“The act of writing is its own reward. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.”
I hadn’t read the Introduction the first time I read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD. This little gem on page xxvi took my breath away because it is so accurate. “The act of writing is its own reward. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises.”
My mother died in February of 1998 and while we were caring for her during her last weeks on earth, I jotted down little details about those weeks. This thing that was happening as we watched her shell diminish, this thing of caregiving for the dying, was at the same time, vast and tedious, energizing and exhausting. It left no solitude or space for writing or even processing what was happening.
She was diagnosed before Christmas and was gone the day after Valentine’s. It took all five kids and our Dad to manage all the details of pain medicine, comfort measures, meal prep, insurance fights, doctor appointments, visitors, mail call, and let’s not forget, cleaning closets. We all scurried around our mother 24 hours a day trying to fight off this intruder who had invaded her body and our family, this cancer, that in the end, was completely undaunted by our scurrying and tender care.
It wasn’t until well after the funeral that I pulled out all those little scraps of paper and began to put them in order.
And then, very late at night, when the family was asleep and the house was quiet, I began to craft the story of my mother’s last weeks on earth. Night after night I would relive each scribble and recall the tiniest details of those weeks that had raced by in a blur. The tone in the doctor’s voice when he gave us the news, the countless meals magically appearing at dinner time, the sound of the doorbell announcing the arrival of one more visitor, the rattle of pills bottles (they each had their own sound), the daily mail-call, the smell of the bedside commode in the morning, the whirr of the oxygen condenser, the crunch of a bag of frozen peas applied to wherever the pain was that day (a never-ending game of hide and seek; what worked yesterday doesn’t necessarily work today), the sight of the school bus stopped in front of her house picking up kids the morning after she died (the very audacity, didn’t they know my mother had died?!! What could possibly be so important at school?!!)
I found myself bringing those scribbles to life as I crafted each sentence, every paragraph, and the entire piece. I cried. I laughed. I added. And I deleted phrases, so as to not hurt feelings. And then I made copies for my siblings who made copies for their children who made copies for their friends. And each year on my mother’s birthday or death-iversary, one of her grandchildren or great-grandchildren, now all grown up, discovers it for the first time. And then their spouses, who never met Grandma, get a glimpse into our family in our darkest and closest hour. A teacher friend in Minneapolis reads the essay aloud in class and uses it as a springboard for discussing death and dying with her inner-city middle school students. Death and dying and the pain that comes with it is completely universal it turns out.
Those many nights sitting in the dark with only the clickity-clack of the keyboard in the soft glow of the monitor with all those little scraps of paper gifted me with something life-changing. At first, I thought this gift was from my mother, or from losing her, or from ever having her in the first place. But it turns out the gift came from writing it down. Toiling over each phrase, each comma, and each ellipse (it’s full of ellipses used in all the wrong ways) resulted in more than a nice family essay. Writing it down laid my soul bare and spoke healing and comfort into my spirit. I could physically hear her voice, “Yes, you are sad. Yes, you are going to miss me. More than you know!! But I’ve lived a good life with God as my compass. I raised five good kids and I have lots of friends and I have a husband of 54 years. Go ahead and cry. Trust me, I know your despair is real. Go ahead and cry. And then, cherish each day we had together, the good days and the tough ones. And cherish each day ahead of you. And don’t forget to hug those babies!”
What sweet words to live by. And so true. And “so Darlene” as my sisters would say. Completely authentic and exactly the way she thought about things.
But try as I might, I could not tie it up in that pretty little bow. I still find there are so many questions I want to ask her and so many experiences I want to share with her. I was 43 when she left us, barely old enough to know what questions to ask. I had the world by the tail, but in reality, I didn’t even know what I didn’t even know. I am perpetually amazed at how many times I catch myself picking up the phone to share some little things with her or ask for some life-altering advice. Even now. Decades later.
But death puts a period where you want to keep writing. And death puts a period where you want to keep reading. My mother may have given this life all she had, she may have left it all on the field, but there was so much more I wanted to hear from her.
Famous Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami, once said, “Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. That!
That right there is “so Darlene”! She told us in her last days, “I taught you kids how to live, now I get to show you how to die. People raised on the farm understand the cycle of life. As your dad likes to say, “Ain’t many of us gonna get out of here alive.”
Murakami also said, “There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”
There I was in the deepest messiest despair of my life and writing it down was the thing that helped me make sense of it and to navigate the grieving. “The act of writing is its own reward. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises!”
[This piece is intended as an introduction to a series of stories based in family memories shared over the years.]
If our kitchen table could talk, oh the stories we’d hear. Growing up, our home revolved around the kitchen table. It was at the top of the steps coming in from the garage, a step from the phone, and a few steps from the coffee pot.
This is where we shared our meals, both everyday and holiday. It is where we read the morning paper and opened the mail and struggled with our homework. It is where we left notes telling where we were, who we were with, and when we’d be home. It is where neighbor women would come when they needed a word of advice or encouragement from my mother who, although just a few years their senior, had a lifetime of wisdom and friendship ready to dispense over a cup of coffee. It is where my dad told and retold stories about fishing and flying. It is where we ate rice with food coloring every night when the cupboard was bare and the pocketbook thin. It is where we held family conferences to share good news and bad–and to make the big and not-so-big decisions. It is where my mother sat rubbing her forehead as she paid the bills. It is where my father now plays endless hours of solitaire—the kids all grown and his wife too soon in heaven.
The oak table is over a century old, handmade, and the color of honey. It came with our family from our farm in west central Minnesota to our home in the suburbs when I was just eleven years old. It bore the scares from notches accidentally hacked into the edge from its first life when it was used as a surface to butcher chickens and pigs.
Not long after Minnesota became the 32nd state and the Civil War wounds were still fresh, our kitchen table was the center of my mother’s paternal grandparent’s farm life. When Grandpa Tody’s parents were first married, I imagine the table was used for meals, canning, sewing, repairs, reading, and a myriad of family projects, laced with the rich conversation that goes along with busy hands. As the years passed, the sturdy oak table was used as a surface to butcher livestock and repair harnesses. Over decades of daily use, it became covered with too many thick coats of varnish and soiled with the blood, sweat, and tears associated with the relentless rigors of Midwestern farm life. By the time it came to my folks, it was brownish-gray and dull.
World War II was raging across the sea, and in 1944, the year of their engagement, my parents painstakingly toiled evenings and weekends, stripping and sanding that table. Soon they discovered their hunch was right. This was a beautiful piece of workmanship with scrolled beaded legs and hand-hewed sliders enabling the table to seat up to 14 guests. By the time they were finished, they had a solid and attractive piece of furniture to begin their household and their life together.
