My Presidential Address

When one of your friends says it waaaay better than you . . . Thank you, Gary.

Why We Blog

Obviously, I’d be voted out of office after my first term for being too centrist.


My fellow Americans.

We live in troubled times. America is at a crossroads. Rarely, have we faced bigger challenges. Our mettle and our ideals are truly being tested. And yet, rarely have we been more polarized and more divided. A crisis that should have united us, we have allowed to divide us.

No one will be satisfied with what I have to say here tonight. I don’t have the ability to solve our problems or heal our wounds with words.

In the past month, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breanna Taylor, and George Floyd have come to the fore of our attention and national discourse.

I will not tell you to be calm. You’re right to be angry. I’m angry. Still, as your President, I’m expected to walk a fine line of compassion and…

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The hall at the bottom of the stairs

Note: This post topic may be distressing for survivors of childhood abuse.

My siblings and I had good parents. Dad was college educated and consistently employed. Mom stayed at home to care for us, sewed our clothes, baked us cookies, etc. We were clothed and fed and housed appropriately. They did not suffer with addictions – unless you count motorcycles, amateur radio, and quilting. We had toys and took family vacations and weekend drives for picnics. We visited extended family, joined Scouts, went to church. Mom and Dad taught us so much. They loved us and we loved them; still do. They disciplined us – and they punished us. They called it spanking and sometimes it was a swat (or five) to the behind with a wooden spoon or hairbrush or open hand. But it wasn’t always spanking. It wasn’t often but we knew the difference – it was whipping, it was beating, it was being slapped in the face hard enough to make our heads recoil. In our home from the time I was 8 until 16, the hall at the base of the stairs was where our father hung his arsenal, a ruler and a wide leather belt – I saw them there every night as I ascended the stairs to go to bed and every morning when I came down for breakfast. As an adult I now know that 3 y/o me did not deserve a switch across bare legs for venturing outside to give dolly a bath in the rain barrel. 6 y/o me did not deserve to be  whacked across the bottom with a pine board for exploring outside my yard until dusk told me it was time to come home. 10 y/o me did not deserve 13 lashes with a belt for (I cannot even remember what it was for – but I remember the number, I remember the belt and I remember the pain and humiliation of having to pull down my pants to receive it), 13 y/o me did not deserve to be told to stay out of the way or I’d be next when I tried to protect my younger brother, or the guilt of knowing his pleading for mercy was because I told on him. 18 y/o me did not deserve to be slapped across the face for muttering that someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed (a/k/a talking back). I know that now, but all I “knew” then was that everyone got spanked, that the worst offenses apparently were being too big for my britches or thinking I was smarter than my father, that I deserved it, and that it would teach me a lesson. I know now, too, that I will never ever stand still to receive a beating – nor will I ever stand still and let someone else receive one.

I wish I could say that it stopped with me. Even though I swore I would NEVER do to my kids what was done to me, it happened. It was only a handful of times over the course of their childhoods, but it happened. That it was just a wrist flick with a wooden spoon or my bare hand on a well-padded bottom (except for that time I threw the spring horse, or the time I slapped my teenage daughter on the thigh) does not justify it. It does not assuage the remorse or the clear knowledge that it was always out of MY frustration and exhaustion and anger. I don’t remember what they did – so I’m sure they don’t either. They NEVER deserved it. I never wanted them to feel what I felt or think those post “spanking” thoughts about me that I had about my parents, but I am guessing they did. My daughter likes to tell people I stopped spanking altogether when she was maybe 6 or 7 and she laughed at the half-hearted “paddling” I gave her. Regardless of the frequency or the degree, I am under no illusion that anything good was ever learned or gained by a single instance of my parents – or my – using violence against a child. And I am so sorry.

