When I was little we really didn’t take vacations. That is typical of farm life. The kids got to play but the adults always had animals to tend to and lots of work that could not wait. I remember five vacations my entire childhood.
WASHINGTON STATE: In the summer of 1965, fresh out of 5th grade, I was 11 years old. Our family took the Empire Builder through the backcountry all the way to the Pacific Ocean, to visit my mother’s sister, Gloria, and her family. Dad stayed home so it was Mom, Dick who had just graduated high school, Holly in 4th grade, and Solveig who was just 3 years old. We stayed with Uncle Frank and Aunt Gloria and our cousins Virginia, Christopher, and Margaret.
I remember the views along the way were spectacular; the vast Dakota plains, the Missouri River, the Rocky Mountains, the stars so close and bright you could reach up and grab them, all simply breathtaking! I remember our train car had an “upstairs” with huge curved windows specially made for taking in the panoramic views. The first African-American person I ever laid eyes on was the porter who brought us towels and soap; he smelled so good.
Our cousins lived in a nice neighborhood in Tacoma which was pretty fancy compared to our old farmhouse. They took us to see the Space Needle in Seattle. They rented a little cabin on the Pacific Ocean; it was cold and drizzly but we didn’t care. We scampered around the beach in long sweatshirts and learned how quick you had to be to dig clams! On the way back to their house, Jenna and I secretly opened some smoked salmon our moms had just picked up at a market and ate little pieces from each end. I remember feeling like it was so exotic and delicious. Frank and Gloria were both teachers and were very outdoorsy. They spent many summers working for the Parks Department on Mount Rainer so they knew a lot. It was a fun trip!
And Dickie was a whisper away from getting married by the time we got back to Minnesota. Ask him; he’d love to tell you all about it! #lindarange
That was one crazy summer: Dick graduated from high school the end of May, we took the train to the State of Washington in June, Holly and I took the Greyhound bus to Minneapolis to see the Beatles in August, we auctioned off our farm life and moved to Chaska on Labor Day to begin school the next day. Our dad was in Eden Prairie teaching flying by then, and how our mother managed all that in one summer does not surprise me one bit. She could get things done!! And that was the summer she reinvented our family life.
THE BLACK HILLS AND WYOMING: During the summer of 1966, right after my sixth grade, we took a family vacation to South Dakota’s Black Hills and Wyoming. On this trip, it was my mom and dad, Holly, Solveig, and me. We were living in Chaska in a two-bedroom apartment and I remember packing up the powder blue 1965 Chevy Caprice for the trip. That nice big trunk was not nearly big enough. At the time Solveig was 4 years old and had two imaginary friends she called Misa NeeNee and Toki. She wanted them to come along, but Dad said NO. I imagine he thought having imaginary friends was nothing but foolishness. So, okay, we hopped in the car and started driving west. It was a long hot drive all the way across South Dakota, Holly and I in the back seat, and Solveig sprawled out in the back window. Suddenly on some very long stretch of a very straight highway, we heard a shriek! It was Solveig who squealed that Misa NeeNee and Toki were following us! In a red convertible! The best part of this story is that our Mom made our Dad pull the car over and open the door so Solveig’s imaginary friends could get in! My guess is that Dad learned a little something about Solveig’s sense of determination that day.
She was so happy to have her friends back with her; they all three hopped and skipped and giggled all the way around Devil’s Tower. Holly and I were too cool for school since we were 7 and 8 years older than Solveig, so our little sister made her own friends.
In Wyoming, we visited some friends of my folks, the Hagee’s. They lived in a canyon on a ranch and had horses. They saddled up one of the horses, handed us the reins, and the grownups went inside for coffee. Holly and I took turns riding around the property. I remember Holly taking off at a full gallop, disappearing behind the barn, and the horse with no rider reappearing at the other end of the barn! Holly had fallen off and the horse just kept running. Come to think of it, she was so tiny the horse probably didn’t realize she wasn’t still on his back!! No worse for the wear, we dusted her off and that was that.
We did all the touristy things on that trip; we saw Wall Drug, the famous jack-a-lope, the Corn Palace, Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, the Badlands, buffalo, and prairie dogs too numerous to count.
Mostly I remember the windows rolled up tight (because this new car had air conditioning!) and my Dad smoking cigarettes until I was sick to my stomach.
WASHINGTON DC: The summer after 7th grade was 1967, we traveled to Washington DC, and again we stayed with one of my Mom’s cousins, Valerie Block and her family. Again it was just the five of us. Again, a very long drive in that very fine Chevy. I remember getting as far as Indianapolis, hitting the loop around the city: the brand new 465 — still under construction. We drove around and around the city because we couldn’t figure out how to exit.
In Washington DC, we saw all the sights; the Capital, the Washington Monument, the White House, the Washington Mall, and the Smithsonian Museum. It was in the Smithsonian where we discovered our dad’s way of reading EVERY sign under EVERY exhibit in the ENTIRE museum. Or so it seemed to three antsy little girls.
NEW ORLEANS: By 1971, Holly and I were in high school and Solveig was in 4th grade. My dad, who was a pilot and a flight instructor, borrowed a little Cessna and flew us to New Orleans for a long weekend. We stopped in St. Louis to spend the night with another of my Mom’s cousins, Opal Creel and her family. We had hoped to make the flight in one day, but the fog was so thick for so long we finally had to stop for the night and surprise Opal. We kids had complete trust that our dad would get us there safe and sound, but years later Mom remarked about just scared she was the entire time in the air. “It was so “soupy” we couldn’t tell up from down. Thank goodness your dad had his instrument rating and was such a good pilot!”
In New Orleans, we drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway which happens to be the longest continuous bridge over water in the world. We had Bananas Foster at Brennan’s. We listened to Dixieland Jazz on Bourbon Street. Our folks enjoyed Mint Julips at a sidewalk café as we girls enjoyed darting in and out of shops. Some creepy gross guy followed cute little Holly and tried to grab her inside a bookstore. We grabbed Solveig and scurried back out to the sidewalk café where, by then, our folks were enjoying Chicory coffee and beignets, completely oblivious to what had nearly happened.
Side note: A couple of years ago when the Me Too Movement swept the world in the wake of violence against women brought to light, (i.e. Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Matt Lauer, Bill Cosby, and the list goes on) I remember thinking, “What? Not me too! I’m too savvy to ever get myself in a situation where a man could take that kind of advantage of me.” But the more we talked about it, the more we remembered little long-ago incidents like the creepy gross guy in a New Orleans bookstore and the local perv who grabbed my ass at the top of the Eifel Tower and some drunk patron who chucked a baked potato and hit Solveig squarely between her shoulder blades when she was simply doing her job waiting tables. Total strangers were confident they could get away with violence against women (or girls) just because. None of us reported it, we just scurried away. I suppose most women, young and old, have their own stories on this topic. A sin as old as time. But I digress.
NORTH DAKOTA: I graduated from high school in June of 1972. All the other kids took senior trips to Florida or Europe or some such, but not Diane and me! We took the bus to Hebron, North Dakota. We were so hip. We marched to our own drummer.
Diane’s Uncle Ed and Aunt Tootie took us camping at the Little Missouri River and showed us around the North Dakota Badlands. I remember thinking they were more magnificent than the South Dakota Badlands. They told us family stories and regional lore and little-known facts about glaciers and regional history and local wildlife. And Tootie cooked. And cooked. And cooked some more.
We hiked in the hills around Hebron and found a rock shaped like a bathtub so we took each other’s pictures laying in it. The Greyhound bus stopped in Fargo on the way home and I bought Rod Stewart’s new album.
This is one of the questions that my sons, Walker and Jackson, gave me as a writing prompt through StoryWorth. Thought you might enjoy it….
What was your first adventure like?
Wow, I could go a hundred directions with this question! I think my greatest adventure is without a doubt marrying your dad and moving 600 miles from Minnesota to Indiana. Running off with a bass player wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that was modeled in my family growing up! It was pretty gutsy, come to think of it! The sky was raining cats and dogs on Christmas Day 1981 when we arrived in Indianapolis; I thought I had moved to the deep south! “Hey! Where are the piles of snow? It’s Christmas!”
Another great adventure was creating our family through adoption. What a wild and beautiful adventure it was raising our two beautiful sons! When you guys were little and we would be on a road trip and would (occasionally) lose our way, you could sense it and would always ask, “Are we lost?” And I would reply (while folding and unfolding the interstate map), “No honey, we aren’t lost. We’re just on an adventure! Everything will be alright.” Later on when you were on the cusp of adulthood and sometimes seemed to have lost your way, I would have to remind myself, “They’re not lost, they’re just on an adventure. Everything will be just fine.”
But the question isn’t asking about my greatest adventure, it’s asking about my first adventure. So here goes.
When I was 19 years old, I traveled around Europe for a month. I visited London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Lucerne, Heidelberg, and Frankfurt. It cost me $1,000 including airfare, train connections, food, lodging, and admissions to museums. Plus, I brought back gifts for everyone in my family! Before boarding the plane in Germany to fly back to Minneapolis, I searched my pockets and found I was down to my last 25 cents. No cell phones. No credit cards. No Venmo. Just planning my cash for a month to get the most bang for the buck!
Those were the days! The dollar was strong in 1973. When I got home, I wrote a paper about the experience, got an A+, and earned four history college credits. I didn’t know a soul in the group before we left. We roomed four in a room at hostels, ate twice a day, and had a blast!