Since that day, our family has depended on that kitchen table and taken it for granted, admired its beauty and misused it, relied on its function, and taken care of it–just as we have regarded one another.
Some of my fondest memories involve gathering around our kitchen table after school or work, scarfing cinnamon toast, and telling stories of our day or gossip we had heard while out in the world. My mother would often preface a story by saying, “Now girls, this is kitchen talk. You don’t have to tell everything you know.” This was her way of saying that the kitchen table was sanctuary – a safe house for sharing. The telling and retelling and analyzing of these events turned out to be our classroom, exploring ideas and forming values as we laughed and cried.
If our kitchen table could talk, oh the stories we’d hear.
The newest branch in our family tree was dedicated to God on March 5, 2023. The name of this tiny twig is Olorian Karl Hinkle and he was precisely four months old on that chilly Sunday morning our family stood in front of the congregation and committed to raising little Baby Olo in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In return, the church universal committed to standing with his parents as they bring him up.
For this occasion, Baby Olo was dressed in a baptism gown handmade nearly 100 years ago and originally worn by my mother in 1924. Her Aunties Mattie and Nellie Lerraas, sewed it especially for Darlene and she was baptized when she was just five weeks old. She looked like a little baby angel.
Since then, all five of Darlene’s children wore it when we were baptized. Five of her grandchildren wore it when they were baptized or dedicated as infants. And at this point, Baby Olo makes 12 of her great-grandchildren who donned the gown at their baptisms or dedications. We store it in a pretty silver box with the list inside.
Darlene raised her kids in the Lutheran faith so we were all baptized with a sprinkle. Some of her grandchildren were baptized as Catholic, and some were dedicated in the Christian faith thru a variety of other denominations.
The gown and the slip are not fancy, not like the ones so easily ordered online today. They are plain and simple, made of white cotton with some lace panels at the neckline and tatting around the hem. Not fussy at all.
Our family has more than a few generational traditions, but I love the baptism gown the most. It speaks to the power of the little things, plain and simple with a great undercurrent of power.
As the decades wove themselves into a century, our family and faith have grown bigger, stronger, and more diverse, largely due to the little traditions and habits we embrace. Little customs like showing up for church every Sunday, serving lutefisk and lefse on Christmas Eve, and wearing a solje brooch on the 17th of May, Norwegian Constitution Day. Small daily practices like open-mindedness, gratitude, and curiosity. Life can get hard from time to time, and little norms can serve as strong scaffolding paving a pathway forward.
There is a place in India near the Bangladesh border, where indigenous people create bridges without using concrete or rebar, nails or screws. Instead, they weave the roots of Indian rubber trees into footbridges. The structures can withstand the torrents of monsoon season and the harsh conditions of rainforest life. Conventional bridges would quickly be destroyed by this area known as the wettest place on earth. Over the centuries, people of the Khasi and Jaintia tribes have learned through trial and error how to best train the tiny roots to interlace and grow across rivers and gorges. Most bridges cannot be completed in one lifetime, so the elders teach the young the techniques required to keep the living breathing bridges growing. Paul Salopek writes for National Geographic and I recently read his article about the living root bridges in the remote northeast corner of India. He writes,
“The green hills of Meghalaya state—a high, sodden, rumpled, and stream-slashed corner of India’s remote and beautiful northeastern panhandle—can be a misery to walk. The corrugated slopes sheeted in mist are clogged with jungle undergrowth and greased with mud. During the monsoon rains, foot trails between villages plunge again and again into gorges that hiss with waterfalls and fierce impassable rivers. Navigating these natural obstacles—in a climate where 40 feet of rainwater plummets from the sky every year—requires clever toes, iron lungs, and the power of prolonged observation. It demands thousands of years of attentiveness. Lifetimes of experimentation. Generations of problem-solving.
“The result is a footbridge that can last 500 or 600 years, getting stronger with passing time. All of this is courtesy of the ingenuity of the Khasi and Jaintia indigenous people who trek these paths from their earliest baby steps. The Indian rubber tree produces strong, rope-like aerial roots that, when lashed onto a scaffold of hollowed-out betel nut trunks or tied to bamboo stalks, can be trained patiently over decades to grow horizontally across steep ravines and riverbanks. Eventually, with aching slowness, yet tirelessly, steadily, the roots are coaxed to entwine, to form the struts and supports for living footbridges that can hold up to 50 people at a time. These are bridges that breathe. They are architecture built of memory.”
The bridges of Meghalaya promote community and commerce, indeed life itself, between villages. In a small way, I think the little things we do in our families, our old traditions, our faith, our sense of curiosity and ingenuity, and our love for others, promote community and sustenance that last beyond a lifetime. Some customs and values we promote for many decades and there may be days when we wonder if we have any impact at all.
And then one day, a century after the fact, a little baby boy is dressed in his great-grandmother’s baptism gown as he unwittingly takes his first baby steps into his own faith. He looked like a little baby angel.
My prayer is that the footbridges carefully constructed by Olorian’s forefathers – and foremothers – those living bridges created of tradition and faith, of curiosity and compassion, will guide and protect him as he takes on the sometimes slippery paths that will lead him along his own amazing journey.
Fear. What is it? Some common synonyms of fear are alarm, dread, fright, panic, terror, and trepidation. Fear is a natural part of the human psyche, and therefore the Bible has a lot to say about it. In fact, Bible tells us to FEAR NOT over 100 times. Most of the verses line up with Deuteronomy 31:6 – “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
For me, this verse lands squarely in the category entitled, “easier said than done.” Worry is based upon something in your imagination or your memory. Worry is the fear we manufacture; it is a choice. Conversely, true fear is involuntary; it will come and get our attention when necessary. Fear can be a good thing. Say, we are being chased by a tiger. We fear. We run. Hopefully, we get away. This hard-wired mechanism is a gift from God.
But just like all good gifts from our Creator, Satan can twist them for his own purpose. The devil uses fear as a weapon to disrupt our faith. He wants us to doubt everything God says to us. If he can get us to the point of unbelief, he can move us away from trusting God.
Scripture tells us over 100 times, “Fear not. The Lord is with you. He will never leave you.”
It could be argued that fear does NOTHING to keep bad things from happening. It just steals the joy of appreciating the good things around us.
So what scares me? When I was little, I feared getting in trouble with my mom. Like the time I cut off my little sister’s long blonde curls — down to the scalp in places! Or the time I pulled the wooden swing way up high, dropped it and watched as it crashed into the bridge of her unsuspecting little nose. Blood splattered everywhere! I was so scared I ran for the hills and didn’t come home until dark. Hours later, there she lay in the corner of the kitchen on top of a pile of dirty barn coats, my brother thought she was dead. I am happy to report, she survived. And we are still friends.