People say “I got hit and I turned out ok”. We are all right – but only after doing the hard work of healing ourselves from those invisible wounds, picking up the pieces after broken relationships, depression, and addictions. We are strong in our taped-back-togetherness, but we lived a childhood and young adulthood in which we were never as whole and happy as we could have been. That is not something I want for my children or my grandchildren – or any child. Children need structure, limits, guidance, challenges, boundaries, consequences and consistency – not punishment. They do not need to be hit, hurt, bullied, humiliated, intentionally frightened, shamed or isolated for the crime of learning how to be in the world; especially not by the very people intended to protect and guide them. Our parents and to some extent my generation was told that spanking built character and fostered respect. Supposedly it helped us remember the lessons we were “taught” in those tearful minutes before when all you could think was “how bad will it be this time”. Or afterward, when all you wanted was to run and rub the hurt and cry or punch something – but you had to stand and suffer the aftermath, the lessons of guilt and shame not just for the misbehavior but for the pain it caused them when they ‘had to’ spank us.  The only lessons taught were fear of crossing some invisible moving line, of forgetting something you never knew in the first place, of getting caught, and of them. Yes, spanking was acceptable in mid-century America. Women used Lysol disinfectant as a feminine douche solution and men used Saran Wrap as a prophylactic, too! Neither was effective and the practices resulted in unfortunate, unintended, and sometimes horrific consequences. We KNOW better now.

I am not sharing this for sympathy or revenge. Dad’s been gone a few years now and Mom has dementia and is lovingly cared for by me and my brothers and sister. My parents were a product of a harsher time and a more difficult childhood than I had. I am sharing because when I hear people say spanking is ok because they were spanked and they turned out ok, a little girl inside of me still thinks maybe I wasn’t strong enough, that there was something wrong with me because it DID hurt and it DID cause long lasting damage that took a long time to understand and overcome. We need to talk about the pain and suffering that corporal punishment causes, not sugar coat it or justify it. We must not acquiesce to our own victimization. It isn’t a life sentence,  but we were broken  and it is ok to admit that.

I am sharing this because we do know better now.  Research Confirms Spanking Outcomes Similar to Physical Abuse   We know that spanking hurts the child and damages the parent/child relationship. We know that spanking a child to effect socialization, foster respect or even force obedience is like burning down your house because the windows are drafty. Spanking, even the modest swat to the backside with an open hand kind of spanking, simply doesn’t work. Spanking doesn’t work if what you want is to make your child into a responsible, caring, productive and principled person. There are methods for guiding and teaching children, of getting consensus or compliance with reasonable requests of our children; discipline techniques that DO work and do not involve force or violence. In order to learn these skills and overcome those archaic and ineffective patterns of punitive behavior, most of us need guidance ourselves, especially if we were raised with corporal punishment. It is hard to unlearn something that was almost literally burned into your flesh. Take a parenting class, get family counseling, or talk to a parenting coach. You are not a bad parent or a bad person for having resorted to a learned response when you were frustrated, exhausted or hurt – but you can do something different. Take back your power to raise your children your way. And speaking of parental rights, I am not saying criminalize spanking altogether. But just because something isn’t criminal, does not make it right. We can have peace in our homes and loving respectful relationships if we learn how to keep every conflict from becoming a power struggle to be won by overwhelming force. Children can be guided into resilience without being forced into survival mode.

I am sharing this because I never want my precious grandchildren to think there is something wrong with exploring or questioning or speaking their mind, or that making mistakes means there is something wrong or bad about them.  I never want them to think that it’s ok to hit someone when they are angry, tired, frustrated or simply because someone isn’t doing what they want.  And I never, ever, want them to think somehow intentionally inflicting physical or emotional pain has any part in a loving and respectful relationship.

Maybe it didn’t stop with me, but I hope the next generation learns from our pain and our mistakes. Please, let it stop with you.

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Woodland Shortbread: Two Recipes for Foraged Fir Biscuits

“For the first time since he had entered Narnia he saw the dark green of a fir tree.” Since childhood, I’ve had a powerful affection for conifers. Growing up in Saskatchewan, thes…

Source: Woodland Shortbread: Two Recipes for Foraged Fir Biscuits

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Good Morning Sunshine!

“Wake up, little rosebud. Time to rise and shine!”

So went my early morning wake-up routine with the kids ( Well, at least on the mornings that didn’t start with, ” Oh crap! The alarm didn’t go off. Get up NOW! You’ve  got to be at school in  15 minutes!”)