In England, we visited the British Museum where lots of stolen Greek antiquities reside after they were plucked off the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. We toured the Tower of London, the prison and torture chamber where King Henry the 8th had two of his six wives beheaded. We walked the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare was born and wrote many of his classics. We sat in the cheap seats at the Palace Theatre and saw the Jesus Christ Superstar with (nearly) the original cast!
In France, we visited the Louvre where we saw Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the Pieta, and countless other masterpieces. I got separated from the group in that giant museum and had to make it back to the hotel by myself. (Again, no cell phones, no Google Maps!) Still not sure how I did that! We climbed the Eiffel Tower where I was groped by a local perv as I took photos of the Paris skyline. We traveled to the Palace of Versailles of LET THEM EAT CAKE fame otherwise known as the birthplace of modern democracy. I bought a handmade Alencon lace tablecloth there. We toured the Musee Rodin where the works of Rodin, Van Gough, and Monet can be seen; The Thinker and The Kiss are among the most famous sculptures on display in the lovely gardens there.
In Italy, we visited Vatican City where the Pope lives in opulent splendor. And felt quite troubled by the streets around it lined with beggars. In St. Peter’s Basilica, we gazed upon The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that Michael Angelo painted by laying on his back on scaffolding for the four years it took to complete. His eyesight was permanently damaged by the process. We went inside Roman Coliseum where Emperor Nero and his lions killed Christians just for sport back in the day.
In Florence, we saw the famous Statue of David and marveled at how handsome his naked body was! We shopped at the Ponte Vecchio which is an enclosed medieval bridge over the Arno River with shops along both sides. We took a side trip one day and saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa which has been leaning for nearly 840 years! We scored tickets for Verdi’s opera Aida in the Roman open-air amphitheater in Verona Veneto. And didn’t understand a word.
In Heidelberg, we had cheese fondue for the first time and visited the ruins of the Heidelberg Castle. And we drank German beer.
In Switzerland, we visited the city of Lucerne and took the Funicular Gutstch to a fancy chateau in the mountains. The snowcapped Alps and the stunning view of Lake Lucerne truly took our breath away.
In Frankfurt, we caught our flight back to Minneapolis. With 25 cents to my name.
It occurs to me as I write this just how important travel is in one’s education. Many details of that trip nearly 50 years ago came rushing back to my mind’s eye with each paragraph.
So, the moral of the story is this. Travel more. Accumulate less. Spend your time and money on seeing new places. Travel with your kids. Travel without your kids. Just travel. You can have the time of your life and come home smarter and with a better understanding of the world we live in.
(December 2021) Christmas Eve at our house always features each guest performing some sort of program. This year I teamed up with Karl and the grands. For the script, I stole ideas from the classic book with the Herdman children, that adorable video from Southland Church, The Chosen, oh, and Luke 2. Karl sang, Christian was Joseph and narrated, Alexa was the Angel of the Lord, Surraye was the mother of Baby Jesus. And Jackson was the donkey Mary rode in on!
CHRISTIAN: “It was a crisp starry night in Nazareth right between BC and AD. People said that nothing good comes from Nazareth but that was about to change BIG TIME.
An Angel of the Lord came to a girl named Mary who was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph.
The angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when Mary saw the angel, she was afraid AND she wondered what the heck he was doing in her house!
But the angel reassured her, “Don’t be scared, you have found favor with God. And by the way, you are going to have a baby and you should name him JESUS. He will be the Savior of all the world, the ONE you have been waiting for.”
Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am only a teenager and I’m not even married?”
And the angel answered, “Your baby will be the Son of God, NOT the son of your fiancé. And get this! Your cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant! And she is super old! In fact, she is so old that no one thought she could have babies anymore, but she is already six months along!”
Then Mary said to the angel saying, “Behold, I am your servant! Let it be to me according to your word.” In other words, “Count me in! I will do whatever God asks, even if it doesn’t make any sense to me. I am willing and available! It may not be easy but it’s going to be AMAZING!”
KARL SINGS: Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
CHRISTIAN: In those days Israel was ruled by Rome and the Emperor Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. That means that the big wigs in Rome wanted everyone counted so they could tax them more! Everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because that’s where his people came from.
KARL sings: O little town of Bethlehem How still we see thee lie Above thy deep and dreamless sleep The silent stars go by
CHRISTIAN: When they got to Bethlehem, they looked all over town for a place to stay but all the hotel rooms were taken because of the census travelers. Mary and Joseph were so tired from the long trip; they had to walk over 90 miles and camp out for almost a week to get there! Can you even imagine being 9 months pregnant and riding on the back of a donkey for days and days?!?! They must have looked like a couple of refugees: Dirty. Tired. And messy! But Bethlehem awaits…
ALEXA’s solo: Bethlehem, heaven’s gem, story of love; Starry night, heaven’s light, sent from above. On that morn, child was born, wise men still find, Bethlehem, heaven’s gem—gift to mankind.
CHRISTIAN: Finally, a kindly innkeeper had pity on them and let them stay in his cave out back where he kept his livestock. They were so grateful even though they had to hang out with the barn animals. It was a dirty and smelly place, but they made the best of it because they had BIGGER things on their minds! Mary and Joseph both had inside information that the baby was going to be the Savior of the World! That night the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him up tight in swaddling clothes and gently placed him in a manger.
KARL SINGS: Away in a manger No crib for a bed The little Lord Jesus Laid down His sweet head
CHRISTIAN: It so happened that there were shepherds out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them out of the dark night.
The glory of the Lord shone around them. They were terrified! But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. For I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in Bethlehem a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord! The ONE you have been waiting for!
Follow the star and you will know it’s him because you will find him in a stable lying in a feeding trough.
Suddenly the sky was filled with a whole bunch of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to all mankind.”
KARL SINGS: Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King, Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled
CHRISTIAN: When the angels had left them and had gone back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go check it out! The Lord sent these crazy messengers to tell us about it, so it must be true! Let’s go!!! It will the perfect Instagram moment — whatever that is!
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph in the stable, and there was a baby lying in the manger! Just like the angel told them! And just like the prophets described in the Scriptures so many years ago. When they saw him, they were totally freaked out! But they knew this was the ONE they had been waiting for!!
“He’s the best baby I’ve ever seen; he’s going to be our very best friend! People must know. People must know!!!” they agreed.
ALEXA SINGS (with hand actions): Go tell it on the mountains Over the hill lands everywhere Go tell it on the mountain That Jesus Christ is born
CHRISTIAN: So, the shepherds ran back into town and told everyone they met! Those lowly shepherds were the first evangelists! No TV. No radio. No how-to-get-saved tracts! Just telling all the people, one at a time! Everyone who heard it were amazed!!
The shepherds returned to their camp, glorifying, and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
KARL SINGS: Angels we have heard on high Sweetly singing o’er the plains And the mountains in reply Echoing their joyous strains
CHRISTIAN: After the census, the new little family went back to their home in Nazareth. In those days Herod was the king of Israel. And let me tell you, he was a real jerk! He must have had a traumatic childhood, because boy was he MEAN!! When he heard all his people saying that the King of the Jews had been born, he put a hit out on the baby Jesus and ALL the baby boys in the kingdom! What a psychopath!!
When Jesus was about two years old, some travelers from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star back home and have come to worship Him.”
KARL SINGS: We three kings of Orient are Bearing gifts we traverse afar
CHRISTIAN: When the wise men came into the house, they saw the young child with his mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him. They presented him with treasures they brought with them: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I don’t know about you but I feel like if those wise men would have been wise women they would probably have asked for directions, arrived on time, cleaned the stable, and brought diapers, wipes, and a canned ham! But instead the wise men were two years late and brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
But those magi are superheroes in my book because they went back to their countries by another route and never told stupid King Herod where they found the baby!
KARL SINGS: Joy to the world! The Lord is come Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room And heaven and nature sing And heaven and nature sing And heaven, and heaven and nature sing
CHRISTIAN: Well, when all is said and done, this story is about a new baby, and his mother and father who were in a lot of trouble – no money, no place to go, no doctor, nobody they knew could help them. We may like to think of Mary as all pious and pure-looking, as if she never washed the dishes or cooked supper or did anything at all except have Jesus on Christmas Eve. But Mary was just a regular girl, sort of nervous and bewildered, but ready to clobber anyone who laid a hand on her baby! And that baby grew up to be the Savior of all mankind! And today people all over the world celebrate his arrival in all kinds ways, because He is the One we have been waiting for!
“Every April 4 several hundred residents of Indianapolis gather at 17th and Broadway to remember what happened there in 1968. It was the day Robert F. Kennedy likely saved Indianapolis; a story less told,” reports Will Higgins who wrote a story published in the Indianapolis Star entitled April 4, 1968: How RFK Saved Indianapolis.
Much has been written about the 1960s in America and depending upon the age and disposition of the person you ask, you may hear varying opinions about the era.
Some might say, “The 60s were great! What’s not to love? It was after the pill and before aids! It was a magical time in our country’s history and all things seemed possible. Injustices were being exposed. Wrongs were being righted. The music was awesome! Motown and Beatle harmonies were sweeping the country with peace and love.”
Others might say during the 1960s the world was going to hell in a handbasket. War, poverty, strikes, protests, bussing, women’s lib, integration, bra-burning, those whipper-snapper Kennedys, and mop-top ne’er-do-wells The Beatles! Many dads held that their sons with long hair were the cause of the country’s downfall, and some took drastic measures that caused forever fractures within families.
The 1960s were indeed a beautiful, terrible, hopeful, dreadful, unifying, divisive, heart-breaking, and promising decade. On a scale of movies, the decade was somewhere between Camelot and Doom.