In high school, we dread throwing a party and no one showing up. In college, we panic we might turn up pregnant. Then in our thirties, we worry we won’t ever get pregnant. We are fearful we won’t get the grades to get into a good school. We worry if we’ll ever find the right husband. We are anxious about finding the perfect job, getting the promotion, or buying a house in the right neighborhood. When the babies arrive, we fear what will happen if we don’t choose the right diaper, if we are feeding the right way, which enrichment activities are beneficial, whether he is wearing his bicycle helmet, whether travel sports are worth it, or why he won’t turn in his homework on time. We are alarmed about the kids he’s hanging out with and wonder if he will even graduate from high school. We fear we won’t have enough money to retire. When the grandbabies come along, we are fearful their parents are too young to do it right.
But there is that still small voice — “Fear not. God is with you.”
Today’s social and political climate is fueled by fear, which incidentally, drives their high-octane bottom line through increased viewership and contributions. Then COVID comes along and we are filled with trepidation about lethal germs killing our loved ones or making them sick. We begin watching too much news and a new apocalyptic terror grips our hearts.
Yet we are commanded, “Fear not.”
Middle-age races past us like we are standing still, and here we are – the aged. We become fearful when the doctor gives us that terminal diagnosis and we worry about all kinds of threats, real and imagined. What if. What if. What if.
In the midst of a Parkinson’s diagnosis, in the midst of the world around us going to hell in a handbasket, we are still comforted by Scripture, “Fear not. God is with you.”
It goes without saying, fear can run our lives if we let it. But as Christians, we know fear comes only to steal and kill and destroy. We know this in our minds and hearts, yet we remain fearful. It’s freaking exhausting and it clouds our vision and impairs our hearing of God’s voice as he says:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
So, we do our best to keep ourselves safe from danger. We take precautions. We study and prepare. We take fewer and fewer risks. We save for retirement. We stay clear of trans fats, sugar, and pesticides. We teach our children about the lasting implications of poor choices. And yet trouble finds us.
And our Bible teachers still refrain, “Fear not.”
And yet, I am afraid. I have never once stopped being fearful because someone said to me, “Be not afraid.”
It turns out, nothing can keep us from danger. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Even Jesus could not escape danger, especially King Herod and the Sanhedrin who actually put a hit out on him! He knew they were looking for him and wanted to end his life, but he was about his Father’s business — healing the sick and casting out demons — too consumed with acts of love to be afraid.
In the end, we want to feel safe. But consider this: it’s not safety that keeps us from being unafraid. Danger is NOT optional, but maybe fear IS. Perhaps the opposite of danger is not safety. Maybe it’s not bravery. Could it be love? Jesus embodied the very essence of, “Be not afraid.” And God is love. Christ lived his days on this earth loving people and doing the work of his Father in heaven.
Pastor and writer, Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “To hell with fear! It does NOTHING to keep the bad things from happening anyway. It just steals the joy of appreciating the good things around us.”
I was never one for playing practical jokes or pranks on people. All the family talent in that arena was reserved for my brother’s family. Dick and Carleen were a barrel of laughs in their early life together. Here is a story about their daughter, Dawn on one April Fool’s Day when she was a little girl.
Very late the night before April 1st, Dawn waited patiently until her parents and little brothers and sister were sound asleep. Then she sneaked out of her bedroom and down the stairs to the kitchen.
She started by filling her mom’s sugar bowl with salt; she knew that coffee with sugar was her mom’s go-to first thing in the morning.
Dawn then slipped into her dad’s bathroom and stretched saran wrap over the toilet bowl; she also knew her dad’s first stop in the morning!
Next, she tip-toed into her little brothers’ and sisters’ rooms where she drew all over their faces with a magic marker.
She finished her April Fool’s masterpiece by making a bed of coats in the front closet. There she lay down, covered up, and fell fast asleep for the night.
The next morning, Dawn was awakened by the frantic yelps (and a little colorful language) from the rest of the family as they discovered her handiwork AND discovered that she was not in her bed!
That day Dawn became the queen of practical jokes and the feature story in family prank history!
It was a warm summer evening in the summer of 1961, and our parents were away. Hans was at Uncle Ansel’s and heard the story on the local news along with Ansel and Doris. Dick and Linda were home with Holly and me. Our neighbor, Osborne, came to tell us that our dad had crashed his crop dusting plane and had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. At first, I didn’t believe it. Then I was so scared I might never see my father again. I can still smell the warm summer twilight and newly mowed hay. I can still feel the little pebbles between my toes standing in the driveway as he delivered the news. It had been such a beautiful evening. The scene is still frozen in my mind’s eye.
The rest of the night is a blur – I was so little. I remember our Dad was gone for a long time. When he came home it was autumn and he was in a body cast. He had broken his nose and his back. He spent months in traction in the hospital. The neighbors rallied together and helped to bring in the harvest. Only one asked for reimbursement of his gas money. This was a tight-knit farming community, and they all loved our folks.
My dad could not move from his neck to his waist all winter, but he slowly built a wall unit in our living room consisting of a brick gas fireplace with bookshelves and cabinets on both sides. He would sit on a little stool in front of the fireplace and Holly and I would carry bricks one at a time from the kitchen sink where our mother was washing and drying each one by hand. When it was painstakingly finished, I remember it was golden oak and a thing of beauty.
Our mother had also been in the airplane when it went down, a secret they both kept well into their 70s. She had broken her tailbone but could not go for medical help since he was certain to lose his pilot license if word got out that she was illegally a passenger in his crop-dusting plane. So, she suffered in silence, except when sobbing into a wet washcloth as she soaked in an Epsom Salts bath. As I say, she, like many pioneer women before her, would do anything for her family. That little airplane and her husband’s pilot license were their tickets off the farm, and she was not going to mess that up with a trip to the ER.
My dad lived for another several decades flying small aircraft for a living. He didn’t let a little thing like crashing an airplane stop him from enjoying his dream job!
Are you still friends with any of your friends from high school? How have they changed since then?
It’s funny you should ask about this as 2022 is right around the corner. June 8, 2022, marks 50 years since I graduated from Chaska High School. The answer is yes, I am still in contact with a few friends from high school. I believe there were 120 in our graduating class. Everyone knew everyone. I had a few close friends but I got along with everybody. I’ve been back home to attend every reunion. This time I am on the reunion committee for June.
My best friend was Diane Bjornson and we still connect for dinner or pool time every time I’m in Minnesota. I have lived in Indiana for 40 years now, so we probably see one another once a year or so, but each time we strike up a conversation we pick up right where we left off. It’s like time nor distance exists. We used to ride the school bus for an hour every morning and every afternoon, chattering all the way to and from. Then we’d call each other as soon as we got home. I still remember her phone number: 612-474-8619. Our birthdays were one month apart; mine in June and Diane’s in July. We both got our driver’s licenses on the same day.
