Two Life-Changing Events

On this date in history, several important events occurred. Columbus landed on San Salvador, discovering the New World in his quest to reach the East by sailing west. That event, of course, was first celebrated in the United States on this date in 1792.

More than a hundred years later, the song “Three Blind Mice” was published in London. But that was by no means an earth-shattering, life-changing event, unless you were one of the three sightless rodents.

And in 1859, Emperor Norton I issued an edict abolishing the U.S. Congress. Maybe he was onto something there! (You can read more about Norton I in my articles “The Emperor of the United States, Norton I,” The Elks Magazine, February 2000, and “Emperor of the United States,” True West, November 2016, or at https://truewestmagazine.com/emperor-of-the-united-states/.)

But historical events are like surgeries; they are not major unless you are the one directly affected by them. None of these events affected my life directly.

But two events occurred between October 12 and 14 that did dramatically affect my life. In fact, they were life-changing events for me.

On October 12, 1979, our first child was born. We named her Rachelle Joy. And boy, did our lives change after that! Our theories about parenting suddenly were put to the test of practical daily living. And we had to admit that many of them had been wrong, so we had to make countless adjustments to adapt to reality.

Three years and two days later, October 14, 1982, our second child was born. We named her Elissa Cheri. And that further changed our lives. By that time, practically all of our theories about child-rearing, especially of multiple children, were out the window. We were parenting by the seat of our pants. Or maybe like two blind mice. Our grand idea of dealing with both children identically was one of the first well-intentioned theories to be tossed. We hadn’t taken into consideration that no two children are exactly alike, therefore requiring us to deal with each individually. Looking back now, I wonder how we could have been so naive.

Each of our daughters in her own way added something new to our family. And each of them brought about truly life-changing adaptations and challenges and joys to our lives. And there were still two more daughters to come over the next three years. Like Columbus, we truly were discovering a new world!

But now our nest is empty. Our daughters have flown the coop and have begun families of their own. Lately, however, my wife and I have ventured into more uncharted waters. We suddenly have found ourselves grandparents. Seven times over. And, believe me, we’re still learning!

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Decisions, Decisions

For several years, I had read various comments and articles about and notices and advertisements for the Write2Ignite Christian writers’ conference. They had generated enough interest that I determined that some day I would attend that conference.

It was local, so I would have no expenses for lodging or meals. It was held within 20 minutes or so of my home. It always featured the names of some of the authors I had often read about. And I was ready and eager to do everything I could to “take my writing to the next level,” as the saying goes. So why not?

But every year the conference was scheduled, I always had some other pressing commitment and could not attend. Until this year. My slate was clean. Nothing was pressing. Nothing was in the way to prevent my going. To top it off, if I registered early enough, I could get a substantial discount. And then the icing on the cake: I would be able to display and sell my published books. How could I not attend? So I registered, paid the fee, blocked out those two days on my calendar, and began to prepare myself mentally for a time of encouragement and learning.

And then the call came. The daughter who lives the farthest from us in Michigan, the daughter who has the largest contingent of our grandchildren, called to say that they would be making a quick trip to the area for a wedding, and they would be visiting us. During the Write2Ignite conference.

I was forced to make a painful decision. Go ahead as scheduled, and attend the conference at the price of not seeing my grandchildren very much. Or back out and spend those two days with them, missing out on the knowledge to be gained, the comaraderie to be enjoyed, the possible sales from my books. I hate making such decisions.

But I had already made the plans. I had already saved for the conference. I had already paid the price. I began calculating the pros and cons of the question. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or the twice-a-year-at-most family reunion? Which would it be?

The day of the conference has arrived. The clock is clicking down the hours and minutes before the start of the conference.

I’ll be attending the conference. For the price I’m paying, it had better be worth it! We’ll see. But I’m entering it with the prayer and expectation that it will prove productive. Meeting other authors. Hearing experts in their various fields of writing and marketing (and boy, do I ever need help with the latter topic!). Conferring with agents and publishers.

Those are the things I’m trying to focus on today and tomorrow. The grandkids and what they’re doing and what I’m missing will, undoubtedly be on my mind, but I’ll try to stay focused and come back home with something that will boost my writing abilities. At least that’s my prayer. The Lord’s will be done!

In Honor of Grandparents

Growing up as a kid, I thought that all grandparents–not only my own but also those of my friends–were old. After all, they had white, silver, or gray (or graying) hair, wrinkles, arthritis, and assorted aches and pains, and they couldn’t get outside and play ball or tag with me.