And right there in the middle of Middle America stood two 15-year-old boys.
Dan remembers, “We were standing over our bicycles a good 100 yards from the front of The Meadows Shopping Center watching the crowd and the presidential candidate speaking. The event ended and the entourage got into three maybe four cars and left the strip center parking lot heading toward 38th Street. They had to wind around some grass sections between the mall and the access streets and that’s where we were standing over our bikes. We decided to ride toward the cars at a sort of an interception path and to ride alongside the motorcade. The cars slowed and stopped about halfway. The candidate got out and walked maybe 35 yards out into a grassy area. We stopped and dropped our bikes and walked toward him. He was sort of crouched down as I remember. He stood, we spoke, and then we walked him back to his car. He got back in and a moment later his campaign manager Pierre Salinger got out and gave us two tickets to a fundraiser at The Indiana Roof Ballroom. I remember him handing us the tickets for that evening saying, “If it’s okay with your parents?” Our folks drove us downtown that evening, dropped us off at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, where we ate dinner and heard Bobby Kennedy speak at the [$100 per plate] fundraiser.”
Karl Hinkle and Dan Lawhorn had been buddies for years. Karl played in garage bands and worked at Meadows Music at the Meadows Shopping Center on Indy’s east side. The boys were old enough to hold jobs but not old enough to drive cars so they rode their bikes everywhere they went.
At the time, Indianapolis was known as IndiaNOplace or Naptown because life in the city was pretty uneventful. Karl and Dan were ordinary kids from working-class families coasting through adolescence. Then on one extraordinary day, May 4, 1968, they heard Robert F. Kennedy would be speaking at the Meadows Shopping Center. RFK was close to clinching the Democratic Presidential Nomination and spent a lot of time making whistle stops throughout Indiana in the spring of 1968. After receiving 90% of Indiana’s black vote and after carrying many white working-class precincts that had supported George Wallace in 1964, it was projected Bobby Kennedy would walk away with 55 of Indiana’s 63 delegate votes. It was a pretty big deal for this conservative Republican state so when Karl and Dan heard Bobby Kennedy was coming to town, they rode their Schwinns to the Meadows to see if they could catch a glimpse. Bobby Kennedy was scheduled to speak at 2:55p.
Neither Dan nor Karl remember the words spoken with the Senator that afternoon, but the memory is forever stamped on their hearts. Politically, their dads were both firmly planted one in each camp. Dan’s dad was a big union guy, so when JFK ran for President, his jeep was covered in Bayh and Kennedy bumper stickers! Karl’s dad always voted Republican and when I researched what the Republican equivalent of a “yellow dog Democrat” is, I learned the answer is quite simple: a Republican. Karl’s mother shed some tears when JFK was assassinated. The boys were good friends and remain so to this day (as I write this, they will be 70 on their next birthdays). Their families got along great. Opinions ran hot in Indiana in the 60s, but common decency and friendship ran deeper.
Here is another interesting twist. One month to the day before Dan and Karl had their encounter with him, Bobby Kennedy addressed a crowd on April 4, 1968, of mostly African Americans near 17th and Broadway where he sadly delivered the news that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated that very evening at 6:01p. John Lewis had organized the rally. It was a cold miserable evening and the campaign had visited Ball State in Muncie and Notre Dame in South Bend that day. He was boarding the airplane to return to Indianapolis when he heard that Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis. When he landed in Indianapolis, he learned MLK had died.
The audience at 17th and Broadway was estimated at only about 2,500 people, but they were influencers: members of young, somewhat radical black groups like the College Room, the Watoto Wa Simba, the Black Panthers, and the Black Radical Action Project. Richard Lugar was the mayor at the time and urged Kennedy not to go because he could not guarantee his safety. Racial violence would indeed later sweep the country, with riots in more than 100 cities, 39 people killed, and more than 2,000 injured. But not in Indianapolis.
The area around 17th and Broadway was known as quite problematic in 1968 with regards to segregation, crime, and poverty. City officials warned them not to go.
Bobby went anyway.
Short of telling the crowd not to burn down the city, he urged calm and racial harmony. His speech was from the heart and the crowd heard him. Mary Evans, a 16-year-old from North Central High School recalls, “It was like the feeling some people get in church,” she says. “I was scared [as one of a few whites in a largely black crowd who were slowly hearing the news that MLK had been shot], and as soon as Kennedy spoke, I wasn’t scared. I no longer felt white and isolated. I felt united in sadness with everyone else.”
Kennedy talked for just five minutes, yet people who study speeches list his remarks among history’s great speeches. The website American Rhetoric ranks it 17th, much higher than other more famous speeches.
Higgins reports: “At about 9p Kennedy arrived about an hour late. He knew more than his audience knew — he knew King was dead. He stood on a flatbed truck and faced the crowd and laid it out. The crowd gasped in shock. With practically no time to prepare — he had come straight from the airport — and speaking off the cuff, Kennedy told the news with such compassion and empathy that when he finished many in the crowd departed sad though not hateful and with renewed resolve to make the world better.”
RFK believed for the best in people even though he had seen much senseless tragedy in his short life. At every opportunity, he urged Americans to get ready to greet the better version of ourselves.
Here is the transcript of Bobby Kennedy’s speech on April 4, 1968, on 17th and Broadway in Indianapolis:
Ladies and Gentlemen: I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening because I have some very sad news for all of you. I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. On this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, have compassion, and love.
For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times. My favorite poem, my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country.
We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness, and it’s not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and for our people. Thank you very much.
Robert F. Kennedy went on to win the Indiana Democratic primary. He was assassinated two months later in California.
We are talking about Discipleship this weekend, but before we can wrap our minds around just what that means, we must first talk about our response to God’s call into His family.
Just as our physical birth marks the beginning of our physical lives, entering into God’s family is the beginning of our Walk with God.
Entering God’s family is possible because of God’s love for each and every one of us.
In fact, I am here to tell you that God loves you so much, that if He had a fridge your picture would be on it. I know, corny but true!
When he invites us into his family he says, “I will change your name. You shall no longer be called wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid. I will change your name. Your new name shall be confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one, faithfulness, friend of God, one who seeks My face.”
But first — a little stroll down memory lane.
I remember this moment like it was yesterday. I was sitting at my desk in my office at a fancy finance company at 91st and Meridian. It was a Friday afternoon. My husband was 600 miles away working out of town. We had been married for 8 years. I was 35 years old and the sound of my biological clock was increasingly deafening with the passing of each month after painful month. Over the years we had run through a ton of tears and a truckload of cash careening down the infertility track. But still, no pitter patter.
But when the phone rang on that cold December day, all of that changed.
It was our adoption attorney, and he was calling to say that a baby boy had been born on Wednesday, his birth mother had signed the paperwork Friday morning, and we could pick him up at Wishard Hospital on Monday.
Wait! What? Monday? Can’t we come to the hospital right now??
No, it seemed we had to appear before a judge and be awarded temporary custody before the adoption would become final in about six months. And the courts were closed for the day. And we’d have to wait til Monday morning to see the judge.
My mind suddenly flew into a wild flurry of thoughts and emotions. I called my husband and we both cried like babies when I choked out “It’s a boy!”
Then he got busy making airline reservations to come back to Indy on Sunday. We had nothing for a baby in our house. After all, our home study had just been completed in August and we had heard so many horror stories about years of waiting. But just 4 months later, here we were! And I had a lot to do before Monday. Baby car seat. Stroller. Diapers. Newborn clothes. Formula. And that was just for starters. That weekend went so fast and also — SOOOOO SLOOOOWWWW.
Friends and family were wildly excited for us and had lots of loving advice, “Get some sleep now because you are going to need it with a newborn in the house.”
Sunday night finally arrived and I met my husband at the gate – yes this was back in the olden days when you could actually enter the concourse without a ticket AND without getting yourself arrested – we locked eyes and fell into one another’s arms. In tears. Again. We had imagined this moment for years. And now it was finally here.
Of course, we got home and couldn’t sleep a wink all night. When the sun rose, we looked out to see a beautiful winter wonderland. In other words, a snowstorm! Snowdrifts were high along the roads and snowflakes were still falling like swirling dancers as we made our way from our little old farmhouse at 161st and Ditch Road all the way downtown Indianapolis, first to the courthouse, and then to Wishard Hospital. …
Where we drove around and around and around and couldn’t find the entrance to the parking lot!!
We could see the hospital, but we could not see how to get to the hospital. Towering piles of snow everywhere!
We were late to meet our attorney and getting later!
Finally, I screamed to my already anxious husband, “Stop the car! I can see the building! I will find a way in! Go park the car. And don’t forget the car seat!!”
We were so close, and nothing was going to stop us now!!
I hopped out of the car in my red three-inch-spike high heels, shiny snow squeaking beneath each step, I forged my way over mounds of dirty icy snowpack and across a couple of parking lots until I burst through the doors to the Wishard lobby, and there stood our attorney as cool as a cucumber. “Oh you came! I thought you might have changed your minds!”
I thought about shaking him by the lapels, “NO WE DID NOT CHANGE OUR MINDS!! NOW GIVE US THAT BABY!!!”
But I thought better, and simply said, “Oh it’s snowy out there. My husband is parking the car. I’m sure he’ll be right in.”
Actually I wasn’t sure of that AT ALL, because he may have been in Greenwood by that time as lost as we had been!
In a few minutes (which seemed like a few hours) in walked Karl, carrying the baby car seat with the tags on it. Soon we were in the social services office meeting our baby boy for the very first time. It was December 18, 1989. And he was perfect!