Weekday breakfasts in a household with a single working parent and two teenagers were often a catch-as-catch-can affair; borderline nutrition, toaster pastries, fruit, cold cereal. But I tried. Really I did! Once in a while I’d make muffins and try to cram as much good stuff into them as possible. I was pretty good at sneaking vegetables into main courses so that my son and daughter grew up thinking tuna noodle casserole that wasn’t loaded with carrots, celery and peas was just weird.  Muffins with extras though were just down-right delicious.

After they went off to college, I continued on my mission to see how much I could pack into a grab-and-go breakfast muffin. I finally settled on a basic recipe that was popular in the 70’s as we ” discovered” and popularized granola, sunflower seeds and carrot cake. Morning Glory or Good Morning Sunshine muffin recipes combined basic spice muffin ingredients with various nuts, seeds, dried and fresh or canned fruits to create a sweet, moist, deliciously nutritious treat that my kids (and co-workers) loved and that assuaged some of the guilt for not preparing a four course breakfast for them every day.

The fun thing about this recipe is that you can use whatever you have on hand as add-ins. No raisins? Any dried fruit will do. I’ve used dried cranberries, cherries, apricots, papaya, and dates. Mix it up. For the grated apple and carrot I have substituted grated zucchini, and canned crushed pineapple. Unsweetened coconut works as well as sweetened. I’ve even played with the flours; substituting oatmeal, whole wheat, even rye flour for up to a cup of the flour. Have fun with it!


Good Morning Sunshine Muffins

(Full disclosure: I used King Arthur Flour’s photo beccause theirs was so pretty – and because we ate all my photographer’s “models”) 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pans and spray with a little oil.

In a small bowl, cover 1/2 cup raisins or other dried fruit with hot water, and set them aside to soak.

Grate 3 carrots and 1 whole cored Apple ( yes, you can include the peel) or any combination of grated or finely chopped moist fruit, zucchini, etc.,  about 3 cups total.

2 cups (8 ounces) Unbleached all purpose or White Whole Wheat Flour ( or combination of your choice)
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt

Drain the 1/2 cup dried fruit  and add it to the bowl, along with the grated/chopped apple and carrots, plus the following:

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or the nuts of your choice
1/3 cup sunflower seeds or wheat germ, optional

Whisk together the following:

3 large eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup orange juice ( milk or apple juice works fine too)

Add to the flour mixture, and stir until evenly moistened. You’ll have a fairly loose (though chunky) batter.

You can fill the muffin tin wells almost full as these don’t rise a whole lot. Bake  for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. This will vary a little depending on the moisture content of your choice of fruits.

No butter needed! Sunshiney smiles guaranteed!

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Why I Don’t Do Pirate Festivals