I was fortunate in that I knew my paternal great grandparents. They were even older. Poppa Graybeal had silvery-white hair and a bushy moustache to match. He was quiet and soft-spoken. Momma Graybeal had color in her hair with only a hint of gray, and I just assume that it was all nature’s coloring. Or maybe not. She also had wrinkles on her face that reminded me of the road maps that service stations gave out back in the day. And she dipped snuff.

I loved Momma Graybeal and the horehound or peppermint stick candy she kept in a crystal dish on a cabinet behind her front door. And she always let me have a piece–for a price. I had to let her hug and kiss me all over. By the way, did I mention that she dipped snuff? And she smiled and laughed a lot, and the spittle produced by that snuff oozed from her mouth when she did that, and it got into all those wrinkles. My face was a mess by the time she had enough loving on me and acquiesced to give me a piece of candy.

Mammaw and Pappaw Peterson, my paternal grandparents were fun to be around, but they couldn’t play outside with me. Pappaw was a hard-working dairy farmer, and he always had something to work on around the place, even after he retired, tinkering around in his outbuildings, picking apples or blackberries, or putting up hay. He had silvery-white hair, which he wore in a crew cut in the early Sixties but later grew out a thick Billy Graham look-alike style in his later years. And he had a ready smile.

Mammaw was pleasantly plump and gentle, and she used a contraction that I had never (and still have seldom) heard other people use: mustn’t. “Now we mustn’t do that,” she’d scold whenever I got into something I shouldn’t have. I never recall her spanking me, although she probably did at some point. Surely I deserved a few. My brother Dale recalled the time that she gave him a good whippin’ after he had brought into the kitchen the tail from a cow that Pappaw had just butchered and waved it over the table where Mammaw and Mother were preparing the meat.

Nannie Summers, my maternal grandmother, suffered from a bad case of arthritis. Perhaps the physical characteristic I most associate with her was her wrinkled and arthritis-twisted fingers. But they were loving fingers, fingers that I can still see pressing out her flowing print dress and adjusting her gray hair and slicing a piece of pie or cake, which she always insisted that visitors partake of before they left. And Paw Summers was gray, too, with a serious, deep-thinking face that hid a mischievous streak and an infectious smile.

All of these people were old to me from the time I first was old enough to recognize and respond to them. They were old when I was growing up. They were old when I went away to college. And some of them were no longer with us when I returned from college, got married, and had children of my own.

Time passes. Things change. Imperceptibly at first. And then, suddenly, I awoke one morning, looked in the mirror, and realized that I’m now my grandparents. I’m a grandparent myself. Seven times over. And I’m married to a grandmother! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself being married to a grandmother!

When my very active grandkids come to visit, or whenever we visit them, I can’t play with them as I would like to do. Because I’m now my grandparents. I can get down on the floor to play with them, but then I have to struggle to get up from the floor. I can’t swing them around and around like I used to do to my own children because arthritis has weakened my wrists. I can’t lift them–no, throw them–high into the air and catch them, laughing as they come down giggling and saying, “Do it again, Pappaw!” Or I might be able to do such things once or twice but no more. “Pappaw can’t do that any more. It hurts my back.”

And then sometimes at night, while my wife is grading the workbook pages of her second-grade students and I’m reading or watching TV, I’ll gaze at her without her knowing I’m looking, and I see the twenty-something bride that I married. I honestly don’t see a grandmother. That would be Mammaw or Nannie. Rather, I see that young, beautiful girl just as she was before she became a grandmother. And I wonder where the time has gone.

This Sunday has been designated as Grandparents’ Day. If you are so blessed as to have your grandparents still around, take the time to love on them a little today. Try to picture them not as old people but as they probably remember themselves to be–young, energetic, beautiful and handsome, and thinking themselves too young to be grandparents. And remember, your day probably will come some day, too. Sooner than you think.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Coming Home

Home.

There’s nothing like it, especially when one is returning to it after a long vacation.

It’s not just a general coming back home that makes the difference. It’s a return to familiar surroundings, to the sounds and smells that have become a regular part of one’s life. It’s the comfort of knowing where things are and of being able to go directly and automatically to that place without having to search for them. It’s the ease with which one does everyday things, like shaving and showering, without worrying about being quiet lest one wake others who are sleeping later than you.

Coming home offers the comfort of relaxing in one’s own chair, even with its annoying creak or pop when one sinks into it or rises from it. And it’s impossible to describe the comfort of lying in one’s own bed. No matter how nice and comfortable the other beds might have been, they can never compare to one’s own mattress (even if it sags) and pillow and sheets and blankets.