My name is Mia Hinkle and the title of my talk is Called Into God’s Family.
The days and weeks that followed that snowy December day were magical. We could not put that baby down. We’d both get up in the night to feed him; one of us would feed and the other would watch. And then we’d take turns burping him. Every little thing he did was completely memorizing to us. His sweet baby smell. His little coos and stretches. We went to Minnesota for Christmas. My entire family of almost 20 played hooky from work and school and showed up at our gate with welcome banners and balloons! Total strangers engaged in the celebration. After we came back to Westfield, our friends from church threw us a baby shower and over 200 people showed up. We ended up with more little blue outfits than we could shake a stick at!
We pursued that baby with all we had in us. There were obstacles for sure, but nothing would keep us from welcoming that little bundle of 7 lb 11 oz joy into our family! He, however, was completely oblivious to all the things in play that eventually brought him to us, but we knew each of the steps that led him to our family.
Isn’t that just how it is with our Lord? Even when we don’t know we are being pursued by God, he knows and he puts into play just the right circumstances to get our attention. To call us into His family. To invite us to His table.
There are two parts to God’s call on our lives. There is His part and then there is our part. He calls us. He pursues us. And then we choose whether or not to accept His birthright. That little bundle of joy became our oldest son, Walker Hinkle. He took our last name. He was raised in our home. He is our heir. The law recognizes these facts. Our friends and family know this is true. Most importantly, he knows it is true. Two years later, our second son was born, and he too is our heir with our last name and our birthright.
It’s almost comical now when people ask them, “Have you ever met your REAL parents?” Or when they ask us, “Do you have kids of your own?”
Real parents? Really? As opposed to what? Imaginary parents? Hologram parents?
Or “kids of your own”? Are you kidding me? Would I pay for college for someone else’s kids? Or let someone else’s kids eat us out of house and home? Nope. I don’t think so. These are our boys once and for all.
Now, they didn’t have much of a choice in the matter when they came home from the hospital at 3 days and 5 days old, but now they are 29 and 31 and guess what? They still have our birthright and last name. They still come to Sunday dinners. And now they bring their kids over and their last names are Hinkle too! Those boys are still our children, but now it’s THEIR choice. They have both met their biological families (wonderful people), but they are part of our family because of THEIR own choice in the matter.
God’s love and grace has extended the invitation for each of us to join His family. It’s our choice to accept the His offer. It is because of God’s grace that we are continuously pursued. He calls us. He invites us. He pursues us. Not just once as infants but throughout our Christian walk.
He welcomes us back every time we stray away. When our kids make mistakes, they still keep our birthright, they still keep our last name.
When our kids call us from jail in the middle of the night, do we disinherit them? Nope.
When our kids fail out of college (and not because of intellect issues) do we make them change their last name?
When our children bring us grandchildren when it is clear they are not ready to be parents, do we change the locks? No, we welcome them in and give them that soft place to land for a while.
We keep modeling. We keep caring. We keep loving. We keep pursuing our children.
That brings us to God’s part in this whole arrangement.
He gave us His son, Jesus. (John 3:16) Jesus became as a servant and died a criminal’s death (Phil. 2:6-8). FOR US! Didn’t have to. He just did it FOR US! Through Christ our sins are completely forgiven. In John 6:37 we are reassured that everyone is invited into God’s family. He gives us His name, bringing us into his family. It is God’s justifying grace freely given to us that opens that door.
Next up? Our part!
Our tendency is to think we must earn God’s grace. We live in a transactional culture, and it seems normal that we would have to earn our way to the Kingdom. In fact, all we are asked to do is to say “Yes” to God’s call. It is a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8&9). It is given to all who say yes (Rom: 3:21-24; 10:9-10)
God came knocking at the door on my heart when I was 17 years old. It felt so right to say YES and open that door. I had been raised in a Christian home with church every Sunday, baptism, confirmation. But this was different. This was personal! Some of the kids at school were getting involved in the Jesus movement (remember this was back in the 70’s).
Something about it felt so right. We began joining Bible Studies and Prayer Meetings. All went well for a couple of years and then I hit my 20s. One or two bad choices and then bam! Married. Divorced. Boyfriends. Drugs. Alcohol.
My family was disapproving and heartbroken, but guess what? They kept pursuing me. They kept inviting me to family events. They kept offering provision when I needed a hand. They kept their arms open. I kept their last name … my last name. They offered me that soft place to land as I reevaluated my goals and rebuilt my life. And when my parents passed away, I received my portion of the inheritance. Even in my poor choices I remained part of my family.
I knew I had to make the choice to say YES to God’s invitation back into his family. I knew I needed that foundation. I knew I needed Christ as the center of my life. And so I accepted HIS invitation.
It is the grace of God that pursues us, and it is the grace of God that brings us into His family. It’s also the grace of God continually working in our lives to keep us close to Him. We are foolish if we revert to trying to be God’s child through simply our own effort. (Gal 3:1-5) Yes there is effort on our part, but it is God’s grace that keeps him consistently loving us no matter how good or bad we may feel we are.
God will hold us accountable as we accept his gift of grace. He holds us accountable through the authentic relationships we cultivate with other believers thru our small groups and accountability groups. In my life, these women have been a treasured source of support, grace, and tough love sometimes. But that is another Talk for another time!
Now here is the very best part! Remember that little baby boy who joined our family on that snowy December day. Remember how we pursued him? Remember how hell or high water or piles of snow or icy roads would not keep us from him. How he became cemented into our family forever? Remember how overjoyed and memorized we were with his every little move and his sweet baby smells and his first little smiles?
Do you remember when your babies were born and how they nestled right into your heart? Or maybe it was the arrival of a niece or nephew? Or maybe your friend has adopted children, and you walked with them through the process to see the love at first sight in their eyes?
Well, as overwhelming as all those feelings were for you and for me, just imagine how our Father in heaven feels when someone says, “Yes! I would love to join your family!!!”
I think maybe our joy might pale in comparison to that of our Father in heaven who gave his only Son to make sure there would be a pathway for us to reach Him and keep us close.
“I will change your name. You shall no longer be called wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid. I will change your name. Your new name shall be confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one, faithfulness, friend of God, one who seeks My face.”
This I believe: “God loves you so much that if He had a fridge your picture would be on it.”
In the eyes of her loved ones, she wasn’t the worn-out weak-as-a-kitten cancer patient with sad eyes on the day she left this earth.
She was the peppy twenty-something working in the art department of Land O’Lakes in the early 70s.
She was the shapely blonde with a sparkle in her eye when her husband first spotted her across the crowded Left Guard on Lyndale after a Vikings game.
She was a stunning bride in 1975 with a brand-new life ahead of her.
She was the tender Mommy always quick with an encouraging word and a warm hug.
She was the young and energetic mother, raising four children, running her home daycare business, supporting her husband’s sales career, teaching Sunday School, coaching her kids’ teams, and driving them to their after-school activities.
She was the Executive Assistant at Tricord Systems, Inc. where she would solve a problem before her boss even knew there was a problem to solve.
She was the sister who could be counted on through good times and tragic.
She was the daughter forever frozen in time as the little girl her mother cherished.
Cancer may have taken her from us way too soon, but cancer can never take away our sweet memories.
Let me tell you a little about my sister-in-law Carleen. She was born the daughter of Dick and Ruth Schopf in 1948 in northeast Minneapolis. She had two sisters, Chris and Cindy, and one brother, Dick. And in a weird coincidence, she married my brother whose name is (what for it…) Dick.
They were married for 33 years until cancer whisked her away from us on a chilly October day in 2008. The word “whisked” may be a stretch; there was nothing quick about it. In fact, once the cancer took hold of her body, it took another eight long years of debilitating chemo and radiation before she passed thru the pearly gates.
She was just 60 years old.
Carleen was the oldest in her family and of course all parents remember all the little things about their first-born. The fact that she walked early at only eight months old! The fact that her folks owned a Doberman who watched over little Carleen like a rare treasure. One day her mother told the toddler, “Now you stay in this yard. Don’t go in the street!” Of course, Carleen slowly teetered to the edge of her yard only to feel that big dog’s teeth sink into the waistband of her diaper and gingerly drag her back to her mother!
At the age of 4, Carleen liked to visit her Aunt Lorraine, who lived right down the street. She would proudly don her cowboy hat and boots. And she would lead her imaginary horse outside. Then she would canter down the street and around to the back door where she would tie up her trusty steed and go into the house. After her visit, she would untie her horse and gallop back home. All within sight of her mother in the window.
Around the same time, on an Easter Sunday morning, the family was getting ready for church. You know the drill if you were a Lutheran in the 1950s: frilly pastel dresses, shiny patent leather shoes, and Easter bonnets with lavish bows. Well, Carleen was having none of it. She wanted to wear her favorite old Cowboy hat and there was no negotiating! Wisely, her parents gave in. Carleen walked into Easter Sunday service, head held high and pleased as punch, all dressed up in a crinoline skirt and patent leather shoes. And her well-loved crumpled-up Cowboy hat.
When Carleen was in first grade, the teacher gave the assignment for all the students to pack their own lunch for the next day’s class. Carleen packed limburger cheese on Wonder bread. The next day the teacher called Ruth called laughing, “Did you see what your daughter packed for her lunch today?” Carleen had eaten the whole thing; it did not matter one bit that the other children thought it stunk to high heaven!
A few years later when Carleen was a teenager, a boy asked her out for Saturday night, and she said “yes!” When Saturday morning rolled around, she began to worry she had nothing to wear. The problem solver in Carleen sprung to life; she went to the fabric store, bought a pattern, and spent all day sewing. By the time the guy picked her up that evening, she looked like a million bucks.