The little village I where I live is on the Erie Canal. Main Street struggles mightily to stay afloat with a few eateries, local small business and second hand, antique and consignment shops. The local Chamber of Commerce, bless their hearts, is doing their best to bring folks in off their pleasure boats, drawing on canal and village history, including the legend of canal pirates. Hence Pirate Weekend in upstate New York – replete with costume parties, bed races and all manner of eye-patched, “Argghh Matey”, walk-the-yardarm fun.
I’m not getting all sanctimonious or anything. I mean, I love a good costume party as much as the next person. I also admit to taking the grandkids to Pirate Weekend for a couple of hours last year to kill some time. But honestly, Pirate Days make me a little uneasy.
I know I’m going to get the #buzzkill treatment for this but . . .
Pirates are criminals who steal, kidnap, murder and enslave.
Pirates most definitely did not speak in the English West Country accent popularized in Hollywood by actor Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver and Blackbeard in the movies of the 1950s.
Most famous pirates during Middle Ages were Viking raiding parties that harassed [read pillaged and plundered] most of coastal Europe.
The Barbary corsairs who came from ports located in Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Morocco managed to enslave over 1 million Europeans.
Pirates with hook hands, wooden peg legs, and parrots on their shoulders were the creation of the novelists of the 18th and 19th century.
Most accomplished pirate of all time was Henry Morgan, Welsh buccaneer who plundered on behalf of English crown. He was remembered as incredibly ruthless.
Females, as sexy as we look in those costumes, whether pirates themselves or aboard ship as slaves, did not fare well.
The most notorious pirate in the Caribbean was Edward Low. He built his notoriety by cruelly torturing his prisoners before killing most of them.
Some pirates were the tool of governments but most plundered trading ships and ports out of sheer greed.
Pirates used every torture device they could get their hands on, but in all recorded history they almost never used the wooden plank to force their prisoners to jump to the sea. Most of the people that they wanted to kill were just unceremoniously thrown from the ship.
Not a single real pirate treasure map was ever found.
There are real pirates at work in the world today and they are no laughing matter.
So, as much as I get that Small Town USA needs something to draw the tourist trade, and nothing sells like ghost stories and drunkeness, I think I’ll pass on the annual glorification of criminal bad-assery.
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imageI know personally two women who fled abusive partners the only way they thought possible, by literally leaving with what they and the children could collect and pack in the car in a couple of hours. They returned weeks or months later to the family home, with a police escort, only to be told by the abuser that there was nothing left of theirs to collect and the police say there is nothing they can do. They had to turn and walk away from precious family photos, childrens’ toys and furniture, clothing, legal records, jewelry, the mementos of a lifetime. All had to be abandoned forever or worse, used by their abuser as leverage in a never ending vendetta to inflict as much pain and control as possible over the one who had the audacity to protect her own life and the life of their children. A couple of thoughts are cutting through the anger I am feeling at the latest injustice, still fresh and personal:
 1) I believe in the rule of law but sometimes the law is not just. Sociopaths are expert manipulators when it comes to getting what they want. They will play the system and the authorities just the way they played you. You would think they were freakin’ Captain America when somebody has something they want or when they think they can talk their way out of a jam – and Cerberus ( the three headed dog who guards the gates of hell in mythology) when they feel they no longer can control their victim and others through charm, lies or intimidation.
2) No wonder women and children feel trapped or return to abusive situations. Don’t judge too harshly until you have walked beside someone on that journey to freedom. If you are trying to help them, be prepared. You very likely will have your heart broken several times. You will lose sleep, question if you are doing the right thing. Your own life will be disrupted by panicked phone calls at all hours asking what to do – and then they will do the exact opposite of what you advised. Your stomach will be in knots. Can you imagine what it is like for them?  Sometimes it takes years and several attempts. With each attempt and return the noose grows tighter. At the point when they are most frightened and vulnerable the abused must be calm, rational even calculating in order to survive and protect their children.  Well meaning family may think the abused is listening to them and following advice only to realize there is another person in the room. He’s invisible to you and holding an invisible gun to her head.
3) If you know someone who you suspect is in a bad situation, counsel them to have copies of all important papers (social security cards, birth certificates, passports, insurance info, etc.) made and given to a trusted family member for safekeeping when things are calm. She will need it all when she relocates and enrolls the kids in school. And, no, he will not give her anything “for the kids”. He knows the best way to hurt her is to hurt the kids or make her look like an incompetent mother. They will be used. Have an escape plan so that there is a support group on call to ensure the family has everything the family needs when the time comes to leave. If the abuser has no respect for her or her possessions before she  leaves, you can be sure he is not going to be generous after she leaves.
4) Work with an organization dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence. They will help you negotiate the legal swamp and, more importantly,  help her avoid mistakes that could severely hamper her later on. Trust them.
5) Most importantly, it’s only stuff. We live in a “stuffed” society. Households can be replaced through donations and charitable organizations in a few days. The life, health and future of the abused and the children depends on escape. The road ahead will be difficult, with a real need for sustained support not just for setting up a home from scratch, but for learning to parent effectively solo and moving through the grieving process. However, each step toward independence can restore dignity,  cultivate strengths and restore family ties that had been undermined by the abusive relationship. It will be worth it and the benefits extend for generations to come.
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Defending our human-ness


I wrote this as a message for the congregation of my church, but it really is simply about being in community, being part of the human race. It seems appropriate to share in this season of so much that challenges my belief that peace and justice will prevail and in the inherent goodness of those making this journey with me.