In a weird coincidence, we both became first-time mothers at the age of 35, and they were just one month apart; Lauren in November and Walker in December. A couple of years later we both added a second child to our families; a baby girl for Diane and a baby boy for me.
Another weird coincidence: her dad’s name was Francis, my husband’s middle name is Francis after his grandfather, my first child’s middle name was Francis, and my first grandchild’s middle name is Francis. Diane’s dad died of cancer when we were teenagers, and her mother raised six kids by herself. Quite a feat! We enjoyed quite a few wild adventures along the way, but that’s a “whole ‘nother show” as they say.
My observation about all of us changing over time is that the older we get the more we become like our parents. So rest assured, your kids DO hear us while they are growing up, even if they appear not to!
My first paying job was picking strawberries. It was the summer of 1966, the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and my family of five was living in a two-bedroom apartment. Working that field was awful and hot, muggy and buggy, and undoubtedly the worst job I ever had. Picture this: a bunch of middle school kids riding in the back of a one-ton truck with wooden slats around the box to hold us inside all the way to the strawberry fields. There were so many of us we had to stand up. The truck delivered us to the strawberry farm by 7:30 in the morning. Don’t believe what they tell you about Minnesota. It isn’t always cold there. In the summertime, it is H-O-T hot: 9 am, 90 degrees and climbing hot. We picked berries all day for a quarter a quart, cash at the end of the day. I don’t think I lasted too long at this job; sunburn and heat stroke were dangerous for this little blonde Norwegian. My Mom had pity on me and let me quit, which was as simple as not showing up for the truck ride to the fields.
I was 14 years old in 1968, the summer between eighth and ninth grade when I got a job babysitting for a family in our neighborhood for $20 a week. Five days a week from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm I cared for a five-year-old girl, a boy just a year younger than I, and a girl my age who was mentally retarded [that was the term back then]. Cereal for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, getting dinner started for the family, doing dishes, straightening up, and entertaining the children. Not much on daytime TV in 1968 and certainly no video games. I now wonder exactly what I did to entertain such a diverse group all day long all summer long.
By ninth grade, my friend Diane and I were virtually inseparable and starting to spread our wings. We had classes together, we hung out together, we had summer birthdays together, we rode the school bus together and then called each other the minute we got off the hour-long bus ride, we dressed up and took the city bus downtown Minneapolis together, we went to school dances and football games together, we got dissed by the popular girls together, we snuck out together, we looked for trouble on Windy Hill together, we sipped cherry vodka together, we listened to Mason Profit through Dave’s bedroom window together, we smoked cigars together when Diane’s surprise baby brother was born, we bought Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin albums together, we got our drivers licenses together, and we had our first hoodlum boyfriends together. Oh…did I mention we were grounded for the better part of our freshman year together? Our folks thought we were no good for each other. But we knew otherwise. We are still good friends today. Many years later, I was living in Indiana and Diane was living in the Virgin Islands, we became mothers together at the ripe old age of 35. We are indeed kindred spirits.
I was 15 in 1969. I know there must have been important news going on in America, but I wasn’t paying much attention. That was the year I got my first W-2 job at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre washing dishes for $1.35 an hour. Actually, Diane and I got jobs in the dish room together. It was hot and sweaty work but we didn’t care…we had our own moolah! It didn’t take long, and we were both promoted to usherettes in the 600-seat dinner theatre. The play was Damn Yankees, and we got to dress in baseball caps and tight jeans. We were the cat’s meow! We were rolling in dough at $1.50 an hour. Gas was 47 cents a gallon. Over the next twelve years, the Dinner Theatre would offer ideal hours for me as I worked my way through high school and college; from the dish room to usherette to cashier to waitress to bartender to hostess. It was an amazing place with four professional theatres under one roof serving 920 dinners out of two kitchens in two hours before the plays would begin. My job at the Dinner Theatre became my social and educational life. In by 5:00 and out by 9:00, it was the perfect evening job for students, especially when the tips were good. For years after I left there, however, I would have nightmares about serving salads in a panic as the lights were going down, unable to find my tables.
I married your Dad in December 1981 and moved to Indiana on Christmas Day. I traveled all over the country with his band until the summer and then decided to get an accounting job. I had just received my degree 6 months prior and had never worked in accounting before. We lived at 161st and Ditch, which back then, was a long way from anywhere. One day I drove to 116th and Meridian where there were a number of tall buildings full of offices of all kinds. I looked around those buildings and said to myself, “Someone in one of these offices in one of these buildings needs me to work for them.” So all dressed up in heels and hose, I walked the halls of those buildings handing out my resume to receptionist after receptionist (in other words people who had literally no decision-making power in their company’s accounting departments.) Finally, I walked through the front doors of Fiduciary and General, an insurance holding company, owned by Russ Tolley. I handed the receptionist my resume at the exact moment the brand new CFO Neil Bardach walked through the lobby. She said, “Here is the person you need to talk to about a job in accounting.” He read my resume right then and there, paused for a moment, smiled, and said, “When can you start?” I nearly fell off my three-inch spikes! I answered, “How much does it pay?” He replied, “How much do you want?” I hadn’t thought this far into the scenario, “How about $14 per hour?” He said, “It’s a deal.” That was the summer of 1982. I came back the next morning and worked at F&G for a couple of years until they were forced into bankruptcy by the Illinois Department of Insurance Compliance.
As the doors were closing on that business, CFO Neil Bardach suggested that I interview with John Biddinger who had recently opened an office at 91st and Meridian. A respected company, great boss, upwardly mobile, the whole shebang. This was a good fit for me and stayed there until 1996 when he semi-retired and moved his operations to Florida. I learned so much from this work experience. I learned about hard work, dedication, the value of connection, and living well. In my last year (1996) with BICC my salary, stock options, etc. totaled over $80,000. I remember thinking, “not bad for a little girl who wasn’t good at math in school”.
In 1998 my mother died and I was grateful I didn’t have a job at the time so I could be with her in her last days. We had been attending Northview Christian Life in Carmel since 1982, and then were founding members of Radiant Christian Life in Westfield and attended there since 2000. I went to work for Radiant in October 2000 where Pastors John and Gary were so understanding about the importance of family obligations. My wage dropped nearly in half, but it was worth it to me. Walker and Jackson were 11 and 9 respectively and I loved having the flexibility to be involved in their school and sports activities. This was a fun job because I could do much more than accounting using other creative skills as the years tumbled by. My main responsibility was accounting and bookkeeping, but I also served on committees, took care of communications with the congregation, and had lots of interaction with the members. This October will mark 22 years at Radiant, officially making me the oldest and longest employee on the books.