It might have been this guy or another high school crush who came a callin’ one day, and Carleen’s little brother Dickie commenced to buzzing around them, running, jumping, yelling, teasing, and generally driving them crazy. The story goes that when they had finally had enough, they tied Dickie to a tree, walked away, and left him there.
There is a meme that some of we Huseth girls have used, and it reads something like this, “Women bearing the name Huseth have always been known for their courage. You are brave and loving, even when you are exhausted. You never give up and you always learn from your mistakes which makes you an incredibly strong woman.” We found these words long after Carleen was gone, but it occurs to me just how perfectly they apply to her.
The first grandchildren, nieces, and nephews came into our family through Dick and Carleen. They were crazy about their kids: Dawn, Dayna, Nick, and Alex. The rest of the family agreed the sun rose and set around them. It would be many years until they would have to share the spotlight with the rest of the grandchildren.
It is true, Carleen was strong and courageous and innovative and creative, but best of all she was a kid at heart. From elaborate practical jokes on April Fools Day, to the most creative Christmas Eve programs, to Halloween mischief, to memorable birthday celebrations, to silly fun and games any old day of the week, Carleen brought her own fun with her wherever she went!
I remember Carleen telling this story from her high school years on Minneapolis “Nordeast” side of town. Friday nights at Minnesota Dragway in Coon Rapids featured a Powder Puff race featuring only women drivers. Carleen and Chris got the bright idea to wait until their folks were sound asleep, quietly borrow their dad’s 1965 Dodge Charger, tear up that track, and be back in their beds before anyone knew they were missing. This went well for a few weeks and then one day their plan was foiled by the unexpected. THEY WON THEIR RACE! And local news was there to cover the story! And their dad watched on the news as his girls accepted the trophy in front of HIS Dodge Charger! That was their last race! What a shame to get caught but what a great way to finish up their racing careers!
[DISCLAIMER: I remember Dick and Carleen telling this story to enraptured audiences over the years but in doing a few interviews for this piece I learned from Ruth and Chris that Carleen was not involved in the Powder Puff adventure, but it was just Chris who was the star of this family lore. Just goes to show the power of oral storytelling and retelling and retelling! But it was such a great story I had to include it here.]
Chris remembers Carleen as a serious kid growing up. She was a very good student and took life seriously when she was little. It must have been her husband and kids who brought out the little kid in her!
Dick and Carleen Huseth were married on April 5, 1975, at the Lutheran Church of the Living Christ in Chanhassen. They were still living in south Minneapolis (next door to the renowned wildlife artist Les Kouba incidentally) but made the drive out to Chanhassen for church every Sunday morning. Soon Carleen convinced Dick to teach Sunday School with her at LCLC, a practice they took with them as they moved three times throughout Minnesota.
When the kids were little, Nick wanted to play soccer, but it seems there was a shortage of coaches that year, so Carleen took up coaching soccer. When we asked if she knew anything about soccer, she pulled out a rule book from the library and said, “Not yet, but I will by morning!”
Over the next few years, she coached those little boys into a winning soccer team and eventually ended up traveling to Scotland for a tournament. It was truly a family affair; the boys ran their little hearts out and Dick ended each game by crawling around on the ground picking up orange peels. The kids on that team will never forget all the fun they had with the first “mom coach” in the league.
Alex remembers his mom coaching his hockey team. Carleen came from a hockey family; her dad coached and her brother was a goalie at St. Cloud State and on the semi-pro team for the North Stars. Carleen was the only mom hockey coach in the league and when she glided out on the ice in her white figure skates, the rest of the dad coaches couldn’t keep their bone-headed comments to themselves. Carleen went on to a paid coaching position at Hopkins High School for the Sophomore girl’s hockey team where she did well as a coach and more importantly as a role model for young women athletes everywhere. Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling?!
Carleen could pull a party together like none other. Just for fun, she organized an outing for the siblings and cousins playing Moonlight Golf for charity. What could be more fun than running around in the dark chasing little glow-in-the-dark golf balls? They had so much fun that they made it an annual event.
Carleen and Chris were sisters and were born on the same day but three years apart. They always had a thing to see who would say happy birthday first. Carleen was tricky on that. One time she waited for Chris to call first and then answered the phone by shouting into the receiver HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRIS!
On one of Chris’s birthdays, Chris and Tom went out for dinner. Their daughter, Mary, stayed home and secretly met Carleen. They clandestinely decorated the yard and house with women’s triple triple triple X size panties. They flung them in the trees, on the roof, on the deck, and all over the yard. There must have been at least 50 pair of panties. However, there was no Happy Birthday sign in the yard, so neighbors driving by just saw this bizarre scene of giant underpants lavishly draped all over the place!!
Chris recalls, “Who buys and collects women’s panties at garage sales and thrift stores for months just to prank her sister? You have heard of houses being TPed? My house got UNDERWEARed!”
A few years later when Carleen turned 50, Grandma Darlene, Chris, and Cindy conspired to throw her a birthday surprise party. They worked for months pulling together friends and family to conduct a birthday parade. Sadly, Grandma Darlene passed away a few months before she could see her plan executed, but the rest of the family stepped up to make it happen.
Chris lived on Weaver Lake Road and Carleen was waiting at her house for a little get-together when all at once there arose such a clatter, Carleen sprung to her feet to see what was the matter! There she saw parade of dozens of men, women, and children on foot, in cars, trucks pulling fishing boats, riding bikes and trikes, and armed with pots, pans, lids, kazoos, drums, and loud melodic voices, and tossing candy to the children who came out of their houses to check out the mayhem. Celebrating Carleen’s half century on this planet was quite the talk of the town for a long time.
Dick’s parents hosted Christmas Eve every year which involved Dick and Carleen traveling the furthest to be with family; first from Minneapolis, then from St. Cloud, then from Duluth, and finally from Maple Grove. Family tradition held that we would meet at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, attend Christmas Eve service in Chanhassen, have a full Christmas dinner around the heirloom dining room table, then retire to the basement for Christmas programs, and finally the opening of the gifts. We all grumbled when Grandma Darlene hatched her new plan of each family doing a Christmas piece before opening gifts, but not Carleen! She always came up with the very best and most creative presentations. I remember one year when Dayna was just a baby. I teamed up with Dick’s family and we created a film using a big old VHS camcorder. We looked like Channel 8 News ready capture the FILM AT 11. We drove out to where I was boarding my horses on the west side of Chaska. Our cousin Linda attached tree branches to her horse’s bridle to resemble a reindeer’s antlers, hitched old Fred to the toboggan, the rest of us piled onto the sled, and Fred pulled us through the snow. Carleen had written a song or a script but all that could be heard was the howling of the sub-zero wind and all that could be seen was that big bay gilding pulling something through the wind-driven snow flying sideways in a blur. The windchill was well below zero so I volunteered to take one-year-old sweet baby Dayna with me to sit in the warm car. My hands and feet and face were aching with cold, and I imagine everyone felt the same, but Carleen finished directing the scene and finally they all scurried into the car, freezing cold and weak with laughter.
Over the years, other Carleen Christmas programs featured Dick impersonating Ricky Martin, the whole family singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with tiny flashlights stuck up their noses making the tips of their noses glow red, lip syncing White Christmas to the Temptations version of the classic, drawing upside-down faces on the chins of the children who hung upside-down off the couch singing a Christmas carol, and many other programs that always stole the show and had us rolling in the aisle. But our very favorite presentation was in 1981. Carleen began by explaining the rules to a game of Family Feud. She began with something like, “name six Christmas carols” and “name six traditional Christmas foods.” You get the idea. This went on for a while and then she said, “name six Huseths.” We all shouted the names of all the Huseths we could think of but there was one slot remaining open. When she pulled off the last cover, it read, “You’ll find out in June!” It was her clever way of telling the family that Alex was on his way and their family of five would soon be a family of six. We all laughed and screamed and cried all at the same time!
Carleen was known throughout the neighborhood for her April Fool’s pranks. So funny. So creative. One April Fool’s Day it became clear that Carleen’s first born, Dawn, was the apple that hadn’t fallen far from the tree. Very late the night before, Dawn made sure that 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 sister’s rooms where she drew all over their faces with magic marker. She finished her April Fools 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 it became clear that Dawn was indeed cut from her mother’s bolt when it came to fun just for fun’s sake!
Halloween was one of Carleen’s favorite times of year and the costumes she came up with were legendary. She was known for wearing a big black cloak and witches hat dragging a shovel up and down the street, scaring any children still out late enough to encounter her! When the kids were getting too old for trick or treating, she got Nick (a teenager by then) to dress up like an old man sitting in a chair outside the front door. He looked just like the scarecrow figure that had decorated that same chair all thru October. When the little ones came close with their chants of TRICK OR TREAT, Nick would jump up and scare them! There was even legend of grown-ups peeing in their pants upon their discovery that it was Nick inside that costume and not straw stuffing. Carleen would howl with laughter every time. And then hand out extra candy.
Dick’s sister Holly remembers a time when she and Carleen were washing cars in the driveway at Grandma Huseth’s house. They began to splash each other and then throw water on one another. One thing led to another and soon they were dumping pails of water on each other! Holly dashed into the basement to fill her bucket with water and when she turned around there was Carleen! With the hose! At point blank range! Inside the house!