To help those readers whose background or inclinations are to other faiths or none at all, just a few substitutions of terms may help you hear with your heart. For “church” or “Christian”, substitute community.  For “prayer”, substitute reflection. For “Satan” or “sin”, substitute that which is not conducive to life, peace and happiness. For “God”, substitute that which creates,  sustains and elevates life and harmony.

Christians in Conflict — Message for Morning Prayer 9.7.14

Being a Christian sure is a messy business. Oh, it’s all peaches and cream between me and God. Jesus said so. We start off knowing that we are imperfect, sinners, and the Law of Moses won’t change that, even if we follow it to the letter. Then Jesus comes and saves us. Only near as I can tell he doesn’t save us from our sin here in the world. There are most definitely consequences for sin in this life. We are saved from our sin through Christ when we are reunited with Him in eternity. He asks only that we follow him while we are here.  Ah, there’s the rub.

This whole “being in the world” and “living in community” thing. Have you noticed? People be crazy!  And I be one of those people!   Seriously, conflict is part of the human experience – not only because we are imperfect in the world, because we sin, we make mistakes. Conflict also comes because we are flesh and do not see and understand perfectly. Even if we are living saints we perceive the same situations, the same behaviors, even the same view out our window differently from our fellow humans. And then there is evil. As the scripture says, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.” We don’t talk about Satan much in this church but the Bible does warn us that there are forces in the world at work to destroy the Body of Christ by setting its members against each other. And we might actually be at greater risk because we know we are children of the living God.  Now that doesn’t mean the person who is sowing seeds of discord is Satan! Satan works on a person’s weakness and acts through that weakness just as God works through the angels of our nature.

What unions does God love most? His church and His families. And it is here that conflict is felt most, hurts most and most undermines the best in  society. So what can we do to foil Satan’s plot to drive us apart?  Conflict takes on a whole different flavor when we think of it that way, doesn’t it? I may be annoyed with you, but if I think of that separation of my spirit from your spirit as being a wedge driven in there to purposely to make us sin, to keep you from me, to destroy our relationship with our spouse or our child, our brother or sister in Christ or our neighbor, and ultimately us from our Savior, well, I’m not likely to take that lying down.

What can we as Christians do to make it harder for that wedge to come between us? What can we do, when there is a conflict, when we feel discomfort, annoyance, fear, or anger and we identify someone else’s behavior as the trigger for that feeling?   I am going to stop here and reiterate what I said before about me being one of those people. I wrote this homily based on research and prayer because I need it as much as the next person.  So here are some things I found in my reading that I found helpful and thought you might too. BTW Proverbs is awesome!

1)     Don’t gossip.  A friend who shares the negative comments of a third party about you, to you, is not being a good friend to you. Teens, especially teen girls, listen up. If someone comes to you and warns you that someone else is upset with you or doesn’t like you because of this or that, they are unnecessarily putting you down, just by “sharing” that. A friend would have thrown water on that flame at its source, not brought the hot coals in a bucket to set your clothes on fire! A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends.  (Proverbs 16:28-30 NKJV)

2)    Go to God in prayer to get some perspective on the problem. If you are feeling anger, annoyance, disappointment or that bane of church folk everywhere – self-righteous indignation, think of Satan as a telemarketer who insists, “You must call this number within the next 15 minutes while operators are still standing by”. Hurrying, losing your cool are great ways to keep you from the one thing you need to do first. Figure out whose problem this really is. Is this a problem that God would want you to worry about? Or is it your problem – or even someone else’s problem?  How do you tell if it’s a God-worthy problem? Well, the Ten Commandments are pretty clear. Jesus was pretty clear about what made him angry. Not loving God and our neighbor, taking what’s not ours, not helping those in need, not honoring our parents, making people jump through hoops to belong to the fellowship of believers, putting barriers between people and God, letting money or fame get to be more important than God, the destruction of God’s creation, especially the life of one of his children. Does your problem rise to that level? Most of my problems don’t. And those that do – God is vastly better equipped to handle them than I.

3)    Keep your distance from people who tend to get easily offended or riled up about things. {29} A violent man entices his neighbor, And leads him in a way that is not good. {30} He winks his eye to devise perverse things; He purses his lips and brings about evil. (Proverbs 11:12-13 NKJV) He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, But a man of understanding holds his peace.  