For the most part, I have been blessed with good jobs and good bosses, and good work environments. With one exception: picking strawberries. But that’s okay. Half of life is learning what you don’t want to do with it. Always remember, life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.
My mother lived 600 miles from me and before she passed, she would come for a visit once or twice a year. At the end of one of her trips, we were driving to the airport on 465 which suddenly transformed into a virtual parking lot, as we were delayed for an hour in stop-and-go traffic. What a pain! How would we ever make it to the airport the mandatory two hours before take-off? As my blood pressure rose, mile after hot muggy mile, I wondered what could possibly be so important as to inconvenience hundreds of motorists with equally tight schedules.
Then I saw it. Bridge construction! No accident. No stalled car. No crime in progress. Just routine bridge construction. When I settled into the notion that we were just going to crawl toward the airport for a while, it occurred to me that I have never seen bridge construction happening during a thunderstorm, a wind advisory, a snowstorm, or a tornado. Engineers and construction workers alike know that the time to fortify a bridge is during fair weather.
Bridge construction may be a pain in the neck, but consider the alternative: no bridge at all or one that is not safe. When a bridge’s maintenance is neglected, it isn’t long before stress cracks appear. When the traffic gets extraordinarily heavy or the elements get violent, those hairline fractures grow and could cause the entire structure to crumble.
What perfect imagery for how to build and maintain a life. Into every life, a little rain must fall. Storms come to everyone at some time along the way. The time to build friendships and plug into nurturing situations is during fair weather, during the good times. Relationships are the rebar of the bridge, the foundation of the support columns, the strength of the concrete.
What does bridge construction look like in your life?
The best storyteller in our home is my husband. This piece hopes to capture a few of the stories he has told and retold over the years, although I am sure they won’t carry the humor with which originally delivered. Karl has a way with words and a true appreciation for weaving details and delivering a punch line that I can only aspire to. But here goes.
Will Rogers once said, “There are three kinds of men in this world. The one who learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”
I’ll let you guess which one I am.
There was that time I walked home from Kindergarten in the middle of the school day, across Arlington and then across 38th Street. I scared my mom half to death when she turned around from hanging clothes on the line to see her five-year-old little boy standing behind her, a long time after she had sent me to school. I told her I didn’t like my teacher because she was young and pretty. She marched me right back to school (they didn’t even realize I was gone) and talked the office into switching to the plump grandma-like Kindergarten teacher. I happily went to school every day after that.
The time I tried to fly using an old woven aluminum lawn chair and balloons I blew up myself. Incidentally, it didn’t work. As kids growing up in the 1950s, “Lawn Chair Larry” and I may have been dreaming of the same big adventure. But unlike me, he actually achieved his dream decades later by attaching 43 helium balloons to a chair and floating almost 16,000 feet up. I had to settle for imagining I could fly up and over my neighborhood. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself floating above the rooftops and surveying Drexel Avenue and the alleys below.
The time the seventh-grade-me told my dad I was growing a beard. My sideburns had grown in over the summer into soft blonde peach fuzz on my cheeks. My dad caught me admiring this new development as I said, “I think I’ll grow a beard.” Bob didn’t hesitate and in a low baritone voice, “The hell you are.” And I didn’t. Until I was out of the house.
One time I was camping with my friend Dan down by the Muscatatuck River, and he used a rubber glove as an oven mitt to lift the kettle of boiling water off the campfire. I remember I watched him in slow motion put on the glove and reach for the handle of the steaming pot. I thought to myself, “That can’t be right.” Then I heard a yelp that brought me back into real-time. One of those physics lessons that will stick with a guy.
The time I called Paul McCartney on the phone at his MPL office. I am not sure what possessed me. I had been a fan of the Beatles since I was a kid. Paul McCartney inspired me to learn to play the bass and choose music for a career. One day, out of the blue, I picked up the phone and called the number listed for his London office. A woman answered, his secretary I presumed. I was shocked and scrambling for words simply said, “Yes, is he in?” She said, “Oh I’m sorry, you just missed him. Can I help you?” I proceeded to warn her about an ad I had seen in a music magazine selling Beatles satin tour jackets. I told her I knew tour jackets hadn’t been a thing during the years the Beatles were touring, so these must be scam artists trying to profit off the Beatles’ name. She was very polite, thanked me, and said they’d look into it. I’m not sure what I would have done if she had let me talk to him!
The time we played Legend Valley Ohio, or was it the Minnesota State Fair, and the roadie wouldn’t let me hold Willie Nelson’s Martin guitar, Trigger. I swear the guy was 9 feet tall and very determined looking. I asked. He just shook his head “No.” That was that.
The time our instruments and equipment were impounded in Lubbock, Texas because the club owner hadn’t paid his taxes. We were able to straighten it out the next day, but it scared the bejeebies out of us! Note to self: always pay your taxes.
The time I totaled an antique stagecoach. (No, I was not born in the 1800s.) The band was doing a photo shoot and had arranged to use a Wells Fargo stagecoach as the backdrop. None of us knew a thing about horses or any vehicle one might hitch them to. When we arrived, the horses were leisurely grazing in the adjacent pasture, happily minding their own business. I heard that they rounded them up using mini-bikes and circus whistles of all things, so they were not so leisurely by the time the hitching process began. By the time we climbed aboard, the horse collars were in place, but no bridles and bits! The photographer snapped his first photo and the sound of the shutter must have been reminiscent of the sound that a rattlesnake makes just before he strikes because those horses took off like they were running for their lives. I was in the driver’s seat pulling on those reins with all my might. To no avail. Because there were no bits or bridles! We rounded the corner to the barn and the stagecoach started to tip. We all jumped off and hit the gravel driveway at a full gallop. When I landed, I blew the seat out of my jeans and chipped my ankle. Tim drove me to the hospital and we wondered aloud just what we would tell them at the registration desk when they asked about the nature of our injuries. The photos hit the Associated Press and the story spread on the wire across America. Our 15 minutes of fame I guess.
Then there was the time we drove to New York City to play on the NBC Today Show. We had just signed with Warner Brothers and ICM, and we had a song on the Billboard Top 40. We were finally riding a wave of success after years of toiling in clubs six nights a week. Goes without saying, we were feeling a little full of ourselves. And then, as if God himself snuck up behind us and tapped us on the shoulder with a crash course in humility, our server at the Star Café put his thumb in our cottage cheese. On purpose. Scowling. Note to self: Always be respectful to your servers. Especially in New York City. But really, anywhere. Be kind to your server.