I loved the way Carleen would deflect when her kids would ask her the hard questions:
Nick: Hey Mom! I had so much fun at my buddy’s cabin last weekend. We should have a lake place. Why don’t we have a lake place? I wish we had a lake place. Carleen: Oh Nick, I’m sorry. If I had only known you wanted a lake place, I would have gotten you one. If I had only known yesterday, but today it’s too late. Sorry.
Nick (about 5 years old): Hey Mom, I love that song playing on the radio. Who is that singing? Carleen: Lionel Richie Nick: Oh man! I wish Lionel Richie was my dad. Carleen: Oh, Nick. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you wanted Lionel Richie to be your dad. If I had only known, I would have arranged that sooner. Too bad, you’re stuck with your dad now.
Another thing I loved about Carleen is that she was fearless. If she wanted a deck on the back of the house, she would figure out a way to build it. She would enlist the help of her kids and from an early age they all four became capable kids who had the courage try most anything. And if it didn’t work, they would try another way, learning from their missteps. Want an ice fishing house? Build one. Need a compost bin? Design one. Need a lawn mower shed? Build a GREAT BIG one. The bathtub fixture sprung a leak? Find the water main and just fix it. Husband taking too long to install a sump pump in the basement? Give it a try yourself (and then call Grandpa for help). Figure out a way and just do it!
I remember sometime during the early 80s when the Urban Cowboy craze was in full swing, Carleen and I went out to a country bar to listen to music and dance. Before the night was over, I looked up and there was Carleen riding the mechanical bull! I was too scared to look silly, but she was so gutsy. And she didn’t look silly at all. She looked awesome!
Carleen loved pets and probably would have had a zoo if she’d had her way. She loved frightening her sisters with cupped hands showing off a slimy toad or a frog, and not just as kids … well into their 50s! A long list of purchases and rescues including dogs, cats, spiders, birds, snakes, guinea pigs, and reptiles made their way into Carleen’s care. There was even a goat! And a Venomous African Frog who ate live mice!! Who needs TV when you have a Venomous African Frog and live mice?!
Alex remembers their friends were always welcome in their home. It was not unusual for any of the kids to come home and find their friends sitting around the kitchen table visiting with Carleen. They knew where they could grab a good meal (her specialty was pork chops) or just shoot the breeze. Carleen excelled at keeping all the plates of family life spinning. She was always there with a listening ear, a bowl of chili, and a laugh. She kept the home fires burning as her family ventured out into the world learning valuable lessons along the way.
Carleen just laughed and let the lesson teach itself when one day she got a call from the high school principal saying that Alex and some other guys were caught mooning the parking lot full of students from a second story classroom. How did they know it was Alex? Seems he was wearing his football jersey complete with name and number on the back! Sometimes lessons teach themselves. Carleen just laughed. And then she loved to tell the story to anyone who would listen.
Dayna was Carleen’s second daughter, and she was an equal measure of Dick and Carleen. She was a beautiful girl. She had a great big heart. She was super funny. She was the life of the party! She could weave a tale like none other! I remember one day she began to talk about a wedding she had attended over the weekend. About how long the photographer was taking with the bride and groom pictures. About how all the guests were waiting and waiting, getting more and more hungry, and grumpy. About how she just happened to have a yoyo with her (in her formal gown). About how she began to entertain the whole group with yoyo tricks.
As Dayna spoke, I remember looking at Dick and Carleen watching her holding court. She was animated, witty, insightful. We all hung on her every word, but to see the look in her parents’ eyes as they watched her regale us with every detail was truly a gift! Dayna’s eyes sparkled with every phrase. Carleen’s eyes sparkled right back! Carleen’s eyes told her own story about how proud she was to see the fabulous young woman Dayna had grown into. We laughed til we cried hearing all about the yoyo tricks and the personalities in her audience. But Dick and Carleen enjoyed it on a completely different level. They were watching the culmination of many years of human nature observations from this natural-born storyteller. Yes, Dayna was equal measures of Dick and Carleen, but Carleen knew she had raised an amazing young woman. Though she was gone too soon, there is a sweet blessing in knowing she was spared the pain of Dayna’s 2012 death just 4 years after her own, and that they are both now together in heaven with Grandma Darlene!
Carleen was creative, crafty, and artsy. Carleen was fearless and innovative. Carleen was the life of the party. Carleen loved her family deeply and would be so proud to see the fantastic adults her kids and grandkids have become.
If there is anything on this earth that Carleen would be sad to be missing, it would be meeting the rest of her grandchildren. Being in their lives would give her a brand-new reason to be the kid-at-heart she was born to be.
Carleen was not who she appeared to be on her last day on earth. Carleen was the vibrant wife, mother, sister, and friend living in our memories today.
It is true, generally speaking, there is nothing new under the sun, as it says in Ecclesiastes. Murder and larceny are as old as Cain and Abel. However this is a true story of murder and larceny, the details of which are so uncanny I am nearly certain it’s never happened like this before. King David indicates the days of our lives are numbered. Seems a little fatalistic, but maybe he was on to something.
It was 1998. Small Town, Indiana. A hot July day just like any other. And when that day was over, three people were dead … but I was not one of them.
I had been hired to do some forensic accounting work for a vending machine company in receivership. What that means is, the owner of Crown Vending had spent years embezzling cash, nearly half a million dollars, from the company and now he could not make his debt payments to his banks and suppliers, so the courts had stepped in and put someone else in charge of his company. That trustee was my friend and employer, Bill Rice. The trouble was that they didn’t remove the owner from the operation, so he was free to come and go as he pleased.
Bill Rice and I had worked together on other receiverships and business ventures, and so when this deal came around he hired me to interview employees and comb through old financial records to uncover and document the extent of the missing cash. We would then create documents for the lawyers representing his lenders, and try to find a buyer for the beleaguered company.
After four months investigation, the noose was tightening as his staff and company records painted a picture of systematic theft to support the owner’s lavish lifestyle. Nothing new here.
The guy’s name was William Drury, and he was a gold chain wearing, cigar smoking, crude talking, hard drinking, good old boy, racist, great big blow-hard in cheap cologne. And here is the scary part … more than a few people in that town thought him charming.
He controlled his employees with bravado and temper. It turned out he had been using company credit cards for personal spending AND skimming a minimum of $100 every day right out of the room where they counted cash from the vending machines, as long as anyone could remember. After all, he told them, this was his own company and the money belonged to him anyway. No one argued. No one really knew any better. His office employees were hard working women with high school diplomas and too many kids, working for a paycheck and following orders.
In late July the noose was tightening and the owner sensed it. The bookkeeper and the cash room supervisor were nervous as cats. Our efforts were ramping up after discoveries and transcriptions and spreadsheets and supporting documents were submitted to the court. Then on July 27 the owner was served with a court order to vacate the premises and never return. The company he had built from the ground up was no longer his. The locksmith was on his way. The security guard was in place to enforce the order. The sheriff had handed him the affidavit and briefly explained what it meant. He glanced over the first few pages and left quietly, but not before the names of the witnesses there on the front page were burned into his mind: Trustee William R. Rice, Assistant to the Trustee Mia Hinkle, Bookkeeper Sue Dorff, and Cash Room Supervisor Denise Arthur. These four had built a case against him. It was now to be an open and shut case.
Within the hour, he would be dead, along with my friend Bill Rice and the cash room supervisor. The bookkeeper only survived the shots meant for her because she hid under her desk when she heard him coming.
Back in Carmel, Bill’s wife, Mary Jane passed through the kitchen of her nicely appointed home. Oprah was on and it was one she really wanted to watch, but the hour was slipping by as she took care of just one more thing. It is always just one more thing. She and Bill were almost sixty, nearing retirement with schedules just as crazy as when their three children were little. Now they are all grown up with little ones of their own. Bill and Mary Jane were still lovebirds after almost 40 years of marriage, current membership in the National Guard, a stint in the Marines, two births, one adoption, six moves, and now caring for aging parents. More and more dinner conversation focused on their retirement dreams. When … where … the book he wants to write … the course he wants to teach … the countries they want to visit … the time they want to spend with grandchildren. Bill was a kind and generous man of integrity. He was smart and interested and interesting. At his funeral Mary Jane would be taken aback by just how many people told her, “I am going to miss Bill. He was my best friend.”
Mary Jane really wanted to catch today’s Oprah because the guest is an expert in autism, a condition that one of their grandchildren was recently been diagnosed with. So she makes herself stop and she grabs a cup of tea to relax into her favorite chair just in time to hear a late breaking news flash interrupt Oprah and the autism expert.
“We interrupt this program to bring you news of gunfire in a warehouse belonging to Crown Vending in nearby Martinsville. Two are confirmed dead and one more possible. The gunman is missing. We’ll bring you more news as it develops. We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.”
She can’t believe her ears. She tries to reach her husband, who she kissed good-bye this morning as he took off for that very place, but no answer at the Crown Vending or on his cell phone. By the time the police knock on her door confirming her worst fears, six hours have passed. The most horrifying six hours of her life.
Back at the warehouse, the bookkeeper was in her office. Uneasy was a vast understatement for how she had been feeling all morning, ever since she had seen the document naming her as a witness. Right there on the front page … in black and white … unbelievable! He was sure to see it there, she remembers thinking. This would for sure push him over the edge.
Sitting at her computer, she couldn’t concentrate. Her body tensing with a sense of urgency with every sound. Then she heard it. Gunfire. One loud CRACK! And then Bill’s voice. “Don’t do it. Stop! Don’t do this! Please.” And again … CRACK! CRACK!
While other minds were scrambling to make sense of what they were hearing, Sue knew exactly what was happening. Her boss had made good on his promise that there would be trouble if anyone tried to take his business. “Over my dead body…” he had said.