4)    Timing is everything. Remember that the purpose of bringing your concern to another is not to hurt them, but to solve the problem. If you could solve the problem just by naming it, well there wouldn’t still be a problem, would there. You NEED the other person to help you. Angrily dumping your assessment of the situation on the unsuspecting is going to delay any possible resolution at least until the person recovers from the shock. That means don’t unload on your spouse when he or she is getting ready to leave for work or go to bed. Don’t snatch the iPad away to lecture about grades. Don’t berate the pastor for something going on in the parish hall 5 minutes before the service.  

5)    Ask questions rather than make accusations. This goes back to that “we are human and see in part and imperfectly” thing. We THINK we know, but we don’t know. Have the humility to acknowledge during that time you are going to God with the problem, that maybe you haven’t seen it from all angles and the only way you are going to get a better perspective to have someone else show it to you. That person is usually the person you are resisting. 

6)    Choose your words carefully. Again, you need the other person, whether it is your child, your boss or a church committee member, to join you in this process or the problem will continue. Be clear, direct, brief, and stick to the present. Be honest about your feelings but do Avoid statements that build walls – “you always”, you never, we always, we never. About being brief. I mean brief. If you keep talking either the other person will start to tune out because just listening is becoming unpleasant. Plus if we go on too long we are bound to start repeating ourselves which sends a message to your listener that they are not getting it. Not a good way to enlist a partner in problem solving.  

7)    Do not offer solutions right away. Give the other person time to process the problem you have been stewing about for who knows how long. Ask for their ideas first, then add yours.  If an agreement about how to proceed that is acceptable to both of you is not forthcoming, then it may be helpful to ask others for their input, not before.

8)    If you see or feel a conflict starting and feel you need help to resolve it, only rely on humble people of integrity and faithfulness to help you in the peacemaking process. You do not need a judge of who is right and who is wrong. Remember, it is the disagreement itself that needs healing. You need a peacemaker. Your closest friend may be a wonderfully kind person, but leave them out of it. They will probably find it very hard to be objective.

9)    It takes a village to raise a village. Be ready to give in kindness and open to receive small corrections in action or thinking or to be invited to approach things in a different way, not as a rebuke, but as way of growing in our relationship with each other and with God. If we trust that our family, our closest friends, and even each other here at church, who are also on the journey, then we do not need to be afraid of disagreement. We can be assured that if someone is behaving in a way that is injurious to the whole community or to us, one of its members, they too will be asked to examine their behavior and its effect. If we embrace these small corrections as part of our life together then issues don’t simmer and fester until they tear the family, the friendship or the church apart.

To trust in God’s forgiveness is one of the first and most important aspects of our faith. It seems to me that forgiving and trusting that we will be forgiven should be a cornerstone of our life together as well.  So let us fight – fight the influences that drive us apart, drive out discord, drive out the sense that there is only enough right for a select few, dispel mistrust, and conquer fear of those around us. Let us grow compassion, engender trust, sow seeds of trust, engender openness and acceptance, nurture love and respect the dignity of every person. May we acknowledge with grace the opportunity to grow in our journey.

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No Filter

Most of this originated as a euology for my father, Norman Smith, who passed away two years ago a the age of 80. We had a complicated relationship. He was my biggest fan and harshest critic. He was my hero and my nemesis. I was blessed to have had an opportunity to come to terms with that, to be close to him and help him in his final weeks, and to honor him in the weeks after his death. Father’s Day will always be full of elegaic moments for those of us whose fathers are no longer here to celebrate with us. Still, it makes me smile to remember. Happy Father’s Day, “Dear Ol’ Dad”.

                                                      * * * * * * * * * *

There is an “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode about the wedding from hell, where Raymond has to toast the hapless couple. In it, he manages to turn a horribly awkward contentious occasion into a humorous and happy one by talking about editing; how we filter events and tend to remember the good stuff.   I actually started with that thought as I was forming ideas for this eulogy in my head, but had to laugh as I remembered the many times I said of Dad, especially the later years, just the opposite.  That Dad had no filter.  Now that might sound like a negative thing – and it did make me shake my head sometimes that he would just blurt out whatever popped into his head, like cheerily greeting my husband Kevin on our wedding day with, “Oh you must be Kevin. I recognize you by your chrome dome!”  But the more I thought about it, I realized that one of the things about Dad that was most endearing was that he had no filter. 