There was that one time I kicked Tom Wright in the head. Not on purpose of course. Let me set this up. We were recording an album in Nashville, Tennessee, and the three of us were standing in the isolation vocal booth. Recording albums is a tedious process with lots of takes and retakes and waiting and retakes and listening back and tweaks and audibles and listening back. I guess it had been a long day and I didn’t know it, but Tom’s back was hurting him. In the pitch-dark booth, recording our vocals, we stood in the same order as on stage: me on the left, Tom in the middle, and Tim on the right. The door out of the booth was on Tim’s side. I didn’t know it but between takes, Tom had laid down on the floor in hopes of alleviating the pain in his back. We finished a take and the engineer said, “Come on back in. Let’s listen to that one.” Tim turned and walked out the door. I put my headphones on the mic stand, turned to walk out, and WHAM! A blood-curdling scream came from out of the darkness! Startled I screamed back! It was a little bit like the scene from ET where Drew Barrymore’s character and ET spot each other for the first time. Tom: “BUB! WHY’D YOU KICK ME?” Me: “WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THE FLOOR?” And the guys in the sound booth: “WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT’S GOING ON? EVERYONE OKAY?” It seems the very pointy toe of my brand new western boot had caught Tom right on the top of his head with the force of a soccer forward!
The time we warmed up for Dolly Parton and she ended up in the hospital. It was the summer of 1982 and the band had the awesome privilege of playing the Indiana State Fair Grandstand ahead of Dolly Parton. She fell ill during the concert, was taken to the hospital, and had a hysterectomy due to endometriosis the next day. She was 36 years old. What was an exciting night for us personally and professionally, turned out to be a life-changing heart-breaking day for her. She never did have children and she suffered from depression for a long time after that day. Goes to show you never know what’s going on behind the scenes in a person’s life, you might as well be kind to everyone.
The time I ran over myself with the car I was driving. I was in Minnesota taking my little boys fishing. I borrowed Grandma’s car and headed for the lake. At the top of the drive, I stopped to open the gate. I set the emergency brake (which no one told me hadn’t worked in years), put it in neutral, and got out to unchain the lock. Walker (age 6) and Jackson (age 3) unbuckled their seat belts and stood up, excited to finally be at the lake and ready to go fishing. I walked around to the front of the old Honda Civic. As I reached for the chain and padlock, I noticed a crew of men working in the yard next to the beach property. About that time, I heard one of them say, “Oh-oh!” There was no time to react, no time to turn around and see it coming. Now rolling at a pretty good clip down the steep driveway, the car hit me in the small of the back and threw me up on the hood. My head flew back and shattered the center of the windshield, leaving me spread-eagle atop the hood of the little car, the back of my head lodged in the dent of shattered safety glass. The sky was so bright, like looking directly into a grand opening searchlight. Then in an instant…BAM! The diagonal pipe of the gate smashed into my upper lip. And again…BAM! The same pipe caught the bottom of my nose, collapsing it and pushing it off to the right in that Z formation. And then…SCRRRAAAPE…across my forehead, before it came to rest at the very top of the windshield, preventing the car from traveling down the driveway between the trees and into the lake. All of this happened in less than five seconds. In the blink of an eye. I ended up with a broken nose, but the boys were not injured.
The time we played at a casino on Christmas Day. We flew out of Indianapolis on Christmas Day morning and played that night in Reno Nevada. It was a surreal experience leaving our Christmas traditions in Indiana and walking into a casino just a few hours later to see people gambling, drinking, and in general ignoring the fact that it was Christmas Day. It was like we had landed on another planet. We’ll never forget it.
The time I found myself in the middle of a gunfight and police foot chase in Terre Haute. I was scheduled to do a service at a little church on North 13th Street on Sunday morning. By the time I arrived, it was the middle of the night after a long drive from a Knightsmen gig in Rushville about 200 miles away. The pastor had assured me the key to the church was in its usual hiding spot. But it wasn’t. It was now approaching 3 am and, dressed in all black, I was crawling around on my hands and knees looking for the key when a shadowy figure sprinted past the church and into the darkness. A moment later, a couple of policemen followed with guns drawn in hot pursuit. I was glad they didn’t see me. After the service the next day, daylight revealed bullet holes in the front door of the church. I’m sure there is a bigger story here; I was just glad to get out of town in one piece.
The time I split my pants on the platform doing a Sunday morning service. After church, the pastor’s wife asked if I would like to change my pants before heading out to lunch. Unknown to me, I guess I had played the entire service with the back of my dress slacks split right up the back! Talk about keeping me humble!
The time they found me sitting on the hood of my car playing guitar on the mean streets of East Chicago. I was waiting for someone to unlock the church, so I could load in and set up for a service the next morning. The caretaker arrived and hurried me into the building and locked the door behind us. His message was loud and clear: I was very lucky not to have been assaulted and/or robbed doing something so blatantly silly. The pastor of the church was also a part-time bus driver in that neighborhood, so we had that in common. But his stories were nothing like my petty complaints. One little girl on his route got a bike for Christmas, but couldn’t use it for fear of having it stolen. It was not unusual for a child on this bus route to be killed in some random gang violence. One boy tried to start him on fire while he was driving the bus in an effort to let him know who was boss.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was driving school bus and a fight broke out on the bus, then a bigger fight broke out when one of the dads got on the bus to break it up? From age 55 to 65, I drove a school bus. Ten long years. Those early morning hours were definitely not ideal for a night owl musician like me. But with two active boys at home, we needed health insurance, and I went where they offered the best coverage for the best price, while allowing me the flexibility to continue the music ministry. I had spent my whole life in music and ministry, so bus driving was brand new for me. For starters, passing the CDL drivers test was, shall we say, a challenge for me. The license branch clerks knew me by name by the time I finally passed it. I’m not exaggerating. They teach you a lot about air brakes, just a little about handling children, and virtually nothing about dealing with their parents. I learned a few things from my time as a bus driver. First and foremost, even the best kids are at their absolute worst when riding the school bus. Kids are usually altogether different on the bus than the little angels their parents believe they are. Secondly, the people driving school buses are some of the most interesting, dependable, and patient people on the face of the earth. Most of them have more than one occupation and are often living out their passions during their off time. The responsibilities of the person driving the little darlings to their future run a wide gamut, everything from comforting the Kindergartner on the first day of school, to memorizing all the children’s names and addresses even when they can’t tell you where they live, to keeping children safe when they get on and off the bus (crossing your fingers that some idiot doesn’t blow through the stop arm), to watching out for distracted drivers in a hurry on their cell phones, to keeping one eye on the weather and the other on the teenager dressed in black standing in the dark at the end of his driveway, to making sure kids stay in their seats and not bully each other (without laying a hand on them), all while enduring a noise level probably deemed medically dangerous. I also learned to laugh. A lot. Like the time I reached up to close the ceiling vents on the school bus and my pants fell down around my ankles. Luckily there were no children on the bus. But the security cameras WERE rolling. Aren’t you glad you don’t have the job of monitoring all that footage?
