daughters as she directed their children’s choir, helped with various plays and programs, etc. She also had a couple of children who were close to them in age (as well as several who were a bit older).

The other death was of a distant cousin and schoolmate from high school. I didn’t know Mike Vandergriff all that well–just knew that we were kin somewhere down the line. He married another distant cousin of mine, Connie Baird. What I remember most about Mike was that he had a soft, somewhat gravelly voice and always had a smile on his face and was friendly to everyone. Connie was one of the students who blew the teacher’s curve, excelling at all of her studies. The two of them made a perfect pair.

Any death around the holidays, especially the Christmas holiday, seems to affect one’s loved ones even more deeply than deaths at other times. That’s not to say that any death at any other time is not hard, but the fact that a death occurs around Christmas means that the holiday will thereafter leave the survivors of the deceased with a bittersweet feeling. While everyone around them is laughing and smiling and joking and feasting in the joyous occasions of the holiday, the survivors will be mourning, even years later.

The two particular deaths in the last few hours hit close to home for me. Mike was my age; he sat behind or beside or in front of me in several classes, and we graduated together. Susan was a bit older than us but was still within my age bracket. And whenever one gets to my age, he finds, as I have, that he seems to know more people in the “with the Lord” column than he does in the weddings, births, or achievements sections of the newspaper or alumni publication.

Such Christmas-season deaths also remind me of my mother. She was killed by a drunk driver just days before Christmas. She was on her way to church that Sunday night with my father and sister, anticipating the church’s Christmas cantata in which she and Daddy sang and my sister played piano. But God had other plans for her. The “accident” changed all of our lives forever, and Christmas would never be the same for any of us again. But what a Christmas celebration Mother must have had that year!

This year, as we all go about our seasonal preparations of buying and exchanging gifts, decorating the tree and the house, sending out Christmas cards, and doing whatever your family traditions may be, let’s remember those who have suffered losses recently. Say a prayer for them, that God would be especially near and dear to them this Christmas. It will be a hard time for them. Unless you’ve experienced such a loss at such a time, you couldn’t understand just how hard. Yes, remember those who have an empty place at their table and in their hearts this Christmas. May the Lord send them a special blessing to fill that emptiness.

And if you’re in that boat yourself, turn to the One who can fill your empty spot: Jesus, Emmanuel, “God with us.”

[You can read more about Mother’s death and other incidents in which God provides comfort in my brother’s book Leave a Well in the Valley, available at]

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

Playing Trucks, Undermining Foundations

Uncle Dillon had bought my brother Dale and me a set of toy tractor-trailer trucks and an assortment of accessories. Each of us had his own tractor, one red and one blue, I think. The set included a variety of kinds of trailers: a flatbed, a box trailer, a cattle trailer, and a car carrier. And then there was an assortment of highway signs.

Dale and I decided that the best place to play with these wonderful toys on hot summer days was in our cool basement. The basement was still unfinished, and its floor was just hard, leveled dirt. In the center of the basement were two 5 x 5-inch support posts sitting atop concrete piers about 6-8 inches deep. They held up the center beam of the house.

We already had a Tonka or Buddy L road grader, so we graded roads all over that basement. And we ran our tractor-trailer loads of imaginary consumer goods and livestock all over our basement roadway network.

At some point, I decided to start an excavation company to expand the economy of our basement world. The site I selected was right beside the first of the support posts, the one that was in the dead center of the house. I dug our dirt, loaded it onto an empty plastic dish on the deck of our flatbed trailer, and hauled it elsewhere in Basementville. I kept up my work faithfully every time we played there, which was practically every day.

One day, Daddy came down into this tiny world on some errand, and he immediately noticed my pit, where I had dug all the way down to the bottom of the pier and all the way around it. Suddenly we noticed that Daddy had added a Cape Canaveral (it wasn’t yet called Cape Kennedy) to our little world because he lifted off the ground. Was he ever angry!

Daddy caught up with me somewhere outside, where I was roaming the fields and woods, and he carried me quickly down to Basementville, but he wasn’t wanting to play trucks. He sat me down in front of my excavation site and gave me a very graphic lesson in what would happen to our house if I continued to dig away at the foundation post. I got the lesson with all of my senses: I saw what he meant, I heard what he said, and I certainly felt the intensity of his conviction!

The Bible asks, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psa. 11:3). As a child, I learned an important lesson about how a little chipping away at foundations, a little erosion of values, and a little undermining of standards can go a long way toward producing massive failure. Just as I had threatened the very structural integrity of our home by my digging around the basement foundation post, even so our nation has eroded its Judeo-Christian values, and it will ultimately (short of a spiritual revival) lead to God’s judgment, just as my digging around the footer led to my punishment. I learned my lesson in that instance. The bigger question is whether the United States of America will learn God’s lesson before it’s too late.

Not long after the episode I’ve described, Daddy found the time and money to pour concrete in the basement. . . . Supporting the upper floors then were not wooden beams but strong, adjustable metal posts. His “urban renewal”program spelled the end of Basementville. It wasn’t merely a ghost town; it ceased to exist altogether. But the lesson has stayed with me ever since.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

(Excerpted from Look Unto the Hills: Stories of Growing Up in Rural East Tennessee. Available from