On the one hand he was a born worrier and a bit of a fusspot – old before his time. But he had this child-like quality – of curiosity, wonder, absolute glee when something tickled him, and especially in his last years, a genuine heartfelt appreciation for the kindness of others. If he was interested in something, he threw himself into it, 110%.  And if you showed an interest in the same thing, well he was mentor and pal for life. Because of this, he had sort of a Renaissance Man list of interests and outlets for his unique talents and energies – and as I found these last few months, a group of people for each facet of his life who loved him for what he brought to those relationships.

First there was his childhood family, especially his mother, Norma, brothers Lenny and Wes and “Sister”, Carolyn.  Growing up in the Great Depression, scarcity was a fact of life, but made more keen because of his parents divorcing while he was still a boy. Being the oldest, he took on the mantle of responsibility for his siblings at the tender age of 10. I have shed more than one tear as I’ve read the poignant letters in childhood scrawls of three little boys to their “Dear Mother” and letters from Papa to little ones too young to understand but promising that he would always love them and to please have “Brother” write a letter telling him what they each wanted for Christmas.  Later, brother became “Bubba” as the boys went to live and work with farm families and I have enjoyed the brotherly advice, admonitions and good natured teasing in their letters about all manner of teenage life in the 40s. School chums, trapping, haying, milking, girls, hiking, mischief and later a common love of airplanes and cars.  The folks they stayed with really did become family for Dad and he kept in touch with his beloved Jim Valley until the end. But his love for his family was a constant throughout his life. Some of my brothers’ and sister’s favorite times were the frequent trips to Syracuse and up north to visit our uncles and their families.  Cousins are always spelled FUN but we also reveled in our Dad having fun with his brothers, whether it was riding motorcycles, hunting or, my favorite, when they played guitar and sang together. He took care of his family – of Wes’s family when he died, of his mother as her health failed, of Carolyn when Grandmother died, and always worried if he was doing enough. No filter.

Next came the Army, basic training at Fort Dix, and almost before the ink was dry on the enlistment papers, off to the west coast and on to the hell hole of Korea.  In the midst of fear and carnage, his letters to his mother reflect a tenderness especially as he talks about the little kids who hang around the camp and do odd jobs.  In one letter, the 18 year old worldly big brother chides Lenny and Wes apparently for their notion that the two of them are going to acquire a plane and do some damage to those Commies.  He asks them if they are “gone” (nuts) and wonders not only where are they going to get the money, but where would they keep it?!  Wounded twice, the second time severely, he wrote of the action he saw and how a young Hawaiian friend died in his arms. Years later, he reunited with the boys he served with at several 24th Infantry Division events and proudly wore his military service pins and insignia on each of his considerable wardrobe of hats and caps. Those friendships forged in the fire of battle lasted throughout his life. No filter.

There were other passions and groups of “buddies” – his motorcycle buddies and Ham radio buddies, names that became as familiar to us as family – Hugo Ransley and Joe Greco, John Farler, Bob Skidmore, John Kohlmorgan, and many others.  He told me in his last weeks that his daily chats on the net were his lifeline.  It was through Ham radio that he had yet another nickname bestowed on him. To his CW (morse code) friends he was “Whew” or “Sir Percy”.  We grew up with the sound of that key going, especially late at night. From the many emails and letters remembering Dad it seems Whew came from Dad’s ability to send and receive Morse code so quickly, it left mere mortals saying “Whew!” One friend remarked that sending code was like speaking a foreign language with marbles in your mouth so conversations were usually pretty simple.  But Dad had the ability, even in morse code, to paint word pictures and really make the conversation personal. And so they all loved Norm because he had no filter.