And finally, there was a time I did a service on Christmas morning at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. I was about ready to wrap it up when a surly-looking huge black man stood and asked me if he could sing a song. What could I say? He stood head and shoulders over me. I handed him the mic and he proceeded to tenderly deliver the most beautiful high tenor version of Silent Night I have ever heard. You could hear a pin drop in that room. When he finished, there was not a dry eye in the place. The next Christmas Day when I returned to the prison, I looked for Dwayne. Turns out he had been released after serving nine years in prison for a rape he did not commit. The following year he was dead. Cancer. But I never will forget that Silent Night. The Bible describes angels as large powerful protectors and messengers. Just like Dwayne.
The first book I remember reading was when we were still on the farm so I might have been 9 or 10 years old. It was called Gopher Tails for Papa written by Erling Nicolai Rolfsrud and my mother and I read it together. It is a heartwarming look at the early days of North Dakota settlers and it gave my mother a chance to reminisce about how similar things were where she grew up in Grant County, Minnesota. The plot line of this little book involves the collection of gopher tails by the Lutheran church where the protagonist’s father was the minister. The tails were turned in for bounty payment and the money was used for an organ that would replace the accordion being used. During the pandemic homeschooling of 2020, Christian and I read this together. It was tough to explain the “gopher tails for bounty” concept to this city kid born in the 21st century; in fact, he was pretty freaked out. But not as freaked out as he was when I described singing hymns in church with an accordion as the only accompaniment!
The next book that stands out in my memory is one I read in junior high school. It was called Manchild in the Promised Land and is a 1965 autobiographical novel written by Claude Brown. When the rest of the girls in class were reading Little Women and Anne of Green Gables, I was reading Brown’s coming-of-age story set in the poverty and violence of Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s. The New York Times praised the book, saying that it is “written in brutal and unvarnished honesty in the plain talk of the people, in language that is fierce, uproarious, obscene and tender, but always sensible and direct. And to its enormous credit, this youthful autobiography gives us its devastating portrait of life without one cry of self-pity, outrage, or malice, with no caustic sermons or searing rhetoric.” For me, I just knew it opened my eyes to a place and time I knew NOTHING about. My friend, Nelly Schoen, loaned it to me, but not before it suffered a little water damage. It seems she was reading it in the bathtub and her mom walked in and surprised her. Nelly quickly hid the book from her mom, by briefly sitting on it under the water. I didn’t care. I read it cover to cover.
In college, I remember picking up East of Eden by John Steinbeck. To be clear, I picked it up and could not put it down! That’s really saying something for a 608-page book! It is a masterpiece of Biblical scope and indeed has the power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. The term “east of Eden” appears twice in Genesis (3:24 and 4:16); both accounts denote an instance where man experienced a separation from the blessings that God had intended for him. He says in Chapter 34, “We have only one story. All novels and all poetry are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil.” My son, Jackson (30), recently listened to this novel on Audible and told me it’s his favorite book of all time, the movie is crap, he added, but the book is amazing!
Somewhere along the way, I read Giants in the Earth by Norwegian-American author Ole Edvart Rølvaag. This novel follows a pioneer Norwegian immigrant family’s 1873 struggles with the land and the elements of the Dakota Territory as they try to make a new life in America. He writes of snowstorms, locusts, poverty, hunger, loneliness, homesickness, the difficulty of fitting into a new culture, and the estrangement of immigrant children who grow up in a new land. I found this book fascinating and learned a lot about my Norwegian heritage as my people on both sides came to America during the late 1800s.
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott are two of my favorite books. Traveling Mercies introduced me to the art of memoirs and Bird by Bird is a book full of writing advice. Traveling Mercies is a collection of autobiographical essays in which she explores her life without God, her road to faith, and her continuing struggle to live a life worthy of the beliefs she holds. I remember reading it while on vacation with some friends in Florida. I read it on the beach, by the pool, on the veranda, and in the condo. I read to myself and got uncontrollable giggles. I read parts of it out loud to the others until I thought they would vote me off the island!
Bird by Bird is Anne Lamott’s advice on writing and getting published. Bottom line, LaMott says, write the things that are important to you, whether you ever get published or not. Just write for the fun of it. Write for the therapy of it. The art of writing is its own reward.
When our boys were little, I began to read a lot about the African American experience. My two favorites are The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride and The Content of our Character by Shelby Steele. Both excellent. Both are well worth your time.
The Color of Water touches readers of all colors as a vivid portrait of growing up the son of a black man and a white mother during a time in our history when families like his were rare and even illegal in some states. It is a haunting meditation on race and identity. It is a lyrical valentine to a mother from her son. We learn that Ruth McBride Jordan is a self-declared “light-skinned” woman evasive about her ethnicity, yet steadfast in her love for her twelve black children. James McBride, journalist, musician, and son, explores his mother’s past, as well as his own upbringing and heritage, in a poignant and powerful debut. At seventeen, after fleeing Virginia and settling in New York City, Ruth married a black minister and founded the all-black New Brown Memorial Baptist Church in her Red Hook living room. When James was a little boy and becoming more conscience of race, poverty, and inequality, he asked his mother, “What color is God?” She replied, “God is the color of water. When a person looks into a pail of water and sees his reflection, that is the color of God.” Ruth McBride taught her children great values, firmly convinced that life’s blessings and life’s values transcend race. Twice widowed, and continually confronting overwhelming adversity and racism, Ruth’s determination, drive, and discipline saw her dozen children through college–and most through graduate school. At age 65, she herself received a degree in social work from Temple University. Interspersed throughout his mother’s compelling narrative, McBride shares candid recollections of his own experiences as a mixed-race child of poverty and his eventual self-realization and professional success. I loved this book!
Parallel Time: Growing Up in Black and White by Brent Staples is interesting to me because my kids are biracial. In this evocative memoir, Brent Staples poses some compelling questions: Where does the family end and where does one’s self begin? What do we owe our families and what do we owe ourselves? What part of the past is a gift and what part a shackle? As the oldest son of nine children, Brent grew up in a small industrial town near Philadelphia. Scholarship opportunities pulled him out of the black world where he had grown up into a world largely defined by whites. This narrative, it could be argued, parallels the narrative of my kids, as we raised them in largely white suburbia. Again, I learned so much from this book, as painful as it was to read.