When the attorneys had offered Sue protection for her testimony, she knew full well there would be no protecting her in this small town if her boss set his mind to finding her. She had worked for him nearly 15 years. He knew where she lived, where her kids went to school, and what kind of car she drove. She agreed to testify because she knew it was the right thing to do. She knew she was one of only a few who could collaborate our suspicions of fraud. From time to time over the years she had been uncomfortable with the way he did business, but when we began asking the right questions, it dawned on her just how huge this was. So she agreed.
And at this moment she couldn’t be sorrier she had.
She then heard the muffled voice of a woman in the hallway and then another loud CRACK. She knew who it was … the other woman named on the front page, the cash room supervisor. She later found out that Denise had stepped out of the counting room and into the hallway and found herself face to face with the shooter. He had pressed the gun to her clavicle and pulled the trigger. One shot. A piece of the shattered bone pierced her heart and she was dead before she hit the ground.
There was a creepy quiet after the shots and Sue knew what was coming next. She locked her door and dove under her desk.
Knock, knock, knock. “Sue, can I come in? I want to talk to you.” Again a gentle knock, knock, knock. “Sue, I just want to talk.”
Terror gripped her heart at the sound of his honey coated voice. She remained frozen and cowering like a small animal, wondering how her kids would grow up without a mother.
“Open the door, Sue. Let me in. I’m not going to hurt you.”
His voice was so calm yet so cold. For a split second she considered obedience. Then CRACK! CRACK! Woodchips from the hollow door came flying across the room. One bullet lodged in her printer, another skimmed the back of her chair and lodged in the wall … the same chair she’d been sitting in just a minute ago. Frozen, she sat in the knee opening of her desk, the deafening rush of blood in her ears and her heart pounding so loud she was certain he could hear it. Time was standing still and careening forward at the same time.
She could hear Cindy, the receptionist (the shooter’s own daughter by the way) down the hall speaking to dispatch at 911 describing the scene unfolding. “He’s got a gun! He’s shot two people already, maybe three. Now he’s reloading. He’s walking back down the hall. He’s opening the door to Bill’s office.”
Then she heard one more CRACK! And a final groan.
The receptionist continued, “He’s getting in his car. Come quick! Send an ambulance.”
At that, Sue bolted. She ran out the back door and across an empty lot to an auto dealership, Larry Bird Ford, where she asked them to call the police.
It wasn’t over for Sue by a long shot, though. The damage was just beginning for her. The nightmares, the grief, the counseling, the guilt, the loneliness, and despair continued for a long time. The thought she could have somehow kept it from happening …that it was somehow her fault. It was months before she could see the light at the end of the tunnel. She still finds it hard to trust anyone. I think when someone you know very well tries to kill you it shakes your faith in mankind a bit.
Bill Rice had been on the phone with the attorney that hired us when the gunman had opened fire. Debbie Caruso of Dale & Eke heard the whole thing. She heard the shots. She heard Bill beg for his life. Then she heard … silence. Years later when Debbie and I run into one another on the soccer fields, we give each other that knowing nod…. the one that says, “We have been through something really big together.” She always asks about Mary Jane.
So Bill Rice lay dead in office we had once shared, Denise lay dead in the hallway, and Sue was terrorized and in hiding. The gunman sped off in his car knowing the police would be there at any moment. He tried to outrun them. His wife, another daughter, and his pre-school grandchildren on their way into Martinsville from their Painted Hills home, had seen the police chase and recognized the car. They followed. There had been a big thunderstorm over the weekend and the side roads and ditches were soft and muddy. While trying to flee the police and doing a U turn, his wheels got stuck in the mud. The police car caught up to him about the same time as his wife’s car did. The officer (a good old buddy of his) approached the car to talk him down. He looked into the officer’s eyes, put the barrel in his mouth and pulled the trigger; his wife, daughter, and grandchildren just a few yards away.
And at his funeral the following week – I couldn’t make this stuff up – they played the song, “I Did It My Way.”
But wait. The uncanny part of the story is yet to come. Follow me here…
My name was also on front page of that affidavit. I normally would have been in the warehouse, either with Bill or by myself. In the final days of the investigation, things were changing very quickly based on the information we gleaned and our reports to the attorneys. So I would drive down to Martinsville about every other day, gather information and ask questions. I would stay home on the off days and generate the necessary documents. Bill would go down every day and call me on his way home to let me know what the plan would be for the next day, and what time he would pick me up the next morning. When Bill didn’t call me the night before to firm up plans for the following day, I thought it was a little strange but I was busy with the kids (Jackson was 6 and Walker was 8 at the time) and I figured he’d call when he needed me.
But sometime during the next day I noticed that our phone hadn’t rung all day, and when I picked it up, instead of a dial tone I got a loud buzzing noise. I went next door and called the phone company to send a repairman. Walking back, I noticed orange paint lines across my neighbor’s lawn from the phone box behind my shed to a Bradford Pear tree in my neighbor’s yard that had blown down in the storm last weekend. I guess the utility company marked orange lines for the guys who were coming to grind down the stump.
When the telephone repairman arrived, he tested the lines in my house and determined the trouble was at the phone box behind my shed. When he lifted off the lid, revealing a million wires looking like a big bowl of colored spaghetti, he noticed one tiny wire that had been crimped over the edge of the box which apparently was causing the loud sound on my phone and my dead line. He figured that the utility guys who painted the orange stripes for the stump grinding crew, had put the lid back just a little off so as to crimp one little wire. One of a million wires. My telephone line.
Coincidence? I think not. If Bill had called me the night before, he would have just heard my phone ringing and ringing. And I would have never heard the call coming in. He got up the next morning and headed off to Martinsville to serve the papers.
At the end of the day I was there when two policemen in their dress blues came to Mary Jane Rice’s door to deliver the dreaded news. One was old and seasoned. One was young and wet behind the ears. It was obvious this was his first time to deliver this kind of news. I felt sorry for him.
Mary Jane and I fell into each other’s arms and she said, “Oh Mia. I am so glad you didn’t go with Bill today. I am so glad it was him and not you. Your two little boys at home. I am so glad you didn’t go with him today.”
So began a period of shock for both of us that lasted a very long time.
We know that murder and larceny have been around since our oldest ancestors. But this kind of elaborate orchestration specifically purposed to keep me far away from danger when my number wasn’t quite up yet? Hard to wrap the mind around, I know. But maybe this kind of intricate handy-work is in play each and every day until that moment when the number of my days IS finally up.
Perhaps King David was on to something after all. ~~~~
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans ever to land on the moon. About six-and-a-half hours later, Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Half a century later, I can tell you just where I was when this monumental moment in human history transpired. I had just turned 15 and it was a beautiful summer evening in Chanhassen, Minnesota. I was sitting at the kitchen table in the Sunrise Hills home of Bonnie Patterson along with Diane Bjornson. Bonnie was 2 years older than Diane and me; she had a big contagious laugh and she possessed way more sass and nerve than we ever dreamed of!
Diane and I watched with eyes wide open as Bonnie assembled the surgical instruments needed. One long fat sewing needle. Two ice cubes. One potato. Cotton balls and a bottle of rubbing alcohol.
Diane squeezed her eyes shut when Bonnie described in detail how the ice cubes would freeze the tender flesh of the ear lobe deadening the nerve endings so when she pushed the needle through so it wouldn’t hurt so much. She reassured us that the strategically placed potato would protect the jugular vein from the sharp end of the needle after penetration. Otherwise, she explained, you would probably bleed out since there is so much blood traveling through jugular veins. Diane covered her ears, “LaLaLaLa!! I am not doing this and I’m not going to watch!”
Bonnie’s mother, Phyllis, was in the living room watching TV. “Girls! Come quick! They are doing it! They are really doing it! There is a man walking on the moon!! And it’s on the television! Come quick. This night will go down in history!”
We could not be bothered with something so far away. We were busy chattering, reassuring, screaming, giggling, protesting, and in the end we agreed: Bonnie would pierce my ears. Phyllis kept calling us, but we successfully dodged her pleas to come watch the man walk on the moon.
Last week a couple of billionaires financed their own forays to the edge of space carrying paying passengers and returning safely to earth without blowing up their vehicles. Funny thing, I was too busy to watch this time too. I’m not sure what I was doing this time.
The two launches are a far cry from orbiting earth and are a really far cry from traveling to the moon and walking around, but it’s still pretty awesome and will probably save billions of dollars in future space exploration, making it possible to eventually create colonies of humans on the moon, Mars and beyond. Yikes!
However, complaints are rampant regarding these guys not directing their billions toward solving pressing social problems right here on earth. (And by the way, people complained about the same exact thing since the early days of the space race.) But today the planet is quite literally on fire and yet rain forests are being depleted at record speed around the globe. The last year and a half world-wide pandemic has accelerated human suffering and is evident through increased homelessness, poverty, unemployment, substandard housing, mental illness, racial unrest, gun violence, domestic violence, alcoholism, and substance abuse. Some wonder if perhaps those billions might not be better used helping our fellow man right here at home; it seems that many of these issues could be solved with more funding.
Yet, there is something marvelous about human imagination and capacity for exploration and invention. I think only history will reveal whether space travel is a step ahead or a step back for humanity. After all, if we can’t solve some of these basic problems right here on this planet, what makes us think we won’t just spread our troubles to space colonies and beyond? The temptation is great to think that money can solve all the problems of human behavior.
Deuteronomy 15:11: “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, I command you to be openhanded to the poor and needy in your land.”