At work, he was the consummate professional – yet another place where being a fusspot was a good thing. His attention to detail was legend. I am sure he must have been a demanding supervisor in the lab but he was tailor made for the accuracy demanded of a Medical Technologist. He took his work very seriously but as I met people he had worked with in his field, doing DNA sample collecting until a few weeks before his death, I learned how very much his professionalism meant to the people he worked with. But more importantly, I learned how very human and compassionate he was with the people he drew blood from, especially the children. In his “kit” along with all the medical stuff and chain of evidence record keeping stuff, was a bag full of lollipops for the little ones.

Dad made no bones about the things he loved and the things he hated. His emotions were always front and center, like a child. Like a child he was easily hurt and easily tickled. He railed at the news on tv; cussed about folks he felt were not honorable or industrious.  He kept little treasures in boxes reminiscent of the boy for whom a pocket knife or a new pair of shoes was a king’s treasure.  He jealously rationed a jar of homemade sauerkraut and would rave for decades about a loaf of his favorite Russian black bread or pungent garlic-laced tabouli.

He loved deeply, my mother for the 50 years of their marriage, and then his dear friend, Fay; his extended family and friends, his children – sometimes as in Shakespeare’s words “not wisely but too well”.  His judgments could be harsh but I know in his last years he began to truly seek humility and temperance of the need to be right.

But we remember too that Dad really had no filter on his love for children, especially those for whom he did not have to wear his “responsible parent” hat. He gleefully teased little girls, whether cousins or my little sister’s friends, or neighbor kids. A young couple with a toddler who had been neighbors of Dad’s in Kentucky related to me how much they loved their Norm. It would never occur to him to be aloof, so he marched right over with a gift of apples and cornbread when they moved in and clearly reveled in the “lovin’ on him” by their little daughter. No filter on his emotions.

No filter in collecting antiques [I’m STILL finding bottles] or choices of music – he loved virtually every kind of music and would share it with you whether you were willing or not – and in the process conveyed a rich heritage of music to all of us and our children after us. No filter when he would listen in rapt attention and try to engage street musicians in conversation about guitar styles or when he would lose himself in some Chet Atkins or Allison Kraus recording. He would listen to music when he was taking his breathing treatments those last weeks and I really think they took him away to another place – closer to home.
So maybe it would not be such a bad thing if we did not filter so much, huh?

But one of the things he loved best, from childhood to his last days, was the outdoors, especially the woods and fields and lakes of upstate New York.  After he and Mom moved back to Kentucky in the 70s to “escape the rat race” as he said, he made almost annual trips north for apple season and a hike in the woods with one or more of us. His doctor’s directive after his bypass surgery to walk three miles a few times a week was one he embraced. We finally convinced him that he should get and learn how to use a cell phone when we realized we had an 80 year old man regularly traipsing through the woods alone.  He fed the birds religiously and watched them from his perch at his HAM radio desk, a bird identification guide where most people would have a thesaurus. He could name every one and mimic many of their calls, teaching anyone who would listen.

It was this love of the woods, of nature, that I think linked me and my father spiritually. He so appreciated Native American life and culture that he felt a kindred spirit with them as deep as the traditional religion he came to embrace late in life. He took such pride and pleasure in carving walking sticks for many of us. When we laid him to rest at last in his beloved “Happy Valley” it was fitting to return him to his ancestors beneath the twisted pine and to read the wisdom of those whose feet walked softly on the earth.

When you were born, you cried, and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice. White Elk  

May the stars carry your sadness away, May the flowers fill your heart with beauty, may hope forever wipe away your tears, And, above all, may silence make you strong. Chief Dan George

Dad, moccasins are no longer needed to protect your feet, no herbs needed to heal you, nor any walking stick to guide you for you are carried on wings of eagles.  You have your grandfather, Norman, and grandmother, Margaret, Uncle Bill, your father Donald, your beloved Mother Norma, sister Carolyn, and brother, Wesley, to welcome you, your Savior Christ to heal all your wounds and guide you into eternal life in the presence of the Creator.

As you disappear into the woods again we are glad to see you lean on your walking stick, turn and smile, and we know you are home.

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I think the golden years are when you start to think about your legacy not in terms of wanting people to love you, but that they know unequivocally how very much you loved them.

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The Only Honest Mother

The Only Honest Mother.

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