Returning home also means a return to one’s familiar routine, the regular activities that one has tended to engage in with hardly a thought. The quiet time of devotions and cup of coffee in the still morning hours before anyone else in the house has begun to stir. The early walk with one’s spouse in the cool (or, here in the South, the more likely humid) air. The periods of sustained, uninterrupted writing. All of the routine activities that have been disturbed by the vacation. But it still takes one a while to get back into that routine.

Yet, coming home also includes missing certain things that, over two weeks, had become, even if only for a few days, the new routine, the new normal. The early rising of the grandchildren as they greet you with a shy smile while stepping slowly down the stairs from their bedroom. The still, close cuddling that begins your day with them. The laughter of young voices as they fully wake and begin their play. There are the mornings spent with individual grandchildren, when you showered each child with your undivided attention and you saw their individual personalities come alive without the accompanying influence of siblings. And there are the memories of afternoons spent in whole-family activities. Exploring a park in search of hidden toad sculptures. Walking through a historic site and its gardens. And the chance to explore the shelves of an unfamiliar library.

There are the times of playing in the sandbox with other the granddaughters. Of trying to fit one’s adult (supersized at that) frame into a child’s “castle” or makeshift tent with the grandkids. Of following an active granddaughter from swings to merry-go-round to slides and other features in a community park, always with a hand ready to catch or steady youthful energy that is oblivious to the dangers of falls.

But. . . .

Returning also involves the jungle of a yard that is beginning to look like an English garden. It must be mowed and trimmed. And that in haste between morning showers and threatened afternoon thunderstorms. And when the accumulated mail arrives, there are the numerous bills to pay lest they become overdue and incur late fees. And the inevitable backlog of reading material that must be devoured–at some point, hopefully in the near future.

I think it was Thomas Wolfe who said, “You can’t go home again.” He was right. But it’s true only when one has been away from home for a long, long time. He was dead wrong about returning home after a two-week vacation. In that case, you can go home again. And it is so good.

But it’s also good to cherish the time spent with children and grandchildren. Memories that will remain with you forever. And some vestige of which you hope will remain in their memories, too.

Copyright (c) 2018

The Family Just Keeps Growing!

News Flash! Dateline North Carolina–Thurs., April 5, 2018

We’re grandparents again! Our daughter Rachelle gave us Number 7 yesterday morning. That makes five granddaughters and two grandsons.

Dakota Grace Anderson was born via C-section at 7:43 a.m., Thursday. (Because the parents moved down to North Carolina from Wisconsin last summer, we told them that she’s South Dakota!) She weighed in at 6 lb., 15.7 oz. and measured 20 in. Mother and baby were doing as well as could be expected as of this writing. Because Dakota had some fluid in the lungs (common for early-arriving babies), she was on oxygen to flush it out, so she might be in NICU for anywhere from a few hours to up to 72 hours.

We’re not old enough for this! But the responsibilities are great. We’re praying to have a good influence on each of the seven grandkids. With the geographic distance, that’s more difficult, but. . . . We’ll do what we can and pray for opportunities.

Late-Breaking News!

And this late-breaking news about another of my “babies,” my book Confederate Cabinet Departments and Secretaries: 73 major university libraries (both U.S. and international), historical societies, and museums have now purchased copies. (Harvard actually purchased two, one for the main library and another for their HCL Technical Services library!) May the Lord continue to bless its sales in His perfect timing. I also have a couple of other book manuscripts “in embryo.” May He see fit to place them with a “good home” soon!

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 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

Trip Revived (and Produced) Great Memories

My wife and I celebrated the Labor Day weekend with a quick trip to visit two of our three daughters who live in the Thomasville-Sophia, N.C., area. (The third one thought she and her husband would run off to Charleston, S.C., to celebrate their wedding anniversary rather than see us!) This trip was a real treasure to us for a variety of reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Granddaughters were at the top of that list of reasons, of course. Three of our six grandkids live in that area, our most recent addition having just recently moved within driving distance. (A three-hour drive across the state border sure beats going all the way to Wisconsin!) We enjoyed each of them immensely–(according to age, oldest to youngest: Regan, Morgan, and Ryleigh). But we fully understand why God gives little kids to young, strong young people who can get along with little sleep and who have a lot of energy!

Another reason the trip was memorable was because I was able to meet up with a guy, Keith Nance, from my college graduating class who was also in my literary society, Chi Delta Theta. We hadn’t seen each other since we graduated in 1975–42 years ago! We managed to work out a time to meet at a Chik-fil-A in High Point, where we spent about an hour and a half reminiscing and catching up (while the grandkids played in the kiddie area).