I have two friends who have had their work published. Jackie Schmidt (aka Gypsy Moon) was in my original Scribes group and she wrote Done & Been: Steel Rail Chronicles of American Hobos. Jackie’s book is one of the only primary resources on American hobos, who are clearly a part of the history of railroading in America. Jackie Schmidt (Gypsy Moon was her hobo name), who was later elected a Queen of the Hobos at their National Convention in Britt, Iowa, has collected their stories. She has also teamed up with modern-day hobos to ride the rails in search of adventure and self-knowledge. Her book gives us a history of hobos, a collection of fascinating stories, and an account of what it is like for a middle-class woman to take to the dangerous pastime of hoboing. Jackie’s dad was himself a hobo in his younger years and Jackie (well into her 70s now) recently married a man who has been riding the rails since he was 11 years old. Funny side note: I remember my mother had a little wooden plaque hanging on our front door depicting an image of a cat, which was a sign of hospitality to strangers and friendship to the migrant workers passing by.
My friend, Pat Johnston, published a collection of poetry entitled Perspectives on a Grafted Tree: Thoughts for Those Touched by Adoption. Pat is an infertility and adoption educator and author from Indianapolis. She offered me much-needed instruction and encouragement at a critical juncture in my life, i.e., the point where Karl and I were grappling with our own infertility issues and beginning our journey to adopt trans-racially. The collection includes works written by all sides of the adoption experience: adoptive mothers, adoptive dads, birth mothers, birth fathers, and grown adopted persons. Some poems are written from a place of joy. Others from a place of anguish. All are written from the heart. You know that old saying … You don’t even know what you don’t even know? That was me. I guess all we have is our own paradigm. This book helped me expand my consciousness about adoption, the process, and the people.
Two books I loved about middle eastern issues were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef. Son of Hamas was written by the son of one of the founding members of Hamas. Born a Palestinian, Yousef worked undercover for Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet from 1997 to 2007, where he was considered to be its most valuable source within the Hamas leadership. The information Yousef supplied prevented dozens of suicide attacks and assassinations of Israelis, exposed numerous Hamas cells, assisted Israel in hunting down many militants, and incarcerating his own father, Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef. In 1999, Yousef converted to Christianity, and in 2007 he moved to the United States. This is a riveting account of one man’s encounters with three vital cultures: Palestinians, Jews, and Christians. He offers a deep perspective into the things that drive conflict in the middle east and throughout the world. I must admit, I have never understood why these groups can just agree to disagree and get on with life. This book opened my eyes to the complexities of their histories together.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini tells the story of Amir, a young boy from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul. The story is set against a backdrop of turbulent events, from the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the Soviet invasion, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime. It is a father-son relationship story with themes of guilt, redemption, and atonement running throughout. This book is so beautifully written, it really makes you care about the characters a world away. The power of regret is a strong power.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a collection of linked short stories by American novelist Tim O’Brien, about a platoon of American soldiers fighting on the ground in the Vietnam War. It is based on his experiences as a soldier in the 23rd Infantry Division. I did not think I would like this content because it seemed so dark and sad. However, I was taken by the first chapter and could not stop reading. In war, there are no winners. That’s what you will take away from this book. It is a timeless message, from the wars in Viet Nam to Afghanistan to Iraq to Ukraine. There is nothing new under the sun, as it says in Ecclesiastes. This book was required reading for Walker in his junior year at University High School and I can see why.
A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch are memoirs written by Indiana native Haven Kimmel. I have read some of her fiction, but it doesn’t hold a candle to her real-life stories. When Kimmel was born in 1965, Mooreland (near New Castle) was a sleepy little hamlet of three hundred people. Nicknamed “Zippy” for the way she would bolt around the house; this small girl was possessed of big eyes and even bigger ears. Laced with fine storytelling, sharp wit, dead-on observations, and moments of sheer joy, Haven Kimmel’s straight-shooting portrait of her childhood gives us a heroine who is wonderfully sweet and sly as she navigates the quirky adult world that surrounds Zippy.
She Got Up Off the Couch focuses on her mother, her depression, anxiety, and the day she finally got up off the couch and enrolled at Ball State where she finally took control of her own destiny. I love a good memoir so I loved this book! USA Today writes, “Almost dreamlike in some of her elusive storytelling, she pulls off a feat that’s harder than it looks: write for adults from a child’s perspective . . . Zippy’s parents must have done something right to produce a girl who could write such a simple and lovely book.”
And finally, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible is called The Message. Growing up there was one Bible in our house and it was the King James Version. Since then, many varying choices have been published. But the one I like best is The Message which is the Bible in contemporary language. It falls on the extreme dynamic end of the dynamic and formal equivalence spectrum. It is very easy to understand and follow. Sometimes the ever-so-formal King James version — not so much. Leo Tolstoy once said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Great literature always includes the salvation story dressed up in different words. There is always some form of sacrifice and reward, death and rebirth, a journey, or a homecoming. The Bible offers much wisdom and insight and comfort and challenge for everyday life. The more you know about people, the more you see the principles of Scripture in living form.
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
Sir Ranulph Fiennes is credited with this quote, probably in reference to his experiences as a worldwide explorer who holds numerous endurance records.
But the thing I like about these words is the insinuation of personal responsibility. Growing up in Minnesota, we learned early that the nature of your clothing had a direct correlation to the success of your outdoor plans. Dress for the weather and have a great time. Dress poorly and have a miserable time. It’s that simple.
You will encounter people throughout your life who make a habit of blaming everyone else for their woes. Figuratively speaking, they dress in inappropriate clothing and are continually too cold or too hot, insisting those around them are to blame for their misery.
They blame the government. They blame the schools. They blame their parents. They blame their boss. They blame their spouse. They blame their business partner. They blame the system.
People like this would die from exposure and blame the weather. While the weather may be the driving force, it’s their lack of foresight and preparation that would do them in. People like this have not discovered that they can give leadership to their own thoughts. And they live in misery. Usually making those around them miserable along the way.
It’s best to plan ahead, set your priorities, and put on the appropriate dress for the occasion. Only then can you be the master of your own fate and the captain of your soul. After all, you are the master of your own destiny. You can influence, direct, and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be,” says author Napoleon Hill.
Here are a few more thoughts from famous writers on the topic:
“Take responsibility of your own happiness, never put it in other people’s hands.” ― Roy T. Bennett, ‘The Light in The Heart’, 2020
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” ― George Bernard Shaw, ‘Man, And Superman’, 1903
“Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” ― Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism And Human Emotions’, 1957
“And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Player Piano’, 1952
“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” ― Noam Chomsky
“The thing the sixties did was to show us the possibilities and the responsibility that we all had. –John Lennon