Yes, we live in a fallen world and people with issues will always be around. Homelessness, poverty, unemployment, mental illness, violence, and the like have always and will always be with us. Scripture is clear about this, but the second part of that verse tells us that because of this we should be even more generous.
There are lots of loud voices out there shouting from their soapboxes and it’s challenging, even for the believer, to keep the main thing the main thing. I heard an author recently, “It’s not my job to feed the 5,000. I am just asked to provide the loaves and fishes. God will take it from there.”
We are all called to be generous with the less-fortunate whether we are Christians or not, but it’s especially important for the Christ-follower. Some of us will use our billions, and some of us our nickels; it’s all fishes and loaves. Yes, there will always be trouble around us but that doesn’t let us off the hook. We are called to be more generous.
At the end of the day, we will surely drive ourselves nuts trying to ascertain what Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson should or should not be doing with their money. We can only answer the call for ourselves. We can only take that one small step for ourselves and leave the rest up to God.
Well, that beautiful summer evening in July 1969 gave way to night, and as I walked home with throbbing ear lobes and brand-new earrings, the moon lit my path. Pausing to gaze into the skies, I remember thinking in the quiet of that moment, just how amazing it was that an actual person made it all the way to the moon, opened the hatch, walked on the surface, and lived to tell about it. And today they are selling tickets to space!
Half a century from now my grandson, Christian will be my sister Solveig’s age and it boggles my mind to think of the small steps and giant leaps waiting for him in 2071.
Author Alexandra Elle once said, “There will be moments when you will bloom fully and then wilt, only to bloom again. If we can learn anything from flowers it is that resilience is born even when we feel like we are dying.”
A friend from Minnesota, Karen (Ray) Alvstad, recently sent me a photo of poppies blooming on a roadside with a note that read, “One of our Memorial Day traditions is to drive to the site of the Evansville farm where you grew up. The house, the barns, and the machine shed were bull dozed long ago but there are several stands of blooming poppies this time of year, reminding us of Flanders Field. If you ever take a road trip back home in May, you will want to revisit the site.”
A few days later I received a letter in the mail from Audrey Lerum (90) who was a dear friend of my mother’s before we moved off the farm in 1965. After catching me up on what’s blooming in her yard and which little animals and birds are frolicking around her house, she wrote, “Your mother’s big poppy plants once again are blooming and lots of people drive by to see them. Last year a fellow picked one and brought it over for me to see. I used to always try to drive by your old place a couple of times while they are in bloom, but no longer can I see to drive.”
I was only 11 years old when we moved off the farm in West Central Minnesota, so, intrigued I sent the photo to my siblings. My oldest brother, Carlton Huseth (we call him Hans) texted right back, “Wow! Fantastic! I am surprised they are still there!”
Here is what I learned. It was the summer of 1960 and my now 75-year-old brother was just 14 years old. The county road department had flattened the gravel road in front of our farm, to make it safer I guess. This involved cutting into the hill upon which our house stood, leaving a jagged cliff from our yard down to the road. He and our mother (Darlene Huseth) came up with a plan custom-made for Hans’s 4-H project. Curb appeal is everything, they agreed, even if cars seldom drive by. When I was little, I remember thinking that if I heard a car coming, we were likely expecting company.
They decided on two perennial cutting gardens on either side of the driveway running the entire length of our frontage. They ordered seeds from Gurney: black-eyed susan’s, yellow daylilies, white daisies, orange tiger lilies, purple irises, rose bushes, marigolds, zinnias, pink peonies, and splendid red poppies (but not the kind they make drugs out of she assured him.) Hans used the Farmhand scoop on the Farmall F20 to haul 20 loads of barnyard dirt transforming the cliff in our front yard into a more gradual ditch. Every minute not cultivating soybeans that summer, Hans was working on the garden. Digging, hauling, raking, planting, watering, weeding. It was back-breaking work but our mother and her firstborn got to create something huge together, as he was beginning to slip into adulthood.
The barn had been built into a hill many generations ago and the adjacent barnyard had seen more than its fair share of livestock over the years. And the barnyard dirt? That soil was infinitely more fertile than any soil found in those plastic bags at the fancy landscape supply stores. That soil was the real deal. Not harsh or likely to burn. Just good rich smelly fertile soil.
They planted the seeds in late spring and by summer those flowers were dancing happily in the sunshine. They took root easily. They were nourished efficiently. Long bright days and cool nights developed their vibrant colors and strong stems. Those flowers springing forth in the ditch were quite the attraction and soon people were driving out of their way just to take a look!
But as it goes in the natural world, by autumn the flowers wilted and bowed to the coming winter. Their pedals faded and withered, their dry stems were broken, their seeds scattered in the wind. My brother planted a few dahlia and tulip bulbs to give the garden a head start in the spring and soon winter covered the land in snow and ice.
And then, miraculously, just a few months later, those tiny shoots began with the work of it. Seeds that had been sound asleep under the snow now stretched toward the sun. Soon the days became long and those gardens in the ditch were again ablaze with vibrant color. Oh and my brother? You probably guessed it: a Blue Ribbon on his 4H project! That was in 1960.
If we can learn anything from flowers it is that resilience is born even when we feel like we are dying.
We’ve all had those times when we feel like we are wilting and dying after fully blooming. Those cold November winds whip up in all kinds of ways. Your body, once the picture of health, may fail you with a dim diagnosis. You may lose a loved one. Your beautiful kids may go astray. You may lose that dream job you worked so hard to get. You may be sent to war in the prime of your life. You may be flying down the highway on your Harley Davidson as free as a bird one minute and in some ICU far from home the next.
And then you may feel like you are buried under winter for a very long time. You can’t breathe. You don’t know which way is up and which way is down. Your once strong limbs feel like noodles, sort of like you’re walking in Jell-O. But trust me on this. One day you will see that resilience was born during that time, and soon you will feel the earth warming and the sunshine drawing you near.
There will be moments when you will bloom fully and then wilt, only to bloom again.
And sixty years later your splashy scarlet poppies will still be the talk of the town and will totally be worth a Memorial Day sightseeing drive down a dusty country road near Evansville, Minnesota.
If you are from Chanhassen, you probably have your favorite PRINCE story. Here is mine. The time Grandma delivered homemade chocolate chip cookies to Prince’s house and invited him to church….
During the early 1980’s when my Mom was in her 60’s, and Prince, riding the success of Controversy and Purple Rain, was newly rich and famous, he lived in my home town of Chanhassen, Minnesota.
When Mom told us kids she had casually stopped by his house, we were mortified because we were Prince fans and we had heard the rumors about all the stuff that went on behind those gates. Oblivious to all that, my Mom had baked cookies, packaged them up pretty, hopped in her rusty old Honda Accord, and drove out to County Road 117 to the very same address where my high school friend, Ron Lybeck, used to live. The guard house at the end of the driveway was new since Ron’s family lived there.
Whatever possessed her that morning we will never know! She pulled up to the gate and a huge and handsome and very polite black man with a ton of gold chains draped around his neck stepped out in front of her car. He slowly walked up to her rolled down window.
“May I help you, ma’am?”
“Good morning, young man. Is Prince home?”
“Why no ma’am, he’s not. Is there something I can help you with?”
“Well, yes you can. I brought him these cookies I baked this morning. And a bulletin from last Sunday’s service at my church. I would like to invite Prince to visit my church sometime. Oh, and you are welcome to come along too, if you’d like.”
Still chattering, she handed him the tin of cookies and the bulletin. “The name of the church is Lutheran Church of the Living Christ and I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s just south of town out on Highway 5. We really look forward to seeing you there. Service times are in the bulletin. Have a nice day.”
“Yes Ma’am. Thank you Ma’am.”
Well, I probably don’t need to tell you that Prince never did darken the door of my Mom’s fine little Lutheran church. But it made for a great family story, a story all her kids and grandkids love to tell each for their own reason. All the way from “My Grandma is so gutsy” to “Mom took every opportunity to share her faith with new neighbors” to “I think my Mom is losing it” to “Do you think that really happened?” I am sure the polite man in the guardhouse just thought she was nuts.
A few years later when my niece, Dawn, brought her new boyfriend over to meet Grandma, out came the ritual cookies and coffee. His name was Shawn and he was way too quiet. But in time the conversation meandered around to Shawn growing up in nearby Chaska. It turns out that when he was in high school, Shawn hung out with Prince’s bodyguard’s kids. What a small world! “Big Chick” Huntsberry and some of the Prince entourage provided a free and easy place for his kids and their friends to hang out, and Shawn was one of the crowd.
Dawn piped up, “Oh yeah! Hey Shawn! Did I ever tell you about the time my Grandma brought cookies to Prince’s house and invited him to go to church with her!?”
Pretty quiet up to that point, Shawn choked, nearly passing coffee through his nose! When he regained his composure, “THAT WAS YOU!!??”
Dawn couldn’t believe her ears. Shawn recounted one day back in high school he was hanging out with the Huntsberry kids when one of the bodyguards had come back to Big Chick’s house with home-made chocolate chip cookies which he shared with everyone, saying something about a little old church lady who had invited them to church. They had all had a good laugh as they munched on the best chocolate chip cookies in Carver County. When he stopped talking, my coy little Mom quietly looked at Shawn and asked him, “Well, why didn’t he come?”
My Mom believed for the best in people and she met them right where they were. While she could always be counted on to be the voice of reason in any given situation, we learned early to expect the unexpected from her. She passed away in 1998 when my sons were little, but I can’t help think that they would have loved her and would by this time have their own favorite “Grandma Grandma” stories.