We both ended up teaching school, he English and physical education/coaching and I history and English. We both are now semiretired but still active in education, he teaching part-time in public education and I writing, at least part of it dealing with Christian education. But Keith has a story that’s simply amazing and puts me to shame. Keith has an adult son, Jordan, who has cerebral palsy and is paraplegic. One day, the Nance family attended Mayberry Days in Mount Airy, N.C. (Mount Airy, for those of you who might not be aware of the fact, is the real-life town where Andy Griffith was born and reared and the town on which many aspects of the Andy Griffith Show was based. Connie and I also once attended Mayberry Days.) But for some reason, Jordan was more interested in observing the elderly man who was sitting behind him broadcasting the parade remotely for a small radio station, WPAQ, than with the parade itself.

To make a long story short, Jordan ended up directing a television documentary on the history of that radio station, a country/blue grass-dedicated station, and its founder, Ralph Epperson. Keith sent me a link to a newspaper story about Jordan’s production, but it didn’t include the whole story; the link that it gave to continue reading the rest wouldn’t work. So I Googled the documentary title and found the entire broadcast. At the end when it ran the credits, it showed several photos of Jordan and his parents. As I finished, I was blown away by how much such a young man could accomplish in spite of his physical limitations. I have no such limitations, so what’s my excuse? Makes one think!

This reminds me of a poem that George Washington Carver used to quote whenever he spoke to high school students:

Figure it out for yourself, my lad,

You’ve all that the greatest of men have had:

Two arms, two hands, two legs, two eyes,

And a brain to use if you would be wise.

With this equipment they all began.

So start from the top and say, “I can.”

Thanks, Jordan, for the challenge!

Secret Surprise

Combine the need to keep a secret with a growing forgetfulness in the secret-keeper, and you have a potential major problem. That was my situation most of last week. I’ve already posted some comments about my worsening memory, so you know what’s coming. Or maybe you just think you do.

I got a call from Daughter No. 1 early last week. She, her husband, and their nine-month-old daughter Ryleigh recently moved from Wisconsin’s frozen wastelands to the sunny, hot, and humid South. We were planning to go see them as soon as they got a house of their own, but life has intervened–school, work, etc. Daughter No. 1 decided to surprise us and come to visit this past weekend. As busy as things are for my wife and me, however, Daughter No. 2 warned her that she’d better tell one of us to ensure that someone was home when they got here. I was the one she chose to tell. “And don’t let her know we’re coming, Dad!” Daughter No. 1 admonished me. “It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

I knew I was in trouble. But I surprised myself. Despite my several near slips of the tongue, my wife never heard my slips–or at least never caught on to what was happening. Much to my daughter’s surprise (as well as my own), I kept my end of the bargain and never let the word escape. But it wasn’t easy. My wife wanted to go shopping as soon as she got home from school on Friday, and my daughter and her family were hoping to arrive by 4:30, but it all depended on down-to-the-minute timing and traffic and a host of other factors. Would I be able to delay Connie enough for the rest of the family to arrive? Or would I have to do something drastic, like pull off a fraudulent sudden “illness” or “accident” to slow things down?

Circumstances, however, helped me out a bit. Connie left school a few minutes later than she had planned. Traffic was a little heavier than normal for her. She still would have to change clothes and put away her school paraphernalia. I could drag my feet getting ready too. And then I had planned a scheme for delaying her beyond that, if necessary. I had earlier in the day received a long-awaited foreword for a book, and (with the author’s permission) I had edited it for length and organization. When Connie arrived home and I had depleted all of my other delaying tactics, I pulled the “hey-could-you-listen-to-these-two-versions-and-tell-me-which-one-is-better” routine. I read slowly, enunciating carefully and dragging it out as long as I could without making her suspicious.

Just as I was finishing my reading of the second version, I glanced out the front window just in time to see my son-in-law’s car come pulling into the driveway. I proceeded to ask my wife an endless stream of questions about the two versions of the foreword and her opinion of them, stalling long enough for the kids to get our newest grandchild out of the car and make their way to the door. Finally, just when I was running out of questions to ask Connie about the manuscript, the doorbell rang.

I answered the door while Connie got her shopping list ready.

“Connie, it’s for you!” I called from the front door. She came from the kitchen with a wondering look on her face.

“Who could that be at this time of day?” she asked under her breath.

When she opened the door, she was duly surprised. And then she basked in her glory as a grandmother the rest of the weekend. And I breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t spilled the beans. And, knowing my memory, that’s no small accomplishment! (Oh, and I enjoyed the surprise too–especially Ryleigh!)

 

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Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson